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The London Walls Across Time

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The Riverside Wall, although not visible today and largely considered a myth until the 1970s, was built along the border with the Thames as a defence from pirates. It most likely collapsed by the time William I became king in 1066. The lack of additional construction to the Riverside Wall is indicative of the shift in attitudes towards the wall after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The development of London south of the Thames was a lot slower than north of Thames. This can be attributed to the swampier terrain of the South compared to the drier land in the North. However, the growth of London initially occurred within the protections of the Roman Wall rather than southwards outside of the Wall's protection. This only shifted during the Medieval Period as the Wall became less of a physical protection as the city grew in and around it.

Across the Medieval Period there was an exponential rise in migration from the countryside into cities. London was one of the few walled cities within Britain and the Walls added a presupposed protection for the citizens. That being said, due to the rapid growth of the city, the walls became less of a protection, creating cramped conditions that enabled the spread of fires, plagues, and the formation of a general housing crisis.

Churches' names still show the physical remnants of the wall. For example, St Botolph-without-Aldgate is a church located outside of the perimeters of the wall.

Click on the oven to find out...


You're a baker living on Pudding Lane. You've got a thriving business, some might say that it could be the next big thing. But your mates are going out to see some bear fights in Shoreditch, and you've decided to tag along. BUT WAIT...Did you leave the oven on?

The Great Fire of London began in a bakery on Pudding Lane in September 1666. The very narrow streets and compact housing – as a result of the restraints imposed by the wall – led to the fire spreading rapidly. By the end of the blaze, around 13,200 houses, 84 churches, 44 company halls and 1/3 of the London Bridge were all destroyed. 80% of the interior of the wall was burnt displacing around 1/6 of the population. Those displaced were forced to camp outside of the city walls, and due to rising rent prices, many moved to villages, while wealthy landowners began to buy up valuable space within the walls and build large residences. Subsequently, many peasants in the west, resettled in the east of London. The gates and parts of the wall weren’t rebuilt until the 1670s.



It's 61 AD and you are a Roman about to be sliced, burnt, diced, crushed, gutted, and slaughtered.

Who's This Ginger?

Prior to 61 AD, Londinium had no definitive fortifications and defences. It had a population in the tens of thousands and was becoming relatively prosperous. Trade with Britan was heavily invested in by Roman Bankers. Furthermore, the city largely relied on the standing army for defence.


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The ginger in question - Boudica, leader of the Iceni tribe - led a revolt against the Romans in 61 AD burning down the majority of Londinium. The rebellion led to the formal construction of the London Walls as a defence for the growing city. However, according to Charles Roach Smith, there is no evidence that the wall was finished until 122 AD, although some historians argue that the wall wasn’t connected around Cripplegate until 200 AD. The 9-mile-long wall encircling the capital enabled the rapid economic growth of London, and it wasn’t until the 18th century until the walls were taken down due to the city's growth.

You've been sliced, diced, crushed, burnt AND INVADED?

The space on which the Barbican was built reveals socio-economic divisions stemming from the construction of the London Roman Walls. This space was situated just outside the city fortifications, on land previously used as cemeteries for London's Jewish community. This once again highlights the separation between the affluent within the Walls and the marginalised outside them.However, the area underwent major postwar redevelopment and led to the construction of the Barbican Estates and Barbican Centre. Originally built as rental housing targeting middle and upper class professionals, the flats remain an upscale residential complex of around 2000 flats and houses today.


So, while many marginalised communities still live outside the Walls, the gentrified Barbican area represents an exception to this trend, demonstrating limits to the Walls' lasting impact on socio-economic divisions.

For all of the adventurers out there, you can go to the most obscure part of the wall.You should spot the sign near Moorgate and go down the stairs and long corridor to get there.You will then find a portion of the Roman Wall, in all its glory, occupying three car spaces. This is an example of the way London's Walls were incorporated into the architecture of the city.

