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John Stow’s Survey characterizes Moorfields as a Suburb without the wall (Stow 2:69-91), but it was a suburb that was easily accessible to city-dwellers. The Agas map clearly labels the plot of land just above Moorgate as More Fyeld. As can be seen in sixteenth century maps such as the Agas map and Londinum Feracissimi Angliae Regni Metropolis from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Moorfields was comparatively close to the City of London (Civitas Londinum; Hogenberg and Braun). Only the London Wall separated Moorfields from Coleman Street Ward and Broad Street Ward, and Londoners had to go beyond Moorfields to reach the Curtain further north in Shoreditch. William Faithorne’s later map from 1658 depicted a more orderly and developed Moorfields, with homes and the tree-lined pathways that were laid after the location was successfully drained and levelled between 1605 and 1607.
William Faithorne’s 1658 map of London. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
William Faithorne’s 1658 map of London. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Name and Etymology

Moorfields has various alternate spellings, including Moore fields, Morefieldes, and More fields. Sometimes chroniclers and maps refer to the site in the singular, as in More field or More Fyeld. According to Stow, Moorfields acquired its name because of the moorish nature of that ground (Stow 1:33). Entries in the Lexicons of Early Modern English define moor as fenne, or maryshe (Richard Huloet, Abecedarium Anglico Latinum, 1552) and incultivated ground (Richard Hogarth, Gazophylacium Anglicanum, 1689), and Stow points to official documents from the eleventh century as evidence that the fields had been marshy for centuries. In the section on The Suburbes without the Walles, under the subtitle Fensbery fields & Morefieldes an vnprofitable ground, Stow writes, this fielde of old time was called the More, as appeareth by the Charter of William Conqueror to the Colledge of S. Martin declaring a running water to passe into the Citie from the same More (Stow 2:76). The word moor, cognate with Old Saxon mōr, and Middle Dutch moer, is probably a variant of the Germanic base mere, referring to a body of water. The Germanic word was borrowed into Latin as mora, morus and into Anglo-Norman as more, mour, meaning marsh or swamp. While this appears to have no relationship with the proper noun Moor, it is possible that people might have somehow punned on these words.


