Tag Archives: Barbican

Cripplegate Institute and Jewin Crescent

For this week’s post I am back in the Barbican, exploring Cripplegate with another of my father’s photos showing the area in 1947.

The church of St Giles provided a very clear landmark in last week’s photo, but when I first scanned the photo for this week’s post, there were no obvious landmarks or points of reference to help with identification.

Cripplegate

I always look for any building that may still be there today. In the above photo, all the buildings in the foreground have been demolished, apart from one, which looks badly damaged and will also probably be demolished.

There is the paved surface of a street just above where my father was standing.

Many of the buildings in the background do appear damaged, although there are a couple that appear to have minimal if any damage, so could possibly remain today if they were not demolished for the Barbican development.

One building had a rather distinctive design, and also looked in good condition. I have marked this building in the photo below:

Cripplegate

An enlargement from the original photo showing the distinctive features of this building:

Cripplegate

After much checking on Google StreetView, followed up by walking the area, I found the same building. It now has a roof extension, but the external features are identical to those in the 1947 photo. This is the building of the old Cripplegate Institute on the corner of Cripplegate Street and Golden Lane.

Cripplegate

I now needed to track down where my father was standing, and the location of the building in the cleared area. As ever, the Ordnance Survey maps held by the National Library of Scotland provided further evidence.

The following extract is from a post war Ordnance Survey map.

Cripplegate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

St Giles church is shown to the bottom right. The Cripplegate Institute is marked as a Library (it served multiple purposes which I will explain later in the post) towards the top of the map.

In the centre of the map, there is an empty area, with hashed lines for streets. This is the area demolished after the fires and bombing of the war.

There is one building still marked, a rectangle on what was Jewin Crescent, just above the ‘F’ of Fire Station. Could this be the large building in my father’s photo?

Between where my father was standing and the derelict building, there appears to be two streets. The first is easy to see, the second is a little distance back. This second street cannot be Jewin Crescent as it is not up against the derelict building. I therefore suspect that my father was standing at roughly the point marked where my red lines converge in the map extract.

This street, next to where my father was standing, was Edmund Place.

The alignment of the derelict building and the Cripplegate Institute / Library look right (centre arrow) and the arrows at the side show the approximate field of view in the 1947 photo.

I found some more evidence to confirm from the London Metropolitan Archive, Collage collection. In the following photo we can see the same derelict building that appears in my father’s photo, however now we can clearly see the crescent shaped street, and the location of the building at a street junction, exactly as shown in the map extract.

Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0020321CL

It is hard to imagine just how densely built these streets were prior to the destruction of 1940. My father’s photos show large areas of empty space, occupied only by cellars, low walls and the remains of paved streets.

Jewin Crescent was a relatively narrow street with tall buildings on either side. It was originally named simply “The Crescent”, but took on the name jewin Crescent in 1878.

The destruction of 1940 was not the first time that fire had damaged a large area of Cripplegate. On the 19th November 1897, another large fire destroyed much of Cripplegate. The following text is from the start of an article from the London Daily News on the 22nd November 1897 titled “The Terrible Fire – Acres of Ruins – Plans To Relief Sufferers – Four Thousand Persons Out Of Work – Narrow Escape of Firemen”  which gives some idea of the scale of the fire:

“Yesterday crowds of persons from all parts of London  visited the scene of the disastrous fire in the City to view all that remained of the warehouses and factories which were burned out on Friday. The police, who were again on duty in strong force, had the greatest difficulty in keeping the people back from the approaches to the ruined district, and all traffic in Aldersgate Street had to be suspended. It now appears that the thoroughfares affected more or less by the fire are seventeen in number, as follows: Hamsell-street, Well-street, Jewin-street, Jewin-crescent, Redcross-street, Monkwell-street, Edmund=place, Bradford-avenue, Australian-avenue, Nicholl-square, maidenhead-court, Fore-street, Paul’s Alley, Wood-street-square, Falcon-square, Hart-street and Peel-street.

