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Romano-Celtic temple in Greenwich Park

A Scheduled Monument in Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4786 / 51°28'42"N

Longitude: 0.0046 / 0°0'16"E

OS Eastings: 539302.221348

OS Northings: 177415.671269

OS Grid: TQ393774

Mapcode National: GBR L1.KV8

Mapcode Global: VHHNQ.138C

Entry Name: Romano-Celtic temple in Greenwich Park

Scheduled Date: 1 December 2009

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021439

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28892

County: Greenwich

Electoral Ward/Division: Blackheath Westcombe

Built-Up Area: Greenwich

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Greenwich St Alfege

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

Details

The monument includes a Romano-Celtic temple on the east side of Greenwich
Park located partly on a prominent mound at the southern end of what is now
Lover's Walk, between Lover's Walk and Maze Hill Gate. The monument is sited
in a prominent position at the head of a valley near the edge of the
Greenwich escarpment overlooking the River Thames.

There is little to be seen on the ground apart from the mound, and this and
other earthworks in the vicinity are somewhat confused by later Park
landscaping. The mound has an iron railing enclosure erected in 1903
protecting a small area of tesserae set in concrete. The mound is subcircular
and flat topped; about 23m in diameter and up to 1.2m high. It is steep-sided
on the west reducing in height to the south. A slight concentric scarp
surrounds the iron railings on all but the south side and appears to be the
remains of a building platform. This roughly circular platform is about 12m
in diameter and up to 0.4m high. The mound drops 1.9m to the north, but to
the south and west decreases to an area of level ground extending to the
scarp edge on the west and the valley of Lover's Walk to the south.

This Romano-British building is a high status and possibly public building,
which on the balance of evidence is interpreted as a temple. The evidence for
the building has come from geophysical survey and excavation.

An excavation on the mound in 1902 by AD Webster and Herbert Jones, revealed
a small structure of two phases accompanied by fragmentary inscriptions, part
of a statue, fragments of two rare carved ivory pieces (for ceremonial usage)
and large quantities of pottery, some of it imports from France. In addition
coins were discovered which had a date range from soon after the Roman
conquest to the fifth century. The interpretation was that since the site was
too small to be a villa, it possibly represented a shrine.

Further Roman evidence was recovered during excavations in 1924-27 on the
mound by Professor JEG de Montmorency for the Greenwich & Lewisham
Antiquarian Society.

In 1978-79 the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee
confirmed by excavation that there were two phases of activity; the first a
timber and clay building on flint footings dating to the end of the first
century, replaced in the third century by a slightly larger square or
rectangular building with a raised tessellated floor.

Geophysical survey in 1994 failed to locate other structures in the immediate
vicinity. In 1999 excavations were carried out by the Museum of London and
Birkbeck College with Channel 4's Time Team which revealed more structural
evidence on the mound and further features to the east of it suggesting a
complex of buildings, ditches and metalled surfaces in that vicinity. Amongst
the finds were the fragment of an inscription and a procuratorial stamped
tile, indicating the presence of an official building. A re-interpretation by
the Time Team staff of the inscription discovered in the 1902/03 excavation,
suggests it to be a dedication to the spirits of the emperors accompanied by
the name of the dedicator. The 1999 finds lent further weight to the
interpretation of the building as a temple and indicated that the site was
probably continuously used from about AD 100 to 400, confirming several
phases of activity.

Analysis of the excavation evidence shows a high status, possibly public,
building with raised tessellated flooring and painted plaster walls. It was
re-built at least once, and was in use probably continuously from AD 100 to
400. The interpretation of the structure as a temple would seem to be
certainly correct based on its morphology and the evidence from inscriptions
and small finds.

There is other evidence of Roman activity in the immediate vicinity of the
Park. The known remains of the route of Watling Street, the Roman road from
the Kent coast to London, lies about 1km to the east of the Park, and a
projection of the line of the road takes it through the Park. On Blackheath
the Ordnance Survey recorded a rectangular earthwork in 1895 immediately
north west of Hollyhedge House. This was excavated in 1906 producing Roman
tile and coarse pottery. Close by, in Dartmouth Grove, cremation burials were
also found in pottery urns in 1803. Apart from this, evidence is limited to
isolated finds of coins, building material and pottery. Additionally a bronze
lamp was recovered from the Thames and a bronze bowl from the Park.

The iron railings and out-of-context tesserae embedded in cement are excluded
from the scheduling. Also excluded is the Park path which crosses the site
including the make up of the path and its tarmac surface. The ground beneath
all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Romano-Celtic temples were built to meet the spiritual needs of the
communities they served by venerating the god or spirit considered to dwell in
a particular place. The temple building was regarded as the treasure house of
its deity and priests rather than as a congregational building and any
religious activities, including private worship, communal gatherings,
sanctuary and healing, took place outside.
Romano-Celtic temples included the temple building and a surrounding sacred
precinct or temenos which could be square, circular, rectangular or polygonal
in ground plan. The temple building invariably faced due east and was the
focus of the site, although it did not necessarily occupy the central position
in the temenos. It comprised a cella, or inner temple chamber, an ambulatory
or walkway around the cella, and sometimes annexes or antechambers. The
buildings were constructed of a variety of materials, including stone, cob and
timber, and walls were often plastered and painted both internally and
externally. Some temenoi enclosed other buildings, often substantial and built
in materials and styles similar to those of the temple; these are generally
interpreted as priests' houses, shops or guest houses.
Romano-Celtic temples were built and used throughout the Roman period from the
mid first century AD to the late fourth/early fifth century AD, with
individual examples being used for relatively long periods of time. They were
widespread throughout southern and eastern England, although there are no
examples in the far south west and they are rare nationally with only about
150 sites recorded in England. In view of their rarity and their importance in
contributing to the complete picture of Roman religious practice, including
its continuity from Iron Age practice, all Romano-Celtic temples with
surviving archaeological potential are considered to be of national
importance.

The Romano-Celtic temple at Greenwich Park was built and in use by AD 100. It
has been found by excavation to retain its main temple building, the cella
with surrounding ambulatory, and its associated sacred precinct or temenos.
Despite some excavation of parts of the main temple building over a number of
years, most of this area and virtually all of the temenos is unexcavated, and
will contain information about the temple itself and the ancillary buildings,
either religious or secular, which were associated with it. The temple has
produced a large number of finds, amongst which are rare ivories,
inscriptions and a large number of coins which will give information as to
the building's use and status. The building continued in use until about AD
400 and will provide information relating to the Roman occupation of Britain.
As a nationally rare building type it will also add to our knowledge of other
Romano-British religious sites. Its location is particularly advantageous to
provide information on Roman London and its territorium. In addition,
environmental evidence relating to the temple and the landscape in which it
was constructed may be present.

Source: Historic England

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