Stow first mentions Moorfields when he describes the construction that has happened around it, specifically that of Moorgate. For Stow, Moorgate indicated the development in London’s infrastructure since William fitz Stephen’s twelfth century account of London during the reign of Henry II. Whereas William fitz Stephen only accounted for seven double gates, Stow enumerates the additional gates that have been built since then, including Moorgate. As Stow relates, in 1415, during the reign of Henry V, Mayor Thomas Fauconer broke the city wall near Coleman Street and there builded a Posterne, now called Moregate, vpon the Moore side where was neuer gate before, for the ease of the Cittizens to walke that waye vppon Causeyes towardes Iseldon and Hoxton (Stow 2:76). The need to build Moorgate for the ease of the Cittizens indicates that Londoners had already been crossing Moorfields to go to the more northern areas in greater London. This travel presumably became more accessible with the building of Moorgate, which was refurbished in 1472 under Mayor William Hampton. This attention by city officials to maintain the gate suggests that the path into Moorfields continued to be well travelled during the fifteenth century.
Moorfields was not only a means to go elsewhere, but a destination in itself. Despite its risk of flooding and presumably odorous airs, Moorfields was desirable real estate. Stow notes the correlation between London’s growing urban population and the continuall building throughout, of Garden houses, and small Cottages; and the fields on either side Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (TS)[…] turned into Garden plottes, teynter yardes, Bowling Allyes (Stow 1:126). Stow registers concern about the effects of this construction on the fields that were very commodious for Citizens therein to walke, shoote, and otherwise to recreate and refresh their dulled spirites (Stow 1:127). Indeed, as Stow writes in the Sports and pastimes section, Moorfields had a history of recreation. When its waters froze in the winter, Londoners used the field as an ice skating rink. Stow’s passage about it is worth quoting in full:
When the great fenne or Moore, which watereth the wals of the Citie on the North side, is frozen, many yong men play vpon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly: others make themselues seates of yce, as great as Milstones: one sits downe, many hand in hand doe draw him, and one slipping on a sudden, all fall togither: some tie bones to their feete, and vnder their heeles, and shouing themselues by a little picked Staffe, doe slide as swiftly as a bird flieth in the ayre, or an arrow out of a Crossebow. Sometime two runne togither with Poles, and hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt: some breake their armes, some their legges.
(Stow 1:93)
Although the land was not arable, Londoners found multiple uses for the suburban fen.
With increasing pressures from ongoing urban expansion and construction, the condition of Moorfields as a natural space suffered. As Stow records in 1477, Mayor Ralph Josselyn had the Moorfields and Finsbury Field areas searched for clay in order to repair the City Wall, by which meanes this fielde was made the worse for a long time (Stow 2:76). Then, in 1498, all the gardens in the suburbs outside Moorgate, to witte, aboute and beyonde the Lordship of Finsbery, were destroyed in order to make a plain field for archery (Stow 2:77).
In the sixteenth century, city officials attempted to drain and level Moorfields, with varying degrees of success. In 1512, Mayor Roger Acheley commisioned such an effort, along with the construction of bridges over the water. According to Stow, this made Moorfields somewhat more commodious, but yet it stood full of noysome waters (Stow 2:77). As the OED notes, noisome at this time could mean disagreeable, unpleasant, offensive (OED noisome, 3), or even harmful, injurious, noxious (OED noisome, 1). In 1527, Mayor Thomas Seymour installed sluices, sliding gates that control the flow of water, to convey the waters over the town ditch into the Walbrook, a tributary of the Thames. As Stow relates, by these degrees was this Fenne or More at length made main and hard ground, which before being ouergrowne with Flagges, sedges and rushes, serued to no vse (Stow 2:77).
With Moorfields more or less hardened, in 1537, Henry VIII signed a royal patent that made the area around Bishopsgate, including Moorfields and Spitalfields, official training grounds for the Honourable Artillery Company. In 1605, James I renewed the patent. Given the want of Room about our said City of London, the renewed patent granted full Power and Authority Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (TS)[…] to survey all such Grounds next adjoining to our said city of London that might be used for archery or other kinds of shooting practice and to reduce [them] to such order and estate for archers. Though the training grounds moved to other fields later in the seventeenth century, the patent continued to be signed by the royal king or queen through George III in 1766. Since Stow died in April 1605, he did not live to see the successful draining, leveling, and beautification of Moorfields between 1605 and 1607—changes that transformed it into a more appealing destination for the genteel. Edmund Howe’s 1631 edition of Stow’s Annales provides the perspective that Stow did not live to see. As Howe writes, This field, until the third year of King James, was a most noisome and offensive place, being a general laystall Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (TS)[…] burrowed and crossed with deep stinking ditches and noisome common shewers, and was of former times held impossible to be reformed (Howe 131). Once it was drained and tree-lined pedestrian paths were planted, however, Moorfields became a fashionable suburban place to see and to be seen. Moorfields competed with other sites within the City of London, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, as a place to display new fashions in pleasant weather.


