Roman Wall – Bastion 12

Above: View looking SE at Bastion 12 across the lake from the remains of the churchyard of St Giles, Cripplegate.

Contrary to popular belief, the Roman Wall around the settlement that was known Londinium was not all built at the same time and some of the remains of the wall that we see today were not built by the Romans at all! It is a confusing story and we had better take it in easy stages to try to understand the full picture.

The story of the Roman Wall starts about AD 120 when the Romans constructed a large fort – often called the Cripplegate Fort because where it stood included the gate later known as Cripplegate. The fort was a large square building with four gates – one half-way along each side. The west-facing side of the fort had a gate whose remains were found after the Second World War and is known as the West Gate. The north gate became Cripplegate. The line of the fort on the east and south sides was not discovered until the 1950s when a few parts of its line showed up in the rubble in the City left by the bombing.

As already mentioned, the Cripplegate Fort dates from about AD 120. It was over 50 years after building the Fort that the Romans decided to build a wall around the whole of the landward side of Londinium – as well as a riverside wall. The estimated date for construction is between AD 189 and AD 197. Because the Fort was extensive, they incorporated its north and west sides into the Roman Wall. This last fact only became apparent after the Second World War – when the outline of the Cripplegate Fort was discovered.

There is a further article explaining the Roman Wall which includes the names of all the gates, both original and the later ones. It includes an outline of the wall overlaid onto a modern map.

See also – Roman Wall

So, what happened to the Cripplegate Fort? It stood at what became the NW ‘corner’ of the Roman Wall. The defences at that point were completely rebuilt in the early medieval period and most of the surviving stonework dates from that time. Outside the Roman Wall, a ditch was dug to provide further defences. Some of it filled with water and was known as the City Ditch.

After the Second World War, much of the area around Cripplegate was almost completely flattened due to the extensive bombing. Although some of the streets were restored to their original position, a large part of the land was redeveloped as the Barbican Estate and the Barbican Centre. Immediately outside the Roman Wall at Cripplegate, a modern lake was created to indicate the approximate position of the City Ditch. One early account of it mentions that there was a ‘great store of verie good fish, of diverse sorts’.

During the 13th century, a series of rounded supports called bastions was added to the outside of the Roman Wall. There were 21 bastions in total which in the 1970s were numbered by Ralph Merrifield and listed on a map produced for his book entitled ‘Roman London’. Merrifield was a distinguished archaeologist and his numbering system has been in use ever since. The bastion at the NW corner of the Cripplegate Fort – which was later incorporated into the Roman Wall – is Bastion 12. Despite the bombing, most of it remained standing and it has been landscaped near the modern lake.

Most of Bastion 12 is built of brick, along with others nearby. They were probably completed during the 15th century. From the early medieval period, a suburb grew up outside the Roman Wall, around the church of St Giles, Cripplegate. The City Ditch was filled in during the 17th century and the Roman Wall became the southern boundary of the churchyard. This ensured the survival of the Wall until 1803 when ‘by reason of the frequent nuisances committed by some of the louest class of people, who had been suffered to inhabit the adjoining premises’, it was demolished.

Today, Bastion 12 and others nearby are a curio but they are the evidence, along with the Roman Wall, for a history of the City of London that starts with the original Roman settlement. The occupying army needed to have a safe fort to defend themselves.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate, Comm_Roman Wall | Leave a comment

St Lawrence, Jewry

Above: Church of St Lawrence, Jewry, standing at the SW corner of Guildhall Yard.

The earliest documented mention of the church was 1198 as ‘St Lawrence in the Jewry’, so-called from the district being largely inhabited by Jews at that time. The church is not far from the street called Old Jewry. The church was dedicated to a saint who was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century by being roasted on a gridiron, which explains the shape of the weather-vane on top of the church.

The church stands beside a street called Gresham Street which in early times was a series of short lanes, each with a different name. Gresham Street was not laid out as a single street by that name until 1845.

The medieval church was destroyed on Tuesday 4 September 1666 in the Great Fire of London. Christopher Wren later designed the new church which was rebuilt 1671-77.

The church was badly damaged during the Second World War, during the Blitz on 29 December 1940. It was later restored in 1957 by Cecil Brown to Wren’s original design. It was listed Grade I on 4 January 1950.

The most elegant church stands on the south side of Guildhall Yard, at the top of Lawrence Lane. St Lawrence Jewry is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate | Leave a comment

Midland Bank, Poultry

Above: Looking west towards Poultry with the elegant old bank building on the right.

The Midland Bank PLC was one of the Big Four banking groups in the United Kingdom for most of the 20th century. It was founded as the Birmingham and Midland Bank in Union Street, Birmingham, in August 1836. It expanded in the Midlands, absorbing many local banks, and merged with the Central Bank of London Ltd in 1891, becoming the London City and Midland Bank. After a period of nationwide expansion, including the acquisition of many smaller banks, the name Midland Bank Ltd was adopted in 1923. By 1934, it was the largest deposit bank in the world.

