Day 49 – Piccadilly – St James’s Square – Pall Mall

First excursion of the year and not a long one but this small area between Piccadilly and Pall Mall (yellow to pink on the Monopoly board) is rich in historical and social significance. From Fortnum and Mason to the Royal Automobile Club, St James’s (where nearly 50% of the property is owned by the Crown Estate) still clings to an aura of privilege and old money. It also contains the former residences of two women who, in very different ways, have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this country – Ada Lovelace and Nancy Astor.

Day 49 Route

Starting point today is St James’s Church on Piccadilly. This was consecrated in 1684 having been built to the order of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans to the serve the new residential development of St James’s Square. And wouldn’t you know it but the architect was the ubiquitous Christopher Wren accepting a rare gig outside of the City of London. The reredos and the marble font were created by master carver of the age, Grinling Gibbons (there’s a forename that’s ripe for revival surely). And that font was where William Blake was baptised in December 1757. St James’s is well known as a classical music venue and I was fortunate enough that my visit coincided with a lunchtime recital by the prizewinning Greek pianist, Konstantinos Destounis. The church is also very actively involved in highlighting social and political issues and is currently host to Suspended, an installation by artist Arabella Dorman which highlights the plight of refugees attempting to flee from persecution and famine to the safety of European shores.

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We exit the church onto Jermyn Street, turn left and then return to Piccadilly via Church Place. Heading east towards Piccadilly Circus we pass Waterstones flagship store which occupies the Grade I listed building that came into being in 1936 as Simpsons of Piccadilly, at the time the largest menswear store in Britain. The building was designed by the modernist architect, Joseph Pemberton (1889 – 1956) and much of the interior was the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946), one of the most influential professors at the Bauhaus school of art in 1920’s Berlin.


A right turn down Eagle Place takes us back onto Jermyn Street where we continue east onto Regent Street St James’s (or Regent Street South if you’re pushed for time). The Lumiere London art festival had taken place the previous weekend and the area around Piccadilly had featured several of the installations, including this light projection onto the old Swan & Edgar building.

We drop down to the end of Regent Street St James’s where no. 1 with its ornate carved frontage, home of the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, stands on the corner with Charles II Street.


Charles II Street runs west into St James’s Square.  As already mentioned the square was laid out in the late 17th century by Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St Albans one of the most influential courtiers of the Restoration period. The houses on the square quickly became some of the most desirable properties in London and by the 1720’s seven dukes and seven earls were among the residents. A century or so later the clubhouses arrived and the square lost a bit (but only a bit) of its cachet. Turning right to proceed anticlockwise around the square we pass the BP head office at no. 1, a turn of the 21st century building they acquired in 2001. The original house at no.3 next door was owned by at least three separate dukes at different times but was replaced in the 1930’s by this office block.


Then at no.4 we have an original Georgian House built 1726-28 by Edward Shepherd and the only one on the square to retain its garden and mews house at the rear. It is now the Naval and Military Club but was once one of the homes of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879 – 1964) the first woman to sit as an MP in the House of Commons. Nancy Witcher Langthorne Astor, to give her her full name, was an American citizen who moved to Britain at the age of 26 when she married, for the second time, to Waldorf Astor heir to the massive fortune of the Astor family with its origins in the 18th century US fur trade and New York real estate. Their primary home was the 375 acre Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire, a wedding gift from Waldorf’s father. Waldorf had enjoyed a promising political career prior to WW1 but when he succeeded his father’s peerage to become the 2nd Viscount Astor he was automatically shunted off to the House of Lords. This left the way open for Nancy to contest the vacant seat and she duly won the November 1919 by-election. She was in actual fact not the first woman to be elected to parliament, that milestone was achieved by Constance Markievicz in 1918 but as she was an Irish Republican she was barred from taking her seat. I think it’s fair to say that Lady Astor’s success is now viewed as purely a symbolic one. Her political accomplishments were largely negligible although she remained an MP until 1945.  Her personal ideology was also pretty suspect in many ways – she had not been a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and held strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views. However, while she and many of her circle were in favour of appeasement suggestions that the “Cliveden set” were pro-fascist appear to be exaggerated.

Across the road from no.4, just outside the gardens, is a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who on 17 April 1984, at the age of 25, was killed by a shot from the Libyan People’s Bureau (Embassy) which at the time occupied no.5. WPC Fletcher was on duty monitoring a demonstration against the Gaddafi regime, eleven of the participations in which were also wounded. Although diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were severed no-one was ever brought to account for the murder. Two years later US fighter planes conducted bombing raids on Libya having taken off from UK air bases with the acquiescence of Margaret Thatcher.


We leave the square temporarily via Duke of York Street off to the right of which is the now (thanks to the eponymous book and TV series) infamous Apple Tree Yard. You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere quite so unappealing as a venue for a spot of alfresco hanky-panky but then that’s probably the point. Though I’m pretty certain the scenes in the TV series weren’t actually filmed here anyway. The yard’s other claim to fame is that it was home to the office where Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the enclave of New Delhi (within the metropolis of Delhi) to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Colonial Government in 1912. This was marked in 2015 by the installation of a sculptural work in granite by the artist Stephen Cox.

Back on Duke of York Street it’s a short hop up to Jermyn Street again for a quick eastward foray to tick off Babmaes Street before retracing our steps to Ormond Yard which is opposite Apple Tree Yard and ends in a small passage that cuts through To Mason’s Yard. Bang in the middle of Mason’s Yard is the White Cube Gallery which was constructed here on the site of an old electricity subs-station (and is the first free-standing structure to be built in the historic St James’s area for more than 30 years). In its architectural style the White Cube aims for a spot of nominative determinism though White Orthotope would be nearer the mark (this is also true of its sister gallery, White Cube Bermondsey). It’s a good old space inside and usually showcasing something worth a visit. Current exhibition by Korean artist, Minjung Kim, which just opened today is a case in point.

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To the west Mason’s Yard leads out onto Duke Street St James’s where we head south as far as King Street which takes us east back to St James’s Square. This time we go clockwise round the square (if you see what I mean). First stop is no. 16 which was formerly the East India Club and displays a black plaque commemorating the official dispatch of the news of the victory at Waterloo carried by Major Henry Percy. After initial delivery to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for War at Grosvenor Square, Major Percy continued on to this address to lay two captured French Imperial Eagles before the Prince Regent who was attending a soirée here.


At no. 14 is the London Library the world’s largest independent library created at the instigation of Thomas Carlyle (who objected to some of the policies of the British Museum Library). It opened in 1841 and moved to St James’s Square four years later. Alfred Lord Tennyson served as President, from 1855 to 1892, as did T.S. Eliot who, on his appointment in 1952, declared  “whatever social changes come about, the disappearance of the London Library would be a disaster to civilisation”. Today the library is home to over a million books covering more than 2,000 subjects and stored on 17 miles of shelves. Membership costs £525 a year.

Next door at no.13. is the only Embassy on the square – the High Commission of Cyprus.


