Gracechurch Street Parish Markers (01)

Above: A pair of parish markers high up on the wall of two adjoining office blocks on the east side of the Gracechurch Street – one of them having the address of No 51.

Parish markers are a subject that few people know much about. Most of the time, few people even notice the hundreds of parish markers to be seen on the streets of London. It is self-evident that, if you come across a parish marker, there should be at least one more beside it. If there is only one marker, it means that the other one has been lost with time – either it has fallen off the wall and not been replaced or possibly stolen. Sometimes, three parishes meet at one point on a wall, or the corner of a wall and will have three parish markers all clustered together.

The pair of parish markers in the picture above has obviously had a rough life with nobody taking care of them or painting them. They were so rusted that the picture needed to be enhanced to reveal as much of the detail as possible. In this case, it is good to see that both parish markers are still in place.

The marker on the left is inscribed ’S B G’ which are the initials of the church of St Benet, Gracechurch Street, which stood on the south corner of the junction of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street. The church was demolished in 1868. The marker is also inscribed 1885 which would have been the date of being manufactured. It is also numbered ’28’ meaning that from the starting point when perambulating the parish boundary, this was the 28th parish marker on the route. It was usual for the parish priest to lead the choir-boys and the congregation around the parish boundary once each year, to check that all the boundary markers were in place. Any found missing were noted and steps were taken to replace them. The procession started from a point on the parish boundary where the marker carried the number ‘1’ and the assembled company followed the markers until they reached the highest number in the sequence.

The marker on the right is inscribed ‘St L E’, the initials of the church of St Leonard Eastcheap. Its date of manufacture is shown as 1886. The marker carries the number ’10’ meaning it was the tenth marker in order of walking that parish boundary. The church of St Leonard was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt. It stood on the west corner of the T-junction of Fish Street Hill with Eastcheap. The ancient foundation of the church was found when excavations were made for the Metropolitan District Railway which opened in 1868 (later being known as the District Line).

If the subject of parish markers is new to you, it should be pointed out that there are hundreds remaining in situ in the City of London. It is only a matter of keeping your eyes open as you walk around and you will soon discover some of them. There are, of course, parish markers to be seen all over London and, indeed, in many other parts of England.

If buildings have to be taken down – when a site is redeveloped – markers like these are usually carefully removed from the old building and then replaced at a similar spot when a new building is completed. Sometimes, well-known markers ‘go missing’ due to the details on the plans of a new development not being carefully set out when work starts on a new project. Sadly, as time goes by, parish markers are lost in this way.

-ENDS-

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Gracechurch Street

Above: View of Gracechurch Street looking north. The crossroads – of Lombard Street (on the left) and Fenchurch Street (on the right) is near the bottom of the picture.

Gracechurch Street was once quite an important street. We need to understand its position relative to old London Bridge (the one with the houses on it). The Romans built their bridge of timber with a thoroughfare leading north to the Forum (or market square) and the Basilica (or town hall). Both of these important Roman sites covered land on which the northern part of Gracechurch Street is situated today.

It is believed that old London Bridge – the first stone bridge – occupied the old site of the Roman bridge. Leading north from that bridge was Fish Street Hill and that street, in turn, led into Gracechurch Street. Until the second stone London Bridge was built in the early 19th century on a new site, the two streets were seen as being the main highway leading north from the old bridge. Due to the replacement bridge being sited further west, the original route via Fish Street Hill was bypassed and an awkward bend in the road led those coming off the 1831 bridge from King William Street back to Gracechurch Street. The unwieldily junction, which also includes Eastcheap, has been a traffic nightmare ever since and it is no better today.

Fish Street Hill was still a charming backwater until the 1970s when, due to unsympathetic redevelopment, it lost all of its Victorian features. It has to be said that Gracechurch Street has suffered a similar fate. It needs to be realised that Gracechurch Street not only led south to London Bridge – as well as parts of Surrey and Kent – but it also ran north into Bishopsgate which eventually led further north to places like Peterborough, as well as East Anglia.

The name of Gracechurch Street probably goes back to 1250 when it was mentioned as ‘Garscherche’. The early name became ‘Grass Church Street’ because in the street was a herb market – often called the ‘grass market’ – and that was beside a church, at the junction of Gracechurch Street with Fenchurch Street called ‘St Benet, Gracechurch Street’. Nothing remains of the church today. Its position is marked by a City Plaque on a large office block now covering the site of the church and its churchyard. Gracechurch Street was famous for its Herb Market which may also have sold hay and possibly corn. The market was still in existence at the time of John Stow (who died in 1605) but it is unlikely that the market was held in Gracechurch Street after the time of the Great Fire of London (1666). It was probably incorporated into the nearby Leadenhall Market.

