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Blog 63 - Londinium

I am not sure if the Romans used carpets. It would have been such a shame to cover up their magnificent mosaics. Nevertheless, it’s about time I flew with my magic carpet on a short trip to the ancient Roman city of Londinium. I have neglected it lately.

The silk scarf I am wearing today is a long skinny model in various wine shades, quite suitable to celebrate Bacchus, god of wine, be it Rosso, Rosa, or Bianco. It is quite special to me as it has many personal connections. The scarf bears the name of Jane Shilton whose husband Alexander started the company in 1933, the year of my birth. He began by making handbags but during the following war years made gas masks. As a very young child, I remember these well. The scarves came later. Let’s fast forward some few years to my teenage memories and what significance does this scarf now hold for me? I am studying Art as an ‘A’ level and part of my course is History of Architecture. I still have my sketches of these Doric, Ionic and Corinthian column capitals. If you look closely at my scarf, you will see the design is of such Corinthian capitals with hand written notes about Roman style of architecture. Now we go forward another few years to 1954 and I am planning my wedding.

Amazing how one scarf can trigger so many diverse memories! I was working above Cannon Street Station and in my lunch break I would walk a good distance to Petticoat Lane to the street market. I had already bought the ivory satin there which would be made into my wedding dress and now I was going to search for fine tulle for the veil. On that particular day in 1954 I never got any further than across the road from the office to Walbrook. There was a great stir on the building site which had been waste land covered in rosebay willow herb softening the scars of WW2 bombing. There were crowds peering through the hoarding. Naturally, being of an inquisitive nature, I gaped as well. As far as I could see, it was a load of old stones. That evening, we heard on the news that what I had seen was the remains of a Roman Mithras Temple dating back to the mid third century AD. Building work for Bucklersbury House was suspended, the temple remains carefully moved to Temple Court in Queen Victoria Street and in 1962 opened to the public as an open air display. By then, I had two daughters and the train of the wedding dress had been made into a christening gown. It was then used for the next generation of four granddaughters, the last being my blog Art Director. I think it is still around somewhere but was not used for the following generation of four great grandsons. I hold out hopes for a great granddaughter one day when that tiny garment of ivory satin with deeper cream hand smocking will be worn again. It may possibly be as yellowed as my schoolgirl notes and newspaper wedding photo.

Bucklersbury House was built and, yes, half a century later demolished to make way for a grander building to be the European headquarters for Bloomberg. The Mithras Temple would be moved back to its original site beneath the new building. During excavations for the new development, many more artefacts were found and are now housed in the splendid museum there. I visited it not long before Covid Lockdown. As I came out of Cannon Street Station, I recognised little of what I had known as a young woman. The old stones I had seen peering through that hoarding were now part of a reconstructed mysterious temple below ground level. I could imagine the high ranking Roman soldiers there, worshipping Mithras, Minerva, Mercury, Serapis and Venus. Really little is known of this particular cult. Worship of Bacchus came later and so back to the wine colours of my silk scarf.

I hope I can find a landing spot for my carpet and not be handed a Roman parking ticket. It would be issued on a wooden tablet filled with a layer of wax and written with a stylus. I saw examples of these in this atmospheric London Mithraeum. The wax has gone, but the scratch marks on these ancient bills of sale, etc can still be seen on the wood. I can hear the chanting, footsteps, the light is hazy and mysterious. We are underground. There are Roman leather sandals which have been preserved in the Walbrook river silt. I glance down at my synthetic trainers. I wonder if I will get another year’s wear from them?

Many of my silk scarves are quite old; they are in pristine condition and I hope they will last. I would never have written about them if that virus had not mutated. At least their stories will be there forever on the Internet Cloud. A small piece of history.

Busy Bee, Scarf Face.

Series 2, Blog 63.

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1 Comment

Sharon Holcomb
Sep 21, 2021

I have loved sharing your blog with my 93 year old friend who was also married in 1954. That’s an impressive train!

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