It was on Saturday definitely discovered that the fire broke out at 15, Well-street, in the occupation of Messrs. Lewis and Company, ostrich feather dealers, and not at 30 and 31 Hamsell-street, as at first reported. This mistake is, however, explained by the fact that the rears of these two premises occupied by Messrs. Waller, Brown and Co., mantle manufacturers, and Messrs. Lewis, the former firm carrying on business in the top portions of the two houses. The fire, which it has now been ascertained was undoubtedly caused by an explosion of gas, broke through the premises of the firms in Hamsell-street, and it was in consequence of this that the flames spread with such rapidity along the two streets.

Of course, in some of the above mentioned street only a few of the houses have been touched but Jewin-crescent, Hamsell-street, Well-street, and the greater part of Jewin-street have been wholly destroyed.”

The City Press published a special supplement on the fire, showing the level of destruction across the street. One photo shows Jewin Crescent.

Cripplegate

(reproduced from Grace’s Guide under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike Licence)

If you look in the above photo, there is a building on the right of the street that looks very similar to the building in my father’s 1947 photo, however counting the windows in the 1897 photo, it is not exactly the same, although it appears to be in the right position on Jewin Crescent.

I suspect that it was this building, but rebuilt and modified after the 1897 fire, as I did find a later view of the building, and it is identical to that in my father’s photo.

Cripplegate

Jewin Crescent, London EC1 (Art.IWM ART LD 1202)

The above drawing is by Roland Vivian Pitchforth, one of his works for the War Artists Advisory Committee and is looking west along Jewin Crescent. At the end of the view, on the right of the street is a building that looks identical to that in my father’s 1947 photo.

Both the 1897 photo and wartime print provide a good impression of Jewin Crescent. A narrow, curving street, lined on both sides by tall shops, factories and warehouses. I suspect the building in the 1897 photo was modified or demolished after the fire, and a new building of similar style constructed on the same plot of land, but with changes to the floor layout and windows.

The area where Jewin Crescent and the 1947 building were located is so very different today.

I have marked on the following map extract the approximate locations of Jewin Crescent (red line), Jewin Street (blue line), and the building on Jewin Crescent seen in my father’s photo (orange rectangle), in what are now Thomas More Gardens. The Cripplegate Institute is the orangae circle (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

The following photo shows Thomas More Gardens today. The left part of the 1947 building would have been in the middle of the photo, leading off to the right.

Cripplegate

The same location could hardly be more different. Instead of a densely built, narrow street, which must have been busy with workers and the movement of goods on a work day, Jewin Crescent is now covered by grass, and is a peaceful place surrounded by the buildings of the Barbican estate.

As an aside, a lower level view from around the gardens, provides some interesting perspectives of the Barbican’s architecture. In the following photo, it is clear to see how Gilbert House traverses the lake, held high above the water by a series of (at this distance) surprisingly slender pillars.

Cripplegate

Returning to the building that initially helped me to identify the location, the Cripplegate Institute building is hard to photograph from the south as there is a raised walkway and buildings of the Barbican estate which obscure a full view of the south facing side.

The main part of the building faces onto Golden Lane. The following photo shows the part visible in the 1947 photo, with the main facade on the right.

Cripplegate

The Cripplegate Institute provided a of range educational and cultural services to the residents and workers of the area. A good description of the scope of services offered by the institute, and the very high level of usage of these services is well described in an article from the Shoreditch Observer, dated the 7th November 1908:

“CRIPPLEGATE INSTITUTE – Cripplegate demonstrated its warm interest in its foundation institute on Wednesday night by attending the 12th anniversary conversaxione in strong force. Close upon 400 guests accepted invitations, and they were received in the handsome gold-and-white theatre hall by Mr. B.T. Swinstead, the chairman of the Governors and a member of the Corporation, many of whose members greatly assist the work. The prizes won in the various classes were presented by Deputy and Sheriff Baddeley, and the chairman, in referring to the work of the Institute, said that in the lending part of the library, in which there were 52,000 volumes, some 1,500 books were issued daily, while the average attendance in the newsroom was 5,000 per day.

