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The Romance Of Old Bishopsgate

January 25, 2022
by the gentle author

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.

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.

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

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 25, 2022

    That final photograph says it all…

  2. Steve Hanscomb permalink
    January 25, 2022

    Although a fabulous and very interesting piece, it makes for sickening reading. I haven’t worked in Aldgate for a few years, but since I left the area, the unique Still and Star was deemed unworthy of saving from the wrecking ball, despite being one of the last corners of old London and actually being depicted in a Dore print.
    I applaud all of those who take the trouble to fight the developers and uncaring City chiefs, but it truly is a struggle and one so often lost.
    I have seen the front of PaulPindar’s house at the V&A. It’s such a pity that the house couldn’t have had more of it reconstructed. The empty windows have the appearance of a skull without any life left.
    I’ve seen so many of the places I loved over the years torn down and replaced by offices or flats. Cafe’s, pubs, even whole shops that made areas attractive to tourists, like Jermyn Street, that was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter film. That was owned by Crown Estate, but even Prince Charles couldn’t save the shops.
    It is hard to care now, as much of what I loved is gone. Probably people from every generation have said the same.

  3. January 25, 2022

    Awful, but most of all, sad, very sad. And incomprehensible.

  4. Linda Hird permalink
    January 25, 2022

    Thank you for these iconic images. I’m saddened by London’s domination of cranes and the ever changing skyline: my husband has contacted the mayor – ‘please let me know when it’s finished and I’ll return to my home town’

  5. January 25, 2022

    “Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? This is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes. ” —- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

    I was snooping around recently for quotes about Preservation, and found this gem, above.
    Every time I stride through Grand Central Terminal, I think of how close we came to losing it.

  6. paul loften permalink
    January 25, 2022

    Thank you for the wonderful old photos .
    To be honest I do not have fond memories of Bishopsgate as a workplace . After leaving school in nearby Bethnal Green I was sent to interviews from agencies to many banks and buildings there, but found the narrow streets and lack of sunlight quite depressing. After coming out of the job interviews and walking through the streets I recall the feeling of despair at having a future job that I would have to travel daily to these old grimy buildings. The banks were then old fashioned establishments and seemed quite oppressive with hardly any space between the desks. I fortunately found a job in Cheapside and the space and sunlight seemed much more welcoming. On the first day I started and feeling quite lost with the mountain of paperwork I looked up from my desk and through the window from the building over the road I could see the face of I boy I knew at school, looking out . We instantly greeted one another with a cheerful wave but strangely never saw him again in all the years I worked there. I could spend a sunny lunch hour sitting on an open green spaces In Cheapside , eating my lunch, very occasionally with a lovely temporary typist that the agency had sent

  7. Peter Holford permalink
    January 25, 2022

    I too lament the reckless changes in London. But even worse is that this is being replicated in other British cities. I have to drive into Manchester every evening. As I drive over the hill Manchester is laid out below. These days it’s a forest of red lights – a pair for every crane. The destruction is rapid and the height of the towers completely out of scale to what is deemed worth saving. The final picture here could easily be in Manchester and probably other large cities.

  8. Chris permalink
    January 25, 2022

    What is happening to our City? The last photograph sums it all up. The greed of the few seems to usurp the history and memories of the many.

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 26, 2022

    Yes, I agree the final photograph says it all

  10. Flora permalink
    January 27, 2022

    The two recent photographs are renarkable & illustrative of what is happening both physically & more. This is disaster capitalism. The obliterating domination of the ruthless.

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