In June 1992, it was taken over by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Holdings PLC, who phased out the Midland Bank name by June 1999, in favour of HSBC Bank. In September 2015 it was announced that the Midland Bank name would not be revived, and the branch network in the United Kingdom would be branded ‘HSBC UK’.

From 1930 onwards the Head Office for the Midland Bank was at prestigious premises at No 27 on the north side of Poultry. With the Bank of England less than a minute’s walk away it was one of the most central locations of any of the ‘Big Four’ banks. The 1930s building was designed by the architect Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens who is probably best remembered as having designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

The large headquarters at Poultry was designed by Lutyens in 1924. He returned to extend it from 1935 to 1937. The building is listed Grade I. Following Midland’s acquisition by HSBC in 1992, the building was vacated and stood empty for several years before it was eventually bought by a private investment company. The new owner had the building converted into a five-star hotel with nine restaurants and bars, a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool. There are another pool and a spa in the basement. The building opened in 2017 as a five-star hotel called simply ‘The Ned’ after the nickname of the architect.

Having mentioned the basement, the original walk-in vault from the days of the bank is now on public display. It is unusual in having a round heavily-armoured door which is to be seen in the 1960s James Bond movie ‘Goldfinger’. The door weighs 20 tonnes and, when the bank was in operation, the vault held 3,000 stainless steel security boxes.

The 320,000 square-foot property stands on a large site — each of the 11 floors is about 30,000 square feet — stocked with interesting architectural details, which the design team largely kept intact. When the headquarters was built, it was the largest clearinghouse bank in the world. As a hotel, it has more than 250 guest rooms.

Above: The goose at the western end of the building.

One unusual feature to be seen on the exterior of the building are stone statues of geese – one at each end, high up on the stone walls. Lutyens commissioned the Scottish sculptor William Reid Dick to make the sculptures as a reminder that the building stands in a street called Poultry which was once a market selling geese and chickens. Each design is called ‘Boy with Goose’.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate | Leave a comment

Cheapside – Modern Times

Above: Looking west along Cheapside with the fine tower of St Mary le Bow in the centre of the view.

The street market in Cheapside is assumed to have started in Saxon times, continuing into the medieval period. The market was probably expanded to its greatest extent in Elizabethan and Stuart times. In the 17th century London there was the Great Plague (1663-65) which was to be followed by the Great Fire of London (in September 1666). All the ornate timber-framed houses that stood in Cheapside during Tudor times were to perish. What followed were elegant, very regimented, Georgian buildings, with an eye on their design for resistance to fire. Streets in the City had to conform to a defined width – to act as a fire-break. The lanes were laid out with a lesser width but no overhanging gables were permitted. To anyone who had known the pre-fire City, it must have seemed like a completely different place.

Standing beside Cheapside was the church of St Mary le Bow which perished in the flames. A new church was designed by Christopher Wren, with its famous spire. That church was again destroyed during the bombing of London during the Second World War but a faithful replica was created later and was completed in 1964.

As we move into the 18th and 19th centuries, more and more offices started to emerge along Cheapside. At pavement level, it was lined with many shops but above them, office space was the new requirement. Most of the Victorian buildings were destroyed during the bombing in the Second World War. This led to a major rebuilding effort in the 1950s and 1960s and Cheapside then lost all connection with its ancient past as a busy street market. Even larger offices were erected with fewer shops at pavement level. It was considered that City workers only wanted a minimum of shops – like sandwich shops and clothes shops – because they commuted to work each day and at weekends they shopped locally where they lived. That left a rather drab street, lacking many interesting features and on Saturdays and Sundays the whole street was completely empty with not a single shop open for business. For visiting tourists, the weekends in Cheapside presented a wasteland with nowhere to buy souvenirs or enjoy a meal or even a cup of tea.

That state of affairs continued up to the millennium. By that time, things were on the change in London in general. Liverpool Street Station had been redeveloped and a mezzanine floor had been added to turn the station into a mini-parade of shops. Retail space was becoming the new idea because it brought in much-needed rents. Another influence was the newly-completed Canary Wharf development where large shopping malls were built alongside the office blocks. Because many of the offices were open seven days a week, the shops were also open every day to service the needs of the increasing numbers of workers on the estate.

Between Oxford Street, in the west, and Canary Wharf, in the east, lay the City of London. Its approach to shops was that there was no need to trade seven days each week because office workers were only there for five days. However, the City is visited by tourists every day of the year and they needed to find a restaurant open in which to have a meal and shops to cater to their needs.

