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Story Of London

The City Gates in 1598: I


John Stow, who grew up in Elizabethan London, was the earliest of the a long line of antiquarian scholars who have provided us with vivid descriptions of the City at various stages of her development. His Survey of London first appeared in 1598 and was re-issued “Since by the same Author increased, with divers rare notes of Antiquity” in 1603. We shall present here substantial abstracts from this great work over the coming months and begin with a short series on the entrances to the City: the “Gates in the Wall of this City”.

Stow's monument in the church of St Andrew Undershaft.The City of London in Stow's time.Gates in the wall of this city of old times were four; to wit, Aeldgate for the east, Aldersgate for the north, Ludgate for the west, and Bridgegate over the river of Thames, for the south; but of later times, for the ease of citizens and passengers, divers other gates and posterns have been made, as will be shown.In the reign of Henry II, (saith FitzStephen)there were seven double gates in the wall of this city, but he nameth them not. It may therefore be supposed that he meant for the first, the gate next the Tower of London, which then served as a posterne for passengers out of the east, from thence through Tower street, East cheape, and Candlewecke street to London Stone, the middle point of that highway, then through Budge Row, Watheling street, and leaving Paul’s church on the right hand, Ludgate in the west. The next be Aeldgate, the third Bishopsgate, he fourth Ealdersgate, the fifth Newgate, the sixth Ludgate, the seventh Bridgegate. Since the which time hath been builded the postern called Moorgate, a postern from Christ’s Hospital towards St. Bartholomew’s hospital in Smithfield, etc. Now of every of these gates and posterns in the wall, and also of certain Watergates on the river of Thames, severally somewhat may, and shall be noted, as I find authority, or reasonable conjecture to warrant me.For the first, now called the postern by the Tower of London, it showeth by that part which yet remaineth, to have been a fair and strong arched gate, partly built of hard stone of Kent, and partly of stone brought from Caen in Normandy, since the conquest, and foundation of the high tower, and served for passengers on foot out of the east, from thence through the city to Ludgate in the west. The ruin and overthrow of this gate and postern began in the year 1190, the 2nd of Richard I, when William Longshampe, bishop of Ely, chancellor of England, caused a part of the city wall, to wit from the said gate to the river of Thames to the white tower, to be broken down, for the enlarging of the said tower, which he then compassed far wide about with a wall embattled, and is now the outer wall.The postern gate north of the Tower is indicated by the arrow.He also caused a broad and deep ditch to be made without the same wall, intending to have derived the river of Thames with her tides to have flowed about it, which would not be. But the southside of this gate being then by undermining at the foundation loosened, and greatly weakened; to wit, after two hundred years and odd, the same fell down in 1440, the 18th of Henry VI, and was never re-edified againe of stone, but an homely cottage, with a narrow passage made of timber, lathe and loame hath beene in place thereof set up, and so remaineth.Such was their negligencet then, and hath bred some trouble to their successors, since they suffered a weak and wooden building to be there made, inhabited of persons of lewd life, oft times by inquest of Portsoken Ward presented, but not reformed; whereas of former times the said postern was accounted of as other gates of the city, and was appointed to men of goof credit. Amongst other, I have read, that in the 49th of Edward III. [1375], John Cobbe was admitted custos of the said postern, and all the habitation thereof, for the term of his life, by William Walworth, then mayor of London, etc. More, that John Credy, Esq., in the 21st of Richard II. [1397], was admitted custos of the said postern and appurtenances by Richard Whittington, mayor, the aldermen, and commonalty, etc.