I was recently looking through a list of Wards in the city, and thought it might be a good idea to run through the list giving a bit of background on each Ward.
The City of London is divided into 25 wards. These wards are a survival of the medieval governmental system that allowed very small areas to exist as self-governing units within the wider city. The wards appear to have taken shape by the early 11th century, before the Norman conquest of England. Their administrative, judicial and militia purposes made them equivalent to hundreds in the shires. The primary purpose of wards that had a gate on the city wall, appears to be the defence of that gate, as this would have been the weakest points in the fortifications.
Aldersgate was one of the northern gates in the London Wall which once enclosed the City.
It gave its name to the City Ward of Aldersgate, traditionally divided into Aldersgate Within and Aldersgate Without, the suffix denoting whether the part was within the line of the wall or outside it. Of the two, Aldersgate Without is the larger area. Boundaries have changed over the centuries, the most recent being 2010.
It could have taken its name after Aldrich, a Saxon, who owned land locally, or it is possibly taken from the alder trees which were said to be prolific in the area. When James VI of Scotland came to England to take the crowns of both England and Scotland, he entered the City at Aldersgate on the 7th May 1601. Statues of the King were placed both outside (on horseback) and inside (seated on the throne) the gate to commemorate the occasion. The old gate was taken down in 1617, and rebuilt in the same year from a design by Gerard Christmas. The gate was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 but was repaired and remained until 1761.
The major roads are Aldersgate Street, latterly Goswell Street (Without) and St Martin’s Le Grand (Within), which join at the location of the old gate.
Pre 1666 there were eight churches in the ward. St Bartholomew, St Botolph (Aldersgate), St John Zachary, St Mary Staining, St leonard (Foster Lane), St Vedast, St Olave(Silver Street), St Ann & St Agnes. Following the conflagration only St Bartholomew, St Botolph, St Vedast and St Ann & St Agnes remained and all four needed restoration. Other Medieval landmarks were the Goldsmith’s Hall, Cook’s Hall, Embroiderers Hall and Sadler’s Hall. Aldersgate Within was the home of the famous coaching inn, The Bull & Mouth.
A couple of stories from the 14th century give a flavour of the area. In 1322 John Pentyn had decided to end it all by hanging himself. His wife Clemencia raised the alarm and a neighbour John of Chigwell came to the rescue and cut the hanging man down. As a reward for his interference Pentyn struck John of Chigwell a blow with an iron stave causing a wound five inches deep and death followed shortly after. Pentyn was arrested and sent to Newgate and later hung. In 1326 an ongoing dispute between apprentice lawyers came to a head. The two factions were from Yorkshire and Norfolk one of these had impugned the honour of the others county. Eventually the two sets of apprentices grew tired of verbal insults and on the evening of 9th June they met near to the Aldersgate with drawn swords. However, neither side wished to commit the first blow and so a sort of standoff ensued with each side shouting insults at the other. This caused a small crowd to gather to witness a free spectacle. At this point a servant, David Arpardaa leant from the window of his masters house in St Martin Le Grand and fired his bow indiscriminately into the crowd hitting a Skinner, Simon de Fermorie in the stomach which proved fatal. Arpardaa fled the scene and escaped capture.
Occupying the site of what is now Barbican Station was a building, which had formerly been the Half Moon Tavern. For many years it bore a sign proclaiming it to be “Shakespeare’s House” Although the building was very close to the nearby Fortune Playhouse, there is no evidence to show that Shakespeare resided here. A record from 1598 shows a “William Shakespeare” as the owner of the property, but there is nothing to indicate that he was the famous playwright.
The Underground came to Aldersgate in 1865. Originally called Aldersgate Street Station, its name was shortened to Aldersgate in 1910 and renamed again in 1924 as ‘Aldersgate & Barbican’. On 1 December 1968 the station’s name was simplified to Barbican.
Victorian Aldersgate was synonymous with the General Post Office in St. Martin’s Le Grand which was the main post office for London between 1829 and 1910, the headquarters of the Post Office of the UK, and England’s first purpose-built post office. The other landmark stood just across from the building behind the New General Post Office built in 1870, known as Postman’s Park which opened in 1880 on the site of the former churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. In 1900, the park became the location for the artist George Frederic Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, a memorial to ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten. Unlike the General Post Office that was demolished in 1912, Postman’s Park and the memorials can be visited today. The Manchester Hotel was a dominant presence on Aldersgate Street, opened in 1879. It became the venue for murder trial juries to spend the night during trials, all jurors having to spend the night in the same large room with guards on the door. With stiff competition from new West End hotels before the First World War it closed its doors in 1914 and was commandeered as a hostel for Jewish refugees from Belgium and Poland. It was refurbished and was reopened in 1919.
Aldersgate saw it’s fair share of bombs during the Blitz, with Aldersgate & Barbican station, the New General Post office, the Goldsmith’s Hall, the Manchester hotel and the churches of St Vedast and St Ann & St Agnes among the casualties. Large areas of housing on the eastern fringes of Aldersgate were badly hit and remained bomb sites until well into the 1950s.
The post war development of the Barbican estate fringed Aldersgate ward at the intersection of Aldersgate and Barbican (the site of a V2 rocket explosion)