I had occasion to spend much of the weekend in London recently attending various events, one of which was the Gladiator Games at Guildhall Yard on Sunday 16th.
What a smashing event…figuratively and actually. So much fun in one hour. Guildhall Yard is located above what are the remains of an old Roman Amphitheatre, the perimeter of which is marked out in the yard by an oval of black paving stones, in the centre of which is a black slab with the words “The arena of London’s Roman amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall Yard is indicated by the black slate oval inlaid in the yard’s paved surface“. Find out more about the Guildhall Art Gallery the Roman Amphitheatre in the recently released: ‘While You Are There…53 Places to go in London’ – Buy your copy here
The Gladiator Games, put on by the Museum of London in conjunction with Guildhall Art Gallery, harked by to Roman London and the arena was soon filled with the sounds of stamping feet and shouts of mele, mele….despatch the Gladiator! The event started quietly enough with a few authentically dressed characters mincing around the arena; the pompa circensis (“circus parade”), a procession that usually preceded the official games (ludi), their roles yet to be disclosed.
Soon we were left in no doubt as to who was who, the comperé giving us a full run down of what role was to be performed and by whom (although I didn’t really get all the names 😉 the videos have the full run down. Then we were given a demonstration of what to expect when the defeated Gladiator’s brains where smashed ….never mind ‘smashing pumpkins’….we were given the full works when a watermelon met a grisly end beneath the smash of a mallet!!! To the horrified groans of the audience one of the cleaner uppers ate pieces of it as he left the arena LOL…gross??
Shortly after, heralded by the blast of trumpets, the Roman Emperor rode in on a chariot steered by a fearsome Amazon and pulled by two fine black horses of unknown origin….but fine animals nonetheless. The Emperor along with his bulky guards made their way around the perimeter of the arena to the loud cheers and chants of the crowds, coming to rest at the specially selected area beneath a canopy…can’t have anything less for an emperor now can we?
And then…..a game of life and death between the titans of Roman London, the clash of steel as the crowds roared…..
Let the games begin…..the comperé introduced the characters one by one and then without further ado the Gladiators come on….Londinium vs Camvlodvnvm – London vs Colchester I believe.
I had inadvertently seated myself in the Colchester section and so it is that I came to be supporting the team in gold
against the red team from London…no matter, the gladiators were equally despatched, or if they were lucky….spared by the Emperor’s intervention, one chap even got a bag of gold.
There was a fight between topless female Gladiators too…..they, unlike the men didn’t wear helmets!!
The uproar and noise from the crowd mingled with the sounds of fighting as we watched first this gladiator and then that carried off the arena floor, knocked to the floor after a ferocious and fearsome fight, their fate determined by the crowd or the Emperor – if it was mele, then their throat was slit by their opponent and they were left for dead…..and just to make quite sure, they were poked with a metal rod by a rather stocky character in a fools mask; Mercury a prankster and inventive genius, messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld. After which they were unceremoniously knocked on the head with a mallet by that scary dude in a black cloak and metal mask (the better to hide his identity I should imagine): Charun was the Etruscan God who had the job of bashing dying gladiators over the head with a hammer to make sure they were proper dead!
A number of gladiators came out to fight, managed by a referee; summa rudis, who really wasn’t in anyone’s court and frankly seemed quite happy to see them despatched to the ever after…..
Then after the final fight between the most fearsome gladiators of all, the guy in the red was despatched and the guy in the gold won a bag of gold from the Emperor, or was it the other way round? LOL Whatever, it was so much fun and the crowd were fantastic, baying for blood and more often than not sending the fallen gladiator to their doom….then it was time for the Emperor to leave and his Amazon warrior arrived to collect him and off they went in the carriage……but not before one of the horses had pooped, much to the callous amusement of the audience!!
Final curtain call and all the reenactors came out to the raucous cheers of the crowds!