Turning the corner onto the north side we reach, at no.12, the former residence of the other woman I mentioned in the preamble, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815 – 1852) better known, simply, as Ada Lovelace. Part of Ada’s fame rests upon the fact that she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron – by his wife Annabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. But far more important than that is her contribution to the fields of mathematics and science. As a teenager, Ada’s mathematical prowess, led her to form what came to be a long working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) the man who first came up with the concept of the computer, or Analytical Engine as he called it. However it was Ada who recognized that such a machine could have potential applications beyond pure calculation and published the first program intended to be carried out by the “computing machine”. For this she is regarded by many as effectively the world’s first computer programmer. Her personal life though was not a happy one; her relationships with men were fraught and complicated and she took to gambling with disastrous results – losing more than £3,000 on the horses in her early thirties. And she was always haunted by her father who had to all intents and purposes abandoned her at birth. In any event she never saw him again during his eight remaining years of life. But when Ada died of uterine cancer at the age of 36, the same age Byron had been, she was buried, at her request, next to him at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Two doors further along at no.10 is Chatham House aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the world-famous independent policy institute. In 1919 British and American delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, under the leadership of Lionel Curtis, conceived the idea of an Anglo-American Institute of foreign affairs to study international problems with a view to preventing future wars. In the event, the British went ahead on their own, founding the British Institute of International Affairs in July 1920. Chatham House is immortalised for originating the Chatham House Rule – When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Or, more succinctly, “what’s said in the room stays in the room”. No.10 (appropriately enough) is also celebrated for being the home at various times of three separate British Prime Ministers – William Pitt the Elder (PM from 1766-68), Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby (PM for just 299 days in 1852 and 1 year and 243 days between 1866 and 1868) and William Ewart Gladstone (PM for most of the 2nd half of the 19th century).

See what I mean, just this one corner of the square has elicited the best part of 1,000 words. Anyway, once past no.10, we turn south through the middle of the gardens. In the centre is an equestrian statue of William III erected in 1808 and at the southern end is a small pavilion with a memorial to architect John Nash (we’ve met him more than once on previous journeys) who supervised the design and layout of the gardens.

Back on the east side of the square is no.31, Norfolk House, which was U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters during World War II, and where Operation Torch and Operation Overlord were planned.

We leave the square again briefly, exiting onto Pall Mall from the south-east corner. Across the road is the Royal Automobile Club, founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms with the primary purpose of promoting the motor car and its place in society. The Royal part of the monicker was granted by King Edward VII in 1907 (Victoria would have had no truck with these new-fangled automobile things). Today it’s a glorified private members’ (including women) club with Edwardian Turkish baths that were renovated in 2003–4, an Italian marble swimming pool, squash courts (including a doubles court), a snooker room, three restaurants, two bars, and a fully equipped business centre. It is now completely divorced from the motoring services group, the RAC, which it once owned.


We head back into the square for a final time past another bastion of London clubland (of the cigars and brandy rather than ecstasy and glo-stick variety), the Army and Navy Club. This one has been around since 1837 and its first patron was the Duke of Wellington and the current one is the Queen – nuff said. The club is colloquially known as ‘the Rag’ – if you want to know why check out the link. I think I need to move swiftly on before I go all champagne socialist.


We leave the square for the final time back along King Street heading west. On the north side is the global HQ of fine art auctioneers, Christie’s, where they have been since 1823.


On the south side we pass Cleveland Place and Rose & Crown Yard before taking the next turning, Angel Court. The following picture is of the middle of those three and I took it and flipped it to b&w purely on account of the striking quality of the mannequin figure in the window.


On the corner of Angel Court and King Street, the Golden Lion pub occupies the site where the St James’s Theatre, which staged the first performances of Oscar Wilde’s two best known plays, once stood. Further down Angel Court is a set of, now rather forlorn looking, commemorative reliefs by E. Bainbridge Copnall. The reliefs were commissioned for the office block that replaced the theatre, which was demolished itself in 1986.

Back on Pall Mall we head east initially along the north side then double back west on the south side. Pall Mall was constructed in 1661 and takes it’s name from the game of pall-mall which was a bit similar to croquet and was introduced to England by James I. London’s first pall-mall court was built in St James’s Field where St James’s Square now stands. As we return along the south side we pass no.82 which is adorned with a blue plaque marking this as a former residence of the artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) and no.80 which has one noting that Nell Gwynne (1650 – 1687) once lived in a house on the site. And at no.71 is the Oxford and Cambridge Club where. I imagine, the real metropolitan elite meet and greet.

We switch back northwards up Crown Passage which, if you ignore the rubbish bags, has a charming touch of the olde-worlde about it…


…there’s even a Milliner’s for goodness’ sake (that’s someone who makes hats in case there happens to be anyone under the age of forty reading)


So now we’re back on King Street from where a quick right then left takes us into Bury Street. The area of St James’s is particularly known for its galleries. Not the sort I tend to frequent that show contemporary art (though as we’ve seen there are a couple of those) but the ones that specialise in just about every niche in the fine arts and antiques firmament – from old masters to maps to Japanese art and armour and weaponry as you can see below.



We turn east off Bury Street along Ryder Street back to Duke Street St James’s where we continue north and then turn the corner into Jermyn Street past the Cavendish Hotel. In its present form The Cavendish is a particularly unlovable example of 1960’s concrete pragmatism. Its predecessor was built in the early 1800’s, taking on the Cavendish name in 1836. In 1902 the Cavendish was bought by one Rosa Lewis (1867 -1952), who had worked her way up from kitchen maid (aged 12) to be head chef of the Duc d’orleans at Sandhurst. She was also engaged as a dinner-party cook by Lady Randolph Churchill, the Asquiths and many of the hostesses who entertained Edward VII. Rosa originally put her husband, the grandly named ex-butler Excelsior Tyrel Chiney Lewis, and his sister Laura in charge of the hotel. But within two years their spending and his drinking were out of control so Rosa divorced him and threw the pair of them out. Once she was in charge the hotel flourished and expanded. She was known for her generous spirit – allowing impoverished WW1 military officers to stay for free at the hotel for example – and Evelyn Waugh described her as warm hearted, comic and a totally original woman. She continued to dress in Edwardian style and enjoyed a grandiose and majestic decline from 1918 to 1952. Her life was the inspiration for the 1970’s TV series, “The Duchess of Duke Street” (with Gemma Jones in the title role) as is recognized by a Westminster Council commemorative plaque.

After a couple of blocks we make our way back to Piccadilly up Princes Arcade which continues the area’s general theme of old fashioned luxury. Opposite the entrance to the arcade at no.87 Jermyn Street is another of those old London County Council blue plaques marking this as the home of Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually lived in the building that was knocked down in 1915 but the plaque had been installed seven years prior to that and so was taken down a re-fixed to the new building.

On reaching Piccadilly again we turn left to get to Hatchards the UK’s oldest bookshop. John Hatchard opened the store at 173 Piccadilly in 1797 and moved it to (what is now) 187 in 1801. The store has three Royal Warrants and is now owned by Waterstone’s.