A special feature was made of the St. John Ambulance and Nursing classes for men and women, and it was hoped to make the Institute the centre for first aid and nursing work in the City. The penny dinner-hour concerts had been attended by 13,284 persons during the year, and over forty societies and clubs had their headquarters in the building. An excellent musical and dramatic entertainment followed.

Owing to the tremendous pressure on the various departments of the Institute, the governors are considering the question of adding another storey to the building, to accommodate the physical drill and other sections of the educational and recreative work.”

The last paragraph explains how the building came to look as it does today. The original building was smaller and of plainer design. The majority of the features we see on the building today, are from the addition of an extra storey.

Some of the figures quoted in the article are remarkable – 1,500 books issued daily, and 5,000 people using the newsroom a day. The institute must have provided much needed services for those living and working in the area.

The Cripplegate Institute opened in 1896, however the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of York two years earlier in 1894:

Cripplegate

The laying of the foundation stone was a typically ceremonial event, with an honour guard from the Honourable Artillery Company, and a band from the same regiment providing the music.

The speeches included very clear references to why such an institution was needed and to the literary importance of Cripplegate:

“The great increase in English literature which had taken place during recent years rendered it most necessary that every effort should be made to place some of that knowledge within the reach of those who were unable to provide themselves with books, either for recreation or instruction, and it was a very natural feeling that the ward of Cripplegate, where Milton and Defoe and other noted authors lived and worked should endeavour to place our literature at the disposal of even the very poorest of our fellow citizens by means of free libraries such as that institute could afford.”

The Duke of York was presented with an inscribed trowel – given the amount of foundation stones laid over the years, I imagine that in some Royal collection somewhere, there must be thousands of trowels, collected from a couple of centuries of foundation stone ceremonies.

The Cripplegate Institute was largely funded by the Cripplegate Foundation, a charity formed in 1891 by the London Parochial Charities Act based on the charitable assets of St. Giles Without Cripplegate, with original gifts dating back to 1500.

The Cripplegate Institute closed in 1973, and the building reopened soon after as the Golden Lane Theatre. The theatre presented a number of professional productions, but was also a focal point for amateur, educational, theatre and dance groups to put on productions.

The Golden Lane Theatre closed around 1988 and the interior has since been converted into office space, and is currently occupied by the Swiss bank UBS.

Cripplegate

I suspect it disappeared during the office conversations, but the facilities of the Cripplegate Institute included a rifle range, and in 1940, when the possibility of a German invasion seemed very real, workers were encouraged to sign up for rifle training. 400 workers from the City of London trained at the Cripplegate Institute. Hopefully for the photographer, their guns were not loaded.

Cripplegate

View of the old Cripplegate Institute building from slightly further along Golden Lane, at the junction with Brackley Street.

Cripplegate

When I first scanned the 1947 photo, I was really not sure that I would be able to track down the location, but starting with the Cripplegate Institute I now know the buildings and street in the photo and roughly where my father was standing when he took the photo.

The development of the Barbican means that it is impossible to take a view of the same scene today, but it is brilliant when walking around the Barbican Estate to think about what was here before, and the fascinating history of this area.

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St Giles Cripplegate and Red Cross Street Fire Station

This coming Saturday, the 14th September, I will be at Barbican@50, which is taking place from 12 to 6pm at the church of St Giles Cripplegate, Fore Street, Barbican EC2Y 8DA

The Barbican@50 fair is organised by local residents to celebrate the Estate’s 50th birthday.

I will be featuring photographs taken by my father in 1947 across what is now the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates, and how they relate to the locations today, as seen in my latest photographs.

You will also be able to pick up a historical adventure map from Tales of Cripplegate, and learn more about events in the area’s past and those who lived and worked there, with a history exhibition by Rebecca Walker of Ancestreemakers and free local history tours led by Peter Clarke, also of Ancestreemakers.

