W. J. (William John) Loftie.

Rambles in and near London : or, London afternoons online

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to periodical fits of destructiveness. As a prison, Newgate,
no doubt, is antiquated ; but we shall probably see the
present building succeeded by a smaller one for the safe
custody of prisoners during the Sessions, and may ask
without impertinence why the old prison could not have
been a little altered and made suitable without absolute
destruction. Many of the arguments against the removal
of Temple Bar apply with greater force here. We are
told, for instance, by innumerable writers that Temple
Bar was the last of the City gates.- They forget, or never
knew, that it never had been a City gate ; but Newgate
is unquestionably one wing of a real City gate, having been
built on the site of the southern portion of the ancient
arched entrance to the City from Holborn.

As to associations, also, Newgate is far more interesting


than Temple Bar. It vies, in fact, with the Tower in the
eminence of its involuntary inhabitants. Though it would
be a mockery to say of the present edifice that it is orna-
mental, it is undoubtedly one of the most satisfactory
public buildings in London gloomy, strong, impressive,
and with its object as plainly marked on it as if the word
" prison " were stamped on even 7 stone. Dance, its architect,
deserves the credit of having designed a perfectly simple,
but perfectly suitable facade, the more so as, though it is
three hundred feet long, it has no windows, except in the
central portion, which is but thirty feet in width. Although
the height is only fifty feet, the effect produced by the
mere mass and outline is comparable to that of a Norman
keep. The central lodge, with its numerous arched
windows in five storeys, has been severely criticised ; but.
without some such feature, the plainness of the rest of the
front might have failed of its due effect. The statues,
removed from the old gate, are somewhat incongruous,
and festoons of fetters form a veiy lugubrious kind of
ornament. The hundred and twenty years of its existence
have seen many alterations and improvements of the
interior, but have left the exterior substantially as it was
when the new building was completed.

The name of Newgate may be compared with that of
Newport, at Lincoln. Both belong to the entrances of
Roman cities. It may be too much to say that Newgate
is the oldest of the London city gates, but it would be
difficult to prove the greater antiquity of its rival, Bishops-
gate. As a Roman gate it has the advantage, for the
northern entrance to Roman London was some distance
to the east of the site of the mediaeval Bishopsgate, while
Newgate is very near the place where the Watling Street
reached the City wall. When the Romans had diverted
the old road at what is now the Marble Arch, so that it


(From an Old Print.)


no longer pursued the course of the modern Park Lane
to the ford at Westminster, but turned towards what was
then the newly constructed bridge at London, the place
of the gate on the hill was determined by the place in the
valley below of the bridge over the Fleet. The Hole-
bourn took its name from its course among the high clay
banks of Coldbath Fields ; at what we call Farringdon
Street it turned south and became a tidal estuary, wide
enough for ships, probably as large as any then built.*
A Watergate may have existed at Ludgate, a name which
denotes a postern, though there are certain indications
to the contrary ; but the principal entrance to the later
Roman London must have been by Newgate. If we
examine a large scale map of the City, it will be seen
that a bastion of unusual size must have stood here when
the boundaries were fixed, perhaps before the thirteenth
century. The wall ran straight from Ludgate north-
ward; but at a point which we may fix upon as the
site of the Roman gate there is a deep bow on the map,
as if to take in a large fortification. The roadway
from the bridge over the Fleet below did not run straight
into the gate, but had to make a turn under this bastion
of the wall, as at Pompeii and other places. The gate
where the road passed through it faced probably to the
north, not to the west.

A fragment of the road which crossed the City diagon-
ally from Newgate towards the great bridge over the
Thames still bears its ancient name; but even here
the Watling Street is not quite on the original site, which
is more distinctly marked by Budge Row, that part
of the street which crossed the corner of Cheap,
where budge, or rabbit skin for fur, was sold. The
exact date of the alteration to which Newgate owes its

* See p. 58.


existence will now, in all probability, never bo known.
It must have been after the Roman occupation of
Britain, but that is all we can say with certainty. Of
Newgate itself, however, it will be safe to assert that it
was first built when the Romans made their new wall
to take in, not only the ancient city, but also ita suburbs.
Even here, too, the exact date eludes us, but it must have
been between the time of Julian the Apostate and that
of Valentinian, or in the ten years between A.D. 3f0
and 370.

