Ice skating, Bedlam, and Keats

MoorgateNext on the list (in no particular order) of London City gates is Moorgate. At one time this part of the city was encircled by a barren wetland – a moor, or fen. What was later Moorgate was a postern within the Roman fortification that was the original London Wall.

In the 12th William Fitzstephen (household clerk of Thomas Becket, who witnessed Becket’s murder, and wrote his biography) described how the fen would freeze over and become a place of amusement for London youth. These youth would fashion skates from the leg bones of animals, which they would tie to the bottoms of their feet, and then they would use iron poles to propel themselves along the ice.

Moorfields also provided opportunities for swimming as well as skating, and was the location of the Perilous Pond that gives its name to Peerless Street. (Incidentally, Peerless Pool has been nominated for an Islington People’s Plaques 2014.)

But back to Moorgate; our font of London knowledge, John Stow, says of it: “This Fen or Moor Field, stretching from the wall of the City betwixt Bishopsgate and the postern called Cripplesgate, to Finsbury, and to Holywell, continued a waste and unprofitable ground a long time.”

In 1415 Thomas Falconer, Mayor of London, Stow adds, changed what was a postern to an open gate and “caused the wall of the City to be broken toward the said moor, and built the postern called Moorgate, for the ease of the citizens to walk that way”.

Bedlam cropMoorgate was the site of the second Bethlehem Hospital, infamous for its horrendous treatment of mental health patients. The hospital’s nickname of Bedlam came to mean confusion, disorder, and chaos.

The poet John Keats was born in Moorgate; his father worked as a hostler at stables attached to a local inn and, though there seems to be no evidence to support the theory, Keats believed he was born in the inn. There is now a pub called the Globe on the site of the old inn; on the side wall (above the ‘Keats at the Globe Bar’) is a blue plaque stating that John Keats was born in a house on the site.

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