In the 3rd century AD, the Romans built a wall round their city of Londinium to protect it from the attacks of Anglo Saxon sea raiders. The wall incorporated two of the existing walls of the fort and its towers, called ‘Barbican’. (See History of Barbican name.) In the Middle Ages, Cripple Gate was the name given to the gate in the northern wall of the ancient fort, between Wood Street and Fore Street, where London Wall is today. See ‘History’ on the main menu.
The part of the City wall which divided Cripplegate Within from Cripplegate Without extended from a few yards to the east of the bastion in St. Giles’ churchyard to Coleman Street in the east, a distance of about 340 yards. All traffic into and out of the City had to pass through the gates, which served as control points. Each was guarded by 2 serjeants and was locked at night. Murage and other tolls were levied there. Along the walls were bastions or turrets.
In 1244 the brewers replaced the Cripplegate at their own cost to allow easier passage for their wagons. The records of St Giles’ show that there were over seventy brewing establishments in the parish of Cripplegate Without – “without” meaning “outside” (the City wall). Henry III had the gate pulled down in 1267 after London had supported the barons against him. It was later rebuilt. It was used as a warehouse and as a prison.
The last improvement to the city wall was in 1476, when brick battlements were added. But after the accession of Henry Tudor and the end of the Wars of the Roses, the walls ceased to be necessary and gradually fell into disrepair. In 1760 the Cripple Gate was sold to a carpenter in Coleman Street for £91, on condition that he demolished it within six months.
Judging from the remains, it is assumed that the wall was constructed in the following way. A ditch about twelve feet wide and four feet deep was filled with tightly rammed clay and flints, and then covered with a one or two feet of small pieces of ragstone in mortar. On top of this foundation, the wall was built of pieces of Kentish ragstone, squared on the outside, but rough and irregular in the core, embedded in mortar, and strengthened every five feet or so by double or triple layers of red bonding.
The wall was seven or eight feet thick, and probably at least eighteen feet above the level of the water of the ditch which surrounded. This ditch varied from forty to sixty feet in width. The wall was therefore capable of offering substantial assistance to the citizens in defending the City from an attacking force. The ditch, as shown in a map of Ralph Agas published about 1570, is spoken of as flowing freely around the wall, and even in later years Stow commented on the quantity of fish it provided. By the 17th century it was gradually filled up, and in 1613 part of the site of the ditch between the wall and the churchyard of St. Giles was described as a walk.
Houses were built against both sides of the wall, and gradually hid it from view. Over the years, as the houses were rebuilt, the wall was taken down or partly incorporated in the new buildings. The wall has now virtually disappeared, buy some of the wall is still visible today along London Wall and in St Alphage Garden.