Walk the London Wall
- This article is an itinerary.
Walk the London Wall is a walking tour of the ancient boundary of London (and before it, Londinium).
The London Wall
The defensive wall that would define London for millennia started with a fort built by the Roman Empire close to the modern Barbican in 120 AD. When the wall itself started to appear decades later at the start of the 3rd century, between 190 and 225 AD, it incorporated this fort, strengthening its outer walls, and encompassed an area that now makes up most of the City of London. The riverside wall was added near the end of the century from about 280 AD in response to Saxon raids.
During the medieval period the wall was maintained and some modifications were made. Additional fortifications were added such as crenelations and more bastions. The largest changes were the construction of the Tower of London in the south-east corner of the wall, the extension of the wall on the western side and the expansion of Moorgate from a pedestrian postern to a full gate.
As London expanded, the wall became redundant and most of it was eventually demolished or lost under later construction, some buildings were constructed against the city wall used it was one of their own walls. The heavy bombing of the City during World War 2 and subsequent reconstruction revealed buried sections of the wall near the Barbican. Sections within and near the Tower of London also survive.
Traditionally, London had seven gates, although this is not entirely correct. The original wall had only four gates: Newgate, Ludgate, Aldgate, and Bishopsgate; and the gate of the legionary fort, which is now Cripplegate. Aldergate was a late Roman addition to the wall, possibly to replace one of the gates in the fort. The original Roman names of these gates, and the roads that passed through them, are now lost to history; the names we have now are based on their Anglo-Saxon names. There were also small pedestrian gates in the wall called "posterns"; one of these remains near Cooper's Row. In the 15th century, a postern in the north side of the wall was expanded to a full gate to create Moorgate. The gates were each a set of two arches, to allow traffic in by one and out by another, although some were blocked at times when the volume of traffic was two low to justify two separate passages. These gates were demolished during the 17th century as London expanded and the roads needed to be widened.
In addition to the landward gates, there were thirteen watergates along the river wall to allow access to and from moored boats and ships. These were Blackfriars, Puddle Wharf, Paul's Wharf, Broken Wharf, Customer's Quay, Queenhithe, Dowgate (or Downgate), Wolfsgate, Ebgate, Oyster Gate, Bridge Gate (on London Bridge, which had a gatehouse on either side of the river), Botolphsgate, and Billingsgate. Queenhithe was the main watergate for a long time, until the use of larger ships made passing London bridge difficult, when Billingsgate took the primary position inistead. The Tower of London also has its own watergate.
Within and without
Some placenames, and especially the names of churches, still reference the wall or its gates. Names that include "within" are places inside the wall, and hence within the original area of Londinium. Conversely, names that include "without" are places outside the wall, possibly originally built outside London or as the city expanded. For example, the church of St Martin-within-Ludgate was built on the inside of the wall near the Ludgate, while the church St Botolph-without-Aldgate was built outside the wall near the Aldgate. The church All Hallows-on-the-Wall was built against the wall on the site of a bastion, between two gates. Other, non-church examples include some wards of the City, such as the neighbouring wards of Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without.
This walk follows the path of the wall as closely as possible along the modern streets. As written, it begins and starts at Barbican station (near the earliest element) and proceeds counter-clockwise. It is possible to begin the walk at any point and walk in either direction.
Waypoints and relevant points of interest are numbered and highlighted within the body of the text. Incidental points of interest, which may be useful for navigation as much as things to see, are listed as bullet points, even if mentioned within the text of the walk.
- Map of Londinium. Museum of London. Shows the Roman wall, and other parts of Roman Londinium overlayed on the current street map.
- Great Fire of London map (1667). British Museum. Shows, along with the extent of the damage caused by the Great Fire of 1666, the route of the London Wall at that time. The wall was demolished in the century after this time, so this indicates how the late wall stood.
- Londinium: A New Map and Guide to Roman London (2011). Museum of London Archaeology Service. ISBN 9781907586057. This is a fold-out paper map of Roman Londinium, which includes additional information about the Roman city and surviving parts of it.
This walk assumes a start at the Barbican underground station but it can be started at any point. Tower Hill station is the main alternative.
Primary starting point:
- Barbican (Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines)
- Farringdon (Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines)
- Note that Barbican does not have step-free entry or exit. The closest station that does in Farringdon.
