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The Temple Bar as depicted in an 1870 edition of The Illustrated London News

Temple Bar is the only one of London’s old gates to have been preserved having been relocated to Theobalds Park near Cheshunt, Herts in the late 19th Century. It was returned to the City and rebuilt as one of the entrances to Paternoster Square, with the

rebuilding completed in 2004.

repaired in 1670 and demolished in 1761. It is assumed that one of the gates of the original Roman London Wall was at Newgate but the remains that have been found seem to suggest that it was built later than the wall itself. A gate did exist by 857 when it was referred to as uuestgetum or “west gates”, perhaps describing both the west gates of the City, Ludgate and Newgate. It probably acquired the name of “the new gate” when it was rebuilt by the Saxons or Normans. By 1188 it was being used as a prison. It was rebuilt in the 15th century, again in the mid 16th century, once more in 1628-30 and in 1672 after its destruction in the Great Fire of London.

This gate was demolished in 1767. According to tradition Lud Gate was built by King Lud in 66BC but it is more likely that the Romans built it to give access to their burial grounds west of the City. The Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names suggests a derivation of the name as the Old English ludgeat meaning “the back gate or postern.” In about 1215 the gate was rebuilt and was used as a prison for petty criminals in the reign of Richard II. A story is told of a boy, Stephen Forster, imprisoned there for debt. A rich widow saw him at the window, paid his debts and married him. He was elected Lord Mayor in 1454. Ludgate was rebuilt in 1586 and was also damaged by, and repaired after, the Great Fire. When it too was demolished in 1760 the statues of Queen Elizabeth, King Lud and his two sons, with which it was decorated, were transferred to the façade of St Dunstan in the West in Fleet Street. Attentive readers may have noticed that during the 1760s all the major gates to the City were demolished. In 1760 the Corporation of London applied to parliament to widen many “inconvenient avenues.” The rationale was that “under the alterations in the art of war (they) could be of no present security” and “obstructed the free current of air.” Thus the seven ancient gateways were swept away. But there remained one gate which, although not piercing the original ancient walls, nevertheless served as a western entrance to the City of London from the City of Westminster, Temple Bar. First mentioned in 1293, this barrier seems originally to have been a rope or


chain across the roadway where Fleet Street joined The Strand. By 1351 it had become a Gothic gateway built of wood with a prison above. Elizabeth I passed through on her way to give thanks at St Paul’s for the defeat of the Armada. Thereafter, on state occasions, a brief ceremony has been performed at Temple Bar during which the sovereign asks permission from the Lord Mayor to enter the City. The Bar survived the Great Fire but was so dilapidated by the reign of Charles II that it was rebuilt as part of his programme to modernise London with new public buildings. Built of Portland stone at a cost £1500, it was decorated with statues celebrating the Stuart dynasty. On the eastern side were figures of Anne of Denmark and James I and on the west side were Charles I and Charles II. It was built while Sir Christopher Wren was Surveyor-General of the King’s Works but it is unlikely that he himself designed it. Heads of traitors were displayed on the Bar, the last in 1746. In 1806 the Bar was covered in black velvet for the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson. By the late 19th century the volume of traffic passing between the Cities of London and Westminster, and the building of the Royal Courts of Justice, meant that Temple Bar had become a major bottle neck – “a bone in the throat of Fleet Street” – and it was dismantled in 1878. For nearly 100 years it stood as the gateway to the Hertfordshire home of Lord and Lady Meux but, having fallen into disrepair, it was rebuilt and returned to the City. It now forms the southern entrance to Paternoster Square from St Paul’s Cathedral. Temple Bar is the only gate to the City of London still standing, although not in its original location. Blue plaques show where six of the seven original gates once stood; Bishopsgate’s location is not commemorated. The Museum of London’s website describes The London Wall Walk, a sign posted walk which largely follows the original route of the old wall. It passes surviving pieces of wall still visible to the public and the sites of the old gateways. Some of the original information plaques are lost but the route can be downloaded from the Museum website. The route is nearly two miles long and it takes walkers back to the very origins of our city.

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