Much as my following post needs a further read through to make sure I have definitely finished it to as full and excellent a quality as the never-ending maw of the internet demands, allow me to suggest that by finding human error in yourself, accept human error in this happy post, that I present now.
L U D G A T E
In Roman times the western side of the city was guarded, besides the great Roman wall, by the Fleet River – now long covered over. Although the tattered remnant of that rive r is recalled as a narrow 19th century open sewer, its form that the Romans saw was wide enough that it acted as a natural harbour off of the Thames, and Ludgate was built at a part where it was narrow enough to build a bridge across.
The road it guarded was not as major as other entrances, but without the gate was a significant graveyard that served the city.
Medieval legend supposes that in the mid-7th century an image of the mighty Caedwalla, king of the Britons, was hung from the gate to warn away Saxons, although since London was under Saxon control at that time it makes the tale doubtful.
Another ancient legend of this gate was spread by that meddler in British history, Geoffrey of Monmouth, is that the name of the gate derives from its founder – King Lud – who was supposedly also laid to rest not far from it. Lud is an apparently completely mythical figure, and doesn’t feature in any sensible chronology of the city, which leads me on to the true etymology of Ludgate.
Some suppose it to come from the Saxon word for back gate, though it appears to have been a relatively important gate in Saxon times. A more likely supposition is it is a corruption of Fleetgate or Floodgate, referring to the river that it was built agaist.
At the time of the Norman conquest Ludgate was the principal gate to the city and William the Conqueror intended to besiege the city with an attack being prepared for Ludgate itself. Fortunately, several important men of the city saw the futility of their cause and opened the gates, making Ludgate the first place that Norman forces entered London.
The gate was rebuilt in about 1215, when it appears that many of the gates in London were in disrepair, and was by this time in use as a prison for debtors and other criminals; repairs were possibly carried out again in 1260. In 1378 the worst of these prisoners were moved out and more important people as well as members of the clergy who had committed crimes were incarcerated there.
By 1431 the prison officers were in trouble, since the reasonable nature of the prison meant that many debtors were happy to stay there rather than pay their money and return to poverty. They were briefly moved to Newgate to try and encourage them to pay their fines and leave prison, which simply resulted in enough complaints from important prisoners that they were quickly returned to Ludgate. (This may have occurred once before with similar results in 1419.) Stephen Foster was imprisoned there in the first half of the 1400s and, after paying his debts, became eminent enough to pay for the reconstruction of the gate.
Agnes Forster had a hand in rebuilding some of Ludgate prison in the 1460s after her husband had died, and was allowed therefore to adorn the gate with her and her husband’s coat of arms, as well as some verses to commemorate the two of them. The verses weren’t particularly good and, when the gate was next rebuilt, while the coat of arms was recovered and re-added to the new gate, the stone on which the verses were inscribed was turned around, and on the other side a simpler inscription was made before being added to the gate instead.
This next rebuilding occurred in 1586, when the gate was adorned with statues of both King Lud and Queen Elizabeth I. The Earl of Essex came against the gate after his uprising of 1601, trying to escape the city, but found it closed to him and his retinue. Stoutly defending it was a militia of pikemen led by Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London; while several of Essex’s men including Sir Christopher Blunt were wounded or killed, the Earl himself narrowly escaped, having had a pike thrust through his hat.
This gate survived for 80 years, when it was destroyed by the great fire of 1666 and rebuilt yet again in a handsome manner. Finally, the gate was removed in 1760 and the last few prisoners distributed elsewhere.