This paper was originally presented in partial fulfilment of the Diploma in History, undertaken at the Centre for Extra Mural Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London. The author has subsequently written several articles about the defences together with a social and economic history of London's Civil War defences (the latter is currently awaiting publication) and is currently investigating Tower Hamlets during the Civil War Period as part of an undergraduate degree course in History, again at Birkbeck.

If you have any information about Tower Hamlets during the Civil War period, you can contact the author on:

The London Hospital, Whitechapel, of the 1990s is still dominated by the original hospital building which dates from the mid-eighteenth century. One of the earliest views of this hospital is the engraving by Chatelain and W. H. Toms, dated 1753 [1]. This view, looking south eastwards, shows not only Boulton Mainwaring's hospital building (Mainwaring was the Surveyor of the London Hospital and a Governor of the London Hospital Charity), but also the north east corner of a small hillock known as the Whitechapel Mount.

But what were the origins of the Whitechapel Mount ? The views [2] of the Mount show it to be quite substantial, higher than the hospital building itself (although the illustrated height may be an exaggeration) planted with trees, and with a small building upon its summit.

Upon first inspection little would appear to be known about the Mount. One of the few available works on the hospital claims that "The Mount was a saxon earthwork, built to defend London" [3], although the lack of supporting evidence would suggest that this claim is erroneous. However, there is some evidence to suggest that the Mount may have been, in part at least, a natural mound which was known as the Mount at least as far back as Cade's Rebellion of the mid-Fifteenth century, as mentioned in Stow's Annals "an encampment of the Commons near the Mount at Mile End" [4].

The Mount is not mentioned again until some two hundred years after Cade (Stow made no mention of the Mount in his Survey of 1598) when, during the mid-seventeenth century, Britain was plunged into Civil War.

London was of vital importance to both sides during the Civil Wars, and by fleeing the capital in January 1642, Charles I placed his cause at a distinct disadvantage. Parliament was in no doubt that the Royalists would attempt to win back London and it was the threat of this, by military action, which led Parliament, in August 1642, to issue 'Directions for the Defence of London'. This contained provision for the fortification of the capital and specified troops for its defence [5].

Little more was progressed with the fortifications until around the time of the Battle of Edgehill (23 October 1642) when instructions were issued to:

"take a speedy cause to put the City into a posture of defence, to resist and oppose all such force, to fortifie all the passages into same, suburbs and places adjoining whether the same be within the said City and Libertie;" [6]

This initial phase of fortification mainly took the form of blocking streets with barriers or suspending chains across them to prevent the passage of cavalry and the building of guardhouses [7]. Subsequent orders were issued to build some small earthworks (probably trenches and ramparts) near the main roads out of London and, in addition, there is archaeological evidence to suggest that the plans for the defence of London included the use of the existing Medieval fortifications [8].

The Royalist advance on London which commenced following Edgehill was finally halted in November 1642 at Turnham Green, with the Royalists falling back on Oxford which became the Cavalier capital for the next four years. One effect of this Royalist threat was to hurry on the fortification of London, and in December 1642 John Evelyn visited London and viewed the "celebrated line of communication" [9].

What is not clear, however, is just how developed were the defences by the end of 1642. It was not until March 1643 that Parliament ordered the building of a circuit of defences and one can only presume that the defences built prior to Spring 1643 were limited and hastily constructed as a result of the threat of immediate attack following Edgehill. Indeed, N. G. Brett-James argued for "two distinct fortifications of London, one in 1642 and the other in 1643" [10].

One can only guess as to the exact Royalist strategy for 1643, although a 'three-pronged' attack on London seems likely to have been favoured (the 'prongs' being one from the north east, one from the direction of Oxford and the third from the south-west - Royalist successes in Yorkshire, the West Country and the South Midlands/Thames Valley during the first half of 1643 add weight to this assumption). However, at least one Royalist doubted the ability of the king's armies to mount such an attack. In his The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (written following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and first published in 1702), Edward, Earl of Clarendon (then Edward Hyde) wrote:

"to draw a line about the city of London and Westminster, and to fortify it, lest the King's forces might break in upon them; which made them suspect the state of their [Parliament] affairs to be worse than in truth it was."[11]

Despite the calls for peace (in early 1643, Parliament dispatched terms of peace to the King) both the Common Council and Parliament felt obliged to take steps to further protect London.

