Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place

Above: Plaque commemorating the site of the Great Synagogue. It is situated on the south side of Duke’s Place at the southern end.

In addition to the first wave of Sephardic Jews to come to England in 1656, another wave of Jews, from Russia and Poland, came to England about 1690 – during the reign of William of Orange. These were Ashkenazi Jews and they built their own synagogue near Houndsditch.

The so-called Great Synagogue stood in a short street called Duke’s Place. The street still remains but the synagogue was bombed in 1941, during the Second World War, and was not subsequently rebuilt. There is a large plaque recording the site, mounted on modern offices near the junction of Duke’s Place and the pedestrianised St James’s Passage.

An Act of Parliament in 1753 allowed for the naturalisation of Jews in England. It was not until 1858 that Jews were permitted to sit in Parliament.

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Bury Street Synagogue

Above: City Plaque at the corner of Bury Street and Creechurch Lane.

The story of the Jews in London – as well as other parts of England – is a long and complicated one. In the first place, Jews came over to England with William the Conqueror, in 1066, to act as money-lenders. They settled in many cities, including London. Another city was Lincoln where the 700-year old Jew’s House on Steep Hill, built entirely of stone, remains to be seen to this day.

By 1200 Jews were living in the City of London around Old Jewry (hence the street name) and in Lothbury (another City street that is only a short distance away). Because Roman Catholics were forbidden from engaging in usury – at the time meaning lending money by charging any rate – the way around the problem was to permit Jews to lend money instead. Over the decades, religious intolerance of the Jews grew and in 1290, all Jews were expelled from England on the orders of Edward I who feared that civil war might break out. The Jews were only allowed to take what they could carry when they left. The rest of their property was taken over by the Crown.

It was several centuries before any part of the Jewish world community decided to return to England. That return relates to the formation of the Commonwealth. Cutting a very long story short, following the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649, Oliver Cromwell was created Lord Protector of a united ‘Commonwealth of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Commonwealth lasted until 1659 when the Protectorate Parliament was dissolved and the Rump Parliament recalled – the start of a process that led to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

At the close of 1656, Portuguese Jews petitioned Cromwell to be allowed to return to England, to which he agreed. The Jews were facing the Spanish Inquisition for not being Roman Catholics. At first, they settled around Petticoat Lane. These were Sephardic Jews, previously associated with Spain and Portugal. The word ‘separad’ is Hebrew for Spain. Sephardi refers to a Spanish or Portuguese Jew. The plural is Sephardim. Hence the adjective, Sephardic, pertaining to the Sephardim.

As a point of interest, on 13 June 2006, there was a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Jews returning to England. A special service, attended by the Prime Minister (Tony Blair), was held in the Bevis Marks Synagogue.

Historians today disagree on the reasons for why the Jews felt it safe to settle in England but the fact is that many did come – notably the Sephardic Jews who were from the areas around the Mediterranean Sea, including Portugal, Spain, the Middle East and Northern Africa. They should not be confused with the Ashkenazi Jews who originated in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Above: Map showing the sites of the two synagogues no longer in existence and the one remaining building (Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, usually called Bevis Marks Synagogue).

The first synagogue to be built in the City, after the return of the Jews to England, stood on a site at the corner of Bury Street and Creechurch Lane. There is a City Plaque on the wall recording this fact. It was built in 1657 by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and remained until 1701 when they moved to a new site, known today as Bevis Marks Synagogue.

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Minories – Roman Eagle (Statue)

Above: A Roman statue of an eagle and snake found at Minories.

Ever since Victorian times, observant antiquarians have noticed objects of historical interest in the ground, usually on building sites in the City. When Leadenhall Market was last built, towards the end of the 19th century, it was realised that it was being constructed on Roman remains. The archaeological finds that are still under the ground in the City of London and other central areas never cease to amaze. Many finds of Roman and Tudor masonry have been unearthed since Victorian times but it is only since the 1960s that statutory rules have been enforced for construction sites. It is now required that developers allow a proper time for the archaeological excavation of a site prior to building work being carried out. In many cases, the time allowed proves to be too short and many artefacts are still remaining undiscovered. At least some of the ‘treasures’ are being found and later displayed in the Museum of London as a result.

