Roman Wall

Above: Google map showing the modern City of London Boundary (RED). The overlay (PURPLE) shows the approximate line of the Roman Wall with the 11 gates named (YELLOW). A few other landmarks are also labelled (Click on image to enlarge to 1280×800).

If you are interested in studying the history of the City of London then it is essential to grasp the extent of Roman London – or Londinium as the Romans called it. Looking at a map of the wall is best if you have the modern reference points of modern London as a base map which is why the Google map has been used.

The Roman Wall

Looking at the outline of the wall, we observe that it is a curious shape. The land on which it was built was almost flat and so a simple four-sided rectangular shape could have been built. The shape of the wall puzzled many historians and archaeologists until after the Second World War. After the war, so much of the City was just rubble that an archaeologist hardly had to ask permission to inspect the ruins and it was then that the layout of the wall became clear. Cutting a very long story short, it was realised that before the Roman Wall had been built, the Romans had built a fort to garrison soldiers and guard the unwalled Londinium. The fort had been built in the shape of a square and the ‘inner’ two walls were only discovered in the rubble caused by the bombing. The ‘square’ is formed by parts of the wall and two further walls which are shown as black dotted lines.

Once the concept of the fort was established, everything else fell into place. Due to archaeological research, the fort was dated to about AD 110. After further investigation, it was found that the Roman Wall had been built between AD 189 AD 197. In simple terms, the fort was constructed within about 50 years of Londinium being established but it was not for nearly another 100 years later that the Romans felt the need to build a wall around their township. When it came to building the Roman Wall, they used two sides of the fort as the wall, in order to save on stone, and joined the landward parts of the wall to the two opposite corners of the fort.

In addition to the wall encompassing the land on which Londinium had been established, there was also a wall built along the side of the Thames. In those times, the Thames was wider than it is today and so the river wall runs along a line that is inland from today’s riverside. It is believed that the Saxons found the river wall a problem for their ships to moor alongside and deliver goods. The Saxons, therefore,  demolished it. No doubt they put the stone to good use. In the centre of London, there is no natural stone because most of London is built on clay. In passing, it should be mentioned that there were water gates in the river wall. Two of them were in existence in Saxon times and have given us the names ‘Dowgate’ and ‘Billingsgate’.

The Gates in the Roman Wall

There were not 11 gates in the original Roman Wall but, with time, others were added giving a total count of 11. In the 1960s there was a very well-known archaeologist called Ralph Merrifield who numbered the gates in his book on Roman London and nobody has ever dared to alter his numbering. He actually omitted one gate and so, rather than renumber his work, there are 11 gates with numbers G1 to G10 with the missing gate accounted for by calling it ‘G8a’. All of them are listed below working anticlockwise from the SE corner of the wall.

G1 – Postern Gate – This gate was a small gate to provide access from Roman times onwards.

G2 – Aldgate – A Saxon name meaning ‘All Gate’ or ‘Gate for all’ which has given the street called Aldgate its name.

G3 – Bishopsgate – So-named in Saxon times because land owned by the Bishop of London was nearby. It has given the street called Bishopsgate its name.

G4 – Moorgate – This was not a Roman gate. Originally a postern, taking its name from the moor to which it led, it was enlarged in 1415 and a proper gateway was built.

G5 – Aldermanbury Postern – This was not a Roman gate. It is said to have been made in 1654 but it has been suggested that there may have been a gate in Roman times. Its site was in line with the top of Aldermanbury at the eastern end of the Roman fort.

G6 – Cripplegate – This was originally a gate in the Roman Fort. It aligns with Wood Street.

G7 – West Gate in the Roman Fort – It was blocked up by the medieval period.

G8 – Aldersgate – It was probably not an original gate in the Roman Wall, since it is believed to have been constructed in the late-4th century. Its name probably derives from a Saxon personal name. It has given the street called Aldersgate Street its name.

G8a – Christ’s Hospital Postern – This was not a Roman gate. It was cut through the wall in 1547 leading from the north wall of the cloister of the Priory of the Greyfriars.

G9 – Newgate – A Roman gate, named ‘New’ in Saxon times which has given the street its name.

G10 – Ludgate – A Roman gate. Named after as King Lud. Whether King Lud actually existed is not known. The gate has given the street its name.


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