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The Romance of Old Bishopsgate

January 8, 2012
by the gentle author

Headquarters of RBS

Thomas Hugo, the nineteenth century historian of Bishopsgate, wrote a history of this thoroughfare prefaced with a quote from his predecessor, John Strype in 1754 -“The fire of London not coming unto these parts, the houses are old timber buildings where nothing is uniform.” While the rest of London had been rebuilt after 1666, Bishopsgate alone retained the character of the city before the fire and in 1857 Thomas Hugo was passionate that this quality not be destroyed – as he wrote in the strangely prescient introduction to his “Walks in the City: No 1. Bishopsgate Ward.”

“This quarter, so hallowed and glorified by olden memories, is unquestionably deserving of a foremost place in our affectionate regard. Our history, our literature and our art are associated with the charmed ground in closest and most indissoluble union. You can scarcely open a single volume illustrative of our national history which does not carry you in imagination to that still picturesque assemblage of edifices where, amid its overhanging Elizabethan gables and stately Caroline facades, its varied masses of pleasantly mingled light and shade, its frequent churches and sonorous bells, the greatest and best of Englishmen have successfully figured among their fellows, and to whose adorning and embellishment the noblest powers have in all ages been devoted. And yet, unhappily, this is the spot where alterations are most commonly made, and with perhaps least regard to the irreparable loss which they necessarily involve. Here, where, for all who are versed in our country’s literature, every stone can speak of its greatness, where the name of every street and lane is classical, where around multitudes of houses fair thoughts and pleasant memories congregate as their natural home and common ground, the demon of transformation rules almost unquestioned, lays its merciless finger on our valued treasures, and leaves them metamorphosed beyond recognition only to work a similar atrocity upon some other precious object. Special attention, therefore, on every account, as well as for beauty, the value, and the excellence of that which still remains, as for the insecurity and uncertainty of its tenure, is most urgently and imperatively demanded.”

John Keats was baptised in St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate.

The Bishop’s Gate was on the site of one of the gates to the Roman city of Londinium, from which led Ermine St, the main road North. First mentioned in 1210, Bishop’s Gate was rebuilt in 1479 and 1735, before it was removed in 1775. In 1600, Will Kemp undertook his jig from here to Norwich in nine days.

A mitre set into the wall marks the site of the former Bishop’s Gate today.

Crosby Hall, the half-timbered building at the centre of this picture was once Richard III’s palace. Other residents here included Thomas More, Walter Raleigh and Mary Sidney, the poet. Built by wool merchant John Crosby in 1466, it was removed to Cheyne Walk, Chelsea in 1910.

Elizabethan houses in Bishopsgate, 1857.

The Lodge, Half Moon St, Bishopsgate Without, 1857.

Paul Pindar’s House, Bishopsgate photographed by Henry Dixon for the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London in the eighteen eighties. Paul Pindar was James I’s envoy to Turkey and his house was moved to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1890.

A chef takes a break in White Hart Court.

Houses designed by Inigo Jones built in White Hart Court, Bishopsgate in 1610.

Bishopsgate in the aftermath of the IRA bomb in 1993.

The newly completed Heron Tower boasts Europe’s largest indoor fish tank.

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Margaret permalink
    January 8, 2012

    Memories of my dad come flooding back as I read this post;after leaving the navy he worked in St Helen’s Place for the next 20 plus years until he retired in I think 1973.As a small child I often went to tho ffice with him when he worked on a Saturday morning this would have been late 50′s early 60′s.A detour to see the huge black steam trains [I think they were at Liverpool Street] was always part of our journey to work.Dad’s office overlooked St Ethelburger’s a church he often visited.When Dad died 16 years ago his ashes were scattered at sea by the navy but we put a memorial bench to him in the remeberance garden at St Ethelburger’s the plaque remebers his love for his family ,the city and ths sea.

  2. Ros permalink
    January 8, 2012

    What an apt quotation from Thomas Hugo, what a well-chosen collection of pictures old and new and what a lot of interesting information. Gentle author, you are nourishing and educating a world wide audience. We salute you!

  3. Annie permalink
    January 8, 2012

    What a great entry – Bishopgate always seems to get overlooked and I am fortunate enough to recall this street in the late 70s before it became so massively modern. It was always a bit grubby and higgledy-piggledy and I rather miss that. But imagine if all the pre-fire buildings had been left in place…and I wonder what happened to the old gate?

  4. January 8, 2012

    What a brilliant site. I have several ancestors who married, or got christened or buried, at St Botolph’s Bishopsgate and at Christ Church Spitalfields. I can see in these pictures places that their descendants must have known well.

  5. TokyoDon permalink
    January 10, 2012

    Europe’s. Largest. Fish. Tank. Ha!

  6. January 10, 2012

    Some lovely examples of old signage amongst the photos.

