London’s Roman City Wall – The Obscured – Part 6

Introduction

During my somewhat disappointing search for hidden remains of the Roman wall along Bevis Marks (see previous article in this series), I was chatting to a tower crane operator working on 6 Bevis Marks, as you do, who reminded me of another hidden section of wall back over at Tower Hill that I had read about in the Survey of Antiquities but had dismissed at the time as likely to be out of date information and no longer visible. So having an excuse for another blog post, I headed back over towards the Tower Hill area to find this hidden wall and whilst in the area thought I might as well visit the less “obscured” sections of wall in that area too.

View London’s Roman City Wall in a larger map

Trinity Place, Tower Hill, London EC3

The Tower Hill area has some the best preserved and impressively large sections of the city wall.  The sections in this area that are under ground and hidden in basements I have already written about in earlier posts, but the two large and easily accessible sections do deserve attention, even if not “obscured”.

The first and most obvious of these sections being the very large remnant of city wall in Trinity Place, immediately by the main entrance to the Tower Hill Circle and District line underground station. The second, less obvious, but even more impressive section is off nearby Cooper’s Row, and is worthy of a separate post for itself.

The Trinity Place section has only been made fully visible during the 20th century, where like many others it been partially incorporated within buildings and with the older Roman layer still submerged below the modern ground level. 

Roman City Wall at Trinity Place, Tower Hill in 2013.
Roman City Wall at Trinity Place, Tower Hill in 2013.

What is now revealed is one of the largest parts of the city wall remaining.  Running for about 25m (82ft) and standing to a total height of 10.6m (35ft), with the now exposed Roman layer dating from AD 200, forming the lower part up to a height of 4.4m (14.5ft), and the remaining 6m or so being of medieval origin.

The original Roman city wall is thought to have been about 6.4m (20ft) in total height, including the battlements, so the Roman section here is probably up to the height of what was the sentry walk level.

The wall is best viewed from it’s western (inner) side where the usual Roman method of construction using regular courses of squared Kentish rag-stone, interspaced with red tiled bonding layers can clearly be seen. The face of the wall has been cut into at several intervals to support the once adjoining buildings of a much later period, exposing the less ordered rubble and mortar core.  This is again noticeable at the southern end of the wall were the complete cross section is visible.

Statue of Emperor Trajan, by City Wall, Tower Hill
Statue of Emperor Trajan, by City Wall, Tower Hill

Just to the west of the wall stands a late-eighteenth century, bronze statue of Emperor Trajan.  This statue was donated to the Tower Hill improvement Trust by the Reverend P. B. ‘Tubby’ Clayton MC, vicar of All Hallows by the Tower church (across the road), after he had found the statue in a scrapyard in Southampton, and was placed here in 1980.  Considered by the senate as “Best Emperor ever”, Trajan who was emperor from AD 98-117 has no particular association with London or Britain unlike his adopted son Hadrian, of wall fame, who succeeded Trajan as emperor from AD 117-139.

The London Wall Walk Panel No. 2
The London Wall Walk Panel No. 2

Here also is panel number 2, from the Museum of London’s “London Wall Walk”, giving details of this section of wall.

Replica of a funerary memorial to the Roman Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus
Replica of a funerary memorial to the Roman Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus

Adjacent on the same wall as panel number 2, is a large carved stone replica of a memorial stone, inscribed “Dis Manibus”. The information panel describing its significance was missing from below the stone, however after some research I found that it represents two sections of a large and grand funerary memorial to Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus originally erected in 65 A.D., and would have been sited in a cemetery outside the city walls nearby.

The upper part of the monument was found in 1852 here at Trinity Place where it had been reused as hard-core for one of the bastion towers added to the Roman walls in the 4th century. The lower half of the same moment was found over eighty years later in 1935 also in Tower Hill. Both original stones are now held in the British Museum, with another replica in the Museum of London.

The reuse of stone in this way seems to have been common practice, as fragments of many ornate carved monuments have been found being re-purposed in the construction of the bastions, as with the famous Roman soldier statue found in bastion 10 as mentioned in my previous post in this series.

