Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Retracing ancient footsteps around London’s Roman Wall
By Owen Fulda
Back in around 200 AD, the shape of London was defined by one single structure; its enormous defensive city wall. From Tower Hill in the East to Blackfriars Station in the West, the wall stretched for two miles around the ancient City of London. While most visitors to London only see remnants of the original Roman London Wall adjacent to the Tower Hill or in and around the Tower of London, there are actually many other pieces to view, which provide a broader perspective of the original walled city.
In 1984 the Museum of London set up the official ‘London Wall Walk’ featuring 21 tiled panels, many of which are now sadly long gone. But with a little bit of research, a keen eye and a certain level of intuition, the Roman Wall walk makes for an enthralling afternoon on a beautiful sunny spring day in the capital. The walk itself is about 3.2km (2 miles) long and takes between one and two hours, with much of the most important sites wheelchair accessible.
Meandering along the appropriately named London Wall road, you might notice a row of concrete blocks acting as temporary partition, and it is just underneath them that it’s possible to locate one of the larger intact remains of the Roman Wall. Beneath what once formed part of a long-forgotten and fortunately abandoned ring road network, is the hidden section. During the construction of what is now a subterranean car park, this impressive part of ancient Roman Wall was uncovered. Whenever a part of the barricade, no-matter how small, is suspected to have been discovered by construction workers, work must cease immediately and expert archaeologists are called in to establish whether it is indeed part of the Roman Wall.
This fragment of Roman Wall is all that remains of a longer section of walling (of about 64m) which was uncovered in 1957 during clearance works for the new road and was, for the most part, subsequently demolished during the construction of the road and car park. As much of the Roman Wall was actually later Medieval conversion, said demolition is not as heinous a crime as it might sound. To find the well-preserved section head over to the Museum of London, and then locate a suitable entrance into the underground car park.
Further sections of London Wall lie concealed approximately 60m to the east and 120m to the west of this section. Sadly they are deeply concealed so cannot be seen. There is also a rare and mostly intact example of a Roman Bath House locked underneath a nearby 1970s office block, which is really worth a visit. One of the first scheduled monuments in England, the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths date back almost 2,000 years and are now open to the public for guided tours. The baths were re-discovered in 1848, during the construction of the Coal Exchange, but not excavated properly until 1968-9, when the road was widened and the current office block built on the site. Tickets cost £8 for adults, £6 for children and can be booked online through the Museum of London website.