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There’s a station on the London Underground that if you look carefully enough, you might spy a chunk of ancient Roman Wall peeking out.
This is Tower Hill station, and while many tourist guides will tell you it’s a convenient place to start seeing Roman remains above ground, few will tell you that you can start your tour from inside the tube station itself.
On the westbound platform to be specific.
At the far eastern end, take a look at the wall and you’ll see a black rectangle, with a very old dim lamp next to it — this is the Roman Wall, with a small cutting into the modern wall to reveal it in all its, erm, glory.
OK, it’s not much to look at and wont be a highlight of a tourist visit — but it’s a chunk of Roman Wall that most don’t know about, and is worth knowing about so that you show off to your friends when in the station and impress them with your exceptional knowledge of London arcana.
You can also point them to a small sign, on the back of a pillar that was added recently to mark the spot, but the sign is almost harder to find than the Roman Wall.
The Roman wall used to run right through the railway line, or at least did so before the railway was here, but when this part of the Inner Circle Railway was constructed in 1882 they had permission to demolish the Roman Wall at this location.
Protecting ancient heritage wasn’t that important back then, and whereas today the wall might be removed, but preserved elsewhere, this missing chunk is probably now buried in a landfill somewhere.
In total, some 73 ft. of the Roman wall was destroyed during the construction of the Inner Circle Railway in 1882. A drawing by H. Hodge shows the external face with plinth, four courses of squared ragstone, a triple course of brick, six courses of ragstone, a double course of brick, four courses of ragstone and another double course of brick.
Demolition of Roman Wall at Tower Hill for Inner Circle Railway, 1882. (c) Museum of London
Some of the Roman Wall survived until 1935, when London Underground exposed a bastion fortification that sat alongside the Wall underneath Tower Hill Gardens. They needed the space for a new electricity substation.
Fortunately, by then preserving heritage was a more widespread interest, and during excavations they uncovered the slab of a tombstone which contains the name of the Procurator in Britain in the aftermath of the rebellion of Boadicea, Classicianus.
That stone is now in the British Museum.
But back to Tower Hill station, just think that every time you go past on the Circle or District line trains, the railway is running right through the middle of the ghostly echo of the mighty stone wall built by the founders of London itself.
This article first appeared on www.ianvisits.co.uk
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