Due to its location and its unique ecological background, Moorfields carried a few different, overlapping kinds of significance in the cultural imagination of early modern London. It was a place with social significance, as many different classes and groups of people spent time there for different purposes; a place with political and environmental significance, as politicians and citizens fought over what could be built on that land and what were the land’s uses; and a place with medical significance, as shown by comments at different times about the effects of its polluted or unpolluted air. Moorfields marked historical changes happening in London due to its proximity to London’s city limits, yet it also acquired connotations as a place separate from the city and beyond the bounds of the wards’ constables. Moorfields was a place that was known both for both unwholesome and wholesome air, that attracted both the lower class and the upper class, and that was partly publicly owned and also partly used for private laundry and homes. The consistency of stark contrasts within the space itself is part of the overall significance of Moorfields.
Given the variety of activities and social groups that were found at Moorfields, it is not surprising that most of the identifications by Prockter and Taylor in the Moorfields section of the Agas Map fall into their miscellaneous category, unlike other map sections within the City Wall that display recognizable categories such as gates, churches, wells, and conduits. In the bottom right corner, for example, two boys carry a laundry basket on a cowl-staff. Prockter and Taylor identify the rectangular pieces there and in the middle-left section as pieces of laundry (Prockter and Taylor 58nX15–X16). The women with outstretched arms are referred to as laundresses laying out the washing to dry (Prockter and Taylor 57nP13–P14). The details on the Agas Map, however, do not give a comprehensive picture of the activities and people at Moorfields. In addition to laundresses, other early modern materials indicate that beggars, patients from the neighbouring Bethlehem Hospital, duellers, soldiers in the Artillery Company, and genteel London citizens all walked through Moorfields.
In addition to its social significance, the history of Moorfields is important for scholars analyzing the intersection of space and class in urban social relations and the political regulation of land. Situated just outside the London Wall, Moorfields was a public suburban area that also housed some private summer homes. Prockter and Taylor identify the house next to the dog house at the top of the Moorfields section as one such home (Prockter and Taylor 61 nX144). As Prockter and Taylor note, the building of elaborate garden houses in the rural suburbs was very popular in the 16th century (Prockter and Taylor 61 nX144). Although Stow does not mention this, Eleanor Levy argues that, in the early fifteenth century, Mayor Thomas Fauconer and his advisors divided the city-owned Moorfields into different plots and rented them for additional revenue (Levy 80). Indeed, as the population of London rapidly increased during the early modern period, more homes were built. Whether private property or rented by the city, houses in the Moorfields section of the map suggest the expansion of urban London and also point to possible quarrels about land use and public and private ownership.
The political significance of Moorfields relates to its environmental significance. As Moorfields and other marshlands around England were drained and levelled, groups such as the Levellers and the Diggers advocated for differing views on land use. Ken Hiltner has argued that the levelling and draining of Moorfields is particularly significant as a representative example of how Londoners began to acknowledge and pay attention to the countryside as soon as it was threatened or being otherwise reformed. According to Hiltner, as a result of the extraordinarily ambitious efforts to drain early modern England’s vast tracts of wetlands and fens in order to put the land to new use[,] such previously marginal countryside began emerging into appearance across the island (Hiltner 12). For Hiltner, increased activity at Moorfields indicates the mass emergence of an environmental consciousness in the Renaissance, as early modern London’s citizens not only increasingly became conscious of their environment, but also became aware of it as withdrawing and endangered (Hiltner 63). As a wetland that was only successfully drained and transformed in the early seventeenth century, Moorfields indicates changing priorities and technologies in early modern ecological concerns.
The history of Moorfields also pertains to scholarship on early modern miasmic, humoral, and medical theory. On the one hand, the difficulty to drain Moorfields provides insight into the unsanitary sewage and waste management conditions in early modern London (Sewage and Waste Management). These conditions, in turn, added complexity to the period’s social relations. Since miasmic theory posited that putrefying matter could corrupt the nearby air, which could cause plague outbreaks, Moorfields’ reputation as an odorous place likely exacerbated the stigma of beggars, vagrants, and madmen who were known to frequent the area. On the other hand, once Moorfields was successfully drained and levelled in the early seventeenth century, popular opinion swung the other way, and the supposedly cleaner air at the newly renovated Moorfields was highly recommended to those with ailments. While London was associated with unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, and high mortality rates, people took recourse in these newly acquired green spaces.