The tours start from the main door at St Giles’ Church at 1.30, 2.30 and 4pm.  Each tour lasts around 30 minutes and follows an accessible route.

There is more at the fair – exhibitions by local artists, book-signings, and refreshments.

One of the photos I will have on display is the subject of this week’s post, taken in 1947, and is looking across a rather devastated landscape to the church of St Giles Cripplegate.

St Giles Cripplegate

There are three main features in the photo, two of which survive to this day, although the area is now completely different following the development of the Barbican.

The church of St Giles Cripplegate is in the centre, the church looks relatively unscathed, however it suffered very badly and lost the main roof and contents of the church.

To the right of the church is a pile of rubble, and to the right of this, is the round shape of a Roman bastion, which can still be seen.

The large building on the left was the Red Cross Street Fire Station, demolished as part of the final land clearance in preparation for the build of the Barbican.

The following map extract is from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map. The fire station was yet to be built, and part of the site was occupied by a girls school, so I have marked the location of the fire station with a red rectangle. St Giles Cripplegate is just below, on the opposite side of Fore Street.

St Giles Cripplegate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Locating the fire station and church on the map allows the streets to be identified, and if you look at my father’s photo, he was standing to the left of a street. the buildings have disappeared, but the paved surface of the old street remains.

This was Jewin Street which ran from Aldersgate Street to Red Cross Street, where the junction was directly opposite the fire station.

If you also look at the 1947 photo, in front, and to the left of the fire station is what looks to be a door frame, surrounded by a pile of rubble. This was all that remained of one of the first houses on Jewin Crescent, or The Crescent as it was labelled in the 1895 map.

The development of the Barbican obliterated all the original streets, and the only points of reference that remain to this day are the church and Roman bastion.

In the following map extract showing the Barbican today, I have marked the location of the old Red Cross Street fire station with a red rectangle  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

St Giles Cripplegate

There does not seem to be a consistent usage of the street name Red Cross Street, as Redcross Street is also used. The London Encyclopedia attributes the naming of the street to a red cross which probably stood outside a house belonging to the Abbot of Ramsay, with a first mention in the 13th century.

In A Dictionary of London by Henry Harben (1918) the first mention of the street is as Redecrochestrete in 1274. The entry for the street also mentions a Redcrosse tavern. The Dictionary also provides a similar source of the name as the London Encyclopedia “the names of the street and of Whitecross Street were derived from the armourial bearings of the Abbey of Ramsey and of the Priory of the Holy Trinity respectively, who both possessed houses in these street. But it seems more probable that the name was derived from the Red Cross standing at the north end of this street, whether a house bearing this sign or an actual wayside Cross, it is not easy to determine.”

Stow, writing in his Survey of London in 1603, described Red Cross Street – “In Red crosse street on the west side from saint Giles Churchyard be many fayre houses builded outward with divers Alleyes turning into a large plt of grounde, of olde time called the Jewes Garden, as being the only place appoynted them in England, wherein to bury their deade, till the year 1177”

The burial ground for the Jews is the source of the name Jewin Street.

The building of the Barbican means it is impossible to take any form of meaningful equivalent photo of the same scene today. The nearest I could get (shown in the photo below), was from alongside Thomas More House, however to get the angle correct, I should have probably been standing in the tennis courts to the south of Thomas More House, however there is no view of St Giles Cripplegate from that location today.

St Giles Cripplegate

The majority of the destruction of the area now occupied by the Barbican and Gold Lane estates occurred on the night of the 29th December 1940, with the fires created by incendiary bombs causing much of the devastation.

I wrote about this night attack in my blog post on “The Second Great Fire Of London” and in that post included part of an account of the night by Commander Firebrace of the London fire Brigade detailing his experiences at Red Cross Street fire station:

“In the control room a conference is being held by senior London Fire Brigade (LFB) officers. How black – or, more realistically, how red – is the situation, only those who have recently been in the open realise.

