Cast your minds back, folks, three thousand-odd years, to 1100BC. Or thereabouts. To a guy called Brutus, who lived in Troy. Young Brutus had itchy feet. He wanted to travel. To see the world. Of course there wasn’t that much world to see in those days, so he needed to go and discover some first. He went on lots of adventures all through Europe and finally crossed the channel to a new country.
Geoffrey of Monmouth reckons that when Brutus arived it was totally uninhabited by humans, but there were a few giants knocking around. He saw them off, and trudged his way up the banks of the Thames looking for a suitable place to build himself a city. Most people, including Geoffrey himself, have assumed that the city of Trinovantum was on the site of what became London, but there are some strange holes in the story.
For starters there’s bugger-all prehistoric archaeological evidence in the City of London itself – though of course that could have been obliterated by more recent building. But other accounts just don’t feel right either, and there are some who argue that the once-great city was actually at Greenwich. It fits with much of the storytelling at least – the river, the settlement on flat ground and the wooded hills rising up above it where the evil King Mempricius met a sticky end, devoured by wolves.
Even the Blackheath Cavern gets a look-in. Brutus’s son Locrin fell in love with a German maiden captured from the Huns. But as luck would have it, he was already engaged to the daughter of the King of Cornwall. Typical. He had to go through with the wedding for the sake of appearances, but he still wanted his end away with the beautiful Estrildis so he hid her in a great underground cavern and visited her for seven years under the pretext of ‘making sacrifices to the gods…’ Yeah. That old one.
Then there was Bladud, the founder of Bath. He was a necromancer and the fabled father of King Lear. He fancied his chances as an aeronaut and made himself some wings. He took off from a great hill which some suggest could have been One Tree Hill. Gravity won, and he ended up dashed to pieces on the temple of Apollo (the Sun God, making Bladud a British Icarus, perhaps?) in Trinovantum.
Later historians who tried to square Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story (he did live about 2,000 years too late) to the London of today had a particularly trying time with “the tower of Trinovantum,” trying to shoehorn the Tower of London to fit, even though it was the wrong date and in the wrong place. But Greenwich Hill, where the Observatory stands now, has long been the site of a tower, and it’s likely that Duke Humphrey’s wasn’t the first. If it is there, then there are several dead prehistoric king buried underneath it (don’t look to the mounds – they’re anglo-saxon.)
When Caesar invaded, he defeated the Britons ‘near a place called Trinovantum.’ Could it have been Greenwich? After all, the 1st Century historian Cassius Dio describes the loss of Roman troops as they follow the Britons across the Thames ‘at a point near where it empties into the ocean and at flood tide forms a lake.’ At that time the Thames would have been fordable at Greenwich.
So. Fariy story or archaeological possibility? Your guess is as good as mine…