Gated community | Old City Gates of London
Forget St John’s Gate for once. The Clerkenwell area lays claim to four of the seven old city gates of London. We reveal the facts and a few legends behind those Roman entrances marked on the map…
For those in search of historic Clerkenwell, it’s well worth tracking down the sites of the city gates in the area – Cripplegate, Newgate, Aldersgate and Ludgate. Along with Bishopsgate and Aldgate further east, these medieval gates all have origins in the late second century Roman boundary wall that still marks the borders of the modern City of London. In the medieval period, the addition of Moorgate made seven gates – a symbolic number since the seven days mentioned in Genesis. Sadly, there’s only a blue plaque to mark each of the gates, but you can still see remains of the Roman wall at the Barbican and the Museum of London.
In Roman times, travellers crossed the River Fleet to enter this gate, while those leaving may have been making the final journey to a burial ground in what is now Fleet Street. The likely origin of its name is Flood Gate, Fleet Gate or perhaps hlid-geat (Anglo-Saxon meaning swing gate). In the medieval period, a legend took hold that the gate had been built by King Lud in 66BC – hence Lud Gate. When the “sore decayed” gate (including a debtors’ prison from 1215) was rebuilt in 1586, it was given statues of King Lud and his sons – a monument to that medieval misnomer – and Elizabeth I. After it was demolished in 1760, the statues were relocated and now stand outside St Dunstan-in-the- West.
Plaque: St-Martin-within-Ludgate, Ludgate Hill
Newgate is named because it was ‘latelier built than the rest’ of the medieval gates, according to one chronicler. From around 200AD, a Roman gate gave access to roads to St Albans and Silchester. The fortifi ed gate provided a stronghold used as a prison from around 1188. It was named NewGate from the 13th century and was rebuilt in the 15th century with finance from Richard Whittington – real-life inspiration for the folk tale about Dick Whittington. From 1539, the Old Bailey Session House was established alongside the prison. The gate was rebuilt several times, finally in 1672, including a statue of Liberty with Whittington’s cat. It was demolished in 1777. Newgate closed in 1902, though part of the 18th century prison is in the Museum of London. Plaque: The Old Bailey, New gate Street
Built around AD120, this was the northern entrance to the Roman fort. The medieval name is likely from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘crepel’, meaning underground passage, probably for a tunnel running to a barbican (defensive tower) – hence the Barbican estate. This gate possibly provided the only direct entrance to the Saxon Palace from outside the city walls, which perhaps explains the watchtower. There’s also a legend attached to the name: cripples were miraculously cured when Edmund the Martyr’s body was brought through in 1010. In 1558, Elizabeth I passed into the city in state for the fi rst time as Queen. The gate was demolished in 1760 so the street could be widened, and the materials sold to a carpenter for £91. Plaque: Roman House, Wood Street junction of St Alphage Garden
Built around 350AD, this was the only Roman gate constructed after the city wall. The medieval name is from Ealdredesgate, which means Gate of Ealdred, a Saxon who’s believed to have rebuilt it around 1000. Aldersgate gave access beyond the wall and ditch to St Bartholomew’s Priory, the London Charterhouse and the livestock market at Smithfield. The room above the gatekeeper’s house became the workshop of John Day, publisher of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563) who also introduced Saxon type to Britain. In 1603 James I entered London through the imposing gate as king for the first time. Pepys later saw the limbs of traitors on it. The gate was damaged in the Great Fire, repaired in 1670 and demolished in 1761 when it was causing traffic congestion. Plaque location: Lord Raglan pub, St-Martin’s-le-Grand
For a map of the London Wall walk: