The Walled City Of London


London_Wall_fragmentI’m plotting a fantasy novel – don’t laugh, it’ll be another of my ‘One Off’ books to sit beside my crime novels – and was reminding myself about the early days of London.

It’s easy to forget that our 2000 year+ city was as much of a walled city as any in Spain, Tunisia or Poland. As it continues to expand the edges blur ever more, but there are still sections of the wall to be seen all around.

Although the exact reason for the wall’s construction is unknown, it was probably built to provide defence and security to London citizens, and also represented the growing status of the city. Come inside if you want protection, stay out and be rural if not.

It was started in the late 2nd or early 3rd century, around 80 years after the construction of the city’s fort in 120AD. It was finished at the end of the 4th century, one of the last major building projects undertaken by the Romans before they headed home (probably fed up with the lousy weather) in 410. It was constructed of Kentish ragstone and may have been built because of the invasion of northern Britain by the Picts, who overran Hadrian’s Wall in the 180s. The central fort was the home of the official guard of the Governor of Britain, and housed around 1,000 men in a series of barrack blocks.


The seven gates that were added matched the Roman roads. Moorgate, Ludgate, Newgate, Cripplegate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate and Aldersgate remain largely in name only. The crumbling statues of King Lud and his two sons, which formerly stood on Ludgate, now stand in the porch of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Flat Street, and there was a pub at Ludgate Circus called the King Lud, where prisoners from Newgate were given their last drink. Sadly it’s now a Leon takeout, but medallions of King Lud can be seen up on its roofline and over the doors.

But there is a substantial chunk of the wall you can still see. Set immediately north of the Tower of London, right in Tower Hill, it’s one of its most substantial and impressive surviving sections. It was once around two and a half miles long, and over time it was modified, adapted and added to, before finally being obscured and partially destroyed as new buildings were constructed around it.


Today, many of the buildings which had formerly hidden it have been cleared away, and you can get a clear view of what’s left. The wall remained standing through a long period when the city was largely abandoned. It was repaired in the late Anglo-Saxon period and survived to be an important feature of the city at the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066.

In about 1300 a new postern gateway through the wall was built immediately to the south of the standing portion, close to the edge of the Tower of London moat; it later slipped down the moat bank and can be seen at the end of the underpass under the main road.

In fact, there are plenty of pieces to explore and even those which have vanished (as at Bishopsgate) have wall plaques commemorating the sites. The odd juxtaposition of Roman wall and houses still surprises.


Aldgate was once the oldest gatehouse into London, build decades before the rest of the wall that subsequently adjoined it. It was also one of the busiest gatehouses, as it stood upon the main Roman road to Colchester. During its 1600 year history it was rebuilt three times and finally pulled down in 1761 to improve traffic access. Geoffrey Chaucer lived in the rooms over the gate from 1374. At the time he was working as a customs official at one of the local ports.


As Bryant & May readers will know, London itself slowly slipped from East to West, shifting away from its walled origins as rich merchants sought new land away from overcrowded streets.

When the Museum of London moves to Smithfield and the remaining bits of the wall in the Barbican are exposed, presumably they’ll be retained – but in today’s property developer-driven madness anything is possible.

18 comments on “The Walled City Of London”

  1. Davem says:

    Fantasy novel? London?

    This sounds good!

  2. Brian Evans says:

    I re-visited the Museum of London last weekend. I didn’t know it was going to be moved.

  3. Jan says:

    Where r they moving to then Brian?

    Here Mr. Fowls wouldn’t it be great to combine your fantasy novel with that greatest of your early Works which we have discussed many times before……the City as opposed to any other part of London would be a smashing place to set the action especially in the light of the recent push skyward.

    I used to like it when you had to go into a perfectly ordinary shop or office block and be shown a bit of the original city wall incorporated into the fabric of an otherwise normal building. That really used to tickle me like finding treasure.

    By the way you want to take a bit of time to research Baynards castle that to me is amongst the most interesting aspects of the wall. No one is 100% sure about it but I can remember taking a trip on the river many, many years ago when some God awful structure on the N bank just within the City which had been built by by British Telecom to resemble (wait for it I jest not) a computer keyboard and tower early 1980s style this monstrosity was situated in about the same spot maybe a touch to the south of the site of Baynards castle. This BT structure, with us no longer fortunately, was part of the fortress architecture concerned with the defence of of the City built in the latter part of the first Cold war. I say 1st cos I think we might be shapingvupnfor Cold War part 2.

    Again we are back to the topic of places useful for defence remain useful whether to the Romans, Normans, or 20th C cold warriors. I’ll send you some stuff about a church on a Mott in Beaumont north of Carlisle which prior to being a Norman church had been a Norman defensive tower previously being a Roman lookout tower built on a man made hill. It would be no great surprise to find the Romans had built on an existing prehistoric mound.
    The biggest surprise about Hadrians wall to me was the extensive earthworks which are part of the structure being not unlike the banks of an iron age Hill for. I think it’s called the Valence.
    Right have wandered right off topic here. Sorry

  4. admin says:

    The fantasy novel is to be set in the Dark Ages, Jan, and is probably most analogous to TE White’s ‘The Sword In The Stone’ in the sense that it takes a fanciful look at what might have happened then.