The significance of this particular memorial is two fold:

Firstly, Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, was a prominent figure in early Londinium. He was the proctor, or finance minister of the Province of Britain in the period immediately following the Boudican revolt and razing of Londinium in 61 AD, and had subsequently managed to help restore Roman control of the province via diplomacy, rather than retribution as was the want of the Governor and Rome at the time. He died in London whilst still in office.

And secondly, the now missing information panel originally in place below the replica monument, once proclaimed this as “London’s earliest known inscribed monument”. I’m not certain this quoted statement still holds true, but 65 AD was only just over 20 years after the founding of Londinium so it could well be still the case.

An excellent blog post by Mark Patton, provides much more information on Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, of whom Mark has also written a novel.

Medieval Postern Gate

Panel number 1 is meant to be just beyond the under-pass next to the remains of the medieval Postern gate to the south, but has been missing for a good while.  It has been replaced by three small stainless steel engraved panels which are mounted on the railings around it.  A postern gate is usually a small side-entrance, typically for pedestrians only.  This one dates from about 1270, and was made of Caen stone, from Normandy, France, like the rest of the Tower of London.  It was situated at the very edge of the moat to the Tower of London and due to this proximity it’s foundations gave way and it partially collapsed in 1440. The gate was resited slightly north of the original location and rebuilt before becoming once again derelict and finally disappearing in the 18th century to be rediscovered again in 1979. 

Remains of Postern Gate
Medieval Postern Gate, Tower Hill

There remains however Panel ‘0’ or one the introductory panels still in place, marking the start of the walk, situated at the foot of the steps leading back up to street level from the south side of the under-pass. This panel details the history of the city walls and uses illustrations to explain how the structure of the wall evolved through the ages and in many cases, eventually became consumed inside buildings which used the wall for foundations and even structural walls. Which is exactly what happened to the section of wall here at Trinity Place and the neighbouring section at Cooper’s Row.

The London Wall Walk Plaque No. 0
Panel ‘0’  – Introduction to the The London Wall Walk

And finally, the “Obscured” bit

Immediately adjoining the northern end of the wall at Trinity Place, a section of wall 22.25m (73ft) long was uncovered in 1882 during the construction of the Inner Circle Railway.  As can be seen in the photograph below, which shows the outer / eastern face, the wall was in good shape with the base-level plinth, four courses of rag-stone, three of tiles and a further six of ragstone visible. According to descriptions of the time there was a further bonding bonding layer with another four courses of ragstone when first uncovered, which I would estimate to make a total height of about 3.5-4m (11-13ft).

Discovery of Roman Wall at Tower Hill during construction of the Inner Circle Railway, 1882.
Discovery of Roman Wall at Tower Hill during construction of the Inner Circle Railway, 1882.
Image copyright of Museum of London

Unfortunately this section of wall was demolished to make way for Inner Circle Railway, but a small section was left visible within the station itself.

To view it, you’ll need to purchase a Tube ticket and head to Platform 1, the west-bound platform for the District line. Walk east along the platform (towards the direction the trains are coming from), and almost at the end, up high on southern retaining wall (across the tracks) is a small recess, probably only a metre square, where you can see the exposed part of the Roman wall.  

Roman Wall on Tower Hill platform 1
Roman Wall Platform 1, Tower Hill underground station

It looks like there is a spot light, but this was not working at the time of my visit and due the usual underground railway grime it looks rather like just any old dirty bit of brick work, but is in fact the remains the Roman city wall constructed some 1,800 years ago!

Roman Wall - Detail. Platform 1, Tower Hill underground station.
Roman Wall – Detail. Platform 1, Tower Hill underground station.

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.

Since this post was written in 2013, construction of the new Citizen M hotel has taken place, directly adjacent to the wall at Trinity Place. This development has provided new public access to some additional sections of the Roman Wall between Trinity Place and Cooper’s Row.

See my additional post for more information on this development and the newly accessible Roman city walls here.

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: section from underground railway to Tower Hill GUARDIANSHIP
Historic England: Detailed record of this Scheduled Monument.

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