Houndsditch, City of London
A historically poor relation among the City’s commercial thoroughfares, extending north-westward from Aldgate towards Bishopsgate’s junction with Liverpool Street
Houndsditch’s name was first recorded in 1275. Seemingly obvious explanations for the meaning of place names often turn out to be fallacious, but Houndsditch genuinely seems to have been a trench where “dead dogges were there laid or cast” – several canine skeletons were unearthed here in 1989, probably dating from Roman times.
During the Middle Ages, Houndsditch became the centre of the bellfounding industry. Then, as demand declined following the Dissolution, the metalworkers turned to the manufacture of guns and cannons.
The ditch was filled in by the end of the 16th century, when second-hand clothes began to be sold here – a specialisation that continued until the 19th century.
In December 1910 a group of Latvian anarchists killed three policemen and injured two others who interrupted them during a burglary attempt on a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch. On 2 January 1911, two of the gang were cornered and subsequently killed in the siege of Sidney Street, in Stepney.
For most of the 20th century the Houndsditch Warehouse was a landmark local department store, with an emphasis on clothing. The warehouse was Jewish owned and – like those in nearby Petticoat Lane – it opened on Sundays long before this became the legalised norm elsewhere. In London Marches On (1946), Harold Clunn called it “the Selfridge’s of the Jewish quarter.” The business was subsequently acquired by Great Universal Stores. Despite the (irritating) familiarity of its radio commercials, the Houndsditch Warehouse closed in 1986 and the building was replaced by a monolithic office block named 133 Houndsditch.
At the Aldgate end of Houndsditch, the St Botolph Building adds a rare splash of colour. First proposed in 1999 and finally begun in 2007, the 14-storey structure was completed in 2010 by the property investment and development company Minerva and is shown in their image above. The building was designed by Grimshaw and was sold in 2013 to Deka Immobilien Investment GmbH for about 500 million euros.
Postal district: EC3
Further reading: Donald Rumbelow, The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street, History Press, 2008