Houndsditch

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


The St Botolph Building
The St Botolph Building, 138 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 – 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