London’s Roman City Wall – The Obscured – Part 5

Introduction

The Roman city wall of London dates from the 2nd century AD, and had many “upgrades” by the Romans up until the 4th Century AD. Even though the city walls were enhanced throughout medieval and Tudor ages, the original line remained unaltered. The city wall was a prominent feature of the city for the best part of 1400-1500 years.  

During the 17th century it’s defensive purpose effectively expired as the city grew beyond its confines, and the wall was gradually dismantled during the 18th and 19th centuries, as it was pillaged for building materials.  Many parts of the wall became incorporated into the party walls, cellars and the foundations of shops and warehouses that grew in its place, or simply covered over and buried to make way for new or widened roads.  

Throughout the Victorian and early 20th century many parts of the wall were rediscovered, during excavations for the installation of sewers and for cut-and-fill railway lines.  The slum clearances of this period also saw the demolition of large parts of the city to make way for wider roads and the building of banks, warehouses and offices. During the Second World War, much of the city of London fell victim to intense bombing and as bombed-out structures were cleared, the hidden wall was once again revealed.

Aldgate to Bishopsgate

After the abundance of rediscovered and preserved sections of wall I had seen along the eastern part of the city wall, from Tower Hill to Aldgate, as featured in my previous posts on this topic (see menus or category links), I was hoping for similar successes as I turned my attention north and west to follow the line of the wall as it continues from Aldgate, along Dukes Place, Bevis Marks and Camomile Street towards Bishopsgate.

Dukes Place looking towards Bevis Marks
Looking North-West along Bevis Marks, from Dukes Place in 2013

The path of the wall runs North-West along the eastern side of Bevis Marks, and Camomile Street towards Bishopsgate.  The mast on the top of the Heron Tower, the rather tall building in the background, marks the line of wall as it meets up with the site of the Roman Bishopsgate.

A few of the signs from the Museums of London’s Roman Wall Walk, which inspired this series of posts, still remain in this area, but there is no mention of any surviving wall sections on these plaques.

London Wall Walk plaque No. 5
The London Wall Walk – Plaque No. 5 – On the wall of the play ground of the Sir John Cass School, Aldgate High Street, London, EC3

Plaque No. 6 is no longer accessible, as it was positioned in a now vanished exit to a subway which used to emerge in Duke’s Place.  This is a shame as there was also a representation of the Roman Wall illustrated in tiles at exact the point the subway intersected the line of the city wall.

Dukes Place subway Mural

Dukes Place subway mural

The missing plaque No 6 along the mural of a cross-section of the Roman wall from the Dukes Place Subway are featured in a blog post from 2006 by Dick Schmitt.

Plaque No.7 is sited by the entrance to the Bevis Marks synagogue and describes the wall as illustrated in the “Agas” map of 1560-1570, where the wall and several bastions can be clearly seen.

London Wall Walk plaque No. 7
The London Wall Walk – Plaque No. 7 – On wall adjacent to the entrance of Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, EC3

Plaque No.8 would have been where the Heron Tower now stands, and I guess they thought nailing it to the outside, might spoil the look of their shiny new tower.

Further investigations

So with no obvious evidence of any surviving and accessible wall sections, I began an exhaustive search on-line using as my main points of reference, the on-line copy of “The Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3: Roman London (1928)” which is an extremely detailed survey up to the time of publication, and also the detailed monument records on the English Heritage web-site.

The inventory from 1928, records many sections of wall having been found along my path of interest, but sadly also records the subsequent destruction of many of them during building projects. However, there remained a couple of potential locations, including wall sections and bastions number 9 and 10, the latter being famed for it’s significant bounty of memorial statues and decorated stone work which was recovered during archaeological inspections carried out in 1876.

These objects were headstones from graveyards, being reused as hardcore or rubble to fill the bases of the bastions that were a 4th century addition to the then 200 year old wall.  These finds are now on show at the museum of London, with perhaps the most well known being the incredibly detailed 1st century tombstone of a Roman soldier as shown below.

Stone figure of Roman soldier at the Museum of London
Tombstone of a Roman soldier, 1st -2nd century, from Camomile Street bastion 10.
Now on display at the Museum of London.

There is a whole articles worth of information to say about just this one statue, but the key bits are that he appears holding a set of writing scrolls, indicating his duties were more clerical than military. Also when found his head had been placed between his legs, perhaps reflecting some burial rite of the time.

So despite the detailed sources of information, some stating that sections of city wall and bastions had been “preserved as scheduled monuments”, there is confusion and contradictions in these records too, mostly due to the fact that the property addresses given in both sources have changed so much due to the intense and continuing redevelopment in this area.

