Saturday, 29 June 2013

London's Roman Wall - The Obscured - Part 5

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 late Victorian and 20th century much of the wall has been rediscovered, during excavations for the the installation of sewers and railways 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.

So 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 navigation bar), 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, Camomile Street towards Bishopsgate.

Looking North-West along Bevis Marks, from Dukes Place
The path of the wall runs North-West along the eastern (right if looking North) 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 surviving wall sections on these plaques.

The London Wall Walk - Plaque 5
The London Wall Walk - Plaque 5 - One the wall of Sir John Cass School, St. Botolph Street, London.
Plaque No.6 is no longer accessible, as it was positioned on 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.

The London Wall Walk - Plaque 7
The London Wall Walk - Plaque 7 - By the entrance to the Synagogue, Bevis Marks, London.
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.

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.

So with no obvious evidence of any 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 found along my path of interest, but sadly also records much subsequent destruction of these during building projects. There however 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 statues and decorated stone work that was recovered during inspections carried out in 1876.

These objects were headstones from graveyards, being reused as hardcore 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.

Tombstone of a Roman soldier, 1st century. Image Copyright 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 tablets, indicating his duties were more cleric 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 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 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".

60-70 St Mary Axe
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.

Churchyard of St. Martin Outwich, Camomile Street
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!

Tombstone in churchyard of St. Martin Outwich.

So in conclusion it would seem, as at the time of writing, the North Eastern sections of the Roman city wall from Aldgate to Bishopsgate remain distinctly "obscured".

Earlier posts on this topic:
Part 1 - One America Square
Part 2 - Emperor House
Part 3 - London Wall House
Part 4 - Hennessy's Bar

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.

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