One by one the telephone lines fail; the heat from the fires penetrates to the control room and the atmosphere is stifling. earlier in the evening, after a bomb falls near, the station lights fail – a few shaded electric hand lamps now supply bright pin-point lights in sharp contrast  to a few oil lamps and some perspiring candles.

The firewomen on duty show no sign of alarm, though they must know, from the messages passing, as well as from the anxious tones of the officers, that the situation is approaching the desperate.

A women fire officer arrives; she had been forced to evacuate the sub-station to which she was attached, the heat having caused its asphalt yard to burst into flames. It is quite obvious that it cannot be long before Redcross Street Fire Station, nearly surrounded by fire will have to be abandoned.

A few minutes later L.F.B. officers wisely evacuate Redcross Street Fire Station, and now the only way of escape for the staff and for the few pump crews remaining in the area lies through Whitecross Street”.

The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires, and fortunately it is bright enough to pick our way eastward down Fore Street. Here fires are blazing on both sides of the road; burnt-out and abandoned fire appliances lie smouldering in the roadway, their rubber tyres completely melted. the rubble from collapsed buildings lying three and four feet deep makes progress difficult in the extreme. Scrambling and jumping, we use the bigger bits of masonry as stepping stones, and eventually reach the outskirts of the stricken area.

The fire station did survive the war, and bomb damaged was repaired, but the remains of the buildings around Redcross Street, Jewin Street and Jewin Crescent had already been demolished during the war to make the area safe, leaving the exposed cellars, foundations, paved streets and piles of rubble shown in the 1947 photo.

I did get a surprise when researching this post, when looking through newspaper references to Redcross Street fire station as I found a report dating from April 1938 of the death of a distant relative – “A fireman who received a violent electric shock when he cut a cable while fighting a fire in Camomile-street E.C. on Tuesday, died in St. Batholomew’s Hospital. He was a 31 years old member of the Redcross-street Station. The fire, which started in the upper floor of a warehouse, was confined to the building.”

After the destruction of 1940, the firemen of Red Cross Street started a large vegetable plot on the land directly opposite the fire station alongside Jewin Street. The following photo from 1944 shows the firemen at work. The Roman bastion is visible behind the small trees, directly below the dome of St Paul’s.

St Giles Cripplegate

Growing apple trees in the vegetable plot:

St Giles Cripplegate

The Roman bastion shown to the right of the 1947 photo, survived the bomb damage and the development of the Barbican. It had been at the corner of the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate, and before the war was surrounded outside of the churchyard by office buildings and warehouses. The following pre-war postcard shows the Roman bastion at the corner of the church yard.

St Giles Cripplegate

This rather rural looking print from 1800 shows the bastion and the “Venerable Remains of London-Wall in the church yard of St Giles Cripplegate”  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Giles Cripplegate

Today, the church yard has disappeared and the Roman bastion is separated from the church by a stretch of water, which gives the appearance of a moat separating these two survivors.

St Giles Cripplegate

A year after my father took the photo at the beginning of this post, the following  report appeared in the London Letter section of the Scotsman newspaper on the 30th August 1948:

Heart of the City – Even in the sun to-day the ruined area around St Paul’s presented a melancholy sight. Few of the millions who travel to and from the City each day can be aware of the ruins through which it is possible to walk for half and hour without coming to an intact building. There is little sign of new building. The only structure – a giant marquee used for the Honourable Artillery Company’s Ball by Finsbury Pavement – is now being dismantled.

By the shell of St Giles’s Cripplegate, office workers stop each day to inspect the excavations where shards of pottery, pieces of bone, and splinters of horn are daily coming to light. Nearby, where office buildings once stood, message boys now play cricket, their pitches fast becoming a riot of coltsfoot, cornflowers, rosebay and hollyhocks.

In St Giles’s Churchyard, this growth has been halted by firemen from the Red Cross Street fire station, who have been growing peas and potatoes by shattered tombstones.

