Bishopsgate and Lime Street Overview

Above: Outline map of the City of London. Today’s land is indicated in PINK. The old pre-2003 ward boundaries for the area of study are shown with a RED outline on the modern Google street map (Click on image to enlarge to 1024xx640).

This area of study is coded ‘/Bishopsgate’ in the ‘Categories’ list and is given the shortened name by the author – which appears in the title. To be precise, the full name of the area of study would be ‘The Ward of Bishopsgate, the Ward of Lime Street and the eastern half of the Ward of Langbourn’. It should now be obvious why the shorter title has been used.

To say that some of the ancient ward outlines in the City of London are rather strange shapes is almost an understatement. The Ward of Bishopsgate is in the form of three ‘lumps’ – a small one at the southern end, a slightly larger one in the middle and a large area at the northern end. The Ward of Lime Street is so narrow in places that it is barely wider than the street of the same name. This area of study consists of the two wards just mentioned wards and, in addition, the eastern half of the Ward of Langbourn. This ward resembles a butterfly’s wings in shape being connected by land which is only the width of a City street. The western half of Langbourn is listed under the area of study called ‘Cornhill’.

It should be pointed out that, of recent years, there have been changes to the boundaries of the City Wards. These changes do not help to understand the history of the City. In fact, the changes only confuse the reader because by adhering to the old ward boundaries they align with old maps and also history books published over the last four hundred years. It is for this reason that the old boundaries are shown and used for defining areas of study in these blogs.

The area of study contains the site of the Basilica – the Roman ‘town hall’ for Londinium. There is plenty of history to consider but, sadly, it is an area where land prices are very high, so many historic buildings have been lost due to constant redevelopment. If you know where to look, there are several interesting buildings to be found.

The Ward of Bishopsgate

This ward is so-called because the long street called Bishopsgate forms the ‘spine’ of the land enclosed by its boundary which is around the street of the same name. Notice that the street is just called ‘Bishopsgate’, there is no ‘Street’ to be added to its name. The name of the ward name drives from the street and the street name derives from the name of the gate in the Roman Wall. There are no records to explain if the names of the Romans gates. Perhaps they just called them ‘I’, ‘II’, ‘III’, ‘IV’ and so on. We just do not know. The name of the gate came about due to land nearby being owned by the Bishop of London but that was much later – in medieval times.

Part of the ward lies inside the Roman Wall and is often referred to as ‘Bishopsgate Within’. The remaining part of the ward lies outside the Roman Wall and is, therefore, known as ‘Bishopsgate Without’. A large part of Bishopsgate Without is now covered by Liverpool Street Station which was opened in 1874. Until that time, the whole street called Bishopsgate was lined with numerous coaching inns acting as the London terminus for routes to Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex. With the coming of the railway, the inns went into rapid decline and today not one of them exists, even as a pub. A few alleyways retain the names of the old inns – like Catherine Wheel Alley.

Bishopsgate was a busy thoroughfare. It led north to the ancient Ermine Street which is now known by a number – the A10. Its southern end met Gracechurch Street at the crossroads with Cornhill and Leadenhall Street, continuing south originally to Fish Street Hill and London Bridge. When old London Bridge was rebuilt slightly further west, Gracechurch Street was ‘bent’ at the southern end to meet the site of the new bridge.

Bishopsgate today is gradually becoming a chasm of vast glass walls as high-rise offices are built along its eastern side. Few points of historical interest are to be seen today. Only the street plan remains from medieval and Tudor times, with all the memories of life in those times mainly consigned to the memories of history.

The idea that offices should be constructed in glass and steel – with a concrete shell – is, of course, hardly a new idea. Apart from the concrete, the Victorians also like to use glass and steel (or wrought iron) for their buildings. Brick was their favourite medium because the concrete techniques of today were not available. Two amazing examples of Victorian ‘glass and steel’ remain in the ward in the form of Leadenhall Market and Liverpool Street Station.

The Ward of Lime Street

This ward is rather long and thin being composed of the one street with the same name that runs through it. Lime Street is probably best known for the famous Lloyds Insurance building that stands beside it. According to John Stow, the street was so named because people made or sold lime there.

The Ward of Langbourn

This ward is in two halves, joined by the width of a single street. Its shape resembles that of a butterfly with outstretched wings. This area of study only includes the eastern half. According to John Stow, the ward derived its name from a stream that ran near or through Fenchurch Street. A ‘bourne’ is the name for an underground stream. No evidence for the stream has ever been found and there is no reason to suppose that there ever was a stream in this part of the City. Henry Harben states that there have been several alternative spellings for the ward since its name first appeared in the 12th century and none of them seems to point to any particular derivation. The streets in the ward are mainly lined with offices and shops.


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