Walk 16a - TRACING LONDON’S FORGOTTEN CIVIL WAR FORTIFICATIONS

Revealing the hidden history of the inner suburbs - Wapping to Islington
 
5.5 Miles / 8.9 Km - about 3 hours

Click here, or on the image above, to download a online, zoomable version of the map 

INTRODUCTION

THE CIVIL WAR WALL WALKS - OVERVIEW  

Early in 1642 King Charles I left London having lost control of both Parliament and the City. London was staunchly supportive of Parliament, and Charles eventually established his headquarters in Oxford. The capital was vital to the Parliamentary cause as the chief source of finance for the army and the country’s premier port.

In November 1642 a Royalist army advanced towards London from the west, sacking Brentford, and only retreating when confronted with a much larger parliamentary force at Turnham Green. To strengthen their hold on the capital, Parliament undertook the building of an extensive system of fortifications, girdling the built-up area from Wapping to Pimlico north of the river, and Vauxhall to Rotherhithe to the south. The fortifications primarily consisted of earth ramparts and ditches interspersed with twenty forts equipped with artillery. The Venetian Ambassador noted that their design enabled a dual use, protecting London from the King, and the Parliamentary regime from London’s volatile population.

The system was decommissioned in 1647 to be replaced by 3 Citadels, also designed as much to control the population as protect the city. Apart from a short stretch in Hyde Park, there are no remains visible and no wholly reliable maps.

The precise route of these walks is therefore “speculative”, but attempting to track the “lines of communication”, as they were called, provides an excellent opportunity to gauge the scale of Stuart London. It also enables us to pay due note to the many aspects of the neglected history of the inner suburbs through which it passes.

Further Information - Historic England Research Records - London Civil War Defences

The Civil War Walks are divided into 3 sections:

Walk 16a - Wapping to Islington (This one - scroll down to start)

Walk 16b  - Islington to Pimlico

Walk 16c  - Vauxhall to Rotherhithe

USING THE WALK

The walk is designed to be used directly from your phone. 
Just scroll down to start. 

There are links within the text to more information about things that are discussed in the walk. You can follow these up later if you wish. 

If you would rather use a printed version of the walk guide, you can download an printable PDF file from this link.

In the walk: 

- Directions are shown in black text.

- History notes are shown in red text.

THE ROUTE


WALK START

WALK 16a: WAPPING TO ISLINGTON

This walk starts at Wapping Station on the London Overground network.

Turn right out of the station onto Wapping High Street, and then right again at a signpost to the Riverside Walk. 

Credit Google Earth
THE ROTHERHITHE TUNNEL

At the river there is an excellent view of the towers of Canary Wharf to your left and immediately opposite on the southern bank is a small patch of green with two large trees, sandwiched between a Victorian warehouse and a modern apartment block. This marks the end of the walk in Rotherhithe (Walk 16c  - Vauxhall to Rotherhithe) which is only ninety seconds away by train through the world’s first under river tunnel, completed by pioneering engineer Marc Brunel in 1843 but which we will not reach until we have circumnavigated the 12 mile route of the complete Parliamentary defences of London.

As with so much of the route, exact locations are difficult to pinpoint. However, there is evidence of the fortifications reaching to both banks of the Thames with a chain stretched between Wapping and Rotherhithe to prevent attack from the sea.

Retrace your steps to the station and turn right onto Wapping Lane. 

Pass the Gun Wharves apartments. 

WAPPING

The apartments were converted from a Victorian warehouse, which typifies the modern Wapping populated by media, City and “creative” professionals. 

Almost immediately, at Prusom Street the streetscape changes, as we pass the remnants of the social housing in which the community of dockers, warehousemen, and other riverside trades lived with their families. The area was largely in isolation from the rest of London, until the docks closed in 1968. 

Wapping Lane was the high street for this community, with a range of local shops located at ground floor level in the London County Council flats, which replaced grim tenements in the 1930’s. 

