Liberties Without the Walls

Above: Map showing the Roman Wall of the City, the modern boundary of the City and the main Liberties that lay outside the Roman Wall (Click image to enlarge to 1280×800).

The City of London came about as the continuation of occupation of a small piece of land on the north side of the Thames that had been established by the Romans in AD 43. Called Londinium, it was not protected by the defences of the Roman Wall until around the year AD 200. That wall, being so sturdy, was to remain in place until the 18th century. The Romans inhabited Londinium for nearly four centuries, although the settlement was in decline towards the end of that time. There was then a couple of centuries when the land inside the Roman Wall may not have been occupied – apart from possibly the land near the Thames – because there was an early Saxon settlement established along the thoroughfare called the Strand. This settlement is known as Lundenwic. In the 9th century, the streets within the old Roman Wall were to be re-established after Alfred the Great took back the City from Viking occupation in AD 886. This led to the formation of what is known today as Lundenbugh.

After 1066, the City of London continued to flourish in status and as a port. It was allowed its own government under the Normans which is why the City has its own form of government under the Lord Mayor of London – independent of the rest of Greater London, overseen by the Mayor of London.

Although the walled City of London stood on the north bank of the Thames, it was never administratively part of the surrounding land which was the County of Middlesex. That county extended east as far as the River Lea which acted as the boundary between the County of Middlesex and the County of Essex.

It was Edward the Confessor who, in 1050, established a new palace on a new site beside a small Saxon church, called St Peter, on Thorney Island, a piece of gravel surrounded by marshes. He was responsible for founding a new palace – which was known as the Palace of Westminster. Its site is now the Houses of Parliament. The adjacent site of the early church was also redeveloped as a religious house whose site is today known as Westminster Abbey.

Between the City of London and the power base of the kings at Westminster was founded a religious establishment which was one of the many properties of the Knights Templar. Their order was suppressed in England in the 15th century and the land was given to the Knights Hospitaller (or Knights of St John). That land near the City was little-used by the new owners which is why it became acquired by the lawyers – known today and the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple, forming two of the main legal centres in London. The land has always been considered a liberty. On the west side of The Temple was the land of the Priory of the Whitefriars. Being a religious house, its land was another liberty.

Liberties in London are rather difficult to understand. In simple terms a liberty was where an owner of the land was ‘at liberty’ to define the laws governing the land, meaning that the land was ‘outside’ the local laws governing any surrounding land. Many liberties evolved from having been land owned by the king. If a king owned a piece of land, it was not subject to the local laws. If that land was sold by the king, the new owner would then claim that because it has been exempt from local laws, it was still exempt when that new owner took over. Other liberties evolved from having a special status – like being the land of a religious house.

If you are having difficulty following the theme in this article, here is a summary so far. We started with the walled City of London with Westminster around the bend of the river (err, to the west). Immediately west of the City is the land of The Temple, later to become two of four centres for the legal profession in London. Beside it was the land of the Whitefriars.

A stone London Bridge was constructed between 1176 and 1209 which linked a separate community known as Southwark, for which the City took an active role in its administration. Because, in early times, most of the land around Borough High Street and Tooley Street was divided up into liberties, Southwark was often referred to as ‘liberties without the walls’ meaning land outside the City – in this case across the Thames from the City. However, there were other ‘liberties without the walls’ as we shall see.

The Tower of London, with all its land surrounded by a moat, was originally in royal ownership and therefore was a liberty. It is still a liberty today. The Tower of London lies outside the boundary of the City of London. A short distance east of the Roman Wall was another religious house – the Hospital of St Katharine, which was later known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine. Its original site is now occupied by the St Katharine Docks. Being a religious house, under royal patronage, the land was another liberty.

If you walk up Bishopsgate (Street) far enough you will notice that the name of the street changes to Norton Folgate. That, too, was the site of a small liberty. A short distance further north, the name of the street changes to Shoreditch High Street. Much of the land between Shoreditch High Street and Curtain Road was another religious house – the Priory of St John the Baptist. That was yet another liberty.

