Of the Ancient Town-Ditch. 12

Of the Ancient Town-Ditch.

Richard I. made a great Ditch round about the Tower, for the better Defence of it against John the King's Brother, the King being then out of the Realm. Then did the City also begin a Ditch to encompass and strengthen their Walls [which happened between the Years 1190 and 1193.] So the Book Dunthorn. Yet the Register of Bermondsey writes, that the Ditch was begun, Oct. 15. 1213, which was in the Reign of King John that succeeded to Richard. It seems the Citizens desisted from the Work of the Ditch for some time, till now, when they began again, and carried it on to its Perfection.]

This Ditch being originally made for the Defence of the City, was also a long time together carefully cleansed and maintained, as need required; but now of late neglected, and forced either to a very narrow, and the same a filthy Channel; or altogether stopped up for Gardens planted, and Houses builded thereon, even to the very Wall, and in many Places upon both Ditch and Wall Houses are builded; to what danger of the City I leave to wiser Consideration; and can but wish that Reformation might be had.

Now turned into Gardens or Houses.

In the Year of Christ, 1354, 28. Ed. 3. the Ditch of this City flowing over the Bank into the Tower-ditch, the King commanded the said Ditch of the City to be cleansed, and so ordered, that the overflowing thereof should not force any Filth into the Tower-ditch.

Ditch of the City oveflowed the Bank into the Tower-Ditch.

Anno 1379, John Philpot, Maior of London, caused this Ditch to be cleansed, and every Houshold to pay 5d. which was for a Days Work toward the Charges thereof. Richard 2. in the 10th of his Reign, granted a Toll to be taken of Wares sold by Water or by Land for 10 Years, towards repairing of the Wall, and cleansing the Ditch.


Thomas Fawconer, Maior, 1414, caused the Ditch to be cleansed.

Ralph Joseline, Maior, 1477, caused the whole Ditch to be cast and cleansed. And so from time to time it was cleansed and otherwise reformed. Namely, in 1519, the 10th of Henry 8. for cleansing and scowring the common Ditch, between Aeldgate, and the Postern next the Tower-ditch; the chief Ditcher had by the Day 7d, the Second Ditcher 6d, the other Ditchers 5d. And every Vagabond (for so were they then termed) 1d. the Day, Meat and Drink, at the Charges of the City.

Sum 95l. 3s. 4d.

In my remembrance also the same was cleansed namely the Moore-ditch, when Sir William Hollies was Maior, in the Year 1540. And not long before from the Tower of London to Ealgate.

It was again cleansed in the Year 1549, Henry Amcotes being Maior, at the Charges of the Companies. And again 1569, the 11th of Queen Elizabeth, for cleansing the same Ditch between Ealdgate and the Postern, and making a new Sewer and Wharf of Timber, from the Head of the Postern into the Town-ditch, 814l, 15s. 8d. Before the which time the said Ditch lay open, without either Wall or Pall, having therein great Store of very good Fish, of divers Sorts, as many Men yet living, who have taken and tasted them, can well witness. But now no such Matter, the Charge of Cleansing is spared, and great Profit made by letting out the Banks, with the Spoil of the whole Ditch.

Plenty of good Fish in Town-Ditch.

I am not ignorant of two Fifteens granted by a Common Council in the Year 1595, for the Reformation of this Ditch, and that a small Portion thereof, to wit, between Bishopsgate and the Postern called Mooregate, was cleansed, and made somewhat broader than it was before; but filling again very fast, by reason of over-raising the Ground near adjoining, therefore never the better: And I will so leave it; for I cannot help it.

As for other Ditches and common Sewers of the City, Sir Leonard Halliday, Maior, An. 1606. laboured much for a River to be brought on the North of the City into it, for the cleansing the Sewers and Ditches; for the better keeping London Wholsome, Sweet, and Clean. Sir John Watts, the next Maior, seconded this good Endeavour of Halliday. And one Nicholas Leate, a Worthy and Grave Citizen, was very painful, and industrious in the Furtherance of this Work, and the like thereunto.

Ditches and Common-Sewers to be kept clean.

J. S.

And the City had in this Year 1606, well cleansed their Ditches and common Sewers. And Floodgates were made in Holborn-ditch and Fleet-ditch.]

Nothing of this Town-ditch remaineth at this Day, but that Part of it called Fleet-ditch, which of late Years, since the Conflagration of this City in MDCLXVI, by the Order of the Maior and Court of Aldermen, was cleaned, enlarged, and made deep enough for Barges to come up as far as Holborn-bridge by the Benefit of the Tides. The Sides were built of Free-Stone, with Ware-houses on each Side, which run under the Street, designed to be made use of for laying in of Coals and such like Commodities, which would have proved an Advantage to the City, by the Revenue arising thereby, but that Project did not take. This Ditch was Built and Made by Sir Thomas Fitch, Bricklayer, who contracted with the City for doing the same for a very considerable Sum of Money, and enriched himself thereby.]

Fleet-ditch made convenient for Barges.

R. B.

Sir Thomas Fitch the Undertaker.

Here on the Fleet-channel is appointed a Market for Meal for the use of the City. To this Meal-Market belongs also certain Tolls, Duties, and Profits, which is the Cities Benefit. And the Committee for letting the Cities Lands sat in the Council-Chamber in Guildhall some part of October and November, Anno, 1705, for letting to Farm the said Tolls and Duties, together with the House fronting the said Market.]

Meal-Market by Fleet-Ditch.

J. S.

At this Day there be no Ditches or Boggs in the City except the said Fleet-ditch, but instead thereof large common Dreins and Sewers, made to carry away the Water from the Postern-Gate, between the two Tower-hills to Fleet-bridge, without Ludgate. And the Ditch being thus filled up, many of the City-Tenants, whose Ground buts upon the Wall on either Side, have made bold to trespass upon the same Wall and Ditch by Building there; or inclosing for Yards; notwithstanding 16 Foot on either Side the Wall is (or should be) reserved for the City, for their Workmen, or others, to enter, view, and repair the said Wall. But these Encroachments are so many, that it is no easy Matter to find any Part of that Wall round the City, that is not thus encroached upon. This being of late taken into Consideration by the Committee appointed for the letting of the City and Bridge-house Lands, and to insepct the same, did order a Survey of all the City-Walls on both Sides, and of all Encroachments of what Kind soever, and by whom made. Which Survey was accordingly taken by Mr. Leybourn, and fairly Engrossed in a Vellum-Book, and delivered in to the Magistrates in the Guildhall, where it remaineth; in which Book are the Names both of the City-Tenants occupying the same, and the Number of Feet by them encroached upon the said Wall or Ditch, or within 16 Foot on either Side, save that whosoever takes a Lease of any of the City- Lands, that abut upon the Walls on either Side, shall pay a Rent answerable to the Improvement that the said Encroachment shall be thought worth. Notwithstanding these Encroachments, made by private Persons for their particular Conveniencies,

Sewers or Dreins made to carry the Filth.

R. B.


Mr. Leybourn Surveyor.

A Survey of the Encroachments upon the Wall, made and delivered into the Guild hall.