Historical introduction: General

Survey of London: Volume 8, Shoreditch. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1922.

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'Historical introduction: General', in Survey of London: Volume 8, Shoreditch, (London, 1922) pp. 1-5. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol8/pp1-5 [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section



The earliest mention of the name Shoreditch occurs in the middle of the 12th century in the form "Soredich." With a view to obtaining some reliable basis for the determination of its meaning, the following list has been compiled of all the instances of the name not later than 1260 discovered in the course of the preparation of this volume. Except in the first three cases, and those relating to Feet of Fines, all the instances are taken from deeds contained in the MSS. of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. The spelling given in endorsements, which may be much later than the actual deeds, has not been taken into account.

Circ. 1148. "Soredich" (grant to Holy Trinity, see p. 91).

Circ. 1160. "Soredich" (mandate by bishop of London, see p. 91).

1183–4. "Soresdic" (charter of Gilbert Foliot, see p. 91).

1204. "Sordig" (charter of King John).

1204. "Soredich" (three grants by bishop of London, consequential on above).



1220–1. "Schoresdich" (Feet of Fines).

1235 "Shcoredich" (final concord between Ralph, son of Thomas, and Stephen le Gras).

1241–2. "Shordich" (Feet of Fines).


1246. "Soredich" (3 times) (charter of Alexander, son of Thos. Ballard).

1248–9. "Shoredich" (Feet of Fines).

1250. "Soresdich" (4 times) (agreement between Alan of Shoreditch, and Elias and Peter de la Lane).

1250. "Soresdich" (3 times) (an agreement between Sir Thomas of Bassingburn and the archdeacon of London).

1252. "Shoresdich" (twice) (charter of Alan of Shoreditch).

1252. "Shordich" (3 times) (fine between Alan of Shoreditch and the archdeacon of London).

1255. "Shordich" (twice) (grant by Henry III. to Paulinus of Bampton).

1255. "Soresdich" (charter of Sir Thomas of Bassingburn).

Shortly after 1255. "Soresdich" (twice) (grant by Paulinus of Bampton to the archdeacon of London).

1256. "Soresdich" (twice) (charter of Robert of Linsted).

1257–8. "Soresdich" (Feet of Fines).

1258–9. "Shordich" do.

Circ. 1260. "Schordich" (3 times) (quit-claim by Mary, widow of Sir Thomas of Bassingburn).

1260–1. "Shordik" (Feet of Fines).

Before 1260. "Soredich" (4 times) (charter of Ralph, son of Thomas "ad ecclesiam").

Before 1260. "Schordichg" (charter of Richard of "Stratende" and others).

Before 1260. "Shoresdich" (assize of novel disseisin).

Before 1260. "Schordigh" (charter of David Sygar).

The earliest "literary" mention of the name does not occur until about 1380. In the B text of the Vision of Piers Plowman, reference is made to "the souter of Southwerke, or of Shordyche dame Emme." (fn. 1)

From the above list it is clear that the proper form of the name was either "Shoresdich" or "Shoredich," (fn. 2) and it may be assumed, as practically certain, that in the 12th century this would have been pronounced in three syllables. Such a conclusion, however, seems to be quite inconsistent with the usual (fn. 3) interpretation of the name, which sees in the first half of the word what was once a common, and is even now a recognised pronunciation, (fn. 4) of the word "sewer." Although at the present time this word is generally used to signify an underground channel for carrying away waste water or refuse, its original meaning is an artificial watercourse for draining purposes. "Sewerditch," therefore, takes us back, it is suggested, to the time when the locality, to a large extent, consisted of marshy land drained by open watercourses. It is, however, very difficult to believe that the word "sewer," derived from the Old French seuwiere, (fn. 5) was pronounced with an "o" in the 12th century, and the pronunciation of "shore" or "shores" in two syllables renders a connection with the French word hardly possible. Moreover, "sewerditch," two words meaning practically the same thing, seems, without some qualification, hardly appropriate or even probable as a place-name.