The ruins extend to Smithfield, where a shabby board announces this was the site of the Old Red Cow.”

The years immediately after the war were a time for excavations around Cripplegate and the Roman bastion and remains of the Roman wall were excavated by the Roman and Medieval Excavation Council, under the direction of W.F. Grimes, Keeper of the London Museum.

As has probably been the problem with all archaeological excavations, the full funding needed for the work (estimated at £3,000) was not available, and the sum of £1,500 was allocated. It seems to have been a rather blunt approach to excavation as reports of the dig talk about modern building tools being used, with the roar of pneumatic drills rising from the trenches all day long.

The area around St Giles Cripplegate probably very rarely hears the sounds of pneumatic drills these days, but the church has lost its churchyard, is separated by water from the Roman bastion, the surrounding street network has long disappeared, and the church is dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.

St Giles Cripplegate

It was so very different in 1830, the date of the following print, when the church was surrounded by a traditional grave yard  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Giles Cripplegate

Many of the gravestones can still be found in the area around the church, as shown in the following photo where a sample are embedded in the wall that separates the water from the higher ground where the church is located.

St Giles Cripplegate

The following photo shows the wartime damage to the buildings south of the church, in the space now occupied by the Wallside building, and facing onto Wood Street Square and Hart Street. The square and street are now under the Wallside building.

St Giles Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019965CL

Whilst the tower and walls of St Giles Cripplegate survived, the interior and roof was completely destroyed, demonstrating that the destruction around the Barbican was the result of fires rather than high explosive bombs (many did fall on the area, but the majority of the damage was caused by fire).

The following photo taken in the days following the raid on the 29th December 1940, show the damage to the interior of the church.

St Giles Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0017971cl

It is hard to imagine this level of damage when standing in the church today:

St Giles Cripplegate

The full name of the church is St Giles without Cripplegate, referring to the fact that the church was outside the original City walls – confirmed by the nearby location of the Roman wall showing that the church is indeed north of the wall.

There may have been a church here in Saxon times, and the first stone church dates from 1090.

The church has been through a number of rebuilds over the centuries. The distinctive tower with a stone lower section and brick upper section dates from 1682, when the upper section of the original stone tower was removed, and 15 feet of brick tower added.

The church was severely damaged by fires in 1545 and 1897, but escaped the Great Fire in 1666.

St Giles Cripplegate claims to be the burial-place of the poet Milton and a life-size statue of Milton watches over visitors to the church:

St Giles Cripplegate

The Milton statue dates from 1904 when it was unveiled by Lady Alice Egerton as part of the reconstruction work after the 1897 fire.

The statue had a rather close shave on the 29th December 1940:

St Giles Cripplegate

Newspaper reports of the unveiling of the Milton statue also included a rather gruesome story about Milton’s body dating from 1790, when:

“There are probably many who will be surprised to hear that the body of Milton was once on view at the charge of threepence a head within a few yards from the site chosen for this splendid tribute to his memory. It was in 1790 after a little carousal, that two overseers and a carpenter entered the Church of St Giles Cripplegate, where Milton lay buried, and, having discovered the leaden coffin which contained his body, cut open its top with a mallet and chisel. When they disturbed the shroud, the ribs fell. Mr Fountain confessed that he pulled hard at the teeth, which resisted until someone hit them with a stone. Fountain secured all the fine teeth in the upper jaw, and generously gave one to one of his accomplices. Altogether the scoundrels stole a rib-bone, ten teeth, and several handfuls of hair; and to crown the diabolical business, the female gravedigger afterwards exhibited the body to anyone willing to pay threepence for the spectacle.”

St Giles Cripplegate is also the burial-place of the late 16th / early 17th century map maker John Speed.

St Giles Cripplegate

John Speed was a member of the Merchant Taylors Company, and it was this company that restored Speed’s memorial after being badly damaged in 1940.

Whilst Milton and Speed have some rather impressive memorials, there is one in the church that is much more modest.

