Roman London and the wall around old London town.

By 343 AD, a wall existed aound the entirety of London to protect the Roman town from invaders. It was not very long after this that the Romans began to retreat from Britain, and certainly by 410AD, in order to protect Rome from invasions. Most experts note 200 AD as the year of the wall being built, and clearly added to over the century.

London in these days was far smaller than today. The extent of the town walls, i.e. the exterior of the town was in the east roughly where the Tower of London was later built. It extended northwards to Aldgate, along Bevis marks, Camomile street and Wormwood street, i.e. alongside what was then and is now Houndsditch, then westwards along the full length of the London Wall. These were names long after the Roman town had left.

When it finally reaches St Giles church, the roman wall slopes southwards towards St Ann and St Agnes church, where a left turn through Aldersgate as was, takes it through lands not named on a modern map to St Sepulchre. These were probably Little Britain, and Christs Hospital (later the GPO).

It then veers southward via Newgate and hence down to Blackfriars, and the River Thames.

Plan of Roman London Wall

Plan of Roman London Wall as shown on the London wiki

And from a favourite site which is brilliant, the Layers of London maps London fantastically through time, here is a brief snippet of London from a map of London in circa 1270.

A map of London in circa 1270 showing the outline of the Roman wall in red.

A map of London in circa 1270 showing the outline of the Roman wall in red.

By visiting the Layers of London maps site and selecting the Mediaeval London 1270-1300 map you can not only drill down, magnify and compare with maps of London through other centuries, you can even add links to this map relevant to it.

I am currently a contributor to the Layers of London site in adding many of the London pubs, which has slowed down considerably recently, but I am hoping to add links to the current Roman wall as in what is left, where parts of the wall may possibly still be seen, and other interesting points along its route, now very much hidden under the town that calls itself London.

Before I continue, and maybe just for the time being, I will add a few posts which I will be referring to, several are on the londonwiki site, i.e. the Roman London walls, a primitive plan, remains of the London wall, and excavations of the London wall

Also, the London museum did had a number of plaques around this walk as I discovered from this commuter blog.

Nearly everyone starts from the Tower section of the wall, which can be clearly seen in google earth, inside a City hotel car park, and from the train into Fenchurch street, as it enters the station.

Note that I am adding separate posts for each section of the wall, and not following the Museum numbering. I use an array of diffeent ordnace survey maps at NLS, and also google earth which is brilliant, plus the vast numbers of maps through the years at Layers of London.

This is the same area of the centre of London which exists inside the Roman London wall from Google earth
This is the same area of the centre of London which exists inside the Roman London wall from Google earth

I now have a new source to add, a David Fletcher, whom creates some amazing three dimensional images through the usage of many hundreds of individual photographs of a scene, and then uses computer rendering to turn these many images into one 3D image. Part of this includes many sections of the London wall as noticed here

From all my sources, mostly my own, I will now attempt to disseminate where exactly the Roman wall is (visible or NOT) in the modern day in 2020 covid era. This map is far too busy, and therefore I thought I would have a check around my files to find a very old guide by the London Museum, I am sure they wil not mind me using a opy of this guide:

A map of the London Roman wall walk by the London Museum
A map of the London Roman wall walk by the London Museum.

Lets see if I can number their 21 points along the route from the Tower as far as Aldersgate. Along this route were a number of signboards describing what exactly lay at this section. I have photographed some of these signs (my camera was not great), and I have seen many of these on line, but in many cases, I will just use a textual description for the moment.

The London Wall Walk follows the line of the City Wall from the Tower of London to the Museum of London. The walk is 1.75 miles (2.8 km) long and was marked by twenty one panels which can be followed in either direction.
The City Wall was built by the Romans circa AD 200 and strengthened over the following century (I believe). During the Saxon period it fell into decay. From the 12th to the 17th centuries large sections of the Roman Wall and gates were repaired or rebuilt. From the 17th century as London expanded rapidly in size, the wall was no longer necessary for defence.
During the 18th century demolition of parts of the Wall began, and by the 19th century most of the Wall had disappeared. Only recently have several sections again become visible (1984).

Here is a view of the wonderful Tower of London, just to get your juices running:

Tower of London in 2019, a nice warm day in May
Tower of London in 2019, a nice warm day in May

1 : The Tower, Postern gate

The remains are actually of a medieval gatehouse which would have been built into the side of the Tower of London’s moat. It is very unlikely these are original.

2 : Tower Hill, City Wall
This impressive section of wall still stands to a height of 35 feet (10.6 km). The Roman work survives to the level of the sentry walk, 14.5 fgeet (4.4 metres) high, with medieval stonework above. The Wall was constructed with coursed blocks of ragstone which sandwiched a rubble and mortar core.
Layers of flat red tiles were used at intervals to give extra strength and stability. Complete with its battlements the Roman Wall would have been about 20 feet (6.3 metres) high. Outside the Wall was a defensive ditch.
To the north is the site of one of the towers added to the outside of the Wall in the 4th century.
Stones recovered from its foundation in 1852 and 1935 included part of the memorial inscription from the tomb of Julius Classicianus, the Roman Provincial Procurator (financial administrator) in AD 61.
In the mediaeval period the defences were repaired and heightened. The stonework was more regular with a sentry walk only 3 feet (0.9 meteres) wide. To the west was the site of the Tower Hill scaffold where many famous prisoners were publicly beheaded, the last in 1747.

