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Story Of London

The City Gates in 1598: VII


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. In our third extract, we move west from Alderesgate and come to Newgate. In describing the circumstances leading to the construction of this gate, Stow gives us a graphic description of what must be the first instance of major traffic disruption in London! And as he describes the evlution of the gate as a prison, he describes an early example of officials “passing the buck.”

Stow's monument in the church of St Andrew Undershaft.The next gate on the west, and by north, is termed Newgate, as latlier built than the rest, and is the fifth principal gate. The gate was first erected about the reign of Henry I or of King Stephen upon this occasion:-The cathedral church of St. Paul, being burnt about the year 1086, in the reign of William the Conqueror, Mauritius, then bishop of London, repaired not the old church, as some have supposed, but began the foundation of a new work, such as men then judged would never have been performed; it was to them so wonderful for height, length and breadth, as also in respect it was raised upon arches or vaults, a kind of workmanship brought in by the Normans, and never known to the artificers of this land before that time, etc.Link to map of the St Paul's area in modern London.Trace the diversions on the Map!
After Mauritius, Richard Beamore did wonderfully advance the work of the said church, purchasing the large streets and lanes round about, wherein were wont to dwell many lay people, which grounds he began to compass about with a strong wall of stone and gates. By means of this increase of the church territory, but more by inclosing of ground for so large a cemetery or churchyard, the high and large street stretching from Aldegate to the east until Ludgate in the west, was in this place so crossed and stopped up, that the carriage through the city westward was forced to pass without the said churchyard wall on the north side, through Pater noster row; and then south, down Ave Mary lane, and again west, through Bowyer row to Ludgate; or else out of Cheepe, or Watheling street, to turn south, through the old Exchange; then west through Carter lane, again north by Creed lane, and then west to Ludgate: which passage, by reason of so often turning, was very cumbersome and dangerous both for horse and man; for remedy whereof a new gate was made, and so called, by which men and cattle, with all manner of carriages, might pass more directly (as afore) from Aldegate, through West Cheape by Paules, on the north side; through St. Nicholas Shambles and Newgate market to Newgate, and from thence to any part westward over Olebourne Bridge, or turning without the gate into Smithfielde, and through Iseldon to any part north and by west.This gate hath of long time been a gaol or prison for felons and trespassers, as appeareth by records in the reign of King John, and of other kings; amongst the which I find one testifying, that in the year 1218, the 3rd. of King Henry III, the new king writeth unto the sheriffs of London, commanding them to repair the gaol of Newgate for the safe keeping of his prisoners, promising that the charges laid out should be allowed unto them upon their accounts in the Exchequer.Moreover, in the year 12241, the Jews of Norwich were hanged for circumcising a Christian child; their house called the Thor was pulled down and destroyed; Aron, the son of Abraham, a Jew, at London, and the other Jews were constrained to pay twenty thousand marks [Note 1] at two terms in the year, or else to be kept perpetual prisoners in Newgate of London, and in other prisons.A drawing of Newgate.In 1255, King Henry III, lodging in the tower of London, upon displeasure conceived towards the city of London, for the escape of John Offrem, a prisoner, being a clerk convict, out of Newgate, which had killed a prior that was of alliance to the king, as cousin to the queen: he sent for the mayor and sheriffs to come before him to answer the matter; the mayor lid the fault from him to the sheriffs, forasmuch as to them belonged the keeping of all prisoners within the city; and so the mayor returned home, but the sheriffs remained there prisoners by the space of a month and more; and yet they excused themselves, in that the fault chiefly rested on the bishop’s officers; for whereas the prisoner was under custody, they at his request had granted license to imprison the offender within the gaol of Newgate, but so as the bishop’s officers were charged to see him safely kept. The King, notwithstanding all this, demanded of the city three thousand marks for a fine.In the year 1326, Robert Baldoke, the king’s chancellor, was put in Newgate, the 3rd. of Edward III. In the year 1337, Sir John Poultney gave four marks by the year to the relief of prisoners in Newgate. In the year 1385, William Walworth gave somewhat to relieve the prisoners in Newgate, so have many others since. In the year 1418, the parson of Wrotham, in Kent, was imprisoned in Newgate. In the year 1422, the first of Henry VI, license was granted to John Coventre, Jenkin Carpenter, and William Grove, executors to Richard Whittington, to re-edify the gaol of Newgate, which they did with his goods.Thomas Knowles, grocer, sometime mayor of London, by license of Reynold, prior of St. Bartholomew’s in Smithfield, and also of John Wakering, master of the hospital of St. Bartholomew, and his brethren, conveyed the waste of water at the cistern near to the common fountain and chapel of St. Nicholas (situate by the said hospital) to the gaols of Newgate, and Ludgate, for the relief of the prisoners.Tuesday next after palm Sunday 1431, all the prisoners of Ludgate were removed into Newgate by Walter Chartesey, and Robert Large, sheriffs of London; and on the 13th of April the same sheriffs (through the false suggestion of John Kingesell, jailor of Newgate) set from thence eighteen persons free men, and these were let to the compters, pinioned as if they had been felons; but on the sixteenth of June, Ludgate was again appointed for free men, prisoners of debt; and the same day the said free men entered by ordinance of the mayor, aldermen, and commons, and by them Henry Deane, tailor, was made keeper of Ludgate prison.In the year 1457, a great fray was in the north country between Sir Thomas Percie, Lord Egremond, and the Earl of Salisbury’s sons, where many were maimed and slain; but, in the end, the Lord Egremond being taken away, was by the king’s counsel found in great default, and therefore condemned in great sums of money, to be paid to the Earl of Salisbury, and in the meantime committed to Newgate. Not long after, Sir Thomas Percie, Lord Egremond, and Sir Richard Percie his brother, being in Newgate, broke out of prison by night, and went to the king; the other prisoners took the leads of the gate i.e. the lead roofing and defended it a long while against the sheriffs and all their officers, insomuch that they were forced to call more aid of the citizens, whereby they lastly subdued them, and laid them in irons: and this may suffice for Newgate.1 [The Mark was equal to two-thirds of a pound – 13 shillings and four pence. The fine therefore amounted to £13,300, equivalent to something in the region of £5.5 million in today’s money.] Back