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Historic England Research Records

London Civil War Defences

Hob Uid: 1395290
Location :
Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets
Grid Ref : TQ3100080000
Summary : The Civil War defences of London were created in 1642-3, and extended for some 11 miles. From Wapping on the North side of the Thames, the general course of the lines ran north-west to Shoreditch, west to Hyde Park, and south to Tothill Fields. It resumed at Vauxhall on the south bank, ran north-east to St Georges Fields, east to the Elephant and Castle and then north-east to complete the circuit at Rotherhithe. There are difficulties in reconciling the nature of the available evidence and trying to establish the number, nature and position of individual works. These included a mixture of hornworks, rectangular and bastioned forts, star forts, and other positions and batteries. Between the various strong points was a rampart fronted by a ditch. There may be remains of the defences in Hyde Park, within the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, and at Rotherhithe. Despite the scale of the works, no contemporary map of them exists. The Scottish traveller William Lithgow walked the circuit in April 1643, describing and locating 28 earthworks. The earliest plots are one of 1720 in Wiliam Stukeley's `British Coins', which depicts 15 roughly drawn strongpoints, and a map by George Vertue of 1739 which shows 21 works, plus 2 works extended from the main line at Islington. Rocque's map of London of 1746, and the revised edition of 1769, show ground disturbance which might have been, and in some cases were, traces of the defences, but these need careful interpretation. See the individual works for descriptions, the numbering following Smith and Kelsey.
More information : The defence of London was considered in June 1642, and there is some contemporary evidence that some defensive works were started in that year, but it is not clear what. In 1642, John Rushworth and the Venetian ambassador refer to works in progress, John Evelyn visiting London to see the `celebrated line of communication' in December 1642. An Act of common council of 23rd February 1643 authorised the construction of the defences. An Order of the Lords and Commons approved the works of 1642 which had not been approved by Parliament and sanctioned ongoing construction. Both the Act and Order were preceded by a resolution of common council which described the works, some of which may already have been started, and their locations. The resolution only referred to defences north of the Thames, but news that the King may attack London from the area of Sevenoaks spurred on the construction of a line South of the Thames. The Venetian ambassador reported in May 1643 that the main forts were well-designed, complete, and ready to take artillery. He further commented that the construction of the connecting rampart and ditch was under way and should be ready within a matter of weeks. The defences were all but completed by October 1643, and the ground in front of them cleared of obstructions to defensive fire.

The defences appear to have been entirely of earthen construction with timber palisading and revetting, although this may have been restricted to the major strongpints. William Lithgow described the fort at Wapping as being:

`...erected of turffe, sand, watles and earthen worke, (as all the rest are composed of the like) having nine portholes, and as many cannon; and near the top, round about palosaded with sharpe woooden stakes, fixt in the bulwarks, right out, and a foot distant from another, which are defensive for sudden scalets, and single ditched below, with a court of guard within'.

Interestingly, the Venetian ambassador commented on the forts that "the shape they take betrays that they are not only for defence against the royal armies, but also against tumults of the citizens and, to ensure a prompt obedience on all occassions". This strongly suggests that they were designed to fire into London as well as to defend it.

The old London Wall served as an interiorline of defence, obstructions being cleared from in front of it.

Despite the scale of the works, no contemporary map of them exists. The Scottish traveller William Lithgow walked the circuit in April 1643, describing and locating 28 earthworks. The earliest plots are one of 1720 in William Stukeley's `British Coins', which depicts 15 roughly drawn strongpoints, and a map by George Vertue of 1739 which shows 21 works, plus 2 works extended from the main line at Islington. Rocque's map of London of 1746, and the revised edition of 1769, show ground disturbance which might have been, and in some cases were, traces of the defences, but these need careful interpretation.

Using the modern names of roads and places, the line of the defences can be reconstructed. The numbering of the forts follows the order used by Lithgow:

The circuit ran from the Thames to Fort 1 at Wapping, following the line of Cannon Street Road to Fort 2 at Whitechapel, and thence to Fort 3 at Brick Lane. It continued to Fort 5 in Hoxton at the North-East corner via Fort 4 at Shoreditch. The line then turned West following the line of Bevenden Street to Fort 6 between Goswell and central Street. It then followed the line of Sebastian Street to Fort 7 at the junction with St John Street. It continued to Fort 9 at Mount Pleasant Post Office via Myddleton Street and Exmouth Market. Between Fort 7 and Fort 9 was a covered way leading North along Amwell Street to Fort 8, a large work, now where the Claremont Square reservoir is. The line continued south of Guildford Street to Southampton Fort, (Fort 10), adjacent to Southampton (later Bedford) House. The line then crossed st Giles Fields to Fort 11, probably at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Bayley Street. The location of Fort 12 was at either the East end of eastcastle Street, North of Oxford street, or at the junction of Oxford Street with Marylebone Lane. From Fort 12 the line turned South-West to Fort 13 between Mount Row and farm Street. The line continued, with a slight deviation in the region of South Audley Street, to Hyde Park Fort at Hyde Park Corner, (Fort 14). The line turned South to Fort 15 on Constitution Hill, and thence in a nearly straight line to the Thames at Vauxhall Bridge via Forts 16 and 17, which guarded the western approaches on Kings road and Buckingham Palace Road, and Fort 18 in Tothill Fields.

On the South side of the Thames, the line continued to Vauxhall Fort (Fort 19) just East of Nine Elms Station, and turned sharply North-east to Fort Royal (Fort 20) where the Imperial War Museum now stands. It contnued East to Fort 22 at the junction of the New Kent and Old Kent Roads via Fort 21 which guarded the London Bridge - Newington road. From there it completed the circuit to the Thames via Fort 23 at the junction of Grange Road and Spa Road in Bermondsey, and Fort 24 in Southwark Park. (1)

[Note that HSIS depictions of the forts and batteries are symbolic.]

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Fort : the international journal of fortification and military architecture
Source details :
Page(s) : 61-82
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 25, 1997
Source Number : 2
Source : London and the Civil War
Source details : Contains plan by Stukeley, map by Vertue, and composite by Smith and Kenyon against a modern map of London
Page(s) : 117-43
Figs. : 1,2,3
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Stuart
Display Date : 1642-3
Monument End Date : 1643
Monument Start Date : 1642
Monument Type : Town Defences
Evidence : Documentary Evidence

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TQ 38 SW 2226
External Cross Reference Notes :

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Related Activities :
Associated Activities : THE BRITISH MUSEUM (NORTH-WEST DEVELOPMENT)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2010-01-01
End Date : 2010-12-31
Associated Activities : LAND AT 14 ROGER STREET
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2014-01-01
End Date : 2014-12-31