Before London was London, it was in fact named Londinium and the thriving trading capital of Roman Britain. Hidden among high-rise office towers and tourist attractions are the remains of Londinium’s fortification wall that once defined the city.
The London Wall stretched for two miles around the city, from what we now know as Blackfriars to Tower Hill. Roman London served as a trading outpost for foreign merchants, traders, and other civilians and was undoubtedly the most important settlement in Roman Britain.
The History of The Wall
The foundation of the wall was composed of puddled clay and its defences were strengthened by trenches on its exterior and mounds in the interior. First, the wall surrounded the parts of London surrounded by land, like the shape of a semi-circle, then later on the wall was built around the Thames too. Gateways were added to connect with the network of Roman roads around Britain and some 22 towers were also added.
Its size made it the biggest construction project of the Romans in Britain and the wall continued to be developed up until the 4th century. The Roman sections are still visible towards the base and are around four metres high, and the remaining stonework above the Roman foundations are medieval and brings the overall height of the wall to ten metres.
The most impressive fragment of the remains of the wall can be found just outside Tower Hill station in Tower Hill Garden. The Roman foundations can be seen very clearly in this section and its location makes it very accessible. A statue of emperor Trajan stands in front of the wall and makes for a great historic pit-stop if you’re headed towards the Tower of London, which is just across the road.
This was also a significant site during the Medieval period as it was the site of some gruesome public beheadings. Among those that met their fatal end by the London Wall were Sir Thomas More, Guilford Dudley who was married to Lady Jane Grey, and Lord Lovat who was the last to be executed in this way.
The London Wall Underground Car Park
As London developed over the centuries, many buildings were built atop or surrounding the remains of the wall. Perhaps the most obscure and curious of them all are the remains found in the aptly named London Wall Underground Car Park. Yes, quite literally in a car park. This section is still very accessible and is open to the public through the 24/7 car park just off of the Barbican.
It’s as random as any spot to have ancient remains that are 2,000 years old but it’s a wonderful reminder of London’s rich and long history, and how much of it is still woven into modern-day London. It is also the only section of the wall that has minimal Medieval alterations and is mainly Roman.
St Alphage Gardens
St Alphage Gardens is home to another piece of the ancient wall and is just around the corner from Moorgate station. The urban garden is nestled amongst office buildings and is another inconspicuous spot to find remnants of the wall and a medieval church that once adjoined the wall. It’s a peaceful and quiet spot amongst the hustle and bustle of the city to admire some history.
A self-guided walking tour of the remains of the wall can be easily done as many of the monuments have public access. Although not as infamous as its other wall counterparts like the Great Wall of China, the London Wall is a great reminder of London’s past in the heart of the modern city.
Read more about the London Wall at the English Heritage website.