We had the chance to meet the Gladiators after the show and have a peek at Roman life; butchers, tailors, metal workers and even a photo op with the Emperor.
What a terrific event, the crowd were incredibly interactive, cheering and shouting, we even had a dose of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ with the accompanying foot stomping and clapping, a fearful din, enough to wake the dead.
Bravo Museum of London, what a fab show. I for one will be looking forward to the next such event.
The performance was provided by Britannia who apparently travel the country providing characters for various events, they have even performed in well-known films!
The Gladiator Games were performed in the Guildhall Yard above the genuine remains of a Roman amphitheatre that dates from between 70-120AD. You can visit this marvel via the Guildhall Art Gallery during opening hours. Read more about the Roman amphitheatre here!
Map of Roman Europe
Plan a visit to Guildhall and Guildhall Art Gallery & the Roman Amphitheatre: Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street, City of London EC2V 5AE.
Halloween is almost upon us! From the ghoulish to the macabre if you are looking for things to do in London this Halloween, these are 10 places I can recommend you visit. London is a city of mystery, of ghosts, ghouls and tales of the damned. If you are seeker of all things dark and downright fascinating then be sure to visit:
HIGHGATE CEMETERY – WEST SIDE
The Victorian attitude to death and its presentation led to the creation of a wealth of Gothic tombs and buildings. Highgate Cemetery was featured in the popular media from the 1960s to the late 1980s for its so-called occult past, particularly as being the alleged site of the “Highgate Vampire”. In Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel Dracula, the Count’s young victim, Lucy Westenra, is buried in “Kingstead Cemetery” (a fictionalised Highgate), where she later preys on young children as a vampire.
The cemetery in its original form; the north-western area, opened in 1839. A brilliant place to visit at any time, I can highly recommend a visit to Highgate Cemetery. There is an entrance fee for both east and west side, and if you wish to tour the West Side you do have to book. – address: Swain’s Lane London, Highgate N6 6PJ Do telephone to book: 020 8340 1834
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station Archway on Northern Line and you can either walk up Swains Lane or you can be sensible and take one of the buses (134/210/271) that go up Highgate Hill towards Highgate Village: alight at Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park and walk through the park to the opposite side and exit for the cemetery. You can’t miss it. Or the 214 from Kentish Town on Northern Line, get off at South Grove and walk down Swaines Lane to the cemetery.
WEST BROMPTON CEMETERY
West Brompton Cemetery, consecrated by the Bishop of London in June 1840, is one of the Britain’s oldest and most distinguished garden cemeteries. Some 35,000 monuments, from simple headstones to substantial mausolea, now mark the resting place of more than 205,000 burials.One of the most notable persons to be buried there would be Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader and you can see her memorial on the broad walk through the cemetery. Besides that there are some intriguing and downright weird headstones. Do explore and be sure to visit the entrance to the catacombs.
Beatrix Potter, who lived in The Boltons nearby, took the names of many of her animal characters from tombstones in the cemetery and it is said that Mr. McGregor’s walled garden was based on the colonnades. Names on headstones included Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, a Tod (with that unusual single ‘d’ spelling), Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock – and even a Peter Rabbett.
Old Brompton Road in West Brompton, SW10, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Main Gate (or North Gate) is near the junction with Kempsford Gardens. FREE
HOW TO GET THERE: Nearest tube station: West Brompton or Fulham Broadway
JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM
The architect Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library; an absolutely fascinating and yet macabre place to visit with narrow passageways and rooms filled with relics of his collections, one of which is the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I. There are hundreds of fascinating and weird items to see as well as some beautiful paintings, and I was quite unable to absorb so much…therefore I will ‘have’ to visit again They hold special candlelight openings on the first Tuesday evening of each month, 6-9pm. This event cannot be booked and tickets are issued on a first come first served basis. No photography allowed in the museum. Entrance is FREE but you do need to queue, so go early. The Soane’s Museum is at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields London WC2A 3BP 020 7405 2107 They also appreciate donations
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station Holborn – Central & Piccadilly Lines or a short walk from The Royal Courts of Justice on Strand.