Working west from Shoreditch, the land is called Clerkenwell. It is situated to the north of Smithfield. In Clerkenwell there were no less than three religious houses and, of course, each one was a separate liberty. Moving west again, to the street called Holborn, there was the Inn of the Bishops of Ely. The street called Ely Place stands on part of the original land. That, too, was a liberty – under the jurisdiction of the City of Ely.

There were many liberties within the ancient Roman Wall but this article is attempting to build up a picture of the liberties outside the wall. In medieval times – and, indeed, into the 17th and 18th centuries – the impact of liberties on the land around the City was so noticeable that the phrase ‘the Liberties Without the Walls’ was in constant use. It is a phrase that is sometimes to be found on maps of the City for the surrounding land.

This article lists the more important liberties. There are others that could be added, however, it will provide you with a lead to the main liberties that surrounded the City. It will, hopefully, introduce you to a new way of looking at medieval aspects of the City and some of the land that surrounded it.


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St Mary Axe, 30 from Mile End Road

Above: Looking in a westerly direction along Mile End Road at the Gherkin (Click image to enlarge to 1024×640).

When 30 St Mary Axe was being constructed, many members of the public took a real interest in watching the large curved structure take shape. The start of the work was to erect a steel framework that was the same shape. After that, the enormous number of panes of glass were put in place. The framework was so large that it could be seen from many places on high ground around London – including Hampstead, Highgate and Chislehurst. It was rather like watching some enormous animal skeleton being constructed.

Once it had been completed in 2003, many people took great pleasure in photographing the ‘new kid on the block’ as they turned a corner and suddenly glimpsed a new perspective with what everybody was calling ‘The Gherkin’. Being so tall, if the street that you viewed it from pointed towards the building, it gave the impression to the observer that it was at the end of that street. In many cases, the Gherkin was something like a mile or more further back from the far end of that street.

Leading from the City of London is a long straight thoroughfare that runs almost NE towards Essex. Each part of the road has different names – Aldgate High Street, Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road and Bow Road before crossing the River Lea and continuing through Outer London. This picture was taken on Mile End Road, just outside Stepney Green Underground Station which is to the right near the red telephone box. Mile End Road runs through a small area of London called Mile End – because it stood one mile from Aldgate, which was once one of the City gates. This information, therefore, explains to anyone who does not know that the view was taken well over a mile away from the Gherkin itself. The long road is one of the main routes into the City and is often choked with heavy traffic. One of the reasons for taking the picture – apart from the obvious – was that the road had particularly light traffic on it that day. There are times when the view would be obstructed by large articulated lorries and London’s double-decker buses so it was of interest that the view was so clear of everything other than small vehicles. With all the trees lining the road, in the distance, you might think that Mile End Road was a rather pleasant place when the reality would be rather different.


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St Mary Axe, 30 from Lower Road

Above: Looking towards the City of London in Lower Road (Click image to enlarge to 1024×640).

When the unusual offices called 30 St Mary Axe – better known to most people as ‘The Gherkin’ – were completed in 2003,  there something about the design that nearly everyone in London thought was novel. Unlike many of the modern tower blocks, the public seemed to like the building and postcards of the City often show the building along with buildings like Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. In September 2004, when the building was opened to the public during the annual ‘Open Weekend’, many people braved a four-hour wait to gain access by lift to the viewing gallery at the top. At that time, the Gherkin was one of the few high-rise offices in the City and views from the top were almost uninterrupted in every direction.

Since then, further even higher offices have been built and its views are becoming more and more restricted as the years go by. One other strange feature of the building also became apparent. As the picture above shows, the building – designed by Foster and Partners and rising to 591 feet (180 m) – is so tall that when viewed from a street that just happens to ‘point towards’ it the building appears as if it stands at the end of that street.

