A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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This ward is situated entirely without the wall of the city; and its situation is indeed indicated by its name, Portsoken, as Stow observes, implying a franchise at the gate. This ward is recorded to have been a guild granted by king Edgar, between 7 and 800 years ago, to 13 valiant knights; and was then named Knighten guild: which grant was afterward confirmed by a charter or deed of Edward the confessor. In the year 1115, the descendants of these knights came to the chapter house of the priory of the Holy Trinity within Aldgate, and surrendered up all the lands and soke called Knighten guild to the brotherhood; offering their charters upon the altar: they entered themselves among the fraternity; and from that time the prior of the Holy Trinity was admitted as one of the aldermen of London, until the surrendry of the priory in the year 1531: since when it has been governed by a temporal alderman elected by the citizens like the other wards in the city.
This ward is bounded on the east, by the parishes of Spitalfields, Stepney, and St. George's in the east; on the south by Tower-hill; on the west by Aldgate ward, from which it is separated by the city wall; and on the north by Bishopsgate ward. The principal streets within these limits are, Whitechapel as far as the bars; Houndsditch; and the Minories.
Whitechapel is a fine wide street, and is the principal eastern entrance into London from the great Essex road. It took its name from the church of St. Mary, which was originally a chapel of ease to St. Dunstan's Stepney, and which from its white outside was called the White Chapel. The south side of this street is used for a hay market three times a week; and is no less a market for meat, being crouded with the shops of carcase butchers on that side all the way to some distance beyond the bars. There are several considerable inns on the north side; and stage coaches to the neighbouring villages ply at all hours of the day about the bars.
Houndsditch, which extends along the city wall on the outside, from Aldgate to Bishopsgate, was formerly part of the town ditch, and obtained its name from its filthy condition and the number of dead dogs cast into it. But this ditch has long been filled up and built upon on both sides; and has a great number of courts and alleys opening into it.
The Minories is a wide street extending from Aldgate-street opposite St. Botolph's church to Little Tower hill; between which and the city wall lay the town ditch, which like Houndsditch was at length filled up and converted to more profitable purposes. About the middle of the east side of the Minories, is a place containing two or three courts called the Little Minories. Here formerly stood an abbey of nuns of the order of St. Clare, called Minorites, who have left their name to the neighbourhood.
The derivation of local names where they can be traced with certainty, or even with probability, prove very entertaining articles of information; such little anecdotes therefore as the following, which Stow relates of his own knowledge, become interesting when they are to be met with. "Near adjoining, says he, to this abbey on the south side thereof, was sometime a farme belonging to the said nunrie, at the which farme I myselfe in my youth have fetched many a half-pennie worth of milke, and never had lesse than three ale pints for a half-pennie in the summer, nor lesse than one ale quart for a half pennie in the winter, always hote from the kine as the same was milked and strained. One Trollop, and afterwardes Goodman, were the farmers there, and had thirty or forty kine to the paile. Goodmans sonne being heyre to his fathers purchase, let out the ground first for grazing of horse, and then for garden plots, and lived like a gentleman thereby (fn. 1)." This ground, though now covered with streets which are well inhabited, is still known by the general name of Goodman's fields: and before the statute for licencing plays and playhouses (fn. 2), there was a good theatre here.
At the south end of the Minories, the street opens upon East-Smithfield and Tower-hill; and between both these plots of ground once stood a religious foundation called by the several names of the New Abbey, the Abbey of Grace, and Eastminster. This house was founded by king Edward III. upon the scite of the pest-ground, already mentioned, under the year 1348 (fn. 3), and called the church-yard of the Holy Trinity: and upon the scite of that abbey is built the king's victualling-office, which stands on the upper part of Little Tower hill, near the end of King-street. This building contains houses for the lodging of certain officers, separate apartments for offices, store-rooms, slaughter-houses for oxen and hogs, a brewhouse, a house for salting and barrelling, &c. provisions: and is managed by seven commissioners, who have each 400l. per annum, and a separate department; under whom are a secretary, accomptants, clerks, surveyors, and other officers and servants. This is the office in which all pursers, and others intrusted with the public stores of provisions, or who contract for-them, are to pass their accounts.
At the south east corner of Houndsditch, fronting the Minories, stands the church of St. Botolph Aldgate; an ancient foundation, before the year 1115, when the rectory of this parish was appropriated to the prior and convent of the Holy Trinity: at the dissolution of that priory it was seized by the crown, and given by queen Elizabeth, for a term of years, to Robert Holliwell; and at the expiration of that term, king James I. granted the said impropriation to Francis Morrice, from whom it has passed to other private hands.
This church, before the suppression of the Trinity priory, was re-built by the prior and canons; and luckily escaping the fatal catastrophe of the year 1666, it stood till the year 1741, when it was taken down, and the present edifice finished in 1744. It is built with brick, and is a plain, massy, and yet elegant structure. It consists of a body of a regular shape, and a lofty and well proportioned steeple, formed of a tower, and spire. But its greatest ornament is the bold rustic at the corners.
On the spot where the Minorites convent stood in the Little Minories, a number of houses were built; and a small church was provided for the inhabitants, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It is a curacy of inconsiderable value in the gift of the crown; and the building has a neat turret but no tower.