As you can see, we’ve got a couple of big beasts to tackle on today’s expedition; the Central Criminal Court (commonly known as the Old Bailey) and Christopher Wren’s crowning glory and tourist beehive. In between and after these diversions we’re wandering the streets that fill the space bounded by Newgate Street to the north and (just about) the River Thames to the south.
An unusually early start today as I’d booked myself on something called the Old Bailey Insight tour meeting at the Viaduct Tavern, opposite the courts on Newgate Street, at 9.15. The Viaduct Tavern is another of the Gin Palaces that sprang up in Victorian times and dates back to 1869, when Newgate Prison was still standing. It is claimed, though not fully substantiated, that the cellar of the pub contains five cells that are all that remain of Newgate after its demolition in 1902. An alternative explanation posits that these were actually once part of Giltspur Compter, a debtors’ prison that occupied this site between 1791 and 1853. Either way they may make you more appreciative of your next stopover at a Travelodge.
The tour costs £10 and for this you get twenty minutes of facts and anecdotes (mostly about executions) from the guide plus a look at the disputed “cells” in the basement and instructions on how to get into the public galleries at the Old Bailey with a printed list of the day’s trials. Not exactly bargain of the month even with coffee and croissants thrown in. Among the more interesting snippets of information were the facts that trials at the Old Bailey cost an average of around £150 a minute to run and that there is still a shard of glass embedded in one of the internal walls as a memento of the IRA car bomb of 1973 that shattered all the windows.
The Old Bailey gets its vernacular name from the street on which it stands, Old Bailey, itself named after the fortified City Wall also known as “bailey”. The court has been around since 1673 when it was sited next to Newgate Prison and has been rebuilt several times. The current building, designed in the neo-Baroque style, by E.W. Mountford, was opened in 1907. The 67 foot high dome is topped with the 12 foot tall gold leaf statue of Lady of Justice”, sword in one hand, scales of justice in the other. However, she is not, as is conventional with such figures, blindfolded. Over the main entrance to the building figures were placed representing fortitude, the recording angel, and truth, along with the carved inscription, “defend the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer”. A new extension was added in 1972 (just in time to have all its windows blown out).
Strangely enough, the only other time I’ve been to sit in on a trial at the Old Bailey was in 1973 during a school trip up from High Wycombe when I was 14 (the youngest age at which you’re allowed in nowadays). So that must have been just a few months after the IRA bombing yet I don’t have any recollection of particularly stringent security at the time. Now you can only get in if you practically strip down to your underwear. Mobile phones are a definite no-no so that had to be left at the pub. As it transpired I was the only spectator in the gallery for the trial I picked out, a terrorist charge. After about 45 minutes discussing whether or not it’s possible to recover deleted text messages from an I-phone they took a break and I took the opportunity to leave.
Begin by heading west along Holborn Viaduct to the bridge which gives that street its name. This was built between 1863 and 1869, spanning the River Fleet valley, at a cost of £2m. In fact it was the most ambitious and costly road improvement project in London during the 19th century, masterminded by engineer William Haywood. There are four so-called step-buildings at the corners of the viaduct which house steps down to Farringdon Street below. The figures on the front of the step-buildings are representations of important Londoners, including Sir William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London best known for having dispatched Wat Tyler to end the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (see Day 39).
At the ends of the viaduct there are four winged lions, each with its left paw resting on a small globe. These were created by Farmer & Brindley, as were the two female statues on the north side, representing Science and Fine Arts. The figures on the south side, representing Commerce and Agriculture, are by Henry Bursill. The distinctive rich red cast-iron work of the arches and railings presages the ornate qualities of the Art Nouveau movement still decades away.
We descend the steps down to the east side of Farringdon Street and then proceed south towards Ludgate Circus, ducking in and out of Newcastle Court, Bear Alley and Old Fleet Lane en route. Just before the Circus we turn left down Old Seacoal Lane which leads into Limeburner Lane. Keep left here and then circle round Fleet Place, Fleet Passage and Bishop’s Court to return to Old Bailey. Next we drop all the way back down Limeburner Lane to Ludgate Hill. A short way up the hill going east is the church of St Martin’s-within-Ludgate, another one which has followed the Medieval foundation, Great Fire destruction, Christopher Wren rebuilding trajectory. Opposite the church was the site of the Ludgate, the westernmost gate of London Wall which, like all the others, was demolished in 1760.
