st-olave-silver-streetMany of the monuments commemorating the Great Fire of London, date from succeeding centuries (the Monument being a notable exception), one of the earliest can apparently commemorating the site of the Church of St Olave Silver Street.

The church dated from at least the 12th century and is one of a number in London which were apparently named after King Olaf, the first Christian King of Norway who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred II against the Danes in England in the 11th century.

The church served as the parish church of the silversmiths and apparently in recognition of that boasted a figure of Christ on the cross which had silver shoes.

The church had been rebuilt in the early 1600s but was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London and never rebuilt, the parish united with that of St Alban Wood Street.

The site of the church, now on the corner of London Wall and Noble Street, is now a garden and boasts an almost illegible plaque featuring a skull and crossbones, which is believed to date from the late 17th century, and which commemorates the destruction of the church in the Great Fire.

PICTURE: © Chris Downer/CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

Originally a postern (small or secondary) gate built by the Romans, Moorgate came into its own as a larger gate in the 15th century and survived for more than 300 years before it was demolished in 1761.

The name comes from the area in which it stands – Moorfields, one of the last open pieces of space within the City of London – stood just to the north of the gate. It was originally a sparsely populated marshy expanse – so much so that when the gate was first built, the area around it was often flooded and some local residents used boats as a means of transport – but was later drained. Many people were evacuated here during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and some apparently then settled in the area which later also gained a reputation as a hiding place for highwaymen like Jack Sheppard – we’ll take a closer look at Moorfields in a later post.

The gate known as Moorgate, meanwhile, was first rebuilt as a full sized gate with towers in 1415 on the orders of then Mayor Thomas Falconer to provide access to the fields without. It was enlarged several times in medieval years before being damaged in the Great Fire. It was replaced with a ceremonial stone gate in 1672 to provide access to the now well-drained fields before being demolished in 1761 (some of the stone was apparently later used to support the newly widened central arch of London Bridge).

The gate’s name now lives on in the street known as Moorgate (originally formally known as Moorgate Street after it was first constructed in 1846) – worth noting is that the Romantic poet John Keats was born in the street. The area around the street also is also known by the name Moorgate and is home to some of the City’s key financial institutions.

There’s a plaque near where the site of Moorgate once stood at the corner of Moorgate and London Wall.

PICTURE: Moorgate in its final, ornate form. Taken from a London Wall Walk plaque.

Its name now more well known as one of the City of London’s 25 wards, Aldersgate was a gate opening to the city’s north, located close to where the Museum of London now stands, and was one of the city’s four original gates.

A plaque in Aldersgate Street marks where the gate once stood (there’s also an explanatory ‘London Wall’ plaque nearby) – it was finally knocked down in 1761.

The gate’s origins go back to late Roman times – it was apparently created to strengthen the city’s northern defences against Saxon incursions – and was built with two roadways passing through the wall protected by semi-circular towers. (The name apparently has nothing to do with the age of the gate as many believe but may be a corruption of a Saxon name Ealdred or come from a type of tree which grew nearby.)

An important link to places like the fair at Smithfield, St Bartholomew’s Priory and the Charterhouse in the Middle Ages, it was used as a prison and even as late as 1660, diarist Samuel Pepys writes of seeing the limbs of executed traitors displayed upon it. It was also had residential quarters above it – these were said to have been occupied at times by the City Crier and in the mid-1500s were used by printer and stationer John Day (he is said to have printed an early copy of the Bible, dedicated to King Edward VI, there in 1549).

In 1603, it was through Aldersgate that King James I entered London (his arms were later placed over the gate), and just 14 years later, in 1617, the entire gate was rebuilt. Repaired in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (it’s final form was said to feature, as well as the arms of King James I, statues of the Biblical figures Jeremiah and Samuel), it was finally demolished in 1761 to improve the flow of traffic.

PICTURE: Site of where Aldersgate once stood. To the right of the picture is the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate.

Dating from the early 1600s, London’s oldest public park is Finsbury Circus Gardens, located just to the north of London Wall and east of Moorgate.

The now heritage-listed gardens were open as a public park from 1606 (and was originally known as Moor Fields – the moors were drained and gravel walks laid out in 1527 but it wasn’t until 1606 that the area was laid out with elm trees and benches).

The park wasn’t enclosed until 1815-17 when City of London surveyor William Montague laid the area out according to the designs of prominent London architect George Dance the Younger.

The gardens were acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1900 and in 1909 were replanned. The oval-shaped park, the largest of the City’s gardens, is these days home to the City of London Bowling Club, the only bowling club in the City (founded in 1924; the bowling green dates from the following year and the current pavilion from 1968).

During World War II a barrage balloon was anchored here to deter low level air raids. Among it’s other claims to fame is the Tudor era bat (apparently a forerunner of the modern cricket bat) found on the site in the 1980s and skulls which have also been found dating from the Roman period.

The gardens are currently partly closed due to the Crossrail development.

PICTURE: Wikipedia

This year marks 1,600 years since what many posit was the “end of Roman Britain” based on a letter Emperor Honorius is said to have written in 410 AD telling Britain to look to its own defence. So we thought we’d take a look at Roman London – Londinium – in a short series running until the year’s end.

To kick it off, we’re taking a look at one of the easier to find Roman remnants, that of the city wall which encircled first Roman and later the medieval City of London.

The wall can be seen in several places, but one of the easiest places to see it is next to Tower Hill tube station, where one of the best preserved sections of the wall can be seen (along with a statue believed to be that of the Emperor Trajan – see right).

Standing to a height of more than 35 feet or 10.6 metres, the Roman section extends as high as 14.5 feet or 4.4 metres with the upper part dating from later periods. The Roman wall would have originally been around 20 feet or 6.3 metres high and would have had a V-shaped ditch running along its outside.

First built around 200 AD, the city wall largely ran along the same course over the ensuing centuries. There were initially five gates with another added in the Roman period and another in medieval times. None of these now survive.

Further substantial remains of the Roman wall can be seen in a courtyard at nearby Cooper’s Row (head around the corner from Tower Hill tube station along Cooper’s Row and then turn right, past a hotel, into a courtyard) and on what was the north-west corner of the city at Noble Street, not far from the Museum of London, where a Roman base supports a later brick wall.