Historical introduction: Moorfields

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

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'Historical introduction: Moorfields', in Survey of London: Volume 8, Shoreditch, (London, 1922) pp. 88-90. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol8/pp88-90 [accessed 24 April 2024]


That portion of the parish of Shoreditch lying south of Willow Walk (which corresponded roughly with the north-western half of Great Eastern Street) formed a part of Moorfields. As the greater portion of the latter was situated outside the parish, it will not be necessary in this volume to deal at length with it, but merely to trace the more important facts concerning the development of the two comparatively small portions in Shoreditch, lying respectively south and north of the modern Worship Street.

The southern portion seems formerly to have been known as Moor Mead. It was bounded on the west by one of the Moorfields called Mallow Field and on the east by Deepditch, a continuation of the eastern branch of the Walbrook (which entered the City along the line of Blomfield Street). It was divided into two parts by another stream, which may have been a later course of the Walbrook (fn. 1) and which is shown on Chassereau's Map.

That part of Moor Mead which lay to the west of this stream seems to have contained no buildings until late in the 16th century. In the survey of the manor of Finsbury taken in 1567, the northern and larger part of this was in the hands of John Worsop, and is described (fn. 2) as 10¾ acres of land, lying in the field called the Moor, abutting on the lands of Nichols, "now being gardens," on the south, the high way to Norton Folgate (Worship Street) north, and lands and gardens late of Sir Martin Bowes, east. The lands of Nichols referred to consisted of 2¾ acres formerly belonging to the priory of Holywell. These were granted by the king on 8th February, 1544–5, to John Pope, who in the following year sold them to Robert Nicholls. (fn. 3) They are said to abut on the lands of Sir Martin Bowes on the east, and those of John Worsop north and south. No buildings are mentioned. Of the Worsop property lying to the south, presumably about 1½ acres, there is no record.

From documents dating from the beginning of the 17th century it appears that a few houses had then been erected on the Nichols estate. (fn. 4) Ogilby and Morgan's Map of the City of London in 1677 shows that practically the whole of this Worsop and Nichols strip of Moor Mead was even then still used as gardens, divided by a few alleys and lines of buildings (? garden houses) running east and west. By the time of Chassereau's Map (1745) it seems to have become well covered, except for a 3½-acre close called Butcher's Close (a part of the Worsop property) in the north.

The eastern portion of this district, lying between the two streams, and divided down its centre by Long Alley, seems to have come almost in its entirety into the hands of Sir Martin Bowes. In 1539–40 the king granted (fn. 5) to him land described as containing 55 rods (907 feet), in the east by the garden of the Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate (i.e., Bethlehem Hospital), 52 rods 11 feet (869 feet) on the west by the ditch, 16 rods (264 feet) by "le Morefelde et le Towndiche," and 14 rods 9 feet (240 feet) on the north. The dimensions show that the land in question filled up the whole of the southern part of this district as far north as midway between Angel Alley and New Street on Chassereau's Map.

Another grant to Bowes was made (fn. 6) in 1543–4 of property formerly belonging to Holywell Priory. This was described as land formerly called Moor Mead, containing 3 acres 3 roods and 3 feet, abutting on the lane called Moor Lane (obviously Worship Street) on the north and a garden belonging to Charterhouse on the south, and lying towards the land late of John Weston, land and tenement of the New Hospital without Bishopsgate (St. Mary Spital), and the land and tenement of the Skinners' Company on the east. New Street in Chassereau's Map corresponds with Skinners Street in Rocque and Skinners Rents in Ogilby and Morgan, and it is therefore evident that this portion of the Bowes property came to within a few feet of the northern termination of the other portion. It has not been possible to trace accurately what became of the Bowes property, but there is no doubt that at the close of the 16th century the southern front was in the possession of Thomas Browne and the northern in that of John Covert and Charity his wife. (fn. 7) Browne's portion does not appear to have been built on during the 16th century. On his death, in 1583, he was said to be seised of and in 16 gardens, held of the Queen in chief by knight's service. (fn. 8) The property afterwards came into the possession of John and George Daggett (fn. 9) and records exist of the sale by these of 94 cottages between 1666 and 1689. (fn. 10)

The Covert portion of the Bowes property was developed earlier. In 1579 John and Charity Covert were in possession of 30 messuages, 10 cottages and 60 gardens. (fn. 11) The map of Ogilby and Morgan shows that the whole district was built upon in 1677.

