We begin at the site of the Aldgate which was the eastern-most gate in the City walls, and stood at the junction of Dukes Place, Aldgate High Street, Minories, and Aldgate Street. (Good post in Spitalfields Life.) The gate was rebuilt several times but was finally removed in 1761 because it was an obstacle to traffic. This was the gateway through which the Romans would have travelled to Colchester, and onwards to Norwich. (Interesting blogsite on London in general from a qualified guide.)
While looking for information about Aldgate I found this little piece of information: apparently a man working in Butchers’ Row, Aldgate High Street, was a strong suspect for Jack the Ripper! There was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial but he was placed in a lunatic asylum and the killings stopped….
But before moving outside the walls we look back for the Aldgate Pump which is mentioned almost in passing by Mr Bradshaw (I wonder when it would be polite to be on first-name terms?).
The Church of St Michael was built in 1108 and that ‘..beneath the pavement is a curious chapel or crypt, presumed to be have been part of the church..’. This was at the junction of Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street, but the crypt was filled in and destroyed in 1870 – what a pity – there are images of the crypt here. This area was the site of yet another of the large religious houses which were part of medieaval London.
I have to note the Three Nuns Pub, the name being another pointer to the history of the area, which stood at 11 Aldgate Street. This was a very significant coaching establishment, standing at the edge of the City and on the main road to Essex and East Anglia. The Inn and its trade were seriously affected by the growth of the railways and the old Inn was demolished to make way for Aldgate station. A new pub remained until some point after 1960. The image below, from a fascinating site, shows what the Inn probably looked like.
Looking northwards from Aldgate Church (does he mean St Botolph-Without-Aldgate?) are Houndsditch, Bevis Marks, and Duke’s Place, ‘..the great quarter of the Jews..’.
‘..The Minories is named after the nuns of the order of St Clare, or minoresses, who were invited into England by Blanche, Queen of Navarre..’. I have to imagine ‘..several spacious shops, [including] the showy finery of Moses and Sons..’. Apparently Punch attributed the low prices to sweatshop rates; nevertheless the shop was known to give value for money and good service. Neither the convent nor the showy shops remain.
Finally moving on, Goodman’s Fields were farmlands in the time of John Stow, farmed by Trollop, and then Roland Goodman, and the farm belonged to the nunnery. Mr Bradshaw says it was a thickly populated area in his time, but looking at the current development plans it will be even more densely populated in the future! The theatre in Goodman’s Fields was where Garrick first performed in 1741. The theatre burned down in 1746, and its replacement too was burned down in 1802, but not replaced. (Fires really were a threat to life in earlier times in London.) The theatre was in Ayliffe Street (Alie Street). There is a marvellous article in Spitalfields Life.
Today tall buildings outline the shape of the tenter grounds, now occupied by a school and housing, and Goodman’s Fields are about to be developed as the City transforms itself eastwards.
Whitechapel is unremarkable, says Mr Bradshaw, apart from the butchers’ shambles. However, there is a marvellous description of this area by Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold in 1872: East from the City, to the heart of Shoreditch and Whitechapel, is one of the walks which best repay the London visitor. The quaint, dirty, poverty laden, stall-lined streets are here and there relieved by marts and warehouses and emporiums, in which rich men who employ the poorest labour, are housed. It is an ancient neighbourhood, as some of the overhanging houses proclaim; and it remains a picturesque one…..
Whitechapel continues to present a rich mix today – different ethnic groups, different levels of wealth, different trades, and the ongoing need to provide medical care. The Eastern Dispensary, supported by public subscription, was built in 1858. The original building dated to 1782, with the Duke of Wellington as President. The building continues as a pub.
‘The church has no features of either architectural or historical interest.’ Maybe, but the first building on this site, built in 1329, was the original ‘White Chapel’. Mr Bradshaw’s church, St Mary Matfelon, was destroyed in WWII, and the site is now a public park, Altab Ali Park, named after a local Bangladeshi clothing worker who was murdered in the area.
The Jewish Cemetery is in Brady Street and here can be found the tombs of members of the Rothschild Family; however, entry is by appointment only.
The London Hospital, built in 1740, mainly cared for people injured ‘..about the docks and the shipping..’.
In Beaumont Square, Mile End Road, is the Beaumont Literary and Philosophical Institution, founded by Barber Beaumont who died in 1841 and endowed it with £13,500 which would be just under £1m in today’s values, using the retail price index. He was an extraordinary man. The Institution is no longer there but the gardens remain.
Trinity Almshouses are a haven on the busy Mile End Road. (See this post for photographs.) They were built in 1695 by the Trinity House Corporation as sheltered housing for naval officers and their widows, but are now privately owned.
Bancroft’s Almshouses on the north side of the Mile End Road were built in 1735 ‘..for 24 poor men of the Drapers’ Company and a school for 100 boys..’ with a gift of £28,000 from Francis Bancroft. The school was moved to Woodford Green in 1884 because London was too unhealthy for the children. The site was sold to The Beaumont Trust who, together with the Drapers’ Company, built The People’s Palace, formally opened by Queen Victoria in 1887. The People’s Palace included a technical college, gymnasium and swimming pool, library and concert hall. A disastrous fire in 1931 necessitated the rebuilding of the Queen’s Building.
Queen Mary’s College covers most of the burial ground of the almshouses but some remains in the grassed area between the college buildings and the wall of the Jewish cemetery.
Hints of older times can be found by peeping down the side streets. Cobbled streets, brick warehouses, quiet squares with small houses can be found, but the Whitechapel Road, which becomes the Mile End Road, presents a very different world to that in the City 2-3 miles to the west.
But oddly, Mr Bradshaw did not mention the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, founded in 1570 and the factory which made Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
You may also be interested in this article