Above: Drawing of the Spread Eagle Inn, from part of the John Tallis street view for Gracechurch, produced from 1838-1847. Notice the large street entrance to the inn (in grey) where the stage-coaches entered the yard which was full of stables and hay-lofts. Notice also the eagle emblem on the building.

Moving into the 18th century, Gracechurch Street had hostelries standing beside it, which were developing as coaching inns. Transport by stage-coach, for the wealthy, was the way of travelling from one town or city to another. The Spread Eagle stood on the east side of Gracechurch Street – just south of Leadenhall Market – and provided services for stage-coaches bound for distant destinations to the south and SE of the City – like Maidstone, in Kent. At the time of the Tallis view, railways were starting to become a reality. Although the Spread Eagle was still the stopping point for stage-coaches, the innkeeper was also acting as a ‘Railway Office’, probably for the nearby London Bridge Station.

Above: A City Plaque recording the site of the old Cross Keys Inn, which stood beside Bell Inn Yard.

The Cross Keys Inn, whose name lives on as the Wetherspoon pub by the same name, is on the western side of Gracechurch Street. The original inn, along with many others in Bishopsgate, was used by coaches plying between the City and destinations in East Anglia.

As can be seen from the picture at the top, the street has nothing to recommend it as being of special historic interest. It is now lined with offices and shops. It takes a keen eye to seek out the City Plaques and street name-plates on the narrow side turnings to realise that there is a wealth of associations with the past.

-ENDS-

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Peter Boat and Doublet, Fish Street Hill

Above: The large wooden sign, about 36 inches (91 cm) high, on view in a display case. The sign is either made of dark wood or painted in a dark colour and depicts St Peter drawing a net full of fishes at the front of the boat. Surrounding the sign is scrollwork and at the top can be seen the doublet (or woollen coat).

It is a sad fact of life that London’s streets are becoming more and more uninteresting as time passes, not only because the old buildings are being torn down and replaced with monotonous office facades but also because interesting features are often stolen and therefore they have to be removed from their original locations and placed in museums for their own safety.

If you walk north from London Bridge and take the first turning on the right, you will see the Monument to the Great Fire of London ahead of you. On reaching The Monument, turn right again and you will be standing in Fish Street Hill. Today the street is rather like a miniature Cheddar Gorge, with high office buildings towering over you on either side of the road. Until the 1960s this narrow street was rather a ‘backwater’ with old Victorian three- and four-storey offices either side.

For the reader to fully understand this article, it may be necessary to give a reminder of the Bible story about St Peter, who was a fisherman, casting his nets from his boat and not being able to catch any fish. He had been fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognise Him. He said: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large numbers of fish. The story has always appealed to fishermen down the ages. In some places, small fishing boats are known as ‘Peter-boats’ because of the Bible story.

One of the Victorian buildings, at No 46 Fish Street Hill, was occupied by William Good and Son Ltd, on the eastern side. It closed about 1970 and had been a ship’s chandlers, specialising in ropes and tackle for boats. Before that, the shop had originally stood on London Bridge. While on London Bridge and right up to the time it closed after moving to Fish Street Hill, a wooden sign dated 1668 was exhibited outside the shop. It showed the ‘Peter boat and doublet’ depicting the disciple Peter in a boat with a net full of fish and a large coat as part of the design. After that time the sign was removed from public view. The old Victorian building was demolished in 2014. The same year the Museum of London in Docklands put on a temporary exhibition about the Thames and the trades that were dependent on it. In one of the cases was shown the original wooden sign – shown in the picture at the top of this article.

Some of the signs (and even statues) on London’s streets are considered too valuable to be left at the mercy of thieves and replicas have been made. It is a shame that a replica of this interesting ‘relic from the past’ cannot be made and placed on the new premises for all to admire as they pass by. Organisations like Canary Wharf and Broadgate spend vast sums of money on modern public art which they purchase and put on show ’to enrich the lives of people who pass by’. Ancient signs would enrich people’s lives in a similar way if only the will was there to have a similar scheme. It would also be a reminder of what an unusual history the capital possesses which, in general, is known only to the few people who work in places like museums and art galleries.

