Cripplegate originated as an entrance to the fort in the north-west corner of the Roman city of Londinium. During the medieval period it became a main gate of the city.

During the Roman period a fort was created in the north-west corner of the city. Its purpose was to house around 1,000 soldiers, including the ceremonial guard of the governor of the province of Britannia. It was in the form of a square and into modern times still provides an irregular shape to that part of the boundary of the City of London. During the period from 1965 to 1976 the Barbican housing estate and arts complex was built on the site. During Roman times Cripplegate was not a gate for general travellers but instead the external gate of the north side of the of the military fortress. It is unusual in never opening to a major arterial road and was probably always one of the lesser gates.

There are two main theories regarding the name of the gate. The first is that crippled beggars gathered there. Supporting evidence is that the adjacent church is dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of cripples and beggars. However, it seems unlikely that beggars would be at Cripplegate any more than at other gates and Cripplegate is also older than the church. Tudor historian John Stowe tells of an ancient story in which Danes invaded the Kingdom of the Angles around Bedrisworth (Bury St. Edmonds) and killed its king, Edmond. His body was then brought to London, entering through Cripplegate. As it passed through the gate a miracle occurred whereby the lame beggars there were able to walk again. A more plausible theory is that the name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word crypel, meaning burrow, tunnel or covered way. It is possible that Roman soldiers passed through a tunnel from their fortress and out through the gate.

Cripplegate was occasionally used as a prison when required. One occasion was in 1311 when the Pope decreed the disbanding of the Knights Templar and six of the Templers were held there. At other times the rooms above the gate were rented out to City officials.

Queen Mary died in November 1558. Her successor, half-sister Elizabeth, travelled from Hatfield to London where she was accompanied through Cripplegate by the Lord Mayor, aldermen and Common Councillors.

The gate was rebuilt by brewers in 1244, and again in 1491 as an endowment of the former mayor and goldsmith Edward Shaw. In the second half of the 17th century a postern gate was added for pedestrians. Cripplegate and Aldersgate were both sold in 1760 to a carpenter who demolished them to re-use the materials.

Throughout the Middle Ages Wood Street ran north out through Cripplegate where it met Fore Street, the latter then passed east outside and parallel to the wall. The junction of the two streets formed an open area where, by the 16th century, a conduit or pump was located at which locals could obtain water. From the west side of the open area Whitecross Street ran north (but these days separated from Wood Street and Fore Street by the Barbican) and Redcross Street (which no longer exists) ran north-west.

Adjoining the city wall on its inner side close to Cripplegate was the church of St. Alphege, founded in 1013 following the murder of the saint at Greenwich the previous year. During the reign of Henry VIII the adjacent Augustinian priory of Elsing Spital was dissolved. By then the old St. Alphege was dilapidated and the congregation transferred to the spital’s chapel, which became the new parish church, incorporating the priory’s 14th century tower. The other parts of that church were demolished in 1774 and replaced with a new building that was eventually demolished in the 1920s.

Outside thewall at Cripplegate stood the church of St. Giles-without-Cripplegate, which is still in the same location. It was originally built on marshy land during the reign of King Cnut by Alfune, a friend of Rahere the founder of St. Bartholomew’s priory and hospital. The area was drained in the 14th century, at which time the church was rebuilt. In 1545 it was again rebuilt and in 1682, having survived the Great Fire, a brick tower and cupola were added. It was very badly damaged during the Second World War but restored in the 1950s. It is now one of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London. Several famous people were buried in the church, including John Foxe, author of ‘The Book of Martyrs’, the mariner Martin Frobisher, and the poet John Milton. Oliver Cromwell was married there in 1620.

<Back to The City Wall and Gates of London

Sources include:

  • Alan Brooke ‘Gates of the City of London’
  • Walter Thornbury ‘Old & New London’
  • John Stow ‘A Survey of London’ (1598)
  • Town & City Historical Maps, Medieval London and Tudor London

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