North of Worship Street and west of Curtain Road was the field called High Field (or Finsbury Field) which was described in 1567 as bounded by the highway that leadeth into Norton Folgate (i.e., Worship Street) on the south, the highway that leadeth to Holywell (Curtain Road) and the lands belonging to the earl of Rutland (fn. 12) on the east, and the lands belonging to the heirs of Mascal, brewer (on the north). (fn. 13) From Chassereau's Map it is evident that very little building had taken place on the Shoreditch portion of this field by the middle of the 18th century. At the end of the century this had much increased, but Horwood's Map of 1799 shows that even then a large amount of space remained open.


  • 1. This, however, is doubtful. Price's description of the course of the eastern branch of the Walbrook (Roman remains in Bucklersbury, pp. 48 f), as running from the side of Bethlehem Hospital along Willow Walk to the New North Road is not borne out by the plans of the Holborn and Finsbury Commissioners of Sewers now in the possession of the London County Council. There was an old stream in Hoxton known in the 16th century as the Flood Ditch (see pp. 81; 87) and at the beginning of the 19th century as the Walbrook Sewer, the upper part of which still lay open in 1843. This flowed from a point near the junction of Eagle Wharf Road with Cropley Street in an irregular course to the junction of Wenlock Street with New North Road and thence along the latter thoroughfare as far as Old Street. Its ancient course is not shown further, but there are fairly clear indications that it followed to a large extent the course of the modern City Road. It would therefore correspond with the western branch of the Walbrook. According to Ogilby and Morgan's Map, the eastern branch turned eastward in the direction of Norton Folgate, some distance north of Bethlehem Hospital.
  • 2. Ellis, History of Shoreditch, p. 225.
  • 3. Court of Wards, Deeds and Evidences, 96b, 7–13.
  • 4. It is difficult to say how many, but record has been found of only 8 (see sales by Francis Nichols to Roger Walrond of (i) seven "gardens and gardein howses or tenements," 2nd March, 1613–4 and (ii) one garden and gardenhouse, 17 May 1614. (Court of Wards, Deeds and Evidence).
  • 5. Patent Roll, 31 Henry VIII., 686.
  • 6. Ibid., 35 Henry VIII., 737.
  • 7. It is possible that Charity Covert was Charity Bowes, daughter of Sir Martin.
  • 8. Inq. P.M. Chancery 2nd Series, 202/185.
  • 9. Chancery Proceedings, Hamilton, C. VII., 511/25. The identity of the Daggett property and the southern part of the Bowes property is suggested by the facts (i) that it included the Cock in the Hole (Ibid.), which was at the south-west extremity of the Bowes estate, and (ii) that Daggett's Court (see Chassereau's Map) was at the south-east extremity of the same. Daggett sold a number of his houses to John Merriman (Feet of Fines, Midd. 18 and 21 Chas. II.) and Judith Merriman (Close Roll, 4315) and in 1711 Richard Merriman was in possession of houses in Crooked Billet Yard, and along Long Alley for a distance of 217 feet north of the yard.
  • 10. John and George Daggett to John Merriman, 18 messuages (Feet of Fines, 18 Chas. II.); to Geo. Kelsey, 5 messuages (Ibid.); to John Merriman, 4 cottages, (Ibid., 21 Chas. II.); to Judith Merriman, 7 cottages in Long Alley (Close Roll, 4315); George Daggett to John Withers, 60 cottages (Feet of Fines, 1 Wm. and Mary).
  • 11. Licence to alienate for trust purposes (Patent Roll, 1181).
  • 12. See p. 176.
  • 13. See p. 23.