This central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.
Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.
Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).
Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.
Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Jamie, this is indeed the tower of St Giles Cripplegate, located just off Fore Street in the Barbican Estate. The church – the oldest building in the area – dates from about 1090 and was rebuilt in 1545 after it was destroyed by a fire. The new building survived the Great Fire of 1666 but didn’t fare so well in a fire of 1897 or in the Blitz when all but the outer shell was destroyed. Oliver Cromwell was married here in 1620 and the poet John Milton was buried here in 1674 (he had written much of Paradise Lost locally) (interestingly, his body was apparently exhumed about 100 years later, workman took some souvenirs including teeth and a rib). Others buried here include explorer Sir Martin Frobisher, John Foxe, author of The Book of Martyrs, and Bible translator Lancelot Andrews. For more on the church, see www.stgilescripplegate.com.
Though it’s these days associated with a Brutalist housing estate and performing arts centre based in the north of the City of London, the name Barbican has been associated with the area on which the estate stands for centuries.
The word barbican (from the Latin barbecana) refers to an outer fortification designed to protect the entrance to a city or castle. In this case it apparently referred to watchtower which may have had its origins in Roman or Saxon times (or maybe both). The City of London website suggests it was located “somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street”.
When-ever it was built, the watchtower was apparently demolished on the orders of King Henry III in 1267, possibly as a response to Londoners who had supported England’s barons when they had rebelled against him. One source suggests the tower was rebuilt during the reign of King Edward III but, if so, the date of its subsequent demolition remains unknown.
Later residents of the area – which become known as a place to trade new and used clothes – included John Milton and William Shakespeare.
The area known as Barbican was devastated by bombing raids in World War II. Discussions on the future of the site started in 1952 and for more than 10 years plans for redeveloping the area were debated until finally, in the early 1960s, work began on what is now the Barbican Estate including three tall residential towers (part of the residential estate is pictured above). Completed in the mid 1970s, the Brutalist design of the complex, which features buildings named after historical figures associated with the area, means it meets with strong reactions from those who encounter it whether love – or hate.
Construction of the arts centre – known as the Barbican Centre – the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home to the London Symphony Orchestra – was started in the early 1970s. The £156 million centre was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.
Other buildings within the Grade II listed complex include the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA.
The late Poet-Laureate Ted Hughes was honored in a ceremony in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner last week with the dedication of a hand-carved memorial slab. The memorial includes a quotation from his work That Morning: “So we found the end of our journey, So we stood alive in the river of light, Among the creatures of light, creatures of light…”. The memorial to Hughes, who died in 1998 at the age of 68, was placed at the foot of that of TS Eliot, who was a mentor to Hughes. Among those who attended the commemoration were Hughes’ widow Carol and his daughter Frieda as well as literary figures including Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Sir Andrew Motion, Michael Morpurgo and Graham Swift. Other literary luminaries commemorated in Poets’ Corner (only some of whom are buried here) include Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Lord Byron and John Keats as well as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling. For more on Poets’ Corner, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
PICTURE: Carol Hughes lays a bouquet of flowers and herbs from the garden of the Hughes’ Devon home at the memorial. (Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster).
One of the major thoroughfares of the City of London, the name is reflective of its role as a marketplace with the medieval English word ‘cheap’ generally been taken to mean market.
Starting from the intersection of Newgate Street and St Martin’s Le Grand through to where it runs into Poultry, the street was apparently originally known as Westcheap – Eastcheap is still located down near the Monument. Cheapside’s surrounding streets – including Poultry, Milk Street, and Bread Street give indication of the sorts of goods that were once sold in the area.
Cheapside was, in medieval times, an important street and was on the processional route royalty would have taken from Westminster to the Tower of London. It is the site of St Mary-le-Bow Church (it’s said that if you’re born within hearing of the Bow bells you’re a true Londoner), and, until the Great Fire of 1666, the eastern end of Cheapside was the site of the end of the Great Conduit where water arrived after being piped in from the Tyburn River in the west.
Key figures associated with Cheapside include slain Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, born there in 1118, poet John Milton, born on the adjoining Bread Street in 1608, and writer Geoffrey Chaucer. A glimpse into the street’s past was found in 1912 when the Cheapside Hoard was unearthed during the demolition of a building there (you can see our earlier post on that here).
The area was heavily bombed during World War II.
Lined with shops, restaurants and office buildings, Cheapside today remains close to the heart of the city and is currently undergoing significant redevelopment, the recently opened swanky shopping centre at One New Change being an example.