London is a place with more than one history. There’s the actual history – the Roman trading port, the medieval city, the modern metropolis. But there’s another history, based less on documents and archaeology than on the collective imagination, into which fact and fiction are interwoven. This is the London of Spring-Heeled Jack, the Highgate Vampire and the Black Dog of Newgate. Part history, part mythology, part outright fiction.
For instance, in reality, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s City churches have no special significance other than the fact that they are fine examples of Baroque architecture. But in the alternative history, they’re a vital part of a massive occult network. This network, according to different authors, historians and psychogeographers, includes several other churches, a synagogue or two, the odd cemetery, some pre-Roman shrines and earthworks, Jack the Ripper, the Freemasons, King Arthur (not even joking), the New Jerusalem, various patterns of ley lines and, I don’t know, probably Neverwhere as well.
You’ll note that I have not actually talked about Ludgate yet. Rest assured that all of this is relevant, sort of. You see, Ludgate is one of those places where the two histories clash.
Now, according to the actual history, Ludgate either comes from “ludgeat” (“back entrance”) or “Fleodgeat” (“Fleet gate”). But according to the legendarium of London, it’s named after King Lud, who is buried here. Lud’s life is described in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful History of the Kings of Britain. Lud, so the story goes, was the Celtic king who basically rebuilt the city into its modern (in relation to Geoffrey of Monmouth) form. The city was renamed “Caer Lud” after him, from which we ultimately derive “London”.
Prior to this, according to Geoffrey, or “Geoff” as his friends call him, the city was known as “Trinovantum” – that is, “New Troy”. It was supposedly founded by Brutus, descendant of Aeneas. In later versions, he defeated the giants Gog and Magog, who became guardians of the city.
All patent nonsense, really. Most scholars seem to agree that this alternative ancient history was born from an inferiority complex as London expanded. The city was pretty good, sure, but it wasn’t exactly ancient like Rome or Athens. So it was felt necessary to “discover” a history that the people of London could be proud of. Not so much a case of history being written by the winners as the winners being written by historians.