Cripplegate was one of the original gates in the city wall (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221; Harben). It was the northern gate of a large fortress that occupied the northwestern corner of the Roman city, a site that has been well studied by post–Word War II archaeologists (Howe and Lakin 25-47). It was in use as a gate again by the eleventh century (Howe and Lakin 100). In early modern London, it continued to serve as one of the major northern egress points, leading to Bunhill Field, Grub Street, and Whitecross Street. The gate stood at the north end of Little Wood Street (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221), on a direct route from Cheapside via Wood Street. Cripplegate Ward spanned the wall, with the gate marking a spatial (though not political) boundary between the inner and outer halves of the ward. Clearly visible on the Agas map, where it is labelled Creplegate , the gate opened onto an open area where local residents gathered to collect their water from the Cripplegate Conduit (Prockter and Taylor 8). Nearby landmarks included the church of St. Giles without Cripplegate and a number of livery company halls: Bowyers’ Hall, Barbers’ Hall, Carriers’ Hall, Plasterers’ Hall, and the Brewers’ Hall are all known to have been in this area (Prockter and Taylor 8; Howe and Lakin 95, 79).
Name and Etymology
The name of the gate has been variously spelled since the tenth century as Cripelesgate , Ciryclegate , Cirpilegate , or Crepelesgate ; later forms of the name include Crepelegate , Cruppelgate , and Crepelgate (Harben; Ekwall 36). The etymology of the gate’s name remains uncertain. The name might derive from either the presence of cripples begging there (Howe and Lakin 60) or from the Anglo-Saxon word crepel meaning a tunnel or an underground passage (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221). In his Survey, Stow describes a popular legend that links the gate with cripples:
The next is the Posterne of Cripplegate, so called long before the Conquest. For I reade in the historie of Edmond king of the East Angles, written by Abbo Floriacensis , and by Burchard somtime Secretarie to Offa king of Marcia, but since by Iohn Lidgate Monke of Bery, that in the yeare 1010 . the Danes spoiling the kingdome of the East Angles, Alwyne Bishoppe of Helmeham , caused the body of king Edmond the Martyre to bee brought from Bedrisworth, (now called Bury Saint Edmondes,) through the kingdome of the East Saxons, and so to London in at Cripplegate , a place sayeth mine Author so called of Criples begging there: at which gate, (it was said) the body entering, miracles were wrought, as some of the Lame to goe vpright, praysing God.
This gate’s proximity to the parish church of St. Giles without Cripplegate may confirm this association; the church was built in 1090 in the name of St. Giles, the patron saint of beggars and cripples. (Stow; Harben)
A circa 1750 engraving depicting cripples at the gate can be seen on Collage (See also Chalfant 6 on the etymology of the gate’s name and its possible connection to beggars).
Harben offers an alternative to this story, drawing from the comments of a Mr. Denton in the records of St. Giles. Denton questions the etymology of Cripplegate as deriving from cripples having begged there, because this practice would have had to occur for a considerable length of time in order for the name to attach itself to the gate, and the gate was never known by any other name. In addition, cripples did not beg at Cripplegate any more than they did at the other gates. Instead, Denton suggests that Cripplegate and the Barbican were joined by a tunnel providing
a covered way,between these two walls. The Anglo-Saxon word for such a fortification was crepel (meaning
burrow) (Harben). Both Bebbington and Smith take this position on the gate’s name (Bebbington 103; Smith 55), while the more reliable London Encyclopoedia merely acknowledges the possibility (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221). Smith suggests that sentries crept along this tunnel to take up their positions in bastions (55; see also the St. Giles without Cripplegate website).
Like all of the city gates, Cripplegate was a guarded fortress affording passage in and out of the city. In his Survey, Stow refers to this gate as a postern (Stow),
a means of entrance or exit: placed at the back or side; secondary, lesser, private, hidden; esp. in postern door, postern gate(OED postern, adj.1.). While this definition implies that Cripplegate may have been one of the city’s smaller gates at the time Stow was writing, it appears from the record left in Samuel Pepys’ diary that the gate witnessed heavy traffic from those wanting to leave the city for the suburbs in the later seventeenth century. On Wednesday, 21 June 1665, Pepys writes:
So homewards, and to the Cross Keys at Cripplegate, where I find all the town almost going out of town, the coaches and wagons being all full of people going into the country.
