I’m standing across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, admiring the view. My guide suddenly says, “and behind us is the second oldest privately owned garden in London, dating back to the 12th century.” [I later learned this is Lambeth Palace Gardens.] Needless to say: on my first trip to London, I was struck by the incredible history of the place.
Little did I know (at the time) that the 12th century is nowhere near as far back as London’s history goes. London was founded by the Romans in 43 AD – a full 11 centuries earlier than those crazy-old gardens! And the best part? You can still see evidence of the Romans in London, particularly along stretches of the old London Wall that protected the city for centuries.
In the 1980s, the Museum of London put together a self-guided walking route along the remaining viewpoints of the Roman London Wall. There were originally 21 plaques along a 2.8km (1.75mi) route; today there are only 11 plaques – and the route I walked clocked in at 3.5km (2.2mi). Because some of the plaques are missing and the buildings/roads have changed, I put together this guide. If you want to walk the London Wall Walk, read on – this is all the info you need to do a self-guided tour of the London Wall Walk, accurate as of 2020!
Start: London Wall Walk Introductory Plaque
Technically, you cal walk the London Wall Walk in either direction, but I recommend starting at the beginning (the Tower of London) rather than the end (the Museum of London). You can actually see remnants of the London Wall within the Tower of London too – so you can do a morning tour at the Tower and walk the London Wall Walk in the afternoon.
To start, head to the subway at the north side of the Tower. Here, you’ll see the introductory plaque as well as plaque #1, and the Postern Gate in an excavated subterranean pit.
The map on the plaques isn’t super helpful in our 21st century tech world, so I’ve put together a map with a walking route to help (above). You can open and save this to your phone if you plan to walk the London Wall Walk and won’t have phone service in London.
Plaque 1 – Postern Gate at The Tower
Plaque #1 is located near the introductory plaque at the subway between the Tower of London and Tower Hill tube station. You can see the Postern Gate below ground here.
This plaque reads:
For nearly fifteen hundred years the physical growth of the City of London was limited by its defensive wall. The first Wall was built by the Romans in c AD 200, one hundred and fifty years after the founding of Londinium. It stretched for 2 miles (3.2km), incorporating a pre-existing fort. In the 4th century the Romans strengthened the defences with towers on the eastern section of the Wall.
The Roman Wall formed the foundation of the later City Wall. During the Saxon period the Wall decayed but successive medieval and Tudor rebuildings and repairs restored it as a defensive all. With the exception of a medieval realignment in the Blackfriars’ area, the Wall retained its original line unaltered over the centuries. From the 17th century, as London expanded rapidly in size, the Wall was no longer necessary for defence. Much of it was demolished in the 18th and 19th centuries and where sections survived they became buried under shops and warehouses. During the 20th century several sections have been revealed by excavations and preserved.
To reach the next plaque turn around and head through the subway toward Tower Hill station. Climb up the first set of stairs, and turn right into the garden area. You’ll see a large stretch of the Wall; the plaque is located in the corner to your left.
Plaque 2 – City Wall at Tower Hill
Plaque #2 is located at the garden area by Tower Hill tube station where there is a large section of Roman Wall topped by medieval stonework. There is also a statue of Trajan.
This plaque reads:
This impressive section of wall still stands to a height of 35 feet (10.6m). The Roman work survives to the level of the sentry walk, 14 1/2 feet (4.4m) high, with medieval stonework above. The Wall was constructed with coursed blocks of ragstone which sandwiched a rubble and mortar core. Layers of flat red tiles were used at intervals to give extra strength and stability. Complete with its battlements the Roman Wall would have been about 20 feet (6.3m) high. Outside the Wall was a defensive ditch.
To the north is the site of one of the towers added to the outside of the wall in the 4th century. Stones recovered from its foundations in 1852 and 1935 included part of the memorial inscription from the tomb of Julius Classicianus, the Roman Provincial Procurator (financial administrator) in AD 61.
In the medieval period the defences were repaired and heightened. The stonework was more irregular with a sentry walk over 3 feet (0.9m) wide. To the west was the site of the Tower Hill scaffold where many famous prisoners were publicly beheaded, the last in 1747.
To continue on the London Wall Walk to the next plaque, leave the garden area and head up the stairs toward Tower Hill station. When you reach the station, turn left and go around the building, turning right at the corner toward Trinity Square. Walk until you reach the entryway for CitizenM hotel and turn into the entryway. Walk to the end and you’ll see another large stretch of wall. Pass through the archway in the wall and turn right to see plaque #3.