Since that move in 1801, Hatchards has been neighbour to Fortnum & Mason which preceded it in opening on Piccadilly by nearly a hundred years. It was 1707, to be exact, when Hugh Mason and William Fortnum set up shop at no.181 and it all began with them selling off Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax. In 1738, by which time it was established as one of the most prominent grocery stores on the capital, Fortnum and Mason’s invented the Scotch Egg while brainstorming ideas for food that travellers could eat on the go. In 1851 Fortnum’s won first prize as importers of dried fruits and dessert goods at London’s Great Exhibition and in 1886 became the first grocer’s in Britain to stock Heinz baked beans. In 1911 they sent hampers to the suffragettes who had been imprisoned for breaking their windows and they provided the 1922 Everest expedition with, amongst other things, 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (amazing that they didn’t reach the summit with that to fortify them). The famous clock on the storefront was installed in 1964 and its bells come from the same foundry that produced Big Ben. The only record that F&M have ever sold is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas ?” These days Fortnum’s is more of a tourist destination than anything. There are no doubt still a few members of the landed gentry that pop up to town to stock up on comestibles and haberdashery but I didn’t see very many while doing the rounds. Since I mentioned it earlier I should also note that the selling of foie-gras was the subject of a PETA campaign in 2010 that was supported by a number of high-profile celebrities.

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We exit the store (purchase-free) onto Duke Street and at the end of the block turn west for a final visit to Jermyn Street. Outside the Piccadilly Arcade is a statue to the Georgian “dandy” Beau Brummel (1778 – 1840). Poor old Beau’s not looking quite so dandy-ish at the moment having been boxed in by the workmen repairing the street.

Jermyn Street has historically been second only to Savile Row in term of catering to the sartorial needs of the discerning London gentleman-about-town but these days it seems to consist mainly of branches of T.M Lewin. So I was pleased to finally encounter one of the few remaining proper old-style independent outfitters on the corner with the top of Bury Street.


And that’s just about it. From Bury Street we turn right to make the western section of Ryder Street our last call of the day and I’ll leave you wondering, like me, what story lies behind this intriguing shot.

























Day 48 – Victoria Street – Buckingham Gate – Broadway

A relatively short walk this one, especially since the first part of it actually took place at the end of Day 47. That took us from Victoria Station back up to the southern side of Buckingham Palace then down Buckingham Gate and a westward loop ending up on Palace Street. Day 48 proper takes us east from that point covering most of the area around St James’ Park tube station between Birdcage Walk and Victoria Street.

Day 48 Route

Just outside the perimeter of the small triangular garden across Buckingham Palace Road from Victoria Station stands a statue of Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929) the French general who led his country’s forces in World War One and was appointed as Allied Commander-In-Chief in March 1918. Foch was an advocate of imposing the most draconian of peace terms on the defeated Germans; far more so than those eventually agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. As the treaty was being signed he declared “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. Although those words proved prophetic historians generally tend towards the view that the rise of National Socialism can be in large part attributable to the armistice terms being overly harsh rather than too lenient as Foch believed. Foch was made a British Field Marshal 1919.


Heading north up Buckingham Palace Road we cross over Victoria Street and then turn left down Eaton Lane. On reaching Beeston Place we turn right then right again to arrive at Victoria Square. The small garden at the heart of this contains a statue of the eponymous monarch, depicting her in her younger days. This was commissioned from the artist Catherine Anne Laugel and installed in 2007. Former residents of the square include Ian Fleming, Michael Portillo and Mike Oldfield. Casino Royale, the first of Fleming’s Bond novels, was published shortly after he took up residence.

On the other side of Victoria Square we cross over Buckingham Palace Road again and enter one of the many new retail and leisure developments that have sprung up in this area in recent times. This one is constructed around Sir Simon Milton Square, named after the one-time leader of the Tory-run Westminster City Council. The artwork below is Places for Nova by Saad Qureshi and was installed in 2017.


At the north end of the square we emerge onto Bressenden Place and, having done an eastward circuit of this, continue north into Warwick Row. An alleyway at the end leads into Palace Place which links to Palace Street. Here we turn right and then left up Stafford Place and then another alleyway brings us back onto Buckingham Palace Road. Turn right up to the south eastern corner of Buck House and then right again down Buckingham Gate. At no.15 is a blue plaque commemorating the Diplomat, Poet, Traveller and Founder of the Crabbett Park Stud, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840 – 1922). Blunt was married to Lady Anne Noel, the daughter of Ada Lovelace and, therefore, granddaughter of Lord Byron, until his unabashed philandering led to their legal separation in 1906. The Stud which they had founded together in 1878 was stocked with the first Arabian horses to be brought to England.


A little way further down is the High Commission of Swaziland which occupies a late 19th century building designed by Reginald Blomfield and featuring sculpture-work by Henry Pegram.


We next make a left-turn into Wilfred Street then make a figure of eight involving that along with Catherine Place, Palace Street and Buckingham Place. We end up back on Palace Street just north of Westminster City School.


We head back east from here along Castle Lane. The tenement blocks on either side of the street were originally built in 1882 to provide accommodation at the nearby Watney’s Stag Brewery (demolished in 1959). In more recent times the properties had been used as a homeless shelter but have stood empty since their purchase in 2010 by Land Securities. The original proposal to refurbish the blocks to provide 63 affordable homes as a quid-pro-quo for receiving planning permission for the conversion of a nearby office building into luxury flats has now been shelved and it looks likely that the Castle Lane properties will now be developed into upscale townhouses instead.


At the eastern end of Castle Lane, on the corner with Buckingham Gate, stands Westminster Chapel. The chapel was opened in 1865 as a Congregational church with seating capacity for 1,500. It was designed by William Ford Poulton (1822 – 1901) in a Lombard Romanesque Revival style. The auditorium is almost oval-shaped with two tiers of galleries. The church is now part of the evangelical Commission family of churches which means, as explained to me by the young man who kindly let me into the building for a look around, that they follow the text of the Bible very closely and have a far less liberal approach to matters such as the role of women than moral capitulators like the Baptists. This statement of one of their key values will give you an idea of what lies behind the happy-clappy outward persona “A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised, and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed.”

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Continuing down Buckingham Gate we reach the St James’ Court hotel, the work of Victorian architect C.J Chirney Pawley, which first opened its doors in 1902. In 1982 the hotel was acquired by the Indian Hotels Company Ltd (now Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces) owned by the Tata family who established the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Bombay (also at the turn of the 20th century) and who are best known in this country for acquirng both the remnants of British Steel and the Tetley tea company.

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Beyond the hotel we make a right turn down Spencer Street and then, blocked off by another construction site, take Seaforth Place down on to Victoria Street. Head west initially as far as the junction with Palace Street and then double back to the bottom of Buckingham Gate. On the corner here stands the Grade II listed pub, The Albert, built in 1862 by the Artillery Brewery and still in possession of its original Victorian façade. It was built on the site of an earlier pub named The Blue Coat Boy after the nearby charity school (which we shall come to very shortly).