While Pepys does not state where these travellers were headed, it is possible that they were journeying toward Islington, a suburb just northwest of Cripplegate which was a popular destination for Londoners’ outings (Smallwood and Wells 191 n.52).
Apart from its role as a fortification, Cripplegate took on other functions. Stow writes that it was sometimes used as a prison (Stow), a practice that Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay date to the fourteenth century (212). Like London Bridge, Cripplegate was used to display the bodies of traitors. One such body was that of William Thomas, clerk of the privy council to Edward VI. After his execution in 1554 for his involvement in the Wyatt rebellion, his body was hung over Cripplegate and his head displayed on London Bridge (Hamilton). Henry Machyn records that Thomas
was hanged and after his head struck off and then quartered. And the morrow after his head was set on London Bridge and three quarters set over Cripplegate(Machyn 1554-05-18).
Monarchical figures have passed through Cripplegate, or at least attempted to. On 28 November 1558, Queen Elizabeth entered the city at Cripplegate (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 212). Henry Machyn records that
Her grace rod thrugh barbecan & crepulgat(Machyn 1558-11-28). In 1461, during the Wars of the Roses, Lancastrians Henry VI and Queen Margaret arrived at Cripplegate following their defeat of Warwick the Kingmaker at the battle of St. Albans. Pro-Yorkist citizens promised to provide them with food as long as their entourage kept out of the city, yet Henry and his consort, with their troops, were forced to retire north once news came that Edward, Earl of March, with the help of his cousin, the Earl of Warwick, had rallied Warwick’s army and was preparing to march on London at Cripplegate. A determined crowd rushed to Cripplegate to deny Henry and Margaret’s wagons access into the city. Shortly after, Edward and Warwick entered the city. Edward was to become England’s first Yorkist king as King Edward IV, although the final victory of the war went to the Lancastrians when Henry Tudor defeated the last Yorkist king, Richard III (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221; Kent 235). This historical event was dramatized by Thomas Heywood in 1 Edward IV . Although control of the gates is hotly contested in the play, and much of the action in scenes 2–9 occurs around the gates, only Aldgate and Bishopsgate are named.
The gate was rebuilt a number of times, first in 1244 by the Brewers of London and then in 1491, after Edmond Shaw, Goldsmith and mayor of London, left 400 marks for the reparation of the gate in his testament (Stow). From 1336-37, pieces of wood from the Guildhall were used for its repair (Harben). In 1663, the gate was repaired again with an added foot postern and the following inscription:
This Gate was Repaired and Beautified, and the Foot Postern new made at the Charge of the City of London, the 15th Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord K. Charles the Second, and in the Maioralty of Sir John Robinson, Knt. and Baronet, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and Alderman of this Ward, Anno Dom. 1663.
The rooms over this gate also served as the residence for the water bailiff of the city, whom Strype identifies as Peter Elers at the time he was writing during the early eighteenth century (Strype 5.8.164). It was common for rooms above the city gates to be let out to civic officials. The gate survived the Great Fire of 1666 , although the surrounding ward was
devastated(Howe and Lakin 95). Hollar’s 1666 map of the fire damage shows the gate looking very much as it did in Norden’s 1653 map. In 1760, the gate was taken down so the street could be widened. The materials were sold for 91 pounds to Mr. Blagden, a carpenter in Coleman Street. A fragment of the old gate temporarily remained in the yard of the White Horse Inn (Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 221; Harben).
A number of literary references draw upon the connection between the gate and cripples. In The seuen deadly sinnes of London drawne in seuen seuerall coaches, through the seuen seuerall gates of the citie bringing the plague with them, written in 1606, Thomas Dekker describes the entrance of the fifth sin, Apishness, into London:
This Signior Ioculento (as the diuell would haue it) comes prawncing in at Cripplegate, and he may well doe it, for indeede all the parts hee playes are but cou’d speeches ſtolne from others, whoſe voices and actions hee counterfeſtes: but ſo lamely, that all the Cripples in tenne Spittle-houſes, ſhwe not more halting.