The Hidden Wall In The Car Park

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Initial settlements around London can be traced to 47AD along Southwark. Roman London was formed between 50 – 60AD, after the Roman Invasion of Southern Briton. By 60AD, London was becoming more prosperous as a result of trade with continental Europe. The city itself was built like a Roman city, with baths, forums, marketplaces, warehouses, and housing. London developed in tangent with different Emperors. The London Walls were constructed between 125 - 200AD, adding protection to the growing capital and aiding its rapid development into an economic centre.

Roman London

Medieval Gates:

In the 16th Century, the gates acted as police barriers. This meant that the gates were frequently closed at nights and, according to ancient rules, had specific roles. The gates were also the most frequently repaired section of the wall, and acted as pressure valves for the city letting the traffic of goods (and people) in and out. Across the medieval period, due to the rapid population growth, these gates became heavily trafficked.

The Eastern Cemetery, located east of Aldgate, is estimated to have had around 13,500 to 180,400 individuals buried. These contained around 136 cremation burials and 550 inhumation burials. 25% of the inhumations (buried corpses) and 24% of the cremations were buried with goods, with 65% of the cremations having evidence of pyre goods (non-ceramic items burnt with the body on the pyre). There is an intrinsic correlation between the wealth/class of a civilian and the goods they are buried with. In the Eastern Cemetery, 4/5 of the recovered populus were buried without burial goods. Comparatively in the Western Cemeteries,

Eastern Cemeteries

38% of the burials were buried with goods, of higher material value. Furthermore, there were sarcophagi and monuments found that indicated the higher social status of the civilian buried.This could suggest that there was a connection between wealthier Romans being buried in the West versus the East. This can be used as a foundational understanding of intrinsic divisons between space and place surrounding the East and West of London.


You are an Early Modern 18th Century Blacksmith and you've just left the smiths for the first time in a couple of weeks. And to your surprise as you gaze up at the towering amorphous shape of the wall you see...

click on the wall to see what happened.

The Collapse of the Roman Walls

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Walls were torn down and incorporated into different architectural projects. The walls had become a hindrance to the natural growth and development of the city and its population beyond the walls.Although the Walls initially enabled the rapid development of pre-industrial London, the shift to modern warfare meant that walls, as a form of protection, were no longer necessary. However, the remnants of the spatial divide still linger today as a result of the communites formed around the places inside and outside the wall.

Northern Cemeteries

The Northern Cemeteries in Spitalfields were discovered in 1576 - the first of the London Cemeteries to be discovered. Most of these burials were located around Liverpool Street Station, Bishopsgate and the general Spitalfields area. There were 4 burials buried within stone coffins and around 10 tombstones (military and civilian). When compared to the other cemeteries, which contain far fewer tombstones, this could suggest a correlation between the middle classes and those buried in these cemeteries.

Tower of London

The initial keep of the Tower of London (the White Keep) began construction in 1078 after the corronation of William I, and was originally situated within the City Walls. However, in the 12th and 13th centuries the castle was extended outside of the city walls. This was a way of separating the royalty from the peasantry.

Shakespeare’s own writing was influenced by the wall, such as with Pyramus and Thisbe, both in the physical division of land the wall represented, and also in the social structures formulated outside and inside the wall. After first moving to London, Shakespeare lived primarily by the edge of the wall in Bishopsgate and commuted to the theatres in Shoreditch just outside of the wall. Shoreditch was, at the time, filled with dangerous crime-ridden back alleys. There was a clear distinction between the relative order and protection provided by the wall – for those who lived inside it – and the lack thereof outside of the city boundaries. Outside of the city walls there were around 300 inns and brothels, an indicator of a lack of what authorities believed was a lack of moral and civil law outside of the walls.


Today, West London is considered to be the ‘posher’ and more affluent part of London; whereas East London is traditionally more working class. This can be traced back to the difference in burial goods in Londinium's cemeteries, and the formation of working class communites in the East after the Fire of London. Indeed, the fire destroyed large portions of West London, and led to the acquision of land by wealthy landowners.Furthermore, today, the portions of the wall that remain visible are almost all found in East London whereas the walls in West London have all been torn down. This would suggest that the more affluent West was prioritised, either for economic development or housing. Comparatively, the East was neglected, highlighting the socio-economic divide.

