Tower of London and the roman wall

The District, jointly with the Metropolitan, gained powers in 1879 to connect their systems between Aldgate and Mansion House by means of a connecting railway which appeared finally to discharge their moral responsibility to complete the inner circle railway (for which powers had been first granted in 1868).

The joint line was called the City Lines and Extensions Railway and included a branch to Whitechapel where a junction was planned with the East London Railway. I shall just call it the City Lines. The Met had doubts about whether the District was in a position to raise its share of the finance and in 1882 (when no work had yet started) the Met decided to build a short extension of its line southwards from Aldgate to a point near the Tower of London. This could be built relatively inexpensively and served a new area, near the river and near the north end of Tower Bridge, then being planned. It was always intended that if the City Lines went ahead this short extension would become part of it (in which case the District would pay a proportionate share of its construction cost).

Tower of London Extension

The job of constructing the line went to experienced engineering contractor Thomas A Walker, who began work on 5 September 1881. About half the route ran directly under Minories and near Aldgate the covered way was enlarged to allow the future junction with the line towards Whitechapel to be connected when it arrived. Towards the south end the covered way gradually changed direction to curve west, the line passing through an arch of the London & Blackwall railway which was being widened at the same time. It passed diagonally under The Crescent, under Trinity Place (which was bridged) and carried on until it passed partly under Trinity Square. The station, called Tower of London, was built on the east side of the square. So far as it is possible to tell from contemporary descriptions only one platform was brought into use (though two were built) and the Trinity Square tunnel was only long enough to allow locomotives to draw forward before running round their trains. The extension, and station, opened on 25 September 1882, Met trains being projected from Aldgate.

The actual construction does not call for much description as it was very similar to the system used by the Met to reach Aldgate, involving a covered way with concrete walls. It is worth adding that the tunnels were equipped with electric lighting, certainly switched on during the first day but it has not been established how long this innovation lasted.

Tower Hill Map

In the above map the line from Aldgate curves in from top right and the station site is seen in the space between The Crescent and Trinity Square. The tunnel under the square is visible although at opening it might not have reached south west corner. Points to note are (1) the blue area over which a London Transport substation was built in 1936, (2) the green portion over which London Transport built a new station in 1966/7 (3) the original station building (part below the green) facing Trinity Square, and (4) the pink line, which represents part of London's roman wall.

The City Lines railway was eventually built and came fully in to use 6 October 1884. This included a new station at Mark Lane (just off the map at bottom left) and while the Metropolitan made an attempt to keep the old Tower station open, the District refused to have anything to do with it and being so close to Mark Lane the Met admitted defeat and it closed after traffic on 13 October 1884.

Tower of London Station

There is a tale that The Tower station was built in a great hurry - two days and three nights in fact. That such a tale appears in an old book by the transport journalist and historian Charles Lee suggests a possibility that there is something in it, but as the extension took a year to build it is not credible that the whole of the station site could have been excavated, with retaining walls and a bridge, in anything like such a short time.

The station building, however, was of wood and it is just possible that such a building could have been put up in a great hurry if this was important, but why?

The Tower station

THe picture shows The Tower station after closure; this is the rear and looks towards Trinity Square. The tracks go beneath the building with platforms this side, though stairways down have been removed.

Many years later, District director Robert Perks related to a parliamentary committee that Met chairman, Edward Watkin, had been asked to accommodate one or more troop movements along the new line and had thrown up 'this shed' by way of response. There were indeed troop movements around then as conflict in Egypt was expected, so this might be the reason for haste (at that time troops were often moved by train and the Tower of London was both an armoury and troop depot). I have not identified a specific movement in the press though.

Other Roman Discoveries

The completion of the City Lines also encountered the remains of Roman occupation elsewhere in the City, particularly in the area known as Walbrook (the Walbrook had one been a river snaking beneath what later became the Bank of England and discharging into the Thames near Cannon Street railway bridge). Below is the Graphic's account of the finds from its edition of 3 May 1884:

The old Roman London, which lies some ten or twelve feet below our modern city, has again been unearthed at Walbrook by the excavators engaged on the District Railway works. Here a piece of pavement, formed of Roman tiles set on edge, has been found. It measures 5 feet by 3 feet 6 inches, and is 10 inches in thickness. It seems difficult to realise the dream of a Roman villa, situated on the bank of a pleasant streamlet (the old Walbrook), such as this discovery seems to indicate the existence of in bygone days. The District Railway tunnel, with its great advantages, seems after all but a poor exchange for such a picture.

Any comments, or additional information, will be especially welcome. X

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The Railway and London Wall 

The map shows the pink line (the line of the roman wall) being pierced by the station cutting for the Tower station. Part of the wall nearby had already been assaulted during building works thirty years or so earlier, but station construction was going to remove a further section and at that time the monument was not protected.

Roman Wall 1

The above image was taken during construction of the station and when it appeared later it was accompanied by a caption reading: “The Roman Wall at Trinity Place, Tower Hill, being destroyed when that part of the Inner Circle Railway was constructed in 1882. This is the east side of the wall showing the foundations, external plinth and one bonding course.”

When in 1936 London Transport constructed a large substation over the eastern part of the old station site, further land was required; this is the area in blue on the map and abuts the line of the old wall, in pink. Further destruction of part of the remaining wall was unavoidable but perhaps as an act of contrition some sections of the foundations of the old wall were retained and the substation's western wall was constructed on top of it. Moreover an inspection chamber was provided and facilities were made for interested members of the public to visit the chamber where the lower part of the wall could be viewed.


The above image shows the bottom of the substation wall resting on part of the old roman wall. This was presumably taken from within the inspection chamber.

When the substation was being built part of an old bastion was encountered and in the rubble was found part of a roman sarcophagus that had once contained the remains of the administrator, Julius Classicianus, once roman procurator for the whole of Britain and in charge of the imperial revenues. It appears that the tomb was 'repurposed' when the romans required extra building materials. Another part of the same tomb had been found in 1852 during other work and resided at the British Museum, where the new bit also went. London Transport decided to make a full size replica of the inscription (leaving a gap where another piece was still missing). This massive replica was inserted into the substation wall near what was considered the probable site of the tomb and is still there today.

Inscription from Roman wall

The image above shows the stone with the well-preserved inscription as it was found (upside down) in the Roman wall during the substation works. 


This shows the replica embedded into the substation wall: it is about 5ft high. The gap represents a piece still missing, although experts believe they know what the wording said. By the way, the majority of the substation is clothed in modern brick, but the whole face of the west wall (which follows the line of the roman wall) is faced with stone blocks. Next to this replica there is a small bronze plaque explaining why the replica is there and offering a translation: this bears the signature of the London Passenger Transport Board.

New Tower Hill Station

Around 1965 London Transport wanted to extend trains to Tower Hill that had previously turned at Mansion House; it was not possible to do this at the existing station at Tower Hill and it was decided to bring the old Tower station back into use, at the same time providing a third platform. This also had the advantage of improving the interchange between Tower Hill and Fenchurch Street stations.

These works involved widening the railway cutting on the south side and meant interfering with yet another section of wall. This time the foundations of the roman wall were removed and the visible part above ground was supported on trestles until the widened station roof had been completed, which became the wall's new foundations.


The above view, looking south, shows the new westbound platform being built and the trestle on which the wall sits.


This view is taken very close to the previous one, looking east beneath the wall from the completed platform. Note the hole in the wall, high up.


And this is what is inside the hole, a section of surviving roman wall foundation, put on display in this cubby hole when station was reconstructed. Nice to see the little floodlight working. Opposite, is an explatory notice displayed on the platform, shown below.