To account for the name " New " as applied to this
ancient gate we must come nearly a millennium further
down the stream of history. A mistake of Stow's on
this head has been repeated again and again. He asserts
that the enlargement of St. Paul's so obstructed the high-
way that passengers had to go round by Paternoster Row
to reach Ludgate. In reality the enlargement eastward
of St. Paul's did obstruct the Watling Street and cut it
off from its western extremity, now Newgate Street.
But though this synchronises very well with the re-
building of the old gate towards Holborn in the reign of
Henry I., or Stephen, it by no means follows that it was
caused by it. The road through Newgate existed before
St. Paul's itself. But Stow, and many other writers since
his time, believed that Ludgate was called after King Lud ;
just as some writers believe or affect to believe that Holborn
means Oldlx>ume, and if anyone nowadays is of this
opinion, all the other improbabilities and inconsistencies
of the story are as nothing.

It is curious to oliserve that, if the " New " gate is
one of the two oldest, the " Aid " gate is absolutely
the newest of all. Newgate was willed " new " with
reference to an older gate, Wcstgate, on the same
site. Alegate, or Algate, which was built at the time


when a bridge over the Lea at Stratford made an exit
necessary to the eastward of Bishopsgate, probably points
to its having been thrown open, by the Canons who made
it, to all. The spelling " Aldgate " is modern, and, in any
case, cannot mean " eald " or " old." For a time Westgate
was called Chamberlain's Gate, until, this Chamberlain
himself having been forgotten, his gate was called from
its new fabric Newgate, a name which occurs as early as
1285. The Chamberlain was probably the same William
the Chamberlain who held of the King at the time of the
Domesday survey (1087) a vineyard at " Holeburne,"
near the site of the Charterhouse, and therefore not very
far from the gate.

The Roman fashion of making gaols of gates was
imported into Britain from the East. The City Chamber-
lain still possesses a special lock-up, and at the Conquest
he may have used this gate for the purpose. Ludgate was
also a prison a "free prison," says Stow, referring, of
course, to its use for the freemen of the City. Newgate
was, to some extent, appropriated to the use of the in-
habitants of the adjoining county of Middlesex, which,
about the time of the rebuilding, had been granted in farm
to the citizens. The inconvenience of the gaol, as popula-
tion increased, caused the complaints which appear in
the pages of every I/mdon chronicle. So far back as
1419 there is an entry in the Letter-book of the Corpora-
tion, quoted by Riley, in which mention is made of the
f ostid and corrupt atmosphere of " the heynouse gaol
of Newgate." Ludgate had been alx)lished as a prison,
and the result was that many " citizens and other re-
putable persons " were committed to Newgate, and died,
" who might have been living, it is said, if they had
remained in Ludgate, abiding in peace there." Sir
llichard Whittingtoii was mayor at this time, and three



yours later, at his death, loft money for the improve-
ment of Newgate, " seeing that every person is
sovereignly bound to support, and l>e tender of, the lives
of men."

Whittington's Newgate was burnt by the Gordon
rioters the present prison, which had been founded a
few years before, being already in part completed 011 the
south side of the gate. The Surgeons' Hall, so celebrated
for alleged resuscitations an authentic case occurred
in 1587 stood a little further to the south in the Old
Bailey, but it was now removed, and a part of the
Sessions House stands on the site. A portion, how-
ever, of the older building long survived, being the
" condemned cells." They had a right to the name in
several senses ; but, though every humane person, and
many besides, spoke or wrote of them with horror, the
practice of hanging for felony declined before they were
removed or improved.

One writer discloses a state of things hardly credible
even eighty or ninety years ago. The convicts were
crowded like sheep in a pen. That these " unhappy beings
were not victims to the most malignant diseases" he
attributes to the kindness of the late keeper, "who fre-
quently assisted their wants at liis own expense." This last
sentence suggests conditions horrible to think of, even now.
"When Mr. Nield visited this prison, one-half of the
prisoners, particularly the women, were miserably poor, and
covered (scarcely covered) with rags. This does not appear
to be so much the case just at this time." Such was the
state of Newgate so lately as 1815. After several even
more shocking details, the writer goes on to say that,
in order not to hurry poor wretches out of the world,
iu strict conformity to the letter of the law, after twenty-
four hours, the trials for capital crimes took place on


Fridays, as Sunday was not counted a legal day. There
is a curious plate here reproduced in the Microcosm
of Pugin and Eowlandson, which represents the interior
of the chapel in Newgate on the Sunday intervening
between trial Friday and execution Monday. It shows
eleven felons, two of them women, in a kind of central
pew painted black. In the middle of the pew is a table.
On the table is a coffin. This was in 1809.