West/East Divide

Chaucer, writer of the Canterbury Tales – a collection mythological and folkloric tales revolving around the concept of pilgrimage – lived in Aldgate and alluded to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 in one of his tales. The revolt itself, can be described as a physical reclaiming of space by peasantry, that ended with the storming of London. London's Walls in this instance are symbolic of the seperation between the peasantry outside and inside of the wall. This separation is commented on by Chaucer, and other literary figures of the time. The Wall itself physically delineated space and largley influenced the formation of place.

Chaucer, and the 1381 Peasants Revolt in relation to the London Walls.

Cripplegate is one of the bastions, and gates along the Roman Walls. Built along the Western side of the city, this side of the wall was built later than the Eastern side. This connects to the development eastwardly - shown through higher number of burials in this region. Cripplegate along with Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, Moorgate, Newgate, and Ludgate, were the main valves of the city letting people in and out. This allowed for the rapid initial development of Londinium – protecting it from invasions.

Cripplegate and Other London Gates

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the London Wall went through many different iterations. Norman raids, Saxon raids and Viking invasions all led to portions of the wall being destroyed or weakened. The walls were not repaired until 1215, and again later on in the 1670s after the Great Fire of London destroyed the majority of the Western Wall. The London Wall during the Medieval period became symbollic of separation as the city grew around it, rather than fortifications.

Medieval Walls

Located in modern Holborn and Oxford Street, the excavations from this region have been sparser than in the Eastern Cemeteries (due to western London's economic prosperity and the unwillingness to excavate in these regions). In the Giltspur Street excavations, groups of cremations deposited in high-quality containers indicated wealthy burials. These were found more commonly within the western part of the city inside of the boundary of the 3rd century city wall. This differs from Roman traditions of cemeteries residing outside of the confines of cities.

Western Cemeteries

Additionally, of the Giltspur Street excavations 38% of the 49 burials had burial goods. The Atlantic House excavations found some bodies within Sarcophagi – varying in degree of decoration. In these western cemeteries there are four surviving tombstones of soldiers/military men found in Kingsway, Ludgate and Blackfriars.

Creation of the London Walls

The London Roman Walls were constructed in sections over a period of several decades, with a foundation made of flint and clay, dug into 3-4ft deep trenches. These foundations were covered in brick and were around 7-9 ft thick. Most likely decorated, the walls were strengthened with the addition of twenty bastions and towers – added at a later point from the initial construction. The Eastern walls are considered to have been built far earlier than the rest of the walls, reflecting the initial growth eastwardly.

Southern Cemeteries

In the southern cemeteries, up to 22% of the burials in Southwark, and 36% by Great Dover Street were accompanied by burial goods. However, these were found along an old major road within what would’ve been a walled enclosure, suggesting the burial of important or wealthy families. More generally, the Southern Cemeteries were less populated, reflecting the population divide between the North and the South.

Traditionally a deprived area in East London, Shoreditch features areas like Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane. In contrast to the towering skyscrapers of affluent Liverpool Street inside of the wall, the architecture of Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market consists of smaller and less well-maintained buildings.Despite being so close to the wealth of the City of London, 45% of the Shoreditch’s residents are unskilled manual workers, unemployed or benefit claimants. Ethnic minority groups (who are significantly more likely to be on low incomes) also make up a significant proportion of this area with 52% of primary school children in Hackney having English as their second language.

Spitalfields & Shoreditch

This is reflective of how the Roman Wall has had a persistent impact on the present-day as it highlights the socio-economic divide between the affluent working residing inside the wall compared to those relegated outside of the wall.

Near Aldgate, across from the Tower of London, you can find the London Vine Gallery. In this gallery, you can see one of the sections of the old Roman Wall. Artifacts like coins and mosiacs ranging from Roman Britain to the medieval period and to the modern-day are exhibited. The exhibition showcases the full history of this section of the wall beyond Roman times.

The Museum of London Walls: Vine Gallery

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