Plaque 3 – City Wall at Cooper’s Row
Plaque #3 is located at on the east side of the Wall in the courtyard; it can be accessed through the CitizenM open-air entrance way on Cooper’s Row or from Crescent, a small street on the other side. Based on my experience walking the London Wall Walk, I recommend entering from the CitizenM entryway and crossing through the archway to reach the plaque.
This plaque reads:
The Wall here survives to a height of 35 feet (10.6m). The lower section, 14½ feet (4.4m), is Roman and stands to the height of the sentry walk. The characteristic red tile and ragstone can be seen and at the base on the outer face the red sandstone plinth which marks Roman ground level. During the medieval period the Wall was heightened by 21 feet (6.2m) with irregular masonry which narrowed to a sentry walk 3 feet (0.9m) wide. At the same time the ditch outside the Wall was redug and broadened.
A double staircase led to the medieval sentry walk. On either side are loopholes which could be used by archers. There is no surviving means of access and the loopholes were probably reached by a timber platform keyed into the socket holes which are visible. There is no parallel for this arrangement elsewhere on the Wall, indicating that special care was taken with defences close to the tower. The outer face gives a good impression of the original strength of London’s defences.
The next plaque (#4) no longer exists, but to reach the following plaque (#5) you will pass the area where it once stood. Leave the courtyard and turn left onto Crescent. Walk up Crescent to the intersection and cross to go straight onto Vine Street. Plaque #4 was previously on Vine Street in the area of the construction zone. Continue on to plaque #5.
Plaque 4 – City Wall at Emperor House
Unfortunately, plaque #4 no longer exists. It was originally on the west side of Vine Street with the actual remains visible through glass panels in the adjacent yard.
As of 2020, the majority of Vine Street is dominated by a construction zone and pedestrian diversion; when this is completed, the planned new building should allow visitors to see a major portion of the wall.
From the area where plaque #4 once was on Vine Street, continue up Vine Street. When you reach the intersection with India Street, turn left, then right on Jewry Street. Continue up Jewry Street to the intersection with Aldgate High Street. Cross Aldgate High Street at the pedestrian crossing, and make your way to the schoolyard wall near the crossing.
Plaque 5 – Aldgate (City Gate)
Plaque #5 is located on a low wall on the front of John Cass School, facing Fenchurch street, behind a bicycle rack. It can be hidden if the rack is full of bicycles, so look around near the right end of the rack to spot it on the low wall.
This plaque reads:
When the Roman City Wall was built (c AD 200) a stone gate perhaps already spanned the Roman road linking London (Londinium) with Colchester (Camulodunum). The gate probably had twin entrances flanked by guard towers. Outside the gate a large cemetery developed to the south of the road. In the later 4th century the gate may have been rebuilt to provide a platform for catapults.
The Roman gate apparently survived until the medieval period (called Alegate or Algate) when it was rebuilt in 1108-47, and again in 1215. Its continued importance was assured by the building of the great Priory of Holy Trinity just inside the gate. The medieval gate had a single entrance flanked by two large semi-circular towers. It was during this period that Aldgate had its most famous resident, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived in rooms over the gate from 1374 while a customs official in the port of London.
Aldgate was completely rebuilt in 1607-9 but was finally pulled down in 1761 in order to improve traffic access.
If you want to see portions of the wall, you can look through the windows of WeWork at 77 Leadenhall (around the corner) – or you can see them on Google Maps!
The next plaque (#6) no longer exists, but to reach the following plaque (#7) you will pass the area where it once stood. Make your way to the northwest corner of Aldgate Place, then continue onto Duke’s Place. Plaque #6 was previously located in a subway entrance here. Continue up Duke’s Place to plaque #7.
Plaque 6 – City Wall at Duke’s Place
Plaque #6 is inaccessible due to closure of the subway. It was originally located in the subway near exit 1, and showed a cross section of the Roman wall in tilework. The subway was closed when Aldgate Place was converted to a pedestrian area.
From the northwest corner of Aldgate Place at Duke’s Place, continue up Duke’s Place on the west side of the road – it will become Bevis Marks. Before the corner of Bevis Marks and Bury Street, you can see plaque #7 on the wall of the synagogue.
Plaque 7 – City Wall at Bevis Marks
Plaque #7 is located on the south side of Bevis Marks by the Synagogue.
This plaque reads:
The engraving shows the area around Bevis Marks as it appeared (c 1560-70) in the reign of Elizabeth I. The City Wall, Aldgate, four towers and the City ditch can be clearly seen. Although the Wall has now disappeared in this area many of the streets still survive today.
