Large Section of London’s Roman Wall Revealed After Decades Underground
A large section of Roman wall in the City of London can see the light of day again thanks to an innovative collaboration between Urbanest, the City of London Corporation, Historic England, and the Museum of London.
The City Wall at Vine Street is a new, free, museum-quality display and café created by Urbanest as part of their wider redevelopment of the site. The development has recently been awarded City Building of the Year.
The centrepiece of the display is a substantial segment of London’s Roman Wall which once encircled the city, including the foundation of a Roman bastion (tower), alongside a permanent display of artefacts lent and curated by the Museum of London. Tickets can be booked for free.
This significant piece of archaeology is protected as a scheduled monument but had been largely hidden away, inaccessible in the basement of the previous office building.
After acquiring the site in April 2016, Urbanest worked in close collaboration with the City of London Corporation (the local planning authority) and Historic England to bring this piece of London’s history to life, incorporating the wall into the design so that it is visible and can be celebrated once again.
Creating a spacious new exhibition with free public access allows residents, visitors and experts alike to explore and learn about the site’s evolution and the lives of the people who lived and worked here in the Roman period.
We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved at Vine Street together with our partners the City of London Corporation, Historic England and the Museum of London. For so long, this site sat empty and hid a brilliant historic asset which we were delighted to help bring to life. It seems very fitting that those studying postgraduate courses at King’s College London can live above such a wonderful piece of this city’s history. This is a brilliant example of what can be achieved with a sensitive and collaborative approach to redevelopment in central London. We’ve already welcomed over 1,000 people to the exhibition so far and hope to see lots more over the next few months.
Objects from the Museum of London collection on display include a tile marked with a cat’s paw print, Romain coins and discarded animal bones. All items were recovered from Vine Street or nearby.
The Roman Wall is now clearly visible from street level to passers-by, and the café offers a chance for those completing the London Wall Walk to stop and rest en route.
The City Wall at Vine Street represents the culmination of seven years of successful collaboration between Historic England, Urbanest, the City of London Corporation and the Museum of London. I’m delighted that together we have brought a remarkable fragment of the history of London into the public arena for the first time in more than 40 years. This site demonstrates that archaeology and heritage need not be an obstacle to new development – as we see so often, it can bring significant value and character to a place. It should stand as an exemplar for future schemes by showing that you can celebrate the heritage of places whilst delivering something new.
London's Roman City wall
London's Roman City wall was built around 1800 years ago, when Britain was a Roman province and Londinium was its capital. Around 3km in length, the wall served as a boundary and a status symbol, proclaiming the wealth and importance of the city.
The city wall was completed between AD 190 and 230. The original Roman wall was between 2 and 3 metres thick, faced with square blocks of Kentish ragstone, a limestone quarried in Kent, and filled with rubble and concrete. Characteristic red ceramic bricks strengthened and levelled it.
Many years after the end of Roman rule, the wall was rebuilt and marked the limits of the medieval City of London. As centuries passed, London grew, and the area around the wall changed. Gradually, it was swallowed up by buildings. In 1905 a new building was constructed called Roman Wall House. At this time the inner face of the wall was exposed and preserved in the basement. In 1979, the outer face of the wall was uncovered, together with a previously unknown bastion, but once again left largely forgotten in the basement.
Like so many Londoners, I have always been fascinated by the rich stories that exist across the capital, around every corner and in unexpected places. This will be a fantastic way for people to stand in the shoes of Roman Londoners and discover more about our history, surrounded by the historic walls of the city. We’re delighted to work with Urbanest and Historic England to help bring this story to life and offer people new ways to discover our collection.
Historic England has been monitoring the scheduled monument and actively involved in discussions for conservation and display as part of redevelopment since 2010. The site was acquired by Urbanest in 2016. During the construction of Urbanest City in 2018, the monument was protected by a bespoke timber enclosure.
Throughout the project it was monitored for movement or potential damage by engineers, historic stone conservators and Historic England. Later, grey steel props were added alongside the existing red steel jacks as a permanent support for the wall inside the new building.
This collaborative effort between Urbanest, the City of London Corporation, Historic England, and the Museum of London has allowed us to celebrate a remarkable piece of London's history. By revealing this large section of the Roman wall with interpretation and displaying artefacts, we are providing workers, residents and visitors with free access to a tangible link to our past and is a shining example of how redevelopment can celebrate and preserve our rich heritage. This wonderful scheme is one of many other attractions in the pipeline, negotiated through City planning which celebrates the City’s archaeology and history as part of making the City a seven day destination for all.