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).

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This former City church – now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate – once stood on the corner of Threadneedle Street and Bishopsgate (the site is marked by a blue plaque).

St-Martin-OutwichA medieval church which was apparently rebuilt in the 14th century in the Gothic style, it was dedicated to St Martin while there is some discrepancy over the use of the name Outwich – some sources say it comes from a corruption of the name of the family who paid for its reconstruction – the Oteswich family – while others say the family in fact took their name from the church and that ‘outwich’ simply means the outer side of the wich (one of a number of Saxon words for a town).

It survived the Great Fire of 1666 but gradually fell into disrepair and in 1765 was badly damaged in another fire which destroyed some 50 houses.

In 1796, Parliament passed an act allowing the parish to raise money for its building – the donations included some from the powerful City livery companies – and after a couple of years of construction, it was consecrated in November, 1798.

Designed by Samuel P Cockerell, the church was unusual in that it featured an oval interior. Medieval stained glass from the original church was placed in a window over the altar while some of the monuments that had been present in the old church – including one commemorating John Oteswich and his wife – were transferred to the new. The dead buried at St Martin Outwich, meanwhile, were reburied in the City of London churchyard (where a memorial to them can now be seen).

A painting from 1838 shows a curved interior with high semi-circular windows, some intricate medieval monuments and closed in box pews.

Thanks to a falling population and pressure to widen the streets, the church was eventually demolished in 1874 and the parish amalgamated with St Helen’s. As had previously happened, a number of monuments – including the Oteswich memorial – which were in the old church were moved to St Helen’s before its demolition.

Proceeds from the sale of the church grounds were used to fund the construction of Holy Trinity Church in Dalston. Built in the late 1870s to the designs of Ewan Christian, it is perhaps best known as the Clown’s Church and is where the clown service is usually held each year.

PICTURE: sleepymyf

The playwright is believed to have lived in several different locations in London and is also known to have invested in a property. Here we take a look at a couple of different locations associated with him…

St-Helen'sBishopsgate: Shakespeare is believed to have lived here in the 1590s – in 1596 tax records show he was living in the parish of St Helen’s. The twin-nave church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (pictured), which would have been his parish church, still stands. In fact, there is a window to Shakespeare’s memory dating from the late 19th century.

•  Bankside: In the late 1590s, Shakespeare apparently moved across the Thames to Bankside where he lived at a property on lands in the Liberty of the Clink which belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. The exact address remains unknown.

Silver Street, Cripplegate: It’s known that in 1604, Shakespeare moved from Bankside back to the City – it’s been speculated outbreaks of plaque may have led him to do so. Back in the City, he rented lodgings at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy in on the corner of Monkwell and Silver Streets in Cripplegate, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. Mountjoy was a refugee, a French Huguenot, and a tire-maker (manufacturer of ladies’ ornamental headresses). The house, which apparently stood opposite the churchyard of the now removed St Olave Silver Street, was consumed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the church was also lost in the Great Fire). The former church site is now located on the south side of London Wall. Silver Street itself was wiped out in the Blitz and is now lost under the Barbican redevelopment but the house lives on in a representation found on a late 16th century map created by Ralph Agas.

Ireland Yard, Blackfriars: In 1613, Shakespeare purchased the former gatehouse of the Blackfriars Priory located here, close to the where the Blackfriars Theatre was located. It is believed the property was purchased as an investment – there’s no evidence he ever lived there but it was passed to his daughter Susanna after his death. Incidentally, there is some speculation that Shakespeare may have lived in Blackfriars when he first came to London – a man believed to have been a boyhood friend from Stratford, Richard Field, who was known to have lived there.

For a more in-depth look at Shakespeare’s time in Silver Street, see Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street.

LoveA free outdoor exhibition of nine artworks by world famous artists can be seen in the City of London from today. Works featured in this year’s Sculpture in the City exhibition – the third year the event has run – include Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture (found at 99 Bishopsgate), Shirazeh Houshiary’s five spiralling stainless steel ribbons String Quintet (St Helen’s Square), and three giant steel dinosaurs, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, made by the Jake & Dinos Chapman (30 St Mary Axe). Other artists whose work is featured include Antony Gormley, Keith Coventry, Richard Wentworth, Jim Lambie and Ryan Gander. The works will be on display in the Square Mile for the next 12 months. For more – including the locations of all nine installations – see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/sculptureinthecity. PICTURE: Robert Indiana ‘LOVE’ (1966)  ∏ Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Right Socienty (ARS), New York – DACS, London. Photograph – A et cetera

The 10th Taste of London festival – London’s biggest outdoor food festival – kicks off in Regent’s Park today and runs over the weekend. This year sees amateur BBQ enthusiasts going head-to-head in a “battle of the BBQs” on Saturday while professionals will hit the grills on Sunday with the winners crowned champions of the Weber BBQ Challenge. Meantime, visitors can experience the food of 40 of the city’s top restaurants, shop at 200 food and drink stalls, enjoy fine wine tasting and watch demonstrations by some of the world’s top chefs including three generations of the Roux dynasty – Albert Roux, Michel Roux Jr and Emily Roux – as well as Rene Redzepi, Raymond Blanc, Ben Tish, Pascal Aussignac and Bruno Loubet. For more, see www.tastefestivals.com/london.