Alternative starting point:
- Tower Hill (Circle and District lines)
- Tower Gateway (Docklands Light Railway)
Start at Barbican station. Turn right coming out of the station and walk south down Aldersgate Street. At the crossing just after 160 Aldersgate Street, cross the road to the eastern side. Go straight ahead into the archway marked as access to the Barbican Highwalk (either via the stairs or the lift available at this entrance). Turn left onto John Wesley Highwalk and walk north. At the junction, turn right onto Thomas More Highwalk and walk east. Follow the highwalk as it turns south and then east again. The highwalk becomes Wallside Highwalk after Mountjoy House. As the highwalk first goes above the lake, to your right (south) you can see some of the remains of the London Wall. This part is the west face of the original Roman fort that was incorporated into the wall. Due to maintenance over the centuries, the brickwork here is from the medieval period although it is the same wall in general. The circular constructions are bastions added to the wall in the medieval period. The closest bastion, on the lakeside, is Bastion 12; they are numbered counter-clockwise along the wall from the Tower of London, although few now remain (bastions 13 and 14 will be seen a little later).
Further along Wallside Highwalk, on your left (north) side, there is a straight section of wall and the foundations of Bastion 11A. This is part of the north face of the Roman fort. Bastion 11A was not known when they were numbered, only being rediscovered when the Barbican was being built. The church on the other side of the lake is St. Giles without Cripplegate.
- Barbican Centre.
- St. Giles-without-Cripplegate. A church has been here since the 11th century. It has been replaced, damaged and rebuilt several times in its history, most recently after World War 2 when it was heavily bomb-damaged and restored to its 1545 condition.
At the end of Wallside Highwalk, turn left and walk north along The Postern. At the end of this short highwalk, go back down to ground level (either via the stairs or the lift available just ahead and to the left). Walk east towards into St. Giles Terrace. The same fragments of the wall are visible here from ground level. Return west, walking underneath The Postern and turn right on the other side. Walk south onto Wood Street. Along this road, level with the straight section of the wall and just before the junction with St. Alphage Garden, is the site of the Cripplegate, which was also originally the gate of the fort.
Turn left into St. Alphage Garden (the road) and walk east. On your left is St. Alphage Garden (the garden), which contains another section of wall; this is part of the north wall rather than part of the fort. You can approach the wall within the garden and there are park benches available, although there is no step-free access to the garden. To the west there is a garden extension, through a gate and down a flight of steps to a lower paved area. From here there is also another gate at the end of the wall section, which accesses Salters' Garden. This is private property of Salters' Company (Salters' Hall is the building behind it) but it is open to the public M–F 09:00–17:00. The outside face of the same wall section can be viewed from Salters' Garden.
Return to Wood Street and turn left. Walk south along Wood Street to the junction. At the junction with the road called London Wall, turn right and walk west along London Wall until the Goods Inwards ramp for the Museum of London, on your right. Carefully walk down this spiral road; make sure you avoid any traffic. At the bottom you will see the ruins of another medieval bastion, Bastion 14. This is again part of the west face of the original fort. Walk north across the grass towards another bastion, Bastion 13, currently in use as a herb garden. Walk around the left (west) side of this and follow the path north, along part of the wall. Turn right at the end and walk east a short distance to get another view of the bastion 12 by the lake. Then retrace your path along the bastions back to London Wall.
Turn right out of the Goods Inwards ramp and walk a very short distance west until a set of stairs to Bastion Highwalk. The ruins can be view from the highwalk her if you want. Cross London Walk along the highwalk, then descend to ground level using the stairs on the other side. If step-free alternative is preferred, return east along London Wall towards Wood Street and cross at the crossing just before the junction, then walk back west to the top of Noble Street.
- Museum of London, London Wall, ☎ +44 870 444 3852. M–Sa 10:00–17:30, Su noon–17:30. Established in 1975, the Museum of London explores the various threads of London's archaeology, history and culture throughout its more than 2,000 year old existence. Free and–like the City–endlessly fascinating! The Roman section includes some history of the wall and a window over Bastion 14. Cafe, gift shop and disabled access. Permanent and temporary exhibitions: free. Special exhibitions: £5, concession £3, child 0-15 free.
Walk south down Noble Street. Sections of the ruins of the west side of the fort can be seen along this street and there are some information panels made of etched glass. At end of ruins, just past Oat lane, the fort ended and the wall continued in a generally westerly direction which is no longer directly followed by the modern streets. Continue south along Noble Street and turn right at the end onto Gresham Street, then right again to walk north up Aldersgate Street. Cross the road at the crossing just in front of Postman's Park; the approximate site of the Aldergate was across this road at this point (slightly towards the eastern side). If it is open, go through Postman's Park; the path of the wall ran along the northern edge of this park. (If the park is not open, continue slightly north, turn left to go east along Little Britain, turn left at the end of the road onto King Edward Street and walk south to reach the opposite entrance to Postman's Park).