For these reasons it is necessary to look askance on the commonlyaccepted derivation of the word, and to fall back on the suggestion that the first element contains a qualification of the second, such as would be conveyed, for example, by an adjective, (fn. 6) or more probably the genitive of a proper noun. (fn. 7)

Shoreditch appears to have originated in a settlement which grew up at the junction of two important Roman roads, Kingsland Road and Old Street. (fn. 8) From the fact that it gave its name to a parish which included Hoxton and Haggerston, it seems probable that it was at least as ancient as those. This constitutes a further objection to the usual interpretation, for if, as is suggested, the settlement was given a name of which the first syllable was French, it is impossible for it to date back much before the Norman Conquest. (fn. 9)

A large proportion of the parish in mediæval times belonged to religious foundations. The Augustinian Priory of Holywell was situated within the parish, and owned a considerable estate therein. The Priory of St. Mary Spital was just outside, but owned a portion of southern Shoreditch east of the main road as well as the greater part of Haggerston. A slice of land on both sides of the high road, south of the church, belonged to the manor of Stepney, attached to the see of London, and the manor of Bammes (which was, however, mainly, if not entirely, situated in Hackney) was a sub-manor of Stepney. The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's held the prebendal manors of Finsbury (or Holywell), Norton Folgate, Eald Street, Wenlock's Barn and Hoxton, all contained either wholly or in part within the parish of Shoreditch.

The boundaries of the parish as they existed in 1894 (fn. 10) seem, with two possible exceptions, to have remained unaltered from early times. In three places they were formed by ancient thoroughfares dating from the Roman period, viz., Hackney Road (formerly known as Collier Lane), and short lengths of Old Street and Kingsland Road. The extreme south-eastern boundary was formed by the eastern course of the Walbrook. In many places, no doubt, the limits coincided with the hedges and ditches bounding the fields, of which at no veryremote time the parish was almost entirely composed.

One of the two possible exceptions referred to is the southern boundary where it crosses the high road. In Ogilby and Morgan's Survey of the City of London after the Great Fire, it is shown about 100 feet north of Hog Lane (Worship Street). This is almost certainly a mistake. The property on the north side of Hog Lane (fn. 11) is described in 1584 (fn. 12) as "in the parish of St. Leonard in Shordiche;" in 1639 (fn. 13), as "in Shorditch;" in 1684 (fn. 14) as "in St. Leonard, Shoreditch," and in 1738 as in "Hogg Lane in St. Leonard, Shoreditch;" (fn. 15) and there seems little doubt that during the whole of the period mentioned the boundary ran, as it did in 1894, along Hog Lane.

The other exception relates to the northern boundary west of the high road. Tradition has it (fn. 16) that the manor house of Bammes was originally within the parish of Shoreditch, but that, about 1680, the authorities of that parish refused burial to a man who had been drowned in the Bammes moat. On application being made to Hackney, it was granted, and always after that time the authorities of Hackney laid claim to the house and its surroundings. The story is perhaps a reminiscence of the fact that disputes arose between Shoreditch and Hackney as to a seven-acre field belonging to Bammes, on the west side of the high road, immediately north of the present boundary, and that, as the result of arbitration, they were decided in 1697 in favour of Hackney. (fn. 17) Whether any part of Bammes ever was in Shoreditch is a question which can hardly be answered with certainty. It was not so in 1351, when the manor of Hoxton, as it was then called, was described as "in the parish of Hackney," (fn. 18) nor was it in 1745, for the only property in Shoreditch shown on Chassereau's Map as in the ownership of "Bevoir" (the then owner of Bammes) consisted of two fields which were no part of the original manor. (fn. 19) On the other hand, in several documents between 1593 and 1623, Shoreditch is included among the parishes in which the manor is said to be situated. (fn. 20) This cannot be due to either of the two fields mentioned above, for one was not added to the manor until 1631 and the other not until after 1634. There is, therefore, certain prima facie evidence to support the suggestion that the boundary between Shoreditch and Hackney at this point was subject to fluctuation before it was finally settled in 1697.