Literary References

There is a surprising number of sixteenth century and seventeenth century literary references, particularly dramatic ones, to Moorfields. While many of these references map onto the various significances outlined in the previous section—namely, that Moorfields was an early modern site with overlapping social, political, environmental, and medical significances—many references also add to the record that we have of Moorfields from maps and historical accounts. As Jean Howard has argued, early modern playwrights imaginatively transformed urban places into settings for specific kinds of social interaction (Howard 3). Therefore, this section shows how drama, poetry, and prose in the period imagined laundresses, beggars, patients from the Bethlehem Hospital, duelers, soldiers in the Artillery Company, and socialites as all frequenting Moorfields. This section will be organized by the kind of activity or social group that the literary references associate with Moorfields.
References to Moorfields as a site for doing laundry include Richard Johnson’s The Pleasant Walkes of Moore-Fields, Philip Massinger’s The City Madam, and Sir William Davenant’s The First Day’s Entertainment at Rutland House. In Johnson’s Pleasant Walks, when the Gentleman asks what the fields are used for, the Citizen replies, Only for Cittizens to walke in, to take the ayre, and for Merchants’ maides to dry clothes in, which want necessary gardens at their dwellings (Johnson sig. A3v). This comment highlights the class dynamic of laundry at Moorfields; only maids without private gardens to dry the household’s clothing would have used the public Moorfields space for setting out laundry. In Massinger’s The City Madam, Anne says in Sir John Frugal’s house, You talk’d of Hebe, / Of Iris, and I know not what; but were they / Dress’d as we are? They were sure some chandler’s daughters, / Bleaching linen in Moorfields (Massinger 4.4). In Rutland House, the Parisian concludes a speech that explains the superiority of Paris over London by saying, I have now no more to say but what refers to a few private notes which I shall give you in a whisper when we meet in Moorfields, from whence—because the place was meant for public pleasure and to shew the munificence of your city, I shall desire you to banish the laundresses and bleachers, whose acres of old linen make a shew like the fields of Carthagena, when the five months’ shifts of the whole fleet are washt and spread (Davenant 221). Although the Parisian exaggerates the amount of laundry that could be found at Moorfields in this satirical speech, the comments suggest that laundry was indeed a common practice.
Moorfields was also largely associated with beggars. In Nathan Field’s comedy A Woman is a Weathercock, Powts says, Godamercy, zoones methinks I see my selfe in Moorfields, upon a wodden leg, begging three pence (Field 4.2.119–120). In Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, the industrious apprentice Golding uses the stigma of Moorfields as a place for vagrants to insult his unreliable colleague Quicksilver: Thou wilt undo thyself. Alas, I behold thee with pity, not with anger. Thou common shotclog, gull of all companies, methinks I see thee already walking in Moorfields without a cloack, with half a hat, without a band, a doublet with three buttons, without a girdle, a hose with one point and no garter, with a cudgel under thine arm, borrowing and begging threepence (Chapman, Jonson, and Marston 1.1.120–126). As Quicksilver lives extravagantly and takes care to dress in style, Golding intends to insult him by imagining Quicksilver dressed as a beggar, wandering through Moorfields.
Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and The Alchemist call attention to the proximity of Moorfields to the Bethlehem Hospital, which cared for the sick, poor, and clinically insane. In Bartholomew Fair, Win and Littlewit counsel Winwife, a suitor to Win’s mother, that, to be successful in his suit, he should affect more madness than he currently does, and certainly more than his rival Quarlous. They report that the cunning-men in Cow Lane told Win’s mother that her happiness depends on marrying within this sennight Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (TS)[…] a madman (Jonson 1.2.42, 1.2.44). Littlewit chimes in, and the conversation continues:
Littlewit: Aye, but it must be a gentleman madman.
Win: Yes, so the t’other man of Moorfields says.
Winwife: But does she believe him?
Littlewit: Yes, and has been at Bedlam twice since, every day, to enquire of any gentleman be there, or to come there, mad!
(Jonson 1.2.41–45)
Playing with the words madman and gentleman, this excerpt shows that the geographical proximity between Moorfields and Bedlam contributed to their imaginative entwining and also, sometimes, their conflation. In The Alchemist, Subtle imagines Mammon curing the sick with the philosopher’s stone that they hope to perfect that day:
Methinks I see him ent’ring ordinaries,
Dispensing for the pox; and plaguy houses,
Reaching his dose; walking Moorfields for lepers,
And off’ring citizens’ wives pomander-bracelets
As his preservative, made of the elixir.
(Jonson 1.4.18–22)
Although the above passage does not directly reference Bethlehem Hospital, it confirms the association of Moorfields with illness.
Moorfields was also imagined as a place where violence and shooting might take place without penalty. While it was an official training grounds for the Honourable Artillery Company, it was also a place beyond city limits where one might get away with unofficial duelling. Although the passage referencing Moorfields in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII does not explicitly dramatize violence, the verbal exchange indicates the association of Moorfields with the Artillery Company, the threat of violence, and the suburbs. In the play, when the Porter is alarmed at the number of people gathered outside the palace yard to see the christening of Elizabeth I, the Porter sarcastically exclaims, Is this the Moorfields to muster in? (Shakespeare 5.4.31). The Porter references Moorfields to suggest that the crowds outside the palace yard are as big as the crowds of soldiers that could gather in the open space of Moorfields. The Porter’s choice of the word muster also evokes Moorfields’ history with the Artillery Company. With further language of violence, the Porter instructs his Man to knock ’em down by th’ dozens (Shakespeare 5.4.30). When the Lord Chamberlain appears onstage soon after, he rebukes the Porter for admitting the rabble and exclaims, Y’are lazy knaves; / And here ye lie baiting of bombards, when / Ye should do service (Shakespeare 5.4.68, 5.4.77–79). Referring to the crowds as the Porter’s faithful friends o’ th’ suburbs (Shakespeare 5.4.69), the Lord Chamberlain simultaneously reveals his class prejudice and continues the dramatic association of the crowds of people outside the palace with Moorfields and the suburbs.
