The street has a fascinating history. John Strype’s 1603 History of London dates the street back to a hospital founded in the reign of Edward I, and given as a monastery house for the Brotherhood of St. Giles by Henry V. There were also almshouses founded by a former Mayor of London, Sir John Gresham.
By the 19th century the street was more residential. In David Hughson’s 1806 History and Description of London it was described as “noble, wide, and well built, inhabited by persons of property.”
One of them, a Samuel Baylis of Whitecross Street, was a founder member of the Radical Club, a fore-runner of the Liberal Party, along such famous names as Daniel O’Connell, Joseph Hume, Francis Place and Sir William Molesworth.
The Guildhall Library’s print collection shows some of the fine buildings on the street, including the Lord Mayor’s stables, Lady Holles’s School House, the Great Northern Railway Goods Depot, and the City Weights and Measures Office. For most of the 19th century the street was best known for the debtor’s prison.
Like much of the area, parts of Whitecross Street were firebombed in the December 1940 blitz. And the southern end has since been transformed by the post-war developments of the Whitbread estate and the Barbican.
In recent years, the street has had a makeover with new lighting and paving. Now the revived market and the great mix of shops, from grocers to galleries, serve a very diverse neighbourhood in Bunhill ward.
One blot on the west side of the street is a run of empty properties opposite the Peabody estate. They have shop units on the ground floor and potential for housing above; the run of shops previously included cafes, a nail salon, and a record shop, but now they are just a semi-derelict eyesore.
Now the local regeneration project EC1 NewDeal and the Council are proposing to take over the properties with a compulsory purchase order, and plan to sell them on to a housing association; and if that isn’t possible, to sell them to a private developer. The Council may actually lose money on such a deal given falling property prices and all the legal costs involved in a CPO; so the partnership with EC1 NewDeal could make all the difference.