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.