I have been in contact with English Heritage for more information, scoured the City of London’s Planning web-site for archaeological assessments performed for building projects in the area and even conducted my own house-to-house enquiries along the length of Camomile Street and Bevis Marks, to make certain that there are no exposed sections of wall featuring in basements or otherwise in this area.  I had hoped that the archaeological reports carried out during the construction of the Heron Tower (110 Bishopsgate) in 2007 would yield useful information, but it seems that little if nothing of the city wall had survived on this site most likely due to earlier building works.

View London’s Roman City Wall in a larger map

From this field-work I can deduce that Bastion 10 is likely to be sited under the junction of Camomile and Outwich Streets. It’s exact position has not been recorded since 1905.  Bastion 9 is under the roadway of Goring Street close to it’s junction with Bevis Marks.  There is a section of wall under the roadway of St Mary Axe again at it’s junction with the eastern side of Bevis Marks.  Both of these are scheduled monuments and feature in the archaeological assessment for a proposed new tower at 60-70 St Mary Axe, nicknamed the “Can of Ham”.

Proposed 60 St. Mary Axe office development
Proposed 60–70 St. Mary Axe.
Image Copyright: Miller Hare

The one section I had the most hope for viewing is recorded as being at the rear of 58-60 Houndsditch adjoining the churchyard of St. Martin Outwich.  It was recorded as surviving above ground at this location in 1905, and the English Heritage has a record noting it’s most recent inspection of 1989.

St Augustine Papey Churchyard
Churchyard of St. Martin Outwich, Camomile Street

The churchyard of St. Martin Outwich has survived from 1538, but was previously the churchyard for St Augustine in the Wall which dated from the 12th century. Similar to the nearby church of All Hallows by the Wall with whom it shared a united parish during the early 15th century, St. Augustines was built up against the city wall.  It was conveyed to the Brethren of the Papey in 1430, and then became known as St. Augustine Papey.  The church was finally pulled down as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries c1540, with the churchyard then being passed to the parish of St Martin Outwich.

Today it is a rather anonymous raised garden on the east side of Camomile Street, with no plaque or signage to denote it’s past.  There is a tombstone of c.1810 set into the brickwork of the garden’s floor, but alas no sign of Roman wall!

Conclusion

So in conclusion it would seem, as at the time of writing, the surviving North Eastern sections of the Roman city wall from Aldgate to Bishopsgate remain distinctly “obscured”. Existing only as buried scheduled monuments under the roadways along this route, despite as in the case of bastion 10 having provided a trove of artefacts.

For more general background information on the city wall and Roman London please refer to the Museum of London’s web site on this topic.  Better still, go make a personal visit to this often overlooked but truly excellent (and free) museum.

Update of post for late 2019

I have migrated this article from Blogger to WordPress. In the process I have fixed some typos, enhanced and re-hosted the photos, and have updated the post a little.

There has been significant amount of redevelopment along the path of this post, with large construction projects now finished or close to finishing in late 2019 at One Creechurch Place, 6 Bevis Marks, 60 St Mary Axe (Can of Ham) and 100 Bishopsgate, and also the complete redevelopment of the Aldgate gyratory system into a new public space called Aldgate Square.

Aldgate Square in 2019 – 360 panorama
London Wall Walk plaque No 5 can still be seen on wall of school playground.


With the exception of 60 St Mary Axe, the other developments were along the west side of the streets, so off the line of the wall. Only 60 St. Mary Axe which sits directly on the line of the wall had the potential to provide new evidence of the wall, but as far as I know that section had already been destroyed at the beginning of the 20th century and the the buried sections of the Roman wall and bastion under Goring Street and St. Mary Axe remain and were not exposed or disturbed during this construction project.

I also note the due to the reorganisation of the Museum of London, and the separation of their Archaeological Services (MoLAS) to the separate commercial entity of MOLA, all of their old links are now broken. I have provided a list of alternative references below which are working as of 2019.

London Wall: remains of Roman wall, bastions and city gate of Aldgate from 17 Bevis Marks to India Street
Historic England: Detailed record of this Scheduled Monument.

London Wall: remains of Roman wall and bastion, Goring Street
Historic England: Detailed record of this Scheduled Monument.

London Wall: remains of Roman wall and bastion, Camomile Street
Historic England: Detailed record of this Scheduled Monument.

Statue of Roman Solder in the Museum of London Collections
Museum of London: Details of artefact in museum collection

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *