The Old Roman City Wall of London
For around 1600 years the city of London was a walled city. Covering the square mile area from Tower Hill to Blackfriars the wall was started by the Romans and added to throughout it’s history before being pretty much dismantled in the 1700’s.
Now all that is left of the wall are a few reminders dotted along the former route. It’s purpose is likely to have changed throughout it’s history. Starting out as a defensive feature when in Roman times they decided to encircle Londinium despite already having a large fort in the city.
The wall would also have controlled access in and out making curfews easier to control. The gate through which people travelled from one side of the wall to another could also have been used to collect taxes from tradesman and to warn off anyone up to no good on account of there imposing presence.
Any trip of the route of the wall should begin at Tower Hill Station as no soon as you leave the station the first piece is right there.an imposing structure with the tower of London in the background. It remains one of the most impressive pieces left standing
Just under the underpass, crossing the road from tower hill station towards the tower of London, the remains of a postern gate can be seen. This would have controlled pedestrian access towards the east end and is thought to have been added in the 12th century.
The next piece of the wall can be seen in a hotel courtyard on Coopers Row close to the station but heading up towards Aldgate. It’s another quite substantial piece which even contains windows and a doorway through which you can see the wall from the other side.
The next piece is close by but hard to find. On Vine Street it’s actually in the basement of the offices of Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP. A tiny bit can just be glimpsed through a gate to the side of the office but it’s not much so a better plan is to ask on reception whether you can see it. If there is someone available you might be lucky but if not they will book you in to see it at a later date.
This section is slightly surreal, flanked as it is now with a very normal looking office corridor it is not the sort of place one expects to see a 2000 year old Roman wall.
At Aldgate there is apparantely another section contained within the underpass leading from Dukes Place to the church of St Botolphs.It was discovered when the underpass was being built but I’ve yet to see it as it’s been blocked off recently to allow some works to take place on the underpass.
Following the line of the wall up Bevis Marks you come eventually to Bishopsgate home of one of the seven gates of London but sadly an area never really excavated in any great depth. A bishops hat marks the spot of the former gate and the houses on Camomile Street which back onto the churchyard follow the line of the wall.
Nearby the church of All Hallows on the wall contains the next visible section built into the churchyard. All Hallows is a delightful little church and totally unexpected when you stumble onto it. The wall lines the churchyard and is supported with various flower beds.
Further along the street actually known as ‘London Wall’ the remaining pieces can all be seen around the area of the Barbican and the Museum of London.
Around the site of the old Cripplegate on the junction of Wood Street and St Alphege Gardens a decent section can be seen which was also formerly part of the old Roman fort which was eventually incorporated into the wall.
Further along Wood Street pedestrian access to the left leads to the church of St Giles Cripplegate. Now in the heart of the Barbican estate but old enough to be remembered in the oranges and lemons nursery rhyme. The next section of the wall is beyond the church and overlooks an ornimental pond which in itself is interesting as part of the old defensive ditch which surrounded the outside of the wall.
Further along to the right from this section the remains of a mediaeval tower can be seen still retaining it’s shape. It was rediscovered only as part of the construction of the Barbican estate itself when the whole area was redeveloped after the war.
Some more sections of the wall can be glimpsed beyond the tower but if you are not a resident of the Barbican they are not accessible. Instead you need to make your way back to London Wall (the road) and head towards the Museum. After a few moments a turn off leading to an underground car park can be seen with a section of wall at the entrance. A break in the wall allows you to go into an area of parkland which is between the museum and the barbican estate. There are sections of wall visible by the museum and the barber surgeons hall, the latter also has a quaint little herb garden growing next to it.
The end of this little area of parkland backs onto the now ornamental formerly defensive ditch which we saw earlier. From here the Barbican estate and St Giles church can be seen as well as the other side of the mediaeval round tower.
Back towards the underground car park and the last visible section of the wall can actually be seen inside. Go through the entrance and walk left towards the very end of the car park, it’s a bit of a trek as the car park runs along the length of London Wall (the road). Towards the end however a good section of the wall can be seen.
Finally the last visible above ground sections of the wall can be seen on Noble Street just opposite the entrance to the car park and the pieces of wall you will have just seen. This length of wall also formed part of the old fort and runs the length of the street towards St Annes Lutheran Church which incidentally also features in the oranges and lemons nursery rhyme.
More sections of the wall and the Roman fort exist underground through the car park but are only accessible as part of a tour with the museum of London. The tours are scheduled around once a month and it’s just a case is checking the museum of London website to find out when.