Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The London of Sebastian St. Cyr: the Roman Walls

It's actually rather amazing how much of London's old Roman wall still stands today. Here's the same bastion near St. Giles Cripplegate, first in Sebastian's time, then today:


Built largely during the third and fourth centuries, the wall was once two miles long, six to nine feet wide, and about twenty feet high. A number of gates in the old Roman wall--such as Ludgate, Newgaate, Bishopsgate, and Aldgate--are familiar to us because they continued to function as city gates down into medieval times and are now remembered as the names of major roads. Once upon a time, the boundaries of the City of London coincided with the old Roman wall. And even though that changed as the City expanded westward during the medieval period, the walls remained in use for over a thousand years. It was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the demolition of the wall began.


Much of what we see today survived because it had been incorporated into later buildings and only became visible after the Luftwaffe carried out their rather drastic urban renewal project during WWII. When the Georgian and Victorian buildings collapsed, the parts formed by the old wall remained standing, and fortunately someone thought to preserve some of those sections.


Unfortunately, much of what is left today lies in a part of London I personally dislike, namely the Barbican, which in my humble opinion is a particularly hideous example of mid-twentieth century architecture and city planning (apologies to anyone who likes it!) It's also difficult to walk around because of the way it's laid out, making it enormously frustrating simply to figure out how to get down to St. Giles Cripplegate. There's a "London Roman Wall Walk" that was laid out years ago, but locked gates now defeat following it very far. Which is a shame, because these ruins are lovely, and most people who visit London only glimpse the less-impressive sections of the Roman wall near the Museum of London and Tower Hill.


29 comments:

Lynne said...

Isn't it wonderful that there are at least some of those ruins still standing? I knew that some were buried in different places around the city but am really glad you got a few photos, Candy. Those old structures are what really bring history to life for me. They are tangible evidence of the past and the people that built them.

Suzanne said...

What a tragedy that it was demolished in the first place. There are so many towns in Europe and Asia that still have the Medieval walls and they are so beautiful. They are also a big tourist attraction. The London walls are so much a part of its history I would really like to go back and throttle the people who thought it would be a good idea to demolish them.

It is wonderful to find somebody else who hates The Barbican. It is so Stalin does London. No doubt some over educated idiot was paid a fortune to build something that "blended into the environment". That is the term used here for all of our monstrosities. Urggh!

Charles Gramlich said...

glad someone preserved them. So much of history gets lost

cs harris said...

Lynne, I was frankly surprised to see how much was left, and I know I missed some stretches because of the goofy way that section is now laid out.

Suzanne, "Stalin does London" nails it! And good heavens, who thinks that blends into the environment? Ugly does not blend into the environment. But many I'm still cranky because I had such an awful time figuring out how to get to what I wanted to see. I do think they're missing something by not highlighting the wall's ruins and making them accessible.

Charles, especially in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

paz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paz said...

The thing with places like the Barbican estate/center (if there is another quite like it) is not only their proportions, already inauspicious, but also the materials used. One would have to conclude that there was not much thought to how they would look as they age. All that concrete just starts to look sad, sadder and then dystopian after not very long. The tried and true materials of the ancient and medieval buildings manage to age so much more gracefully.

MyI have my own personal peeve with attempts to bring old and new built environments together: the public plazas built/restored throughout Southern Spain during the 1980-90s. This was the time when architects where in the thrall of the early post-modernist trends. In their desire to erase Francoist images of "typical/topical" 19th Century Spain, they created these spaces with very clean, austere lines, attempting to incorporate "classical"/roman elements. On a good day, they look conspicuously ultra modern, but not too offensive. On a bad day, they look empty, because they failed to incorporate sufficient vegetation, and are impossible to use with the sun bearing down on you...

cs harris said...

Paz, you are so right about the concrete. What a pity it is that all that building was done at a time when the old concepts of proportion were tossed. And how incredible that a hot country would forget to plan for trees in their public spaces.

Suzanne said...

Candy, you probably left Australia well before Docklands was built in Melbourne. Every outrageous, stark modernist has been given their head there. It is not only super ugly it has no trees, like in Paz's comment. Which means there is no shelter or softening of the ugliness, and the wind off the sea blows through the buildings like a gale 360 days a year. Standing up is often a big challenge and forget trying to use an umbrella in winter, it will be blown inside out in seconds. I had to work there for 6 months and I hated every minute of it.