Turning back up Old Bailey for the final time we then nip through Warwick Passage (where the entrance to the public galleries for the majority of the 18 courts can be found) to Warwick Lane.
Turning the corner we find the first of three more Livery Company Halls to be encountered on today’s route. This one belongs to the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, craftsmen originally involved in the production of knives, swords and other implements with a cutting edge. Over the course of time the trade evolved away from instruments of war towards more domestic wares such as razors and scissors. The Cutlers received their first Royal Charter from Henry V in 1416 and they sit at no.18 in the Order of Precedence. The current hall dates from 1888 and the terracotta frieze on the outside wall, depicting cutlers working at their craft, is by the Sheffield sculptor Benjamin Cresswick (1853 – 1946).
Turning south we pass Amen Court which was once home to the scribes and minor canons of St Paul’s cathedral, but is more famous now for a reputation as one of the most haunted parts of the Square Mile. A large wall on the site is one of the only remnants of Newgate prison and behind that wall is the narrow passage known as Deadman’s Walk, along which condemned prisoners were taken to their executions.
A few steps further on and as Warwick Lane mysteriously transforms into Ave Maria Lane we reach Amen Corner. Sadly this was not the inspiration for the naming of the popular 1960’s beat combo.
On the other side of the Sassoon hair salon we enter Stationers’ Court which is where we find the second Livery Company Hall, that of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers whose current 900 members work in the paper, print, publishing, packaging, office products and newspaper industries. At the outset of the 15th century London’s formerly itinerant manuscript writers and illustrators decided to set up stalls or ‘stations’ around St Paul’s Cathedral and because of this they were given the nickname ‘Stationers’ which in turn became the name for the guild they established in 1403. The hall itself was completed in 1673 and it’s one of the few Livery Halls rebuilt just after the Great Fire that have survived into the present. Both the hall and its accompanying garden do a roaring trade in corporate and private entertaining. Only number 47 in the OOP however.
Come back out onto Ludgate Hill and turn east, proceeding past the north side of St Paul’s along Paternoster Row. In times past, on the feastday of Corpus Christi, monks would say prayers in a procession round the Cathedral. They would set off from Paternoster Row chanting the Lord’s Prayer (Pater noster… being the opening line in Latin) and they would reach the final ‘amen’ as they turned the corner in Ave Maria Lane; hence Amen Corner. Immediately opposite the north flank of the cathedral is the Grade II listed Chapter House which was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren and his son in 1715.
At the end of Paternoster Row we circle up past St Paul’s tube station and then duck in and out of Panyer Alley, Queen’s Head Passage and Rose Street to arrive in Paternoster Square, where I spent the last 12 years of my working life. This area was more or less completely obliterated during the Blitz and the initial reconstruction undertaken in the 1960’s was widely regarded as disastrous; a “monstrous carbuncle” sited embarrassingly close to one of the capital’s primary tourist attractions. A new redevelopment plan was finally agreed in 1996 and work completed 7 years later. While not to everyone’s taste, the architecture is at least more sympathetic to its historical context (and Prince Charles was happy with it). The main monument on the square is the 75ft tall Paternoster Square Column ( less prosaically also known as the Flaming Orb monument), a Corinthian column of Portland stone topped by a gold-leaf covered flaming copper urn illuminated by fibre-optic lighting at night. The square’s most famous resident is the London Stock Exchange though to some it is better known for the Paternoster Chop House, the restaurant used by Channel 4 as the meeting place in its First Dates programme.
