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   Chapter 6 No.6

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5232

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Let us examine into the history and the course of the Wall of London, if only for the very remarkable facts that the boundary of the City was determined for fifteen hundred years by the erection of this Wall; that for some purposes the course of the Wall still affects the government of London; and that it was only pulled down bit by bit in the course of the last century.

You will see by reference to the map what was the course of the Wall. It began, starting from the east where the White Tower now stands. Part of the foundation of the Tower consists of a bastion of the Roman wall. It followed a line nearly north as far as Aldgate. Then it turned in a N.W. direction just north of Camomile Street and Bevis Marks to Bishopsgate. Thence it ran nearly due W., north of the street called London Wall, turning S. at Monkwell Street. At Aldersgate it turned W. until it reached Newgate, where it turned nearly S. again and so to the river, a little east of the present Blackfriars Bridge. It ran, lastly, along the river bank to join its eastern extremity. The river wall had openings or gates at Dowgate and Bishopsgate, and probably at Queen Hithe. The length of the Wall, without counting the river side, was 2 miles and 608 feet.

This formidable Wall was originally about 12 feet thick made of rubble and mortar, the latter very hard, and faced with stone. You may know Roman work by the courses of tiles or bricks. They are arranged in double layers about 2 feet apart. The so-called bricks are not in the least like our bricks, being 6 inches long, 12 inches wide and 1? inch thick. The Wall was 20 feet high, with towers and bastions at intervals about 50 feet high. At first there was no moat or ditch, and it will be understood that in order to protect the City from an attack of barbarians-Picts or Scots-it was enough to close the gates and to man the towers. The invaders had no ladders.


In the course of centuries a great many repairs and rebuildings of the Wall took place. The Saxons allowed it to fall into a ruinous condition. Alfred rebuilt it and strengthened it. The next important repairs were made in the reign of King John in 1215, by Henry III., Edward I., Edward II., Edward III., Richard II., Edward IV. After these various rebuildings there would seem to be little left of the original Wall. That, however, a great part of it continued to be the hard rubble core of the Roman work seems evident from the fact that the course of the Wall was never altered. The only alteration was when they turned the Wall west at Ludgate down to the Fleet River and so to the con

fluence of the Fleet and the Thames. The river side of the Wall was also allowed to be removed.


The City was thus protected by a great wall pierced by a few gates, with bastions and towers. At the East End after the Norman Conquest rose the Great White Tower still standing. At the West End was a tower called Montfichet's Tower.


But a wall without a ditch, where a ditch was possible, became of little use as soon as scaling ladders were invented with wooden movable towers and other devices. A ditch was accordingly constructed in the year 1211 in the reign of King John. It appears to have been from the very first neglected by the citizens, who trusted more to their own bravery than to the protection of a ditch. It was frequently ordered to be cleansed and repaired: it abounded, when it was clean, with good fish of various kinds: but it was gradually allowed to dry up until, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, nothing was left but a narrow channel or no channel at all but a few scattered ponds, with market gardens planted in the ditch itself. In Agas's map of London these gardens are figured, with summer houses and cottages for the gardeners and cattle grazing. On the west side north of Ludgate the ditch has entirely disappeared and houses are built against the Wall on the outside. Houndsditch is a row of mean houses facing the moat. Fore Street is also built over against the moat. Within and without the Wall they placed churchyards-those of St. Alphege, Allhallows, and St. Martin's Outwich, you may still see for yourselves within the Wall: that of St. Augustine's at the north end of St. Mary Axe, has vanished. Those of the three churches of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, Aldgate, Aldersgate, and that of St. Giles are churchyards without the Wall. Then the ditch became filled up and houses were built all along the Wall within and without. Thus began unchecked, perhaps openly encouraged, the gradual demolition of the Wall. It takes a long time to tear down a wall of solid rubble twelve feet thick. It took the Londoners about 160 years. In the year 1760 they finally removed the gates. Most of the Wall was gone by this time but large fragments remained here and there. You may still see a considerable piece, part of a bastion in the churchyard of St. Giles, and the vestry of All Hallows on the Wall is built upon a bastion. In Camomile Street and in other places portions of the Wall have been discovered where excavations have been made: and, of course, the foundation of the Wall exists still, from end to end.

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