Interestingly the gentrification of the area has enabled this parade of shops to retain specialist butchers, green grocers, and bakers, which is unusual in most working-class communities.  

Passing Wapping Green on the left, we come to St Peters London Docks.

This is an excellent example of Victorian Gothic architecture, built for the St George’s Mission, which sought to recapture the East End working class (most of who were Irish or Jewish) for Anglicanism, a cause which it continues to pursue. If open, the church is well worth a look. 

Continue up Wapping Lane. Cross the bridge over the canal.

TOBACCO DOCK

The bridge is an echo of the lock system that connected London Dock on your left with the river to your right. The dock, which was the focus of life in Wapping from 1805 to 1968, was replaced in 1989 by The Tobacco Dock shopping centre, the brainchild of bankrupted jewellery retailer Gerald Ratner

This venture also failed in 1991 leaving the rusting “Pirate” ships as its only legacy. After lying empty for many years the site which sits behind the remaining high brick wall of London Dock on your left has now been redeveloped as a conference centre. The name Tobacco Dock derives from the dock warehouse, which was originally built to store tobacco among other New World imports.  

At the junction with The Highway, which as Ratcliffe Highway was the main commercial route to the wharves along the river, turn left and walk to McDonalds, the site of our first Parliamentary fort.

THE CIVIL WAR FORTS

Like the other forts this would have been a multi-pointed star shape made of earth and turf surrounding a central courtyard, with port holes for cannon.

Example of a star shaped Bastion Fort taken from a plan of Nové Zámky (Neuhäusel) in Slovakia, built in 1663, drawn c. 1680 PUBLIC DOMAIN

Like the rest of the fortification the  structure would have been fronted by a ditch. 17th century fortifications typically followed similar designs which gave defenders maximum opportunity to aim fire at attacking troops from both flanks.

Cross The Highway and continue up Cannon Street Road, the meeting point between the Irish east end of the docks and the Jewish east end of the rag trade. 

ST GEORGE'S IN THE EAST

On your right is St George’s in the East, designed by Hawksmoor and completed in 1729. The docks were at the centre of the blitz, and St George’s was burned out in 1941. 

An entirely new church, together with other buildings arranged around a courtyard inside the Hawksmoor shell, was built in 1963. 

Continue up Cannon Street Road, passing under the main line into Fenchurch Street, the first of the City’s terminal stations, which opened in 1841. 

Cross Cable Street.

THE BATTLE OF CABLE STREET

This is the location in 1936 of the famous “Battle of Cable Street” in which local residents and anti-fascist activists resisted an attempt by Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists, to parade through the East End, as an act of intimidation against the large Jewish population.

Cable Street
Continue up Cannon Street Road, and at the junction with Commercial Road, opened  as a toll road in 1806 to serve the West India Docks avoiding the congested Ratcliffe Highway, pause to notice the huge contrast between the scale of the buildings that you are passing, and the dramatic presence of the City just a few hundred yards away to your left. 

Cross Commercial Road and continue up New Road. 

WHITECHAPEL

23 New Road, on the left hand side, is the site of the first indoor meeting of the Salvation Army in 1865. 

Walden Street on your right, is a rare example of a remaining terraced back street, in a landscape otherwise dominated by large scale 20th century social housing. The gentrification process, which has completely transformed nearby Spitalfields, is beginning to take hold here. 

On the left is Fieldgate Street, with the large red, pinnacled shape of Tower House visible on the right. 

This was opened in 1902, as part of the Rowton House network of “working men’s” hostels, offering a clean bed and washing facilities for sixpence a night as an alternative to the overcrowded and disease ridden common lodging houses. 

Tower House was home at various times to a range of revolutionaries and radicals passing through London, including George Orwell and most famously Joseph Stalin. Stalin slept here for a week while attending the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party 1907 Congress, as a delegate of Lenin’s Bolshevik faction.

Excavation for the modern buildings of Queen Mary College Medical School, on the right of New Road, revealed evidence of a 5.5m wide and 1.5 m deep ditch running parallel to the road.  