Lower Road, which runs almost SE and crosses the boundary of the London Boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham, is relatively close to the City of London and also happens to be ‘in-line’ with the Gherkin. By looking towards the City, any tall buildings stand out against the skyline. The taller they are, the closer they appear to the observer. This picture was taken in 2009 when there were less tall buildings clustered together in the City. The Gherkin is starting to be obscured by its near neighbours as offices rise even further into the sky. As it happens, the SE aspect of the Gherkin is unlikely to be obscured, due to planning regulations which limit further tall buildings to the south of the Gherkin but from other directions, it is certainly becoming ‘lost’ among the even taller blocks being erected.


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Bishopsgate, 22 from Threadneedle Street

Above: Looking almost northeast from near the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street at 22 Bishopsgate (Click image to enlarge to 1024×640).

Something we will all have to get used to is the fact that buildings in the City of London are getting taller. Not just a little bit taller – they are getting significantly taller. They are taller than we have ever known them before. The subject of tall buildings, especially in the City of London, is something many people are uneasy about. In 1710, when the current St Paul’s Cathedral was completed at 364 feet (111 m), it became London’s tallest building – yes, not only the tallest building in the City but the tallest building within several miles of the City itself. At the time of writing, the Shard of Glass is London’s tallest building – at 1016 feet (310 m). Second, to that is 22 Bishopsgate – at 912 feet (278 m). Third place at the moment goes to One Canada Square, the original tower block at Canary Wharf, on the Isle of Dogs – at 771 feet (235 m). These statistics will probably change in the near future as new office blocks are constructed.

In case you think that this is a subject of no real interest, it should be mentioned that change is inevitable but it is a matter of policy that is under consideration here. No city has to have tall buildings. It is a matter for those in charge of planning and, obviously, the City Corporation has decided to agree to these giants. The downside of the decisions is that large parts of the City are now condemned to living in perpetual shade due to the sheer size of the new buildings being erected – like 22 Bishopsgate.

The view above, taken in 2019, when 22 Bishopsgate was in the final stages of the exterior being completed, is from Threadneedle Street. This street runs between the north side of the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. It just so happens that part of the street ‘points towards’ 22 Bishopsgate and, therefore, provides a relatively clear view of the structure. At the moment, the architects of the new tower block – PLP Architects – can show off their latest design because it is so tall and it stands out above the other City buildings. However, as time goes by, it will become ‘just another tall building’ as others around it ‘clamour’ to be noticed in the great ’scramble’ for attention in the ongoing race to be the ‘tallest kid on the block’ in the City of London.


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Stage Coach Loading Up

The days of travel by stagecoach are viewed today as being rather fun as well as possibly being rather an adventure. Nostalgic pictures of a coach and four travelling through the countryside are sometimes reprinted as Christmas cards. For all the romance associated with that form of travel, the reality was that the ride was often uncomfortable, cold in the winter with no heating in the coach – and certainly none for those sitting outside! The romance of that way of travel has developed over the decades between the last days of coaching in the 1830s and the present day. Even though we tend to complain about bus or train travel today, it is actually an infinitely better experience than those making a journey by stagecoach in the 19th century.

This print is a copy of an engraving called ‘The Stage Coach or Country Inn Yard’, 1747, engraved by William Hogarth. While his print showing the inn yard contains considerable irony in what he thought of the whole experience, there is more than a grain of truth in what there is to be seen. There’s plenty of interesting detail in the print and we shall take a look around.

The coach is obviously about to depart because the coachman is already seated at the front of his coach. The lady on the far left is ringing a bell – probably indicating that it is the ‘last call’ for those wishing to travel on this particular coach. Remember that the print was made in 1747 and stagecoaches had yet to develop into the more usual versions, with seating on top. A rather large lady is being helped (or possibly pushed) into the coach –  having used the steps to help her get up to the correct level. In the upstairs window on the left, two men – looking as if they have had too much to drink – are about to serenade the departure. The character to the left is blowing some form of wind instrument and the other one is smoking a pipe.

Below that open window, we see a doorway with a man and his lady friend enjoying one last embrace before the man rushes for a seat in the coach. Two characters are seen sitting on the roof of the coach. The one on the right is carrying a sword which appears to have no sheath. Whether they expected to maintain that position when the coach set off is anyone’s guess. In the large wicker basket behind the coach – normally used to carry any excess baggage – we see an old lady has taken up her ‘seat’ and she is smoking a pipe! The excess baggage seems to be tied precariously on the outside of the basket.