The first ever Paddington Festival – an 11 week showcase of art and culture supported by the City of Westminster – kicks off this weekend. Events include a “puppet theatre barge” at Little Venice and a launch event featuring an appearance by Chucky Venn (Eastenders) and steelpan and performances from local dance group, The Phoenix Dancers, at the Maida Hill Market. For more on the festival and for the full programme, see www.paddingtonfestival.co.uk. Other festivals kicking off this weekend include Shubbak 2013 – an international festival of Arab culture (www.shubbak.co.uk).

On Now: Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the 20s. Opening today, this exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House features the gallery’s collection of works by the Post-Impressionist master Paul Gauguin. The most important collection of Gauguin’s works in the UK, it was assembled by Samuel Courtauld between 1923 and 1929 and includes major paintings and works on paper by  along with one of only two marble sculptures the artist ever created. The exhibition, the gallery’s “summer showcase”, also features two important works formerly in the Courtauld’s collection and now on loan – Martinique Landscape and Bathers at Tahiti. Runs until 8th September. Admission charges apply. Meanwhile, The Courtauld Institute of Art’s MA Curating the Art Museum programme is also launching its annual exhibition, Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape, in response to the gallery’s summer showcase. A “trans-historical” exhibition displayed in two rooms, it explores artists’ fascination with other worlds and the search for utopia. Works include a 1799 engraving of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in Paradise, Barbara Hepworth’s 1957 work Icon and John Everett Millais’ 1862 painting, The Parting of Ulysses. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.

While higher education may something we generally associate with more recent historical eras, London’s oldest higher educational institution in fact was founded in the dying years of the 16th century.

Thomas-GreshamGresham College was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured, right) – son of Lord Mayor Sir Richard Gresham and the man behind the construction of the Royal Exchange (see our earlier post on Sir Thomas Gresham here) – according to instructions in his will (Sir Thomas died in 1579).

Under the terms of the will, part of his estate was left to the City of London Corporation and the Mercer’s Company and it is these who founded the organisation according to his request and still operate via the Joint Grand Gresham Committee.

According to the will’s terms, the corporation were to appoint professors in divinity, astronomy, geometry and music while the Mercer’s Company were given the responsibility of appointing professors in law, physic and rhetoric (a chair in commerce was added in 1985). There are also currently a number of visiting professorships.

The college – which was founded to provide free public lectures on subjects of scientific interest – is  governed by a council with the Lord Mayor of London as its president.

Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (now the site of what was formerly known as the NatWest Tower) was the college’s first home. Professors, whose salaries were met by rental income from the Royal Exchange, continued giving lectures there until 1768.

Various locations around the city were later used for the college before the opening of a new college building in Gresham Street in 1842. It moved again in 1991 and is now based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in Holborn.

Among the professors who have held chairs at the college are architects Sir Christopher Wren (astronomy) and Robert Hooke (geometry) as well as Richard Chartres, current Bishop of London (divinity).

The college, which doesn’t enrol students as such and doesn’t award degrees, continues to provide more than 100 free public lectures every year and is also involved in running seminars and conferences and other initiatives.

For a detailed history of Gresham College, check out Richard Chartres’ and David Vermont’s book on the college’s history – www.gresham.ac.uk/greshamftp/historygreshm_bk2.pdf. For more on the college and its programme of events, see www.gresham.ac.uk. Lectures are available online.

Crosby-HallIn honour of the stunning news this week that a skeleton found under a Leicester carpark last year is indeed that of the King Richard III, here’s a picture of the front of Crosby Hall, London home to the king when he was still merely the Duke of Gloucester.

Now located in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, the Grade II* hall was previously located in Bishopsgate and was the great hall of the 15th century property Crosby Place. As well as being occupied by Richard who rented it from the owner in 1483, a wool merchant named Sir John Crosby (in fact, it also appears in a scene of William Shakespeare’s play, Richard III), the property – built between 1466-75 – was also, from 1523-24, the home of Sir Thomas More, the ill-fated sixteenth century chancellor of King Henry VIII.

The hall was moved piece-by-piece to Chelsea in 1910 when it was threatened with demolition and now stands on land where there was once an orchard owned by Sir Thomas. It served as a dining hall for the British Federation of University Women but is now in private ownership.

