Ludgate was one of the main thoroughfares into London, in fact the main one from the west of the country. In the past it was believed to have been built by the British King Lud, but this is rather controversial, and it is generally believed the first gate to be placed on the site was by the Romans who walled their city of Londinium in 190 AD. The year 190 AD was when they began, and the walls with their four gates – Ludgate, Bridge Gate, Bishops Gate and Aldgate – was completed 100 years later and measured 6 m high and 3 m wide. The outside was protected by a ditch called the Fleet Ditch and just beyond that the River Fleet.
The name also brings up debate – Ludgate – some believe, as mentioned, it was named after King Lud, others state it is a corruption of Flood Gate, as it is built next to the old London river, the Fleet, which used to flood. Fleet Gate has also been put forward as a possible contender too, as is lid, the ancient word for gate – but why would you call it ‘gate gate’? Moving on…..
King Lud is ‘best known as the founder of Ludgate, the western gate of the city (66 B. C.) and was buried in a vault under the gate. Statues of the King and his two sons, Andrageus and Theomantius were placed on the gate when it was refurbished, but later taken down and relocated.
Here is more of a chronological history –
1136 – Mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae, stating it was built by King Lud 66 years before Christ was born.
1189 – Richard I and his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, passed through the gates with his Coronation procession heading towards Westminster Abbey.
1215 – First Barons War; was repaired/rebuilt by Robert Fitzwalter, Geoffrey de Mandeville and the Earl of Gloucester after they pulled down the houses belonging to the Jews and used the stone: They were fighting against King John and managed to secure London as the rebel’s base, inviting in Prince Louis of France and offering him the English Crown.
c.1220 – The room above the gate was converted into a prison for petty criminals.
1373 – Was used for a short time as a free prison, where the debtors could come and go as they pleased – but that did not last long. I wonder why!!
1377 – Many prisoners were moved to Newgate and Ludgate remained as a place for Freemen and the clergy who had not paid their debts.
1419 – All of the prisoners were relocated to Newgate Prison as it was found that it was too comfortable for the Freemen and Clergy who were really enjoying their stays there and in no rush to leave!
1431 – All of the prisoners were sent to Newgate Prison again.
1440 – 25 May; Charter from Henry IV. “We have granted for us and our heirs, as much as in us is, to the same citizens, their heirs, and successors, as aforesaid, that they shall have the custody as well of the Gates of Newgate and Ludgate, as all other the gates and posterns of the said city….and also the tronage, that is to say, the weighing of lead, wax, pepper, allom, madder, and other like wares within the said City for ever; as by said Charters, among other things, more plainly may appear”. (Smith 1833). The Charter would come in very handy in 1554 when they refused to let Thomas Wyatt and his army enter the City.
1450 – Rebuilt by Sir Stephen Foster, Lord Mayor of London. He had once been a prisoner there, married a rich widow and they rebuilt part of it with better accommodation for the prisoners.
1463 – The prison was enlarged. The work undertaken by Sir Stephen Foster was completed.
1554 – 30 Prisoners wrote to King Philip stating that it was “not a dungeon for the wicked, but a place of detention for the wretched”.
1568 – Rebuilt by the City of London and the statues of King Lud and his sons Andrageus and Theomantius were placed on the east facing side of the gate and a statue on the other side of a very young Queen Elizabeth I was faced on the west side of the gate.
1553-1558 – During the reign of Edward VI the heads of the statues of King Lud and his sons were removed.
1554 – Wyatt Rebellion. The rebellion had tried to cross 2 bridges to get into the City, but they had been burnt down, so they headed into the capital from the west. When they reached Ludgate, they were refused entry by the citizens of London and the army disbanded.
1558-1603 – Queen Mary had the heads returned to the statues and the Gate rebuilt at the cost of £1,500.
1586- The gate was described as ruinous and decaying and a new gate was built.