Suddenly, the whole of Cheapside became a building site once more. At the western end of Cheapside, Paternoster Square was demolished and rebuilt, this time with additional shops along with expanded office space. Opposite the east end of St Paul’s Cathedral, a large six-storey office block was erected, with three of the storeys assigned to retail space and restaurants with a roof-top open space which included another restaurant and a separate bar. Almost all the 1960s offices lining Cheapside were demolished around 2005 and new ones built in their place, this time with larger shops at street level that would be opening seven days a week. It was certainly a revolution for the City and, of course, for Cheapside as well. From that time onwards there was no quiet time on a Sunday to wander around the lonely streets. Cafes opened up, along with many more restaurants than had been there in the 1980s and 1990s.

For the first time in its history, the City was to have a shopping mall, situated at the western end of Cheapside – standing beside a street that had once been a busy medieval market. The new ‘shopping experience’ is within a building called One New Change. Their advertising blurb tells us that it is ‘London’s premier shopping centre in the heart of the City’. We have news for them – Cheapside was there first and it probably has a history of being a market from the 9th century!

There have certainly been changes in Cheapside which, in many cases, have seen new buildings erected twice in a matter of just 60 years. Gone are the Victorian buildings that once stood beside Cheapside. There are just three small two-storey shops on the corner of Wood Street which only survive from Victorian times because there are regulations in force that the large plane tree behind them must be allowed light. Apart from those three buildings and the church of St Mary le Bow, none of the other buildings in the street date from an earlier time than the late 20th century!

Related pages for – Cheapside


Posted in /City-Cripplegate, Comm_Cheapside | Leave a comment

Cheapside – A Medieval Market

Above: The name ‘Cheapside’ as it appears on the Copper Engraving (c1550). We also catch a glimpse of the Elizabethan houses that lined the street.

“Mini Lecture”

As you walk around the City today, several features distract your attention. The roads are full of traffic, making you aware that you should pay attention as you walk beside them or attempt to cross. The tall buildings also catch your eye – either because they are so large or simply because they are so ugly. All of these distractions are usually so overwhelming that it is not really possible to focus your mind on the City’s history. As you walk about, one street looks very much like another these days and it is so easy to lose track of what it must have looked like in much earlier times. The whole of the City was once filled with timber-framed houses and overhanging second and third floors. In general, the streets were narrow – especially the lanes and alleyways.

What we need is a map that ‘shouts’ at you. Some of the streets marked on a modern map need be made to ‘shout’ in some way – either by being shown brightly coloured or possibly highlighted. They need to draw your attention as if to say ‘I was important once but look at me now. I am just a drab modern thoroughfare and nobody takes any interest in me any more’. It is very similar to visiting a street market and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the place. It may only be held on just one day of the week. If you visit that street on any other day, it is ‘just a street’ because all the atmosphere of the market is missing. That is a simple example that may help to get the point across. Walking down a city street today, unless you happen to know its history, you are not aware of what an interesting street it once was. Well, the street that needs to ‘shout’ at us today is Cheapside because it was once the main street market for the City of London. There was a second street market called Eastcheap but that was nowhere near as extensive as the one in Cheapside.

Cheapside has been lined with office buildings for a couple of centuries. It has not really been a market since the time of the Great Fire of London (1666). The market returned after the fire but it was never the bustling place that it had been when the street was lined with timber-framed houses. Gradually the market declined and the thoroughfare turned into being ‘just a City street’.

The first syllable in the name Cheapside comes from ‘cēap’ which was Anglo Saxon for ‘a purchase’ and came to mean a market. The word ‘cēap’ was pronounced ‘cheap’. The Saxon word ‘chepe’ also meant ‘a market’. In early times, Cheapside was called ‘Westcheap’ – because it was on the west side of the old walled City. Similarly, Eastcheap was so-called because it was on the east side – actually quite close to London Bridge.

The earliest pictorial representation of Cheapside on a map is shown on the so-called Copper Engraving – part of which is shown above. The name of the street is shown as ‘Chepe Syde’ and not as ‘Westcheap’ which is interesting. In the bottom left-hand part of the image is a small part of St Paul’s Churchyard. Above that are a church and three leather water-jugs shown, indicating that there was a source of fresh water nearby. To the right, the object labelled ‘Ye Cross’ is an Eleanor Cross that stood in the roadway of Cheapside, opposite the southern end of Wood Street. On the far right is another source of water also shown with three leather water-jugs – it is The Standard which stood opposite the southern end of Milk Street.

On the map we can see that standing beside Cheapside are large timber-framed Tudor houses. We know from other sources that they were highly decorated with intricate carving on the external timbers. Many of them were lived in by wealthy craftsmen who sold what they made from the ground-floor shop within each house. The map shows that there were several churches in the area whose towers stand out above the roof-tops.

Above: Modern street map showing Cheapside as related to Queenhithe and the River Thames.

Streets Named after Commodities
Now for a look at the map. Running across the map is a street (filled with RED) called Cheapside today. It is believed to have started around the 9th century and was the main marked in the City. Evidence of the commodities sold there is to be seen by looking at some of the names of the side streets. The first letter of each street name is shown in YELLOW.