A few years earlier, in September, 1801, the Sheriffs
were thanked, by an advertisement in the newspapers
(reprinted, Times, 14th September, 1901), for their humane
conduct. The female prisoners in Newgate speak of
their benevolence, "through a long and scarce season,"
in " alleviating their infelicity." The whole paragraph is
made up of long words; but it shows plainly that to
bring " a ray of comfort to the afflicted mind of the
otherwise despairing captive " was considered an unusual

In one of Johnson's letters is an account of the
burning of the old gate house prison. There were not
above a hundred Protestants at work, but they were
left unmolested. There were no guards to prevent them
from carrying out their design, " without trepidation,
as men lawfully employed in full day. Such," reflects
Dr. Johnson, "is the cowardice of a commercial place."

It was in the older building, then destroyed, that
gaol fever made such terrible ravages. In 1750 the
Lord Mayor and two of the judges, and others to the
number of sixty, died of it after the Sessions. This is
the less wonderful as we read that the prison was in-
adequately supplied with \vater. The new prison was
at first little better in this respect. Lord George Gordon
himself died in it of gaol fever thirteen years after his
followers had destroyed the older buildings. Much


improvement t<xk place in Newgate shortly after the
date of Rowlandson and Pugin's picture, yet in 1828
a visitor notes that thirty condemned i>er8ons might be
seen in the two wards connected with the Tress Yard,
and congratulates humanity on the fact that none of
them wore irons. It was only in 1817 that any classi-
fication of the prisoners was attempted. The coffin at
the " condemned sermon " was disused about the same
time. Mrs. Fry's exertions on behalf of the female
prisoners resulted in great improvements in their con-
dition. She taught them to make stockings and other
articles, that by selling them they might improve their
prison fare. What that was may Ije guessed when it is
mentioned as a matter for satisfaction by a visitor in
1825 that a regular allowance of food is "now" made
out of City funds.

The alteration of this corner of the City in the past
fifty years has been very great. Giltepur Street, which in
the fifteenth century was a place where armour might be
rej>aired when a tournament was going on in the smooth-
field or Smithfield adjoining, was latterly best known
by the Sheriff's Compter, a prison which stood on the
north side of Newgate. The entrance to the great prison
nearest to Newgate Street was known as the Debtor's
Door. Here, from 1783, when Tyburn as a place for the
public hanging of criminals had been abolished, a scaffold
was erected and the sentence of the law was executed
after every Sessions of the monthly Court. Of the scenes
which took place here many books treat so fully that I
need not dwell on them.

The antiquity and persistence of tavern signs has
often been remarked. The "King of Denmark" will
probably survive Newgate itself, which gave it notoriety.
But there are more cheerful and in most respects


more interesting associations with the street names
of this district. At Green Arbour Court Goldsmith
lived in 1758, before he removed to Fleet Street. In
those days the descent to the valley of the Fleet
was very steep, and such places as Breakneck Steps
and Seacoal Lane led down to the quays fronting the
Fleet Prison. This stood on the ground now occupied by
the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street. To understand
the " scenery " of Besant and Rice's story, " The Chaplain
of the Fleet," it is needful, nowadays, to thread Fleet Lane
and its affluent, New Court, no longer noisome alleys,
but clean and wholesome enough, the headquarters of
printing houses and paper factories, retaining few signs
of the ancient condition of the region when it bordered
the open tidal and muddy river, reeking with the sewage
of Coldbath Fields and Clerkenwell, washed down to it
by the Hole-Bourne. A few traces of old carving, like
that over the entrance to Wheatsheaf Yard, or a street
name like Turnagain Lane or Bear Alley, recall " the good
old times " when the debtors begged at the door of their
frowning home behind the prison bars, and the city walls
looked down from the Old Bailey and the Newgate on
the cliff above.