In The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), Firk mocks Rafe, his fellow journeyman who has recently returned home lame from fighting in France. His comment,
Thou lie with a woman—to build nothing but Cripplegates!suggests Rafe’s lameness and impotency after coming back from war (Dekker 14.72-73). In Eirenopolis, an ecclesiastical work describing London as the
City of Peace,seventeenth-century preacher and author Thomas Adams links Recompense with Cripplegate because it is a
lameway to achieve peace:
It is the lameſt way to peace, yet a way: it is a halting gate, but a gate. It were far better comming into this Citie by any of the former gates, yet better at this then none. All come not in by Innocence, nor all by Patience, nor all by Beneficence: but if they haue failed in theſe, they muſt be admitted by recompence, or not at all.
(Adams sig. D10r)
These literary examples show that, whatever the origin of its name, Cripplegate was firmly associated with cripples in the cultural imagination.
- Adams, Thomas.
Eirenopolis.The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. University of Victoria. Open. [This document is currently in draft. When it has been reviewed and proofed, it will be published on the site.]
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972.
- Chalfant, Fran C. Ben Jonson’s London: A Jacobean Placename Dictionary. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1978.
- Dekker, Thomas. The seuen deadly sinnes of London drawne in seuen seuerall coaches, through the seuen seuerall gates of the citie bringing the plague with them. London, 1606.EEBO. Reprint. Subscription.
- Dekker, Thomas. The Shoemaker’s Holiday. Ed. R.L. Smallwood and Stanley Wells. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1979. The Revels Plays.
- Ekwall, Eilert. Street-Names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
Hamilton, Dakota L.
Thomas, William.Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Harrison, Lawrence Goldman, and David Cannadine. Oxford UP. Subscription.
- Harben, Henry. A Dictionary of London. London: Henry Jenkins, 1918. British History Online. Reprint. Open.
- Howe, Elizabeth, and David Lakin. Roman and Medieval Cripplegate, City of London: Archaeological Excavations 1992–8. MoLA Monograph 21. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2004.
- Kent, William. An Encyclopedia of London. 1937. Rev. Godfrey Thompson. London: J.M. Dent, 1970.
- Machyn, Henry. A London Provisioner’s Chronicle, 1550–1563, by Henry Machyn: Manuscript, Transcription, and Modernization. Ed. Richard W. Bailey, Marilyn Miller, and Colette Moore. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. Open. [The Map of Early Modern London cites from this edition rather than Nichols’s nineteenth-century edition. We cite by the date of the entry thus: (Machyn 1550-08-04).]
London[map.] London, 1593. Reprint in 1653 with an index entitled
A Guide for Cuntrey men In the famous Cittey of London by the help of which plot they shall be able to know how farr it is to any street. As allso to go unto the same without forder troble.London: P. Stent, 1653. Reprint. British Library Online Gallery. Open. Bibliographic information from British Library Catalogue.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Subscription. OED.
- Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A New and Complete Transcription. Ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews. 11 vols. Berkeley : U of California P, 1970–1983. [We cite by volume and page number thus: (Pepys 1.234).]
- Prockter, Adrian, and Robert Taylor, comps. The A to Z of Elizabethan London. London: Guildhall Library, 1979. [This volume is our primary source for identifying and naming map locations.]
- Ross, Cathy, and John Clark. London: The Illustrated History. London; New York: Allen Lane, 2008. Copyright held by Museum of London.
- Smallwood, R.L., and Stanley Wells, eds. The Shoemaker’s Holiday. By Thomas Dekker. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1979. The Revels Plays.
- Smith, Al. Dictionary of City of London Street Names. New York: Arco, 1970.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Reprint. British History Online. Subscription. [Kingsford edition, courtesy of The Centre for Metropolitan History. Articles written 2011 or later cite from this searchable transcription. In the in-text parenthetical reference (Stow; BHO), click on BHO to go directly to the page containing the quotation or source.]
- Strype, John. A SURVEY of the CITIES of London and Westminster: CONTAINING the Original, Antiquity, Increase, Modern Estate and Government of those CITIES. London, 1720. An Electronic Edition of John Strype’s A Survey of London and Westminster. Ed. Julia Merritt. hriOnline. Open.
- 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)