Just before the junction with Whitechapel Road, we come to Mount Terrace, believed to be the site of the Whitechapel Fort. However, another school of thought locates Whitechapel Fort nearer Aldgate and attributes the evidence of fortifications here to a later “Citadel” one of three built by the army to control London after Cromwell seized power.

Whitechapel Mount, showing the London Hospital on the left
Illustrated London News, 28 April 1862 PUBLIC DOMAIN

WHITECHAPEL MOUNT
Whatever its precise origins, Whitechapel Mount was a prominent local landmark that over the decades had lost all association with Civil War fortifications. It had grown significantly larger since the 1640’s, through use as a “Laystall” an official rubbish dump by the City Corporation. It was cleared in 1808 to make way for new housing. Mount Terrace is the only remaining evidence of its existence. 

Cross Whitechapel Road, with the City creeping ever eastwards to your left, and the Royal London Hospital opened in 1757 to meet the needs of the overcrowded and poverty-stricken eastern suburbs to your right. 

Proceed down Vallance Road, the childhood home of the Kray twins, passing Durward Street on your right. 

Durward Street was originally known as Bucks Row, this was the site of the murder in 1888 of Mary Ann Nichols the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims who is buried in the City of London cemetery, covered in our Wanstead Walks series.

Turn left into Buxton Street, passing Spitalfields City Farm on your right. Immediately after the farm, turn right on to a cycle path with the farm on your right and Allen Gardens (a park) on your left. Follow the cycle path with the park on your left, as it turns left to parallel the railway line. 

The line was built in 1840 as the mainline to the Eastern Counties Railway London Bishopsgate terminus, replaced by the more centrally located Liverpool Street in 1874. This has now been repurposed to carry London Overground trains between Whitechapel and Shoreditch. 

As you leave the park, continue ahead down a small alley, which passes the entrance to the closed Shoreditch Underground station.

SHOREDITCH

Shoreditch Underground station opened in 1873. This was the terminus of the East London Line before it was closed in 2006, to be replaced by the London Overground.

Shoreditch Station 2021


Shoreditch Station in 2006

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Hywel Williams and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Continue down the alley to the junction with Brick Lane, then turn right.

Brick Lane is named after the local brick making industry which originated in the 14th century. At this northern end, Brick Lane is dominated by fashionable Shoreditch cafes and bars, rather than the Bengali curry houses that traditionally predominated at the southern Whitechapel end of the street. 

Continue along Brick Lane for about 200 metres, cross Bethnal Green Road, and continue along Brick Lane and then left into Rhonda Street. 

The park on your right (East Shoreditch Park) is the probable site of the next fort on the route, but 250 years of urban growth, slum clearance and redevelopment have left no trace.

Turn right into Swanfield Street and then left into Rochelle Street. At the end of Rochelle Street is Arnold Circus with a raised bandstand at its centre,  go up the steps to the bandstand.

THE BOUNDARY ESTATE

Surrounding you is the Boundary Estate, opened by the London County Council in 1900 as one of the first examples of large scale slum clearance. The area had previously been occupied by the “Old Nichol” a notoriously overcrowded unhealthy district rife with crime, which was home to 6,000 of London’s poorest. The new scheme replaced the slums with well built flats and community facilities for a similar number of people. Unfortunately, the rents charged were beyond the reach of the original population who were displaced to neighbouring poor districts such as Bethnal Green by more respectable tenants with secure permanent employment and who could be relied upon not to accrue rent arrears and could maintain “a good home”. 

Further reading. An interesting article about growing up on the Boundary Estate in the 1950's, from the excellent Spitalfields Life blog.

Continue down Calvert Avenue, passing the original shops integrated into the estate, which as elsewhere in this walk now serve a community far more prosperous and fashionable than any previous residents. 

ST LEONARD'S SHORDITCH

At the end of Calvert Avenue, on your right is St Leonard’s Shoreditch dating from 1740 and designed by George Dance the architect of the Mansion House. 

