Above: Roman Wall still standing but set into new gardens – between Fore Street and the street called London Wall in 2018. It is a short distance east of the site of Cripplegate. The red bricks on top of the wall were added in Tudor times to make the wall its original height.
It is generally believed that the Romans formed a settlement on the banks of the Thames in AD 43. A substantial fort, sometimes called Cripplegate Fort, was constructed about AD 98-117. It is shown as a blue square on the map. It acted as a garrison for the Roman soldiers. Another hundred years after that, the Romans decided to build a wall around the settlement – extending around the landward side and also along the riverfront. To save on stone, the builders joined the new wall onto the NE and SW corners of the Cripplegate Fort which accounts for the curious bends of the Roman Wall on the northern side.
Above: An outline map of the streets of the City of London with the Roman Wall shown in BLUE. Wood Street is coloured PINK and the adjacent section of Roman Wall is shown in YELLOW.
The name ‘Cripplegate Fort’ arises because where the line of Wood Street crosses the line of the fort was a gate, later known as Cripplegate. Although the line of the Roman Wall has always been known (being shown on many maps of the City right back to Tudor times), it was not until excavations were carried out in the rubble, left by bombing during the Second World War, that the additional lines of the southern and eastern walls of the Fort were discovered. The knowledge that a Fort existed is, therefore, relatively recent. The original walls of the Fort were not as thick as the Roman Wall and, when the wall around Londinium was constructed, the northern and western sides of the Fort was thickened to match the thickness of the rest of the wall. Evidence for this can be seen where the remains of the Fort still exist below ground.
Above: Google map showing the site of Cripplegate and the line of the Roman Fort (also known as Cripplegate Fort).
The Romans left Britain about AD 410. The period of the Saxons followed and the Fort must have either collapsed or have been taken down and the stone used for other purposes. The Roman Wall continued as a defence of the City through Norman times right up to the 18th century. In 1760 the City decided that the Roman Wall was no longer required, The City gates were demolished and anyone who wanted to remove the Roman Wall could do so. Large sections of the ancient wall which had stood surrounding the City soon vanished. Only a few fragments remain today.
The fine piece of the Roman Wall standing near Fore Street was robbed of stone along the top before Tudor times. The red-brick castellations were probably erected when the wall was repaired in 1477. From the south side, the Roman Wall does not appear particularly high. A walk round to its north side will reveal its full height.
A new office development was completed in 2018 on the north side of the road called London Wall and a short distance east of the junction with Wood Street. Called London Wall Place, the development, made up of two large office blocks, has opened up the pavement and created a new open space of grass and flower beds which makes walking around the locality much easier. The newly grassed area actually covers the site of the eastern wall of the Cripplegate Fort. Nearby is a section of the Roman Wall that had been part of the Roman Fort. The existing wall is marked in yellow on the map. A short distance west of that is a plaque recording the original site of Cripplegate, which became one of the City Gates. No evidence for the gate exists today but, at least, there is a plaque to show passers-by what it once looked like.
The new development has cleared away the obstructions of the 1960s making it possible for the first time in about 50 years to walk around at ground level and realise how historic the site really is. Using maps shown in this article, it is now possible to walk around the new gardens and work out where the Roman structures once stood.
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