Recent excavations beneath The National Gallery have unveiled that the urban heart of Saxon London stretched further west than historians and archaeologists previously believed. This groundbreaking discovery was made by Archaeology South-East, a division of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, during their work on Jubilee Walk, part of a significant redevelopment project tied to the Gallery’s 200th anniversary.

The National Gallery’s Jubilee Walk, a pathway connecting Trafalgar Square with Orange Street, was first constructed alongside the Sainsbury Wing in 1991. However, the land it occupies has a rich history, serving various roles from King Richard II’s Royal Mews to residential housing. The recent excavations were initiated to facilitate the construction of an underground link between the Sainsbury Wing and the Wilkins Building, alongside enhancements to the surrounding public spaces.

Historical records indicate that after the Roman settlers abandoned Londinium in the 5th century CE, the Saxons established Lundenwic along the Strand by the 7th century, marking a westward shift of the urban settlement. Although archaeological efforts in the vicinity have previously identified Saxon artifacts, this is the first excavation to conclusively prove the westward extension of Lundenwic’s urban center.

The excavation team unearthed a variety of features including a hearth, postholes, stakeholes, and layers indicative of property boundary evolution within this Saxon suburb. Radiocarbon dating of the hearth suggests the area was occupied as early as 659-774 AD, predating several layers of post-medieval construction that followed.

Stephen White, the lead archaeologist for the Jubilee Walk project, expressed excitement over the findings, highlighting the unique opportunity to delve into London’s rich archaeological past and share these discoveries with the city’s youth. “The evidence we uncovered not only expands our understanding of Lundenwic’s geographical spread but also underscores the importance of integrating archaeology with public education and engagement,” White remarked.

Sarah Younger, Director of the NG200 Welcome Project, reflected on the significance of the discovery for the National Gallery and the broader London community. “Being part of uncovering London’s hidden history is a privilege,” Younger stated. “It reminds us of our responsibility to preserve and celebrate the layers of history beneath our feet, as well as the art within our walls. We’re thankful for the dedication of the archaeologists and our partners in making this project a conduit for educational outreach.”

This revelation not only reshapes historical maps of Saxon London but also reinforces the city’s dynamic history, enriching its cultural heritage and providing valuable insights for future generations.

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