St Giles Cripplegate

“That is all” sums up the memorial to the life of Thomas Stagg who was vestry clerk of the parish from 1731 to 1772. There are many other historical names who have an association with the church, including Oliver Cromwell who was married in St Giles Cripplegate in 1620.

The view along the southern aisle of the church, Milton’s statue on the left:

St Giles Cripplegate

This has been a brief description of a very historic area. I will be exploring more of the streets and buildings covered by the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, and the streets that have disappeared, during the coming weeks, and showing many more of my father’s photos of the area at the Barbican@50 event on the 14th September at St Giles Cripplegate.

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A Brief History Of Aldersgate Street

The following photo is from 1947 and shows a street with a very large heap of rubble on the land to the right. When I scanned this negative, I was doubtful as to whether I would find the location. There appears to be a sign on the wall to the left of the pillar in the centre of the photo, but this cannot be read when zooming in due to the definition within the original 35mm film stock.

I was sorting through some boxes with photos that my father had printed from the original negatives and I found the same photo, and on the rear was written Aldersgate Street.

Although I cannot be sure where on Aldersgate Street the photo was taken, I am very sure that it is looking north. Most of the wartime damage in this area was to the east of Aldersgate Street on the land that would be redeveloped as the Barbican estate. The west, whilst suffering bomb damage did nor suffer the same extensive fire damage caused by incendiary raids. including the one on the 29th December 1940.

The huge heap of rubble must be from the buildings demolished on the future site of the Barbican. Comparing the height of the rubble with the lamppost gives some idea of how much must have been removed from the site.

Aldersgate 1

It is impossible to know exactly where on Aldersgate Street this photo was taken, but to give an idea of how the area looks now, I took the following photo on Aldersgate Street, looking north. The Barbican development is on the right. The road has been considerably widened, and the photo would have been somewhere along this scene.

Aldersgate 2

Aldersgate Street is an old street and was so named after the northern gate of the city.

Although originally it did not go any distance as Bishopsgate received the traffic from the north, Aldgate from the east, Newgate from the west and Bridge Gate from the south.

Aldersgate appears to have simply opened out upon moor land, but gained greater significance when it was used as an access point to Smithfield when the area began to be used as a market for horses and cattle and a number of religious establishments.

In researching the street, there are a few very different explanations for the name.

Starting with Stow, whose Survey of London is used by many later historians as a source of historical fact, Stow states that:

“The next is AEldresgate, or Aldersgate, so-called not of Aldrich, or of Elders, that is to say, ancient men, builders therefore, nor of Eldarne trees, growing there more abundantly than in other places as some have fabuled, but for the very antiquity of the gate itself, as being one of the first 4 gates of the city and serving for the Northerne parts, as Aldegate for the East.”

Walter Thornbury in Old and New London partly quotes Stowe:

“Aldersgate was one of the four original gates of London, and formed the extreme corner to the north. Some say it was named after Aldrich, a Saxon, who built it; others, says Stowe attribute it to the Alder trees which grew around it.” 

Sir Walter Besant writing in 1910 in his History of the City of London states:

“Stow’s derivation from the “Elder” or “Older” gate is too far-fetched. It is named probably from one Ealdered, its earliest name being “Aldredesgate”.

Two books published in the early 20th century give different interpretations. Harold Clunn in the Face of London writes:

We pass next to Aldersgate Street. This thoroughfare is so names from the northern gate of the City, the name of which in turn is derived from the alder trees which once grew around the gate”.

Whilst Gertrude Rawlings writing in The Street Names of London states:

“In the laws of Ethelred, c 1000, Ealdredsgate (and variations). The gate of Ealdred or Aldred, a Saxon Londoner of whom nothing more is known.”

A number of recent London street name books I have checked seem to be playing safe by not including Aldersgate Street.

I am inclined to go for the Saxon name of Ealdred or Aldred as the source of the name. Fascinating to think that someone living at that time could have given his name to one of London’s major streets, but it also demonstrates the difficult in establishing the truth behind many of the older street names in London and that you should not always believe the explanation given in a single book, always best to seek as much evidence as possible.