On 23 February 1643, an Act of Common Council was passed ordering the construction of defences including "A hornworke with two flankers be placed at Whitechappell windmills" [12]. Parliament approved this scheme on 7 March:

"It is this day ordered by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, that the Lord Mayor and Citizens of the City of London, for the better securing and safety of the said City, Suburbs, Parliament and City of Westminster and Borough of Southwark, shall have power to entrench and stop all such highways and byways leading into the said City, as well as within as without the Liberties, as they shall see cause; and shall also have full power and authority, according to their discretion, to fortify and intrench the places afirsaid with such Outworks and in such Places as they shall think meet"; [13].

The area which was to be included within these fortifications was larger than the area then called 'London', i.e. that covered by the 'Bills of Mortality' and much of this area was probably included for no more reason than strategic grounds. Even so, this area was the largest definition of London made to date.

With Parliament approval work could commence, and on 13 March 1643, the Venetian Secretary in England, Gerolamo Agostini, wrote to the Doge and Senate noting:

"They have sent to Holland for engineers and already thay have begun to work with great energy and a large number of navvies." [14]

A week later, Agostini reported:

"With incredible cost and effort they are proceeding with the fortifications of this city, and they do not even cease work on Sunday, which is so strictly observed by the Puritans". [15]

At any one time as many as 20,000 would be labouring on the fortifications without pay [16]. The Livery Companies would compete with one another to see who would furnish the largest labour force. For instance, on successive days during May and June 1643, the Butchers, Glovers, Porters, Shoemakers, Taylors, Vintners and Weavers worked on the fortifications. The Weavers furnished no less than 9,000 workers on a single day, marching to work with drums beating and banners streaming [17]. On 3 May:

"great numbers of men, women and young children ... went from the city and suburbs of London, with baskets, spades and such like instruments, for digging of trenches and casting up breastworks from one fort to another, round about the city and suburbs thereof." [18]

Even the government of the City, the Common Council, were involved, and on 8 May:

"there went a great company of the Common Councell and divers other chiefe men of the Citty, with the greatest part of the Trained Bands [London's Militia], that layed down their armes, marched out with spades, shovells, pickaxes and such like tools on their shoulders, into the fields." [19]

By 15 May, the Venetian Secretary was able to report that the forts were completed [20]. During April, William Lithgow, a Scottish merchant and traveller, toured the defences during their construction (walking the 18 mile circuit, commencing at Wapping, in a single day) describing all the forts, including the one at Whitechapel.

"Advancing thence along the trench dyke (for all the trenches are deep ditched about) which runneth through Wappine fields to the further end of White-chappell, a great way without Aldgate, and on the road-way to Essex; I saw a nine-angled fort, only pallosaded and single ditched, and planted with seven pieces of brazen ordonance, and a court du guard, composed of timber, and thatched with tyle-stone, as all the rest are" [21].

Lithgow described the defences as "erected of turffe, sand, watles, and earthen work" [22]. The actual dimensions of the works are unknown, although Lieutenant-Colonel W.G. Ross, R.E., gives a typical dimension of civil war fortification ditches to be between 2.5 and 4.5 metres across and 2 metres deep, and the supporting dike of between 2 and 2.5 metres high [23]. Recent archaeological evidence from a site just to the south of the site of the Whitechapel Mount gives the dimensions of the ditch as "5.5m wide and 1.40m deep" [24]. This compares with other excavated civil war ditches such as Exeter (3 metres wide and 2 metres deep), Gloucester (5.5 metres wide and 2.3 metres deep), and Taunton (5 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep) [25].

It was generally felt that masonry defences would not stand up to seventeenth century artillery and so such defences were constructed of earth so that they might be canon-proof, with the ability to absorb shot and not splinter. However, recent archaeological evidence from Chester suggests that medieval defences could absorb a number of hits from cannon of varying calibre and from differing ranges [26]. Nevertheless, earth-works would be more proof against the large guns. There is also evidence to support the use of masonry in the construction of at least two of the forts surrounding London for in 1646:

"in accordance with an Act of Common Council of 9 Feby. we do certify that there is owing to John Young, freemason, £3 for his attendance and employment in overseeing the stonework at the breach by the fort at Gray's Inn-lane, and at the breach near Tyburn-road which were done in Sept. and Oct. 1644, being in full for that service." [27]