To complete the story, it should be mentioned that a Victorian building at 153 Fenchurch Street used to be a shop called Samuel Tull & Co, established in 1740. They were rope, line, twine and net-makers who had occupied several sites in the City. On the remaining Victorian building is a terra-cotta depiction of a similar ‘Peter-boat and doublet’ sign.

-ENDS-

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Fish Street Hill

Above: The lower half of a painting by the artist William Marlow in 1795, looking south towards The Monument (far left) and St Magnus the Martyr (in the distance with its overhanging clock). The busy scene contains stage-coaches and carts.

Fish Street Hill – as we call it today – is on the line of a Roman road that led north from where the Romans originally built their wooden bridge (later to be replaced by old London Bridge). According to John Stow, the thoroughfare was known in early times as ‘Bridge Street’. In 1321 the Fishmongers moved from long-established premises just north of Queenhithe Dock to a site just west of today’s Fish Street Hill. It was then called by the name of ‘New Fish Street’ to distinguish it from Old Fish Street near Queenhithe. Gradually, over time, the name changed to Fish Street Hill and the earliest version of the name appeared in 1568.

Fish Street Hill was a busy street, bustling with shops, with plenty of traffic because it led north from old London Bridge – the City’s only bridge over the Thames. By the 1800s old London Bridge (the one that once had the houses standing on it) was showing its age. It was around 600 years old and was very narrow. In 1831 a new London Bridge was opened on a new site – a short distance west of the old one. On the south side of the river, Borough High Street had to be realigned to meet the new bridge. In the City, a new road was constructed, leading north from the new bridge, called King William Street. This new road ran north beside the Fishmongers’ Hall and then had a bend to the west, taking it past the junction with Cannon Street and northwards to the road junction at the Bank of England.

This new development meant that Fish Street Hill was bypassed, with traffic passing over London Bridge and proceeding north to the junction with Cannon Street. Fish Street Hill led north into Gracechurch Street. To accommodate the traffic wanting to continue north via Gracechurch Street an awkward bend – which is still there to this day – was laid out. It is fair to say that the clumsy road junction has been a traffic ‘hot spot’ ever since.

Fish Street Hill was, until the 1970s, a narrow backwater, still lined with Victorian shops. By that time they were in decline and few people used the street for anything other than a short-cut between Lower Thames Street and Gracechurch Street. Office development has been ‘on the march’ since the 1970s and today the street is just another boring street in the City of London. In the same way that ‘No Entry’ signs are placed at the end of one-way streets, perhaps there should also be a roundel with the large letters ‘ABS’ warning tourists that the street is not worth exploring because it is ‘Another Boring Street’. You only have to look at the vibrant scene in the top painting to see what a hive of activity it once was. Look at the buildings – see how attractive they are!

Above: A split-view comparing the painting of Fish Street Hill with a modern photographic view.

As it happens, this painting is one of the first historic views I ever saw of Fish Street Hill. Its striking composition – with The Monument on the left and the church of St Magnus the Martyr in the distance – is very attractive. Being interested in photography, it was not long before I tried to take a similar view, by standing at the top of Fish Street Hill – but with no success. As we all know, an artist can manipulate perspective in a painting in a way that is not possible by photographic means. I, therefore, decided that such a view was not possible to take using a camera. The main stumbling block for me was that the painting was titled ‘Fish Street Hill and The Monument’. Many years later, I happened to be looking down Gracechurch Street, from just south of the junction with Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street, when I realised that the view had been painted from the lower part of Gracechurch Street. It not only showed Fish Street Hill in the distance but also some of Gracechurch Street as well. In other words, the artist had viewed the scene from a point further north of Fish Street Hill than I had thought.

In the painting (at the top of this article), the three-storey house with yellow-ochre exterior walls was, in fact, at the junction of Fish Street and Gracechurch Street. In the ‘comparison’ image, that same site is now occupied by an office block with a curved corner (on the far right of the modern view). Whether the modern office design was by accident or by studying this 18th century painting is not known.

-ENDS-

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St Magnus the Martyr

Above: A small part of the Rhinebeck Panorama, 1806-07, showing the tall tower of St Magnus – probably taller than it should be – to the left of the northern end of old London Bridge. In the bottom left corner is a part of the Thames.

Before the time of the Great Fire of London (1666), the medieval church tower of St Magnus was one of the most well-known church towers in the City of London. After the church was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, 1671-76 and the steeple was added, the church tower was again a landmark for pedestrians who walked over London Bridge and for those who worked on the river. Sadly, today it is possible to walk over the present London Bridge and not even see the church or its tower – because there is a large office block called Adelaide House, between the bridge and the church, blocking your view.

