Ancient Town Beneath London’s National Gallery Revealed

Ancient Town Beneath London's National Gallery is a New Discovery, Say Experts From Archaeology South-East.

Feb 19, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Ancient Town
© Archaeology South-East/UCL


Ancient town beneath London’s National Gallery is a new discovery for experts from Archaeology South-East, part of the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Overall, these archaeologists discovered proof of a Saxon town known as Lundenwic, that once stood where the National Gallery in London now sits. One piece of evidence includes a hearth from the 7th or 8th century.


Ancient Town of Lundenwic

© Archaeology South-East/UCL


The discoveries are the outcome of Jubilee Walk digs. The park is part of the National Gallery at the north end of Trafalgar Square. It establishes the previously held belief that the Saxon-era London’s urban centre extended further west. The diggings took place in connection with ‘NG200: Welcome’ at the National Gallery. This is a redevelopment project forming part of the Gallery’s Bicentenary celebrations.


The National Gallery created a Jubilee Walk. It is a walkway linking Trafalgar Square and Orange Street. Prior to this, it served a number of intricate functions. That includes King Richard II’s Royal Mews for capturing hawks, stables, and maybe a series of residences. Excavations seemed carried out in the region in order to establish an underground connection between the Wilkins Building and the Sainsbury Wing.


© Archaeology South-East/UCL


The inhabitants of the fortified Roman city of Londinium left it behind in the fifth century CE. The community moved westward along the present-day Strand with the arrival of the Saxons. By the seventh century, it became referred to as Lundenwic and functioned mainly as a waterfront commerce hub. The westernmost point of this settlement is home to the National Gallery. Also, this is the first excavation to prove that the urban centre extended this far west.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


What Did Archaeologists Discover?

Image: Detail from a visualisation of the view from Trafalgar Square approaching the Sainsbury Wing, with new transparent glass, reconfigured gates, and new seating. Image: Selldorf Architects.


Archaeologists unearthed a hearth, postholes, stake-holes, pits, ditches and levelling deposits. The hearth was radiocarbon dated, revealing that the earliest occupation occurred between 659 and 774 AD. These Saxon strata were atop with post-medieval walls. Most likely, the first wall appeared in the 17th or 18th century. Up to the 19th century, archaeologists saw numerous stages of reconstruction of these walls using various building materials.


“Excavating at the National Gallery was an incredible opportunity to investigate interesting archaeology and to be involved with some truly outstanding outreach. The evidence we uncovered suggests the urban centre of Lundenwic extends further west than originally thought. This was made all the more exciting by having the chance to share that information, and how it relates to archaeology across London, with young people from this city”, said Stephen White, who led excavations.


London’s National Portrait Gallery. Archive.


“It’s an honour for the National Gallery to be part of a discovery like this, and it brings home to us how everything we are building and reconstructing as part of this project will be part of the fabric and history of London for centuries to come. We are grateful for the hard work and care of the archaeologists who have worked with us over the past months”, said Sarah Younger, Director of the NG200 Welcome Project.

Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.