In the play Sir Thomas More, Kit alludes to Moorfields’ reputation as a place for dueling when saying to another apprentice, I’ll play with thee at blunt here in Cheapside, and when thou hast done, if thou beest angry, I’ll fight with thee at sharp in Moore fields. I have a sword to serve my turn in a favor (Munday 2.1.17-20). Though they may fight in jest in the crowded, urban commercial area of Cheapside Ward, they may inflict real harm with a sharp sword at Moorfields, away from the sight of authorities. In the next scene, Doll emphasizes the possibility of anonymous crime in Moorfields when she says, I’ll tell ye what: we’ll drag the strangers out into Moorfields, and there bombast them till they stink again (Munday 2.2.42–44). While Doll’s proposal draws on Moorfields’ history as a practice shooting ground for the artillery company, she transforms the training ground into a site for possible revenge. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, Ralph says, Then took I up my bow and shaft in hand, / And walked into Moorfields to cool myself; / But there grim, cruel Death met me again, / And shot this forked arrow through my head (Beaumont and Fletcher 5.3.172-174). In Every Man in His Humour, Jonson combines the association of begging and soldiers in Brainworm’s plan to gull Knowell. Because Knowell lives in the northern suburbs and will pass Moorfields on his route into the city, Brainworm decides to enact his ruse as a begging soldier in Moorfields (Jonson 2.4.8-9; 4.6.2-3).
Dramatic references to Moorfields also comment on its transformed status as a place to see and be seen once it was successfully drained and levelled. In Jonson’s Underwood, a character remarks on the variety of new clothing that can be seen there: O, what strange / Varietie of Silkes were on th’ Exchange! / Or in Moore-fields, this other night! (Jonson 66). Similarly, in Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, Littlewit praises his wife Win’s outfit, saying, I challenge all Cheapside to shew such another: Moorfields, Pimlico-path, or the Exchange, in a summer evening (Jonson 1.2.6–7). Dekker and Webster’s Northward Ho calls attention to the fashionable homes being built in Moorfields when Mayberry says, Your sister shall lodge at a garden-house of mine in Moorfields (Webster and Dekker 2.2).
While the majority of the aforementioned literary references are dramatic, the associations with Moorfields also extend into seventeenth century poetry and prose writing. The most extensive extant literary reference to Moorfields is Richard Johnson’s discursive treatise The Pleasant Walkes of Moore-Fields, which suggests all of the aforementioned social, political, environmental, and medical significances of Moorfields as it celebrates its transformed state. Johnson draws much of his historical information about Moorfields from Stow, sometimes verbatim. Like Stow, for example, Johnson announces that his goal is to set downe a few notes of ancient recordes of Moorfields, of their being a kinde of morish ground in times past (Johnson sig. A2r). Given Johnson’s reliance on The Survey of London and the fact that Stow died before Moorfields was successfully drained, it is possible that Johnson imagined his treatise as the historical update that Stow could no longer write.
Published at the time of the draining, levelling, and beautification of Moorfields, The Pleasant Walkes of Moore-Fields solidifies the new understanding of Moorfields as a pleasurable place while simultaneously placing the responsibility of maintaining its beauty on London’s citizens and politicians. In the tradition of the Socratic dialogue, Johnsonʼs discourse presents a Gentleman and a Citizen having a discussion as they walk around the newly levelled, tree-lined Moorfields. The Gentleman proclaims that of all the beautifications of the city of London since its founding and of all pleasures that contents me, these sweet walkes of Moore fields are the chiefest; and the causers thereof deserue much commendations (Johnson sig. A3v). In reply, the Citizen attributes the honor and the responsibility to the worthy Aldermen and Common-counsell of London, who, seeing the disorder used in these fields, have bestowed this cost, and, as occasion requires, intends further to beautifie the same (Johnson sig. A3v). The Gentleman agrees that no doubt but this field will be maintained Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] in as good order as it is nowe kept, for what you citizens meane to give glory to, neither costs nor care can be wanting (Johnson sig. A4r). In praising the beneficence of the city officials, Johnson acknowledges the impressive transformation of Moorfields and also reminds his audience of their responsibility to maintain the areaʼs changes. While the utopian vision offered by the fictional characters walking in the fields aims to replace the perception of Moorfields as a place of disease, hints of the landʼs prior history remain. For example, when the Citizen suggests an ominous punishment for those who lay any filthy thing within these fields, or make water in the same (Johnson sig. A4r), his warning calls attention to the previous history of people littering and urinating in the fields.
Johnson’s treatise may help to illuminate a reference to Moorfields in John Donne’s A Tale of a Citizen and His Wife. In this poem, the speaker encounters a citizen and his wife and recounts an attempt to converse with the citizen. To this end, the speaker brings up contemporary news and various sites in London. As the speaker relates,
I ask’d the number of the plaguing bill;
Ask’d if the custom farmers held out still;
Of the Virginian plot, and whether Ward
The traffic of the island seas had marr’d
Whether the Brittaine Burse did fill apace,
And likely were to give th’Exchange disgrace;
Of new-built Algate, and the More-field crosses.
Of store of bankrupts, and poor merchants’ losses,
I urged him to speak.
(Donne 21–27)
Johnson’s treatise indicates that the walkways in the beautified Moorfields [bear] the fashion of a crosse, equally divided foure ways (Johnson sig. A3v). It appears, then, that the speaker in Donne’s poem is referring to the walkways in Moorfields. Although many scholars speculate that Donne’s elegies were written in the 1590s, the topical reference to new-built Aldgate and the Moor-field crosses might provide insight into the later dating of at least this elegy.
Later in the seventeenth century, Samuel Pepys records two confrontations at Moorfields. First, on 28 June 1661, Pepys records walking in Moorfields and observing wrestling, which he never saw so much of before, between the north and west countrymen (Pepys). A few years later, on 26 July 1664, Pepys notes a great discourse yesterday of the fray in Moorfields, how the butchers at first did beat the weavers, between whom there hath been ever an old competition for mastery, but at last the weavers rallied and beat them (Pepys). Pepys’ account of the fray is colourful, detailing how the butchers first knocked down the weavers with green or blue aprons and how the weavers responded and ultimately triumphed. Although writers like Richard Johnson presented Moorfields as a place of leisure for philosopher-gentlemen, Pepys’ entries give evidence that frays continued to take place in Moorfields even after its beautification. Pepys’ diary also confirms that through the seventeenth century, Moorfields continued to be a lively place of mixtures, featuring gentlemen and working-class labourers, walkers and brawlers, and more.