Poultry (P) – leads east from Cheapside making the whole street look quite long. The earliest record of poultry being sold in the street is from 1275. Chickens, ducks, geese and possibly eggs were sold in the street. John Stow, (writing the ‘Survey of London’ in 1605) says ‘Their poultry which they sold at their stalls were scalded there’.

Bread Street (B) – is a turning off the south side of Cheapside, this turning relates to bakers in name only. Today, there are sandwich shops nearby but they hardly count as bakers. When the bakers were in Bread Street, the Worshipful Company of Bakers visited the shops to check that their loaves were the correct weight. If they were underweight, the baker was made to walk around the streets with the loaves tied around his next as a punishment.

Friday Street (W) – was well-known in Catholic times because it was on Fridays that the residents used to visit fish shops lining the street to buy their weekly meal. Sadly, Friday Street no longer joins onto Cheapside and is shown as a DOTTED LINE. Only a very short part at the southern end still exists and is still called Friday Street.

Friday Street used to run south to form a T-junction with a street running east to west – called Old Fish Street. The street no longer exists. Fish was landed at Queenhithe and taken up to Old Fish Street where it was gutted and stored. The fish was then sold — mainly on Fridays — to the public in shops lining Friday Street.

Wood Street (W) – runs off the north side of Cheapside and is still its full length. It ends at the junction with Fore Street, as it did in medieval times. It is assumed that timber was sold in Wood Street, which was the main material for the construction of houses.

Milk Street (M) – this street was where cows would stand and milk-maids would draw milk for any passing customers. How popular milk was as a drink is not known. It could be that the milk was bought for use in cooking and not so much for drinking.

Honey Lane (H) – a self-evident name which is today no more than a passageway. The tarp-eyed visitors have probably noticed that above the passageway is an arch bearing a large bee cut in stone. In fact, John Rocque’s map (1746) shows the lane leading to an extensive market area called ‘Honey Lane Market’.

Ironmonger Lane (I) – this conjures up a vision of a row of hardware shops but it probably was not like that. It was probably merchants selling knives, hammers and nails.

So far, the count of related street names has reached seven. They are the streets that actually run off Cheapside itself. To the west of Cheapside is a gap before you reach Newgate Street and that will be discussed next.

Newgate Street (N) – in medieval times, Newgate Street was where the butchers sold their meat. There were rows of similar stalls, selling cuts of meat as well as many types of offal (including liver) which were also popular dishes at the time. The meat was sold in pieces having been cut off animals that had been slaughtered nearby. Remember that not far away was Smithfield which was where live animals were sold. Whether the meat market grew up in Newgate Street because the live-stock market was conveniently close at Smithfield is not known.

The Shambles (S) – nearly every large town and city had a street called ‘The Shambles’. There is still a street by that name in the City of York. The name referred to the butchers’ stalls. Where the letter ‘S’ is shown was labelled ‘The Shambles’ on Elizabethan street maps of London. ‘The Shambles’ is an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Streets of that name were so called from having been the sites on which butchers killed and dressed animals for consumption.

Other Commodities
Cheapside was a long-established market and many other traders brought their wares for sale. Some sellers at the market would walk there each day to sell their wares from a barrow or something similar. The whole street was a busy place, with a market held there every day except Sunday – when all the good citizens would attend church. Other commodities will now be mentioned which are not related to existing street names. Initial letters are shown in GREEN.

Goldsmiths (G) – On the south side of Cheapside, towards the western end, almost opposite the end of Wood Street, there was a row of large ornate timber-framed houses owned by goldsmiths. They not only sold their rings, necklaces and jewellery but the goldsmiths worked in their shops and lived on the upper floors of the houses. They often also had craftsmen working for them on the premises.

Leather (L) – Running south from Cheapside was Cordwainer Street, now renamed Bow Lane. Henry Harben (the originator of the information in the ‘Dictionary of London’) says Bow Lane was once called Cordwainer Street. Cordwainers were members of a guild who worked in fine leather (not cobblers). They were in the street from the 12th century.

Mercery (Me) – On the north side of Cheapside, at the junction with Poultry, was the Mercery. On part of that land, the Mercers’ Company still has its hall today. Mercery included linen, silk, worsted (a fine cloth originally made in the village of Worsted, in Norfolk) and small manufactured items including what is now called haberdashery. It is from the ancient name of ‘Mercery’ that the Mercers’ Company derived their name.

Rabbit Stalls (R) – In addition to chickens being sold at the street called Poultry, there was also a rabbit market — hence Coneyhope Lane. Harben states that ‘Coneyhope Lane’ ran north off Poultry in the Parish of St Mildred (a church the once stood at the eastern end of Poultry). Its earliest mention was a ‘Conohop Lane’ in 1292. The chapel of St Mary de Coneyhope was in the lane and also the Grocers’ Hall. The site is now occupied by Grocers’ Hall Court which is a gated turning off the north side of Poultry. The word ‘coney’ is a Middle English word for a rabbit or its skin which comes from Old French ‘conin’, deriving originally from the Latin ‘cuniculus’.