It is interesting to understand what was on the east site of Aldersgate Street as a large network of streets were lost under the Barbican development.

The following map is from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Great London. Unfortunately this area is to the edge of the page, but it does show that to the east of Aldersgate Street were a network of streets and courts. All of these have since disappeared, indeed the only remaining landmark is the Ironmongers Hall which is still there, hidden behind the Museum of London which has been built over Maidenhead Court and Blue Lion Court.

Aldersgate 6

The 1910 map published alongside Besant’s History of the City provides more detail of the network of streets and courts to the east of Aldersgate Street:

Aldersgate 5

Going back further to John Rocque’s map of London published in 1746, Aldersgate Street is also on the edge of the map sheet, but we can see the network of streets and courts on the east side that had already been in place for many years, and would last to the second half of the 20th century:

Aldersgate 3

Going back further, Aldersgate is mentioned many times in medieval records, for example:

In 1339 the Chamberlain of Guildhall spent 20s and 4d on the pavement of the gate of Aldersgate, the pavement being one of cobbled stones laid close and rammed. This being an indication that there was a good amount of traffic through Aldersgate as money was only spent on the provision of a cobbled pavement where there was significant traffic.

In 1346 a certain Simon is hanged for robbery at Aldersgate.

In 1350 there are records of the shops within Aldersgate.

In 1391 a scrivener stands in a pillory without Aldersgate for forgery.

The original gate at Aldersgate was in a very bad state by 1510. Recorded in the Presentment of the Wardmote Inquest of the Ward of Aldersgate is:

“Item: we present Aldrygegate in Joberdy of fallyng downe, yt synkys so sore”

The original gate was taken down in 1617 and rebuilt to a new design. In honour of the king an equestrian statue was included in the new gate just above the arch. The cost of the new gate was £1,000 and was funded by a bequest from a certain William Parker, Merchant Taylor.

The new Aldersgate gate:

Aldersgate 7

William Maitland’s History and Survey of London from 1756 provides a view of how the ward was kept safe at night:

“There are to watch at Aldersgate, and other stands in this Ward, every Night, one Constable, the Beadle, and 44 Watchman. And in the liberty of St Martins-le-Grand, which is in this Ward, 12. In all 56.”

Maitland also described the state of the street in 1756:

“Aldersgate Street, very spacious and long, and although the Buildings are old, and not uniform, yet many of them are very good, and well inhabited.”

The gate at Aldersgate was removed in 1761. As with other City gates, it was too narrow and restricting on the amount of traffic that was now travelling in and out of the city.

To mark the northern limits of the City, two pillars were erected in 1874 as shown in the following drawing from the time, looking down Aldersgate Street with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance:

Aldersgate 4

The 1932 edition of The Face of London provides a view of Aldersgate Street shortly before the last war:

“Thirty years ago Aldersgate Street was a shabby thoroughfare, but during our own century it has greatly increased in importance. On the west side, at the corner of Long lane, is the Manchester Hotel, and next door is the Metropolitan Railway station which was opened for traffic in 1865.”

As with many other streets across London, the coming of the railway provided an incentive for new developments and new trades in the local area.

The same book also states that in 1932 the Corporation of London was considering an investment of £1,500,000 to widen Aldersgate Street to 80 feet from St. Martins le Grand to Goswell Road as the road was very narrow.

The wartime devastation to the east of Aldersgate Street shown in my father’s photo at the start of this article provided all the opportunity needed to widen the road, and it is this incarnation of Aldersgate Street that we see today.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Old and New London by Walter Thornbury published in 1881
  • London, The City by Sir Walter Besant published in 1910
  • The History of London from its Foundations to the Present Time by William Maitland published in 1754
  • The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn published in 1951
  • Stow’s Survey of London . Oxford 1908 reprint of 1603 edition
  • The Streets Names of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published in 1940

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