Above: The boundary post in Turnmill Street. The opposite side of the street is Farringdon Underground Station.
London is just overflowing with history – some of it being quite well-known but most of it is something only research will discover. The topic today is about a humble metal post on the side of the pavement in Turnmill Street, just north of Smithfield. A casual glance could give the impression that it is just another street bollard. So here’s the point of this article – you need to learn to look and often take a second look and suddenly you will discover the evidence for the history of an area that you never knew existed.
By examining an old map of Smithfield, you may well find the boundary between the City of London and land to the north marked with a dotted line. It is that boundary that was the reason for erecting the boundary post in the first place. The area of Smithfield was outside the Roman Wall of the City of London but within a boundary that was fixed in the 13th century. In those times (as it still is today) the administration of the City of London was not part of any county of England. This was a unique situation because all other cities in England are within a county. Canterbury, for example, is the county city of Kent. Norwich is the county city of Norfolk – and so on.
The land on the north side of the boundary of the City of London was in the County of Middlesex. It should be explained that nearly all of this county has become part of Greater London and no Londoner north of the Thames would ever describe himself as living within Middlesex today. The simple fact of the matter is that all the land surrounding the City of London was originally the County of Middlesex.
Above: Boundary post (enlarged) showing ‘ST SEPULCHRE MIDD’ – meaning the parish of St Sepulchre in Middlesex’.They have yet to invent a camera which can record the entire surface around a boundary post so this photograph is the best that can be achieved. At least some of the letters inscribed on the post can be seen.
At the NW ‘corner’ of the City was Smithfield which was a part of the large parish ‘St Sepulchre Without Newgate’. The quaint name derived from the fact that the church in the parish had the very unusual name of ‘St Sepulchre’ and the parish was ‘without’ (or outside) the Roman Wall – served at this point by Newgate (once a Roman gate in the wall). The parish of St Sepulchre was mainly within the boundary of the City of London but it extended a short distance into Middlesex. The northern side of the boundary line is Clerkenwell with its parish church being St James, Clerkenwell. In fact Cow Cross (the old name for Cowcross Street) and the southern part of Turnmill Street were both within the boundary of ‘St Sepulchre Parish Without’.
Many Londoners would probably say ‘when one you have seen one bollard you have seen them all’ but although they all look very similar, some of them are far more ancient than others. We all find that in London there is so much to observe that it is impossible to see everything. A second walk around the same streets will often reveal items you did not notice the first time. Londoners who have attended my lectures have often said to me ‘I used to work at an office in that street for 20 years and I never noticed the building (or boundary post) that you have just been talking about’.
This particular boundary post has probably been in the ground, marking the edge of the parish, for over 150 years. Unless proved wrong (by finding another one) this post is the sole survivor proclaiming the ancient parish boundary of St Sepulchre.