Wine Shops and Ale Houses – There were wine shops, alehouses, taverns and inns along the whole of Cheapside. Wine shops were mainly patronised by the more wealthy citizens. Ale was the drink of choice for most people. They did not drink water and tea did not arrive in London until the 17th century.

Cook Shops – There were endless cook-shops along the length of Cheapside. Just as today, so the Elizabethans were well-into their take-away food. The cookshops sold food ready to eat. In medieval and Elizabethan times it was food that was easy to eat, like pies and pasties. Although strongly associated with Cornwall, pasties have been around since at least the 14th century.

Above: Modern map of the riverfront (enlarged from the above map) showing some of the principal wharves.

The Riverfront
We will take a look at the riverfront and consider the wharves between Queenhithe and The Steelyard. They may seem some distance from Cheapside but they played an important part in the affairs of the market. Various commodities were imported on this part of the riverfront and many of them would have found their way to the market at Cheapside. Initial letters are shown in BLUE.

The most important wharves are shown on a modern map, indicated by a sailing ship carrying its cargo. The riverfront in the City was still lined with old wharves and warehouses right up to the 1960s and it was then not difficult to imagine earlier times when smaller warehouses lined the edge of the Thames.

Queenhithe (Q) – The most important landing place related to Cheapside was the dock known as Queenhithe. We have already mentioned the Fishmongers and Friday Street. The fishmongers operated from Queenhithe, unpacking fish delivered by ships small enough to pass through the drawbridge opening of London Bridge. After the fish was landed at Queenhithe, it was taken to sheds at Old Fish Street (which no longer exists) to be gutted and prepared before being sold up the hill at Friday Street. The original Fishmongers’ Hall had stood in Old Fish Street.

The Fishmongers’ Hall is now at the north end of London Bridge but it did not become their official hall until 1444. Billingsgate Fish Market – a short distance east of London Bridge – was not established until 1666 (after the Great Fire of London).

To the west of Queenhithe was High Timber Street which extended between Broken Wharf and Brook’s Wharf. It was first mentioned as ‘la Tymberhethe’ in 1263. Harben says that it was so-called from timber being ‘brought by ship and landed there and warehoused there’. According to Harben, the tenements and wharves at Timberhithe were otherwise called Broken Wharf. Stow says it was ‘so-called of timber or boordes there taken and wharfed’. Stow probably means that the timber was brought to the wharf by ship and stacked in warehouses. The site was High Timber Street which still exists today. There is also a short street called Broken Wharf which is named after the riverside dock that was used in Tudor times.

Garlickhithe (Ga) – Garlick Hill, was so-named because many spices were unloaded near Queenhithe and stored in warehouses in and around Garlick Hill. Harben says Garlickhithe was a hithe or wharf on the Thames in Vintry Ward (which is to the east of Queenhithe). Garlickhithe was where herbs were imported, particularly garlic but also many rare spices – like pepper, cinnamon, ginger, clove and saffron.

Vintry (V) – A short distance east of Queenhithe – where today’s Southwark Bridge meets the City shore – was a small area known as Vintry. It was where the vintners lived and worked, importing wine from France, particularly Bordeaux. Most of the wine was then taken to Westminster where it was drunk in large quantities by the Court at the Palace of Westminster. Remember that the Norman kings were of French descent. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in a house at the Vintry because his father was in the wine business and worked there. His also father had a wine shop in Cheapside.

The Steelyard (St) – Further east once more – now the site of Cannon Street Station – was an enclave of men living at The Steelyard, who were members of the Hanseatic League. It was rather like a ‘Common Market’ with members who came from Germany, the Baltic countries, Russia and England. The English headquarters was in London. Many imports from northern Europe were brought into England and the City due to the League.

Final Thoughts
That completes the description of the market at Cheapside. It is to be hoped that you have enjoyed your visit to the ‘virtual’ Elizabethan market. At least when you next hear the name or visit the street it will mean more than just a long boring line of offices!

We will end with a quote by a visitor from the Continent who travelled around England in the late 16th century and kept a diary of what he saw. While walking through Westcheap he commented that ‘there appear so many and such diverse varieties of wares on whatever side one turns so that it is a wonderful thing to behold, for it seems that not only Europe but also all parts of the world have attempted to try to make themselves known in London’.

What the visitor saw of the market in Cheapside must have been really something to wonder at. In the 16th century, the market was its heigh-day. If only there were pictures and drawings of what it all looked like! If only there were scenes of the traders selling in their shops or from their stalls. They were probably there six days each week. Shops were selling bread, poultry, milk and honey in defined areas. There was also an almost endless variety of wine shops, taverns or pie shops. What a variety of goods! What a vibrant place it must have been!

Related pages for – Cheapside


Posted in /City-Cripplegate, Comm_Cheapside, Lon_Mini-Lectures, Subj_Markets | 3 Comments

Cheapside – Saxon Origins

Above: Outline map of the Saxon City showing how the streets to the west were probably developed shortly after AD 886 (in ORANGE) and the other streets were developed about half a century later (in White). 

