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Sunday, 18th May 2008
Doors of perception

C ity, or indeed, town walls

meant you needed, city gates, and lets face it town gates.

Now the growth of these towns and cities has meant the surviving gates are usually marooned without real purpose somewhere in the centre of the modern metropolis.

At times presenting plenty of problems to town planners and motorist alike. Survivors from a troubled past they stand guard over the towns memories. Originally they were built for eternity but within a few short centuries they existed in a world that was unimaginable to their creators.

City walls was a very common method of keeping outsiders just that, outside and the functional aspect of the structures meant they were kept in good order. Little point in having city walls and gates the consistency of swiss cheese but there was a troubled period for these structures and many disappeared as Britain became a safer place to be and population growth meant cities burst their confines without need to exist within walls.

...a useful source of good quality stone for the making of properties.

Previous walls and structures becoming a useful source of good quality stone for the making of properties. Often now the only remnant of a gate is in a district name or perhaps street name such as East Gate Street.

Celebrated Gateways is a set Churchman should have done first but it was actually Players that produced the set in 1909 (Churchman did produce the set in 1925 as it happens).

Effectively the Players and Churchmans sets are one and the same. The Players is 16 years older and actually more aggressively priced so a case of having your cake and eating it. The cards are high quality, as you can expect from the early pre-war period of card production.

The fact that many of the gates had disappeared or at least fell into disrepair a good time before the set was produced most of the cards were illustrations of what the gates looked like a little earlier. For example, card 2, Water Fate, Exeter in 1822 runs the title.

Given the fact the only way into places was through the gateways it is inevitable they gather all manner of historical significance as the years toil by and Kings and Queens enter the cities along with all manner of nobility.

Card 2 of the series shows some early industrial espionage in a world where people were less concerned about high ranking on search engines. Water Gate, Exeter. The gate stood command over the quay from which ships loaded and unloaded.

This worked well until 1313 when the Earl of Devon rather felt the need for a bit of wealth redistribution was in order. To affect this he filled the navigation with earth and sand which effectively put the quay out of action.

This would not have been much use to man nor beast but for the fact the Earl happened to have the next nearest quay at Topsham.

...The gate in the card is called The Water Gate which is a nice variation..

The card notes the obstruction caused was never entirely removed which suggests quite an undertaken.

The gate in the card is called The Water Gate which is a nice variation.

When you think of gates now, you are not thinking of gates then. Card 4 illustrates this. It is St John's Gate, Clerkenwell. The Knights of St John have a long tradition dating back to 1100 in the area but only the gate remained once the priory once there.

The room above the gate (and how many gates have rooms above them now) is associated with Richard III, Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth (first obviously) and the card also suggests it was where Dr Johnson wrote for many years.

Although gates date to way back when (actually card 21, St John's Arch, Bristol gives the start date of fortifications the Norman period) they still had use enough in more recent times.

Temple Gate, Bristol (card 5) was actually rebuilt in the 18th century. It represented the main entry and exit point to Bristol. It was removed in 1810.

In the modern world you can barely imagine the destruction of such items but that is modern Britain, the olde worlde theme park for you. Live in the wrong area now and you cannot improve on Victorian sash windows if it is 'not in keeping' but go back a few years and the destruction of massive fortifications would be done with a crowd cheering as the obstruction was removed.

Ludgate illustrated on card 18 suffered the same fate in 1760. It was said to have been constructed by King Lud in 66 BC but I think we can take that with a pinch of salt (perhaps two). It had been rebuilt a couple of times since that point, the last time being 1586.

Canterbury was a pretty important place of pilgrimage and as such had no less than seven gates all of which survived until relatively recently. The card shows Wincheap Gate in 1755 (by 1770 it had been demolished). was not exactly an old structure when it was pulled down.

It had probably been built by James I, so it was not exactly an old structure when it was pulled down. On the outer face was inscribed the word 'Welcome' and on the inner face, 'Farewell!' Neatly summing up the purpose of the structure.

