A History of London, Vol. II

Loftie, W. J.


Note on Wards and Parishes (Chapter VI.).

Sketch Plan of the Parish of St. Peter Cheap Showing it to be in Three Wards

Cheap After the Conquest (Probable Plan)
I have said that the division of the city into estates or holdings was apparently older than the division into parishes. In another place I have dated the settlement of the ward boundaries as having occurred when Sir Ralph Sandwich was governor of the city. The parish boundaries seem to have been fixed at a very early period. They seldom coincide with the ward boundaries, but the two systems are wholly independent of each other, as may be seen by a glance at the map.
It is difficult to put this problem in a clear light without over stating the case. But the following notes may be taken for what they are worth:-
1. The earliest division of the city was into sokes, estates or holdings, and these holdings developed on the one hand into parishes, and on the other into wards.
2. But, though the ward of Bassishaw is nearly the same as the parish of St. Michael, no other parish is conterminous with a ward.
3. The boundaries of parishes are determined by the backs of the houses. The boundaries of the wards are determined by the direction of main lines of thoroughfare.
4. The wards were defined after the main thoroughfares had been opened. Thus the boundary between the wards of Cripplegate and Bread Street runs along Cheapside, and cuts off portions of the two adjacent parishes of St. Peter's and St. Mary Magdalene. The boundary between Bread Street and Queenhithe, again, runs along the course of Old Fish Street, and crosses the parishes of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey and St. Mildred.
5. The date of the fixture of the present ward boundaries must be near the end of the thirteenth century. It was made after the old Guildhall in Aldermanbury was abandoned for the present site,
and in fixing the boundary of the ward of Cheap it was made to include the Guildhall, which was then only 130 feet long. The modern Guildhall is 153 feet long, and its eastern end is not in the ward of Cheap but in that of Bassishaw, and not in the parish of St. Lawrence but in that of St. Michael. We know that the Guildhall was on the present site before
, because the Guildhall yard is described as being on the eastern side of St. Lawrence's church in the deed of that year by which the advowson was given to Balliol College.
See Historical MSS. Commission, Fourth Report, p. 449.
But the ward of Cheap was not defined as it is now in
, because Walter Hervey, who was alderman of Cheap, assembled his supporters in the church of St. Peter. This church, which apparently was then in his ward, is now in that of Bread Street. There are other reasons, some of which are stated in the text, for choosing
for the definition of the modern ward boundaries, and probably many facts might be found of the same character as these relating to St. Peter's and the Guildhall, all tending to confirm the correctness of this date.
6. Some parishes are in no fewer than three wards. St. Mary Magdalene, Old Fish Street, for example, is in Castle Baynard, Queenhithe, and Bread Street. St. Peter's, referred to above, is now in Farringdon Within, Cripplegate, and Bread Street.
7. The Watling Street, running diagonally through the market place from St. Mary Aldermary to St. Michael le Querne, seems to have been wholly obliterated and abandoned by the arrangement of the booths. This may have been in consequence of the great fire of
, but Mr. T. Godfrey Faussett observed a similar abandonment of Roman lines at Canterbury: and the fact has been adduced to prove that
and Canterbury lay vacant after the Saxon invasion. The old line is, however, preserved along Budge Row, before the market place is entered, and in Newgate Street, after it has been passed. From the parochial boundaries on the south side of Newgate Street it will be evident that the houses were built along a line which went diagonally from Cheap to Newgate, and was, in fact, the line of Watling Street. In Cheap itself, on the contrary, the parochial boundaries seem rather to respect the main roads north and south which lead to Cripplegate and Aldersgate from Queenhithe, of which Bread Street is an example. It follows, therefore, that at the time the parochial boundaries were settled, the original Watling Street was still in use at Newgate, but had been lost in Cheap. This accords very well with what we know of
