The Phantom of Gresham Street

Ian Blair

The group photo that follows was taken in June 2001 during the excavation at 20-30 Gresham Street (GHT00) commonly known as Blossoms Inn.

The site was excavated by a multi-national team of archaeologists from MoLAS and AOC Archaeology, making it one of the earliest projects where different archaeological units worked collaboratively together on an excavation in London: something that in the last two decades has become relatively commonplace both in and out of the metropolis.

Group Photograph
The site was notable for the discovery of the massive Roman wells and their mechanical water-lifting devices or bucket-chains, which subsequently led to a major reconstruction project to design and build a full-size working replica of a water-lifting machine, capable of driving one of the bucket-chains (but more of this in a future post).

Exactly ten years later in June 2011, a number of the original archaeological team who were still within striking distance of London, gathered for a reunion at ‘The George Inn’ in Southwark, a suitably historic location and watering hole, being the only surviving galleried coaching inn in London. 

Group photo at The George Inn

The gathering also coincided with the official public opening of the Roman water-lifting machine at its new home at the ‘Ancient Technology Centre’ at Cranborne in Dorset, having been dismantled and moved from its original site in the Rotunda Garden outside the Museum of London in February 2010.

Although there was nothing untoward in the appearance of the two group photographs shown above, more worrying were the two subsequent photographs, which despite having been taken ten years apart both have a foreboding spectral body or phantasm in evidence. In the earliest of these photos the Gresham Street phantom can be seen flying unnoticed into the group at left centre with its bony arms or wings raised.

On site group Photo 
Exactly a decade later in June 2011 the phantom returned to join the reunion in the courtyard of ‘The George Inn’ this time choosing to crouch down ominously at the front centre of the group, with Raksha’s and one of my legs clearly visible through its distorted ethereal form.

Group photo 2 at The George Inn
Ten years later the real spectre of the global Covid pandemic (2020─2021) and a nationwide lockdown still in place in June 2021, ensured that even if another reunion had been planned, that there were no further gatherings of the Gresham Street archaeologists or another anticipated and feared appearance of the Gresham Street phantom.

** All the photographs above were taken by the habitually late-arriving archaeologist Ryszard Bartkowiak


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