Houndsditch, City of London

A poor relation among the City’s commercial thoroughfares, extending south-​​eastward from Bishopsgate’s junction with Liverpool Street to Aldgate

St Botolph Building

At the Aldgate end of the street, the new St Botolph Building adds a rare splash of colour to Houndsditch

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.

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(irritating) familiarity of its radio commercials, the Houndsditch Warehouse closed in 1986 and the building has since been replaced by one of the many austere office blocks that now line the street.

Postal district: EC3
Further reading: Donald Rumbelow, The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street, History Press, 2008

 

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