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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Walls of Old London (Part Two)


Medieval London was circled on three sides by a c.9.5m stone wall (primarily of ragstone, but also featuring Roman-era tiles and medieval flint-work). London’s defenses were further strengthened by numerous towers along the length of this wall.

Towers flanked the seven major gates, but there were many more ‘interval towers’ or ‘bastions’ scattered along the length of the wall. The diagram below indicates the probable locations of a number of them. 
Almost nothing remains of these towers now. Most of them crumbled or were pulled down centuries ago. The images below show the most complete tower still in existence, a medieval-built round tower now situated near the Barbican Estate. 
Archaeological investigation indicates that the towers came in a variety of shapes. Those on the eastern side (from the Tower to the northern Moorgate marshes) were D-shaped. Further west, towers were more likely to be round. One tower was renovated into a polygonal shape, and at least one tower on the 1278 extension around Blackfriars was built on a rectangular base.
"A rectangular interval tower on the City wall south-west of Ludgate, drawn ... after a fire of 1792."
(J. Schofield, London, 1100-1600: The Archaeology of a Capital City, Equinox, 2011.)
Historical and archaeological detail on the towers of London is very sparse. In my readings, I stumbled across a tantalising suggestion that these towers were much sought after as private residences.  A strange notion, but it makes sense. After all, the towers were built of durable stone in a city in which most residences were constructed of flammable wood and thatch. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales fame) lived for a time in rooms above Aldgate (a modern version of which is pictured below). Other towers might house the occasional anchorite or be requisitioned by the noble whose property lay adjacent.
It was enough to set my historical novelist’s mind ticking over. What would it be like to live in a tower in the walls of London, I pondered. What sort of person would live there, and how would they attain such a sought-after but tiny residence? In my novel My Lady of the Whip (released today!), the heroine takes up residence in a tower on the north-western stretch of the Wall. Precisely why this highly defensible residence is perfect for her purposes I leave to your imagination …

Be careful when you pick up a whip. Your fingers curl about that seductive handle, your wrist flexes its subtle weight and then… Yes, you wonder what would happen if you plied those innocent leather strips against another’s flesh.
1348. The Black Death is sweeping medieval London, social order is collapsing, and the virtuous Lady Elizabeth seizes a whip to defend her honour. But when death seems inevitable, Bess throws caution to the plague-ridden vapours …
… to save the man she can never have.

Available through all good e-book retailers and Ellora’s Cave

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