The last of the main gates is here! Here’s a quick history of Moorgate and a summary of the final days of the gates; enjoy, kind Reader!
M O O R G A T E
Moorgate is the latest of the main city gates to have been constructed, and according to folklore was originally a Roman postern gate. Whatever the date of the original postern, the small nature of the gate compared to the heavy traffic that it received meant that orders were given in 1415 for the wall in that place to be taken down and a new grand gate constructed in its place. This was to allow better access for Londoners wanting to get to Moorfields, one of the few public areas in the city that was not build upon. Other reports suggest that the postern was in fact sealed up and Moorgate was built in a different position to its predecessor.
William Hampton modernised the gate, giving it a more impressive look, in about 1511. This date is questionable however, since Hampton was mayor of London in 1472 and died ten years later, making it unlikely that he was available to help improve the gate in 1511. It is possible that there is confusion here, and Hampton improved the gate during his mayoralty and it was then again repaired in 1511 by another, and both dates appear in other histories – this would agree with several 18th century histories I read after having supposed this point.
The gate was apparently damaged in the fire of 1666, although according to some sources the fire never actually made it to the gate, so the fire may have been more of an excuse to fund its further improvement, whatever the case it was rebuilt completely in about 1672. This new gate had pedestrian arches on each side and an extra high main gate, reportedly either to allow soldiers ceremoniously marching through it to hold their pikes straight, or due to the city’s want to introduce a haymarket nearby and therefore wanted space under the arch for tall carts of hay to pass.
Finally the gate was pulled down in 1762, and the stone reused for widening the central arch of the old London Bridge.
These excellent gates, the history of which is now related in as full and ready detail as I can muster, steadily descended from their original defensive purposes as early as the medieval period, when garrisons were replaced by prisoners and their military use began to diminish.
They remained a symbol of power and were useful for displaying the dismembered parts of traitors as late as the end of the 17th century. By the 1600s several parts of the wall around London had been broken through, and peppered with a great number of small gates and entrances for the convenience of the people. The futility of the walls and gates for any kind of defence was further proven in the Civil War, when rather than using these defences to protect the city, new earthworks were built beyond the city limits – more practical since they were in the open, away from the crushing houses and streets, as well as being better suited against the artillery of the times.
After the restoration of the glorious King Charles II in 1660 the physical wooden gates of the city were all removed from their hinges and the portcullises jammed open, several of the gates at this time were already ruinous and they were already well beyond any form of practical defensive use.
By now being well within the limits of the city, one can only suppose that any use made of the gates for collecting charges for bringing goods into the city had long since passed. The last date that I can find for any considerable construction work on the gates is in 1735, when Bishopsgate was completely rebuilt in a dignified Georgian style.
Finally, the gates became more and more of an inconvenience, blocking traffic and stopping the widening of roads. The London Streets Act 1759/1760 was passed to allow the main gates of the city to be demolished and within less than a decade not a single trace remained of them remained.
One more post to come; the selected minor gates of the city.
Adieu, dearest Reader.