A truly macabre museum, the smell of formaldehyde is quite overwhelming as you enter. If you can bear it…then the museum is fascinating with exhibits that include the skeleton of the 7ft 7in tall ‘Irish giant’ Charles Byrne, a collection of surgical instruments dating from the seventeenth century, carbolic sprays used by Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, the tooth of a megatherium (an extinct giant sloth) donated by Charles Darwin – and Winston Churchill’s dentures and thousands of anatomical specimens. The Hunterian Museum is situated within the Royal College of Surgeons and open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Closed Sunday, Monday and bank holidays. Tel: 020 7869 6560 Admission is FREE but they do appreciate a donation. The museum is open to all and there is wheelchair access.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Royal College of Surgeons of London’s building is on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PE Nearest tube station: Holborn on Central and Piccadilly Lines
ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE in the City of London
For a quite surreal experience; venture into the amphitheatre, 20 feet below ground level, and if you walk across the courtyard of Guildhall, except for a black oblong of stone you would never guess it was there. I myself discovered it quite by accident when I visited the Guildhall Art Gallery. There is a fascinating display near the cloakrooms of artefacts they have found whilst excavating. What you can see now: The eastern entranceway that led into the arena. These stone walls once supported the timber framework for the tiers of seating above. The wooden drainage system – a central drain ran beneath the main axis of the arena and under the length of the entranceway. It included a timber-lined silt trap, a tank where silt and rubbish would collect. They are a rare survival as wood can only survive burial in wet conditions. Two antechambers, small rooms built on either side of the entranceway with doorways both from the passage and from the arena. They may have served as waiting rooms for those about to take part in events in the arena.
The amphitheatre entrance is via the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London. I can’t believe how many Londoners have no idea that this even exists. It is a must visit for an awesome experience.
Admission to the Gallery’s permanent collection and the Roman Amphitheatre is FREE Guildhall Art Gallery & Roman London’s Amphitheatre, Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE
HOW TO GET THERE: Nearest tube station: Bank on Central, Northern Lines and the DLR
TOWER OF LONDON
For a ghoulish experience visit the Torture Chamber – the medieval torture chamber, often built underground was windowless and lit by a few candles, specifically designed to induce “horror, dread and despair” to anyone but those possessing a strong mind and “nerves of steel”. In the early 1080s, William the Conqueror began to build a massive stone tower at the centre of his London fortress. Through the centuries that followed, successive monarchs added to the fortifications as fortress, palace and prison. Legend has it that many years ago a huge ghostly bear appeared by the Martin Tower, scaring a guard so badly that he dropped dead of shock! James I’s cousin, Arbella Stuart, was imprisoned and possibly murdered at the Tower and of course the mystery of the two young Prince’s who disappeared never to be found remains unsolved .
The Tower of London is an experience not to be missed; from Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters), to 9 Towers, a torture chamber, the Crown Jewels and thousands of years of history this is such an amazing place to visit that I seriously recommend you put aside at least 3 hours to explore everything there is to see. Be sure to stop at Tower Green where many people were beheaded: The Execution Site – Scaffolds were erected in front of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula for private executions, amongst them three English Queens; Anne Boleyn (1536), Catherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554).
The Tower of London is situated in Tower Hamlets on the edge of the old City of London near Tower Bridge. Summer opening times till 31 October: Tuesday – Saturday: 09:00 – 18:00 Sunday – Monday: 10:00 – 18:00 Last Admission: 17:00 Admission £(ref website)
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station TOWER HILL – District & Circle lines and Tower Gateway on the DLR
TEN BELLS PUB, SPITALFIELDS
The Ten Bells pub has existed in one guise or another since at least the middle of the 18th century. In 1755 it was known as the “Eight Bells Alehouse”. The name is likely to have changed in 1788 when the church installed a new set of chimes, this time with ten bells.
