THE ANCIENT GATES OF OLD LONDON

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Old London Map c1572.  Franz Hogenberg

And so Dear Reader, we are going to take a break from murderous queens, scheming duchesses,  bad kings, good kings, missing royal children and silly bishops.  We are going to take a look at London’s Old Gates.  Where were they positioned, how many were there, and what become of them?  Part of the old Roman and Medieval London Wall they were once the only exits and entrances into old London, unless of course you were leaving or arriving via old London Bridge although there were smaller posterns here and there for pedestrians.  How did they they manage to survive and contain what would appear was  an unstoppable ever growing population? Well up until the late 16th century as can be seen by the map above late medieval London was still pretty much contained by its old walls but by the mid 18th century the Gates were destroyed in order to facilitate the widening of roads etc.,  Ah …. I understand it had to be but still, it makes the heart weep a little to think of these grand old Gates totally and utterly destroyed.  

There were seven gates – in no particular order….

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Moor Gate.  Medieval.    Originally a small postern gate.    This was demolished in 1415 and Thomas Falconer, mayor,   caused London Wall to be breached near Coleman Street and a new postern to be  built to allow pedestrians to ‘walk by causeways out to the hamlets of Isledon (Islington) and Hoxteth (1).  Repaired in 1472 by William Hampton,  fishmonger and mayor,  the postern  was enlarged,  and  made higher so that the trained bands could march through with their pikes upright (2).  This was  after there were a couple of instances of eyes getting poked out – I made this last bit up but you never know!.     In June 1483  Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III  probably went through the Moor Gate to review his northern troops after their arrival and when they were encamped in the open fields between Moorfields and Holywell Priory (3).   After it was demolished in 1762 the stones were used to prevent London Bridge been washed away by the tide.

Stood approximately near the junction of Coleman Street and London Wall.

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Moorgate c1483.  From the Copperplate map.  Drawn by Julian Rowe.  Illustration from Richard III The Road to Bosworth.  P W Hammond & Anne F Sutton

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ALDERSGATE – Roman.   Probably linked with Watling Street.  In 1335 it was resolved that the gate should be covered with lead and, thoughtfully,  a small house made under it for the gatekeeper (4).  Stow explains how the gate was named NOT after the Eldarne (Elder?) trees ‘growing there abundantly‘  but for the very  ‘antiquity of the gate itself, as being one of the first four gates of the city, and serving for the northern parts,  as Aldgate for the east, which two gates, being both old gates, are for difference sake called the one Aldgate, and the other Aldersgate’.! (5). However its suggested elsewhere the name is Saxon and means Gate of Ealdred (6).  You can make your own mind up about that one.   In Stow’s time Aldersgate was one of the largest gates containing divers large rooms and lodgings‘ with one floor being paved with ‘stone or tile‘.   John Day a famous  stationer and printer from Stow’s  time had living accommodation within the gate.

Situated opposite No.62 Aldersgate Street. 

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ALDGATE – Roman.  Not to be confused with Aldersgate above – keep up Dear Reader, keep up! – known as Ealdgate by the Saxons for it was ancient even in their day.  It had two pairs of gates and two portcullis, which would later prove to come in handy (see below).  Geoffrey Chaucer leased the room above the Gate between 1374 and 1385.  In Stow’s time only one of these two gates survived although the hooks still remained.   This grand old lady came into play during the Wars of the Roses and no doubt probably got a bit bashed about.  I will here have to divert  briefly a little from the actual gate….  In 1471 Thomas the Bastard of Falconbridge aka Thomas Neville advanced upon London.  Reaching Southwark he demanded to be allowed to bring his men into the city.  This was refused (obviously).  In response Neville put Southwark to the torch.  He then begun a three pronged attack on London including one on our Aldgate.  I’ll let Stow tell the rest of the story – he does it so well…

‘…the rebels being denied passage through the city that way set upon Aldgate,  Bishopsgate,  Cripplegate,  Aldersgate,  London Bridge and along the river of Thames, shooting arrows and guns into the city, fired the suburbs and burnt more than three score houses. And further on Sunday the 11th of May,  5000 of them assaulting Aldgate, won the bulwarks, and entered the city but the portcullis being let down,  such as had entered were slain and Robert Bassett alderman of Aldgate ward, with the Recorder, commanded in the name of God to draw up the portcullis which being done,  they issued out and with sharp shot and fierce fight put back the enemy so far as Saint Botolph’s church by which time the Earl Rivers and Lieutenant of the Tower was come with a fresh company which joining together discomfited the  rebels and put them to flight …. Thus much for Aldgate’ (7). Phew!  

After demolition this doughty old gate was re-erected at Bethnal Green for a while.  

Stood approximately at  the corner of Aldgate and  Duke’s Place.

