Moorfields

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Coordinates: 51°31′05″N 0°05′19″W / 51.518188°N 0.088611°W / 51.518188; -0.088611

Moorgate and the Moorfields area shown on the "Copperplate" map of London of the 1550s
A map showing Moorfields ward within Shoreditch Metropolitan Borough in 1916. The ward was named due to its position adjacent to the former Moorfields

Moorfields was an open space, partly in the City of London, lying adjacent to its northern wall, near the eponymous Moorgate.

Setting

Moorfields was contiguous with Finsbury Fields, Bunhill Fields and other open spaces, and until its eventual loss in the 19th century, it was the innermost part of a green wedge of land which stretched from the wall to the open countryside.

The fields were divided into four areas; the Little Moorfields and Moorfields proper were just north of London's wall, and from 1676-1815 the Bethlem Hospital, this part was inside the City boundaries, while Middle and Upper Moorfields lay to the north-west in the parish of St Luke's (a late sub-division of the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate . Little Moorfields was the element that was left lying just west of Moorgate Street after gap had been made in the wall to create the Moorgate and the associated road in the 15th century.

The Walbrook seems to have formed much of the eastern boundary of Moorfields proper, and the marshy nature of the land may have been a result of the wall impeding the flow of the Walbrook and its tributaries. Latterly, the open space of Moorfields proper lay in the Coleman Street Ward of the City, while to the east lay the urbanised extra-mural ward of Bishopsgate Without, and the parish of Shoreditch.

The Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch (which replaced the parish, being based on the same boundaries), had an electoral ward named Moorfields, this was adjacent to the former Moorfields (and also the famous Moorfields Eye Hospital) with only a small part of the area having been part of Moorfields, and only at an early date.

History

The Moor place-name element usually refers to fen environments,[1] and the wet nature of the area persisted at least until the area was drained in 1572.[2]

Development in the area became more feasible after a small nearby postern gate was replaced with the last of the city gates, Moorgate, in 1415, and enlarged in 1472 and 1511. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, refugees from the fire evacuated to Moorfields and set up temporary camps there. King Charles II of England encouraged the dispossessed to move on and leave London, but it is unknown how many newly impoverished and displaced persons instead settled in the Moorfields area.

In the early 18th century, Moorfields was the site of sporadic open-air markets, shows, and vendors/auctions. Additionally, the homes near and within Moorfields were places of the poor, and the area had a reputation for harbouring highwaymen, as well as brothels. James Dalton and Jack Sheppard both retreated to Moorfields when in hiding from the law. Parts of the area were known as public cruising areas for gay men.[3] A path in the Upper Moorfields, beside a wall that separated the Upper and Middle Moorfields was known as Sodemites Walk, the wall was removed in 1752 but the path remains as the south side of Finsbury Square.[4]

In 1780 it was the site of some of the most violent rioting during the Gordon Riots.

The district was once the site of The Foundery, a centre of Wesleyan Methodism.[5]

A fashionable carpet manufactory was established here by Thomas Moore (c. 1700–1788) in the mid-eighteenth century. Moore's carpet manufactory at Moore Place made a number of fine carpets commissioned by the architect and interior designer, Robert Adam, for the grand rooms he designed for his wealthy clients. Thomas Moore lived at his home on Chiswell Street until his death. His Moore Park factory remained in operation until 1793, when his daughter, Jane, and her husband, Joseph Foskett, sold the lease to another carpet manufacturer.

Demise and legacy

Much of Moorfields was developed in 1777, when Finsbury Square was developed; the remainder succumbed within the next few decades, notably when Moorfields proper was replaced by the modern Finsbury Circus after 1812. Until that time the fields separated the western and eastern growth of London beyond the city wall - with the eastern extension being better known as the East End.

Today the name survives in the names of Moorfields Eye Hospital (since moved to another site); St Mary Moorfields; Moorfields the short street (on which stands the headquarters of the British Red Cross) parallel with Moorgate (and containing some entrances to Moorgate station); and Moorfields Highwalk, one of the pedestrian "streets" at high level in the Barbican Estate. Moorfields Highwalk is featured in the music video to Robbie Williams' song "No Regrets".

References

  1. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names, Eilert Ekwall, fourth edition. He doesn't refer to Moorfields, only the place name element.
  2. ^ The London Encyclopaedia, Weinreb and Hibbert
  3. ^ Norton, Rictor (1992). Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. London: Gay Men's Press. pp. 71–90. ISBN 0854491880.
  4. ^ Homosexuality in 18th century England, Rictor Norton, http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/brown.htm
  5. ^ "List of publications published or distributed at the Foundry". Copac. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
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