Well, here we are at the end of our odyssey investigating the ancient gates of London. And so to Moorgate. This was the last of the City gates, being first built in 1415. And as such a recent addition, I don’t need to bore you with more Old English. By 1415, Middle English (i.e. basically present-day English but with some funny spellings) was well established – this was fifteen years after the death of Chaucer.
So, the root of the name is this: it’s a gate, there used to be a moor. Same deal with Moorfields. The moor itself has long since been obliterated by development. However, it was for a time the site of London’s first public park at Finsbury, not to be confused with Finsbury Park, which is not in Finsbury but was at one time owned by the parish. Clear? Good.
Depressingly little seems to have happened at Moorgate, and what little there is is largely depressing. 1975 saw a Tube crash in which 43 people were killed when a train ploughed into the end of a tunnel, the second worst disaster on the Underground after 7/7.
Let’s see… good stuff, good stuff… Well, the Moorfields were a popular place to go ice skating in the winter in medieval days. The land was swampy, not much good for building on at that time, but when it froze over it became one enormous, deserted ice rink.
September 1784 saw Vincenzo Lunardi, pioneering balloonist (one day I want a business card that says “PIONEERING BALLOONIST”) give the first demonstration of flight in England, ascending from the Honourable Artillery Company in Moorfields and flying 24 miles to Standon Green End in Hertfordshire. In Standon Green End, there is a memorial to the event featuring the inscription:
Let posterity know and knowing be astonished that on the 15th day of September 1784 Vincent Lunardi, of Lucca in Tuscany, the first aerial traveller in Britain mounting from the artillery ground in London and traversing the regions of the air for two hours and fifteen minutes. In this spot revisited the Earth on this rude monument that wondrous enterprise, successfully achieved by the power of chemistry and the fortitude of man that improvements in science which the great author of all knowledge patronising by his providence the invention of mankind, hath graciously permitted to their benefit and his own eternal glory.
Someone got a dictionary for his birthday.
Of course, no description of Moorgate would be complete without mentioning that the Romantic poet John Keats was born here in 1795. The place, if you’re interested, is at No. 85 Moorgate. Tell ’em I sent ya.