Geoffrey Chaucher, the 14th century father of English literary bawdiness, lived directly above the eastern gate of London’s city centre in his day job as a customs official.
The Ale-Gate – nothing to do with booze; in old English it means ‘free gate’ as the only toll-free entry point of the city – was built by the Romans to let travellers from the east end through their London Wall, parts of which can still be seen in nearby Barbican. The gate’s now long gone, but Aldgate remains a major part of the City with a capital ‘C’: dominated by insurance institutions and Norman Foster’s attractive Gherkin skyscraper, Aldgate falls within the eastern edge of the Square Mile, the self-governed city-within-a-city and the richest financial district in the world.
Business and history aren’t the only reasons to visit Aldgate, though there’s plenty of the latter to keep the visitor entertained. Jack the Ripper struck in nearby Mitre Square, and the Hoop & Grapes pub (47 Aldgate High Street, 0207 481 4583) is the only 17th century timber-framed building left in the City of London – the rest were swept up in the Great Fire of London, which miraculously stopped yards from this alehouse’s door. Now, it’s a snug traditional joint with home-cooked food and some great stories to tell.
Aldgate East stands at the southern end of Brick Lane and Banglatown, equally renowned for drippingly cool nightlife, creative street markets and the best curries in town – soak up the exotic smells and atmosphere with an evening’s stroll here and you’re sure to be persuaded to dine by one of the many persistent, though friendly, restaurant touts.
Also nearby is the world-famous fashion and clothing market at Petticoat Lane. Petticoat Lane Market is one of Britain's oldest running markets and is best visited on a Sunday when there can be up to 1000 stalls.
The Circle and Metropolitan Underground lines serve Aldgate, and Aldgate East – a five minute walk away – is on the Hammersmith & City and District lines, both ten minutes from King’s Cross.