    The Museum of London has been planning the move for a while, as its present site is no longer large enough and redevelopment looms.

  5. Jan says:

    Oh well was worth a try. I’ll get you at a weak moment one day!!!
    The word wasn’t valence was vallum. The earth defence part of Hadrians wall.

    I loved The Sword in the Stone it’s a wonderful book. Is your fantasy novel for young adults or adult audience?

  6. Jan says:

    I reckoned once it would be possible to trace the sword in the Stone site in the City. One of my barmier ideas. The removal of the sword from the stone must have its root in myths surrounding the first blacksmiths knocking the casts off the first swords or daggers created in the bronze age or later iron age. Well City of London is only a square mile – a square mile underneath about 28 foots worth of detritus (which was an issue) and 2000 years worth at least of building nevertheless I decided it would be traceable. Doh!

    Mind you the,London stone was at one time said to have been the stone from which the sword was extracted.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Do love it when Jan gets going. Communication is a great thing, isn’t it. She’s right, though, about the plot idea. Updated Roofworld, it could be truly exciting and another try at the YA thing (with a different editor).

  8. Jan says:

    See Helen thinks it’s a good idea!! But no you want to write electrical books in different names.
    (I only wrote different names cos I can’t t spell pseudonym.)

    Thanks,Helen but I did go well off piste there with the comments. I have been trying to persuade the Fowler to do another Roofworld for well over a decade. He don’t listen

  9. Davem says:

    Got to agree with Jan, another Roofworld would be excellent.

  10. Davem says:

    Got to agree with Jan, another Roofworld would be excellent.

    In fact, the ideal would be a joint work with Neil Gaiman combining Roofworld and Neverwhere 🙂

  11. Brooke says:

    “The fantasy novel is to be set in the Dark Ages,,,,” May we know what attracts you to this concept and what period interests you? The “Dark Ages” covers over 1000 years.

  12. Jan says:

    Brooke the Dark Ages in non Celtic Britain lasted from the end of the Roman occupation of Britain generally agreed to have been 410 (Common Era A.D. however you wish to express the date) through till William the Conqueror’s arrival in 1066.

    The term “Dark Ages” covers overlapping influences on British culture which really are fascinating and interesting. Dark Ages as a term can be misinterpreted and misunderstood it really is an expression by archeologists that means from their point of view up until the late 1960s early’70s there wasn’t much archeology to find!! Now archeology is becoming more sophisticated discoveries made by aerial archeology, geophysical work + finds are not quite as sparse. However they are not on the scale of Roman proto industrialization. Pottery produced on wheels (- early mass production! ) disappeared for a long period with the departure of the Romans for example. St. Patrick was the son of a Romano British household and think of the influence that gent had upon subsequent history!

    Now the terms early Medieval period or I think the more fanciful. “Late Antiquity” are being used to describe the Dark Ages.

    The Romans occupied Britain for well over 450 years generations of people lived and died under their occupation. The new world of the Anglo Saxons was very different and their ideas were strange but not unsophisticated. Just a very different world view. Think of the recently discovered gold hoards in Staffordshire that’s Anglo Saxon stuff. They used a runic language to express many of their thoughts. Their ideas about the Christian faith were very interwoven with Norse ideas. I could burble on for ages. Poops I am doing!

    Just one last thing the Romans had divided up the parts of Britain they held into “Civiates” client
    Kingdoms when they pushed off some historians feel the Kingdoms reasserted themselves again – simple as that. Then Norsemen, Saxons, Picts began to invade. By the fifth century Northumbrian troops had reoccupied Hadrians,wall fortresses Birdoswald and Vindolanda being two examples. They defended themselves against the Scots.

  13. Jan says:

    Did it again didn’t i……i should get a t shirt printed ‘VISITING HADRIANS WALL CHANGED MY LIFE”

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I knew Hadrian’s Wall would be a transforming experience, but I didn’t expect the Roman influence to be the complete death of modern punctuation. Well, not complete but certainly distraught. Have you read A Walk Along the Wall, Jan? It’s dated but might give you a feeling of reminiscence about your walk. (And I will get to do it yet.)

  15. Jan says:

    My punctuation + grammar not good at all.
    All apologies offered
    There’s a book I picked up in Dorchester library where some bloke sets off from Newcastle taking photos of the remaining wall within the city and ended up on the Cumberland coast. Having taken loads of pictures along the way. Wish I’d taken it out on loan for the trip. I wonder if that’s the same one u r referring to? There’s a lot of sea defences protecting from invasion by Vikings along the Cumbrian coast and Solway firth which are lesser known than the mid country section. but mightily impressive nevertheless. Right will make sure back of that T shirt reads “BUT NOT My PUNCTUATION”

  16. Brooke says:

    @ Jan and Helen. Thanks for the explanation. I have walked part of Hadrian’s Wall and still keep the photos (remember those?!). Unfortunately it was not quite the transforming experience for me that it was for Jan. Perhaps it was the time.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    @Jan. A Walk Along the Wall is by Hunter Davies and copyright 1974 by the Vindolanda Trust. My copy is the Readers Union edition. Yes, there’s a section of photos. Anybody else get books from RU back in the day?

  18. Jan says:

    Next time I’m in Dorchester Library will check Helen

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