In 2013 a new hotel was being proposed on a site beside a street called Minories, a short distance south of Aldgate Underground Station. One of the great finds proved to be the finest Romano-British sculpture ever unearthed in the capital. It was a spectacular 65 cm high sculpture of a Roman eagle with a snake in its beak. It was found at the bottom of had once been an ancient Roman ditch.

It is believed that the eagle had almost certainly adorned either the interior or the roof of a grandiose tomb belonging to a prosperous and very important early Londoner who died in the late first or early second century AD. Whoever this person was, he must have been of substantial status and influence because he lay a burial plot immediately by the side of one of the main roads leading out of London, some 50 metres outside the assumed boundary of Londinium. It is possible that the Roman authorities of the township gave him the honour of being buried on public land. That would suggest that he had been a senior political figure in Roman London – possibly one of the ‘joint mayors’. These men were the ‘magistrates’, appointed by the local city council to run the city’s finances, oversee religious matters and act as judges.

The ‘eagle and snake’ imagery is likely to have reflected the man’s powerful position in life. The eagle – a Roman symbol of power – is seen in the sculpture fighting a snake – sometimes perceived in the Roman world as representing danger and the powers of the underworld. The eagle’s presence on or in the tomb may have been seen as protecting the structure and the prominent Roman buried within it.

Along with the eagle masonry, archaeologists also found the foundations of what they believed to be the mausoleum. It appears that the substantial six metre square structure had been deliberately demolished. It is thought that it was not to provide space for the construction of other buildings but to have been removed for some other reason. The evidence suggests that it was probably demolished by the late second century AD. This may have been the time when the Roman authorities decided to construct a defensive wall around Londinium. It possible that the mausoleum was deliberately knocked down at that time because it was too near the intended course of the Roman Wall and might, therefore, have offered cover to potential enemies who might wish to attack the city. It is also possible that the masonry from the mausoleum was used in the actual building of the wall when its construction began in the late second century.

Because the eagle sculpture would have been of little use as a masonry block for building the wall, it may have been flung into a ditch beside the line of the wall. If so, that act was to preserve the sculpture for another 1800 years before it was discovered by the archaeologists. The limestone sculpture itself is likely to have been made either in the Cotswolds or in London by a member of a group of Romano-British sculptors associated with what is now the Gloucestershire area. In Britain, the only other similar known representation of an eagle with a snake is a sculpture from a Roman villa in Somerset. However, elsewhere in the Roman Empire, the motif is relatively common and was inherited from an ancient Greek prototype.

The excavation team – from the Museum of London Archaeology Unit – found the eagle on the final day of an eight-month-long dig on land beside the Minories. It is one of the most important archaeological finds ever unearthed in London. As can be seen from the picture, once cleaned up and restored, the eagle statue almost looks like it has only just been completed.


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Roman Wall at Cooper’s Row

Above: Part of the Roman Wall standing beside the forecourt of the hotel.

The Roman Wall once extended around the settlement that the Romans called Londinium. Although they established it in AD 43, it was not until the end of the second century that the wall was constructed – estimated to have been built between AD 189 and AD 197. The wall extended around the landward side of Londinium and also along the waterfront. It was a massive undertaking and remained for centuries afterwards. It was not until 1760 that the City fathers decided that the wall and its gates were not serving any useful purpose any more. The gates were locked shut every night, preventing anyone from going into the City or coming out. The gates were removed from their hinges and within a few years, the gate-houses were demolished. This led to people whose land was crossed by the wall also removing it and probably making good use of the stone for other purposes. For this reason, only small fragments of the wall remain to be seen by the public although other fragments do exist below ground – in the basements of several City office blocks.

If you walk north from the large expanse of grass on the west side of Tower Hill Underground Station, there is a narrow street called Cooper’s Row. A short distance along the street is the Grange City Hotel, a large building with an open area at ground level. Although the open area looks like private land, the public is permitted to walk across it to look at a section of the Roman Wall that is free standing on the eastern side of the hotel’s property. Not only can you see the western side of the wall but you can also walk through an opening at the northern end of the section of the wall to examine the eastern side as well.

It seems to come as a surprise to many pedestrians who know the area that this part of the wall exists. Because it is to the east of the hotel, it is easily missed when walking along Cooper’s Row but it can easily be seen from the pavement.

