I always like to go exploring around London and am always on the lookout to make my tours better and just learn more in general.
Over the years I have been afforded several opportunities to visit where no-one else goes, deep into church crypts that are only open once very few centuries, the homes of the rich, famous and infamous and just generally getting myself into mischief.
I particularly like going into basements to find medieval or Roman remains that I track down through research or just putting a few clues together.
Of course thinking something might be there and getting to see it can be two completely different things but normally upon seeing my smiling face, I get let in to corporate buildings and commercial premises and manage to even teach the owners a thing or two of what they are seeing or in some cases, not even aware of.
Last weekend I was put bright and early as I wanted to practice my Nursery Rhymes tour of London as due to Covid, I have never done it for real. On the way there I happened down a seldom visited street on the border of the City of London and the East End and I knew that it was home to some Roman remains. Partly because just before Covid, I had wangled a trip under a skyscraper to see some incredible sights so knowing the the city walls generally go in straight lines, it would make sense there would be other ruins nearby. There is also a street called Crosswalk which I guess excitedly once crossed the Roman wall.
The bit of wall I wanted to see I had once glimpsed through a gate and opaque glass in the street but for a few years the area has been a construction site as the 20th century building was demolished with something altogether more fancy taking its place. As I’ve written about before, the City of London Corporation like new developments to have some sort of public offering and in this case the stretch of Roman Wall will soon be available for viewing by the general public. Which is good news when you do a Roman London Walking Tour!
I went along to Vine Street with a scaldingly hot hot-chocolate in my hands to try and keep warm and thought that even if the building wasn’t completely ready, somewhere round and about I might catch sight of this 2,000 year old ruin.
I approached the sparkling new tower and tried without much joy to get in to speak to the rather bored looking Security Guard. Eventually he let me in but denied there were any Roman ruins anywhere near here. Me and my 16th century old map of London thought differently but in any case I forlornly left the impressive reception and walked along the new building and only 20 seconds away, facing me a level or two below ground was a brightly lit Roman Wall.’
Idiots!’ I thought to myself. In the defence of the security guard, the building seemed to have two separate businesses but even so, you’d think you’d notice a Roman wall right next to your office.
This side of the building seemed about as deserted as the other and I didn’t expect to get anywhere when I tried the door but fortunately someone was exiting the building and perhaps my architect like appearance got me inside. The first door I tried was well and truly locked but then I caught sight of another door that seemed to lead down to the Roman ruins. Surely it would be locked. I tried the door and to my surprise it opened so I sneaked through, closing the door behind me gently from the inside.
The door clicked but in a manner to suggest it had locked itself rather than just shut tight. I turned the handle but it was one of those doors that only open on the one side. Great, I was trapped in a skyscraper on my own but did at least have some Roman Ruins to inspect. Not the worst way to go, I thought.
I did keep expecting that at any second I would be shouted at so took photos at every stage of my descent to the ruins but it seemed there was no-one around at all and being trapped inside, I thought I may as well have my hot chocolate in peace and get up close and personal with the Roman Wall.
Despite the building obviously being all but complete, the wall itself was largely covered in scaffolding and I did think what an amazing news story it would be when in a few weeks time they find my body amongst the ruins, clutching an iPad full of photos and an empty paper cup from Costa coffee.
Eventually I thought I should at least try and find another way out. I wasn’t at all worried about being stuck inside, only about getting trouble for doing so but having committed no damage at all, I knew the worst I’d be in line for would be a verbal telling off.
I found myself up behind the Roman Wall and up towards another doorway which was firmly shut. Fortunately, the electro-magnetic door locking system had been completed and was functioning so I found a chunky green button and pressed it, hearing the door click, I hurried over and let myself out.
I still had 3 or 4 hours of walking and getting into official mischief ahead of me but I was very thrilled to have had this very special opportunity to be the first visitor to this wall in its current set-up. It had only been discovered a century or so ago and before that had been largely demolished hundreds of years ago so what we see today are just remnants from Roman times.
It’s amazing to think that 2,000 years ago it would be manned by soldiers guarding Londinium and there I was all that time later researching it for a tour.
For a more accessible underground section of the Roman City Wall then check out https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2020/01/22/the-roman-wall-in-an-underground-london-car-park/