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  • Writer's pictureErin

History - Take One Street, Aldersgate Street

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

I've spent a lot of time wandering up and down Aldersgate Street during the past few months and it wasn't long before I started to take more of an in-depth look into its history...

Named after one of the Roman gates into London, these entry points were vital for controlling who and what came into the walled City and I'm sure the likes of Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Newgate and Ludgate ring a few bells with some of you.

Wikimedia Commons

The gate was first mentioned as Ealdredesgate in the year 1000, perhaps being associated with a man named Ealdrād or because of the many Alder trees which grew in the area.

Fast forward to the year 1603 and the gate was still an important entrance into the City, as King James VI made his way down from Scotland and into London with the union of the two crowns. In 1617 the gate was rebuilt to commemorate the event, featuring the king of horseback on one side, and enthroned on the other.

An illustration of the gate c.1650. Wikimedia Commons

Today it may seem a little less exciting as times gone by, but despite being a relatively non descriptive short stretch of the A1, it surprisingly holds a rich and varied history!

The blue line marks Aldersgate Street

Pretty much the whole of the east side of the street is taken up by the love it or hate it Barbican Estate, which I would love to go into great detail about here, but instead I'll direct you to a guest post I did for Look Up London here which looks into the history of the area.

On the west hand side, well to be honest, there's not much of interest anymore. Modern office blocks, an underground car park and the Barbican tube station...but delve a little deeper and there's loads to discover!

But first things first, rather strangely, the gate wasn't actually on todays Aldersgate Street, but instead a little further south where the road continues onto St Martin's le Grand.

Spudgun67 / CC BY-SA (

Today the area is a pretty nice place to live, but it seems it hasn't always been the case. In the Elizabethan era, the area around todays Barbican tube station was known as Pickt Hatch, and it would be here you would come to visit one of the well known brothels. Pickt thought to derive from spiked, as the entrances to these establishments were recognised by their hatches or half doors pronged with spikes.

It was so well known in fact that it was mentioned in The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare and The Alchemist by Ben Jonson. Just over the road is The Shakespeare pub and in the Barbican you'll find Shakespeare Tower and Ben Jonson House. Both literature giants lived in the area, and up until 1879 there was a Shakespeare House on the street, claiming to be where the actor lived (although actual proof of this is pretty much non existent).

Shakespeare House - Wikimedia Commons

Into the 17th century, two important buildings appear to the south of Aldersgate Street just up from the Museum of London; London House and Thanet House.

Layers of London - William Morgan's map of the City

London House became the home of the Bishop of London and was later used for the City of London Lying-in Hospital for married women and sick and lame Outpatients, before it moved across the road to Thanet House.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thanet House was another fine mansion, built by Inigo Jones in 1644, the architect responsible for St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, the Banqueting House on Whitehall and worked on Old St Pauls Cathedral just before the fire of 1666. It was later known as Shaftesbury House. Here's a photo from 1882 (with some differences!).

"Shaftesbury House" 1882 Public domain

You'll find a plaque recording the site, and just below a plaque to John Wesley, who played an important part in the foundations of todays Methodist Movement.

Wikimedia Commons - Ianpegg / CC0

Another now lost building on the street which appears in later maps is the Manchester Hotel. This grand Victorian hotel opened in 1879 but like most of the area was heavily damaged in the Second World War. Using the Bomb Damage maps, available on Layers of London, it's possible to see the destruction of the area and how much of it's history has been forgotten.

Layers of London - Bomb Damage Map (1945). The blue line marks Aldersgate Street

As always I had a lot of fun researching using the Layers of London website - if you haven't discovered it yet I highly recommend setting aside a few hours and have a play!

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Heard in London


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