LONDON WALL, EC2Y 5DN
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Fragments of the wall can be seen around the former circuit. The underground London Wall Car Park includes a short section of wall within and is an ideal place to start the walk. Above ground, several towers can be seen in various degrees of ruin. The Museum of London also has an excellent Roman section. All gates are gone (with exception of the foundations of a postern). Nothing remains of the two medieval castles that, along with the Tower of London, ensured Norman dominance of this key city.
VISIT OFFICIAL SITE (Opens in new window)
A substantial Roman exhibition is found in the Museum of London.
London Wall. The line of the Roman Walls, initially an earth rampart and then rebuilt in stone around AD 200, remained largely unaltered for almost 1500 years. The location of London’s three Norman castles - Baynard, Montfichet and the Tower of London - also made use of the existing Roman defences.
London Wall Car Park
Tower Hill Statute / Wall
Tower of London
St Magnus Church
Baynard’s Castle (Site of)
Montfichet Castle (Site of)
Notes: The remains of the wall aren’t particularly well sign-posted so printing this page (and/or the Google map) is recommended. London Wall Car Park is immediately adjacent to the Wall but many other options are also available including extensive public transport facilities.
Baynard's Castle was built circa-1067 by Ralph Baynard in the western corner of the City walls at the point where the River Fleet intersects with the Thames. Ralph was one of the Norman magnates who fought with William I at Hastings and had distinguished himself at that battle. He was rewarded with grants of land in Eastern England - then the population centre of England - as well as the site of Baynard's Castle. His initial fortification would have been an earth and timber structure and, along with the Tower of London and Montfichet's Castle, were key to maintaining the intimidation of the City to prevent any insurrection against Norman rule.
Ralph's grandson, William Baynard, forfeited the castle in 1110 when he was convicted of insurrection against Henry I. The site reverted to the Crown and was immediately re-allocated it to Robert FitzRichard, a descendant of the powerful de Clare family. Robert would go on to serve Henry I and King Stephen as Steward. In 1198 it passed to his grandson, Robert FitzWalter, who became one of the leading magnates opposed to King John during the First Barons War and Baynard's Castle was destroyed by Royalist forces at this time. Robert would continue to lead the rebels until his capture at the Battle of Lincoln but was reconciled with the regime of Henry III in 1218 and rebuilt Baynard's Castle. The site was granted by the FitzWalters in 1275 to the church to enable the foundation of a community of Dominican Friars (known as Blackfriars due to the colour of their cape).
At some point after 1285, a new Baynard Castle - built predominantly as a luxury residence - was constructed slightly to the east of the former site. Details as to who constructed this are sketchy; a charter from 1338 makes reference to a "tower of the Thames" erected during the reign of Edward II and by 1428 it was in the care of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester who rebuilt part of the structure following a fire. The site later reverted to the Crown which saw it used as a Royal residence and court. Of note Edward IV assumed the title of King at Baynard's Castle after overthrowing the regime of Henry VI whilst the Tudor monarchs all made use of the fine residential apartments. All traces of the castle were obliterated during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Montfichet's Castle was built on Ludgate Hill inside the perimeter of the Roman City wall. Situated adjacent to the medieval crossing point over the River Fleet, overlooking the route that today is Fleet Street, it was first referred to in a document dated 1130 although it is likely the structure was built in the years following the Norman Conquest.
Little is now known about the structure although it is believed to have consisted of a tower (the site is often referred to as Montfichet Tower) which, based on archaeological investigations in the late twentieth century, seems to have been surrounded by a defensive ditch plus a supporting bailey. It is probable the defences on the western side abutted the Roman walls.
In 1212 the then owner - Richard Mountfitchet - joined the rebellion against King John. Like nearby Baynard's Castle, it was destroyed by Royalist forces along with a number of other rebel owned fortifications including Richard's Mountfitchet Castle in Essex. Richard does not seem to have been deterred in his rebellion - he continued to support the Barons’ cause including compelling John to seal Magna Carta in 1215 and was one of the twenty-five Barons tasked with enforcement of the charter. Richard made peace with the Royal family after the death of King John and rebuilt his London castle shortly after.
Richard never married and the Montfitchet family died out with him in 1258. Like nearby Baynard's Castle, the site was purchased by the church in 1275 to form part of the new Dominican Priory that became known as Blackfriars. All traces of the castle have now gone but its legacy remains; the name of the Old Bailey Law Courts is believed to derive from its location within Montfichet Castle's bailey.
GATES OF LONDON
Roman London had six major gates leading out from the City through the walls. These remained the main entry/exit points for 1500 years with just one additional road access added in the fifteenth century.
