What’s in a name?…Bishopsgate…

This major London thoroughfare (and ward of the City of London) owes its name to one of the eight former gates of the City of London – that’s right, Bishopsgate.

Located at what’s now the junction with Wormwood Street (and marked by a mitre which appears on a building there), the gate was the departure point for Ermine Street which ran from London to Lincoln and York.

The gate and hence the road – which runs northward from the intersection of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill to where it becomes Norton Folgate Street (which links into Shoreditch High Street) – is believed to have been named for the 7th century Bishop Erkenwald (Earconwald). It was he who apparently first ordered its reconstruction on the site of a former Roman gate.

By Tudor times, the street had become known for the mansions of rich merchants – among those who had their homes here were Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir John Crosby and Sir Paul Pindar (Crosby Hall was later re-erected in Chelsea and the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, is in the V&A). The street also become known for its many great coaching inns, all of which were eventually demolished.

Bishopsgate was the first street in London to have gas lighting when it was introduced about 1810 and, about 1932, became the first in Europe to have automated traffic lights (at the junction with Cornhill).

The City of London ward straddles the site of the old London wall and gate and is accordingly divided into “within” and “without” sections.

While there are a number of churches associated with the street – St Ethelburga Bishopsgate, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, these days it is largely lined by office buildings including the former NatWest Tower. Other notable buildings include that of the Bishopsgate Institute and the busy Liverpool Street Station is also accessible from Bishopsgate.

The name Bishopsgate is also synonymous with an IRA truck bombing which took place in the street on 24th April, 1993, in which one man was killed and 44 injured.

PICTURE: Top – Looking southward along Bishopsgate in 2014. (stevekeiretsu; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – The Bishop’s mitre marking the location of the former gate (Eluveitie/ licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Lost London: Gates Special – Bishopsgate

Another of London’s gates which had its origins in Roman times, it was built as the city exit for Ermine Street which ran all the way to York.

The gate is believed by many to have taken its name from Bishop Erkenwald, a seventh century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of London who is said to have ordered the gate’s reconstruction on the gate’s Roman foundations.

Bishopsgate – the site of which is marked by a bishop’s mitre attached to the facade of a building near the junction of Wormwood Street (pictured) – was rebuilt several times over the centuries (its first known mention was in the 12th century). This included in the 1470s when it is said to have been rebuilt by Hansa merchants who did so apparently in return for exemptions from tolls (or, according to some, other trade privileges).

The gate – which was known for having the heads of traitors displayed on spikes upon its top – took its final form in 1735 before it was finally demolished along with several other London gates in 1760 as part of road widening measures.

The name Bishopsgate is remembered in the street of the same name as well as one of the City of London wards. Among the notable people associated with Bishopsgate are William Kemp, an Elizabethan comic actor who, in a remarkable feat, is said to have performed a Morris dance starting at the gate and finishing in Norwich.