Aldgate High Street, EC3N

Place Name

Originally plain High Street. The western end became Aldgate High Street and from Aldgate Station east Whitechapel High Street, at the turn of the 20thCentury. This was the ancient Roman road that led to Essex. Aldgate is a reminder of the old Roman defences, this being one of six gates, that used to protect the City from AD200 up until the 18thCentury. It had stood roughly at the junction of Jewry Street, and was rebuilt in 1108 and 1147. Between 1374 and 1385 the room above it was leased to one Geoffrey Chaucer. It lasted until 1761 when it was finally demolished. John Stow writing in his Survey of London described it in 1598: “It hath two pair of gates, though now but one; the hooks remained yet. Also there hath been two port-closes; the one of them remaineth, the other wanteth, but the place of letting down is manifest.” There have been several suggestions as to what the name meant. It was first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of 1052 as Æst Geat (East Gate), the road continued on to Essex. However, even this has been questioned, Arthur Bonner, in Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society says that this may have been a corruption of Ealsegate, from a personal Saxon name Ealh, so Ealh’s Gate. Yet another theory is that this may have been the entrance through which foreigners, that is anyone not from London, would enter the City, it being derived from the Old English word æl (foreign) or even a gate for all or a public gate on the grounds that unlike Bishopsgate it was free to use. Modern historians are generally agreed that the best clue to the current name came from a reference in 1108 as Alegate – the name being literal the ale – gate. David Mills in A Dictionary of London Place Names explains: “The meaning is ale gate, from Old English ealu and geat, probably denoting a place where ale was sold and consumed. Weary travellers from Essex were no doubt in need of refreshment on entering the City! Certainly by the 15th century there was a tavern here referred to as the Saresyneshede withynne Algate (Saracen’s Head inside Aldgate) in 1423. It should be noted that the – d – in the modern spelling Ald- is intrusive and unhistorical.” Caroline Taggart in London Place Names makes the good point that by the time it started being called “Old Gate” all the gates would have been ancient. The term high street meaning the most important.




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