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”. In our second extract, we move north from the Tower and come to Aldgate. Stow here relates the details of Thomas Falconbridge’s attack on London during the Wars of the Roses.
The next gate in the east is called Aeldgate, of the antiquity or age thereof. This is one and the first of the four principal gates, and also one of the seven double gates, mentioned by Fitzstephen. It hath two pair of gates, though now but one; the hooks remaineth yet. Also there hath been two portcloses that is, portcullises; the one of them remaineth, the other wanteth, but the place of letting down is manifest. For antiquity of the gate: it appeareth by a charter of King Edgar to the knights of Knighten Guild, tht in his days the said port was called Aeldgate, as ye may read in the ward of Portsoken. Also Matilda the queen, wife to Henry I., having founded the priory of the Holy Trinity within Aeldgate, gave unto the same church, to Norman the first prior, and the canons that devoutly serve God therein, the port of Aeldgate, and the soke of franchises thereunto belonging, with all the customs as free as she held the same; in which charter she nameth the house of Christ’s church, and reported Aeldgate to be of his domain.More, I read in the year 1215, that in the civil wars between King John and his barons, the Londoners assisting the barons’ faction, who then besieged Northampton, and after came to Bedford Castle, where they were well received by William Beauchamp, and captain of the same; having then also secret intelligence that they might enter the city of London if they would, they removed their camp to Ware, from thence, in the night, coming to London, they entered Aeldgate, and placing guardians or keepers of the gates, they disposed of all things in the city at their pleasure. They spoiled the friars’ houses, and searched their coffers; which being done, Robert Fitzwalter, Geoffrey Magnavile Earl of Essex, and the Earl of Glocester, chief leaders of the army, applied all didligence to repair the gates and walls of this city with the stones taken from the Jews’ broken houses, namely Aeldgate being then most ruinous (which had given them an easy entry) they repaired, or rather newly built, after the manner of the Normans, strongly arched with bulwarks of stone from Caen in Normandy, and small brick, called Flanders tile, was brought from thence, such as hath been here used since the Conquest, and not before.,In the year 1471, the 11th of Edward IV., Thomas, the bastard Fawconbridge, having assembled a riotous company of shipmen and other in Essex and Kent, came to London with a great navy of ships, near to the Tower; whereupon the mayor and aldermen, by consent of a common council, fortified all along the Thames side, from Baynard’s castle to the Tower, with armed men, guns, and other instruments of war, to resist the invasion of the mariners, whereby the Thames side was safely preserved and kept by the aldermen and other citizens that assembled thither in great numbers. Whereupon the rebels, being denied passage through the city that way, set upon Aeldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Aeldersgate, London Bridge and along the river of Thames, shooting arrows and guns into the city, fires the suburbs, and burnt more than threescore houses. And further, on Sunday the eleventh of May, five thousand of them assaulting Aeldgate, won the bulwarks, and entered the city; but the portcloses being let down, such as had entered were slain, and Robert Basset, alderman of Aeldgate Ward, with the recorder, commanded in the name of God to draw up the portclose; which being done, they issued out, and with sharp shot, and fierce fight, pur their enemies back so far as St. Botolph’s church, by which time the Earl rivers, and lieutenant of the tower, was come up with a fresh company, which joining together discomfited the rebels, and put them to flight, whom the said Robert Basset, with the other citizens, chased to the Mile’s End, and from thence, some to Poplar, some to Stratford, slew many, and took many of hem prisoners. In which space the bastard having assayed other places upon the water side, and little prevailed, fled toward his ships. Thus much for Aeldgate.