Slaves And Water - What the Museum Of London Did For Us

By David Prudames | 05 December 2002
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two slaves captured in a campaign outside of what is now Paris, aka engineers Dr Bob Spain and Adrian McCurdy, work the water-lifting machine.

Left: two slaves captured in a campaign outside of what is now Paris, aka engineers Dr Bob Spain and Adrian McCurdy, work the water-lifting machine. © 24 Hour Museum.

Calling all slaves, London needs you to power a sophisticated piece of Roman technology so the capital can bathe and drink like it's AD99.

Encouraging visitors to enter into the bonds of slavery, the Museum of London has unveiled a full-scale working Roman water-lifting machine.

The twelve foot Working Water project replica was created by museum archaeologists and engineers from construction experts, McCurdy and Co following the discovery of the remains of two water-lifting machines at Gresham Street in the City of London.

Tony Robinson from Time Team was on hand to help tired slaves.

Right: Tony Robinson from Time Team was on hand to help tired slaves. © 24 Hour Museum.

Hedley Swain, Head of Early London History and Collections at the museum explained how archaeological evidence was pieced together to reveal what the machine would have looked like and how it worked.

"Only by actually doing it can we prove or suggest how the different elements work and experiment with how water was managed in London," he said. "It is an exhibit that will have a strong impact on visitors visually and help them to understand Roman technology."

Museum Archaeologists Ian Blair and Bruce Watson said that the original machines, dated from AD 63 and AD 108-9, represent the cutting edge of Roman engineering and go some way towards explaining Britain's significance within the empire.

"Hopefully, it will answer questions about why the Romans were building such sophisticated machines in a town on the edge of the Empire and how a wheel turning buckets and chains actually worked," added Roman Curator and Working Water project leader, Jenny Hall.

Ian Blair and Bruce Watson of the Museum of London Archaeological Service look on ready to crack the whip.

Left: Ian Blair and Bruce Watson of the Museum of London Archaeological Service look on ready to crack the whip. © 24 Hour Museum.

London's original Roman water-lifting machines would have been operated by slaves or animals and were capable of producing up to 72,000 litres of water over 10 hours, which is enough to supply 8,000 people daily.

The Working Water project was made possible with the support of Swiss Re, a reinsurance company working to raise awareness of issues surrounding clean drinking water and global climate change.

The machine will be on display at the Museum of London until May 2003 and will also be the subject of a Time Team documentary to be shown next year.

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