Signboard 2 - London Museum walk . Tower Hill, City
Signboard 2 – London Museum walk . Tower Hill, City

3 : Cooper row, City Wall
The Wall here survives to a height of 35 feet (10.6 meteres). The lower section, 14.5 feet (4.4 metres), is Roman and stands to the height of the sentry walk.
The characteristic red tile and ragstone can be seen and at the base on the outer face the red sandstone plinth which marks Roman ground level.
During the mediaeval period the Wall was heightened by 21 feet (6.2 metres) with irregular masonry which narowed to a sentry walk 3 feet (0.9 meteres) wide. At the same time the ditch outside the Wall was redug and broadened.

A double staircase led to the mediaeval entry walk. On either side are loopholes which could be used by archers. There is no surviving means of access and the loopholes were probably reached by a timber platform keyed into the socket holes which are visible.
There is no parallel for this arrangement elsewhere on the Wall, indicating the special care taken with defences close to the Tower. The outer face gives a good impression of the original strength of London’s defences.

Signboard 3- London Museum walk. Cooper row, City Wall
Signboard 3- London Museum walk. Cooper row, City Wall

4 Emperor House, City Wall

This panel is available but hidden away – see the commuterconsultant :

The Emperor House, Vine street EC3

5 : Aldgate, City Gate
When the Roman City Wall was built (c AD 200) a stone gate perhaps already spanned the Roman road linking London (Londinium) with Colchester (Camulodunum). The gate probably had twin entrances flanked by guard towers.
Outside the gate a large cemetery developed to the south of the road. In the later 4th century the gate may have been rebuilt to provide a platform for catapaults.
The Roman gate apparently survived until the mediaeval period (called Aldgate or Algate) when it was rebuilt in 1108 – 1147, and again in 1215. Its continued importance was assured by the building of the great Priory of Holy Trinity just inside the gate.
The mediaeval gate had a single entrance flanked by two large semi-circular towers. It was during this period that Aldgate had its most famous resident, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived in rooms over the gate fromn 1374 while a customs official in the port of London.
Aldgate was completely rebuilt in 1607-09 but was finally pulled down in 1761 in order to improve traffic access.

Signboard 5 - London Museum walk.  Aldgate, City Gate
Signboard 5 – London Museum walk Aldgate, City Gate

6 : City Wall

Again the CommuterConsultant excels at details of this section, although see my individual posts

7 : Bevis Marks, City Wall

Much of the following is now covered by individual posts along the Roman London Wall, as are many of the earlier sections. I am goung to stop editing this page and concentrate on where we are in modern days, plus adding a bit of history. My main theme is to clarify where to how along the invisible wall as it is now. Even old maps are so different to th modern equivalents, unless we hone in using geolocators and gps.

8 : Bishopsgate, City Wall

9 : St Botolph, City Wall

10: All Hallows, City Wall

11 : Moorgate, City gate

12 : St Alphege, City Wall

13 : Cripplegate, City Gate

Cripplegate was originally the northern entrance to the Roman fort, built c AD 120. This Roman gate probably remained in use until at least the late Saxon period when it is mentioned in the 10th and 11th century documents. The gate was rebuilt in the 1490’s. Throughout its history Cripplegate has a variety of uses. It was leased as accommodation and also, like the more famous Newgate, used as a prison.
After the restoration of Charles II in 1660 all of the City gates were unhinged and the portcullises wedged open making them useless for defence. The gates survived another century as ceremonial entrances before being demolished.
Cripplegate gave access to a substantial medieval suburb and to the village of Islington. Extra defensive works outside the gate gave rise to the name Barbican which was subsequently taken as the name for the post World War II rebuilding of the area.

Signboard 13 - London Museum walk. Cripplegate, City Gate
Signboard 13 – London Museum walk. Cripplegate, City Gate

14 : City Wall and Towers

15 : St Giles Cripplegate, Tower

16 : Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, Tower

17 : City Wall & Medieval Tower

18 : West Gate of Roman Fort
Prior to the construction of the western section of the road London Wall in 1959, excavations revealed the west gate of the Roman fort, built c AD 120. It had twin entrance ways flanked on either side by square towers.
Only the northern tower can now be seen. It provided a guardroom and access to the sentry walk along the Wall. Large blocks of sandstone formed the base, some weighing over half a ton (500kg). The remaining masonry consisted of ragstone brought from Kent. The guardroom opened on to a ravel road, which was divided into two by stone piers supporting the arches spanning the gates. Each passage was wide enough for a cart and had a pair of heavy wooden doors.
Running northwards from the gate-tower is the fort wall, 4 feet (1.2m) thick with the internal thickening added when the fort was incorporated into the Roman city defences c AD 200. The gate was eventually blocked, probably in the troubled years of the later 4th century. By the medieval period the site of the gate had been completely forgotten.

Signboard 18 - London Museum walk. West Gate of Roman Fort
Signboard 18 – London Museum walk. West Gate of Roman Fort

19 : Roman Fort and City Wall

20 : Roman Fort and City Wall

21 : Aldersgate, City Gate

My posts also complete the wall from the London Museum, near Barbican, west, south to Blackfriars and then back along Upper Thames street and Lower Thames street. I will continue to add modern pictures as I feel appropriate.

Enjoy walking along the Roman London wall – mostly invisible.

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