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


23 thoughts on “A Brief History Of Aldersgate Street

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    1. Bruce Fleming

      This is a view of the eastern side of Goswell Road, not Aldersgate. There were some ruins opposite the junction of Newbury Street and Aldersgate. See record no. 35779 in the London Picture Archive (link is too complicated to post). For the mounds of rubble between Goswell Road and Golden Lane (aka the remains of Bayer Street and Basterfield Street), search ‘Aldersgat’e in Britain From Above. You need the views taken in 1947.

  3. David

    When I first worked in London in the early ’60s there was a typefounder who we used in Aldersgate Street. Behind a small terrace of shops that Stevenson Blake occupied was a huge bomb site with just one building left standing – the fire station. My fellow apprentice told me his father had spent the entire war working in that hell hole.

  4. Mark

    I’m trying to find out any information about a diamond merchants and goldsmiths located at 182 Aldersgate Street EC in around 1916. I have a pocket watch given to me by my grandad who served in WW1 which dates from 1916/17 in its original box from H&A Kimball. It would be fascinating to know more about this jewellers and what became of it. This might help me to discover more about my grandads connection to the watch and how or when he came by it. Thank you

      1. Mark

        Thank you very much for posting the article about Alfred Kimbell, a pleasant surprise to wake up to this morning! I had managed to find the article via Pewterbank website but your link makes it much easier. I have read and will re-read the article many times as it gives a fascinating insight into the family and business and the world in which they operated. I don’t know for sure when my grandad came by his 1916/17 American Waltham pocket watch in its H&A Kimbell box but it clearly came from a most reputable and knowledgeable source judging by the article (whether Alice, Henry or Alfred were running the company). My understanding is he came by the watch around that time and I still keep it running in its Kimbell box.

  5. Yvonne Roskelly

    I am looking for westmorland building Aldersgate where my gt gt gt grandfather William Knight had his business as a silversmith with brother Samuel.

  6. Maria

    I’m looking for information about 36 Aldersgate St in 1917-1918. I have a phone directory entry from this time for this address for L. Hiegentlich & Co, Essential Oils and Chemicals. I wondered if this would be a business associated with an apothecary and or hospital? Did people live at that address of was it a place of business only? Where can I find further information? Thanks!

  7. Cathy M

    Some of the best rocking horses ever made were carved here at 111 Aldersgate Street. It is a tragedy the whole of London and elsewhere was bombed, as so much life and history has been lost. If anyone has any info on Ayres factory 111 Aldersgate street, please contact me.. Cheers, Cathy M

    1. Ken Ripper

      25 Aug 1893
      Order of Removal notice sent to Shoreditch Overseers of the Poor by their counterparts in Bethnal Green.
      It notified them that Emma Foxcroft and her child, currently in Bethnal Green Workhouse were the responsibility of Shoreditch by reason of her husband’s settlement there, regardless that she declared that her husband, Samuel Foxcroft, is “now absent from her”.
      The conditions that satisfy his legal settlement in Shoreditch are laid out.
      He was supposed to be working at 111 Aldersgate Street. This was the rocking horse manufactory of F H Ayres.

  8. Lisa Vine

    Hi, I was looking up your post on Aldersgate Street from a few years ago….which I found really interesting…and I thought you might like to follow up some of the tiny streets between Barts Hospital and Little Brittain. I have been doing some research for the 1660 Hearth tax returns at Birkbeck, and have spend hours wandering around this area. Unlike the east side of Aldersgate Street. the west side retains a fair number of very small alleys -usually dwarfed by some tall and unsympathetic recent buildings, but the mediaeval pattern of streets is remarkably unchanged, as is Smithfield. Amazingly, this area escaped the Fire in 1666 and also some of the incendiary bomb damage which hit the Barbican area that your father covered with his photos…in 1666, the London Wall and ditch protected the street, as did Barts old monastic wall .
    Contrary to some thinking, Aldersgate Street at the time of the great Fire was rather glamorous, with spacious “Italianate” houses and several aristocrats living there. But it’s real interest for me is the many shops selling books in Little Brittain, which was wide and spacious and had upmarket book shops. It was well frequented by bookbuyers…with a path from Barts through the old City wall/Christchurch to Paternoster Row, known as the Long Walk, also with printers and booksellers.
    In my wanderings, I found the Cross Keys Court (Little Britain) and Montague Court – both mapped on Ogilvie’s map of about 1670. And more off Bartholomew Close.
    Its also interesting to me because in Aldersgate Street itself, near where the Museum of London now is, were 2 large printworks run by women. (both widows.) Several of the book shops were run by women, too.

    1. Alison

      The area west of Aldersgate is arguably my favorite area of London, precisely because, as you note, the street pattern is remarkably unchanged. I came back to read this wonderful post on Aldersgate for the second or third time, and I’m glad I saw your post! I knew there were booksellers in Little Britain, but I didn’t know about the Long Walk path. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Catherine M

      When Covid is over {If ever} ..Or when protected by Vaccines, I’ll have an explore around Aldersgate.
      My passion is for the Ayres Factory {111 Aldersgate} as I have some of their loveliest old horses, the men would probably have nipped into some of the pubs still in existence for a ”Swift Half” on a Friday after Work…Before getting the Tube home.
      ..The Factory has been Blitzed, but the thought of the small backstreets and Courts sounds fascinating.
      London has changed so much since my childhood.. the skyline especially, with many old trades going for good.

  9. Danielle Gleicher-Bates

    I’m looking for information/photographs on 80 Aldersgate Street. My great grandfather’s fur business “A & E Gleicher” appears to have been there around 1941/2 but I’m not sure for how long.

  10. Susan Tebby

    How very informative and interesting this site and the replies are. Fascinating.

    I have just discovered that my ancestors may have had two businesses here in the fur trade, as recorded in the Commercial Directory of 1920: Schultz Morris & Co, wholesale furriers at 24, Aldersgate Street, and J.Schultz, fur and skin merchants at 41, Aldersgate Street. At the same time, registered as a fur and skin merchant is: Mrs Cocia Schultz at 12, Wilkes Street, Spitalfields. Possibly the fashionable outlet?
    Does anyone know of these businesses, or the people involved? Together with the Gleicher business at No.80 (posted above) demonstrates a centre for such a trade. Meanwhile my great grandfather, Joachim Christian Schultz (c.1811-1877, born in Berlin or Mecklenburg) during much of the 19th century had travelled all over the world bringing furs and skins back to London.
    Any information would be very welcome. Thank you for such an interesting site.

  11. Brenda Szlesinger

    The section of Aldersgate Street where the museum sits is once again to be reduced to a pile of rubble. The proposals (https://londonwallwest.co.uk/ ) for the site are simply a form of cultural vandalism – no respect for the history of this part of the City and no vision beyond several monstrous glass office blocks with a few benches. Thankfully, there is a local campaign afoot to do something ambitious and creative with this key site : https://www.londonwallbest.com/
    Your support is needed!

  12. James McQuiston

    When Aldersgate was demolished in 1617, in order to rebuild it, four slabs of stone were found inside bearing Hebrew inscriptions. These were added to the mammoth collectibles of Thomas Howard, Earl of Ardunel. Their whereabouts is unknown but they could reside at Oxford in the Howard “Marbles” collection. I am on that quest now. This could possibly indicate Jewish slaves working under the Romans, or perhaps Jewish craftsmen creating the original Aldersgate. Translating these four slabs could add considerable knowledge to the history of Aldersgate and London.


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