This is the latest of a number of churches that have stood on this site since Saxon times. St Leonard's has a number of theatrical links, and features in another of our walks, 'A Walk Around Shakespeare's London'

Turn right into Shoreditch High Street, past the imposing front of the church and right again into Hackney Road. Continue along to where Columbia Road enters from the right and Waterson Street is on the left opposite to it.

This junction is the probable site of the next of the Civil War fort. 

Cross Hackney Road and turn left into Waterson Street. Walk along Waterston Street, under the railway tracks, to the junction with Kingsland Road. Turn left into Kingsland Road, walk under the tracks again, and then turn right into Drysdale Street. 

At the end of Drysdale Street, turn right into Hoxton Street and then left into Mundy Street. Continue along into Hoxton Square, the handsome centre of modern Hoxton where evidence of a defensive ditch has been found.

HOXTON SQUARE

Hoxton Square, dating from 1683 is one of London’s oldest squares, and was originally a very sought after address. Dr Parkinson who first identified Parkinson’s disease practiced at 1 Hoxton Square, and the reverend John Newton who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace lived here in the 18th century. 

As with much of inner London during the Victorian era, Hoxton became an overcrowded centre of industrial workshops and warehouses, particularly for the furniture trade. The middle classes took advantage of the railways to move out to the suburbs and their houses became home to multiple poor families living in poverty. 

Hoxton became a symbol of criminality, degradation and overcrowding, which stood out from the norm even by Victorian standards. By the end of the twentieth century the economic activity on which Hoxton relied had relocated, resulting in depopulation, and a relative decline in the value of property. Eventually this created the environment needed by London’s growing art and technology sectors, to move in and create a dramatic resurgence in the area's fortunes which has returned the square to its original position in the social hierarchy.

Continue in a straight line across the north of the square, and exit via a passageway into Bowling Green Walk, and at the junction with Pitfield Street, turn right. 

THE HABERDASHERS COMPANY

On the left is the original site of Haberdashers Aske Public School, established by the Haberdashers Company with a legacy from Robert Aske in 1690. The current buildings date from 1824, and the school relocated to Hertfordshire in 1903. 

The school dropped the Aske name from its title in 2021 to distance itself from Aske’s involvement in the Royal Africa Company established under Charles the Second to engage in the slave trade.

Continue along Pitfield Street.

You will pass the Curzon cinema on your left, which  originally opened as a Music Hall in 1870. It's rebirth as a cinema after many years of closure is another example of the areas dramatic change in fortune and demographics. 

Further along Pitfield Street, just before the church of St John the Baptist, turn left into Fanshaw Street.

St John the Baptist church was built in 1828, with funds dedicated by Parliament in an Act of 1818 to build new Anglican churches. The reason for the Act was the belief that the decline in church attendance was caused by a shortage of buildings, rather than the decline in social compliance associated with city life, and the rival attractions of Methodism and other non-conformist denominations. St John’s takes its name from a nearby Abbey suppressed by Henry VIII, and has a splendid 20th century painted ceiling which is worth a look. This is believed to be the site of the next Civil War fort.

If you need to, return to Fanshaw Street and then turn into Bevenden Street.

This area was laid out in 1802 by the Haberdashers Company, on land they acquired in 1690. 


The social housing on the left of the street also owes its origins to the Haberdashers, reflecting their longstanding commitment to making a social as well as an economic contribution to society. 

At the end of Bevenden Street, cross over Vestry Street to enter Nile Street. Continue to the end of Nile Street to it's junction with Shepherdess Walk. Turn left into Shepherdess Walk, and continue along to pass the Eagle Pub.

This is the pub that is commemorated in the nursery rhyme “Pop goes the Weasel

Cross over City Road, turn right and then almost immediately left down Mora Street. Turn right into Lever Street. 

Lever Street was previously known as Radcliffe Mount, perhaps reflecting the presence of remnants of fortifications. 

Cross over Central Street and continue to Goswell Road where you turn left. 