The Bluecoat (or Blewcoat) School was founded in 1688 by voluntary subscription as a charity for the education of the male offspring of the poor. It moved into purpose-built premises in the apex of Brewer’s Green, Caxton Street and Buckingham Gate in 1709 and from five years after this date also began to teach girls. It remained in use as a school until 1926 and was purchased by the National Trust in 1954. In 2013 fashion designer Ian Stuart was granted permission to refurbish the interior to house his bridal and evening gown collections.

Having circumnavigated the old school building we continue to retrace our steps up Buckingham Gate before shifting east into Petty France. The name is thought to derive from the settlement of French Huguenot refugees in the area in the 17th century (Petty being a corruption of Petit). From the second half of the 18th century until 1925, when the earlier name was restored, the street was called York Street after the son of George II (the Duke of York). On the north side is the exceptionally unattractive rear side of the Wellington Barracks (though not altogether out of keeping with some of the other buildings nearby).


Once past the barracks we turn south down Vandon Passage which leads into Vandon Street which in turn curves round back to Caxton Street. From here we head east as far as Palmer Street then turn north back to Petty France, emerging opposite the equally unlovely building that houses the Ministry of Justice and Crown Prosecution Service.


We carry on going east to the roundabout from where Petty France turns into Broadway and where St James’ Park tube station sits beneath the monolithic 55 Broadway. This imposing and, frankly, totalitarian-looking product of the late 1920’s was designed by Charles Holden (1875 – 1960) and won him the RIBA London Architecture Medal in 1931. It was built as a new HQ for the Underground Electric Railways Company (UERL) of London the forerunner of London Underground which still occupies the building today (they were due to move to new premises in the Olympic Park in 2015 but this still hasn’t happened at the time of writing). When it was completed the building was the tallest office block in the city. The sculptural artwork on the building’s exterior includes works by Eric Gill and Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959). At the time it was the latter’s prominently sited figures, Day and Night, which provoked public opprobrium and a newspaper campaign that almost cost the UERL managing director, Frank Pick, his job. In the end the naked figure on the Day sculpture had 1.5 inches taken off his little chap and the outcry eventually died down. Ironically, these days it is Gill’s work that causes consternation in the light of posthumous revelations about his public life. 55 Broadway was originally Grade II listed in 1970 and upgraded to Grade I in 2011.

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We cut through the building and emerge the other side on St Ermin’s Hill which leads out onto the north-south running stretch of Broadway (about as far removed from its New York namesake as you can imagine). Turning right back onto Caxton Street we pass the St Ermin’s Hotel, nicely done out for Christmas.


And a short way further on come to the Caxton Hall which was designed in 1878 by William Lee and F.J Smith and built using red brick and pink sandstone. It was originally the Westminster Town Hall on opening in 1883 and has since hosted a variety of political and artistic events. It was also the registry office of choice for high society and celebrity civil weddings from the end of WWII up to 1979. Those who married there during that period included Elizabeth Taylor (to husband no.2 Michael Wilding), Donald Campbell (twice), Diana Dors (twice), Peter Sellers (to Miranda Quarry), Orson Welles, Roger Moore, Joan Collins, a couple of Beegees and Anthony Eden (to Winston Churchill’s niece). Going back to the political events these ran the full gamut from the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 and the hosting of the Suffragette Movement’s “Women’s Parliament” to the founding of the National Front in 1967. In light of all this it seems a bit feeble that the green plaque outside merely refers to the fact that Churchill made a few speeches here during the war. The building was redeveloped as apartments and offices in 2006.

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Take the bottom section of Palmer Street down to Victoria Street with a brief detour into Butler Place which is where the branch of Lloyds that holds my account is even though all the correspondence comes from Chelmsford. Heading east again on Victoria Street there is another massive ongoing development; this time if the former site of New Scotland Yard. The Met took up shop here in 1967 and bought the freehold of the building in 2008. Then in 2013 they announced that 10 Broadway would be sold and the force’s HQ would relocate to the Victoria Embankment where it had been situated from 1890 to the late sixties. The 10 Broadway site was bought by an Abu Dhabi investment group for £370m in 2014.

We circle round the site via Dean Farrar Street and Dacre Street before heading back up Broadway to where it merges into Tothill Street. Then we return south down Dean Farrar Street and resume going east on Victoria Street. As Westminster Abbey comes into view on our right we turn left into Storey’s Gate and nip into Central Hall Westminster for a very brief shuftie. CHW can lay claim to being the world’s first purpose-built meetings facility. It was constructed on the site of the former Royal Aquarium to a design of Lancester and Rickards opened in 1912. Funding came from the Wesleyan Methodist Church’s 20th century Fund set up to mark the 1891 centenary of John Wesley’s death. £250,000  was allocated to the building of a ‘monumental Memorial Hall’ that would not only house a worshipping congregation and the new Methodist headquarters  but would also be a meeting place for all people, regardless of religious persuasion. The Suffragettes met here in 1914, Mahatma Ghandi spoke in the Lecture Hall in 1932 and De Gaulle founded the Free French movement here in the 1940’s. Most famously it was the venue for the very first General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 attended by representatives of 51 countries. Slightly less auspiciously it was where I sat a number of professional examinations back in the nineties.

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We circle round the CHW via Matthew Parker Street and end up back on Tothill Street where we take a westward turn past the Department of Work and Pensions.


It’s starting to get dark now so we quickly turn north up Dartmouth Street and then east down the alley that is Lewisham Street to finish for the day back on Storey’s Gate. And that’s it for 2017 !



















Day 47 – Green Park – Hyde Park Corner – Grosvenor Place – Buckingham Palace

Before we dive into today’s journey there’s just time for a quick update on overall progress to date. As you can see below, we’re about three quarters of the way there now with only a relatively small section north of the river still to cover.

Covered so far Nov 2017

Ok back to the programme. Today’s walk starts out from Green Park tube station from where we head west through the eponymous park to Hyde Park Corner. We then venture further west and finish off the area between Grosvenor Place and Belgrave Square before circling round Buckingham Palace and flirting with Victoria (so to speak).

Day 47 Route

The 40 acres of Green Park provide a link between St James’s Park and Hyde Park.
The park was first enclosed by Charles II in 1668, stocked with deer and provided with a ranger’s house. It was known as Upper St James’s Park but by 1746 it was called The Green Park. The park now has no buildings and virtually no other man-made structures within it but it once contained lodges, a library, an ice house and two vast ‘temples’ called the Temple of Peace and the Temple of Concord. Ironically, the Temple of Peace, erected to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession, exploded during a firework display in 1749 and in 1814 the Temple of Concord, erected to mark 100 years of the Hanoverian Dynasty, was destroyed in a similar way during the Prince Regent’s gala.

It was the beginning of November when I walked through the north side of the park and the trees were just about hanging on to their autumnal glories.

Just before the western apex of the park you reach the Bomber Command Memorial, dedicated to the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War. The Memorial, which was unveiled in 2012, was designed by architect Liam O’Connor and  built using Portland stone. Within the memorial are the bronze sculptures of a Bomber Command aircrew and the design for the roof incorporates sections of aluminium recovered from a Handley Page Halifax III bomber shot down over Belgium on the night of 12 May 1944, in which eight crew were killed.

