Open since May 2023, London’s newest museum is City Wall Vine Street Museum. It’s in the City of London and has a section of London’s Roman wall to see.
Why Is It Here?
In 1979–80, the building on this site was being demolished and that’s when the Roman wall was discovered.
The Metropolitan Bonded Warehouse* had been here since 1863 and the Roman wall was absorbed into its structure and plastered over. For over 100 years, it was hidden away and most would have been unaware of its significance. The warehouse was bombed in 1944 during the Second World War but was rebuilt and still, the Roman wall survived.
By the 1970s, archaeologists strongly suspected there could be some Roman artefacts to be found. They also knew that a section of the inner (west-facing) side of the city wall had been exposed in 1905 when Roman Wall House was constructed across the road at Crutched Friars, London EC3N 2HT.
As the dig progressed, the team from The London Museum revealed not only the old wall but also the foundations of a previously unknown Roman bastion. (The bastion towers were built between AD 351 and AD 375 in response to fears of attack by Saxon raiders.)
* A bonded warehouse was a place where imported goods were kept securely, so they could be assessed and taxed before being distributed around Britain. Wines, spirits and tea were brought by rail from London’s Docks to nearby Fenchurch Street station.
London’s Roman Wall
Built around AD 200 surrounding the old city of Londoninum, London’s Roman Wall is mostly destroyed or hidden below buildings in The City of London. It was built partly for defence but also as a statement of civic pride.
The wall could be seen for miles around as it was 2 miles long and 4–6 metres (13–20 ft) high.
There are a few sections of the Roman Wall that can still be seen in The City. Here’s a handy Google map of the locations. Look out for these tiled displayed boards on your walk.
What Happened After It Was Found
Once the archaeological dig was complete, an office block called Emperor House was built on the site. It took until that was demolished for the current building to include this public access to the Roman wall. (The current building is student accommodation called Urbanest Vine Street.) The City Wall Vine Street Museum opened in May 2023.
You might, mistakenly, think this was the entrance as it has the name of the museum. But the entrance is actually through the Senzo Coffee cafe on Vine Street on the other side of the building.
What Is There To See?
The main feature is the section of the Roman wall but there are also lots of artefacts found during the dig on display. These range from Roman times to the 20th century and tell the story of the local area. As you might expect, there are plenty of clay pipes for smoking and broken pottery. But also a Roman tile with a cat’s paw print as it was probably soft when the cat walked on it.
Many of the items here have been held in the Museum of London’s archives since the 1979–80 dig and have never been on display before.
The presentation links the artefacts to the people who lived and worked here: warehouse workers, craft workers, families and soldiers.
Do walk around the back of the Wall to see how it is being held up.
There is a short film to explain the history of the site.
A wall plaque that states:
The remains of the City wall and bastion are protected as a Scheduled Monument under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. This is on account of their national importance and historic, archaeological and architectural interest.
This means it has to be preserved but I don’t think the building’s owners had to create a free public access museum. I’m glad they did though as this is a nice addition to a visit to The City.
July 2023 Visit
While I was impressed with this small museum, it is worth pointing out that, only two months after opening, the lift wasn’t working and the toilets were mostly out of order.
There is one bench to sit on and look at the wall but no seats near the film.
But, those negatives to one side, I do think this is a good place to visit. It’s an interesting free stop in The City of London and I’m glad it’s available.
Address: 12 Jewry Street, London EC3N 2HT
When I visited, entry was via the cafe on Vine Street.
Opening Hours: 9am to 6pm, Monday to Sunday.
Closed on Bank Holidays.
Admission: Free. You are advised to book a free ticket in advance.
Official Website: citywallvinestreet.org