Many areas of London, such as Whitechapel and Soho, are famous in their own right, just as roads such as Regents Street are. Less famous as an area and a road though is Houndsditch.
Today Houndsditch is a partially business and partially residential area of the City of London within Greater London, with the street joining Aldgate to the Bishopsgate junction with Liverpool Street. In many ways Houndsditch is indistinguishable from many other parts of London, it has though a longer history than most of Greater London.
The reference to the City of London is important, and Houndsditch has roots going back to the earliest days of London. The City of London refers to a square mile of land at the heart of the city, an area that was the site of the original Roman settlement of Londinium. After being sacked by Queen Boudica though it was recognised that stronger defences were required, and a wall was constructed around the city.
There are very few physical remains of the London City Wall still standing but reminders of it are still present, with Houndsditch being one such reminder. Part of the city wall ran between the gateways of Bishopsgate and Aldgate, and next to this section of wall was also a moat or ditch.
The Roman ditch would be re-dug and expanded over the years, until the early thirteenth century when the ditch was said to measure some seventy five feet in width. The ditch was originally an additional piece of the wall’s defences, but residents of London though also found that it was an ideal place to dispose of waste and rubbish. This is thought to be why by 1275 the ditch was being referred to as Houndsditche, a reference probably to the number of dead dogs that were being disposed of in the ditch.
As the centuries passed though, London expanded outwards, and the need for a defensive structure at its centre declined. At the end of the seventeenth century the ditch was filled in, and the newly acquired land changed into a thoroughfare.
By the time that Houndsditch had been filled in, the surrounding area had been used as one of the city’s plague pits. Houndsditch itself became known as an area of metalworkers and also clothes makers. Houndsditch though did become indistinguishable from other areas of the expanding London, with it only hitting the newspaper headlines in 1910 to set it apart. In 1910 an attempted burglary of a Houndsditch jeweller’s shop would lead to the murder of three policemen, something that would subsequently lead to a much more famous event with the siege of Sidney Street in 1911.
The history of London is something that is often overlooked, but whilst London has always been a great place to walk around and explore, finding out about the history of individual streets is also very educational. Without knowing about the history of Houndsditch then it could be assumed to be just another business area of the city.