LAMAS crest        
Archives banner

The Roman and medieval defences, and the later development, of the Inmost Ward, Tower of London: excavations 1955-77

Geoffrey Parnell

The course of part of the prehistoric Thames was revealed together with a late Iron Age burial and other evidence for pre-Roman occupation. During the Flavian period (late 1st century) river incursions ceased with the reclamation of the eastern half of the site. Subsequently, during the 2nd century, three successive buildings, the later two domestic in character, were reconstructed on the reclaimed ground. In the late 2nd or early 3rd century this occupation came to an abrupt end with the raising of the City’s landward defences, which ran north-south through the site. Though no masonry survived, the evidence for a large contemporary internal rampart suggests that the wall terminated close to the site of the present Lanthorn Tower. The enceinte was closed in the mid-late 3rd century by the construction of a defensive riverside wall, running east-west. During the final years of the 4th century at least part of this riverside wall was replaced by another line of defence located slightly further to the north. Coins give a terminus post quem of AD 388-92. This remarkably late remodelling of London’s defences effectively produced a salient in the south-east corner of the circuit at a point which guarded the river approach to the city; there was evidence to suggest that it might have been reached by means of a gate to the west. Dumped against the rear of the riverside wall and contemporary with its construction was a mass of soil, clay and gravel which probably represented a raising of the ground level rather than the formation of a bank.

During the Saxo-Norman period much of this material was removed from the site, but after a short space of time the ground surface was raised again. The Roman riverside defences must have influenced the layout of the early Norman castle and throughout the later medieval period were modified and repaired. North of the defences successive post-medieval redevelopments had erased nearly all trace of the important medieval palace complex – the only exception being a large foundation which may be attributed to the pre-Henry III great hall.

Extensive foundations belonging to the 1777-80 Ordnance office and its refurbishment and enlargement of 1789-92 were recorded. These are described in conjunction with the documentary evidence for the buildings and for the general development of the southern area of the Inmost Ward during the 17th-19th centuries.

The paper concludes with a dendrochronological report on timber piles from beneath the first riverside wall (datable to AD 255-70), and with reports on pottery and other artefacts. Notable among the latter is a collection of Roman glass-working waste.

[Transactions 36 (1985), pp 1 – 79; published abstract, but modified]


Home /Lectures /Conferences /Publications /Archives /Benefits of membership /Links