In the background, we catch a glimpse of the large courtyard of what appears to be quite a sizeable inn. Although the print is titled a ‘country inn’ it was probably the inn of a small town, like that of Huntingdon, to the north of Cambridge, which still has an inn looking like the one seen here. The inn has galleries and plenty of people are seen scurrying about as well as in the courtyard. The only really relaxed character is the dog, with his head on the ground, resting in a large kennel at the bottom right of the view.

Under the large arch, which probably leads out of the courtyard and into the street, we can see the back of the coachman who is just about to start off on the long journey. As the driver of the four horses, he had to face all weather conditions – sunny days, days with driving rain and – worst of all – driving snow, especially if the coach was heading off into the wind. Looking on the wall, there is a large sign showing an angel and underneath is written ‘The Old Angel’. Although the name is shown, the town or village in which it is situated is not known. Under the name is written ‘Tom Bates from London’ so it must have been on a coaching route from London.


Posted in /Coaching Days (c4) | Leave a comment

Stage Coach on a Short Stop

(Click on image to enlarge to 800×800).

Although the days of coaching are often referred to with phrases like  ‘the Romance of the Road’ and ‘the splendid sight of a Coach and Four’, it has to be said that everyday travel by stagecoach was a hard life for the coachman and seldom a pleasant one for the passengers. Wealthy passengers travelled inside the coach and, of course, paid more for the journey than their less well-off companions who sat on top. In wintertime, in particular, it was very cold sitting on top of the coach with just a rug around your body and legs for warmth. Comfort stops did not exist and the coach only stopped when the horses were being changed or for scheduled stops for passengers to alight or others to join the service. There were lunch breaks but they were not always as good as they might sound.

Remember that the days of coaching were long before telephones were invented. If the coach was delayed on its journey – due to particularly heavy rain or deep snowdrifts – it would be late arriving for the lunch-stop. Nobody could phone the next inn to say they would be later than normal. The coachman, keen to keep to the timetable for the route, would inform the passengers that the coach was late arriving but it would be punctual leaving. What might have been an hour’s stop for a meal might well amount to 10 or 15 minutes to grab any cold food that might be on offer (like a chicken leg) and the downing of a pint of ale. The idea that you could stop awhile and wait for the next coach was often not an option because – putting it simply – very often there was no ‘next coach’ that day. Are you beginning to get the picture?

Now that we are starting to realise what coach travel was really all about, particularly in the worst-case scenario, it is a suitable point at which to look carefully at the painting. The reproduction is rather poor quality – not due to the technology being amiss but because the original was not very clear in the first place. However, the subject of the painting and the details in it are well worth considering. It is a painting by a very accomplished and well-known artist of such subjects – Cecil Aldin.

In the painting, it has obviously been snowing. Snow still lies on the roadway in front of the inn. Some of the snow has been swept to one side in the yard. The besom broom can be seen on the left. Looking through the arch of the inn, we see that the coach is standing on the roadway and the coachman is still seated. presumably having just arrived. The horses are being changed. Two of the horses are still attached to the coach but the leading pair are being led into the yard by one of the stable-lads – often called ostlers. We don’t know the scenario and the painting has no title so there are no written cues. We, therefore, have to try and work out what is going on.

Two men are standing on the far right, watching the comings and goings of the inn. With their great-coats and their top hats, they look like coachmen. The other three characters seem in quite a rush and the inn-keeper or manager (in a blue jacket) seems to be saying that there is no food to be had. The three men seem keen to go inside – probably to get some nourishment – but the inn-keeper does not appear to be very welcoming. Chances are that the coach was delayed for some reason – probably the snow – and the three guests are dashing into the inn only to find that they are too late for lunch. The bar (or dining room) on the far right has a wonderful glow, probably due to a blazing fire that heats the room or due to the oil lamps lighting the interior. It would be a welcome sight for frozen travellers on the coach. On the first floor gallery, a maid looks down, probably due to the raised voices below, wondering what is going on.

