Bishops, wormwood, and Dirty Dick

bishopsgate cropThe next in our series of London’s gates is Bishopsgate, which gives its name to a street that is one of the longest in the City of London. The gate itself, according to John Stow, was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675.

The site of the former gate is marked by a stone bishop’s mitre, where Bishopsgate meets Wormwood Street and Camomile Street, two streets that  are exactly what they sound.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, houses were built no closer than about five metres from the old London Wall and the land along the line of the wall was allowed to grow wild. Two of the wild flowers that grew here were camomile and wormwood.

Wormwood, used to flavour vermouth and absinthe, was said to have gained its name because it grew up in the path followed by the serpent when he was evicted from Paradise.

Dirty DicksOne of the streets that intersects Bishopsgate is Leadenhall Street, the location of a warehouse owned by of Richard (or Nathaniel) Bentley. Bentley, once known as the ‘beau of Leadenhall Street’ as he was well-dressed and a frequent visitor at court, later became known as Dirty Dick. A famous London pub – Dirty Dick’s, which stands just off Leadenhall Street in Catherine Wheel Alley – takes its name from the warehouse.

Bentley’s change in hygiene is said to have come about when the girl to whom he was betrothed died the day before their marriage; he may have been the inspiration for Charles Dickens when he penned the character of Miss Haversham in Great Expectations.

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