Outside the Wall were wooden tenter frames used for stretching newly woven cloth (the origin of the phrase ‘to be on tenter hooks’). A gun foundry can also be seen near St Botolph’s Church at the end of Houndsditch. Beyond were open fields (Spital Fields) stretching towards the villages of Shoreditch and Whitechapel.
The historian John Stow, writing c 1580 recorded the many unsuccessful attempts to prevent the City ditch becoming a dumping ground for rubbish including the dead dogs, which gave Houndsditch its name. In the 17th century the ditch was finally filled in and the area used for gardens.
Unfortunately, the next several plaques (#8, #9, #10) are all missing, however, let’s continue on the London Wall Walk to each of these places. From plaque #7, continue up Bevis Marks to the intersection with Chamomile Street. Cross to the east side of the street and continue on (Bevis Marks is now Wormwood Street). Plaque #8 was formerly at the intersection of Wormwood Street and Bishopsgate; today you can see the towering Salesforce skyscraper.
Plaque 8 – Bishopsgate (City Gate)
Plaque #8 no longer exists. It was originally affixed to a wall which was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. Most gates were taken down in 1760-1761 as they were a hinderance to traffic. Today, Bishopsgate is marked today by bishop’s mitres on buildings on either side of the road.
From the location of plaque #8, cross Bishopsgate and enter the St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Gardens. This is where plaque #9 was.
Plaque 9 – City Wall at St. Botolph
Plaque #9 no longer exists. It was originally located in Bishopsgate Churchyard. The remaining wall was incorporated into buildings on Wormwood street, but the plaque has gone missing.
From St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Gardens, exit the courtyard and turn left onto Old Broad Street then right onto London Wall (formerly Wormwood Street). Continue on the north side of London Wall to the courtyard near All Hallows-on-the-Wall church.
Plaque 10 – City Wall at All Hallows
Plaque #10 no longer exists. It was originally mounted along the wall outside All-Hallows-On-The-Wall where the medieval section was used in the churchyard wall. The Roman portion is below ground level but the church vestry was built on the foundations of its tower. As of 2020, you can see the two black legs of the plaque stand as well as the medieval wall behind them.
From All Hallows-on-the-Wall, continue along London Wall to the intersection with Moorgate. Turn right on Moorgate and the next plaque is visible right near the corner.
Plaque 11 – Moorgate (City Gate)
Plaque #11 is located on the northeast corner where Moorgate Street meets London Wall. Above the plaque, as you can see, there’s a marker for where the Moorgate stood until its destruction in 1761. The name Moorgate comes from the large moor which stretched out from this point of the Wall.
This plaque reads:
Moorgate was the only gate whose name described its location as it gave access to the moor or marsh which stretched along the northern side of the City. In the early Roman period the area was well-drained by the Walbrook stream but the construction of the City Wall (c AS 200) impeded the natural drainage and caused the formation of a large marsh outside the Wall.
There was no Roman gate here but in the Middle Ages a small gate was built. In 1415 it was totally rebuilt by the Mayor Thomas Falconer and the engraving shows it after substantial rebuilding as a single gate, flanked by towers. Throughout the 16th century attempts were made to drain the marsh and within a hundred years the whole area had been laid out with walks and avenues of trees. In 1672 Moorgate was rebuilt as an imposing ceremonial entrance. This was demolished to improve traffic access in 1761. The City Wall to the east became incorporated into the Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) for the insane. This long stretch of the Wall was finally demolished in 1817.
Continue along the north side of London Wall, crossing over Fore Street. When you reach London Wall Place, turn right into the St. Alphage Gardens courtyard area.
Plaque 12 – City Wall at St. Alphage
Plaque #12 no longer exists; it was located in St. Alphage’s Gardens. Now, there’s a nice park area with benches and seats where you can sit and admire the wall. You can also see a large portion of the wall from the Highwalk that connects into the Barbican estate, as well as from Salter’s Hall gardens, under the wall.
There’s some construction in the area; the stand for the plaque still exists but is located behind a few barricades.
To reach plaque #13, continue along St. Alphage Garden to the west. When you reach the intersection with Wood Street, the plaque is located on a building to the right.
Plaque 13 – Cripplegate (City Gate)
Plaque #13 is located at the corner of Wood Street and St. Alphage Garden. In addition to the plaque, there is a sign noting the Cripplegate, which was destroyed (like all of the other gates) in 1761, to improve traffic in the City of London.
This plaque reads:
Cripplegate was originally the northern entrance to the Roman fort, built c AD 120. This Roman gate probably remained in use until at least the late Saxon period when it is mentioned in the 10th and 11th century documents. The gate was rebuilt in the 1490’s. Throughout its history Cripplegate has a variety of uses. It was leased as accommodation and also, like the more famous Newgate, used as a prison.