- Postman's Park, Little Britain, City of London. 08:00–19:00 or dusk (whichever is earlier). Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Postman's Park is actually three combined parks, bringing together the gardens of St. Botolph's Aldersgate, Christ Church Greyfriars and St Leonard, Foster Lane. One of the largest parks in the City of London, Postman's Park contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice; a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and might otherwise have been forgotten. Free.
The path of the wall now goes down a utility road that is not open to the public, and along the south side of what is now St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Instead, turn left, then cross to the west side of King Edward Street at the crossing. At the corner, turn right, either following the end of King Edward Street or walking through Christchurch Greyfriars Garden. Walk along Newgate Street until Giltspur Street. Across the road just before the junction you should be able to see a plaque which marks the site of the Newgate. Cross the road at the crossing.
Walk south down Old Bailey; the path of the wall ran through the buildings to your left. At the end of the road, turn left and walk east a short way along Ludgate Hill. The site of the Ludgate is marked by a plaque on the wall on the left between the Ye Olde London pub and St Martin Within Ludgate church. The gate was demolished in 1760. You should also be able to see St. Paul's Cathedral further along Ludgate Hill. Walk back to corner and cross the road at crossing. Walk south along Pageantmaster Court. At the end of this short road, the original Roman wall continued straight south until it met the River Thames. However, the medieval extension began at this point and ran towards the west.
- Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court), ☎ +44 20 7248-3277. M–F 10:00–13:00, 14:00–17:00. No bags, cameras, drink, food or mobile phones—no facilities for safekeeping. This is the probably the most famous criminal court in the world, and has been London's principal criminal court for centuries. It hears cases remitted to it from all over England and Wales as well as the Greater London area. The present building dates largely from 1907 (a new block was added from 1970 for more modern facilities) and stands on the site of the infamous medieval Newgate Gaol. The Central Criminal Court is of course best known today for its association with John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey character, novels and television series. Daily case listings are available at . Children under 14 not admitted.
- St. Martin Within Ludgate. The first reference to a church here is in 1174 but the medieval church burned down in the Great Fire. The current church was completed in 1703. According to legend, Cadwallon ap Cadfan, King of the Britons (7th century) is buried on this site.
- St. Paul's Cathedral, Ludgate Hill (North up Peter's Hill), ☎ +44 20 7246-8357, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 8:30–16:00. The great domed cathedral of St Paul's, designed by Sir Christopher Wren to replace the Gothic medieval cathedral destroyed in 1666 in the Great Fire of London, was built between 1675–1710. It's a significant building in British history, having been the site of the funerals of several British military leaders (Nelson, Wellington, Churchill), and significantly held peace services marking the end of the two world wars. The cathedral is also famous for its Whispering Wall, as well as its stunning view over the city. The crypt is also open to the public, holding the tombs of Nelson, Wellington and Christopher Wren. For budget travelers it is possible to get in for free. The cathedral is open to the general public for free during midday service. Visitors who get in at this time won't be escorted out. To get to the top you must however hold a valid ticket. £9, £8 concession, £3.50 child (7–16), £21.50 family.
At the end of Pageantmaster Court, turn right to walk west along Pilgrim Street. The wall ran along the south side of this street, so you are now on the outside of the wall. Near the end of Pilgrim Street is a flight of steps. Go down these and continue to the end of the road. Turn left onto New Bridge Street.
If required, there is a public lift on the right at the top of the steps on Pilgrim Street, which operates from 07:00 to 23:00. If outside these hours, or if the lift is out of operation, return east along Pilgrim Street and turn right onto Waithman Street. Turn right at the junction and walk west along Apothecary Street. Turn left at the end of the road onto New Bridge Street.
Continue south along New Bridge Street. The western face of the medieval extension ran along the east side of this road (along your left), while the road itself was built on top of the River Fleet. The river is one of the "Lost Rivers" of London; it was a major river during the Roman periodbut was covered over by 1769 to create the road, after being used as a sewer for some time (it was already considered polluted by the 13th century). The mouth of the river can be seen underneath Blackfriar's Bridge, although as a sewer this is really only an emergency overflow outlet.
Stay on the left hand side when the road splits. Cross the road at the crossing just in front of Blackfriars Station but turn left onto Queen Victoria Street, so that you are on the south side of the road. The medieval wall continued on to the bank of the Thames, which was further away than the bank in Roman times, but the route now goes to rejoin the original Roman wall. Walk east along Queen Victoria Street.
