Five City BIDs support the Fair

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The Spirit of the City

As Bartholomew Fair comes back to the City of London after a 168-year hiatus, the City’s five business improvement districts (BIDS) play host to some of the event’s most spectacular performances. The BIDs are Aldgate Connect, Cheapside Business Alliance, Culture Mile BID, EC BID and Fleet Street Quarter.

On the 24th August 1133, the first Bartholomew Fair opened in Smithfield with a charter from Henry I enabling the Priory of St Bartholomew to raise funds for what became St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Initially focused on cloth trading, with wool being key to England’s economy in the Middle Ages, it quickly became London’s, and England’s, most prominent and infamous fair.

Drapers were joined by acrobats, puppeteers, musicians, theatre booths, food stalls and even wild animals. The atmosphere was that of a carnival – celebratory, entertaining, rowdy and riotous. By 1855, the authorities decided that the Fair was a threat to moral order and it was cancelled.

This year St Bartholomew the Great and Barts Hospital celebrate their 900th anniversary, and the City of London Corporation is bringing back Bartholomew Fair as part of its Destination City programme, which sets out a vision for the Square Mile to become a world- leading leisure destination for UK and international visitors, workers, and residents to enjoy. For three weeks in September five areas, including the original site of the Fair, will host more than 30 free events, live performances and unique spectacles.

Aldgate was one of the five original gates providing passage through London Wall into the City. The wall’s origins can be traced as far back as AD 100, and Aldgate is widely believed to have been the oldest gate, providing out-of-London access to Colchester, the first capital of Roman Britain.

Throughout the centuries, Aldgate became home to immigrants. A Jewish community was established in the 12th century, which led to the building of London’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks, in 1698, while German immigrants, who largely ran the local sugar refining industry, founded the UK’s oldest surviving German-built church, St George, in 1762.

Today the wide variety of cuisines in local restaurants reflect the diverse history of the area. Its historic buildings include two that survived the Great Fire of London – the church of St Botolph’s and the Hoop & Grapes, built in 1593 and the oldest licensed house in the City of London.

The Cathedral completed in 1710, remains a symbol of London, an icon immediately associated with the City’s skyline. The view of St Paul’s is protected in law through a policy called ‘St Paul’s Heights’, which ensures that the view of the cathedral from various points across the capital is unimpeded.

Centuries ago, nearby Ludgate Hill was the site for one of four gates to the original Roman wall around the City. It later housed a debtor’s prison, and was finally demolished in 1760.

Today Paternoster Square and Carter Lane offer exciting places to eat and drink and historic streets to explore. Why not pop to One New Change for a spot of shopping and a selfie?

Smithfield, and the aptly named Cloth Fair, were where Bartholomew Fair was born, and where the event would be formally opened by the Lord Mayor every year. As the event grew from cloth fair to a carnival-like event known for its artists and musicians, it is no wonder the area has evolved into what is today known as the Culture Mile.

With local institutions ranging from hidden treasures such as St Bartholomew The Great, London’s oldest surviving church, as well as global icons like Barbican and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the area is the cultural hub of the City of London. The Museum of London’s planned move to West Smithfield in 2026 will see it establish itself in one of London’s most historic and creative quarters.

Beyond culture, Smithfield’s history is also rooted in trading, with the area having been the home of a meat market for almost a thousand years. Today, London Central Markets as it is officially known, is one of the largest wholesale meat markets in Europe.

The Eastern City might be known as a financial district today, but in Roman times, the area was at the heart of London life. In fact, modern-day Leadenhall Market is built on the remains of the Forum and Basilica, the market and courts. The Basilica, the most important civic building in a Roman town, was in London the largest outside Italy. By 1600, the market had become a major hub for local life, full of activity and packed with people coming to buy their poultry, grain, eggs, butter, wool and leather.

In the 19th century, the raucous atmosphere of the market became incompatible with modern life, and Sir Horace Jones was commissioned to design a ‘respectable arcade’ for the poultry market.

While Leadenhall Market is today home to shops, bars and restaurants – and a local favourite to have a drink and a bite to eat with friends – the preserved medieval street plan gives visitors a real taste of what London would once have been like.

    From being the home of senior clergy in the Middle Ages, to the hub of the printing and publishing industry, and on to becoming synonymous with journalism in the 20th century and today a global centre for legal services, Fleet Street has always played a key part in London and the City.

    An important route since Roman times, Fleet Street connects the cities of Westminster and London, and the area’s maze of winding streets have welcomed some of the most famous names in English literature, from William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson to Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, it’s believed that the only surviving letter addressed to Shakespeare was written in Carter Lane in 1598, by Richard Quiney, a mercer and alderman from Stratford-upon-Avon, requiring the Bard’s assistance in raising £30.

    The quarter is well worth a visit to enjoy the old- fashioned street names such as Knightrider Street, Turnagain Lane and Hanging Sword Alley, and of course some of the City’s most historical pubs.

    TALKING OF PUBS… the Hand and Shears in Cloth Fair (1532) is where the ceremony of cutting a ribbon to open an event began, and from whose doorway the Lord Mayor welcomed Bartholomew Fair for many years.