[I] follow the slight incline into Finsbury Circus and find [myself] in a crescent of tall, neoclassical buildings surrounding an enclosed garden. Today the garden has been colonized by works for the new railway. With its whale-grey Portakabins and giant mechanical diggers, it has all the grace of an abandoned terraforming installation.
In the 1980s a Roman cemetery was discovered on the north side of Finsbury Circus: 132 burials, including some cremations. Osteoarchaeologist Natasha Powers once described the scene to me as ‘CSI Walbrook’. Two bodies were found crouched in pits, as if they had been interred alive. One body was unearthed without its head, presumed decapitated. Two corpses were found with leg rings, and evidence of de-fleshing (the removal of flesh and organs from a body before burial). In one burial, a woman and a young man were lying prone, as if they had been holding each other when they went in. It seems a strange place to bury the dead, in the soggy northern margins of the city. When the Walbrook flooded, as Powers explained, the cemetery would have turned into a swamp. The bloated stream carried such force that stone sarcophagi were raised from their beds and scoured clean of their cargo, sending fractured skeletons and decomposing corpses cascading downstream like so much unwanted river-junk.