Continue walking east along Queen Victoria Street. At approximately the point of the junction with Puddle Dock, the path of the Roman wall crosses this road and runs south-east through the buildings; you are now inside the London Wall again. Continue along Queen Victoria Street. When the road crosses with Peter's Hill you will be able to see St. Paul's Cathedral to your left and the Millennium Bridge to your right.
- Millennium Bridge (South down Peter's Hill). A steel pedestrian suspension bridge over the Thames. Construction started in 1998 and it opened in 2000, only for it to close again due to wobbling. This turned out to be the result of a little-researched phenomenon where pedestrian unconsciously synchronise their gait. It re-opened in 2002 after work to compensate for this. It has become an icon of modern London and has appeared in movies.
Continue going east a little further along Queen Victoria Street then turn right onto Lambeth Hill and follow the road to the end. Turn left onto Castle Baynard Street, which merges into Upper Thames Street. The path of the wall runs diagonally across this road from approximately the end of Lambeth Hill to Queenhithe, then along the south side of Upper Thames Street. When the river wall was originally built, this was the bank of the River Thames but it has moved further south over the passing centuries.
Continue walking east along Upper Thames Street. You need to divert around St. James's Church. Turn left at the church and then turn right along Skinners Lane. Half way along, turn right down an alley, Doby Court, and turn left at the end. Continue walking east along Upper Thames Street. At approximately the point just after you pass Whittingdon Gardens you are walking over the Walbrook River which runs, underground, south to meet the Thames. This river existed naturally on the surface during the Roman era and through most of the Medieval period but was covered over from 1440. The entire river is now culverted and it is another of the "Lost Rivers" of London. Just after this you walk under Cannon Street Railway Bridge; this is the approximate site of the Dowgate. Continue walking east. You will walk under London Bridge, a bridge has existed across the Thames at about this point since before either Londinium or the London Wall existed. After London Bridge, the road becomes Lower Thames Street. The path of the wall continues to run along the south side of this road at this point. Continue walking east along the north side of Lower Thames Street for a short distance until the crossing opposite St. Magnus the Martyr Church (just after Fish Street Hill). Cross to the south side of the road at this crossing.
- Pudding Lane (On the north side of Lower Thames Street, just after Fish Street Hill and St. Magnus the Martyr.). The Great Fire of London began here at Thomas Farriner's bakery in 1666.
- St. Magnus the Martyr, Lower Thames St, EC3R 6DN (tube: Monument), ☎ +44 20 7626-4481.
- Monument (North up Fish Street Hill), ☎ +44 20 7626-2717, e-mail: email@example.com. 9:30–17:30 daily (last admission 17:00). Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, this tall column (which can be ascended to get a great view) marks the alleged site where the Great Fire of London broke out in September 1666. £3/£1.
Continue walking east along the south side of Lower Thames Street. Not much further along you will pass a Victorian building on your right with a portico (a brief porch along its front supported by columns). This is Old Billingsgate Market, previously a fish market (which is now at Canary Wharf) and now an exhibition centre. There may have been a watergate in the river wall at or near this point, from which Billingsgate may get its name. A watergate would allow the city access directly to the wharfs and the river through the wall.
Continue walking east. When the road appears to turn north, keep to the pavement directly ahead, alongside the smaller final section of Lower Thames Street. Continue walking east along this road and you should begin to see the Tower of London in front of you. Walk towards the Tower and you will reach the pedestrian area of Tower Hill.
The Tower of London was built on the south east corner of the London Wall and fragments of it can still be seen within its grounds. At this point you can buy a ticket and visit the Tower but it is not necessary for this walk.
- Tower of London (Continue onwards and to the right when reaching Tower Hill), ☎ +44 8444 827777, e-mail: visitorservices_TOL@hrp.org.uk. Tu–Sa 09:00–17:00, Su–M 10:00–17:00 Mar-Oct; Tu-Sa 9:00–16:00, Su–M 10:00–16:00 Nov-Feb. Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, the Tower was built on the corner of the London Wall and contains some fragments. The Tower was enlarged and modified by successive sovereigns and is today one of the world's most famous and spectacular fortresses. Discover its 900-year history as a royal palace and fortress, prison and place of execution, mint, arsenal, menagerie and jewel house. In the winter you can skate on the dry moat. The Tower contains enough buildings and exhibits to keep a family busy for a full day, with plenty of both warlike and domestic contents. Beefeaters, who are all retired sergeant majors from the British Army, provide guided tours for free as well as ceremonial security. (See history come alive—go to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This ceremony, the locking up of the Tower, has been performed every night at 10PM for 800 years. Tickets to the ceremony are free but MUST be prearranged.) £14.50; children aged 5–16 £9.50; concession £11; family (2A+3C) £42.