First left is Seward Street with Mount Mills Street a few metres up it on the left, signifying the site of the Mountmill Fort. Second on the left off Goswell Road is Pear Tree Street, where excavations have revealed evidence consistent with a defensive ditch.

Retrace your steps back along Goswell Road. Cross the junction with Lever Street / Percival Street, and turn next left up Sebastian Street, which tracks the likely alignment of the wall at this point. Sebastian Street leads into Northampton Square.

NORTHAMPTON SQUARE

Northampton Square is a very pleasant square of Georgian houses, laid out by the Marquess of Northampton in the very early 19th century, with a bandstand and café in its central garden. 

On one side of the square is City University. This was founded originally in the 1890’s as Northampton Polytechnic, on land donated by the fifth Marquess, to teach practical skills in science and engineering neglected by the established universities.

Leave the square via Wyclif Street (far left corner of the square from where you entered it) and turn right into St John Street.

On the right you will pass the imposing entrance to the university, designed by EW Mountford the architect of the Old Bailey. 

On the left you will come to Myddelton Street. 

The next fort was here, at the junction of St John Street and Myddleton Street.

Walk down Myddelton Street, passing some early nineteenth century shops on the left.

THE NEW RIVER

Hugh Myddelton was a rich City gold merchant who, in partnership with King James I, financed the “New River” which brought fresh water from springs in Amwell in Hertfordshire under gravity, to reservoirs in Islington from where it ran in wooden pipes to the City. 

Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen. NPG. PUBLIC DOMAIN

The main fortifications ran along the line of Myddelton Street, and then crossed the Fleet valley via Mount Pleasant. Unfortunately this alignment left the New River reservoirs unprotected, so to protect London’s water supply, an extension was constructed running along the modern Amwell Street to a fort on the site of a Victorian reservoir in Claremont Square.

To follow the extension, at the bottom of Myddelton Street, before it turns sharply right and turns into Garnault Place, continue straight on across the pavement and turn first right into Rosamon Street.  

Continue on into Amwell Street, and continue about 500 metres to Claremont Square.

Arriving at Claremont Square, turn right with the reservoir, and fort site, on your left. 

Take the next right down Mylne Street, to enter the pleasant Myddleton Square with St Mark’s Church in the centre. 

Pass the church and turn right into River Street, and then left to retrace your steps down Amwell Street.

Cross over Rosebery Avenue and Amwell Street becomes Rosoman Street.  Turn right into Exmouth Market.

EXMOUTH MARKET

The main fortification route continues down the lively Exmouth Market , named after Viscount Exmouth an Admiral who enforced a treaty obligation to end Christian slavery in North Africa by bombarding Algiers in 1816, securing the release of 3000 enslaved people.

Originally established as a costermonger’s market, Exmouth Market is now dominated by restaurants and bars. On the left is the imposing façade of the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer built in the 1880’s with a Campanile. 

At the end of Exmouth Market, cross Farringdon Road and proceed straight ahead into Rosebery Avenue, passing Mount Pleasant with its large Post Office Sorting Office dating from 1926 on the right. 

ROSEBERY AVENUE

Rosebery Avenue was opened in 1892 by the London County Council, and named after its first Chairman, and later Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery. 

Like its larger cousin Holborn Viaduct, built a generation earlier, it bridges the Fleet valley, providing a more convenient east west route which avoids the steep inclines of the earlier streets it passes above. 

One of these streets is Laystall Street, whose name commemorates a city rubbish tip similar to the one cleared in Whitechapel to make way for Mount Terrace. This tip covered the site now housing Mount Pleasant Sorting Office.

Rosebery Avenue terminates at the junction with Clerkenwell Road, which is also the end of this walk. 

WALK END

For Chancery Lane Station, turn right onto Clerkenwell Road, and then immediately left onto Grays Inn Road, the station is five minutes away.

Farringdon Station is less than ten minutes away, to get there, turn left down Clerkenwell Road and then turn right into Turnmill Street.

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Russell & Paul