Beyond the memorial we cross over Duke of Wellington Place to enter the island in the middle of the Hyde Park Corner roundabout. This is all about the celebration and commemoration of Britain’s (and the Commonwealth’s) military past with the D of W taking centre stage. Proceeding anti-clockwise we pass the New Zealand war memorial and arrive at the Machine Gun Corps Memorial. The oddly fey nude statue of David which tops the marble plinth is by Francis Derwent Wood (1871 – 1926).


In the background there you can see Apsley House which houses the Wellington Museum, having been home to the man himself from 1817 (it had been designed and built by Robert Adam in the 1770’s). As luck would have it the museum had switched to Winter opening hours the day before this walk took place and so was closed on weekdays – otherwise I would have felt obligated to visit and report. Instead I turned south past Edgar Boehm’s equestrian statue of the Duke and parted with a fiver to ascend the Wellington Arch.



Turned out this wasn’t such a bad move as I had the place to myself. There’s not a lot to detain you but the small exhibitions on the history of the arch itself and on the Battle of Waterloo are both illuminating and well done and the external viewing gallery affords a couple of interesting perspectives (though not of the Buckingham Palace grounds).  Like Marble Arch, the Wellington Arch was conceived to commemorate victory in the Napoleonic wars.  It was also designed to be a grand entrance to Central London from the west and was originally sited, about 100 yards away from its present location, immediately opposite Apsley Gate (see last post). Like the Gate the Arch was commissioned in 1824 and was designed by the then 24 year-old Decimus Burton. Burton originally intended the Arch to be crowned with a sculpture of a quadriga (chariot drawn by four horses) but, because the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace ran hugely over budget (see further down), the Treasury declined to fund this and most of the other proposed decoration. In the 1830’s a committee formed to determine the nature and scope of a national memorial to the Duke of Wellington came up with the idea of sticking a giant equestrian statue of the Duke on top of the Green Park Arch (as it was then called). The chosen sculptor was Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1777-1862) and the work was erected in 1846, supposedly for a trial period. It was immediately greeted with derision  being totally disproportionate in size. The Government demanded its removal but had to back down when the Duke himself objected.

The statue was finally got rid of in 1883 when the Arch was moved to its new site as part of a road development scheme. It was relocated to a new pedestal near the Garrison Church at Aldershot and the Arch was once again topless. However, in 1891 the sculptor Adrian Jones (1845–1938) exhibited a magnificent plaster work of (you’ve guessed it) a quadriga and The Prince of Wales suggested that it would make a suitable adornment for the rebuilt Wellington Arch. Initially no funds were available, but eventually a banker, Sir Herbert Stern, made an anonymous donation of about £20,000, and the final bronze version was erected on top of the arch in January 1912.

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From the early twentieth century until the late 1950’s the inside of the arch was used as a police station (arguably the smallest in London) and it 2001 after major repairs and refurbishment English Heritage opened it to, if today was anything to go by, a largely indifferent public.

And so to those views from the top…

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As you can see in the slides above if we resume our anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the island next up, on the west side, is the Royal Artillery Memorial , designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, and featuring a giant sculpture of a BL 9.2-inch Mk I howitzer upon a large plinth of Portland stone. Behind this is the Lanesborough Hotel, reputedly the most expensive in London. Lanesborough House was built in 1726 and converted into a hospital, St George’s, in 1733. Almost a hundred years later it was demolished to make way for a new 350-bed facility designed by architect William Wilkins. The new hospital was operational by 1844, serving continuously as a hospital until transferred to Tooting, south London in the 1970s. In 1980 the Duke of Westminster took up an option to buy the then vacant building for £6,000 (its value in the nineteenth century).
It was refurbished and re-opened as a hotel in 1991 and is currently managed by the Oetker Collection.


Completing the circuit is the Australian war memorial beyond which you can see the massive redevelopment taking place next to the Lanesborough. It’s from here that scores of Eastern European construction workers flock into the island to eat their lunch.

And so we eventually escape from the island via the underpass that emerges on Grosvenor Place and swing west round Grosvenor Crescent back towards Belgrave Square. First embassy of the day is Belgium’s then on the corner with Halkin Street (but officially known as 49 Belgrave Square) is the Argentinian, occupying the Grade-II listed Herbert House, built for Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea in 1851.


Further down Halkin Street is the Caledonian Club, a private members’ club founded in 1891 that styles itself as a little bit of Scotland in the heart of London. Coincidentally, about a week after this walk I received an invite to a function here (which I was unable to attend).


We return to Grosvenor Place and turn south. There are some fine facades along here but many are in a state of severe disrepair.


At no.17 which is the Embassy of the Republic of Ireland we turn right down Chapel Street but only as far as Headfort Place which takes us north again back to Halkin Street.

From here Montrose Place and Chapel Street get us back to the Irish Embassy and the next turn off west from Grosvenor Place is Chester Street. From here we take Groom Place back to Chapel Street then head west past the south-eastern corner of Belgrave Square into Upper Belgrave Street. We swing round the corner, on which stands the Embassy of the Ivory Coast, into Chester Street once more then turn right onto Wilton Mews. Next left is Little Chester Street then up Chester Mews passing the shell of a pub, the Talbot, I had occasion to frequent many years ago.

We retrace our steps on Chester Street before taking a further turn south on Grosvenor Place. No. 33 which was once the HQ of Associated Electrical Industries is undergoing reconstruction along with its neighbours but you can still just about view the grotesques created by Maurice Lambert (1901-1964) (who was apprentice to Francis Derwent Wood and assisted with the Machine Gun Corps Memorial).

We next make a right turn onto Wilton Street where they haven’t yet got (or should I say gotten) over Halloween and there is the most meta of all of London’s blue plaques in that it commemorates the politician and reformer William Ewart (1798 – 1869) who was the person who first came up with the idea of the Blue Plaque (in 1863).

At the end of Wilton Street we turn briefly north on Upper Belgrave Street before continuing west along Eaton Place. No.15 was the home of Scots-Irish physicist and engineer William Thomson (a.k.a Lord Kelvin) (1824 – 1907) after whom the temperature scale that takes absolute zero as its lowest point is named (that’s the Kelvin scale not the Thomson scale just to be clear). But Eaton Place is probably more famous as the home (at no.165) of the Bellamy family and their servants in the seventies’ TV series “Upstairs Downstairs”. (Somewhat less famous is the BBC’s 21st century remake that unsuccessfully attempted to compete with Downton Abbey).

At the end of the first section of Eaton Place we turn north up Belgrave Place, past Belgrave Mews South and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway then proceed anti-clockwise round Belgrave Square passing two further embassies, those of Serbia and Bahrain, on our right.

On our left, outside the south-east corner of the garden, is a statue of our old friend Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) the Venezuelan military and political leader who not only played a leading role in the foundation of his own country but was also key to the liberation from the Spanish of Bolivia (which takes its name from him of course), Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama. The north-east corner also has a statue, of Bolivar’s contemporary Jose de San Martin (1778-1850) who was similarly crucial to the successful independence struggles of Argentina, Chile and Peru.