Otherwise, walk north up Tower Hill. Just before you reach the road at the top of the hill, turn right and walk east across the north face of the Tower. Some ruins of a medieval postern built into the wall can be found in a sunken area in front of the underpass to Tower Hill station. Walk through underpass and up the steps on the other side (a step-free ramp can be found to the left, at the top of which turn right and then right again to walk across the south side of the station). Half way up the steps (which is not accessible except via steps) is a section of wall and a statue of Emperor Trajan. This section of the wall is original Roman brickwork which includes layers of red tiles at regular intervals. Continue up steps, more of the wall can be seen here (this area is accessible from the ramp).
Walk west across the front of the station and then north across the other side. Through Trinity Square to Coopers Row. Stay on the right side of the road. At The Grange City Hotel, walk east under the arch and across a small square. On the other side is another section of the wall. Walk up to the wall and turn left; you should see a postern, a small pedestrian gate through the wall. This has three steps to pass through but it can be circumvented to the side if necessary; walk through or around it. You are know, obviously, on the outside of the London Wall. Continue east onto Vine Street. Turn left and walk north along the street. The path of the wall ran through the buildings just west of this road. In fact, there is another section of wall visible in the basement conference room of Number One American Square, but this is not generally open to the public. As you walk along Vine Street, note the appropriately named cross-street called “Cross Wall”. At the junction with India Street, turn left and walk west along this short road; as you do, you are crossing the path of the wall and are back inside its boundaries again. Turn right at the end of the road onto Jewry Street and continue north.
At the end of the road is a junction with Aldgate Street. To the left can be seen 30 St Mary Axe (known more commonly at The Gherkin), to the right is a wooden structure called “Paleys Upon Pilers” and behind that St. Botolph Without Aldgate church. The wooden structure represents one of the rooms above Aldgate and commemorates Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived here; it marks the position of the Aldgate. Cross the road at the crossing onto the island with the structure, then bear left to cross again onto Duke's Street. Walk north along this road. Continue north along Duke's Street, which becomes Bevis Marks, which becomes Camomile Street. The wall ran through the buildings to the east and the parallel road Houndsditch runs along what was the ditch on the outer side of the wall.
- 30 St. Mary Axe (The Gherkin), 30 St. Mary Axe. Designed by one of Britain's leading architects, Sir Norman Foster, and recipient in 2004 of the Stirling Architectural Prize for Best Building.
- Mitre Square (West along the side street St. James's Pass, just after the school). The site of the fourth and penultimate Jack the Ripper murder.
At the end of Camomile Street is a junction with Bishopsgate. Cross north at the crossing, then cross east at the other crossing. Walk slightly along Bishopsgate. The site of the Bishopsgate is marked by a sculpted bishop's mitre on the wall to your left.
Walk back to the junction and turn right onto Wormwood Street. Continue west along the right hand side of this road. This becomes London Wall after a short distance. Just before the junction with Moorgate, turn to the right: there is a small plaque here to mark to position of the old Moor Gate. This was another postern during in the Roman wall but this was demolished in 1415 and replaced with a full gate in the wall.
Cross the Moorgate at the crossing, then cross London Wall at the crossing, so that you are now on the southern side of the same road. Continue west along London Wall. Despite the name of the road, this does not quite follow the path of the wall. In St. Alphage Garden, opposite Brewer's Hall Garden, there is another small fragment of the wall (although the pavement ends at this point on the north side of the road, so it is inconvenient to continue the walk nearer this piece of wall). This is approximately the point where the wall and the road diverge, with the wall proceeding north-west into the Barbican Estate seen at the beginning of the walk. This is also the north-west corner of the original fort.
Continue along London Wall. Just after crossing Wood Street, turn right and cross the road to the north side at the crossing. Turn left and continue west along London Road. You will cross the path of the beginning of this walk and see the bastions and fragments along Noble Street again. At the Rotunda roundabout, turn right, following the circle of the roundabout, onto Aldersgate Street. Walk north along this road until opposite Barbican station, cross at the crossing to return to the beginning and end this walk.
For snacks and meals along or near the route:
If you get thirsty, there are a few places to drink along the route:
- Ye Olde London, 42 Ludgate Hill, EC4M 7DE, ☎ +44 20 7248-1852. M–Sa 10:00–23:00, Su 10:30–23:00. Built on the site of London Coffee House (1731–1867), in which juries from the Old Bailey were housed overnight if they had not yet reached a verdict. Famous drinkers at the coffee shop include Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Franklin. A Roman altar and a statue of Hercules have also found on this site.