As can be seen from the picture, various windows have been cut into the wall over the centuries which, of course, do not originate from Roman times when the wall would have been solid. It can also be seen that parts of the top of the wall are missing. Another interesting feature is that the wall appears to sit in a trough – due to the footings of the Roman Wall being lower than the modern-day ground level. Over the centuries, the ground level of London has risen relative to the original ground level in Roman times. A final feature to be noted is that the modern offices have been built around the section of the wall, to make maximum use of the adjacent land.

The line of the original Roman Wall around Londinium is covered in a separate article which shows its position on a modern-day map.

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Fenchurch Street Station

London is well-served with railway termini and, for its size, so is the City of London. On the north side is Liverpool Street Station, whose tracks run sub-surface which means that the platforms are also below ground level. On the riverside is Cannon Street Station, whose tracks run on brick arches. On the eastern side is another terminus – Fenchurch Street Station – which also has tracks running on a brick viaduct.

Fenchurch Street Station – known as London Fenchurch Street on the train announcements – is situated in the City of London, just south of Fenchurch Street. The lines started as the London and Blackwall Railway (L&BR) and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway (LTSR). Train services run to destinations in east London and south Essex, including Upminster, Grays, Basildon, Southend and Shoeburyness.

The station opened in 1841 to serve the L&BR and was rebuilt in 1854 when the LTSR, a joint venture between the L&BR and the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR), began operating. In 1862 the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was created by amalgamating various East Anglian railway companies, including the ECR. It shared the station with the LTSR until 1912, when the latter was bought by the Midland Railway. The station came under the ownership of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) following the Railways Act of 1921. It was shared by LNER and London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) services until nationalisation of all the railway companies in 1948. The lines from the station were electrified in 1961.

The station building that we see today was enlarged from the earlier structure to designs by George Berkley and erected in 1882 by the Great Eastern Railway Company.

Fenchurch Street is one of the smallest railway termini in Central London (including the City) in terms of platforms. It has no direct interchange with the London Underground but it is a short walk away from Tower Hill Underground Station. Since the opening of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, which also shares space on the same viaduct that leads to Fenchurch Street Station, the DLR terminus called Tower Gateway is also nearby.

In the first few years of Fenchurch Street Station, steam locomotives on the L&BR did not use the station until 1849. Before that year, trains were dragged uphill from Blackwall to Minories using a cable system. Trains then ran to Fenchurch Street via their own momentum. The eastbound journey of the trains required a manual push from railway staff.

Although Fenchurch Street Station is relatively small, with only four platforms, it handles over 18 million passengers each year, making it the 24th busiest station in Great Britain. This compares with the other two City termini of Liverpool Street Station which handles over 67 million passengers (3rd busiest station in Great Britain) and Cannon Street Station which handles over 22 million passengers (18th busiest station in Great Britain).

To complete the picture, Moorgate Station can be considered a City terminus. It handles just over 10 million passengers each year. Three other interchange stations are – Farringdon (with over 12 million passengers annually); Blackfriars (with just over 10 million passengers each year) and City Thameslink (with over six million passengers each year).


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Aldgate Pump

Above: A small part of the Agas map, c1561, showing the position of the well at the fork formed by Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street.

How many water taps do you have where you live? The answer is almost certainly more than one. In the 21st century, it is hard to imagine living in a home that has no running water at all. In the 16th century, people lived in houses where the only access to water was one source in the street and, in some streets, there was no source of water at all.

The story of the Aldgate Pump goes back to the days when there was a well on the site. It is remarkable mainly because there is documentary evidence that the source of water was there in the 15th century when it was known as St Michael’s Well, which stood near St Michael’s church. The church was later demolished.

Above: Enlargement of the well on the Agas map.

The well stood in the centre of the fork in the road where Aldgate becomes Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street. We do not have to imagine it, we can see it for ourselves clearly drawn on the Agas map which dates from about 1561. The map shows a roof to the well and even the bucket which was lowered for the water. In spite of the fact that wells were the only source of water for many residents, passers-by used to throw rubbish into the well and pollute the water. For this reason, the well was covered over and a pump was erected in 1580.

Using the hand-pump, water could be pumped through a pipe from the water level below ground through a nozzle and thus be used to fill a suitable water-vessel. Early water buckets were made of stout leather and examples can be found in the Museum of London.

Between 1860-70 the pump was moved several feet further west to allow for street widening. In 1876 it was filled in after tests had shown the water to be diseased. This did not stop the pump being used at a later time for a source of fresh water and there are photographs of the pump being used.