1603 – 24 March: Death of Queen Elizabeth I: “The gates of Ludgate and portcullis are shut and downe, by the Lord Maiors command, who was there present with the Aldermen etc., and until he had a token beside promise, the Lord Treasurer’s George, that they would proclayme the King of Scots the King of England, he would not open” Manningham’s Diary, p.147 (Cited in Wheatley & Cunningham 2011).
1606 – “At the top of Ludgate Hill, and in front of the Bishop of London’s palace Digby, R. Winter, Grant, and Bates were executed, for their participation in the Gunpowder Plot”. (Wheatley & Cunningham 2011).
1666 – During the Great Fire of London the gate burnt down.
1699 – “The east side if the gate is adorned with four pilasters and entablature of the Doric Order; the intercolumns are the said three figures of King Lud & C., each standing in a niche in their English habit; and higher are the Queens Arms, viz. France and England quarterly, supported with a lion and dragon; and here is the inscription in gold characters – Repaired and Beautified An.1699 Sir Francis Child Lord Mayor. (Nicholson & Knaplock. 1708).
1712 – or a full description of inside Ludgate click HERE
1760 – Ludgate was demolished, and the stone sold off for building material.
An interesting little fact I gleamed from one piece of research states there was what was called Nell Gwynn’s Dole, which was a gift to the prison of bread which was distributed to all the prisoners every nine weeks.
And it was not just men who were incarcerated in Ludgate. “Among the criminals’ Says Mr. Strype, ‘that this prison used to be filled with were formally abundance of lewd women that had murdered their children, either by throwing them into houses or office, or otherwise”. (Strype, Vol.1, p. 19, cited in Smith 1833). How awful is that! They deserved to be locked up!
Ludgate is not just a gate. It has seen the City change over the centuries, had Coronation celebrations pass underneath, held criminals including a future Lord Mayor of London, been rebuilt a number of times, barred to those not welcome and only succumbed to the times when the traffic in the City of London became too much for its narrow gateway. A shame it does not still stand today.
Such a big history for a moderate gate……
References & Bibliography
Ashton. J. 1834. The Fleet: Its River, Prison and Marriages. Scribner and Welford.
Baldwin. A. 1712. The Present State of the Prison of Ludgate: Fully Discovering All Its Customs, Priviledges, and Advantages, … To which are Added, Useful Remarks and Pertinent Observations on the Former State Thereof. Interspers’d with Divers Pleasant Relations of the Humours of the Prisoners of Both Sexes Therein. A Baldwin.
Godwin. G., & Britton. J. 1839. The Churches of London, by G. Godwin assisted by J. Britton, Volume 2. C. Tilt.
Grimes. W. F. 2014. The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London. Routledge.
Hinton. J. 1753. The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure …, Volumes 12-13. John Hinton.
Lemon. G.w. 1783. English Etymology: Or, a Derivative Dictionary of the English Language. G. Robinson.
Merrifield. R. 1983. London, City of the Romans. University of California Press.
Mount. T. 2014. Everyday Life in Medieval London: From the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors. Amberley Publishing Limited.
Nicholson & Knaplock. 1708. A New View of London: Or a Ample Account of that City in Two Volumes, Or Eight Sections, Volumes 1-2. Nicholson & Knaplock.
Pennant. T. 1790. (Account) of London. Faulder.
Perring. D. 2002. Roman London. Routledge.
Smith. W. 1833. A New History and Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, and the Borough of Southwark. Effingham Wilson.
Thornbury. W. 1878. ‘Ludgate Hill’, in Old and New London: Volume 1 (London, 1878), pp. 220-233. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1/pp220-233.
Wheatley. H. B., & Cunningham. P. 2011. London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions. Cambridge University Press.
Wood. A. 1874. Ecclesiastical Antiquities of London and Its Suburbs. Burns & Oates.
St Dunstan’s Church Fleet Street, home to statues of King Lud and his sons taken from nearby Ludgate – By Shakespearesmonkey from London, UK – St Dunstan’s Church Fleet Street, home to statues of King Lud and his sons taken from nearby Ludgate, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60680097
This statue of Queen Elizabeth formerly stood on the west side of Ludgate. , London. – By Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32707747