In between the statues, across the road on the eastern side of the square, we have the Italian Cultural Institute and the Turkish Embassy which is not only covered in scaffolding but the only Embassy encountered to date (apart from the Saudi one) that has an armed guard outside.

The only embassy on the north side of Belgrave Square is the one belonging to Syria at no.8 and which has been closed since the Ambassador was expelled in 2012.


Leaving the square and heading north round Wilton Crescent we pass between the Romanian Cultural Institute at No.1 and a statue of Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster (1767–1845) which was only erected in 1998. Outside of his political life, he was both a Tory and a Whig MP, Grosvenor was best known for his art collection which included four Rubens’ and Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, for which he paid £100, and as a breeder of racehorses. The finest horse produced by his stud was Touchstone who won 16 of the 21 races he entered and went on to sire 323 winners of over 700 races.

Wilton Crescent is home to the Luxembourg Embassy and once we’ve passed that we veer off down Wilton Row to arrive at today’s pub of the day, The Grenadier. Located in what is essentially another mews, the Grenadier was originally built in 1720 as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of the British army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.  It was opened to the public in 1818 as The Guardsman and was subsequently renamed in honour of the Grenadier Guards’ actions in the Battle of Waterloo.  Past patrons  have included the Duke of Wellington, King George IV and, more recently, Madonna.  It is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a subaltern who was beaten to death for cheating at cards. The beer’s expensive but I did have a very good fish finger sandwich.

After leaving the pub we wend our way round the appropriately named Old Barrack Yard and find ourselves back on Knightsbridge. Turning east we pass by the Libyan Embassy, which appears to be fully operational still, and the Wellesley Hotel which occupies the building that started life as the original Hyde Park Corner tube station, designed by architect Lesley Green, and was later for many years the home of iconic jazz and cabaret venue, Pizza on the Park.


Turning round the corner past the Lanesborough Hotel again we cross from Grosvenor Place onto Duke of Wellington Place and then pass through the Commonwealth Memorial gates and make our way down Constitution Hill.

This “hill”, which wouldn’t even merit that description if it was situated in the heart of the Fens, leads of course to Buckingham Palace.  It was George III who first brought Buckingham House (as it was known originally) into the Royal fold when he acquired it in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a family home. On his accession in 1820, George IV decided to transform the house into a palace with the help of architect John Nash. Nash retained the main block but doubled its size by adding a new suite of rooms on the garden side facing west in addition the north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt with a triumphal arch – the Marble Arch – as the centrepiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. By 1829 the costs had escalated to nearly half a million pounds which cost Nash’s his job, and on the death of George IV in 1830, his younger brother William IV took on Edward Blore to finish the work. William never moved into the Palace. In fact, when the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834, he offered the Palace as a new home for Parliament, but the offer was declined. So Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in 1837 and a year later she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. She was responsible for the creation of a fourth wing,  which necessitated moving the Marble Arch to the north-east corner of Hyde Park, paid for from the proceeds of the sale of George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton. The present forecourt of the Palace, where Changing the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme.

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Cutting in between the front of the Palace and the Memorial takes us onto Spur Road and then Buckingham Palace Road. Immediately in front of the 19 State Rooms sits the Queen’s Gallery which really only seems to exist to justify its lavish accompanying gift shop (FYI if you want Canalettos you van get them for free at the Wallace Collection).

On the subject of gift shops, if you continue down to the Buckingham Palace Road you find two further bits of evidence for the case that the only reason the monarchy still exists is as a sop to the tourist industry.

Entrance to the Royal Mews

Just after the Royal Mews we turn right into Lower Grosvenor Place then continue across Grosvenor Place into Hobart Place. At no.4 is a blue plaque marking this as a residence of the German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). In his all too brief life Mendelssohn visited England ten times and spent a total of about four months at this address across four or five of those stays. His first impression of London was ambivalent, describing it in 1829 as ‘the grandest and most complicated monster on the face of earth’. Some years later though he admitted “[there is] no question that that smoky nest is my preferred city and will remain so. I feel quite emotional when I think of it.”

Continuing west we turn into Eaton Square and nip into St Peter’s Church. This was originally built between 1824 and 1827 in a neoclassical style designed by Henry Hakehill.  That building burnt down, and in 1837 was rebuilt from Hakewill’s drawings by one of his sons. Fire gutted the building again in 1987, the handiwork of an anti-Catholic arsonist who mistook the denomination of the church. The church was rebuilt around the Georgian shell and opened again in 1991 with a modernist interior. As chance would have it, when I visited the renowned violinist, Tamsin Little, was in rehearsal for a concert later that evening.

Leaving the church we retrace our steps part way back down Hobart Place then cut down Grosvenor Gardens which was once home to the extravagantly monickered Victorian archeologist, Augustus Henry Fox-Lane Pitt Rivers (1827-1900). Genealogical fact of the day : William Fox-Pitt, the Olympic equestrian, is his great great grandson.

At this point we needed to head off-piste to visit the facilities at Victoria Station, which, unlike those at every other mainline station I can think of, are free of charge. And with that useful tip I think we’ll wrap it up there for today.











Day 46 – Hyde Park – Knightsbridge – Belgrave Square

As flagged up in the last post, we’re now finally done with the City of London so for a complete change of scene we switch back over to the west side of our target area and swap the skyscrapers, livery halls and 17th century churches for green expanses, embassies and temples of consumerist excess. Starting out from Hyde Park Corner today’s walk takes us on a circuit of the south-eastern corner of the park before heading down through Knightsbridge to Belgravia and back.

Day 46 Route_x

We enter the park through Apsley Gate, built in 1826-29 from Portland stone and designed by a then 25 year old Decimus Burton (who, if we assume the Jacob Rees-Mogg scoring system must have been at least the tenth child to emerge from his poor mother). We then head north up Lovers Walk which takes us almost immediately past the statue of Achilles. This was installed in 1822 by order of King George III in commemoration of the Duke of Wellington and was made using 33 tonnes of bronze from captured French cannons. Initially the statue was fully nude but a public outcry soon led to the addition of a strategic fig leaf. A short way further on is the memorial to the victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, comprised of 52 stainless steel stelae each representing one of those who died. At the Joy of Life fountain (which was the southernmost point of our previous foray into Hyde Park, what seems like eons ago now) we about-face and head back down Broad Walk. What struck me most about the park on this visit was the sheer number of squirrels around; they were always fairly plentiful but these days they’re giving the pigeons a run for their money in the proliferation stakes.

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At the end of Broad Walk we turn right along Serpentine Road past the bandstand which has stood on the north side here since 1886 when it was relocated from Kensington Gardens seventeen years after it was built. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers’s performance of “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain” from the 1935 film Top Hat was supposedly set on the Hyde Park bandstand but, sadly, was actually filmed on a soundstage at RKO’s Hollywood studios.


