Walking the London Wall

I decided that for my walk I would try to follow the path of the old London Wall, built by the Romans after they had claimed the land, and try to see how many pieces I could find. To do this I chose to walk from the Tower of London, to London Wall road, then along that until I reached The Museum of London. I made the walk with this short article in mind.

There was a large piece of the wall standing just outside of the Tower of London tube station, yet despite being outside a transportation hub, and directly across from a major tourist attraction, the wall goes fairly unnoticed. Most people bypassed it to make their way across the street to the Tower, or go on to some other destination. The wall is marked by a large placard, and a map, showing where the wall still stands, and standing in front of it is a statue of a roman, believed to be Emperor Trajan. It has a small space set aside for it, yet the space is somewhat dirty, with litter cluttering the corners. All in all, the wall looked forgotten, and thoroughly out of place, with modern buildings surrounding it, unpolished and uncouth next to the architecture of the tower.

In fact, I had visited the tower about a week before going on this walk and I had noticed the wall and wondered if it was part of the wall that I was going to look for, or some unimportant remnant of another old building.

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As I made my way to London Wall road, I kept my eye out for any new pieces. It had been hard for me to read the map provided at the wall near the Tower, so I stuck to my original plan of following the road. I made sure to look down each side street I passed, however, to see if there were any ruins.

For the most part, I had little luck. I thought I could see a part of the wall on the other side of a garage, however, the garage belonged to an intimidatingly posh hotel and I thought it would be best not to take a closer look.

20161026_105014[It’s kind of hard to see, but the wall is behind that van]

The second piece I saw I am still not sure was part of the London Wall. I found an old stone and brick wall next to All Hallows Church, but could not figure out its significance. It looked like there had once been small plaques in front of it at one point, but any information that might have been there was gone. The only clue to this piece, if that is in fact what it was, is a small metal tile with the year written on it, reading 1888. While this could mean that the wall I found belonged to some other structure, it does not necessarily negate the possibility of it being part of the Wall. As the city of London grew, the Wall was renovated, and built from and next to. Therefore the inscription could indicate the year the construction to the already existing wall was made.

The next piece of the wall that I found, I almost didn’t explore. It started at the street. But then continued down through what looked like a private residence. The only reason I decided to explore further, was because there was a path worn down leading into the lawn. [pic] It turned out that this section was fairly substantial, and had the same kind of sign that the wall near the Tower did – a map that showed which part of the wall it was and the path that could be taken to find others. It was an interesting place to find a piece of the wall. Despite the sign, and the path, I couldn’t help but feel like I was not supposed to be there, almost as if I was trespassing. The area was surrounded by what looked like apartment buildings, and I felt like I was tromping through someone’s backyard.

This piece of the wall was directly below The Museum of London, so I decided to go inside and take a look. Inside there was a small section about the wall that I had just explored, and a view of it from above. A short documentary was playing about the history of the wall, explaining when and why it was built, and the ways it was used. This kind of information was not found at any of the other pieces of the wall I had visited, and it greatly helped explain and give a greater depth and context to the wall. It struck me that I basically had to take a detour away from the wall itself to really learn more about it, as at many historical sites there are signs explaining the history. This made finding as viewing the wall feel more real and natural, almost as if I was discovering something that had been lost. By not giving too much information I could imagine what the part of the wall could have been used for before it became a ruin.

The last piece I found was across the street from the museum, and apart from the piece near the Tower, this one was the most well-marked and presented. There was a fence separating the wall from the sidewalk, with historical markers and informational signs set on it in equal intervals. It was here as well that I really saw how the Wall had evolved over time. There was a section on this piece, where the additions to the wall were clear – easily seen layers, like some kind of urban core sample. They built up off of the wall, and connected to the modern building directly behind it. This was what really showed me how London had grown and developed, from being a city safely guarded behind the wall, to one that sprawled up to and then beyond it.

Compared to other historical landmarks I have visited while here, the London Wall seems almost hidden, and hard to follow. Parts of the wall are inaccessible, or at least hard to get to, such as the piece behind the fancy hotel, and a piece I found on a separate trip to see the Tower of London. It struck me that someone who might want to see or walk all of the London Wall would have to pay around £16 to get into the Tower and see what was left of the wall.

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My experience with historical structures in London has been very different than in other European cities. During reading week I traveled to Edinburgh, Amsterdam, and Florence and spent most of my time there walking from place to place. It was then I noticed just how old all of these cities felt, as if each building were a piece of history. London does not really feel this way, at least not the parts that I have explored. The history here is not found as much on the streets, as it is in museums and specially marked sites. There are little pockets of hidden, or cordoned off history scattered in amongst modern London. I wondered why this was. One possible explanation that I came up with was just how much London has been destroyed and reconstructed – from the Fire of London to the Blitz, thus leaving behind fewer bits of history, and encouraging modernization upon reconstruction.

One final thought that crossed my mind while I was walking the wall, was how difficult and intimidating it would be to be a foreign flaneur. The only way I felt confident making this walk was by having google maps open the entire time, and taking some friends along with me. To a person who is not from London, England, or even a city, wandering aimlessly through London is incredibly daunting. Other people around you move with such confidence and conviction, while you struggle with where to go. Follow the crowd and become hopelessly lost in a country and a city that is not your own? Or never explore this new place while you have the chance? It is a difficult choice to make, and one that can even prove dangerous if, like me, you are inexperienced in navigating cities. This fear of being lost, and the need to have a map, or friends along on the walk, contradicts the nature of being a flaneur. It is the antithesis of introspective, solitary, urban wandering. It prevented me from really observing the people around me. Instead I was focused on where to cross the street and which turn to take next, all the while looking at the buildings, rather than the people.

Source used:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/london-wall

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