Why the Thumps haa Income the most Important of Rivers The Site
of London HilU and Brooks The Highest Ground The
Fleet The Hole-bourne The Wells Tyburn The Gallows
The Westbourne " Bournes " in the City.

THE causes which have made the Thames the most
important river in the world are many and various.
Similar causes are at work enlarging the great cities on
the Mersey, the Clyde, and Belfast Lough : while still
more favourable circumstances have produced no such
results as yet at Limerick, or Milford, or the Forth. The
early trade of London was, no doubt, largely influenced
by two kinds of security, both rare in those times. Since
the reign of King Alfred London has enjoyed immunity
from war. It has been secure from invasion. No enemy
has Ixttieged it with success. No other European capital
has escaped siege and capture, not even Rome, in the
course of a thousand years.

The other kind of security was from the elements.
The Londoners were noted as expert sailors when we first
hear of them ; nor was this all : a large part of their
maritime trade was carried on in land-locked waters.
The Londoner of a thousand yeai-s ago could take his
largest as well as his smallest boat from London Bridge
to within ten miles from the French coast in smooth


water all the year round. His harbours were never frozen,
or so seldom that frost had not been reckoned among the
dangers of the deep. He sailed down the Thames to
Eeculver, where he entered the Wantsome; or, leaving
the main stream of the Thames at Sheerness, he could
make his way by the Swale ; from Reculver he passed
by the Wantsome to Ebbsfleet, near Richborough. Here
he reached a wider passage, sheltered by the GoodwinSi
which seem to have been islands before the Norman
Conquest. He lay behind them in safety till a favourable
wind and tide took him across some eight or ten miles
of open sea, after which he reached anchorage again.
The Londoners in Alfred's time were already bold sailors,
and the English Kings conferred special privileges on
those who fared frequently across. They were accounted
worthy of thane right. Their skill must have been shown
chiefly in understanding the winds, tides, and currents of
the narrow channel.

The natural features of the district now covered by the
County of London may be rapidly surveyed. The great
flood of bricks and mortar which pours over them renders
it often difficult for us to distinguish field from wood, or
even hill from valley. Rivers and ravines are masked,
marshes are hidden. The brooks run far underground.
The flats are elevated, and the heights depressed. The
tide of buildings surges on, swallowing up in its course
fields and gardens, parks and woods ; uprooting treesi
blasting flowers ; shutting out even the air and the winds
of heaven. There is something appalling in the resistless
growth of London. Middlesex was nearly eaten up.
Surrey and Kent and Essex have been largely contaminated.
Still the city spreads, like moths fretting a garment. The
old form of the country, as it lay bare to the sky, is
wholly lost. It is overwhelmed and obliterated. Even when


the houses fall, and London lx>comes niiuuuH heaj)8, the old
geography will not. l restored. The ancient rivers will
not How in their old channels. The valleys and the hills
will have alike disappeared, and men will some day talk
of the plains of London as we talk of the plains of Bahylon.,

If we could look on the site of Jxmdon as it
was Ixjfore oiir city was made, we should not know
it. Who can define the extent and the boundaries of
the fields of St. Martin and St. Giles, or tell us where
the mount stood in Mount Street, or the conduit in
Conduit Street ? We have all a vague idea that there
is a stream running under Buckingham Palace. We have
Iwen in the habit of taking strangers to Fanyer Alley, as
to the " highest ground in the City," and we do not yet
forget the steep ascent of Holborn Hill. But our infor-
mation seldom extends much further. We are un-
acquainted with the soil in our own street. We have no
notion how many feet it is alx>ve or below the level of the
Thames. We have never remarked whether Park Lane
slopes to the north or to the south. We have not the
slightest idea over what river Battle Bridge was builtj
nor why wo should have to go down steps from Thread-
needle Street to Broad Street. All these things depend
more or loss directly on the physical geography of the
region which we have covered over and disguised with
pavements and rows of houses.