After the Roman occupation of Britain ended in AD 410, Saxons started to settle in various places across England. Some of them came to the London area within decades of the Romans leaving our shores. It had been generally assumed by archaeologists that, when the Romans left Londinium, Saxon occupation would have followed but that was not the case. St Paul’s Cathedral was founded inside the Roman Wall in AD 604 which led to the conclusion that the Saxons would also have settled there. While some Saxons must have been living within the old Roman Wall, we now know that the early Saxons – of the 6th and 7th centuries – formed a settlement around what is now Aldwych and the Strand, extending west as far as the site of today’s St Martin in the Fields. The discovery was not made until the 1980s and the settlement is now referred to as Lundenwic.

While the Saxons were living beside the Thames – to the west of the old Roman Wall – the Vikings formed a settlement in what had been Londinium. In the 9th century, during the reign of Alfred the Great, he formed a plan to drive the Vikings from the City. That took place in AD 886 and Alfred established a Saxon settlement within the Roman Wall. Archaeological digs have shown that a new street plan was laid out between what is now called Cheapside and the Thames. There is further evidence that more streets were added to the east of the River Walbrook, probably towards the end of the 10th century, which led to an extended community living as far east as Eastcheap and the other dock known as Billingsgate. The new township – including those living to the west and to the east of Walbrook – is now referred to as ‘Lundenburg’.

Returning to the subject of Cheapside, its alignment partly coincides with the main Roman street of Londinium. It may be that the Roman thoroughfare was still visible when the streets of Alfred’s time were being established and a Saxon thoroughfare was laid out to align with the original street. The street we call Cheapside was first called Westcheap in early times. The first syllable referred to the street being towards the west of the old walled city. The second syllable comes from ‘cēap’, which is actually an Anglo Saxon word for ‘a purchase’ and came to mean a market. The earliest recorded mention of the name is not until 1067 as ‘Westceape’. It was not until the time of Henry VIII that the name ‘Cheapside’ starts to appear in documents and also on maps. The earliest documented mention was in 1511 when it was called ‘Chepesyde’. The earliest map of London – the Copperplate map of about 1553 – also has the same spelling. Eventually, the final spelling became ‘Cheapside’. Why the name ‘Westcheap’ was changed into ‘Cheapside’ has never been fully explained.

The general picture of the 9th-century Lundenburg is of a community living around Cheapside with the cathedral precinct at its western end. New streets were laid out, extending south on sloping land that led down to the Thames. Presumably, by the 9th century, the remains of the old Roman Wall beside the Thames had either fallen down or been deliberately removed. Quays were built beside the river at which small ships could dock. The dock now known as Queenhithe was was created in AD 899 and a new community is believed to have been living near St Paul’s Cathedral and using the dock as a trading ‘port’. With the strong tidal current of the Thames, a dock would have been essential for the easier mooring and unloading of cargo vessels.

Having mentioned the River Thames, it is also important to mention the London Bridge. Evidence has been found for a Roman bridge built mainly of timber. The route in the City (now known as Fish Street Hill, Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate) ran down to the Thames and crossed the river at this point. The continuation was on the line of today’s Borough High Street. The Thames at that point is over 900 feet (about 275 m) wide. By the 9th century, the site of the bridge was at least 700 years old and it is more than likely that it was no longer in position. The bridge may have been rebuilt about AD 880 by Alfred the Great or it may have been rebuilt around AD 990 under the Saxon king Æthelred the Unready. There are hints that the bridge may have been rebuilt at one of those times but there are no definite records of a bridge until it is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of 1016. The well-known stone bridge (the one with the timber houses on it) was not started until 1176 and was not completed until 1209.

One other early building in Westcheap was the church of St Mary le Bow. Archaeological evidence indicates that a church existed on this site in Saxon times. Its Norman crypt can still be seen, constructed from Caen stone. Evidence of a church is always a good indication that people lived nearby. There is no point in building a church if there are no parishioners! Gradually, Cheapside was becoming a busy street and it is more than likely that a market was also established in those early times. We need to remind ourselves that the years of the reign of Alfred the Great are over eleven centuries ago and our knowledge of that period of the City’s history is by no means complete. However, what the archaeologists have already discovered paints a picture of a thriving community which laid the foundations for the City to grow and flourish in Norman times and beyond.

Related pages for – Cheapside


Comment – Focussing on the History of Cheapside

The subject of Cheapside is an important one. It is important within the context of the City of London and also important in the context of the history of Saxon London. All three blogs for this week focus on various aspects of Cheapside, including a ‘Mini Lecture’.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate, Comm_Cheapside | 2 Comments

Girdlers’ Hall

Above: Looking west at the northern end of Basinghall Street towards the Girdlers’ Hall.