The scenario just described may not be entirely correct but it would seem that it is a likely interpretation of what is taking place. It was probably an all too common scene for the staff of the inn who were probably quite used to coaches arriving late for a scheduled stop at the hostelry. Coaches were pulled by horses who usually only travelled a distance of about 10-15 miles before ‘the four’ needed to be changed for a new team. Horses pulling a coach were trained to trot at a steady pace. If the terrain was hilly, the team of horses would be changed after an even shorter distance. This meant that inns kept teams of horses, ready for the change. If the inn received 20 coaches each day, this resulted in upwards of 80 horses being stabled to provide for the changes – in other words, 20 coaches would each have four horses and all of them were changed at each stage of the journey. Large stables were an essential part of the stagecoach operation.

There are very few paintings like this one. The common scene was to paint a ‘coach and four’ arriving or departing from an inn yard and the human side of travelling by coach was seldom shown. That is why this particular painting is so interesting.


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Leadenhall Market in 1891

(Click on image to enlarge to 800×1100).

“London in 1891”

The artist William Loftie (1838-1911) was born in Ireland but he lived most of his life in England and also in London. He had a keen interest in London, writing books on its history, producing many paintings of scenes in London and also maps. This picture shows the Leadenhall Market at Christmastime.

The view looks west – meaning that the view is from the eastern end of the market and looks west towards Gracechurch Street. The arches glimpsed in the distance must have been in Gracechurch Street at the time but they are not like that today. The only way to establish the position of the camera is by looking up at the word ‘ERECTED’ on the steelwork supporting the glass roof. Where the four ‘arms’ of the market roof meet there is an inscription in large gold letters. That particular word can only be seen when standing under the eastern ‘arm’ of the market and looking west. The four arms of the structure are so similar that, apart from recognising particular shops which are obviously not there any more, there are really no other clues in the picture.

The people to be seen in the picture are mainly ‘City gents’ who are wearing top hats or bowlers. That tradition has gone out of fashion completely today but City gents were still wearing bowler hats and carrying rolled umbrellas until the 1970s, maybe even later. The market and its large lamps have changed very little but the shops in Victorian times were mainly butchers and poulterers. Note that the City livery company is called the ‘Worshipful Company of Poulters’ (not Poulterers). There is also a ‘Worshipful Company of Butchers’.

The view portrays a time when no members of the public had a refrigerator and that meant buying whatever you intended to eat for Christmas lunch just a few days before the 25 December. Shops needed to time their delivery of chickens, geese, turkeys, other game and joints of meat just right so that they had plenty of supplies for their customers. With everyone buying at almost exactly the same time, there were many problems for the butchers and poulterers in having sufficient stocks. Many people ordered what they required in advance and usually agreed on a suitable date and time to pick up their request.

The rows of hooks outside the shops in Leadenhall Market remain to this day but few of them have any game hanging from them like we see in the picture. One shop in today’s market sells hams, each wrapped up in green cloth, and they are to be seen hanging outside the shop. In the foreground of the picture, a butcher is surveying his stalls which contain large cuts of meat with rabbits hanging above and probably turkeys – still with their feathers on.

It’s a busy scene and one that we shall never see again at Leadenhall. Refrigerated transport and the cold storage in supermarkets means that the public can buy what they want whenever they want it. Outside London, in small country towns and villages, it is possible to find a small butcher who still hangs game – like pheasant and partridge – on rails outside the shop but that is now quite a rare sight. A butcher in Dereham, in Norfolk, was still doing that in the 1990s.

Just behind where the butcher is standing is a hand-cart used for the local delivery of meat. It bears the name of John Fitter. That shop appears in a blog written about Leadenhall Market. It is just possible that the butcher shown in the picture is John Fitter himself!

See also: Leadenhall Market – Fitter & Son – SHOW_THE_ARTICLE


Posted in /City-Bishopsgate, /London in 1891 (c4), /Markets (c4) | Leave a comment