Ap­peal un­earths Ro­man trea­sure kept by visi­tors from the Fifties

As Tem­ple of Mithras is re­con­structed, a plea for dig mem­o­ries is re­warded with host of ex­tra arte­facts

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Anita Singh ARTS AND EN­TER­TAIN­MENT ED­I­TOR y n nd d iept y

WHEN a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists be­gan restor­ing the Ro­man Tem­ple of Mithras in the City of Lon­don, first dis­cov­ered in 1954, they ap­pealed for any­one who re­mem­bered the orig­i­nal dig to get in touch.

They hoped peo­ple would come for­ward with mem­o­ries of see­ing the ru­ins, or even have pho­to­graphs from the time. They ended up with rather more – a hoard of Ro­man trea­sures.

Mem­bers of the pub­lic re­vealed that work­ers at the site had given them mu­seum-wor­thy arte­facts to take away, many of which were still in their pos­ses­sion. Some of those re­dis­cov­ered trea­sures are now on dis­play at the new Lon­don Mithraeum mu­seum, where the tem­ple has been re­built on its orig­i­nal site.

It is Bri­tain’s new­est tourist at­trac­tion – de­spite be­ing 1,777 years old.

The tem­ple was first dis­cov­ered by Wil­liam Grimes, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist for the Ro­man and Me­dieval Lon­don Exca- va­tion Coun­cil. The City had been razed in the Blitz and, with re­con­struc­tion work about to be­gin, Grimes set out to sift through the rub­ble for sites of in­ter­est.

A work­man is said to have stum­bled across the mar­ble head of Mithras, a Ro­man de­ity.

News of the find gripped the na­tion, with Win­ston Churchill call­ing a halt to de­mo­li­tion work, and 400,000 peo­ple queued over two weeks for a glimpse of the site which dated back to 240AD.

Diana Van Rooyen was one of the peo­ple who came for­ward re­cently when the Mu­seum of Lon­don Ar­chae­ol­ogy is­sued their ap­peal. For the past 63 years, she has been the care­ful owner of a Ro­man lamp. She was 14 when she vis­ited the site with her fa­ther, an en­gi­neer in­volved in the ten­der­ing process for the City of Lon­don re­build­ing pro­gramme. “It was be­cause my fa­ther was we were al­lowed in.

“He saw some­thing stick­ing out of the mud, picked it up and out came this lit­tle lamp,” she re­called.

“Be­ing a very hon­est man, he took it to the ar­chae­ol­o­gist, who said, ‘Oh, you in­volved, can have that, we’ve got hun­dreds of those.’ He was very pleased.” The find caused a sen­sa­tion be­cause Lon­don­ers had en­dured such a mis­er­able time, Ms Van Rooyen said.

“I re­mem­ber Lon­don af­ter the war – the build­ings were black and grimy, we’d just come out of ra­tioning, and it was all quite grim. And sud­denly there was this fan­tas­tic dis­cov­ery and it really perked peo­ple up.”

She has kept the lamp in a dis­play cab­i­net in her sit­ting room. “It prob­a­bly isn’t worth much. It’s just a lit­tle ter­ra­cotta thing, not or­nate or dec­o­rated. But it is a very spe­cial thing to have.”

Se­cu­rity at the site was so scant in the early days that chil­dren would play there. Ian Sil­ver was 10 at the time. “We used to go there as boys af­ter school, climb down by lad­der, and the night­watch­man would give us things,” he said. “He gave us all these arte­facts – money and bones and things. He said ‘Take ’em, they don’t know what they’re look­ing at.’”

Even­tu­ally, his mother in­sisted his haul should be handed in, so they took it the near­est place they thought would be suit­able: the Beth­nal Green toy mu­seum. An­other woman, Liza Ben­jamin, was given an oys­ter shell when she vis­ited the site. It has now been em­bed­ded into the wall of the re­con­structed tem­ple. So­phie Walker, of the Mu­seum of Lon­don Ar­chae­ol­ogy (MOLA), said: “This lady brought the oys­ter shell to me. It had been kept in a lovely lit­tle plas­tic bag for 60 years, and it’s gone back in the tem­ple.”

One cou­ple, San­dra and Eric Mor­gan, con­tacted the MOLA team with a di­ary Mrs Mor­gan had kept from the time. The en­try for Sept 25, 1954 read: “We went and stood out­side the Ro­man tem­ple on Queen Vic­to­ria Street and we queued for two-and-a-quar­ter hours to get in. But it was worth­while! Then we went to the cin­ema and saw Robert Tay­lor in Knights of the Round Ta­ble.”

The dig was shut down within weeks to make way for the builders, and un­told num­bers of trea­sures went to land­fill.

The site was moved 100m down the road where it spent many years, unloved and un­no­ticed, serv­ing as the roof of an un­der­ground car park. Fi­nally, the bil­lion­aire bil­lionai founder of Bloomberg, the fi­nan­cial fi­nanci in­for­ma­tion com­pany, agreed to move mo the tem­ple back to its orig­i­nal site – the base­ment of his new of­fice build­ing buildi close to the Bank of Engla Eng­land.

A team then th had to dis­man­tle and an re­con­struct it, a process pro that has taken the th best part of a decade. decad

Tours Tou be­gin on Tues­day Tuesda and, although tick­ets are a re­quired, it is free of charge. c

‘He gave us all these arte­facts – money and bones. He said “Take ’em, they don’t know what they’re look­ing at” ’

A re­con­struc­tion of the Ro­man Tem­ple of Mithras, top left, queues in 1954, a bull plaque and Ro­man coins, in­set

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