It was normal for the defensive ditches to be dry and not water filled. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that some of the ditches may have been, at least in part, water filled. The British Library has a copy of G. Vertue's 1738 Plan of the City of London as fortified by Order of Parliament in the years 1642 and 1643 to which some notes have been added by Cromwell Mortimer M.D. ,and dated 1746. One note says "The green were dry ditches. The blue were watery ditches" [28]. Unfortunately, any such colouring has long since faded from the map. However, the shading does remain, and various sections are shaded in different fashions. The section from the Thames to "A Bulwark and half on the Hill at the North-end of Gravel Lane" [29], is shaded in the same way as the Thames itself. When a section of the ditch just to the south of the site of Whitechapel Mount was excavated in 1992-1994, there was enough environmental data to support the fact that the lower part of the ditch was wet [30]. Its width of 5.5 metres makes this too wide to have been a drainage ditch.

The Civil Wars brought much economic disruption to the country and, in many ways, London suffered more than most. Not only did it have to pay for the majority of the Parliamentary war effort, its trade with other areas of the country and abroad were seriously restricted. The construction and maintenance of the defences placed additional economic strain upon the capital. The cost of this was enormous, perhaps only London could have afforded it. The City had to advance £12,000 out of its own funds between March and July 1643, and in September 1643 Parliament passed an Ordinance which made the City responsible for the defences to the sum of £5,482 per month [31]. Lithgow estimated the costs for maintaining the defences and suggesting where the funds might come from.

"And now sorest, in the daily maintaining of commanders and forces unto them, with ammunition and all things necessarie both for the forts and souldiers. But it is no matter; let Guildhall pay for all; for there lyeth the treasurie and weekly collections of the citie, which amounteth to twelve thousand pound starling a week, besides the countrey about; and moreover the customes, the royall rents, the episcopall revenues, the plundring of malignants, and all lye there" [32].

Although Lithgow has a tendency to exaggerate (he has been named "Lying Lithgow" by certain of his contemporaries [33]), there is no doubt that the costs involved in the construction and maintaining the defences was considerable.

Throughout the Spring of 1643, trade would be disrupted as work continued on the defences. Such was the organisation that individual trades would work on particular days, thus ensuring that nobody would benefit by the absence of a competitor. During the autumn of 1642, Parliament had ordered that shops should shut so that traders "may with greater diligence attend the defence" [34] of London. Lithgow lists the individual trades which worked upon the defences during the May of that year. These included 8,000 tailors, a number of watermen (amounting to 7,000 tuggers), 5,000 shoemakers, 5,000 cordwainers, 3,000 porters, 1,000 oyster-wives and 3,000 from the feltmakers, fishmongers and coopers [35].

Undoubtedly, the traders and the merchants felt it important that their livelihoods were protected, but such was the disruption that their attendance on the fortifications caused to trade, that many of them petitioned Parliament and the Common Council [36].

Communication to and from London was reduced by the blocking of every street in and out of the capital

"on the north side the river except five, vizt - the way from St. James towards Charing Crosse, the Upper end of Saint Giles in Holborne, the further end of St. Johns Street towards Islington, Shoreditch Church and Whitechappele" [37].

On the south side of the river, according to Vertue's 1738 map, only the Newington and Deptford Roads remained open [38].

Not only did those who laboured upon the defences have to do so without pay and had to suffer a loss of trade as a result of their attendance, they were also liable for the upkeep of the defences themselves at a rate of "2d in the pound or 6d for houses valued at £5 per annum" [39]. Even those who supplied materials for the construction of the defences were disadvantaged. For instance, in March 1646, the Committee of Fortifications for the City of London informed the Committee of Arrears that

"Owing to Bevis Piggott, carpenter, £150 for timber, materials, and workmanship...., Owing to Henry Glydd, carpenter, £118 for timber, materials, and workmanship in building courts-of-guard at Tuttle fort and in Wapping-street...., Owing to John Freeman, merchant, £33.4s for fir timber...., Owing to Edw. Byworth £35 for carrying 94 pieces of ordnance to the several forts about London." [40]

The construction of the defences involved the destruction of all the buildings which stood in the path of, or adjacent to, the defences, and those against the outside of the Medieval walls. The fortifications damaged surrounding farm land (there are also instances where land was deliberately flooded as part of the defences) and those whose livelihoods were dependent upon agriculture faced hardship. The forts and other defences covered cultivated land, whilst in other areas, access to farm land and buildings (including at least two windmills, possibly including the one at Whitechapel) was restricted. The building and facing of ramparts required turf and the extensive stripping of this from surrounding grazing land rendered it unusable for years afterwards [41].

