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Historic Gates and Gatehouses


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Gatehouses were ever a prominent feature of ancient architecture. They were originally for defence, a very necessary provision in times remote. The earliest gateway of any kind in England is the so-called "Newport Arch" at Lincoln. It was the North Gate of the Roman city, and is still in use.

Castles had, of course, their gatehouses, always defensible. The earliest Norman castles were, like the Tower of London, in the form of a four-square lofty keep, generally without any outworks. On a more elaborate scale they resembled the defensible peel-towers of ancient mansions and farms on the English and Scottish borders, and they resembled them also in a significant detail; for the peel-tower always and the early castle keeps generally were to be entered, not by a doorway on the ground-level but on the first-floor. You came into the place either up a ladder, or you entered by a wooden bridge across a ditch.

As time went on, the castle-keeps acquired surrounding courtyards: the inner and outer baileys with their enclosing walls and defensible towers and gatehouses. The Tower of London is the chief example of this elaboration of defences. In order to reach the keep you had successively to pass through the Barbican, an outwork halfway up Tower Hill, and then the Lion Gate, Middle Gate, the Byward Tower, and the Bloody Tower. The Barbican long since has gone, and so has the Lion Gate. The entrance is now by the Middle Gate, whose name is therefore a misnomer. From the river, the entrance was by the Watergate, or S. Thomas's Tower, better known by the popular name "Traitor's Gate"; at which, coming up the water-stairs, unfortunate prisoners heard the ominous greeting "Welcome, traitor!"

London also had its gates -for, like other medieval cities, it was walled. You came into London from the south, over London Bridge, through an extremely large fortified gatehouse, whose battlements rarely lacked a group of pikes on which were the decapitated heads of rebels and malefactors. This, and other gates in the City wall were closed when night fell; and none might enter. Thus it was that the earliest suburbs arose, outside the gates. Travellers arriving too late for admission had to stay without. The need for accommodation was thus one of the predisposing origins of Southwark, as also of Norton Folgate, or Norton Foregate, on the north side of the City, outside Bishopsgate. Bishopsgate and the other London gatehouses were swept away in the year 1761-5 with the exception of Temple Bar, the most westerly of them. Rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670 it spanned the narrow roadway at the junction of the Strand and Fleet Street, where the Temple Bar Memorial now stands. It was taken down and the stones, carefully numbered, were stored for some years in the City stoneyard. They afterwards were given to Sir Henry Meux, and the historic Bar was rebuilt by him to form the entrance to his park at Theobalds.

There are not now many buildings in London upon which Shakespeare can have looked. Four at least, of them are gatehouses, and fine ones too. The oldest of these is the great red brick gatehouse of Lambeth Palace, built by Archbishop Morton 1490. Here it was from this and an earlier gate on the same site that the Archbishops' dole to the poor was distributed. The next London gatehouse, in point of age, is the stone-built S. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. This was the gatehouse of the Priory of S. John, and although being of stone and so definitely Gothic that it looks far older, was built in 1504 by Prior Docwra. As in the case with most ancient gatehouses, the rooms within are much larger than might be expected. Here it was that Cave the printer founded and printed the "Gentleman's Magazine," giving Dr. Johnson the first employment which he secured London.

The dark brick gateway of Lincoln's Inn, looking forth upon Chancery Lane, was built 1518-21 from moneys left by Sir Thomas Lovell. Tradition tells us that Ben Jonson the poet and friend of Shakespeare worked on this gateway as a bricklayer. The great red brick gatehouse of the Earl of Essex's mansion in Essex Street, Strand, was built in 1570, and was the Watergate to a magnificent residence whose gardens went down to the Thames, where the Victoria Embankment and the trams now run.

One of the finest works of this period is the lofty gatehouse-tower, Lupton's Tower, in School Yard, Eton, built by Provost Lupton, 1517-21. It is of red brick, with stone quoins; and compares to advantage with some of Wolsey's work at Hampton Court. Most of our medieval cities demolished their encircling fortifications and took down their gates in that inappreciative period, the eighteenth century. But the grand old city of York has kept its walls and its gates alike. These gates and towers are sometimes "Bars." They are Fishergate Postern, Walmgate Red Tower, Monk Bar, Bootham Bar, Len-dal Tower, and Micklegate Bar. They are of all periods, from Norman to the sixteenth century, and of every degree of importance, the chief of them being the massive and stately towers of Micklegate and Bootham Bar, guarding respectively the main roads which reach the city from the south and the north.

Against the skyline of the flanking turrets of Micklegate may yet be seen remains of the stone figures representing men-at-arms on guard, placed there to simulate sentries. The same child-like faith in the simplicity of an enemy is exhibited on the battlements of the barbican of Alnwick Castle. Walmgate, York, with its long projecting barbican protecting the entrance from Beverley and Hull, is most interesting to students of medieval military architecture. Its portcullis is noteworthy.

