Bishopsgate

Bishopsgate, City of London

A former Roman road and now the City of London’s highest rising street, with office towers clustered around its southern half

Hidden London: Rebuilding Bishopsgate by Dun.can

Bish­ops­gate runs north from Gracechurch Street to Nor­ton Fol­gate. The gate in the city wall was called ‘Por­ta Epis­copi’ in Domes­day Book, and this was angli­cised as Bish­ops­gate by the 12th cen­tu­ry. It is said that the name refers to Saint Erken­wald, who was Bish­op of Lon­don for eleven years in the late sev­enth cen­tu­ry.

Hous­es began to appear on both sides of the gate in the 13th cen­tu­ry and by the 16th cen­tu­ry the whole road was lined with build­ings, includ­ing the mer­chants’ res­i­dences of Cros­by Place and Gre­sham House and the church­es of St Botolph, St Helen and St Ethel­bur­ga.

Like many of the gates in the City wall, Bish­ops­gate was demol­ished in 1761. Con­tin­u­ous rebuild­ing has left noth­ing of the medieval street except for the core fab­ric of the sur­viv­ing church­es.

Shored­itch sta­tion opened in 1840 to serve as the Lon­don ter­mi­nus of the East­ern Coun­ties Rail­way. It was renamed Bish­ops­gate in 1847 and was replaced by Liv­er­pool Street sta­tion in 1874, after which the old ter­mi­nus was con­vert­ed to a goods sta­tion. Shored­itch High Street sta­tion now occu­pies its site (which is beyond the top of the map below).

The most pleas­ing rem­nants of the Vic­to­ri­an era are Dirty Dick’s pub (which is not as dirty as it used to be) and the edi­fy­ing Bish­ops­gate Insti­tute, both near Pet­ti­coat Lane. Cros­by Place’s great hall sur­vived until 1908, when, threat­ened by the prospect of demo­li­tion, it was tak­en down and rebuilt on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea.

Since the 1960s the con­struc­tion of a suc­ces­sion of office blocks and tow­ers has made Bish­ops­gate one of the City’s most unashamed­ly com­mer­cial thor­ough­fares.

At its north­ern end the Broadgate com­plex bor­ders the street’s west side. The NatWest Tow­er was com­plet­ed on the site of the for­mer Gre­sham House in 1981, when it was Britain’s tallest build­ing. A bird’s eye view reveals the tow­er to be designed in the shape of the Nation­al West­min­ster Bank’s sym­bol: three inter­sect­ing chevrons form­ing a chopped-cor­nered tri­an­gle. The bank moved out in the ear­ly 1990s and the build­ing has been renamed Tow­er 42.

In 1993 a mas­sive IRA truck bomb killed a free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er and caused £350 mil­lion worth of dam­age when it explod­ed out­side 99 Bish­ops­gate. This marked the cul­mi­na­tion of a ter­ror­ist cam­paign against City tar­gets, prompt­ing the Cor­po­ra­tion of Lon­don to cre­ate the so-called ‘ring of steel’ that reduced access to the cen­tral part of the City and placed police check­points on the remain­ing routes.

East of Bish­ops­gate the build­ing for­mal­ly called 30 St Mary Axe was com­plet­ed in 2004 on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which had been the vic­tim of anoth­er IRA bomb. This bul­bous tow­er is com­mon­ly known as ‘the Gherkin’.

In 2011 Bish­ops­gate acquired the City of Lon­don’s lat­est tallest build­ing, Heron Tow­er. Its roof height has since been exceed­ed by the Cheeseg­rater, but Heron Tow­er has a 28 metre spire that per­mits it to main­tain an air of supe­ri­or­i­ty. The tow­er is shown in the pho­to at the top of this arti­cle, with the under-con­struc­tion One Bish­ops­gate Plaza to its left.

Since it topped out in May 2019, a 62-storey tiered tow­er at 22 Bish­ops­gate has been the City’s undis­put­ed tallest build­ing and sec­ond only to the Shard in Lon­don as a whole. Though the approved design is not a thing of great beau­ty, ‘Twen­tyt­wo’ will ben­e­fit from a pub­lic obser­va­tion gallery that will be free to vis­it. 22 Bish­ops­gate is due for com­ple­tion by Novem­ber 2019 and it is the tallest struc­ture in the pho­to below, which was tak­en on 21 Jan­u­ary 2019.

Hidden London: London Misty Skyline, 21 January 2019, by David Holt

A tax record for 1596 notes that William Shakespeare was lodging in the parish of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate. There is no confirmation that this was the Bard himself – but it probably was. In 2019 theatre historian Geoffrey Marsh claimed to have pinpointed the exact location: a house overlooking St Helen’s churchyard. Shakespeare was familiar with Crosby Place and used it as the setting for Gloucester’s plotting in Richard III.

Postal districts: EC2 and E1
Population: 222 (2011 census)

 

* The picture entitled Rebuilding the City at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Dun.can, and the picture entitled London Misty Skyline (seen from Highbury) is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright David Holt, both at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.