Before the outbreak of the civil war, land in the Whitechapel area was leased to Miles Brand at an annual rent of £16. Brand repaired Whitechapel Mill and built a number of tenements, but the construction of the fort and other earthworks had necessitated the demolition of these houses and the mill was "made uselesse". The resulting losses were estimated by Brand to be £400. Despite his situation, his landlord brought an action against him for unpaid rent [42].

The construction of the defences attracted a great deal of attention. Some of this attention was from curious onlookers, such as John Evelyn, whilst others were not quite so innocent. John Webb, the Deputy Surveyor of Works, took particulars of the forts and sent them to the king at Oxford [43], whilst Sir Kenelm Digby was arrested at Mile End whilst observing the construction [44].

Although the primary role of the Lines of Communication as the defences were known, was for the outward defence of London, the Venetian Secretary noted on 27 March 1643:

"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 occasions" [45].

There were occasions of unrest within London throughout the period, varying from calls for peace and complaints against conditions brought about by the war [46], to (unsuccessful) Royalist Plots, the most famous of which was in May 1643 and has become known as 'Waller's Plot' after the poet and MP, Edmund Waller [47]. The conspirators resolved:

"To seize upon the Outworks, Forts, Tower of London, Magazines, Gates and other Places of Importance in the City." [48]

The defences were manned by the London Trained Bands and a 1644 pamphlet outlines the arrangements.

"All the Companies of each several regiments more than six companies in a regiment are to be taken off for the guard of the City as by order given, companies to guard the workes and forts upon the north side of the river, two Companies to guard the forts upon the South River, one company for Westminster. The other two are appointed for the guard of the City viz: one company at the Exchange, the other halfe company at Tower Hill, the other halfe at Paules". [49]

The need for the Trained Bands to serve elsewhere led to the suggestion that the fortifications should be manned by volunteers and those who were unable to render full time military service due to business commitments.

The summer of 1643 was the high-water mark of the Royalist war effort and subsequent set-backs in both the north and west reduced the Royalist threat upon London. The entry of Scotland into the war on the side of Parliament, eventually resulting in the loss of Royalist control of most of the north of England, virtually cancelled any threat from the north. Despite some success in the west during the summer and autumn of 1644, Charles I was no longer in a position to mount a major offensive upon London.

This didn't mean, however, that London was completely safe as there was always the possibility of internal unrest, and even after his defeat at Naseby on 14 June, 1645, the king was still capable of mounting raids such as the one against Huntingdon, Cromwell's birthplace, on 24 August 1645 [50].

However, the Royalists never mounted an attack on London and it is doubtful whether the artillery emplaced within the defences were ever fired in anger. One occasion when some of this artillery was fired, in salute, was during the state funeral of the Earl of Essex, commander-in-chief of Parliament's forces, on 22 October 1646 when, after seven in the evening, a signal was given to the fort in Southwark to fire a great cannon. This was the signal for the next fort, at Vauxhall, to do likewise and so on around the Lines of Communication. This ritual was performed three times [51].

Only once did an army march upon London's defences, but this was no Royalist army nor that of a foreign power. The army in question was the New Model Army, Britain's first professional force, created by a Parliamentary Ordinance of 17 February 1645, and that which inflicted the crushing defeats upon the Royalists in 1645 and 1646.

However successful the army, it still required to be paid. With the war virtually over, Parliament was petitioned for the disbandment of the New Model, largely because of the financial burden it placed upon the eastern counties. Parliament's inability or unwillingness to pay the army led to rifts between Parliament and the New Model. Increased radicalism within the ranks in response to the calls of disbandment widened these rifts which were further compounded by religious differences, Parliament and the City being largely Presbyterian and the army, Independent.

Charles I, who had surrendered himself to the Scots on 5 May 1646, now found himself as a bargaining piece. Handed over to Parliament on 30 January 1647 in return for arrears of pay to the Scots army, he was captured by the New Model on 4 June 1647.