One of the most impressive approaches to a city to be found in England is that to Canterbury, through the ancient suburb of S. Dunstan. Still spanning the highway is the fine West Gate, built about 1370 by Archbishop Simon of Sudbury. It is on the further side of the little river Stour which once was crossed by a drawbridge. The great masonry drum-towers of the gate formed a defence which no one ever attempted to assail. It is the only remaining one of the seven fortified gates of Canterbury; and owes its preservation rather to its use as a police-station than to any appreciation of its grandeur. Here, too, the travellers and pilgrims who had spent too much time on the road in feasting or praying and so arrived after nightfall, had perforce to remain outside the city for the night. To these circumstances we owe the "Star" and "Falstaff" inns without the gate. The old walled town of Southampton keeps three of its ancient gates. The chief of these is Bargate, a massive structure of stone and flint, of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was the North Gate, and gave entrance to Southampton from the London and Winchester road. The rooms within are used as the guildhall. Other gates are West and South Gate. Two gates survive at Winchester: the fourteenth-century West Gate, with its heavy corbelled projecting machicolations, whence any defending force could throw down melted lead or boiling oil upon an enemy. The rooms over the archway are now in use as a museum, and contain the old city chest, old gibbet irons, and other antiquities.

Perhaps the boldest specimens of a machicolated defence in this country are those of the two fine towers forming the gateway to Cooling Castle, Kent; that defence of the Thames estuary built by Lord Cobham about 1385. The work occupied six years during the difficult and dangerous period of the peasants' rising under Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, when castle building was looked upon with suspicion. So Lord Cobham sought a means to avoid criticism. He did this by letting it be known that his stronghold was built, not for overawing the mob, but in view of foreign invasion. He put this on record on one of his gatehouse towers. It is a curious inscription, on enamelled copper plates, still where he caused it to be placed. It runs:

Knowyth that beth and schul be
That I am mad in help of the cuntre
In knowing of whyche thyng
Thys is chartre and wytnessyng.

The fourteenth-century John o' Gaunt's gateway to Lancaster Castle is a stern and frowning entrance to that medieval stronghold, and forms a not inappropriate approach to what is now a prison.

To revert to Winchester; there also is the fifteenth-century King's Gate, to north of the Cathedral, with the quaint little church of S. Swithun over the archway. This way you go to the village of St. Cross, where is the "Almshouse of Noble Poverty," founded by Henry of Blois 1136, and enlarged by Cardinal Beaufort about 1440. At Beaufort's entrance tower is still daily distributed the "Wayfarers' Dole" of a horn of ale and a hunch of bread, given to all who ask.

At St. Albans is what would seem to be the largest gatehouse in the country. This was the entrance to the Benedictine monastery, and was built in 1380. The abbot's steward used it as assize court and prison. As prison and sessions-house it continued to be used until 1651, and as a prison only until 1869. Since that time it has housed the grammar school.

Among town gates the Barbican at Sandwich, which appears to belong to the last years of the sixteenth century is highly picturesque. It is a toll-gate too, and levies threepence a wheel upon vehicles. Bridges also often had their defensible gates. The most notable one remaining is that built midway on the Monnow Bridge, Monmouth; and it served its old office of defence so lately as 1839, when it was loopholed for musketry, in view of a threatened attack by Chartists from Newport. The preparations for defence overawed the revolutionaries and no attack was delivered.

Numerous examples of gatehouses to manors demand notice. Those of Great Chalfield and Keevil, Wiltshire, of the latter part of the fifteenth century, and the gatehouse across the moat of Ightham Mote are notable buildings. Nor should S. Ann's Gate into the cathedral precincts at Salisbury be forgotten. This appears to belong to the fourteenth century: and it has the quaintest little bayed-out window built at one side, dating from the early years of the eighteenth century, and serving as a gazebo or look-out upon the street. A curious gatehouse in red brick on the garden wall of Poxwell Manor, near Weymouth, served apparently as a porter's lodge. This is the house indicated by Thomas Hardy in describing "Oxwell Manor" in his famous novel "The Trumpet Major."

A curious gatehouse, altogether unlike any other now in existence, is that of Layer Marney Towers, in Essex. It is in three storeys, flanked by lofty octagonal towers, seventy feet high, with eight floors. The rooms of these several floors are awkwardly small and their shape inconvenient; and it is difficult to imagine any useful purpose to which they could have been put. But probably an imposing show, rather than any real use, was the first object. The style and the materials of construction are alike interesting: disclosing a very marked Renaissance feeling and displaying a very early use in this country of terra-cotta mouldings, string-courses and reveals to the windows, brilliantly relieving the dark red brick, diapered with dark blue vitrified brick in lozenge patterns, which forms the main walling.

