The word “gate” derives from the Norse word “gata” which means road or path. Although the word and function is neither pretty nor exciting, especially when compared to the significance bestowed on decorative and lavish gateways utilised in Asian cultures, the history of British gates can still reveal something of our national character.
Downing Street Gates: Power to the People
Sir George Downing had been a soldier under Oliver Cromwell though later served as a diplomat for Charles II. Over the course of his life he accrued considerable wealth and property and in 1680 built a street with a row of townhouses that was named after him. In one form or another, 10 Downing Street has provided the UK with an official residence for the de facto British Prime Minister since 1735. However, it was not until 1920 that the first barriers were erected on the street. Initially the barriers were intended for public safety during the unveiling of the Cenotaph. Post-war anarchism and the “Irish problem” were also major concerns at this time and protests were becoming increasingly violent. Therefore it was decided that these wooden barriers should be retained and fortified. With the creation of the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) in 1922 the barriers were taken down again. Police calls for increased security in the mid-1970s were dismissed by PM Harold Wilson who saw it as an Englishman’s right to be able to wander up to Number 10 and take a photograph. Public unrest in the 1980s saw the imposition of black steel gates that became permanent in 1989. Interestingly, there is still a public right of way along Downing Street, although in practice access is mediated by common law powers to protect the peace.
Cheshire’s Golden Gates: Royal Hand-Me-Downs
Warrington Town Hall is bordered by intricate black and gold wrought iron gates. This Cheshire provincial town may have provided a home for this expertly made fortification for over 100-years but it was not their first home. This elaborate iron construction was originally made for the Great London Exhibition of 1862. The exhibition was a world’s fair with contributions from 36 countries, featuring 28,000 exhibitions across 21 acres in South Kensington. Warrington’s “Golden Gates” were initially intended for Sandringham Palace; however, Queen Victoria ultimately rejected them. Stories suggest that in the main exhibition hall the gates had been placed near a statue of Oliver Cromwell. The infamous republican who had founded a “commonwealth of England” had once signed a death warrant for King Charles I – one of Victoria’s ancestors. Consequently the unfortunate gates were left without a home to guard until they were presented to the town of Warrington in 1895. The gates were ultimately endowed with their golden highlights in 1977 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II – the great-great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Surprisingly, the Warrington Town Hall gates are not the only wrought iron gates in Cheshire to earn the epithet “golden gates”. Eaton Hall’s Golden Gates, which date from the 18th century, have been designated as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage. This impressive structure incorporates mythical beasts like griffins and phoenixes meant to protect the country house of the Duke of Westminster.
Buckingham Palace Gates: Brits certainly will Wave at Anything
Buckingham Palace’s lavish main gates are only actually used on ceremonial occasions; it is typically the smaller northern gates at the right-hand corner that are used for day-to-day access. As with other things, protection and security seems to be a peculiarly 20th century concern. Buckingham House was built in 1705 and bought by George III (yes, the mad one) in 1761 as a private residence for his wife. In the 19th century it was enlarged and first became the official royal residence for Queen Victoria in 1837. In 1911, a number of major additions and changes were made to the public-facing façade. Firstly, a memorial was erected for Queen Victoria (who had died in 1901 whilst gilded railings and iron gates were also erected at this time; then the red tarmac was laid on the forecourt which is meant to represent the image of a red carpet and then finally the famous balcony where royals wave to the nation was added. All of these extensive additions and changes were completed in 1913. For the original Edwardian audience, the structure still had to assume its iconic status and therefore these changes drew in vast crowds who came to admire and touch the thrusting displays of iron might represented in the sturdy gate-work.
Ian Appleton is a writer who understands the beauty, power, might and protection that iron gates can offer your property. He suggests that if you are looking for wrought iron gates, Cheshire experts can help you to find reputable suppliers to suit your needs.