The New Model Army marched upon London in July 1647 and attempts by Parliament to raise a force in opposition met with little success. Political divisions within the City and the traditional animosity between the City and Southwark meant that the Army under General Fairfax did not have to test the defences, he was able to enter London on 6 August 1647 by way of Southwark, which had surrendered itself early on that morning.

The army's entry was a triumphant parade. The forts not already occupied by the New Model were surrendered to Fairfax and duly occupied. On 19 September, Giovanni Battista Nani, Venetian Ambassador in France reported

"The army has presented a demand to parliament for the demolition of the fortifications of London, on the pretext that it is a burden on the people to support so large a garrison. The Lower House agreed at once although Fairfax's object is known to be the weakening of the city and to pave the way for disarming the citizens with less disturbance and to make it easy for him to enter the city and occupy it whenever he wishes." [52]

Parliament passed the necessary Ordinance to enable the Trained Bands to pull down the guardhouses and to sell the timber. Citizens were invited to send their servants to assist with the task. The guns were taken away to the Tower and the demolition work would appear to have commenced by the end of September. Just how much demolition and 'slighting' was undertaken is unclear, probably not complete levelling but the destruction to the emplacements and parapets, enough to ensure that any restoration would involve a great deal of new construction and labour [53]. On 22 October 1647 the Venetian Ambassador noted

"Gen. Fairfax who, now the fortifications of London are demolished, is laying the foundations of three forts in different places which will be three citadels too bridle the city and all the people." [54]

Just where these three forts were built is unknown and it is not definite whether they were built at all. Was one of them in the Whitechapel area, guarding the eastern approaches ? London was threatened during the Second Civil War of 1648 when Royalist insurgents seized Bow Bridge on 3 June in the hope that London would rise for the king. They were disappointed and in turn retreated to Colchester.

It is unlikely that Whitechapel Mount received any more attention than was necessary to make it undefendable without the need for reconstruction work. It probably remained, overgrown, as a local curiosity for a number of years.

The Great Fire of London of 1666 destroyed much of the City but before rebuilding could be undertaken there remained the question as to where the debris could be disposed of, that which could not be reused. One source says that much of this rubble was thrown upon the remains of the fort, enlarging it to such an extent that Lysine's Antiquities of Middlesex (1795) says the Mount was 329 feet in length and 182 feet in breadth and stood higher than the London Hospital. [55]

By the eighteenth century, the Mount was an established local landmark, Daniel Defoe mentioned it in his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain of 1724-6 [56]. A contemporary illustration dating from the time of the construction of the hospital shows several paths leading towards the summit of the mount and a number of visitors enjoying what must have been quite extensive views from the summit. In 1746, Cromwell Mortimer noted that the work at Whitechapel Mount could still be seen [57].

In 1740, a meeting took place at the Feathers Tavern, Cheapside, between seven gentlemen led by John Harrison, a 22 year old surgeon. The upshot of this meeting was the founding of the London Hospital, which was established in Featherstone Street, Moorfields. The following year, the London Infirmary, as it was then called, moved to Prescott Street near the Minories, outside the boundary of the City and in a disreputable district.

Within seven years, the Hospital's committee was looking for larger premises or a site upon which a new hospital could be built and in June 1748, Boulton Mainwaring reported

"The only Piece of Ground apprehended suitable for this occasion is situate near the River and commonly known as White Chapel Mount and the Mount Field." [58]

The site was in the possession of a Mr. Worrall who held a lease from the City of London for sixty years (of which fifty-three were still to run). He paid a ground rent of £26 per annum and said that he would be prepared to part with his interest in it for £750 although Mainwaring "apprehended that Mr. Worrall would take £600" [59]. It later came to light that the City of London was in possession of this land for a period of five hundred years (four hundred and forty were still to run) from Lady Wentworth. Although this appeared to be an attractive proposition, the committee informed Mainwaring to look for alternative sites. It has been suggested that at this time the hospital could not afford the asking price.

During the next eighteen months, various sites were looked at but none were deemed suitable and so, in September 1749, they contacted Mr. Worrall only to find that he had increased his price. However, the committee had no alternative and recommended

"that Mr Samuel Worrall be given £800 for his Term of the piece of ground and Improvements thereon which he holds of the City of London, situate at and near the White Chapel Mount, subject to the rent of £26 paid by him to the City for the same, provided that the City should, after the expiration of the term granted to Mr Worrall, grant this Charity the remainder of their term in the said Premises." [60]

With the addition of a promise that Mr. Worrall's son would be made a life governor of the hospital, Worrall accepted the offer and the committee then petitioned the Lord Mayor of London. The City agreed a reduced rent of £15 per annum but would not part with the land on a long lease.