Aldgate. The Roman era Aldgate was rebuilt between 1108 and 1147 with further upgrades in 1215. Even though Colchester was less significant in the medieval period, the Priory of Holy Trinity was established nearby ensuring it was maintained. It was rebuilt for the last time between 1607 and 1609. To improve traffic access it was demolished in 1761.
Bishopsgate. Through this gate passed the Roman road now known as Ermine Street which led to Cambridge then beyond to Lincoln and York. How it acquired its medieval name is unknown but presumably it was connected in some manner with the Bishop of London. It was rebuilt in 1479 and again as a ceremonial entrance in 1735. Just twenty five years later, in 1760, it was demolished to improve traffic access.
Moorgate. This gate was built here in 1415 by Mayor Thomas Falconer originally accessing a relatively marshy area. By the seventeenth century this had been drained and Moorgate was rebuilt as a ceremonial entrance to the City in 1672. It was demolished in 1761 to improve traffic access.
Cripplegate. Originally the northern entrance to the Roman Fort, it was rebuilt in 1491 and would later be used as a prison. Additional defences were constructed outside the gate earning the area the name of Barbican. In 1663 it was once again rebuilt as a grand ceremonial entrance but was demolished in the 1760s.
Aldersgate. In the third century AD, the Romans built a dedicated gateway to replace the nearby western entrance into the former fort. It remained an important access throughout the medieval period as it led to the livestock market at Smithfield and towards St Bartholomew's Priory. Rebuilt in 1672 it was demolished in 1760.
Newgate. Through this gate ran Watling Street, the main Roman road to Chester, and it seemingly pre-dated the City wall. It was used as a prison from as early as 1190. Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington, Mayor of London bequeathed money to rebuilt the structure which was duly done in 1422. Rebuilt again in 1628, it was badly damaged by the Great Fire of London prompting another rebuild in 1672. It continued to be used as a prison becoming notorious for the squalid conditions. The prison was moved to dedicated facilities in the eighteenth century and the gate was demolished in 1777.
Ludgate. The Roman access to the bridge over the River Fleet. It was rebuilt in 1260 by Henry III and again in 1586. It was demolished in the 1760s.
Roman Wall. Fragments of the City wall can be found in several places throughout London. This segment is within London Wall Car Park near the Museum of London.
MOD Main Building. Today home to the Ministry of Defence. The Roman Fort in the north-west corner of Londinium would have served a similar function.
Postern Gate. A medieval postern gate through the City wall near the Tower of London. This provided pedestrian access only.
Roman Wall. The Roman wall consisted of roughly prepared Kent ragstone cemented into position with strengthening provided by layers of Roman tiles.
The Romans established London shortly after they invaded Britain in AD 43. Although the settlement was destroyed in the Boudica revolt, it was rebuilt and became a wealthy international port. This funded the City walls, probably built as a status symbol, and the line of these defences would define the shape of London for the next fifteen hundred years.
HISTORY OF LONDON CITY WALL
London was founded by the Romans in the immediate aftermath of their invasion in AD 43. At this time the Thames was much wider than today and the site of London, spread over three small hills, offered a site of natural prominence over the surrounding flat and marshy land. Known as Londinium, it was primarily a port to serve the new province with a diverse population predominantly consisting of non-native traders and merchants.
Boudica Revolt, AD 60
The settlement originally had no defences as the Romans relied upon the mobile Legionary forces to protect them. However in AD 60, whilst a large portion of the military forces in Britannia were engaged in North Wales, the Iceni tribe of East Anglia rebelled. Ignited by Roman mismanagement, the rebellion quickly spread under the leadership of Boudica. A half hearted attempt to deal with the situation by sending a small force of military logisticians ended with their annihilation at the hands of the rebels. A detachment of the veteran Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) was then deployed. With around 1,500 troops and supported by a mounted element, this force was expected to have been sufficient to deal with any small scale uprising. However en route they were ambushed, overwhelmed and massacred with only a few of the mounted troops escaping with their lives. Boudica’s amassed force then descended upon Colchester (Camulodunum), then the Roman capital city of Britannia, burning it to the ground. After wrecking such destruction on the unfortunate Colchester, Boudica’s large force started moving towards London.
The fate of Colchester would soon have been known in London but the residents doubtless took heart in the arrival of Suetonius Paulinus, commander of the Roman Army in Britain, who had ridden ahead of his multi-Legionary force to survey the situation. To the horror of the populace he determined that the city could not be saved. He marched out and it is likely many of the citizens, the bulk of whom would have been of foreign origin, either left in ships or fled south or west. There can be little doubt about the fate of those who remained as Boudica's forces swept through the City destroying it entirely before moving on to do the same to the Romano-British settlement at St Albans (Verulamium).