In connection with the survey of the parish it has been thought advisable to include a sketch, as detailed as the information to hand and the space at disposal will permit, of the history of the parish, having as its principal object the tracing of the evolution of the several localities from the 16th century. Naturally the particulars are not so full in some cases as in others, and in one or two minor instances essential details are wanting, but it is hoped that the information collected will be found sufficient to give an adequate idea of the aspect of the parish at any time from about the middle of the 16th century until the end of the 18th. In carrying out this scheme, it has been found convenient to depart somewhat from the order adopted in the later portion of this volume, and to commence with the entry into Shoreditch from Norton Folgate.


  • 1. Skeat's edn., XIII., line 345.
  • 2. The absence of the "h" in certain cases has no bearing upon the derivation of the word, but is simply due to the fact that the scribe was of Norman birth. Old French had no initial sh, and when the Norman tried to pronounce the English sh (representing the A.-S. sc) he merely said, and often wrote, s. In a M.E. poem The Story of Genesis and Exodus, of circ. 1250, such spellings occur in abundance, e.g., saft (for shaft), sal (for shall), sarp (for sharp), sod (for shod), soren (for shorn).
  • 3. For instance, in Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language.
  • 4. "The persons who are in the habit of searching the sewers call themselves 'Shoremen.'" (Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, II., 150).
  • 5. A sluice of a fish pond for letting off water.
  • 6. Such as the name "Deep-ditch" applied to the eastern course of the Walbrook in the southern part of the parish and "Flood-ditch" in Hoxton, probably the upper portion of the western course of that stream (see p. 87). The "Shoredich" or "Shoresdich" may have been either the same stream or that tributary of it which ran along the east of the churchyard and crossed the main road near Holywell Lane.
  • 7. Since the above was written Gover's Place Names of Middlesex has appeared, and it is interesting to note that the author of that work interprets Shoreditch as "the ditch of Sceorf or Scorre." It is unnecessary to do more than mention the theory that the name "Shoreditch" has reference to the fact (if it be a fact) that Jane Shore died there in a ditch, for it has been shown that the name occurs over 300 years before Jane Shore's time. Another favourite theory, that Shoreditch derived its name from the "de Shoreditch" family, puts the cart before the horse.
  • 8. That is, the later Old Street, formed to the north of the earlier thoroughfare, after the district of Moorfields had become a morass.
  • 9. Unless of course it changed its name, but that is very unlikely.
  • 10. The Survey of London is arranged according to the boundaries existing in that year.
  • 11. See p. 14.
  • 12. Final Concord between John Turner quer: and John and Christopher Roper deforc. (Feet of Fines, Midd., 26 Eliz. Hil).
  • 13. Indenture dated 2nd October, 1639, between Edmund Moore and Thos. Large (Close Roll, 3192).
  • 14. Chancery Proceedings, C. V., 269/29.
  • 15. Indenture, dated 3rd April, 1738, between Elizabeth Young and Thos. Stephens (Middx. Regy. Memls., 1738, III., 452).
  • 16. Ellis, History of Shoreditch, p. 124.
  • 17. See copy of agreement dated 6th Feb., 1696–7 in Robinson's History of Hackney, I., pp. 164–7.
  • 18. See p. 79.
  • 19. See pp. 71–2.
  • 20. William Whitmore by his will, dated 6th Aug. 1593, left to his wife Anne the farm called "Balmes," situated in the parishes of Hackney, Shoreditch and Tottenham (P.C.C., 60 Nevill); a fine of 1607 between Sir Geo. Philpot and the Earl of Southampton and others concerns inter alia the manors of "Bames" and Mile End in Hoxton, Shoreditch, Hackney, Stepney, etc. (Feet of Fines, Double Counties, 4 Jas. I. Hil); the inquisition on Sir Geo. Philpot, 22nd May, 1623, refers to the manor of "Bames als Hoggesdon," in the parishes of Hoxton (!), Shoreditch and Hackney (Inq. P.M. Chancery, 2nd Series, 402/129); and the same description is given in the survey of his property in the Court of Wards (Feodaries Surveys, Midd., 26).