The Girdlers’ craft was in the making of girdles – sword-belt and dress-belt making. The Girdlers were also involved with the associated metalwork. Girdles were often ornate and worn outside a tunic or gown. As well as the practical use of gathering in a garment around the waist, they were also used to suspend a wallet, purse or side-arms – particularly a sword. Girdling, as it was called, overlapped with other crafts working with metal or leather. The craft became important from mediaeval times until the end of the 16th century when it went into rapid decline. The company no longer practises its craft. However, at each coronation, it has the honour of presenting the girdle and stole worn by the Sovereign.

The Girdlers’ Company received its Letters Patent from Edward III in 1327. They are ranked 23 in order of the Companies. The Letters Patent were renewed several times between 1353 and 1462. They laid down standards for the manufacture of girdles and gave search-and-destroy powers to the elected representatives of the craft so that the standards could be enforced. The earliest recorded mention of a Master came in 1328 when Ralph de Braghynge and three Guardians were elected ‘for the government of the Mystery of Girdlers’.

On the 6th August 1449, the Girdlers became an incorporated body by the grant of a Royal Charter to ‘The Master and Guardians of the Mystery of Girdlers in the City of London’ in the reign of Henry VI. This gave them the advantage of continuity so that they could own the property free from the hazards and penalties which befall mortal men.

According to Harben (in his ‘Dictionary of London’) the Girdlers’ first hall was first mentioned 1439. During the Great Fire of London (1666) the hall was destroyed on Tuesday 4 September. Some years after the fire, it was rebuilt on the same site 1681-82. It was restored and altered 1878-79.

During the Second World War, the hall was destroyed during the bombing in 1940. The present hall was opened in 1960 after being rebuilt. It stands on the east side of Basinghall Street, at the north end, on the only site the company has ever had.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate | Leave a comment

Guildhall Crypt

Above: The east crypt, with a roof supported by marble pillars.

One of the most remarkable buildings in the City of London is the Guildhall whose exterior walls, enclosing a large rectangular hall were last constructed 1411-25. This means that they have been standing for 600 years! As well as the remarkable hall, it was constructed over a crypt of supporting arches and pillars – as was typical of this kind of building. If the Guildhall is open when you visit it, there is a chance that the crypt might also be open although it is not always the case. It is believed that the crypt may have been built under an earlier hall, dating from the time of Edward the Confessor – possibly 1042. There are essentially two adjacent crypts known as the East Crypt and the West Crypt, adjacent to each other but built at different times. Today they can be divided into two separate parts when one or both are used as dining venues.

The East Crypt survived the Great Fire and boasts a stunning vaulted ceiling decorated with carved bosses of heads, shields and flowers resting upon stone and marble pillars. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England.

The East Crypt’s windows were donated by the Clothworkers’ Company. They depict the Guildhall in flames with a phoenix below along with representations of five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. Close inspection of the pillars in the East Crypt reveals dents in the stonework. They were once at ground level and horses were tied up beside them while their owners went about their daily business.

Above: The west crypt.

The West Crypt was built later – dating from the 13th century. It was completely sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the Great Hall’s fallen roof in 1666. It was not until 1973 that it was restored and reopened, following extensive restoration. The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City’s famous Livery Companies.

The area below ground forms the largest medieval crypts in London. Most people are familiar with a church having a crypt. A good example of that is the crypt under the nearby church of St Mary le Bow. In medieval times it was usual for all types of buildings to have a crypt but none of the those remaining is as extensive as that of the Guildhall.


Posted in /City-Cripplegate | Leave a comment

Guildhall, The

Above: Looking north across Guildhall Yard at the ancient Guildhall.

There is no certainty about when the first Guildhall existed on the present site. The Guildhall was certainly established by the 12th century. Within the building, the heraldic arms of Edward the Confessor are shown alongside those of Henry VI – in whose reign the present hall was built – which indicate that an early Guildhall or equivalent existed around the 1060s. It stands on the east side of a street called Aldermanbury whose name means ‘meeting place of the Aldermen’ which may be significant. There are also various early mentions of the area beside Aldermanbury as ‘land of the Guildhall’ around the 1130s which means it was certainly established by the 12th century. About 1350 the Guildhall was referred to as ‘the Hall of Pleas of the City’. The Guildhall stands on the north side of Guildhall Yard which, in Roman times, was the centre of the Amphitheatre for which evidence was only discovered in 1987. An archaeological dig between 1987 and 1994 revealed parts of the eastern end of the Amphitheatre. Whether the Roman site had any effect on the Guildhall being built there is not known.

The present Guildhall was constructed 1411-25. It was begun in 1411 by Thomas Knowles, grocer and mayor, and Stow recalls that ‘instead of the little old cottage in Aldermanbury, Knolles made a fair and goodly house nearer to St Lawrence Jewry’. The large hall, 150 feet (46 m) long and 50 feet (15 m) wide, was built over a crypt of the same dimensions. Part of the cost of paving and glazing the Guildhall was paid for in 1423 from money from Richard Whittington’s will.