The London district, at least the more thickly in-
habited portion of it, consists of a series of low hills rising
from the sloping bank of the Thames. On the north
or left side, they were in the counties of Middlesex and
Essex. On the south or right bank, they were in Surrey
and Kent, except from the Temple to the Tower on the
left, and a small division round St. Saviour's on the right,
which were, and are still, in the City. These hills are


not iii lines uniformly parallel with the Thames, which
flows from south to north where it passes AVestminster,
and flows from west to east past London. The hills are
divided by brooks or bournes, now nearly all hidden in
tunnels and sewers. Here and there the ground is flat.
There is a long tract of level ground south of Netting
Hill and west of the river Thames, where the elevation is
very slight, and where in places there is even a depres-
sion. On this tract an enormous population is now
gathered. The villages of Kensington and Brompton
were formerly separated from the water's edge by an
unwholesome morass, but even this has been built upon ;
and Pimlico, which contains some of the worst, contains
also some of the best, streets in London.

We are surprised to notice the great differences of level
and also of soil which occur. While north of the Park, hi
places, the ground rises to nearly a hundred feet above the
sea, at Millbank it only stands twelve feet above the river.
The highest ground in the City is in Cannon Street, where
it reaches sixty feet, and not in Newgate Street, where
it ia only fifty-eight ; for the old rhyme of Panyer Alley
is untrue, like so many other things we have believed in
from our youth up. The slope falls rapidly towards the
east. Stepney is only thirty-five feet above the river,
and a short distance beyond we are again at the level of

But if we look further into the matter we find
that the slope from the Thames and its adjacent
morass is not uniform, but is broken into a number of
different eminences. If we could divest Oxford Street,
for instance, of its houses, we might see that the whole
line of thoroughfare from Newgate to Netting Hill goes
up and down hill alternately not less than three times.
Instead of a long piece of almost level road, bordered on


either aide by houses, we should see a steep hill when we
hud crossed the Fleet, round which the river would run
on the north and east, and, arriving at the summit,
should find ourselves on a ridge elevated perhujjs as much
as eighty feet above the Thames, towards which, on the
left, there would be a continuous slope, while on the right
a valley of alight depth, but of considerable steepness,
would mark the north-westward winding of the Fleet.
The valley, of which the head would be at Euston Square,
would correspond with a similar depression on the west
of a large tract of the densest clay known to geolo-
gists. This tract is now the llegent's Park, and from
it the principal streams of which we speak take their
source. The Hole-Bourne on the east, emerging as the
Fleet near Blackfriars Bridge ; the Ty-Bourne on the west ;
the Kil or Cool-Bourne beyond it ; smaller streams, as the
Milford, near Temple Bar, and another where Ivy Bridge
stood in the Strand, all either How directly from it, or
are largely fed by the waters gathered in its tenacious
grasp. They still run, though hidden from sight.

The Hole-Bourne is the largest and most important
of these ancient rivers. The name, which occurs in
other parts of England, where our forefathers would
describe a brook which burrowed its way through steep
banks, like the Holing-Bourne, or Hollingbourne, in
Kent, the Holbeck in Nottinghamshire, and the Hoi-
brook in Suffolk, has l)een interpreted in various ways :
especially by Stow, who, as I have mentioned in
an earlier chapter, says it is a corruption of Old-Bourne :
a view hardly worth refuting, only that I saw it quoted
with approval quite lately. The Hole-Bourne, or Hoi-
born, marked ita early course by many such cuttings
as that named hi " Black Mary's Hole," a reference,
probably, to one of the wooden " Madonnas " which


were destroyed at the Reformation and probably
commemorated in St. Mary's Benedictine Nunnery ;
also by Hockley " in the Hole," a garden or place of
public amusement in the deep valley, which made it
convenient for the spectators of bear-baiting, dog-fighting,
and other pastimes. Dotted round on both sides of
the brook were many wells, such as Clerken well, God's
well, Show well, Bagnigge's well, Sadler's well, and, far
to the westward of the rest, Holy well and St. Clement's
well. No wonder the summit of the principal hill on
the left bank was denominated Cold-bath Fields.

If we follow the old roadway of Holborn, we find it
reaches its highest point on the ridge once known by a
pond, as Ridgemere or Rugmere, near the Regent's
Circus. Thence to Bird Street we find a slope which,

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Online LibraryW. J. (William John) LoftieRambles in and near London : or, London afternoons → online text (page 5 of 23)