the parochial history of Cheap. As long as it was covered with booths or other temporary structures, or was wholly open, as at the Standard, it was probably reckoned only in the two parishes of St. Peter and St. Mary Aldermary. Subsequently smaller parishes were formed. St. Mary le Bow was built in the middle of the market place: and from its name evidently dates after the introduction of stone buildings and of vaulting. St. Mary Colechurch was also cut off, and St. Mary Abchurch. St. Mildred's must also be reckoned a late dedication-late that is, as compared with such dedications as St. Peter's or St. Mary's, and St. Pancras is probably the same. I should, in fact, be disposed to think the original parish of St. Mary reached as far north as St. Mary Aldermanbury, and St. Mary Staining; the latter, if "staining" refers to stone building, being probably late, and the intervening parish of St. Alban being undoubtedly of an ascertained age, and dating after the grant of the parish to St. Alban's Abbey by Offa. We thus find a great parish of St. Mary, the parish church of which appropriately still bears the name of Aldermary, containing within its limits, besides later foundations dedicated to other saints--one of them being to St. Mary Magdalene-no fewer than six dedications of the same name as that of the mother church. On the opposite side of the Wallbrook is another great parish of St. Mary similarly broken up into St. Mary Woolchurch, St. Mary Woolnoth, and St. Mary Bothaw. Which of these was the mother church is unknown. St. Mary Woolchurch was, we know (Newcourt, i. 459), built after the Conquest: and it is very possible that these three parishes were also part of St. Mary Aldermary at the other side of the Wallbrook, for St. Mildred's parish was on both sides, as was St. Stephens.
8. The thirteen peculiars of the archbishop of Canterbury seem in most cases to have been late foundations. Does this point to any interference of an archbishop to build additional churches after, say, a fire? These peculiars are:-St. Mary le Bow, All Hallows Lombard Street, St. Mary Aldermary, St. Pancras Soper Lane, All Hallows Bread Street, St. John the Baptist, St. Dunstan in the East, St. Mary Bothaw, St. Vedast, St. Dionis, St. Michael Crooked Lane, St. Leonard Eastcheap, and St. Michael Paternoster. Several are in and about Cheap. The dedications of St. Dunstan's, St. Dionis, and St. Vedast are comparatively modern.
9. It is interesting to find examples in which the boundaries of wards or of parishes, as at Guildhall, are made to take in or leave out certain buildings or holdings. The parish of St. Leonard in its rectangular irregularity gives us the ground plan of the old
monastery of St. Martin le Grand. Therefore St. Martin was already founded when the parochial boundaries were settled. So, too, there is a " bulge " in the ward boundary to take in the outwork of the fortified gate: but no corresponding "bulge " at Ludgate, where the gate itself was inconsiderable. The parish boundary of St. Peter le Poor takes in Drapers' Hall and garden, but excludes those of the Carpenters. I venture to suggest that a complete study of the ward and parish boundaries would repay the investigator.
10. The modern Watling Street is old enough for us to have lost all trace of its documentary history. But as it does not form a boundary, I venture to think we should be justified in concluding that, comparatively speaking, it is a new street, at least in the western part of its course. The Roman road of that name must have emerged from Cheap near the south gate of St. Martin le Grand. The new Watling Street may have been diverted into its present course when the east end of Old St. Paul's was built, perhaps in the early part of the thirteenth century. Documentary evidence only begins with the end of that century.
The above ten points are all overlaid with conjecture. But I venture to think they are worth recording as at least suggestions for the use of some future archaeologist.
The accompanying map represents part of Cheap as it may have been before buildings were erected on the lines of booths. I should have been disposed to omit all the churches except St. Mary Aldermary and St. Peter. But on consideration I have retained them, partly as landmarks, partly because it is impossible to fix the date of their foundation with more certainty than that indicated above in paragraph 7. The ward boundary at the north-eastern corner of St. Paul's is worth noting, showing as it does the diagonal course of the original Watling Street, where it emerges from Cheap and cuts off the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard. 'The modern Newgate Street does not strictly follow the original line of the Roman road, but runs across it, a little to the south in the greater part of its course. The line of Bread Street was determined by the roadway through the market to Cripplegate, by way of Wood Street, a line which must be coeval with the opening of the gate. I am almost sure that the field, "the Crown Field," sometimes mentioned as adjoining St. Mary le Bow, is a misreading of "feld " for " seld," and that there was no field, but a shop or shed on this spot.