After the restoration of Charles II in 1660 all of the City gates were unhinged and the portcullises wedged open making them useless for defence. The gates survived another century as ceremonial entrances before being demolished.
Cripplegate gave access to a substantial medieval suburb and to the village of Islington. Extra defensive works outside the gate gave rise to the name Barbican which was subsequently taken as the name for the post World War II rebuilding of the area.
From plaque #13, turn right and cross Wood Street. Turn left onto St. Giles Terrace and cross into the Barbican estate. Walk forward and turn left before you reach St. Giles Cripplegate church. Walk to the railing where you should see the next plaque.
Plaque 14 – City Wall & Towers
Plaque #14 is located on the railings near the southeast corner of St. Giles Cripplegate church. You can see an extensive stretch of the Wall as well as part of St. Giles Cripplegate Tower to the right in front of you while looking at the plaque.
This plaque reads:
This section of the Wall originally formed the northern side of the Roman fort, built c AD 120. The defences were completely rebuilt in the early medieval period and most of the surviving stonework dates to this time.
The modern lake indicates the approximate position of the medieval ditch, which then contained a ‘great store of verie good fish, of diverse sorts.’ In the 13th century a series of towers was added to the outside of the Wall and the remains of two such towers survive here. The battlements in this section were rebuilt in brick probably in the late 15th century as at St Alphege.
From the early medieval period there grew up a suburb outside the Wall around the church of St Giles founded c 1090. After the ditch was filled in during the 17th century the City Wall became the southern boundary of the churchyard. This ensured the survival of the Wall until 1803 when, ‘by reason of the frequent nuisances committed by some of the louest class of people, who had been suffered to inhabit the adjoining premises’, it was demolished.
While you might be tempted to cross the pond in front of the wall, these paths are now private property and closed to the public. Instead, walk around St. Giles Cripplegate and head back out of the Barbican estate. Turn right onto Wood Street, then right again onto London Wall. Walk until you reach the curved ramp leading down to the carpark. Head down this and turn right into the gardens. Walk along the section of the wall on your left, and past the tower on your right until you reach the corner of the wall.
Plaque 15 – St. Giles Cripplegate Tower
Plaque #15 is where the stone pathway meets dirt and grass in a back courtyard of the Barbican Estate. It’s located on the corner of a brick building; this is not part of the London Wall but you can see parts of the Roman and Medieval wall from this section, as well as the ruins of St. Giles Cripplegate Tower to the left when facing the plaque.
This plaque reads:
This medieval tower marks the north-west corner of the Roman and medieval defences. Most of the Roman Wall was completely rebuilt in the early medieval period. In 1211-13 a new defensive ditch was dug around the outside of the Wall and soon after a series of towers was added along its western side. This tower survives to two-thirds of its original height. It would have had wooden floors.
In peacetime the towers were rented for a variety of uses and some were occupied by hermits. This tower may have been used for this purpose since in the 13th century the hermitage of St James in the Wall was built nearby. In 1872, when the area was redeveloped, the crypt of the hermitage chapel was removed to Mark Lane where it still survives.
Although the City ditch was eventually filled in and the churchyard of St Giles was extended up to the Wall, the tower survived. It became almost buried in earth dumped to raise the level of the churchyard, but was uncovered during the Barbican redevelopment of the 1960s.
You’ve already passed the locations where plaque #16 and plaque #17 both stood, but they are now gone. Make your way back out through the gardens past the ruins of the Roman Wall and Medieval Towers.
Plaque 16 – Barber-Surgeons’ Hall Tower
Plaque #16 no longer exists. It was originally located in the garden near Barber-Surgeons hall, and marks the medieval tower added to the Wall here. Today you can see reconstructed portions of the medieval tower.
To pass the location where plaque #17 used to be, continue back out toward the car park ramp.
Plaque 17 – City Wall & Medieval Tower
Plaque #17 also no longer exists. It was originally located around and “behind” the Wall to mark the Wall and medieval tower added to the Wall here. Today you can see reconstructed portions of the Wall and medieval tower.
Continue back out around the wall to the car park entry ramp to reach plaque #18.
Plaque 18 – Roman Fort West Gate
Plaque #18 is located by the entrance to a car park under the street London Wall; you can walk into the car park using the entrance to the right of the plaque. Inside the car park you can see remnants of the London Wall preserved and open to the public.
This plaque reads:
Prior to the construction of the western section of the road London Wall in 1959, excavations revealed the west gate of the Roman fort, built c AD 120. It had twin entrance ways flanked on either side by square towers.
