Vic Keegan’s Lost London 50: the Ring of Forts

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 50: the Ring of Forts

It is difficult to believe, but London was once protected by a vast ring of fortifications, which have completely vanished. It is without question the largest bit of Lost London ever found – or rather not found, because no-one has ever discovered any remains. They don’t come any more lost than that.

The forts were built in the 1640s during the civil war to protect London against invasion by King Charles I’s royalist army, which had retreated to the country but was preparing an attack on the capital. It must not be confused with the London Wall built by the Romans, much of which still exists. Cromwell’s fort cordon was over three times bigger than that wall, with the section north of the Thames stretching in a sort of semi-circle from Wapping in the east to near Vauxhall Bridge in the west before rounding off at Southwark. 

We know from contemporary accounts that it was constructed by thousands of citizens who dug ditches, trenches and a series of forts along the perimeter including at Shoreditch (top end of Brick Lane), Mount Pleasant, Hyde Park Corner and Constitution Hill before dropping down to what was known as Tothill Fields, south of today’s Victoria where I now live.

To find the nearest fort to my home I consulted George Vertue’s map of the fortifications (below) which was drawn some time later, in 1738, and is almost the only map of the wall extant. My local fort is simply marked as being in Tothill Fields. But where? The redoubtable Ian Mansfield, author of Ian Visits,  who has walked around the presumed lines of the fortifications, says that Vauxhall Bridge Road was the likely line of the wall where it meets Rochester Row, an ancient trackway where later maps “show a distinctive earth disturbance at the end of Rochester Row”.

 Guy Mannes Abbot, writing in the Westminster History Review, puts the site of the fort further down Vauxhall Bridge Road where the prize-winning council estate Lillington Gardens Estate now is (see main picture). 

Either of these sites could be the right one, not least because both of them follow the course of the River Tyburn, whose presence would have made the fort more formidable. The Tyburn still runs underground – albeit merged with Joseph Bazalgette’s sewage system – from the junction of Rochester Row with Kings’s Scholar’s Passage along the western side of Lillington Gardens (Tachbrook Street) to the Thames west of Vauxhall Bridge.

The main reason there is no trace of these monumental structures is that parliament ordered their destruction. Since then, there has been no reason to rebuild them. But if the Mayor of London wants to protect London from an onslaught by Brexiteers, he knows where to get the plans.

On London is immensely grateful to Vic Keegan for completing a glorious half century of Lost London articles. Read the previous 49 here 

Categories: Culture, Lost London

4 Comments

  1. Malcolm Redfellow says:

    There are remains of later rings of fortifications.

    Look hard enough and one may find occasional hard standings from the 1917 AA-guns barrage (see page 71 of Martin Gilbert’s First World War Atlas).

    The most recent is General Ironside’s Outer London Defence Ring (Line A), begun in June 1940 ‚Äî this was far bigger than anything Parliament conceived in the Civil War ‚Äî and many of the pill-boxes and tank traps are still there.

  2. ASLEF shrugged says:

    The fortifications had nothing to do with Cromwell, when they were completed in May 1643 Cromwell was a colonel of horse in Lincolnshire under the command of Lord Willoughby of Parnham.

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