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 church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.

St-Helen's-BishopsgateEstablished by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).

While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.

The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).

One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.

The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.

The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.

Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.

It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.

WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.

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/.