The law, however, did not recognise the governors as a corporate body and so they were unable to take out a new lease or have one assigned to them. This obstacle was overcome through the nomination of six governors who would hold the land in trust on behalf of the charity. A royal charter was granted to the hospital in 1758.

Not all the land now leased by the committee was to be used for the hospital, Mr Worrall's tenants, for example, were to remain, and new tenants sought to replace those who moved on. Mrs. Sarah Parsons (was this the same Mrs. Parsons who owned the Ale House in Prescott Street ?) applied for the north-eastern corner of the hospital land for the purposes of building a public house - would this be the 'London Hospital Tavern' ?

There was the additional problem of trespass on and thieving from the hospital site

"It appearing that the Fences round White Chapel Mount have been frequently Broken down and the Pales carried away." [61]

By the time that the building work could commence, there were insufficient resources to fund the complete project (despite some quite vigorous fund raising and donations from the hospital's annual festivals - the festival of 1752 has been described as "an outstanding success" [62]). Boulton Mainwaring's design was agreed upon and it was decided to proceed with the laying of the foundations and the building of the shell of the main block up to the first floor at a cost of at least £5,000 [63].

The Gentleman's Magazine reported that on 11 June 1752:

"The first stone was laid for the foundations of the new London hospital near White-chapel Mount in the presence of the Duke of Bedford, Sir Peter Warren and divers other persons of distinction, governors." [64]

Building work was seasonal, being suspended in the autumn to recommence the following spring. Financing the building work was always a great challenge to the committee, costs rising from £1,146 in 1742 to £3,151 in 1759. Shortly after its completion (on 5 December 1759 it was announced "that the hospital is now completely finished" [65]), the governors issued their annual report - the new hospital had cost £18,500 [66]. What was actually finished, however, was the central block (which had been partially opened in 1757) [67] - the west wing was not added until 1778.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the lease of the Mount to the hospital had expired and the City had produced plans for building upon and behind it. Following the development of the East and West India Docks and accompanying roads, the land had increased in value and the City was keen to exploit its assets. This naturally dismayed the governors who sent Sir William Blizard and Thomas Blizard to present the hospital's case to the Committee of City lands. In this they were remarkably successful

"The Committee for letting the City Lands will meet at Guildhall on Wednesday the 25th day of March instant at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, to receive Proposals for the purchase of, and carrying away, within a time to be limited, the earth, rubbish, and soil composing Whitechapel Mount". [68]

It was agreed that the City would, at its own expense, take down the Mount and cart it away.

"A report was widely spread that the ruins from the Fire of London were thrown over a deep pit where the bodies of persons that had died of the plague in 1665 were thrown, and great danger was apprehended from the removal of the Mount in 1807. Many persons expected to find articles of value among the ruins from the fire. However, neither the remains of dead bodies nor any objects of interest or value were found during the removal of the Mount, though the earth thrown into the hundreds of carts that were daily employed for many weeks was carefully examined." [69]

So after 170 years, Whitechapel Mount was gone, its location marked by the streets which were built upon the site, Mount Place, Mount Terrace and Mount Street. Writing in 1962, A. E. Clark-Kennedy noted

"The houses in one of these rows, Mount Terrace, still stand, supporting the City Arms on their south walls. West Mount Street disappeared with the building of the out-patients' department in 1903, but vestiges of the Old Mount, once such a familiar feature of the East London scene, are still to be traced in the slightly rising ground east of the north end of New Road and in Mount Terrace". [70]

Considering the size of the Lines of Communication (eleven miles in length) there is only one memorial to their existence, a plaque on the wall of the Police station in Borough High Street. The rapid expansion of London during the hundred years following their construction erased the majority of the sites In 1746, Cromwell Mortimer noted traces of just eight of the original twenty-three forts.