When you come across a City church, it is worth looking at its name. If its name is Edmund or Alfred, it is likely to be of Saxon origin, because they are the names of Saxon saints. If it is Magnus or Olave, it is likely to be of Viking origin, being Norwegian or Danish saints. Names like Denis or Vedast would have been named by the French after their French saints.

The church was dedicated to St Magnus the Martyr, Earl of Orkney, who died on 16 April in or around 1116. The first documented mention of the church was in 1067. Whether it had some other dedication then is not known. The site of the church was on the east side of London Bridge, at the northern end. It was the first building that anyone would have passed as they walked north off the bridge.

Above: A painting by William Parrott looking upriver at the east side of London Bridge, with the tower of St Magnus and The Monument towards the right.

In the 16th century, those who passed by the tower would have marvelled at the church’s overhanging clock. It was so unusual that it is drawn on the Agas map of c1561. The size of the clock is almost as large as the tower – indicating what an important sight it was. Overhanging clocks in the 16th century were quite uncommon. The weights to power the clock mechanism had to pass through the support holding the clock and then have a space to hang inside the tower. When Wren rebuilt the church, after the Great Fire of London, he designed a similar clock to replace the original one and it occupies the same position today.

The medieval church stood sentinel by old London Bridge until it was destroyed in the Great Fire on Sunday 2 September 1666. Because the church stood so close to Pudding Lane – where the fire started – the church would have been one of the first churches to be destroyed. As has been mentioned, the church was rebuilt 1671-76 by Christopher Wren. The steeple, one of Christopher Wren’s finest, was not added to the church until 1705.

With the demolition of the houses on London Bridge, the approach road was widened and the base of the tower, which was part of the western end of the church, was examined to see if the western ends of the aisles could be removed and a cutting made through the base of the tower for a new pavement. It was found that Wren had anticipated that this necessity might arise and that the construction of the walls and tower were such that the alterations could easily be made. The new footpath was opened 25 June 1763.

The church was part of the bustling scene, of pedestrians, carts and carriages passing by every day until the second stone bridge was built a short distance to the west of the old one. Fish Street Hill, which led north from old London bridge, then had less through traffic because it mainly went via the newly constructed King William Street.

When the new London Bridge was opened, in 1831, by King William IV, he also officially opened King William Street – which was named after him. Standing on the east side of the new bridge was a Georgian office block – Adelaide House – named in honour of the consort Queen Adelaide.

Above: Present day view across the Thames. Beside London Bridge stands the 1925 Adelaide House. It is so large that it is necessary to take the picture at an angle in order to see the tower of St Magnus.

What started as a modest office block called Adelaide House, in 1831, was redeveloped in 1925 into the monster building that we see today. The church of St Magnus came off worst because the present office building stands beside London Bridge but its eastern end is within a few feet of the magnificent tower. It is now necessary to walk over London Bridge and descend the stone steps to Lower Thames Street in order to gain a reasonable view of this remarkable church.

Above: Looking south from Gracechurch Street at Fish Street Hill with the tower of St Magnus.

Until the 1830s, Fish Street Hill was regarded as leading north off old London Bridge. Due to the later London Bridge and the 20th century bridge being sited further west, Fish Street Hill is now rather a ‘back-water’ to King William Street – where it leads north off the bridge. Nevertheless, the view of St Magnus from this narrow street is still worth seeing.

-ENDS-

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London Bridge – Three Stone Bridges

Above: Looking at the east side of London Bridge (with the City end on the right). The model of the bridge represents some time after 1550. The structure on the large pier shows the original chapel after it had been converted into a shop.

Many books have been written about the almost 2,000-year history of London Bridge. In addition, there are numerous maps and prints that provide visual information revealing this interesting subject. No blog – containing a few paragraphs – can possibly do justice to the subject but if you are not aware of its long history then what follows will hopefully give you an introduction to what is one of most interesting subjects in London’s long history.

Early Bridges

The original site of London Bridge was a short distance east of the present site. It is generally believed that the Romans built the first crossing, linking two Roman roads leading from the banks of the Thames. A few wooden piles from the original Roman bridge were discovered by archaeologists in the 20th century. It is assumed that the bridge was also constructed from timber. Having a length of just over 900 feet, the bridge would have been at the limit of Roman bridge construction. How many bridges the Romans built while they were in London is not known. Because the Thames is tidal at that point and because it often froze during the winter months the bridge may have collapsed every now and then.

