Aldgate History Snapshots

Aldgate History

St Olave’s Church is on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane. St Olave was the King of Norway who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King, Ethelred the Unready, to overthrow the Danes at the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. The location of the church is rumoured to cover some of the site where this battle took place.

The church was estimated to have been built around the 1060’s and was likely a timber structure. This would later be replaced by a stone structure which survived for nearly 500 years, even escaping the Great Fire of London in 1666. Unfortunately, the church received a major hit during World War II and was reconstructed in 1951 to the structure we see today.

St Olave’s is one of the smallest churches in City of London but that is not relative to its considerable history, which we will be featuring in the upcoming weeks.

St Olave’s Church, 1670

Coin from the early 11th century featuring St Olave, prior to being canonised during his reign as King of Norway.

Admiral Sir William Penn had a long and commendable Naval career. In 1660, he became the Commissioner of the Navy Board and worked alongside his new neighbour diarist Samuel Pepys. The Navy Board’s offices were on Crutched Friars, right next to St Olave’s Church. Pepys would eventually add a passage between the offices and St Olave’s Church, which provided direct access.

During the Great Fire of London in 1666, St Olave’s escaped the fire by only 100 metres. Sources slightly differ on how the church was saved, but one account is that either Sir William Penn or Samuel Pepys ordered buildings around the church to be blown up in an effort to create a fire break. Another is that the wind simply changed direction. Either way St Olave’s miraculously survived, whereas 87 out of the 109 surrounding churches in London were destroyed.

The Three Nuns public house was located on the north side of Aldgate High Street, west of what is now the Aldgate Underground Station. For centuries the Three Nuns was a landmark in Aldgate due its prime location at the entrance into the City. There are multiple references, whether it be as a coaching inn, hotel or tavern, throughout London’s past. It was mentioned in the will of Mr William Burford in 1390. Mr Burford left his principal tenement, the Three Nuns, to his son. Author, Daniel Defore, mentions the Three Nuns in the same location almost 300 years later to reference a large plague pit in Aldgate.

In 1876, many of the timber framed buildings in Aldgate were torn down to accommodate building the Metropolitan Line and Aldgate Station. The majority of the buildings on the High Street were not rebuilt, however the Three Nuns Hotel was. The hotel was a popular venue for political meetings, weddings and a place for local tradesman to drink. In 1888, the Three Nuns found itself in the papers several times, referenced in relation to the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders.

The Bevis Marks Synagogue, located on Bevis Marks in Aldgate, is the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom. Built in 1701, the building was commissioned by Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel in response to the large Sephardic Jewish population that resided in Aldgate. The building contract went to a well-known Quaker artisan of the time, Joseph Avis. At the end of the construction Mr Avis refused to be paid for the work, as he felt it was inappropriate to financially benefit from the construction of a place of worship.

The Old Fountain Inn on the Minories was taken down in the late 1790’s.  Prior it had a substantial presence in Aldgate for over 300 years. The interior was noted to be “curiously ornamented” which isn’t surprising given the slanting character of the exterior. The most impressive part of this building was the date over the fireplace, 1480. With few timber buildings left after the Great Fire of London it seems the Old Fountain Inn was a medieval antiquity that stood out in Georgian/18th century London. When the original building was demolished the “..timber works (of the building) were so firmly constructed, that horses were employed to pull them asunder”.

The Hoop & Grapes on Aldgate High Street is one of the oldest licensed houses in the City of London. The current building dates back to before the Great Fire of London, which can be dated by the timber frame. It is one of the few remaining buildings left that escaped this fire, which stopped only 50 yards away from the Grade II listed building. The cellar beneath the current building is believed to date back to the Middle Ages. A listening tube can be found in the cellar leading to the bar which was a handy way to eavesdrop on customers.

Over the centuries the pub has changed names; The Castle, Angel & Crown, Christopher Hill and finally the Hoop & Grapes.