Above: Today’s view of the Aldgate Pump at the fork of Fenchurch Street (on the left) and Leadenhall Street (on the right).

The pump is not in use today but it can still be seen near the edge of the road at the junction of Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street. A 500-year documented history for a simple water-pump is really quite amazing.


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Aldgate and Portsoken Overview

Above: Boundary of the two wards – Aldgate and Portsoken – with their old boundaries shown in a RED dotted line. The Google map shows the City of London coloured PINK with a thin RED line indicating the present boundary.

The two wards called Aldgate and Portsoken are on the eastern side of the City of London. They share a common boundary which was, until 1760 a physical boundary as well. The Ward of Aldgate is the most easterly ward within the original line of the Roman Wall. Built by the Romans around AD 200, the wall was preserved by the Saxons and Normans and continued to be used as a defence for the protection to the City until 1760. In that year the City Corporation decided that it was no longer necessary. Anyone living near the wall was then free to remove it if they so desired and that is why there is so little remaining of the wall today. Sharing the same boundary of the Roman Wall – on the outside of the City was the Ward of Portsoken. Ever since late Saxon times, records show that the official boundary of the City of London was not the line of the Roman Wall but a boundary further east and north.

The boundaries of the wards, whether within or outside the Roman Wall, came into existence in general in Saxon times and they changed very little over the following centuries – until recent times! Officials started tinkering with some of the boundaries at the end of the 20th century and in 2003 significant changes were made. Inspection of the above map shows the present-day boundary of the City on the Google map. The thicker red dotted lines show the boundaries for Aldgate and Portsoken before the recent changes were made. It can be seen that the eastern boundary of Portsoken has been extended eastwards, absorbing a small part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (that was once the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney).

The Ward of Aldgate

The Ward of Aldgate takes its name from one of the gates built into the Roman Wall during the time of the Roman Settlement. It is believed that the Saxons gate it its name probably meaning ‘a gate for all’ or ‘All-gate’. The name has led to a short street within the City boundary being called Aldgate. The roadway is Aldgate within the gate and Aldgate High Street outside the gate. A City Plaque on the south side of Aldgate now marks the site of the ancient gate.

The early parishes in the ward were – St Andrew Undershaft, St Augustine in the Wall; St Katherine Coleman; St Katherine Cree; St Mary Magdalene, Aldgate; and St Michael, Aldgate. Of these churches, only St Andrew Undershaft and St Katherine Cree remain today. The churchyard of St Katherine Coleman remains on the south side of Fenchurch Street.

Religious houses were – Crutched Friars (Priory); Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate; and St Augustine Papey.

The company halls in the ward were – Basket Makers’ Hall; Bricklayers’ Hall; Fletchers’ Hall; Ironmongers’ Hall, Fenchurch Street; and the Wireworkers’ Hall. No hall remain today within the ward. The Ironmongers’ Hall moved to a new site in Aldersgate Street.

The Ward of Aldgate was characterised in the 19th and early 20th century as offices for shipping companies, ships chandlers and maritime map publishers. In Victorian times there were many warehouses where goods were stored by wholesalers. Many of those buildings remain, now in use as restaurants or converted for office use. There have also been many insurance companies within the ward and that continues more than ever today.

The Ward of Portsoken

The name ‘Portsoken’ goes back to at least 1108. The name is derived from two words – ‘port’ and ‘soke’. The word ‘Port’ probably refers to the City as a whole, the ‘soke’ was a district for the Knightengild which had been given to Holy Trinity Priory by Matilda of Scotland, consort to Henry I. The word ‘soke’ derives from Middle English – around 1250 to 1300 – and referred to a district (or piece of land) over which local jurisdiction was exercised.

The early parishes in the ward were – Holy Trinity, Minories; St Botolph, Aldgate. St Botolph remains to this day, on the north side of Aldgate.

Religious house – St Clare, Abbey of.

Company halls – no halls have ever stood in the ward.

Because the Ward of Portsoken was outside the Roman Wall, it was never a high profile area of the City. In modern parlance, it was never ‘trendy’. Today, there are plenty of commercial premises, like insurance offices, in the ward. It is sad to say that the area of the ward is a rather desolate part of the City, due mainly to the busy roads and endless traffic which is trying to find its way around the edge of the City limits. Further east, of course, is Whitechapel High Street which is not known for its scenic attractions either.


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