This City of London thoroughfare runs between St Botolph and Outwich Streets and its name – first recorded in the 13th century – apparently relates to its location on the outer side of the wall, dating from the Roman era, which once encircled the city.

HoundsditchOn the outer side of the wall lay a ditch which, although filled and redug several times in its history, was eventually filled permanently in the 16th century (and became the street you can now walk upon).

Dogs were associated with this ditch – the skeletons of some dogs were found here in 1989 during an archaeological dig at the wall, possibly dating back to Roman times – although there’s a couple of theories on exactly how.

According to one version, the ditch, before it was finally filled, had become the repository of all sorts of rubbish but was particularly known as a site to deposit the corpses of dogs. An alternate theory, meantime, suggests that kennels which housed dogs used in hunting were once located here.

The name ‘houndsditch’ was apparently used for many sections of the ditch which lay outside the city wall before it came to be associated with this particular stretch of ditch.

The street (and the area in which it sits, also known as Houndsditch) has apparently been associated with several different trades over its history including bell founding, gunmaking and cannon founding and, later for the rag trade. In the 20th century, it was the site of department store, The Houndsditch Warehouse.

It was in Houndsditch that Dr Thomas Barnardo found 11 boys sleeping huddled together on the roof of the old rag market – a fact which helped push him to found the first of the Barnardo’s homes for the destitute in Stepney.

Famously, of course, it was also the scene of an attempted robbery and shoot-out in 1910 which led to the infamous Siege of Sidney Street (see our earlier post here).

For more on the Houndsditch murders, see Donald Rumbelow’s The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street.

Advertisements

There’s several stories behind the rather odd name given to this narrow street which runs between Houndsditch and Leadenhall Street in the City of London – now famous for the gherkin-shaped skyscraper located within it.

St-Mary-AxeIt’s generally agreed that street’s name comes – at least partly – from a former church which it has been suggested once stood where the building known as Fitzwilliam House now stands.

Known as the Church of St Mary Axe (although its full name was apparently the somewhat longer Church of St Mary, St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), the medieval building was apparently demolished in the 1560s and the parish united with that of St Andrew Undershaft (this church still sits on the corner of St Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street).

The reasons for the church to be so named remain a matter of speculation. The most interesting version (and the one that would explain the church’s longer name) has it that the name was given due to an axe that was once on display in the church.

The axe had apparently come from Europe where legend says it was one of three axes used by the Huns (some say the three included Atilla himself) to slaughter 11,000 handmaidens who had been travelling in Europe with St Ursula. St Ursula herself was fatally shot with arrows by the Huns’ leader.

How and why the axe came to be on display in this particular church remains something of a mystery but so well did the church become identified with the gruesome relic that it became known as the church of St Mary Axe.

Another version we’ve come across states that the church took on the name because its patrons were the the Skinners’ Company who used such axes. Yet another suggests that the street was named after the church of St Mary and that of a nearby tavern which operated under a sign bearing the image of an axe (but it’s possible the tavern had such a sign because of its proximity to the church in the first place).

These days, as well as being the location of St Andrew Undershaft (now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate) and the building known as the Gherkin (it’s official name is 30 St Mary Axe), St Mary Axe is also the place where, on 10th April, 1992, an IRA bomb exploded outside the Baltic Exchange, killing three people.

PICTURE: The Gherkin with St Andrew Undershaft in the foreground.