London Wall, 1991.
“Are we nearly there yet?” Feet dragging, shoe laces in danger of becoming undone, walkman in hand, cardigan hanging lazily off one shoulder, bubblegum mouth, the reluctance abound. This was my first experience of the London Wall. We had a slightly possessed history teacher who would take us traipsing across mountains and valleys in the pouring rain to see ruins and remains that looked not entirely dissimilar from the last. Having taken note of these past experiences I was not too hopeful. I’m glad to say this time I was wrong. I do remember being gobsmacked by the idea and disassociation that we should actually have parts of the Roman Empire in our own ‘back yard’. I still find it quite unfathomable to think that we can freely roam the City’s square mile and readily get a taste of Roman and Medieval Britain. But this is what I find so significant about our constantly-surprising city.
Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 54BC to establish trading links with the tribes of southern Britain. The Romans made Colchester their capital but shortly after moved it to Londonium. While the derivation of the word “London” is unclear the likeliest possibility is that it could have been taken from the Celtic word ‘lond’, meaning ‘wild’. Another discrepancy is to why the de. fence wall was only built around 200AD. One theory is that it was a defence mechanism against the many uprising tribes, like the notorious sacking by Boudica in 60/61AD. Another reason would make it a way for the Romans to control trade and taxation going in and out of the city. Nevertheless, like anything that the Romans did, this wall was designed to last.
And last it did. Additions and remodelling came throughout the Medieval ages with churches and houses leeching against the bricks like barnacles to a rock. On the west side of the Roman Fort along the north western corner of the wall, you can clearly see relatively contemporary fireplaces within the frame of the medieval tower where someone has even converted the space into a home. The wall itself echoes every reincarnation that London has seen. Having survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of WWII the little peaks of wall dotted across the City stand obstinate and uncompromising amongst the towering modern monsters of London’s financial district. It’s like they’re saying they’ll still be here when all this is gone.
Spanning 2.8km, the wall takes between one hour and two to walk depending on how side-tracked you’re inclined to get along the way. Starting at Trinity Place next to Tower Hill Station, you can trace the route of the wall along Cooper’s Row, then follow Fenchurch Street to America Square, Vine Street, Jewry Street, Aldgate, Duke’s Place, Bevis Marks, Camomile Street, London Wall, St. Alphage Gardens and Cripplegate, inside the Barbican. You then turn south once you get to The Museum of London and follow Noble Street, cut across to The Old Bailey, then Pilgrim Street, Pageantmaster Court till you hit the water. A lot of the wall has now disappeared but the best sections visible to the public are at Trinity Place, Coopers Row, ‘All Hallows on the Wall’ Church on London Wall, St. Alphage Gardens, the gardens along the east side of the Museum of London and Noble Street.
[Medieval tower next to the Museum of London]
[Gardens of the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall]
[London Wall, Museum of London]
Not only do I feel gratified that I have taken the time to revisit these ruins but also I cannot stress the appeasement of tracing the wall in its entirety. You get a tangible understanding of how big Londinium was and that our city’s street layout has not changed much over the centuries. With every different layer comes a different texture, a different temperature and a different ghost. Most of us trudging to work with our heads hanging down are oblivious to the fact that we are walking through a museum. London is amazing. End of story. Now all we have to do is look up and walk a bit slower.
To discover more about Roman London, take a visit to the Museum of London