The Ten Bells is often referred to as a “Jack the Ripper pub”. There has been a great deal written about Jack the Ripper (some of it tenuous, much of it fiction) and the Spitalfields area. I went on a Jack the Ripper tour some years ago, and we visited the pub along the way. The interior is rough and ready with some interesting features, and impressively decorated with original Victorian tiling. If the tales of Jack the Ripper are to be believed, then surely this pub has to be visited….after nightfall and definitely at Halloween.
Jamie Oliver’s Great Great Grandfather was a landlord of the Ten Bells during the 1880s.
84 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, E1 6LY Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11am-11pm FREE to enter but do stop for a drink.
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube Liverpool Street tube – Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City & Metropolitan lines & National Rail
THE CLINK PRISON MUSEUM located in Southwark
Built upon the original site of the Clink Prison (1144-1780), with links to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the prison dates back to 1144 making it one of England’s oldest, if not the oldest Prison. This is a smashing place to visit for tales of murder & mayhem. They have an interactive tour and you get to rattle some chains! We had a most enjoyable time, however…. this is one place I would not want to be after dark! Previous investigators have found the site to be very active with a variety of things happening from glasses smashing, lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing and many other strange unexplained events.
Opening times: Winter: October – June 7 days a week 10:00 – 21:00 Mon-Fri 10:00 – 18.00 Weekend 10:00 – 19:30 Closed Xmas day
The Clink Prison Museum is in Clink Street, Bankside, Southwark…a few minutes walk from Borough Market Entramce £(ref website)
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube London Bridge Station Jubilee & Northern Lines and National Rail
ST BARTHOLOMEW THE GREAT, Smithfields
Saint Bartholomew the Great, founded in 1123 as an Augustinian Priory is one of London’s oldest churches and has been in continuous use as a place of worship since at least 1143. The church possesses the most significant Norman interior in London, although the Priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the Church was demolished, the monastic buildings were largely intact and the Canons’ choir and sanctuary were preserved for parish use. Under Queen Mary, there was briefly a house of Dominican friars here, before it reverted to being a Parish Church under Queen Elizabeth I.
St Bart’s has not only survived the Great Fire of 1666 but also the bombs dropped in Zeppelin raids in World War I and during the Blitz in World War II. The entrance I would recommend you use to get into the church is from Smithfield as it goes into the churchyard through a tiny surviving fragment of the west front, now surmounted by a half-timbered Tudor building. The oriel window was installed inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the 16th c. by William Bolton, allegedly so that he could spy on the monks. The ghost of a monk is said to haunt the church looking for a stolen sandal from his tomb.
St Bartholomew is a wonderfully dark and spooky kind of church, not at all light and airy like most of the churches in London that have been substantially renovated by the Victorians or restored subsequent to WW2, and you can tell the Sir Christopher Wren never got his hands onto it!! As you step across the threshold you can feel the weight of the centuries and the light falls through windows that are meters high giving the church an ethereal atmosphere.
St Bartholomew the Great is a truly amazing church to visit and I can highly recommend that you do. Address: West Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS telephone: 020 7606 5171
HOW TO GET THERE: By Bus – the 17, 45, 46, 63, 8, 25, 56, 4, 153, 242, 521, 100, 243 and 341 buses are all within walking distance of the church. Nearest Tube: Barbican – Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan Lines & St Paul’s – Central Line & Farringdon – Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan Lines.
Crypt ST BRIDE’S CHURCH located off Fleet Street
Step into St. Bride’s and you step back in time through the centuries….St Bride’s may be one of the most ancient churches in London, with worship perhaps dating back to the conversion of the Middle Saxons in the 7th century.
