A relatively short-lived Norman fortification located on Ludgate Hill, this tower or ‘castle’ was probably built in the late 11th century and was one of several new fortress located in the city post 1066.
Believed to have been built by Gilbert de Monfichet – a relative of King William the Conqueror who hailed from Rouen (and is believed to have been connected with Monfichet family of Stansted Monfichet in Essex), the tower apparently comprised a stone keep on a motte surrounded by ditches. It was located on Ludgate Hill near the city wall, to the north of Carter Lane, on what was then the western edge of the walled city.
First appearing in documents in the 1130s, it was apparently strengthened during a revolt against King Henry II in 1173-1174 but was eventually demolished in the 13th century (some accounts suggest it was King John who ordered its demolition in 1213, after Gilbert’s successor Richard was banished).
The site was given to the Dominican priory of Blackfriars in 1275 (there’s a suggestion that the tower was already in ruins by 1278 meaning it must have been at least partially demolished some time prior). Apparently some of the masonry from the tower was used in the priory’s construction.
Excavations in the 1980s revealed the remains of a ‘V’ shaped defensive ditch – interpreted as one of three defensive ditches which protected the tower – and rubbish and cess pits – interpreted as standing within what was the tower’s bailey.
The London area of Blackfriars – centred on Blackfriars Railway Station – takes its name from the former Dominican friary (known as the “black friars” thanks to their dark robes) which stood on the site.
The Dominicans first came to England in the 1220s and soon took up residence in Holborn. But the limitations of that site led them to move to a new location between Ludgate and the River Thames in the latter part of the 13th century. There, they constructed a substantial priory.
The priory subsequently played an important part in London’s civic and religious life – Parliament and the Privy Council is known to have met here and in 1529, a hearing was held here with regard to the divorce of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
It was also a place of burial for the wealthy and influential – among those buried there was the beloved wife of Edward I, Eleanor of Castille (at least her heart was – her body was buried at Westminster Abbey).
The priory was dissolved in 1538 during the Dissolution. The Blackfriars Playhouse was built on the site during Elizabethan times and the Apothecaries Company also took up residence there. Those of the original buildings that survived were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. In more recent times, the area became the site of Blackfriars Railway Station.
A reminder of the area’s origins can be found on the facade of The Black Friar pub (1875) which sits opposite Blackfriars Bridge at the western end of Queen Victoria Street (pictured). There you can see a statue of a black friar, the work of Henry Poole which dates from around the beginning of the 20th century. There is also a plaque commemorating the friary in nearby Carter Lane.