The 17th Century and Beyond

During the Great Fire of London, refugees from the fire set up temporary camps and tents at Moorfields, even though King Charles II encouraged the displaced persons to move out of the city. Furthermore, the preacher Robert Elborough made Moorfields into a symbol of sinfulness in his sermon explaining possible reasons for the fire. As Elborough preached, The Sabbath is the queen of days; and therefore when He [God] sees we offer violence to her by our looseness and prophaneness, by our Moore-fields walkes and Hide-park Recreations, Execution shall be done upon us (Elborough 13–14). In other words, according to Elborough, the Great Fire was God’s vengeance on Londoners for too often breaking the sabbath in favor of walks at Moorfields and recreation at Hyde Park. Significant building in Moorfields began after the Great Fire, late in the reign of Charles II. As Pepys notes on 7 April 1667, I walked into Moor Fields, and, as is said, did find houses built two stories high, and like to stand; and must become a place of great trade, till the City be built; and the street is already paved as London streets used to be (Pepys). Open-air markets, auctions, and shows took place at Moorfields, and booksellers and preachers competed for audiences. In the eighteenth century, the area gained a reputation as a hub for London’s gay subculture (Norton). The Moorfields area remained partly open ground until the end of the eighteenth century. In modern London, the name survives in the names of the Moorfields Eye Hospital (though the hospital has since moved to another site), the Catholic church St. Mary’s Moorfields, and Moorfields street, where the headquarters of the British Red Cross is located. The history of the name also partially survives in the name of the Finsbury (or Fensbury) Circus Gardens, a much smaller green space currently located where Moorfields used to be. One might say that the most salient contemporary remnants of the early modern history of Moorfields are the area’s shopping malls and the Moorgate tube station, frequented by all classes of people, including some who are carrying their laundry.


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MLA citation

Schmidt, Tanya. Moorfields. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022,

Chicago citation

Schmidt, Tanya. Moorfields. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022.

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Schmidt, T. 2022. Moorfields. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

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Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
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T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

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