Ladies peer through a hole in the Temple of Mithras site fence (c) John Christopher Pegg

Oral history in the making

Clare Coyne

Oral Historian Clare Coyne has been working on the Temple of Mithras oral history project and gives us an update on progress so far.

We are now more than half way through our oral history project to celebrate the discovery of the Temple of Mithras. The project officially launched at the end of September 2014 to coincide with the date 60 years ago that W. F. Grimes, head of the London Museum and lead excavator, and his team were given a two week extension to carry on excavating the site. During this period an estimated 400, 000 people flocked to see the temple remains and we’ve been recording some of their stories.

For many, the experience marked an evocative and memorable day during those post-war years of bomb sites and rationing and sparked a lifelong interest in archaeology and history. This quote from one interviewee, who was ten at the time, reflects the impact that seeing the temple had:

"It took my breath away…to find out underneath all the demolished buildings there was a Roman building…I didn’t think of history in that way and then to see it in front of you, to see something that gave me a life-long love of archaeology." Mike Rice-Naylor, former interior designer, born 1944

Of those who visited the site some went on to have careers related to archaeology and history and many people spent their family holidays visiting archaeological sites.

"What impressed me most was talking to someone in the queue who had just returned from Pompeii...and then to go straight into a Roman site here! It struck me as being one of the most exciting things ever and I went straight home and made a 'hit list' of places to see... and I've seen them all! - The visit shaped my life - the rest of the summer holidays forever was looking at archaeological sites.'" Sally Royal-Dawson, former English teacher, born 1937

A recurrent theme is that seeing a Roman temple rise from the streets of London made history real, palpable and exciting and something to be experienced again and again and shared with further generations.

“It was quite grim going up to London in those days... so much was broken and still not being cleared away and then out of the bombing of that building had come really the miracle of discovering this temple...and from that point of view it's not surprising at all it really caught the public imagination because here was something really exciting coming out of something really find a intact.” Diana Van Rooyen, former research psychologist & lecturer, born 1939

The oral history project continues till the end of November, building an archive which will be a testament to this important chapter in 1954 which proved to be pivotal not only for the world of archaeology but also for so many members of the public who were lucky enough to visit the site at the time.

Please contact us on 020 7410 2266 / if you were there yourself or have images or memorabilia of anyone else who was.

  • Mithras
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  • Roman
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  • Community project

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