In the Roman town of Londinium (now part of the City of London), the route that led north from the bridge has now become today’s Fish Street Hill and Gracechurch Street. On the south side of the Thames, the route of the Roman road became today’s Borough High Street. The curious line of today’s street was because it originated as a series of causeways linking small islands of gravel. The thoroughfare leading south from today’s Borough High Street bears the name ‘Newington Causeway’ – as a reminder of the marshy ground in the area.

Whether the bridge across the Thames remained in working order after the Romans left London in AD 410 is unknown. It may have lasted for some decades and then collapsed. It is not known if the Saxons who occupied London and land to the west rebuilt it or managed without a bridge. Alfred the Great re-established English control of Lundenburgh (the Saxon name for the land of the City of London) in AD 886. We do not know if London Bridge was still in existence or if it needed to be rebuilt at that time.

We know there was a bridge in existence in AD 963 because it is mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle. A fund was set up in 1008 for the repair of the bridge which is its earliest local mention. In 1014 Ethelred II, who had fled to Normandy in 1013, returned to England. He sailed up the Thames with Haraldson of Norway in covered ships which were tied to the wooden bridge. By rowing the ships downstream, the bridge was pulled down, causing Canute and the Danes to surrender.

The bridge was damaged in 1135 by fire in the City and it was later repaired. At that time it is possible the bridge was constructed of wood but it may have had at least two stone arches. A new wooden bridge of elm is known to have been rebuilt in 1163.

The First Stone Bridge

A relatively short time after the last rebuilding, plans were made for a new stone bridge which was constructed between 1176 and 1209. It was an ambitious plan – with 19 islands (called ‘starlings’) being constructed in the river and 19 arches built on top – carrying an almost level roadway. A drawbridge was built, instead of the 20th arch – to allow ships with tall masts to pass through the bridge. Three particular starlings deserve mention. They are numbered from the Southwark end of the bridge. At the southern (Southwark) end, was a Stone Gate (on the second starling). The Drawbridge Gate (on the seventh starling) was built to raise and lower the drawbridge. On the largest starling of all (the eleventh) was built a chapel. The man who supervised the work was a priest called Peter of Colechurch who, when he died in 1205, was buried in the chapel on the new bridge.

As time went by, shops were built onto the stone bridge with rooms above where the owners lived and their servants made the items sold in the shops. It became a sort of ‘shopping precinct’ – selling fine clothing, silver and gold ornaments, jewellery and rings, as well as many other items. It was not unusual to build a chapel on a bridge in medieval times. Four other bridge in England had one and also several in what we would today call Europe. Shops and or houses were also built on some of those bridges.

In 1536 Henry VIII closed the monasteries in England and the chapel on London Bridge was also forced to close. It was not taken down but, instead, it was used as a large shop. Its exterior was altered to make it look like a non-religious building on the orders of the king.

In 1633 a disastrous fire destroyed a third of the wooden buildings at the northern (City of London) end of the bridge. The fire proved to be a blessing in disguise because repairs had not been completed by the time of the Great Fire of London, in 1666, and so the fire in the City did not spread south to burn down Southwark. That meant that the bridge was able to be used as an escape route for City residents.

Above: An enlargement from the Rheinbeck Panorama (1806-07) showing the ‘Great Arch’ formed by removing one pier and making an easier passage for shipping. Unfortunately, the panorama has an incorrect number of arches. Being a small part of the whole panorama it may be that the artist thought nobody would notice.

The strong river currents and the occasional freezing of the Thames, over the centuries, caused the stonework to give way on occasions and many repairs had to be made as a result. In 1759 one of the stone piers (number nine) was removed and a Great Arch was built on piers eight and ten to allow larger boats to pass more easily through the bridge.

Above: Painting of the opening day of the second stone bridge. The view shows the western side of the bridge (with the City end on the left). Part of the old stone bridge can be seen through the arch on the far right.

Second Stone Bridge

By the 1820s the medieval bridge was over 600 years old and the City decided to build a new one. To take it down and leave pedestrians, carts and carriages without a bridge at that point on the Thames was unthinkable. A solution was found by building a new bridge on a new site – just west of the first one. That site is on the site of today’s modern bridge. Work began in 1824 for the new stone bridge and it was officially opened on 1 August 1831 by William IV.

