From Roman Walls to Modern Times: The History of the City of London’s Walls and Gates

History of London

The City of London is the historic and financial heart of the capital, and is home to some of the oldest and most iconic buildings in the country. One of the most distinctive features of the City is its ancient walls and gates, which have stood for over a thousand years and continue to shape the character of the area today. In this article, we’ll explore the history of the City of London’s walls and gates, from their Roman origins to their modern-day significance.

The Roman Walls

The first walls to encircle the City of London were built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, as part of their efforts to fortify their new settlement of Conidium. These walls were constructed of Kentish ragstone and mortar, and would have been around 6 meter’s high and 2.5 meter’s thick. They formed a roughly square-shaped enclosure, with a perimeter of around 2.5 kilometer’s.

The Roman walls were strengthened and rebuilt several times over the centuries, but their basic layout remained largely unchanged until the 17th century. Parts of the original walls can still be seen today, including sections near Tower Hill and the Barbican.

The Medieval Walls

In the medieval period, the City of London underwent a major expansion, with new suburbs growing up beyond the Roman walls. To protect these areas, new walls were constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries, enclosing a much larger area than before. The new walls were made of flint and rubble, and were around 4 meter’s high and 2 meter’s thick.

In addition to the walls themselves, a series of gates were constructed to control access to the City. These gates were heavily fortified, with portcullises, murder holes, and other defensive features. They were also important symbols of the City’s authority and identity, with each gate bearing the coat of arms of the City and its various guilds.

The gates were not only defensive structures, but also played an important role in regulating trade and commerce. Merchants would have to pay tolls to pass through the gates, and their goods would be inspected for quality and safety. The gates also served as meeting places for various guilds and companies, and were often used for public ceremonies and processions.

The Great Fire of 1666

In 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City, including many of its medieval walls and gates. The fire started in a bakery on Pudding Lane, and quickly spread through the narrow, crowded streets of the City, fueled by the wooden buildings and thatched roofs.

The fire burned for four days and destroyed over 13,000 homes, 87 churches, and dozens of public buildings. It also consumed many of the City’s gates, including Negate, Ludgate, and Alders gate. However, the fire did not destroy the walls themselves, which remained largely intact. After the fire, a new plan for the City was developed by Sir Christopher Wren, which included the creation of wide, straight streets and public squares. However, the walls and gates of the City were not part of this plan, and many were not rebuilt.

The Modern Walls and Gates

Today, only a few of the medieval gates survive, including Alatae, Bishopsgate, and Moorgate. However, the walls themselves are still a defining feature of the City’s landscape, and can be seen in various locations throughout the area.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the walls were incorporated into the development of new buildings and infrastructure, including the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England, and the railway stations at Liverpool Street and Cannon Street. The walls also played a role in the defiance of the City during the two World Wars, with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the towers and soldiers stationed on the walls.

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the City’s walls and gates, both as historic landmarks and as symbols of the City’s identity. The City of London Corporation, which is responsible for the management of the area, has undertaken various initiatives to preserve and promote the walls and gates, including the creation of a Heritage Trail that guides visitors around the City’s historic sites.

One of the most notable recent projects involving the walls and gates of the City is the construction of the new Museum of London, which is being built on the site of the former Smithfield Market. The museum, which is due to open in 2024, will include a dedicated gallery exploring the history and significance of the City’s walls and gates, as well as other aspects of the City’s past and present.


Q: Are there any tours available to explore the City of London’s walls and gates?

A: Yes, there are several guided tours available that focus on the City’s historic landmarks, including the walls and gates. The City of London Corporation offers a free guided walk along the City Wall every Tuesday at 3pm, and there are also private tour companies that offer more in-depth tours of the area.

Q: How long does it take to walk around the City of London’s walls?

A: The length of the walk depends on the route taken and the pace of the walker, but a typical walk around the City’s walls and gates can take around two to three hours. However, it is recommended to take more time to fully explore the historic sites and enjoy the scenery.

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