Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Wards of Old London: Farringdon Without - Lawyers, Hacks and Beasts

Having recently explored the Ward of Aldersgate Without, we come, now, to the last of London's City Wards, that of Farringdon Without. This ward, however, is so much larger than any of the others, that we cannot encompass it in a single post, so this is simply an orientation exercise, to be followed by other posts, which will look in more detail at specific elements of the ward.

City of London Ward Map, 1870 (image is in the Public Domain). 
City of London Civil Parishes, 1870. Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).

The Ward of Farringdon Without is built around three ancient east-west thoroughfares which, together, connect the City of London to Westminster, Whitehall, and the West End. The north-south axis of the ward is today formed by Farringdon Street, but this is, in a sense, simply a ghost of what it replaces - a water-course variously referred to as the River Fleet, or Fleet Ditch, which flowed down (and flows still, although beneath the ground) from Hampstead to meet the Thames at Blackfriars

The Ward of Farringdon Without, 1755 (image is in the Public Domain).
Copperplate map of the River Fleet, 1553 (image is in the Public Domain).

The southernmost of the east-west thoroughfares, emerging from Ludgate, is Fleet Street. To the south of Fleet Street can be found The Temple, the London headquarters of the Knights Templar until their dissolution in 1312; and the Inns of the Inner and Middle Temple which replaced it, the training grounds for twenty generations of London lawyers. To the north of Fleet Street are the Royal Courts of Justice, beyond which stood Temple Bar (now relocated to Paternoster Square, in the shadow of Saint Paul's Cathedral), marking the western limit of the City of London, and the point at which Fleet Street becomes The Strand.

Fleet Street today. Photo: Basher Eyre (licensed under CCA).
Fleet Street in 1886, by Ernest George. Image: Pterre (Public Domain).
Temple Bar today. Photo: Nessy-Pic (licensed under CCA). 

Fleet Street is best known, however, for its association with printing and newspapers. This association began in around 1500, when Wynkyn de Worde established a printing workshop near Shoe Lane. London's first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was established nearby in 1702, followed, shortly afterwards, by The Morning Chronicle. Fleet Street remained the hub of London journalism until the 1980s.

Running parallel to Fleet Street, and to the north, emerging from Newgate, is Holborn/High Holborn, a continuation of the Roman road (Watling Street) running west from Kent to Wales. The coronation processions of Medieval kings started at the Tower of London, and proceeded along this route on the way to Westminster Abbey.

High Holborn in 1984, looking east from the corner of Grays Inn Road. The building on the right is Staple Inn (1585). Photo: Ben Brooksbank (licensed under CCA).

The third thoroughfare is West Smithfield, running in a south-westerly direction between the Great North Road and High Holborn. Smithfield has been synonymous with the meat trade since the early Middle Ages: the Twelfth Century chronicler, William FitzStephen, described the sale of horses, sheep and pigs there, which continued into the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

West Smithfield, and the Victorian meat markets. Photo: Chris Downer (licensed under CCA).

Over the coming weeks, we will explore these streets, and the lanes running between them, and we will begin, where we left off last week, on the Great North Road.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


  1. Thanks...for some reason thought you stopped...

  2. No, although Farringdon Without is the last ward, so I'll have to move on to something else. If I stop altogether, it will probably mean that I'm dead!

  3. Don't stop! I'm enjoying my visits.

  4. This brings a whole new level of appreciation to my wanderings around London!

  5. Excellent orientation! Looking forward to the exploration of the ward.

  6. This is the ward I know best, so I'm looking forward to learning more of its history.

  7. This is so interesting. Looking forward to reading more!