Above: A large bronze mitre on the west side of Bishopsgate (Street) marks the site of the original gatehouse.
If you are wondering why ‘(Gate)’ has been added to the title, it is to clarify the name. The name ‘Bishopsgate’ applies to a street – notice that it is not called ‘Bishopsgate Street’ but just ‘Bishopsgate’. The name also applied to the gate and gatehouse in the Roman Wall. The same word is also used for one of the City wards. To avoid any confusion, the author chooses to add an identifier to the name. Related to the three examples just mentioned, the author uses – Bishopsgate (Street), Bishopsgate (Gate) and Bishopsgate (Ward) respectively.
The Roman Wall was constructed around Londinium about AD 200. Being such a massive structure, it defined the boundary of the City of London for many centuries after the Romans had left Britain. The wall, with its gates, survived through Norman and medieval times – right up to the 18th century. Every night, the gates of the City were closed, to keep the citizens safe from attack. Since by 1760 the City had never been attacked, the City fathers decided that the gates could be removed and the gatehouses demolished to provide wider roadways and easier access for carts. They also decreed that anyone who wanted to remove the wall could do so but at their own expense. Since that time most of the wall has been taken down with the result is that only a very few full-height sections of the Roman Wall remain today.
For many people going about their everyday lives near the City’s boundary wall, they probably never think about the fact that they are passing through the land where a large stone gatehouse once stood. This is certainly true for Bishopsgate (Gate). The road by the same name runs north through the City until it reaches the crossroads formed with Wormwood Street (to the west) and Camomile Street (to the east). The line of the Roman Wall ran just north of that junction and, across the roadway, once stood the stone gatehouse called Bishopsgate.
The site used to be marked on either side of the modern road by a large bronze mitre mounted high up on the walls of the modern buildings. Because of their height above the ground, few people notice them as they rush to and from their train at nearby Liverpool Street Station. Sadly, the eastern mitre was lost a few years back when the site was redeveloped. It would seem that developers take little interest in the history of their sites. No trace of the Roman Wall remains at this point and even if you walk around the modern buildings you will find no visible evidence there either.
Above: The so-called Agas Map, produced about 1561, gives some idea of how the gatehouse looked.
One of the earliest representations of the gatehouse is to be seen on the ‘Agas’ map of c1561. The gate is clearly shown, along with the Roman Wall. Bishopsgate (Street) is shown, with the path inside the wall which is now Wormwood Street (left) and Camomile Street (right). Outside the wall was a large ditch – to add a further defence to the City’s wall – which the map shows filled with water (rather like a moat). Immediately north of the gate – just as it is to this day – is shown the parish church of St Botolph Without Bishopsgate.
What the Romans called their gates in the wall is not known. Most of the names were devised in Saxon or Norman times and have been retained ever since. Bishopsgate (Gate) derived its name from the fact that the land nearby was owned by the Bishop of London. The roadway passing through this gate retains the same name inside the City and also outside, eventually joining further north with a short thoroughfare called Noton Folgate. Outside the Roman Wall, the Roman road led north to places like Lincoln and York. The Saxon name for this Roman road was Ermine Street. It is now numbered and is part of the A10.