In Southwark, because the site of the new bridge was further west than the medieval one, the northern end of Borough High Street had to re-aligned with the new bridge. This work required removing part of the churchyard of Southwark Cathedral. In the City, Gracechurch Street and Fish Street Hill had aligned with the medieval London Bridge. To fit in with the new bridge, King William Street was created (as a new thoroughfare from the Bank interchange to the new bridge) with a curious curve, which still remains today, allowing traffic from the new bridge to travel north and to join up with Gracechurch Street.


Above: View of the east side of the third bridge – which is the bridge that is there today. The City is at the far end.

Third Stone Bridge

By the 1960s the second stone bridge was in need of replacement. By that time engineers knew how to build a new bridge on the site of the old one. The western part of the old bridge was removed and replaced by a new bridge – while the traffic continued to pass over the eastern remains of the old bridge. The traffic was then re-routed over the new part of the bridge while the other part was removed and the rest of the new bridge was constructed. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 March 1973.

The first stone bridge had 19 arches and a wooden drawbridge. The second bridge had just five arches and today’s bridge has only three arches – standing on two piers. It may well be that, in another 100 years, the next bridge will have just one span without requiring any piers.

Note: Some aspects of London Bridge were covered in the blog dated 6 November 2015. Other blogs related to London Bridge are ‘A Stone Tablet from Old London Bridge’ (on 8 June 2016) and ‘Peter of Colechurch and his Seal’ (on 6 January 2016).

-ENDS-

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Bridge Within and Billingsgate Overview

This overview relates to two City Wards – Bridge Within and Billingsgate. Their original outlines are shown with red dotted lines on the Google map, with which most people are familiar these days. The boundary of the City of London is shown with a red solid line. Notice that the ward boundary includes all of London Bridge.

Bridge Within (Ward)

At the northern end of London Bridge is the ward that was originally called ‘Bridge’. In 1550 the City acquired further land at the southern end of London Bridge (in Southwark) and called it ‘Bridge Without’, meaning outside the City boundary, so the original tiny ward inside the City was then called ‘Bridge Within’. In 1978 these two wards were merged, taking the name ‘Bridge’ once more.

The earliest mention of the ward in early documents was in 1275 as ‘Ward of John Horn’ which has been identified as Bridge Within (Ward). In early times, wards assumed the names of Aldermen which often meant that their names changed as different Aldermen took office. It was later realised that a ‘standard’ name for each ward was necessary to overcome this problem.

Its name of the ward derives from its position at one end of London Bridge. Before the creation of Southwark as Bridge Without, the ward was simply called Bridge Ward. Part of Southwark was taken over by the City of London and became known as ‘Bridge Ward Without’ (meaning ‘outside the City’). To make the distinction, the land within the City became known as ‘Bridge Within’.

There were four parishes: St Benet, Gracechurch Street; St Leonard, Eastcheap; St Magnus the Martyr; St Margaret, New Fish Street. Now only St Magnus the Martyr remains.

The only Company hall has been that of the Fishmongers. The Monument is also within the ward boundary.

Billingsgate

To the east of Bridge Within is the ward of Billingsgate. It is named after a water-gate in the Roman Wall named after a legendary king called Belinus. There are believed to have been several water-gates in the Roman Wall, where it ran beside the Thames – to allow access to the land in the City while unloading vessels. In Saxon times a dock was cut into the river bank, near the old site of the gate, which remained for about 800 years until it was filled in by the Victorians and the old Billingsgate Market was erected on the site. The market was used for the sale of fish. The earliest documented mention of the Ward of Billingsgate was in 1277 as ‘Ward of Wolmar de Essex of Billingsgate’.

The single most important event – some would say ‘disaster’ was the so-called Great Fire which began in the Ward of Billingsgate early on Sunday morning, 2 September 1666, destroying all the buildings within it. That fire was to burn unchecked through the City for the next four days. Due to a prevailing east wind, which was unusual for the time of year, the fire destroyed about two-thirds of the City, even burning through the Roman Wall and destroying parts of Smithfield and much of the land around Fleet Street. The fire only stopped spreading on the 5 September when, in the afternoon, the wind dropped.

There were five parish churches: St Andrew Hubbard; St Botolph, Billingsgate; St George, Botolph Lane; St Margaret Pattens; St Mary at Hill. Now only St Margaret and St Mary at Hill remain. The Butchers’ Hall was once in the ward, the Watermen’s Hall still is. Another important influence on the history of the ward was Billingsgate Market.

-ENDS-

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