Card 11 shows the West Gate, Canterbury and a busy place this would have been as it is the entrance for the pilgrims that came from London. Built in 1380 it is on the site of an earlier Norman Gate and is the only surviving gate of the seven. The chamber over the gate was long used as a prison chamber.

Bishopsgate, London (card 23) was probably built in the 7th century and restored during the reign of the Conqueror. Rebuilt several times the last time it was erected was 1731. It didn't last long in that guise as it was taken down in 1770, which seems like a bit of busy work given the amount of time it took to build such massive structures.

Newgate, London is card 17 and you will not be surprised to hear it was used as a gaol as early as 1190. It stood guard of the Western end of the Capital and was Roman in origin.

Wat Tyler took offence to the gate and its purpose and a good deal of damage was done to it during the rebellion of 1381. It was rebuilt but it again was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. However it had not outlived its usefulness by that stage and was again rebuilt only to be finally demolished in about 1770.

Yarmouth gate

Building a wall around a city could be likened to the cold wars of the modern era. In the good old days you did not need foreigners from across the water to cause you trouble you only needed another Baron just down the road to have designs on a bit of expansion.

Kings of England were prone to having more than a little trouble with Barons which could be actually be wealthier and more powerful than the Throne. The building of walls was not therefore allowed to go on unabated a point illustrated by card 7. It shows the South Gate, Yarmouth in 1792.

The original fortification dating from about 1260 when Henry III allowed the inhabitants to build walls and make a moat around the town.

Being a coastal town the walls took on other significance as time rolled on and the walls were strengthened in 1545 and again during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (I).

Walls is walls as they say and doors is doors and they have the same function today as they had then and for many the final action they saw was the English Civil War.

Many towns and cities sealed themselves off from attackers and in towns like Colchester the occupants were basically starved out just like the good old days of medieval warfare. They reckoned when the gates were finally opened there was not a dog cat or rat left in the town.

Card 19 shows Walmgate Bar, York. Dating from the time of Edward I, the barbican was built by Edward III and during the siege of York in the English Civil War it was much damaged by canon.

Despite this damage the gate is the only one left in England which retains its barbican and portcullis. older structure, which you have to accept is pretty darn old...

Whilst on the subject of unique card 24 shows Newport Gate, Lincoln which claims to be the only existing Roman city gate in England.

It was probably rebuilt by the Romans on the site of an older structure, which you have to accept is pretty darn old. The arch being about 16 feet in diameter and 14 feet above the ground.

Having said trouble is just as likely (in fact probably more likely) to come from your fellow countrymen than any outside influence, card 8 is South Gate, Exeter. Built by Athelstan they were destroyed by the Danes in 1003 but rebuilt.

Originally the card notes the city had 5 (or possible 6) gates and the South Gate was the most massive. So impressive that it had its own fortifications in the form of a ditch which had to be crossed by a bridge.

However all this became a problem to traffic in 1819 and the thing was demolished.

Bridges generally appear at natural crossing point unless someone is being peverse and as such represent the obvious was point of exit and entry and therefore a place where much fortification is needed.

Old London Bridge had a gate guarding it at both ends. Card 16 shows Bridgegate but the reason it is getting a mention now is because during the reign of Elizabeth (I) the bridge was decorated by the heads of many a criminal. How unpleasant would that be and obviously put there so the maximum number of people would pass by them.


Pretty grisly but it does remind you gates played something of a pro-active role in the defence of a town, they did not just stand there letting the attackers throw whatever they had at them until they grew tired and went home.

Card 9 shows us West Gate, Winchester. The machicolations (that is the word they use on the cards and don't you just love it when everything has its own word and it gets used) were wide enough to allow the passage of large stones so the defenders could drop them on the heads of the attackers.

Obviously it goes without saying arrow slits were in plenty of evidence and there was a good chance boiling liquid would be poured on your head as an attacker if you got a little over ambitious in your attacking. Given this sitting about and hoping to starve the occupants out would be my idea of good tactics.

So there you have it a brief look at a great set of cards. It is actually quite a favourite of mine for its unusual subject matter, which I happen to find interesting and the general quality of the set. But I expect you grow tired of me telling you a set of cards is something of a favourite.