  7. Chris F permalink
    January 10, 2012

    I was in Trafalgar Square on Saturday facing South with the National Gallery behind me, Canada House to my right, South Africa House to my left and the Strand directly to the front. Magnificent characterful buildings with a sense of grandeur & permanence. However…. Just to my left and within site of all of this architectural beauty, stands a horrific, souless, cast concrete & glass monstrosity!!! Who allows this sort of building to go up right next to such a magnificent spot? Whoever it is or was needs dragging on a cart to Tyburn and publicly stringing up! Rant over…

  8. Kate C permalink
    January 12, 2012

    I remember the 1993 IRA bombing of Bishopsgate very well. I recall on the Monday having to walk from Liverpool Street station to Bank station via Old Broad Street – only 2 days after the bomb. I vividly remember walking (with dogged-determination) down the street and past the wreckage (which had spread into Old Broad Street) and looking at the curtain-blinds that were flapping outside all the 42 levels of the NatWest tower.

    In the immediate years that followed the bombing, I recall time after time being turfed off my train at Ilford because of terrorist alerts either somewhere on the line or at Liverpool Street. This was in the days long before mobile phones so there was always a long queue at the very few red telephone boxes located just outside Ilford station where hundreds of displaced commuters desperately tried to call home/work/anyone. On several occasions I had to give up trying to get into London and so returned home to Essex on the next train.

    Roll on nearly 10 years, and I was still working in the Bishopsgate/Moorgate area for 2 clients – one client (ironically) located in the NatWest Tower (by this time renamed ‘Tower42’) and the other client nearby in the CityPoint building in Moorgate. Both buildings were, at that time, amongst the tallest buildings in the City. Like many people, I remember exactly where and what I was doing when the first airplane struck the first Twin Tower in New York. In my case, I had just returned to CityPoint from lunch (shortly before 2pm London time, 9am NY time). As soon as I reached my desk, my colleague showed me his computer screen where he was watching footage on his pc of the 1st plane hitting the 1st tower (I don’t think this was live footage at this stage but it was shown on news channels very shortly after the first attack). Like many people, I dismissed it as a terrible accident and returned to my desk. Almost immediately my colleague came over to me and told me of the 2nd plane. As awareness that this was not an accident took hold of myself and all my colleagues, our inboxes started to ‘ping’ and the first of several emails from our management team arrived. These emails appeared in very quick succession – no more than about 4 or 5 minutes apart. In hindsight, I now realise that our London management team must have been in direct contact with their NY office, which was then located in an area very near the Twin Towers. (Fortunately all personnel survived.) The first email stated that London management were aware of ‘events’ in New York. The second email told us to stay away from the windows. No sooner had we digested that email, then another appeared informing us to evacuate the building and leave London with immediate effect. By no later than about 2:20pm London time (9.20am NY) I, along with what appeared to be the entire population of all the buildings within the City of London, was racing towards Liverpool Street. I have never seen Liverpool Street concourse so busy (this was approx 2:30). This was worse than any rush-hour I’d ever seen. The chaos was more so because people were hopping onto any train in a frantic attempt to get out of London. Luckily, my arrival at Liverpool Street had fortuitously timed with the arrival of one of my very infrequent trains – so I was able to get on the correct train out of London. The Chinese-whispers on the train reported that there were more planes in the air still unaccounted for (at that time there was) and at least one was heading towards London (a false rumour, however at that moment, in all the chaos, it seemed very real). Like many other London workers, that night I returned home to my loved ones and wept at the fate of our equivalents in NY.

    The next day, again with dogged-determination, I returned to London, this time to my client who was on the 39th Floor of Tower 42. The atmosphere with my colleges was sober and sad. At some point in the days after 9/11, Tower 42 held a 2 minutes silence. I was not the only one amongst my colleagues who observed this silence by standing next to the floor-to-ceiling windows and looking down to the hard ground 39 floors below and wondering ‘what would I have done’. In the immediate days and weeks after 9/11, Tower 42 was subjected to numerous terrorist/bomb alerts. Sometimes we had to evacuate the building (walking down 39 floors is incredibly exhausting), other times we were told to sit in the central area of the building were all the lift-shafts are located. During these nervous times and the many hastily-arranged temporary meetings by the lift-shifts, I started to get to know someone who I’d worked with for years – 15 months after 9/11, we married.

    The 1993 attack on Bishopsgate was not the first time this street was a target for terrorists bombs. As I’ve now run out of space within this comment. I’ll tell you the story of the Victorian terrorist attack on Bishopsgate in a new comment. As a quirk of fate, the business that was located in the attacked building on Bishopsgate was owned by one of my ancestors.

  9. Simon permalink
    November 12, 2012

    My great great grandfather Henry Nelson Overton lived in 130 Bishopsgate in the late 1800′s at a time when that part of London is today,unrecognisable. How his life must have been so different along with his wife and family compared to the busy city life we see there today. He was a character within the city who had a store almost alongside the original Bishops Gate. If anyone has any detail or photos of 130 at the turn of the 20h century I would be out grateful.

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