London’s Roman City Wall – The Obscured – Part 2

Following on from my previous post about the Roman London city wall situated under One America Square, I endeavoured to find another hidden section, this time in Vine Street, as mentioned in the Museum of London’s Roman Wall Wall guide as Panel No. 4: Emperor House.

London Wall Walk 04-Emperor House
Part of London wall walk guide – No.4 Emperor House.
Copyright Museum of London

Older blogs had mentioned that panel number 4 should be visible in the small square on Vine Street, but on first inspection nothing was found in this area.  I enquired in the Emperor Bar, if they knew of a section of Roman wall, and they readily informed me that is was basically under my feet in the basement of Emperor House, the building that houses the bar and the offices of Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP at the time of writing.  So I asked at the main security desk in the glazed foyer about the wall and if access was permitted.  A very helpful security guard handed me a leaflet on the Roman Wall and provided me with a name and phone number to call to arrange a visit.

Emperor House
Entrance of Emperor House, Vine Street, London, EC3

The next day, appointment arranged, I returned to finally see this elusive section of wall. My contact appeared and guided me along a maze of steps, twisting corridors and fire-doors until we arrived in a rather gloomy and seemingly forgotten part of the building’s basement.

Here, what can only be described as a whopping section of wall is located along with, to my surprise, the missing panel number 4 from the original London Wall Walk, propped us against a wall.

Plaque no. 4 of the Roman Wall Walk
The illusive Panel Number 4 of the Roman Wall Walk

According to the guide, this outer facing section of wall was revealed in 1979-80 as a 10m (32ft) long and 3m (10ft) high section of city wall, along with a defensive ditch and the foundation a previously unknown Roman bastion, which is referred to as Bastion 4a.  These bastions were a late addition to the city wall, added in the troubled years of the 4th century AD.  There were at least twenty-two bastions, with the majority located along the eastern section of the wall, spaced evenly approximately 70 yards (64m) apart.  This spacing being governed by the range that arrows could be fired to cover each section from bastion to bastion.

Roman Wall and Bastion in Emperor House
The wall and bastion foundation at Emperor House – taken facing SW. 

The bastion base protrudes by a about 4m-5m (12-15ft) from the wall and is clearly visible in the picture above and below.  It is interesting to note how the main section of the wall has been underpinned on modern concrete blocks set on a brick base.  The original Roman ground-level sandstone plinth is clearly visible sitting on the underpinning, as well as the red tile courses.  Some of the original rag-stone facing has been disturbed, which can be seen as more modern brick abutments and smaller less ordered in-filling.  On the information panel theses sections are drawn as empty.

Roman Wall and Bastion in Emperor House
Roman Wall at Emperor House – taken facing NW.

The basement did look like it had once staged the wall as a show piece as there was up-lighting and even a viewing platform on a slightly higher section of basement, where the last two photos were taken from.  However we could not easily locate the light switches.
The basement was otherwise like any other basement, a dumping ground for old desks and chairs, and the majesty of this unique piece of history sadly not given the showcase it once had enjoyed.

Roman Wall and Bastion in Emperor House
Roman Wall, Emperor House – taken facing N.

Interestingly as I am posting this I notice that the wall is bathed in decent natural light and in fact no artificial lighting was on in that part of the basement.  This must mean there is partial visibility from above this section, which I guess is from the rear loading bay of the Emperor House, which is accessed from Jewry Street.

And finally, for now, at meeting point of Jewry St and Crutched Friars there is another clue to the history of the area.  
Can you tell what it is yet?  I have a plan to visit this building at a later date… Update: Read Part 3

Roman Wall House, Jewry Street, London, EC3
Roman Wall House, Jewry Street, London, EC3

For more general background information on the city wall and Roman London please refer to the Museum of London’s web site on this topic.  Better still, go make a personal visit to this often overlooked but truly excellent (and free) museum.

Museum of London – Site Record for Emperor House

Update of post for late 2019

I have migrated this article from Blogger to WordPress. In the process I have fixed some typos, enhanced and re-hosted photos, but otherwise have left the post “as was”.

Since writing this post back in 2013, much has changed regarding this site. Emperor House and London Wall House shown in the photographs above, have now both been demolished and are being redeveloped as a single building to be called Roman Wall House. The Roman wall and bastion 4a will be made a feature of in the new building which is to be a mix of offices and student accommodation, and will be accessible to the general public for the first time.

I also note the due to the reorganisation of the Museum of London, and the separation of their Archaeological Services (MoLAS) to the separate commercial entity of MOLA, all of their old links are now broken. I have provided a list of alternative references below which are working as of 2019.

Historic England: London Wall: remains of Roman wall and bastion (4a) at Crutched Friars
Detailed record of this Scheduled Monument.

Museum of London Collection search from this site
Includes the Roman tombstone found at this site, which is mentioned in the illustration at the top of this post.

MOLA: Archaeological consultancy on Vine Street: London’s Roman Wall
Article from MOLA on the redevelopment of this site.

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