The body was confirmed as being, “beyond reasonable doubt”, that of King Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet king, at an extraordinary press conference at the University of Leicester yesterday. Bent by severe scoliosis of the spine, the skeleton’s back had been further twisted to fit into the hole dug for it near the high altar at the church of Grey Friars which had previously stood on the site. Work has now begun a new tomb for the king at nearby Leicester Cathedral.

King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August, 1485, and was the last English king to die in battle. The researchers found the body was likely to have been killed by one of two fatal wounds – one in which the base of his skull had been sliced off with a weapon believed to be a bladed weapon like a halberd and another from a sword which penetrated his brain. The evidence showed the body had been significantly mutilated after death with a total of 10 wounds on the skeleton.

While radiocarbon dating placed the body in the right time frame and the wounds on the body and burial site were consistent with historical evidence, the key to the identification was the matching of the bones’ DNA with that of a Canadian man, Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister, Anne of York.

For more on the amazing find, see www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/.

It’s Open House London weekend and that means your chance to enter scores of buildings not normally open to the public. More than 750 buildings are taking part in this, the 20th year the weekend has been held and there’s also an extensive program of free talks, walks and specialist tours. Among the buildings open this year are the iconic Gherkin building in the City (formally known as 30 St Mary Axe, pictured), Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, numerous livery company halls including that of the Apothecaries, Fishmongers and Carpenters, government buildings including Marlborough House, Westminster Hall, and the Foreign Office and numerous historic residences from the Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London to Osterley Park House in west London. Among the events on offer is a moonlit hike through London tomorrow night to raise money for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres and rides on the new Emirates Airline cable car as well as boat tours to the Thames Barriers. If you didn’t order a guide, you can see the program online at the Open House London website – www.londonopenhouse.org. PICTURE: (c) Grant Smith/VIEW Pictures

A 16th century wooden tankard, found by a mudlark on the Thames foreshore near Ratcliff in London’s east, has briefly gone on display at the Museum of London Docklands. The large vessel, capable of holding three pints, has the initials RH inscribed on the base. It’s unknown for what purpose it was used, perhaps serving as a decanter rather than for individual use and may have been used on a ship. The vessel will be on display at the museum only until 27th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

On Now: Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain. Opening at the British Museum today is this new exhibition featuring important prints and drawings by Spanish and other European artists working in Spain and spanning a period from the mid 16th century through to the 19th century. While all the works are drawn from the museum’s collection, many have never been on display before. The artists represented include Diego Velazquez, Alonso Cano, Bartolome Murillo, Francisco Zubaran and Jusepe de Ribera as well as Francisco de Goya. Held in room 90. Admission is free. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Remembered primarily for having founded the Royal Exchange as a centre for commerce in London and Gresham College, Sir Thomas Gresham was one of London’s leading merchants and financiers and an important advisor to successive monarchs during the sixteenth century.

Gresham was born in Milk Lane, London, to merchant Sir Richard Gresham (himself Lord Mayor of London in 1537-38) around 1518-19. He studied at Cambridge before being apprenticed to learn the family trade with his uncle, Sir John Gresham.

In 1543, he was admitted to the Mercers’ Company and subsequently spent time in the Low Countries, residing principally in Antwerp and acting as an agent for King Henry VIII. In 1544 he married Anne Fernley, widow of another London merchant. He also had a house in Lombard Street at this time.

Sir Thomas became an important advisor  to King Edward VI, helping him alleviate financial concerns, a role he continued to play during the successive reigns of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I (although he spent some time out of favor during Mary’s reign).

Knighted for his services to the crown in 1559, he proposed to built his ‘exchange’ in 1565, offering to pay for it himself if the City of London and Mercers’ Company provided the land. Modelled on the bourse in Antwerp with a trading floor and shops and offices set around a large central courtyard, it was officially awarded the title ‘royal’ by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571.

Sir Thomas died suddenly in 1579, apparently of a heart attack, and left the majority of his wealth to his widow but included clauses in his will stating that after her death rents from the Royal Exchange be used to create a college which would see seven professors offer free lecturers on subjects ranging from astronomy and geometry to rhetoric and divinity.

Known as Gresham College, it became the first institution of higher education in London when it was founded in 1597 and was initially based at Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (it’s now based in Barnard’s Inn Hall and, as it has for the past 400 years, still offers free public lectures).

In 1666, Sir Thomas’ Royal Exchange burnt down along with much of London but it was rebuilt immediately afterward (King Charles II laid the foundation stone of the new building) and rebuilt again following another fire in 1838 (at the time the building was largely occupied by two insurance companies, one of which was Lloyds of London).

It’s this third building, designed by Sir Thomas Tite to resemble the original plan, which stands on the site today. While trading has long since ceased there – it’s now a luxury-end shopping centre – Sir Thomas’s symbol, the gold ‘Gresham Grasshopper’, can still be seen on the weathervane. For more information on the Royal Exchange, see www.theroyalexchange.co.uk.