Having seen the destruction of two major Roman settlements, as well as St Albans, the Romans now amassed their forces to deal with the uprising. All Roman forces in the province were ordered to rendezvous on Watling Street, the Roman road running between Richborough and Chester. The assembled force numbered around 10,000 men drawn from the Fourteenth Legion (Legio XIV Germina) supported by elements of the Ninth (Legion IX Hispana) and Twentieth (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) along with supporting auxiliaries. Somewhere along Watling Street the Romans engaged Boudica and, despite being significantly outnumbered, massacred the rebels. The province was then brutally stabilised by Paulinus who launched a punitive assault on the native populace. Such was the level of his retaliation that, to prevent further war, he was recalled to Rome and replaced by Julius Classicianus who led a more conciliatory administration (his tombstone was later found as part of the rubble core inside one of the fourth century AD towers).
Rebuilding of London commenced almost as soon as the Boudica rebellion had been suppressed. Archaeological evidence shows the construction of a quay circa-AD 63 whilst all the components associated with Roman settlements were raised in the years that followed; a basilica/forum, public baths and an amphitheatre were all built around AD 70. Colchester was also rebuilt but on a much smaller scale – Boudica’s revolt had started the long process which would see London become the primary city of the British Isles. In AD 122 a vast new basilica, almost as large as St Paul's Cathedral, was built at the instruction of Emperor Hadrian.
Despite the devastating attack by Boudica, no defences were added to the recreated settlement until AD 100. At this time an earth rampart and ditch were constructed around the perimeter of the town – as much for administrative and symbolic purposes as for true defensive properties. In particular Roman law prohibited human burials within the town boundary and therefore construction of the rampart would have made a clear delineation. It is probable at least one of the City gates was built at this time with the most likely candidate being Aldgate as that was on the road to Colchester (Camulodunum).
London Roman Fort
London’s increasing prominence after the Boudica revolt led to it becoming the administrative hub for the province with the Governor now routinely residing there. This mandated a military presence to serve as his personal bodyguard, to provide ceremonial functions and to ensure military advice was available to the local Government - similar to the arrangements at Whitehall (Ministry of Defence Main Building) today. Accordingly a Roman fort was established around AD 110. Garrisoning around 1000 troops, the site enclosed around 12 acres.
Construction of the stone wall commenced around AD 200 as a replacement for the former earthwork rampart. The wall stood 6.4 metres tall and was probably topped by a walkway and fronted by a ‘V’ shaped ditch – itself a formidable obstacle at 1.8 metres deep and 4.8 wide. Running for a total length of 2.5 miles, it enclosed an area of 330 acres. Construction took a traditional Roman form – roughly prepared Kentish ragstone was held in place by mortar strengthened by horizontal courses of tile. The fort's north and west walls were thickened and increased in height to form part of the new City wall.
Like its earth predecessor, the wall was not originally constructed for defence but it was a statement of the wealth of the settlement. The exterior would have been plastered and white-washed undoubtedly giving the wall, which would not then have been obscured by further buildings, a striking appearance to those sailing up the River Thames.
With the exception of a minor thirteenth century expansion to incorporate Blackfriars, the line of the Roman wall would define the shape of London for over 1500 years. Likewise the gateways the Romans built through the wall would remain the only major access/egress points until widescale destruction of the wall in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The original City wall had enclosed the land approaches but had left the quayside undefended to allow unrestricted access for the merchants. However London saw a decline in international trade in the third century and the town’s administrators seized the opportunity to complete the circuit. Work started around AD 240.
By the mid fourth century Britannia was becoming increasingly exposed to attack as the Roman army struggled to deal with successive challengers in particular from Saxon raiders and pirates. The defences were upgraded with at least twenty towers added to the eastern side of the City wall covering approaches from the River Thames. These structures were semi-circular, ‘D’ shaped bastions around 9 metres tall and rose high above the wall's battlements. They supported ballistae; powerful projectile weapons capable of firing a bolt that could punch through several attackers. To prevent subsidence the original ditch was also filled in and a new one excavated further away from the wall. The towers were seemingly built in some haste for stone was robbed from other structures to support the construction – most notably the tomb of Julius Alpinus Classicianus, procurator of Britain in the aftermath of the Boudica rebellion, which was demolished to form part of the rubble core.
Roman rule in Britannia ended in the early fifth century and the former province descended into the Dark Ages. As a centre of international trade, Londonium was particularly exposed to the political changes and went into a sharp decline. As the wider populace returned to a subsistence based lifestyle, London was wholly unsuitable as the thick clay associated with the city did not support agricultural activity. The last recorded record was noted in AD 457 but it was likely abandoned soon after.