The building I working in was two square concrete blocks with big squares of bright primary colours all over it. It is now known as the rubic's cube. Before that I went on a tour of it just before we had to move in and I endeared myself to the architect by saying, "Oooh, it looks like an Italian tenement with all the washing hanging out."

Susan J. said...

It is fascinating that there are still Roman wall remains in Britain today. There is a town about fifteen miles from us, called Horncastle (Lincolnshire) where part of the old Roman wall runs throughout the town, mostly on private property. I believe it is fourth century. There is a second hand book shop there, which is built as part of the wall, using the wall as part of the structure and then the wall runs into the garden. The owner, about twenty years ago, let my father and my husband go into his garden to have a look at it. How amazing that would be, to have a Roman wall as part of your house If you Google 'Horncastle Roman Wall', you can see images of it.

Anonymous said...

candy - that is very impressive. you really forget how ancient Europe is compared to the USA. there are so few really old places to visit here. at least in my neck of the woods. and that wall is beautiful. the stones are so impressive. In Hoboken there is one street left that is cobblestone. its kind of hidden away - a back street. but i walk on it when i can and try to picture it with horses, carriages. thanks for sharing, best- Ali

cs harris said...

Suzanne, I had to go look at in in Google Images; when I left Adelaide, Docklands was all about Rave parties! All I can say is, it looks nice at night when all you can see is the lights in the water!

Susan, I looked it up, too! Wouldn't that be wonderful to have that as part of your house? There's a village in Jordan where the houses have floors that are Roman mosaics; used to be if you knocked on the door, they'd let you in to see them. It's hard to imagine living with that kind of history.

Ali, even here in New Orleans, "old" isn't all that old. We have a few cobbled streets left, but most of them have been blacktopped over. I must admit, they are uncomfortable to drive over, but, oh, they're pretty.

Susan J. said...

How amazing about the houses in Jordan with Roman mosaics, it's mind blowing. Speaking of cobbles, we have some still in our local town, Alford (about three miles from us) and there is a cafe there called 'Cafe on the Cobbles', where you can get a very good full English breakfast! Nearby, the original stocks are still there, we had been living here for about a year before noticing them! I hate to think of people being made to sit in them.

cs harris said...

Susan, sigh, that sounds so wonderful.

Susan J. said...

I just noticed someone left a comment on your Camlet Moat post saying that the English are always pinching Celtic legends. I find this a bit ironic, given that modern genetic testing has shown that the majority of people from the British Isles, have DNA dating back far further than that of the Anglo Saxons and that actually only between 10%-20% have any Anglo Saxon DNA whatsoever! So all this stuff we were tought at school about people from the the so called Celtic regions, such as Wales and Cornwall, being the only true British, is a fabrication.

web lol said...

that is it

Suzanne said...

Right Susan! When the Angles and the Saxons invaded their form of genocide against the Celts was to kill, enslave or forcibly expel all the men but keep the women and procreate with them. So most of us who are English and can go way back will probably have at least some Celtic DNA, along with German, Danish and French. True, I am one quarter Irish with a very little bit of Scots, but I am mostly English, and if you could see me I look every inch a Celt.

Suzanne said...

Maybe I should explain a bit more. I look a lot like my Dad, who is very typically Celtic, and the Irish blood is on my Mum's side. I don't look anything like them, they are mostly redheads. Probably from the Viking occupation during the Dark Ages.

Susan J. said...

Suzanne; Recent genetic testing throughout the British Isles shows this old fashioned view of what happened when the Saxons settled here is just not true, neither do the recent archaelogical digs bear it out.

Suzanne said...

Susan, it must be another of those points that historians, archaeologists and other can't agree about. There are a lot of those. My main point of reference is Dr David Starkey in his documentary series Monarchy.

Susan J. said...

Suzanne: I'm speaking from years of watching the 'Time Team digs' and also a series that followed a huge genetic testing project that was undertaken a few years ago throughout the British Isles. The genetics expert who was involved in that actually tested Time Team's Phil Harding, who was found to have no Anglo Saxon DNA, even though his name has Saxon origins. The expert said that actually only 10-20% of the population have any Anglo Saxon DNA so, although my maths is not the greatest, even I can work out that the figures just don't add up for Starkey's theory to be correct.


























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