The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, 11.34 hectares in size, was created in 1727-31 at the instigation of Queen Caroline, wife of George II. It was formed by damming the Westbourne stream and was one of the first artificial lakes allowed to settle into a natural shape. There is a small memorial to Caroline at the eastern end of the lake that was unveiled by HM in 1990. The Serpentine is a big magnet for wildfowl and for visitors willing to feed them. On the other side of the path running along the eastern edge of the lake is another small monument, erected in 1870, with a plaque the first line of which reads “A supply of water by conduit from this spot was granted to the Abbey of Westminster with the Manor of Hyde by King Edward the Confessor.” The spring this refers to supplied water to the precincts of Westminster until it was cut off by drainage work in 1861.

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Skirting the eastern end of the Serpentine takes us down onto Rotten Row which is a corruption of the French ‘Route de Roi’. After just a few yards we head off the road up by the side of the small garden known as the Dell and continue east through the Holocaust Memorial Garden to the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden incorporates two fountains : one with a statue of Diana the Huntress which was sculpted by (the wonderfully-named) Lady Feodora Gleichen in 1899 and the other dating from 1862 with a statue of a Boy and Dolphin by Alexander Munro. En route to the garden we pass a strange looking tree populated by a flock of the much maligned Green Parakeets. Somewhat lazily I was just going to refer to this as a runner bean tree (for obvious reasons) but having bothered to look it up I find it’s called an Indian Bean Tree (though it originates from the US). I like to think it’s related to the runner bean plant anyway; and if I had an allotment I’d stick one of these in there just to freak out the neighbours.

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On reaching the end of Rotten Row we turn west again and follow South Carriage Drive down to Albert Gate. This short stretch of road leading onto Knightsbridge houses two embassies; France on the east side and Kuwait on the west.

On Knightsbridge itself we turn right and pass in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The building was originally constructed in 1889 as an exclusive ‘Gentleman’s Club’ and was the tallest building in the capital, outraging local residents who petitioned unsuccessfully to have the number of floors reduced. Ten years after it opened a fire caused extensive damage and following restoration it re-opened in 1902 as the Hyde Park Hotel, considered the grandest in London at the time.   Tradition has it that Queen Victoria wouldn’t allow any form of advertising within the Park, and therefore insisted that the main entrance, with the hotel’s name above it, be moved from the Park side to Knightsbridge. As a corollary she decreed that the original entrance be preserved for Royal use, unless permission is otherwise granted by the Royal Household, a practice which has been upheld ever since. The Mandarin Oriental Group took over the property in 1996 and gave it a £57m makeover.


Across the road is Harvey Nichols which traces its origins back to 1831 when one Benjamin Harvey opened a linen shop in a terraced house on this corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street. Over the next ten years it expanded into several adjoining properties and during this time James Nichols joined the business and eventually married Harvey’s niece. When Harvey died in 1850 his wife, Anne, went into partnership with Nichols and Harvey Nichols was formed. In 1889, by which time the Harveys’ son Benjamin Charles was the sole remaining partner, the block was demolished and a new purpose-built department store built over the next five years to the design of architect, CQ Stephens.  In 1985 Harvey Nic’s was bought by the Burton Group who sold it six years later to Hong Kong magnate, Dickson Poon, who in turn floated it on the Stock Exchange after a further five years. I ventured in and had a look around for the first time in a very long while; Menswear is stuck down in the basement then it’s three floors of Ladies’ fashion and ‘beauty’ products before Homeware on Level 4 and the Café and Foodmarket on 5. Wasn’t especially busy but then I guess even round here there’s a ceiling on the number of women prepared to pay £250 for a pair of jeans that are not so much distressed as given the full Psycho shower-scene treatment.

We turn the corner into Sloane Street and almost immediately fork off right into Basil Street. At no.16 is the former Knightsbridge Fire Station which closed up in 2014 after 107 years of service and is now of course undergoing conversion into luxury residences.


Beyond the ex-Fire Station we veer left down Pavilion Road then fork right into Herbert Crescent before continuing south round Hans Place into Hans Street.


Turn east briefly then head north again up Sloane Street. A short way up on the west side is the Danish Embassy and the kindest description I can find for this building is “jarringly modernist”.


Three doors further up, at no.52, the Peruvian Embassy has a rather more typical home.


On its own website Sloane Street describes itself as being “internationally recognised as one of the world’s most exclusive and luxurious shopping destinations.” Difficult to argue with that based on the sheer number of brand names lining either side of the road – from Armani to Versace via Dior, Gucci and Prada (to name but a handful). Makes Bond Street seem almost low rent.

Half way up this parade of glamorous excess we turn off to the right down Harriet Street and then follow Harriet Walk round to the bottom of Seville Street. After a quick visit to the latter we head south round the western side of Lowndes Square then circle round to return north up the east side. This brings us face to face with the brutalist monstrosity that is the Park Tower Hotel. Still it’s what’s on the inside that counts we’re always told and this inside will still set you back £300+ a night.


William Street takes us back up to Knightsbridge where we turn eastward as far as Wilton Place. Go south for about 50m then head west into Kinnerton Street which quickly switches direction to continue southward. This is more of a mews than a street and has tried to cultivate a sort of urban village vibe (which makes a pleasant contrast to some of its neighbours) with a couple of bijou pubs and even a village store.

Kinnerton Street ends at Motcomb Street where a right turn takes us past what is almost certainly the poshest Waitrose in the country (if that’s not a tautology).


Continue west into Lowndes Street then venture south on Cadogan Place, east on Pont Street and north on another stretch of Lowndes Street. At the top we turn back east onto West Halkin Street before heading south down Belgrave Mews West. This takes us past the back of the Austrian Embassy and through the middle of the complex of old and new that is the German Embassy. This is the new bit which fronts onto Chesham Place.


The Embassy of Finland is opposite and Spain is on the corner with Belgrave Square.

Belgrave Square was created in the 1820’s for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, later the Marquess of Westminster. The communal garden (from which the public are naturally excluded) is 2 hectares in size and has a Grade II listing in The Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. In the south western corner of the square is a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, sculpted in 1992 and gifted by the people of Spain (yes every single one of them).


We’ve only time to visit the west side of the square this time out and we’ve already noted that the Spanish Embassy is at no.24 and the German at 21-23. The Austrians have had their embassy at no.18 since 1866 when it was actually attributable to the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Foreign Service.


Turning the corner at the top of the square we pass by the Embassy of Portugal before heading up Wilton Terrace.


In Wilton Terrace we have the first blue plaque we’ve come across in quite a while – commemorating the residence of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900 – 1979). Earl Mountbatten (born Prince Louis of Battenberg) was an uncle of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s second cousin once removed. During the Second World War he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. In 1947 he became the last Viceroy of India and from 1954 to 59 he served as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. It is particularly sad therefore that for those of my generation he will probably always be best remembered for the manner of his death – blown up by a Provisional IRA bomb planted in his fishing boat in County Sligo, Ireland.


Well we’re just about at the end for today and we haven’t had a church yet so for those of you suffering withdrawal symptoms we’re going to finish at St Paul’s Church which we reach by cutting across Wilton Crescent and circling back up into Wilton Place. St Paul’s was consecrated in 1843 and was the first church in London to adopt the principles of the Oxford Movement, the so-called ‘Tractarians’ who wished to restore a sense of Catholic order and spirituality to the Anglican church. Accordingly the building is far more elaborately decorated and replete with Christian imagery and symbolism than your average C of E  parish church. Perhaps unsurprising therefore that former-Catholic, the Revered Richard Coles (of the Communards, Radio 4  and now Strictly Come Dancing fame) was curate here in the mid-2000’s.

