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Review. Gates of the City of London by Alan Brooke. A guest review by LH Member Colin Davey. 

gates of the city cover 200In my incarnation as a commercial property lawyer, I would always walk the boundaries of a site that a client was acquiring for development. As well as prosaically assisting in identifying whether the physical boundaries conformed with the legal boundaries, the task was strangely satisfying in working out the context of the scheme.

The boundaries of the old, often termed Roman, City of London now only exist in fragments of medieval period walls, with the occasional bastion, the line running roughly in a semi-circle from north of Blackfriars Bridge round to the Tower of London. Once marking critical points of entrance and exit were the gates of the City. Today they are only marked by plaques, but the intrigue of how they came to be there, their function, and what went on in the vicinity of them, is enough to justify Alan Brooke’s Gates of the City of London, a compact work of 96 pages covering each of the seven principal gates together with a miscellany section on Bars (of the gate variety), Posterns (smaller gates), Water Gates, and the Gate to London Bridge.

The subject-matter makes defining chapter structure an easy job. After a short introduction we are taken along to, respectively, Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate, before ending with the ‘Other Gates’. For each major gate there is the story of its building (and often rebuilding), and its life through to dismantling and removal. As the original City wall was built around 200CE by the Romans, and the demise of the gates was in the 18th century, the book offers us a perspective on London’s development over broadly 16 centuries.

Those interested enough to buy the book will probably have some pre-existing knowledge of topics covered, so I shall not list them here, but I liked Brooke’s coverage where relevant of life outside the walls. Moorgate (the last built gate from 1415), led to a recreation area for citizens of the City, originally a Roman project of marshland reclamation (unsuccessful), but eventually by the 16th century an area where City folk could walk and take the air. Always entertaining for the reader of a popular history work (if not always approved of by academic historians) are the nuggets, for example in the Moorgate section of revellers drowning in ditches trying to get back inside the wall after an evening in alehouses.

Brooke quotes succinctly from various sources, including inevitably John Stow’s A Survey of London Sources: I have not examined the Bibliography against all sources referred to in the text, but Brooke takes the drowning story from a diary by one Henry Martyn, yet I could see no clue of source in the Bibliography. There is also some inconsistency in where a quote is sometimes given a source in the text and sometimes not. If one gets more academic then we would be into the absence of formal footnoting, but I think that this criticism would be unfair for the work’s scope and intended audience.

The book’s photographs and other illustrations are good. In one photo, the position of the City wall is denoted by a London Wall Walk information board by the entrance to a car park, reminding us of the need to get our heads around how the line of wall and gates has been overlaid by the modern City. I liked the drawings of gate position and surrounding wall line, although am unsure how a drawing of the Postern and Passage near Newgate crept into the Chapter on Bishopsgate.

At an RRP of £15.99 the publication might be considered pricey, but this is not a mass readership market and one should note the number and quality of the illustrations within the text. These days I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of hitting a 400 page plus tome, so I welcome work of modest proportions that gives the enthusiastic reader a chance to dig in further, whether through reading or through taking to streets and examining the locations. My reckoning is that Gates of the City of London deserves its place alongside the many other works giving us angles of history concerning the City.
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Colin Davey is a City of London Guide and Life Member of London Historians, and holds a Masters in Historical Research.
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Gates of the City of London (96pp) by Alan Brooke was published in July 2022 by Amberley Press in soft cover with a cover price of £15.99 but available for less.

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