Although contemporary maps showed the location of various sites (John Rocque's map of 1746 shows clearly the sites of the forts at Bedford House, Hyde Park Corner and St. Georges Fields in addition to Whitechapel Mount [71]), the first known map of the Lines of Communication did not appear until 1720 when William Stukeley included a plan showing fifteen roughly drawn forts and other sites in his British Coins [72]. The most well known map is George Vertue's plan of the defences which was published in 1738 which showed the Lines of Communication against a map of London which probably dates later than the 1640s. Since then, a number of historians have studied and/or mapped the Lines of Communication; Colonel W. G. Ross in 1887, N. G. Brett-James in 1928, Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Leslie in 1930, David Sturdy in 1975 and most recently, Victor Smith and Peter Kelsey in 1996.

In 1975, David Sturdy wrote

"I am sure that at least once every year for the last century and a half a section across the Ditch has been laid open. Not one has been sketched and they are gone for ever." [73]

The only major archaeological investigation of the defences was that undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeological Services on the Whitechapel site in 1992 and 1994. However, in May 1995 geotechnical prospecting has located what is thought to be a defensive ditch in Hoxton Square, Hackney [74].

The amount of debris left in the wake of the Great Fire of London must of been great. Was this debris disposed of at the Mount ? The Civil War fort was fairly high but not the two to three storeys as contemporary illustrations of the hospital and the Mount indicate. The slighting in 1647 would have reduced the height but probably not a substantial amount and the fact that it was called 'Whitechapel Mount' could indicate some filling in of the interior of the structure. There is not much doubt that the size of the Mount was increased after 1647, and it is quite possible that the material used to do this was Great Fire debris. However, there is a lack of contemporary or archaeological evidence to support such a claim.

Regardless of their exact location, the Lines of Communication defined London. As William Lithgow wrote:

"From which I may say that London was never truly London till now; for now she sits like a noble lady upon a royall thron, securing all her encroaching pendicles under the wings of a motherly protection; yet these limites were never heretofore granted till the Parliament, for their better safety, confirmed this construction, that (Grand Cayro excepted), I have not seen a larger inveloped compasse within the whole universe." [75]

It has long been debated whether the Lines of Communication could have been defended. London's defensives were amongst the largest urban defensive system in early modern Europe and the Venetian Secretary considered them "most difficult to defend" [76].

Although they were never put to the test, could the defensives have withstood a prolonged siege? If the Royalists had considered a siege, the construction of necessary siege works would have been a massive undertaking and could probably only have been attempted if the Parliamentarian armies had first been defeated in the field. However, if the Royalists had been this victorious in the field, wouldn't Parliament have sued for peace before London was captured?

The other possibility was direct assault. Assault was costly in terms of men and following the number of lives lost in the Royalist storm of Bristol on 26 July 1643, Charles I was reluctant to employ the same tactics again (he refused to storm Gloucester in August 1643, instead opting for a siege which was lifted in 6 September 1643). London would have to be stormed in a number of places at once. Did the Royalists have sufficient troops with which to do this and could the three armies which may have been used in such an attack be successfully co-ordinated? As it turned out, localisation (the refusal of troops to move away from home while there was still a threat from hostile forces, a factor which effected both sides during the wars) was probably the deciding factor which prevented an attack on London.

Although never put to the test, the value of the defences was recognised by many. Would Fairfax had called for their removal so readily if they were not of strategic importance? Following their removal, London faced the possible threat of attack on at least three occasions, by the Royalists in 1648, possibly by the Dutch (who raided the Medway) in 1667 and by the Jacobites in 1745. How would London have stood up to attack on any one of these occasions?

In considering the effort which was put into the construction of the Lines of Communication, the question arises was the Royalist threat that great that the defences needed to be constructed quickly in order to protect the capital? Or was the construction of the defences seen as a way of channelling Londoners' energy away from protesting at the way the war was going and the conditions they were living under?

It was a massive task, and:

"This gigantic work was made possible by unprecedented popular support, ably marshalled, which temporarily united the citizens around one predominant, if limited, rallying cry-the defence of London" [77].

How often since have Londoners been so united ?

That the Lines of Communication were constructed so quickly is a tribute to the Parliamentarian cause, to Lord Mayor Isaac Pennington and the City Government, but most of all, to the men, women and children of London who laboured upon the defences. It is perhaps a fitting memorial that a hospital which protects the health of so many Londoners sits on the site on a structure intended to protect London from a different type of threat, three hundred and fifty years ago.

© Copyright David Flintham 1999