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History of the Barbican

  • Barbican Construction
    building Barbican

The name of the Barbican comes from the Low Latin word ‘Barbecana’ which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes.

Today the City of London has its own replica of a fortified gateway in Aldersgate Street.

The Barbican site is on the northern edge of what was once Roman Londinium and there are surviving examples of the old London Wall in the Barbican Estate making a fascinating link with the past.  The Wall as we see it today is, to a great extent, composed of Tudor bricks as it was a common practice of the time to use whatever foundations were available, rather than dig new ones each time another building was erected. Thus the city wall was put to good use long after its role in defending the City had ended.

The area of the Roman town was approximately 325 acres while in Saxon times the City incorporated a girdle of land outside the Wall which brought it up to 677 acres. This was the size of the City at the time of the Norman Conquest and it is more or less  the area coved by the City of London today.

The “Barbecanna”, mentioned before originated from this this period and was probably situated somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St. Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street.

By the 1850s the City was composed of high, dark buildings and narrow streets with inadequate breadth to accommodate the increased volume of horse drawn traffic that endeavoured to pass along them.  Above all, it was overcrowded; the population of the City was 1,287,000 and the number of people living in the parish of Cripplegate, the area now occupied by the Barbican, was 14,000. The Cripplegate area was, to a large extent, occupied by the ‘rag trade’ – which included anything from  the buying and selling of cloth to tailoring and dressmaking.