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 halfecontained by Cripplegate Ward, with the rest lying within Aldersgate Ward (Stow 1:291). The street is labeled on the Agas map as
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
barbacanewhich may itself be of Arabic or Persian origin (OED). Cotgrave’s A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611) defined
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 destroyedunder 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
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 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(
Milton, John (1608–1674).Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Harrison, Lawrence Goldman, and David Cannadine. Oxford UP. Subscription.
- Cotgrave, Randle. A Dictionary of the French and English Tongues. London: A. Islip, 1611. STC 5830. Subscription. LEME.
- Ekwall, Eilert. Street-Names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
- Harben, Henry. A Dictionary of London. London: Henry Jenkins, 1918. British History Online. Reprint. Open.
- Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge, ed. A Survey of London by John Stow. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. A searchable transcription of this text is available at BHO.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Subscription. OED.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
- Weinreb, Ben, Christopher Hibbert, Julia Keay, and John Keay. The London Encyclopaedia. 3rd ed. Photography by Matthew Weinreb. London: Macmillan, 2008.
Last modification: 2016-05-27 14:37:29 -0700 (Fri, 27 May 2016) (tlandels)