We leave via the southern entrance to the square beneath the Temple Bar. This was returned to the capital and erected here in 2004 having languished for 125 years in a clearing on the Hertfordshire estate of the brewer Henry Meux. As we learnt a few posts ago, it originally stood where Fleet Street meets the Strand, near to the Temple Church. That was in the 14th to 16th centuries. It was then rebuilt after the Great Fire under commission from King Charles II. The work is attributed to that man Sir Christopher Wren again (how did he ever find the time to sleep). The statues of Anne of Denmark, James l, Charles I, and Charles II, in niches in the upper floor were carved by John Bushnell. However, by the late 19th century it had become a serious impediment to the flow of horse and cart traffic in the city and the City of London Corporation had it dismantled (whereafter it was bought by the aforementioned Henry Meux).
And so, after much preamble, to St Paul’s Cathedral itself. I could write about Wren’s masterpiece almost ad infinitum of course but I’ll keep it fairly brief and just encourage you to visit yourself, especially if you never have. Clutching my £16 online ticket, I join the line of tourists outside the west entrance. (If you do gift aid this ticket actually allows you to visit as many times as you want over the next 12 months). According to my 1930’s guidebook back then it cost 6d (2.5p) for admission that took you as far as the Stone Gallery and then 1s (5p) to get to the Golden Gallery. In those days you could also go right up to the Golden Ball on top of the dome for a further shilling. Today’s entry price includes all areas that are open and an audio-guide.
The present cathedral is at least the third to occupy this site and is actually somewhat smaller than its immediate predecessor which was burnt down in the Great Fire. Two years after the fire Christopher Wren was commissioned to design the replacement but it wasn’t until 1697 that the first service was held in the new cathedral. Incidentally, you’re not supposed to take photographs inside St Paul’s but it took me a while to cotton on to that.
Once you’ve explored the Nave, looked up into the Dome and watched the Bill Viola video installations at the end of the two Quire Aisles it’s 257 steps up to the Whispering Gallery where you can hear a myriad of foreign tongues echoing round the perimeter. Another 119 steps will take you up to the Stone Gallery (at the base of the Dome). Unfortunately, you can’t do a full circuit here at the moment because of renovation work but you do still have good views to west and the south and the east. Because I’m rubbish with heights and pretty knackered already I wimp out of climbing the additional 152 steps to the Golden Gallery (which runs round the top of the dome).
Once you’ve made your way back down the exit is via the Crypt which contains the tombs of Christopher Wren (naturally), Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington as well as memorials to William Blake and Florence Nightingale amongst others.
Once outside again, we swing east through the churchyard past the column mounted with a gilded statue of St Paul which commemorates the public preaching of the Christian gospel in this location.
Then we move round to the gardens on the south side of the cathedral, a popular spot for wedding photographs and, appropriately, home to George Ehrlich’s sculpture The Young Lovers.
Next we turn south away from St Paul’s heading towards the Millennium Bridge down Sermon Lane/Peter’s Hill, looking back for one final shot of the cathedral.
Turn toward the east along Distaff Lane then loop round into Queen Victoria Street and back to Peter’s Hill. Continue south skirting the ramp up to the bridge and at the river’s edge turn left along Paul’s Walk. Very quickly head away from the Thames via Trig Lane, Broken Wharf and High Timber Street, with nods to Gardeners Lane and Stew Lane (both dead ends with no access to the river). Then we have to cross the two-lane high way that is Upper Thames Street, effected via Fyefoot Lane, a name wasted on what is essentially just a footbridge. From the other side we cut through to Queen Victoria Street turn westward and then roll back down Lambeth Hill at the bottom of which sits Saint Mary Somerset Tower. This is another one of the 51 churches rebuilt by you-know-who but the tower is all that remains now, the body of the church having been demolished in 1871. Before the Second World War the tower was used as a women’s rest room. Today there is talk of it being refurbished and extended to create a private residence but I saw little evidence of this.
Turn west next into Castle Baynard Street which these days is basically a cycle route that runs parallel with Upper Thames Street. Baynard’s Castle was originally a Norman fortification sited near the river here and then in the 15th century reconstructed on adjacent land. According to Shakespeare’s Richard III the infamous usurper assumed the title of King at Castle Baynard.
