Except for a short stretch of rampart in Hyde Park, it is only through archaeology that the fortifications can be found. Generally, however, remnants are encountered more often by chance than by design: the scarcity of contemporary mapping makes targeted investigation difficult, and when potential features are encountered, they can easily be misinterpreted. It has become clear to archaeologists Mills Whipp Projects (MWP) that there was a major discrepancy between the suggested locations of the fortifications indicated by the Historic England Record (based on Vertue’s now discredited plan) and other documentary evidence. Ultimately, MWP were engaged by Historic England to undertake a pilot study to ascertain whether the locations of the fortifications could be identified with more confidence. I am privileged to be able to work with MWP on this project.
The area for the pilot study is east of the City, the fortifications which stretched from Wapping on the Thames, northwards to Shoreditch, an area defined by the City of London’s Court of Common Council resolution dated 23rd February 1643:
“That a small Fort conteyning one bulwarke and halfe and a battery in the rear of the flanke to be made at Gravel [Wapping] lane end. A hornworke with two flankers to be placed at Whitechapell windmills. One redoubt with two flankers betwixt Whitechapell Church and Shoreditch. Two redoubts with flankers neere Shoreditch Church with battery.”
The fortifications are also detailed in a comprehensive eyewitness account written in May 1643 by a Scottish traveller, William Lithgow.
The key breakthrough was the discovery of a map produced in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although this ‘Great Fire map’ is of no great consequence in itself, between 1666 and 1680, someone added a sketch line showing the Lines of Communication, as the fortifications became known, to the east and north of the City. As the lines were used as a physical definition of London’s monetary liabilities during the latter years of the 17th century, it is presumed that the annotator was providing a visual aid for tax purposes. This map demonstrated the wide difference between the lines visible following the Great Fire and those Vertue depicted.
Overall, MWP’s study has radically revised the location of the forts and the lines, and has also identified archaeological evidence for several of them. But perhaps the most striking finding concerns the location of the fort in Whitechapel, where traditional thinking places it close to the Royal London Hospital. However, the location stated in the City Orders was for “A hornworke with two flankers be placed at Whitechappell windmills.” 17th century Whitechapel was a linear suburb between Aldgate and modern Fieldgate Street / Greatorex Street (and not the area surrounding the ‘modern’ Whitechapel station) . The 1658 Faithorne and Newcourt map also places the fort closer to Aldgate, straddling the main road, its southern flank standing roughly on the site of the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry on Whitechapel High Street (which was also the site of the windmill ). John Rocque’s 1747 map also depicts irregular boundaries, probably reflecting vestiges of the fort.
So where does this leave the site known as Whitechapel Mount? There was certainly something substantial on this site, but this wasn’t the 1643 fort. The answer could be found in the events of the second half of 1647 when the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax occupied London. In August 1647, Fairfax ordered the slighting of the London’s fortifications, but laid the foundations of “three citadels to bridle the city”. In the background of his 1647 Long View of London from Bankside, Hollar included a fort on the future site of the Royal London Hospital, and so it is concluded that the fort at the Royal London Hospital is one of these three citadels. This citadel was noted by Christopher Wren in 1673, and its remains would later become a well-known local landmark.