Of all the periods in London's history, the Saxon has produced the most
surprises from excavations of recent years.
Though the Dark Ages continue to be dark, there is increasing light on
this formative period. . . Within the city itself, however, evidence remains
meagre from the collapse of the Roman administration in 410 until the late
Saxon reoccupation under King Alfred in the 9th century.
The extent to which the city was occupied during these intervening
centuries, with its great Roman buildings slowly crumbling, remains one of
London's - as yet - great unsolved mysteries.
By 410, the built-up area within the town walls had already contracted
greatly in size. Parts had been cleared of buildings and were already
covered by a horizon of dark silts (often described as 'dark earth')
suggesting that land was converted to arable and pastoral use or abandoned
The dark earth may have started forming in the third century. The
protection afforded by the walls, however, suggests the town would have
remained a centre of some importance, a place of refuge if not an urban
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 457 mentions the flight of the
British to London after their defeat at Creaganford (Crayford in Kent) at
the hands of Hengist and Horsa, leaders of the Saxon invaders.
The first documented building work in the walled area after the
departure of the Romans was the foundation of the cathedral church of St
Paul by King Aethelbert (Æthelberht) of Kent in or shortly after 604, as
recorded by Bede.
Its remains presumably underlie the present Wren church and churchyard,
though any fragments beneath the cathedral would now be very badly damaged;
and no Saxon remains of this period have been identified in excavations
either here or elsewhere in the city.
The building of a cathedral does not necessarily imply the continuation
of settlement, as it was papal policy to establish cathedrals in former
Roman towns whatever their level of population.