At the end of the underpass turn north up Bennet’s Hill past the City of London School and St Benets Metropolitan Welsh Church onto Queen Victoria Street again. On the north side of the street is the College of Arms, the official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and much of the Commonwealth founded in 1484. So this is the place you need to apply to if you’re looking to create your own coat-of-arms; unless you’re in Scotland, which has a separate heraldic executive, where you’d need to approach someone called the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The Officers of Arms who make up the College of Arms are all classified as Heralds in Ordinary but are titled as either Kings of Arms, Heralds or Pursuivants. All Heralds in Ordinary are members of the Royal Household and appointed either directly by the Sovereign or on the recommendation of the Duke of Norfolk. They receive yearly salaries from the Crown – Garter King of Arms £49.07, the two provincial Kings of Arms £20.25, the six heralds £17.80, and the four pursuivants £13.95. At the present time the posts of Rouge Dragon Pursuivant and Bluemantle Pursuivant are both vacant. If her majesty is reading this I’d be happy enough to be either of those for nowt.
The college building dates from the 1670s.
Proceed northwards next up Godliman Street then cut a right into Knightrider Street, nothing to do with the cult 1980’s TV show though, anecdotally, David Hasselhoff has claimed that the Centre Page pub here is his favourite hostelry. Circle round Sermon Lane, Carter Lane back into the top part of Godliman Street then a bit more of St Paul’s Churchyard before dropping down Dean’s Court to the main stretch of Carter Lane. On the corner here is what must be the most heavily over-subscribed Youth Hostel in the UK. The building was formerly the St Paul’s Choir School, built in 1875 to a design of F.C Penrose. The YHA took it over in the early seventies and have retained most of the original features including the Latin wall paintings on the exterior and original choirboy graffiti in a wood-panelled classroom.
Do another loop starting east on Carter Lane and back via Godliman Street, Knightrider Street and New Bell Yard then turn south down Addle Hill before slipping westward through Wardrobe Terrace to the Church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe, Wren’s final city church. The name derives from the time when King Edward III moved his royal robes and other effects to a large building nearby that became known as the Great Wardrobe. The church has a connection with Shakespeare in that the playwright worked for 15 years with the local Blackfriars Theatre and also bought a house in the parish.
Emerge out on Queen Victoria Street on the other side of the church then head back up St Andrew’s Hill. Take a quick look at Wardobe Place which commemorates the aforementioned Great Wardobe before crossing between Carter Lane and the Ireland Yard (where Shakespeare bought that house) via Burgon Street, Friar Street and Church Entry respectively. Across Carter Lane from the latter is Cobb’s Court which doglegs onto Ludgate Broadway from where we return to Ludgate Hill via Pilgrim Street. Turn west here then back south down Pageantmaster Court, Ludgate Broadway again and then Blackfriars Lane. A short way down here on the left is the last of today’s three Livery Halls, belonging to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries.
The word ‘apothecary’ is derived from apotheca, meaning a place where wine, spices and herbs were stored. During the thirteenth century it came into use in this country to describe a person who kept a stock of these commodities, which he sold from his shop or street stall. The Apothecaries were granted their royal charter by King James I in 1617 and they occupy 58th position in the Order of Precedence. The hall has been around since 1672 when it was rebuilt here after the Great Fire. The year following the Society founded the Chelsea Physic Garden which it had under management until 1899.
After a brief diversion into Playhouse Yard (that Shakespeare connection again) we continue down to the bottom of Blackfriars Lane and turn right to where the Blackfriar pub sits on the junction of Queen Victoria Street and New Bridge Street. This historic Art Nouveau Grade II masterpiece of a pub was built in 1875 on the site of a Dominican friary, designed by architect H. Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole, both committed to the free-thinking of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Jolly friars appear everywhere in the pub in sculptures, mosaics and reliefs. That the pub survived the quite horrendous post-war redevelopment of the immediate area is down to a campaign against demolition led by Sir John Betjeman.
And that you will be relieved to know is finally it for this time. If you made it this far then please feel free to claim a pint off me if and when we ever run into each other.