Western Gateway: The Roman Fort Lurking In A Basement Carpark

A secret part of the London Wall, hidden in a basement carpark. Photo: London Insights

Wherever you go, you can be sure that someone else was there hundreds or thousands of years before you. There are incredible ancient places hiding all around us. Let’s go find them!

Built around AD120, the Roman Fort at Londinium was capable of housing up to 1000 men. Eventually, in around AD200, it was absorbed into a larger defensive wall that was built to surround the city that would go on to protect the city for another 1000 years, but part of the original fort is still visible, if you’re lucky.

The original fort was built around about the same time as Hadrian’s Wall, so it’s similar in design to its cousin up north, although it’s walls were considerably higher. It had a ditch in front of its walls, strategic for helping to prevent your enemies from climbing up it and an urban bank behind the walls to reinforce the structure and prevent the whole thing from falling over. There were also stone towers along the wall. Those Roman’s definitely weren’t keen on anyone getting in!

Eventually the walls, along with much of Roman London were lost to time through centuries of rebuilding and construction and human activity, however the remains of the Roman Fort of Londinium were rediscovered in 1956 during the excavation and rebuilding that followed the destruction of many part of London during the Blitz of World War II.

The western gateway is the only part of the fort that is still visible; you can see the remains of a turret and guardroom as well as part of the actual gateway. The museum has also created a model of what the original building would likely have looked like to anyone arriving to Londinium through the western gateway.

The remains are cared for by the museum of London, but unfortunately they are not open to the public. They are protected and housed in a locked part of a car park! But don’t despair! The Museum of London does arrange guided tours every so often; you can check if there’s a tour coming up soon on their events page. Large parts of the later wall are visible in various places around London.

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Harriet Tatton

Written by Harriet Tatton

Harriet is one of DigVentures' community archaeologists. She loves museums, skeletons, and a good cup of Early Grey. Her first dig was at Bennachie, in Aberdeenshire, and since then she's never gone digging without her signature flowery wellies.

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