Only the northern tower can now be seen. It provided a guardroom and access to the sentry walk along the Wall. Large blocks of sandstone formed the base, some weighing over half a ton (500kg). The remaining masonry consisted of ragstone brought from Kent. The guardroom opened on to a ravel road, which was divided into two by stone piers supporting the arches spanning the gates. Each passage was wide enough for a cart and had a pair of heavy wooden doors.
Running northwards from the gate-tower is the fort wall, 4 feet (1.2m) thick with the internal thickening added when the fort was incorporated into the Roman city defences c AD 200. The gate was eventually blocked, probably in the troubled years of the later 4th century. By the medieval period the site of the gate had been completely forgotten.
To reach plaque #19, go back up the car park ramp to London Wall, turn left and cross at the first pedestrian crossing. Then turn right and make your way back west along London Wall. Turn left onto the pedestrian pass at Noble Street.
Plaque 19 – City Wall & Roman Fort
Plaque #19 no longer exists. It was originally on the west side of Noble Street but disappeared during construction. Instead, look for the etched glass sign at the north end of the pedestrian walk, which seems to have replaced the plaque. Here you’ll see a diagram and information about the Roman Wall and Fort at this location.
To reach the next location on the London Wall Walk, walk forward from the etched sign along the pedestrian walkway on Noble Street. As of late 2019, there is construction on the left; on the right you’ll see the Wall and Fort, and there are informational signs. When you reach the end of the walkway, look for another etched glass sign.
Plaque 20 – City Wall & Roman Fort
Like the plaque #19 on the other end of this pedestrian walkway, plaque #20 no longer exists. It was originally on the west side of Noble Street but disappeared during construction.
Instead, look for the etched glass sign at the south end of the pedestrian walk, which seems to have replaced the plaque. It shows a diagram of what the Roman Wall and Fort might have looked like. Remnants of the Wall and Fort are also extensively visible.
To reach the next plaque, turn around from facing the etched glass sign. Walk to the intersection with Gresham Street; the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes will be on your right. Turn right onto Gresham Street. Turn right again onto St. Martin’s-le-Grand. Walk up St. Martin’s-le-Grand on the east side of the road until you reach plaque #21.
Plaque 21 – Aldersgate (City Gate)
Plaque #21 is located on the east side of St. Martin’s-le-Grand. Just before you reach the plaque, you can also notice the sign noting the site of the Aldersgate (pictured above, right) on the side of the same building.
This plaque reads:
The increasing threat of raids by Saxons from across the North Sea in the 4th century led to the strengthening of the City defences. It was probable that the west gate of the Roman fort was blocked and a new gate was built here at this time. This gate was of late Roman military design with twin roadways flanked by semi-circular projecting towers. These were built of solid masonry and provided an elevated platform for catapults.
Aldersgate continued as an important gate in the medieval period as it gave access beyond the Wall and ditch to St Bartholomew’s Priory, the London Charterhouse and the livestock market and fair on Smithfield. It was also sometimes used as a prison. On 20 October 1660 Samuel Pepys wrote ‘I saw the limbs of some of our new trytors, set upon Aldersgate… A bloody week this and the last have been, there being ten hanged, drawn and quartered.’
After being damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 the gate was rebuilt. This imposing structure was finally demolished in 1761 to improve traffic access.
While facing the plaque, turn left. Walk along St. Martin’s-le-Grand until you reach the Rotunda roundabout. You’ll see the Museum of London in front of you; it can be accessed by elevator or escalator at various points on the roundabout.
End: Museum of London
After the plaque #21, you’ve reached the official end of the London Wall Walk. If you so choose, you can head to the Museum of London afterward to see a permanent exhibit on Roman London. In this exhibit, you can see tombstones, jewels, coins, stone figures, and mosaics, as well as images of the Wall, the Roman Bridge across the Thames, and Roman Londinium.
If you want to keep following the line of the London Wall, it’s actually possible even though it’s not part of the London Wall Walk. However, there won’t be any more plaques and you’ll need to know exactly where to go. The main points of evidence from the London Wall are:
- The Merrill Lynch Building at Newgate and Old Bailey (Former site of the Newgate)
- The Old Bailey (The Central Criminal Courts)
- Pilgrim Street and Pagemaster Court (Former site of the Ludgate)
- Blackfriars Train Station
I’m also working on a post about other sites in Roman London that you can visit today. I’ll be sure to link that here once I’ve written it. If you enjoyed this walk, you might like some of the other items on my London bucket list (this is #34), so be sure to check that out too.
Have any questions about walking the London Wall Walk – or visiting London in general? Let me know in the comments!