The Anglo-Saxons seem to have started small scale occupation of London around the late fifth century. They ignored the ruins of the former Roman City and established a new settlement, Lundenwic, on the western banks of the River Fleet in vicinity of modern day Covent Garden. Like its Roman predecessor this was a trading station and slowly grew in size. By the early seventh century it formed part of the Kingdom of Essex, and under the rule of the Christian convert Sæberht of Essex, saw the appointment of the first post-Roman Bishop of London. Although this post was only sporadically occupied, when London came under the control of the Kingdom of Mercia in AD 670 the Bishopric became permanent.
London continued to grow and in the eight century AD the Venerable Bede described it as an international port. This attracted unwanted attention however and in the decades that followed it started to come under increasingly regular attacks from Vikings. Large scale raids, comprising hundreds of ships, were made in AD 842 and AD 851 which saw mass slaughter and the City repeatedly plundered. In AD 865 the Vikings, under Guthrum, launched a full scale attack intent on overrunning the Kingdom of Mercia and by AD 871 they had reached London. They occupied the (abandoned) ruins enclosed within the old, but still standing, Roman walls. But in AD 878 King Alfred the Great, King of Wessex defeated them at the Battle of Ethandun and in the subsequent peace England was divided into two parts; the south, including London, under Alfred's control whilst the north became the Danelaw.
Both sides knew the peace was temporary and Alfred adopted a strategy of establishing burhs (fortified towns) to secure his Kingdom against Viking incursion. In London the Anglo-Saxon settlement, still to the west of the River Fleet, was relocated into the old Roman city. The walls and ditch were repaired and over the subsequent decades, the settlement grew in importance once again. Viking attempts to reclaim it in the eleventh century, including a number of sieges, were all unsuccessful. However in November 1016, Cnut became King of England and London, along with the rest of the country, came under Viking control once more until the Saxon line was restored when Edward the Confessor became King in 1042.
Edward the Confessor died in 1065 and led to the famous power struggle between Duke William of Normandy and Harold Godwineson. The latter was crowned King but was defeated at the Battle of Hastings. William was crowned King on Christmas Day 1066 in London with Westminster Abbey surrounded by his armed retainers protecting him from the hostile populace. Having surrounded the City with motte-and-bailey castles, he now commenced construction of a major fortification in a corner of the former Roman Wall; this structure would develop into the Tower of London. Also constructed at this time was Baynard's Castle and Montfichet Tower.
Regular upgrades were made to the City wall through the medieval period including a heightening of the structure with masonry of various qualities. Between 1211 and 1213 the defences were given a major overhaul with a significantly expanded ditch around the City and additional towers were added along the length of the western curtain wall. The thirteenth century also saw a (minor) deviation from the line of the Roman wall when a community of Dominican Friars, who had established a religious site near Baynard's Castle (in the area now known as Blackfriars), were authorised to pull down the City wall and rebuilt it enclosing the entirety of their community within. This moved the line of the wall in the south west directly adjacent to the River Fleet.
The vast majority of upgrades to the wall were funded by the wealthly residents of the City. However, in some areas there is evidence of Royal intervention particularly in the vicinity of the Tower of London. Most notably an elaborate postern gate, with twin doors and a portcullis, was added concurrent with the upgrades to the Tower by Henry III and Edward I. Protected by a multi-angular tower with arrow slots covering the approach, the quality of the work and imported stone from Caen is indicative of Royal masons. The fine segment of wall at nearby Coopers Row was also upgraded at this time with the enhanced defences - evidence of the importance of defence this close to the Tower of London.
Maintenance of the City walls continued well into the fifteenth century. In 1477 Mayor Ralph Joceline ordered large scale repairs to the City wall including rebuilding in red brick. However the City's administrators repeatedly struggled with a populace that didn't always rate their efforts so highly. In particular the defensive ditch was prone to becoming a dumping ground; a fact that has been captured by road names such as Houndsditch - quite literally named after the dead dogs that were being dumped in the moat.
Great Fire of London
By the seventeenth century, London had long since outgrown the boundary of the former Roman wall. However, it played a key role in 1666 when the Great Fire of London devastated the settlement. The fire burned as far as the wall in the north but was stopped by the stone structure saving the buildings beyond. Despite this, in the redevelopment following the fire, portions of the wall were demolished to make space for new roads and brick/stone built buildings. Some segments survived however - the portions of the Wall that remain on Noble Street were incorporated into brick built warehouses serving the cloth trade.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, piecemeal demolition of the wall and its gates continued. The line of the wall was almost lost but, with the wide scale devastation of London during the Blitz in World War II, significant sections were re-discovered as was the lost site of the Roman Fort. In the decades of rebuilding that followed the war, archaeologists seized the unique opportunity to investigate the remains. A new road, named Roman Wall, was built over the northern line in 1956.
Boudica statue opposite the Houses of Parliament (not on wall walk)
Coopers Row - note the medieval Arrow Slits