An even more interesting, and far more artistic, gatehouse is that of East Barsham Manor, near Fakenham, Norfolk: the chief ornament of a mansion built 1505-27 by Sir William Fermor and now a farmhouse. The gatehouse, in common with the rest of the building, is of red brick with terra-cotta details, highly enriched in elaborate patterns and with armorial details in bold, romantic style.

Among the surviving gatehouses to ancient manorial residences we have the stately approach to Dandelion, at Garlinge, near Margate. The old house has gone, and through the archway of the gatehouse you approach a farm. The odd name of "Dandelion" was that of a family which became extinct on the decease of John Daundelyon in 1445.

A brass to his memory is to be seen in the old parish church of Margate. The inscription on it describes him in English as "gentleman," the first use of that word it is said, on any existing monument. The family name was a corrupted form of " Dent-de-lion," i.e., "Lion's tooth," which no doubt was suggested by the tooth-like device in their armorial shield, in which three rampant lions are seen between a fess indented. A sculptured shield with this device is still to be seen on the gatehouse of Dandelion. This stately entrance is built of brick and stone in alternate courses, and presents an unusual and attractive laterally striped appearance; which may be compared with the yet more effective vertically striped face of the fine gateway of S. John's Abbey at Colchester, a work of the Perpendicular period in flint and stone.

The gates and gatehouses of the colleges of Oxfrod and Cambridge are interesting. Although they are chiefly decorative and dignified entrances rather than defences, there was always the possibility in olden times of " Town and Gown " rows, arising in the antagonisms between the University and the townspeople: in which strong gates that would protect the colleges were likely to prove useful. The great Christopher Wren gateway to Christ Church is the most notable of Oxford's gatehouses.

But if we wish to see collegiate gatehouses at their best it is to Cambridge we must go. There they are a very beautiful feature. The stately gatehouses of King's and Trinity, and the chief gatehouse of S. John's, are examples of the highest art, and constructed with very little thought of defence.

S. John's gatehouse, with its sculptured crowned rose and portcullis badges, proclaims its Tudor origin. Below these, the stonework is overspread with the flowers of the herb-daisy, or marguerite; an illusion to the foundress, the Lady Margaret, mother of Henry the Seventh.

The most interesting gates and gatehouse in Cambridge are, however, those of Caius College. This, formerly Gonville College, was re-founded in 1557 by the admirable Dr. John Key who, after the pedantic fashion of the age, Latinised his name to " Caius." He was a symbolist, and expressed his quaint ideas in the new buildings he reared. The students who entered his portals did so by the Gate of Humility, which had "Humilitas" engraved over it, and was appropriately enough, a quite humble entrance, although the chief and only one.

Fortifications of the seventeenth century at Portsmouth and Plymouth included citadels and gates. Those of Portsmouth have been removed, but Plymouth Citadel remains as ever. It is military architecture such as Vauban practised. Adornment was not despised, and thus the Citadel Gate of Plymouth, dated 1670, is a handsome structure, boldly sculptured with warlike trophies.


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Pictures for Historic Gates and Gatehouses

Lambeth Palace, London
Lambeth Palace, London >>>>
Entrance to Lincolns Inn and the Gateway to S. Bartholomews hospital
Entrance to Lincolns Inn and the Gateway to S. Bartholomews hospital >>>>
Traitors Gate and Middle Gate, Tower of London
Traitors Gate and Middle Gate, Tower of London >>>>
Traitors Gate and Middle Gate, Tower of London
Traitors Gate and Middle Gate, Tower of London >>>>
Cotlestone Manor and Ightham Mote: Gates at Iron Acton Court and St. Albans
Cotlestone Manor and Ightham Mote: Gates at Iron Acton Court and St. Albans >>>>
The Chain Gate to the Close, Wells Cathedral: West Gate at Winchester
The Chain Gate to the Close, Wells Cathedral: West Gate at Winchester >>>>
Entrance to Citadel, Plymouth: Lynns one remaining Gate
Entrance to Citadel, Plymouth: Lynns one remaining Gate >>>>
Entrance to Citadel, Plymouth: Lynns one remaining Gate
Entrance to Citadel, Plymouth: Lynns one remaining Gate >>>>
Walmgate, York, and Old Gate at Holdenby House
Walmgate, York, and Old Gate at Holdenby House >>>>
Walmgate, York, and Old Gate at Holdenby House
Walmgate, York, and Old Gate at Holdenby House >>>>
Priors Gate, Rochester, and the Gateway to Bristols Close
Priors Gate, Rochester, and the Gateway to Bristols Close >>>>
S. Anns Gate to the Close, Salisbury Cathedral
S. Anns Gate to the Close, Salisbury Cathedral >>>>
The West Gate, Canterbury
The West Gate, Canterbury >>>>
Gateway to the Vanished Abbey of S. John Baptist, Colchester
Gateway to the Vanished Abbey of S. John Baptist, Colchester >>>>
S. Clement Danes, where Dr. Johnson Worshipped
S. Clement Danes, where Dr. Johnson Worshipped >>>>

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