roseAgas Map
roseList documents mentioning Barbican
roseList variant names and spellings
Barbican was a historically significant street that ran east-west, connecting Aldersgate Street in the west with Redcross Street and Golden Lane in the east. Barbican was more then halfe contained by Cripplegate Ward, with the rest lying within Aldersgate Ward (Stow 1:291). The street is labeled on the Agas map as Barbican.
According to the OED, barbican is defined as [a]n outer fortification or defence to a city or castle, esp. a double tower erected over a gate or bridge (OED barbican n.1.). It comes from the French barbacane which may itself be of Arabic or Persian origin (OED). Cotgrave’s A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611) defined Barbacane as a casemate; or a hole (in a parrapet, or towne wall) to shoot out at; [. . .] our Chaucer vseth the word Barbican for a watch-tower, which in the Saxon tongue was called, a Bouroughkenning (Cotgrave).
According to Stow, Barbican was named because sometime there stoode on the North side thereof, a Burgh-Kening or Watch Tower of the Cittie called in some language a Barbican (Stow 1:302). This tower, and all [of London’s] | Burhkenninges, watchtowers, and Bulwarkers, were overthrowne and destroyed under the order of King Henry III in 1267 (Stow 1:70). However, Kingsford states that Barbican’s etymology has nothing to do with Burgh-kenning (Kingsford 2:340).
Ekwall believes that Barbican was named not just after a single tower but a line of fortification, which may well have included a watch-tower (Ekwall 190). Stow mentions multiple times that Barbican was once known as Hounds ditch (or Howndes ditch) but gives no authority for the statement, which is not confirmed by any of the records (Harben; BHO). Indeed there was a Houndsditch in early modern London (labeled as Honnſdiche on the Agas map), but it was on the opposite side of London by St. Botolph, Aldgate.
Stow does not mention any notable sites on Barbican. There were, however, many notable people who lived on the street. The most noteworthy was John Milton who lived on the street from 1645-1647 (Campbell). Others included Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King-of-arms and Conde de Gondomar, Spanish Ambassador during the reign of Elizabeth I (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 40).
Barbican, as known to the early modern Londoner, no longer exists in modern London. In 1940, a 35-acre area to the south of the original Barbican was laid waste by incendiary bombs (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 40). In its place, the Barbican Estate was built, comprised of over 2000 flats in a mixture of tall towers and long terrace blocks of up to eleven storeys (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 40-41). The development also included the Barbican Centre: Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue (The Barbican).


Last modification: 2017-03-15 17:14:07 -0400 (Wed, 15 Mar 2017) (mholmes)
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MLA citation:

Takeda, Joey. “Barbican.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Web. 22 February 2018. <>.

Chicago citation:

Takeda, Joey. n.d. “Barbican.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed February 22, 2018.

APA citation:

Takeda J. (n.d.). Barbican. In J. Jenstad (Ed.), The Map of Early Modern London. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from

TEI citation:

<bibl> <author><persName><surname>Takeda</surname>, <forename>Joey</forename></persName></author> (<date>n.d.</date>). <title level="a">Barbican</title>. In <editor><persName><forename>J.</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></persName></editor> (Ed.), <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>. Retrieved <date when="2018-02-22">February 22, 2018</date>, from <ref target=""></ref> </bibl>