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CRIPPLEGATE – Roman.  Possibly begun life as a postern.   Origin of name unknown.  Maybe from a regular meeting place of ‘cripples’ begging there or perhaps from the Anglo Saxon word crepel meaning an underground passage.   Stow wrote he had read that after the body of King Edmund the Martyr being brought to London in 1010,  and entering  through the gate,  ‘miracles were wrought as some of the lame to go upright,  praising God‘.   In 14th century room over gate used as a prison.  During the Wars of the RosesHenry the six and Margaret of Anjou arrived at Cripplegate after their victory over Warwick the Kingmaker at Saint Albans in 1461. Pro Yorkist citizens promised him food as long as they kept out of the city but just as the wagons were rolling through the news came that Warwick and Edward,  later Edward IV were about to re-enter London. The wagons were called back and the Lancastrians had to retire hungry to the north’ (8)

Rebuilt in 1491. After being demolished in 1760 the materials were sold to a Mr Blagden, a carpenter of Coleman Street for £91..

Stood approximately at the junction of Wood Street and St. Alphage Gardens

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NEWGATE.  As its name implies not one of the oldest gates but even so possibly in existence since 857 although Stow stated built in the time of Henry Ist c.1068-1135.   First mentioned as a prison in 1188.  In 1218 in ruinous condition.   Henry III wrote to his  Sheriffs of London demanding they rebuild the gate ‘for the safekeeping of his prisoners’.  Rebuilt again in the 15th century.  Rebuilt  after being destroyed by fire in 1555, 1628 and the Great Fire of London.  What a dolorous place – forever linked with Newgate Prison.  

Stood approximately at the junction of Newgate and the Old Bailey.

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LUDGATE.  Traditionally said to have been built by King Lud, described as a Briton, in 66bc… maybe, maybe.     Roman connections and  led to a Roman burial ground in the area now known as Fleet Street.  Rebuilt 1215 using the stones from the Jewish peoples houses that were destroyed by the barons who were in opposition to King John.   Yet another gate used as a prison.  Stephen Forster, fishmonger and later Lord Mayor of London in 1454 was imprisoned there as a boy for debt.  In 1463 with the input of  Stephen’s widow, Dame Agnes,  improvements were made to enlarge and improve the prison including having lodgings and water ‘free without charge’.  Stow writes of a plaque that was once fixed there inscribed ‘graven in copper‘  –

Devout souls that pass this way

For Stephen Forster, late mayor, heartily pray

And Dame Agnes his spouse to God consecrate,

That of pity this house made for Londoners in Ludgate

So that for lodging and water prisoners nought here pay,

As their keepers shall all answer at dreadful doomsday.’

Amen to that..and Bravo to Stephen Forster and his good wife Agnes! 

Rebuilt once more in 1586 and repaired after the Great Fire of London 1661.

This gate stood opposite St Martin’s Church.  

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Bishops’s Mitre at the junction between Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street
 

BISHOPS GATE – Stow speculated built by a Bishop of London.  If this is so, this Bishop’s name so long dead is now forgotten.  Its a great shame for his name should ever be remembered for the ease he generously gave to Londoners in enabling them from making what was a very long and winding journey for those wishing to travel north east.    Prior to this the intrepid traveller’s journey would have entailed passing out through Aldgate, turning east towards Mile’s End, then turning left to Bethenhall Green (Bethnal Green), Cambridge Heath and then north or east depending upon the destination.  The alternative was torturous and convoluted via Aldersgate street towards Isledon (Islington) signposted ‘ by a cross of stone on the right hand, set up for a mark by the north end of Golding Lane, to turn Eastwood through a long street, and till this day called Alder Street to another cross standing, where now a Smith’s Forge is placed,  by Sewers-ditch (Shoreditch?) church, and then to turn again north towards Tottenham, Enfield, Waltham etc’…what happened if the Smith had upped and left taking his Forge with him is anyones guess.  

Edward V, one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ would have entered London through Bishops Gate escorted by the Duke of Gloucester, after King Richard III May 1483.  

Stood opposite Camomile Street.

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Bishopsgate.  c1483.  From the Copperplate map.  Drawn by Julian Rowe.  Illustration from Richard III The Road to Bosworth.  P W Hammond & Anne F Sutton

And here endeth our brief trip around the Old Gates of London.  Much more can be found online for those that wish to find out more.  

1) A History of London p.128.  Stephen Inwood.

2)  The London Encyclopaedia  p.542.Edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert 

3) Richard III The Road to Bosworth p.117 P W Hammond and Anne F Sutton

4) The London Encyclopaedia  p.13.Edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert 

5) A Survey of London 1598 p50.  John Stowe

6) Ibid p.48

7) The London Encyclopaedia  p.13.Edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert 

8) Ibid p.217

If you have enjoyed this post you might like :

OLD LONDON BRIDGE, A MEDIEVAL WONDER!

LONDON’S LOST AND FORGOTTEN RIVERS

THE PRIORY OF ST JOHNS CLERKENWELL AND A VISIT BY RICHARD III

CROSSRAIL – PORTAL INTO MEDIEVAL LONDON

CLATTERN BRIDGE, A MEDIEVAL BRIDGE, KINGSTON UPON THAMES

3 thoughts on “THE ANCIENT GATES OF OLD LONDON

  1. Another excellent and informative post. I had reason to research Moorgate for my work in progress, and am relieved that you confirm my findings! I can now relax, knowing I’ve described it correctly. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is amazing! Not had time to read it properly yet but am looking forward to a quiet hour with a cuppa (and a biccy!) this afternoon… MANY thanks.

    Like

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