Visit the crypt and step into 2,000 years of history, which began with the Romans some six centuries before the name of St Bride, daughter of an Irish prince, even emerged from legend to become associated forever with the site. Catch a glimpse of an original Roman roadway right at the back of the crypt, the remains of a metal coffin and a macabre selection of relics uncovered during excavation. St Bride’s has had a number of notable parishioners, including John Milton, John Dryden, and the diarist Samuel Pepys, who was born nearby and baptized in the church. Pepys buried his brother Tom in the church in 1664, but by this stage the vaults were so overcrowded that Pepys had to bribe the gravedigger to “justle together” the corpses in order to make room. Visitors to the area included individuals such as William Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, Sir Francis Drake, Geoffrey Chaucer and many more. The current incarnation of the church is of course by none other than Sir Christopher Wren.
The spire of St Bride’s is said to have inspired (no pun intended) a nearby baker to create what today is the tiered wedding cake.
the church is just off Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 8AU opening times Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm Sat Closed Sun 10am-6:30pm
HOW TO GET THERE: nearest tube station: Blackfriar’s on the Circle or District Lines, National Rail a short walk to the church. Or any number of buses that run along Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street and Strand between Trafalgar Square and St Paul’s Cathedral.
There are of course any number of experiences and things to with 3 days in London at Halloween, but I have listed above places you can visit many of which are free. One or two do require an entrance fee, but they are well worth the visit. I wish you a great time and if you have just 3 Days in London this time…. be sure to come back soon.
I hope you enjoyed this blog, please do leave a comment as I would love to hear from you.
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Information for this post has been gleaned from various sources:
pamphlets, wikipedia, the various websites and my visits to the places listed above.
Did you know that there is a Roman Amphitheatre in London? The courtyard in front of Guildhall has its own tale to tell and to the east of the hall is the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The Guildhall Art Gallery (the original art gallery burned down during an air-raid in May 1941), is a ‘must visit’…… housing a fabulous collection of paintings one of which is one of Britain’s largest paintings: Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 By John Singleton Copley Oil on canvas 1783-1791 214 inches by 297 inches
Book yourself on one of the frequent tours given by a very knowledgeable guide who provides a fascinating insight into the paintings on display. Some of them are so beautifully executed they look like photographs. The piece de resistance of course is the little known about Roman Amphitheatre below ground.
Remains of a long-lost Roman amphitheatre discovered in 1987 underneath what is now Guildhall Yard indicate that the site of Guildhall was significant as far back as Roman times. An important building in Roman times, London’s amphitheatre in its heyday, would’ve accommodated approximately 6,000 people at a time when the population of Londinium was only 20,000-30,000.
Recently excavated and now open for general viewing the area has been set up to incorporate the ruins of the amphitheatre as well as a recreation of what the amphitheatre would have looked like 2,000 years ago. During the excavations they discovered an original drainage ditch that contained a ladies leather thong, a gold triangular shaped earring with a pearl designed – for a pierced ear, as well as bones and tufts of fur.
A reminder of the Gladiatorial fights that took place in these amphitheatres where men and women were pitted not only against each other, but also against animals eg lions. The ruins show areas demarcated for fighters waiting to enter the arena, original walls and original sand and gravel used at the time to build the arena. This area, well below ground….20 feet below ground level offers an absolutely fascinating glimpse into Roman London.
An oval slate in the courtyard marks the spot where if you went straight down you would find the amphitheatre.
Guildhall and the Roman Amphitheatre are included in the recently Released: ‘While You Are There…53 Places to go in London’ – Buy your copy here
Also on the perimeter of the courtyard can be found St Lawrence Jewry,
so called because the original 12th century church stood on the eastern side of the city, then occupied by the Jewish community. That church, built in 1136 was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. The building that replaced it was designed by Christopher Wren in 1680.
That church was almost completely destroyed by fire during 1940. It was restored in 1957 in the tradition of Wren’s building and is now the church of the Corporation of London. The interior of the church is just beautiful and well worth a visit to see the fabulous stained glass windows.