During the Great Fire of London, flames reached the Guildhall on Tuesday 4 September and destroyed all but the outer walls of the hall and its roof beams. The crypt is constructed entirely of stone also survived. Many of the City’s records being stored in the Guildhall were taken to Gresham House for safekeeping. Around 1670, the roof was replaced the walls of the hall were made higher and a row of smaller windows was added to allow more light into the interior.

In 1777 the Council Chamber was built, designed by George Dance (Younger). During 1788-89 George Dance (Younger) reconstructed the front of the Guildhall. The Council Chamber was demolished in 1906 but the front entrance by Dance remains today.

In 1866 by the City of London architect Sir Horace Jones, added a new timber roof in close keeping with the original hammer-beam ceiling. This replacement was destroyed during the Second World War on the night of 29-30 December 1940. The walls of the hall were not affected and neither was the crypt. After the Second World War, restoration of the Guildhall took place 1954-58 under the direction of Giles Gilbert Scott.

Above: Looking east along the length of the hall.

The main entrance is from Guildhall Yard at the north end of King Street, near the junction with Gresham Street. These days there is an entrance on the western side which involves security checks. The Guildhall and crypt are open to the public on most days and even Sundays during the summer months provided that there is no official event being prepared for or actually taking place. The hall is one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the City. It is also one of the oldest buildings remaining in the City.

On the floor of the large hall are the Standard Measures, set into brass plates. Looking down from a small gallery are the mysterious figures of Gog and Magog. The 18th-century wooden statues were destroyed by a bombing raid during the Second World War. They were replaced in 1953. Their names are Biblical and appear in Ezekiel 38:9 where Gog is described as a prince in the land of Magog, who leads the barbarian tribes of the North in an assault on Israel. Magog is the son of Japeth and a member of the peoples that lived to the north of Israel. In the New Testament, they reappear in Revelations 20:8 as nations that make war upon the Kingdom of Christ.

The hall is the scene of the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet as well as many other civic and private functions. The Court of Common Council is also held in the hall. The Guildhall is a Grade I listed building. The building has been used as a town hall for several hundred years and it is still the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London and its Corporation.

See also – Guildhall Crypt


Posted in /City-Cripplegate | Leave a comment

Cripplegate, Cheap and Bassishaw Wards Overview

Above: The pre-2003 boundaries of the three wards. Their shape has changed considerably from those shown above.

This is an area of study that is right at the heart of the City. After the Romans abandoned Londinium, the history of township falls silent for over 400 years. The Saxons established a settlement called Lundenwic to the west of the Roman Wall. It was not until AD 886 that English rule within the old Roman Wall was restored. Archaeologists have found that it was between Cheapside and the Thames that the new town – called Lundenburg – was established.

Basinghall Ward

This is a geographically a small ward but it packs a large amount of history. The original ward boundary was coterminous with its only parish known as St Michael Bassishaw. The ward and the short street both derive their names from the ancient Bassishaw family.

In earlier times there was the Masons’ Hall, constructed in 1463 in Mason’s Avenue, a street which today forms part of the ward’s southern boundary. Their hall was sold to the Corporation in 1865. The Weavers’ Hall once stood on the east side of Basinghall Street. The Girdlers once had a hall for their guild in the ward. The modern livery halls of the Pewterers, the Salters and Brewers all stand in Bassishaw Ward.

The former Guildhall Library and Museum were both within the ward.

Cheap Ward

By the 14th century, it was, with Cordwainer, the wealthiest ward in the City and, over the centuries, has always been of considerable importance as a centre of trade and industry. The eastern part of Cheapside was within the ward and the ward name derived from the name of the street. Today it is many occupied by offices working in banking and financial services. The ward took its name from the street called Westcheap, now known as Cheapside.

The Guildhall is situated within the ward. It acts as the seat of the ‘government’ for the City of London. Within the ward have been no less than seven parishes of which only St Lawrence, Jewry, remains today. The church stands beside Guildhall Yard. At one time four companies had their halls in the ward but today only two remain – Grocers’ Hall and Mercers’ Hall.

Cripplegate Ward

This is by far the largest ward of the three. It took its name from the gate in the Roman Wall called Cripplegate. Its northern boundary of the ward is part of the boundary of the City of London. The ward extends inside and outside the line of the old Roman Wall. The part of the ward inside the wall is known as ‘Cripplegate Within’ and the other part is called ‘Cripplegate Without’.

The modern Barbican Centre lies within its boundary. There have been seven parishes within the boundary but now all the parishes have been lost due to the Great Fire or the church being destroyed during the Second World War. Over the centuries, no less than nine companies had a hall within the ward. Today two remain – Brewers’ Hall and Wax-Chandlers’ Hall.

Area of Study – Cripplagate (City of London)


Posted in /City-Cripplegate, Lon_Overviews | Leave a comment