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Day 45 – Bishopsgate – Leadenhall Market – Lime Street – Monument

Today’s journey’s a little bit different from the usual in that it coincided with the Sunday of this year’s Open House Weekend so I was afforded the possibility of seeing inside a few places en route that would normally be off limits. Case in point is the Drapers’ Hall which we encountered towards the end of Day 44 so we’re going to rewind a bit and kick off with that again this time. From there we’re going to head north up to London Wall then drop south on Bishopsgate to Leadenhall Market before wending our way east and south to finish up at the Monument.

Day 45 Route

As noted, today’s starting point is the Drapers’ Hall on Throgmorton Street. We already covered the history of the Drapers’ Company and the external architectural features last time out so I’m just going to let the images of the interior pretty much speak for themselves (aside from the commentary I’ve added to the individual slides that is). Suffice to say, I had expected something pretty grandiose as befitting third place on the Order of Precedence but I wasn’t prepared for something quite this opulent (and on such a scale).

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You will have noted that the Victorian artist, Herbert James Draper (1863 – 1920) had quite a prominent role in in the decoration of the Hall. Whether he got the commission on account of his name or because the guiding lights of the company appreciated his somewhat risqué interpretations of mythological and Shakespearean themes is not recorded (so far as I can tell). The thinking behind the tapestries and ceiling painting depicting scenes from the Legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece is rather easier to discern.

After leaving the hall we repeat the walk up Throgmorton Avenue to Austin Friars which leads east to the Dutch Church. Originally this was the site of a 13th century Augustinian priory (Austin Friars) before, in 1550, what is regarded as the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world church was founded here. That first building survived right up until the Blitz destroyed it; the present church was built in the early 1950’s. Perkin Walbeck, the pretender to the English crown (he claimed to be the younger son of Edward IV, one of the Princes in the Tower murdered by Richard III), was buried in the original church following his execution by Henry VII. Today the church still acts as a focal point for the Dutch community in London.

Opposite the church is the Furniture Makers’ Hall – which is the one that I could claim entry to by virtue of ancestry. Typical ! If only my Grand-dads had been drapers instead of chairmakers.


Looping round the rest of Austin Friars we emerge onto Old Broad Street opposite the City of London Club, the oldest Gentlemen’s club in, well, the City of London. This was founded in 1832 by a group of prominent bankers, merchants and ship owners and held its first meetings at the George and Vulture pub (see last post). The original membership numbered 600 and included the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. If you should want to join then you need to make the acquaintance and get the support of at least six people who are already members (and ladies are equally welcome these days apparently).


As you can see, these days the City of London Club, sits in the shadow of Tower 42, which until 1990 and the construction of One Canada Square at Canary Wharf was the tallest building in the UK. Nowadays it’s only the third highest skyscraper in the City of London having been eclipsed in recent years by the Heron Tower (we’ll stick with that name thank you) and 122 Leadenhall Street (a.k.a “the Cheesegrater”). Tower 42, of course, started life as the NatWest Tower (seen from above the shape of the building echoes the NatWest logo). It was designed by Richard Seifert (1910 – 20011) and built by John Mowlem & Co between 1971 and 1980 at a cost of £72m. At 183m the tower dwarfed everything around it at the time of construction and was extremely controversial. It was built around a massive central concrete core from which the floors are cantilevered (anchored at just one end) making it exceptionally strong but reducing the amount of office space that could have been available with an alternative structure. On a note with contemporary resonance; at the time of design, fire sprinkler systems were not mandatory in the UK and so weren’t installed. It was this omission, coupled with a fire in the tower during a 1996 refurbishment, that prompted the GLC to amend its fire regulations and require sprinkler installations in all buildings. Today the building is multi-tenanted with a high-end restaurant on the 24th floor and a champagne and seafood bar on the 42nd.

Moving on we duck into Pinners Alley (by the side of Pinners Hall where I worked from 1996 to 2004) heading west briefly before turning north up Austin Friars Passage – which I always though should’ve been the name of a second division 1970’s pro-rock band.


At the other end is Great Winchester Street which is home to Deutsche Bank’s London HQ. Among the artworks in their lobby is one of Damien Hirst’s multi-coloured dot efforts (more of him later).


Turning left we end up back on London Wall which as we head east morphs into Wormwood Street. At the junction with Bishopsgate (a.k.a the A10) we switch southward and drop all the way down to Leadenhall Market. On the way we pass a NatWest building of a different vintage altogether; this one built in the 1860’s to a design of the architect John Gibson (1817 – 1892) when the bank was known as the National Provincial Bank of England.

At Leadenhall Market I was able to tag along with a tour that had just started (courtesy of Open House again). I wish I had made a note of the guide’s name so I could give a well deserved shout-out as she was excellent. Anyway, Leadenhall Market dates back to the 14th century and stands on a site that was once the heart of Roman London. As early as 1321 it was a meeting place of the Poulterers while the Cheesemongers (I think we must have missed them on our travels) sold their wares here from 1397. In 1411 the Corporation of London acquired the freehold of the site and it became an established market for fish, meat, poultry and corn. The present wrought iron and glass roofed structure was designed by City Architect, Horace Jones (1819 – 1887) and erected in 1881. The Market has been used as a location in a number of films, most notably Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where it represented Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron pub.

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We leave the market via Whittington Avenue and, turning right on Leadenhall Street, pass the Lloyds of London building (not to be confused with the Lloyds Register building which we encountered previously). This iconic, Richard Rogers designed edifice, caused even more of a stir when it was put up (between 1978 and 1986) than the NatWest Tower had. In spite of this, 25 years after its completion it became the youngest structure ever to be granted Grade-I listed status. Lloyds is a leading example of what has been dubbed Bowellism, the practice of putting service areas of a building on its exterior so as to maximise space in the interior (c.f. Paris’s Pompidou Centre). The building consists of three main towers and three service towers around a central, rectangular space. Its core is the large Underwriting Room on the ground floor, which houses the Lutine Bell within the Rostrum. (It wasn’t taking part in Open House this year but the queues are normally prohibitive anyway).

The Lloyd’s building is at no.1 Lime Street; opposite at no.52 construction is underway of yet another skyscraper, The Scalpel. This time that’s an official designation, the developers yielding to the “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” maxim. This one will top out at 38 storeys and be the new European HQ for insurers W.R Berkley (no me neither).


Turn south down Lime Street and then return to the Market along Leadenhall Place. Take a left into Lime Street Passage and then traverse the Market a couple more times via Beehive Passage, Bull’s Head Passage and Ship Tavern Passage. This finds us back on Lime Street which we follow southward to Fenchurch Street. From here we go west back to Gracechurch Street then continue south before cutting round Talbot Court down onto Eastcheap. Turn east as far as Philpot Lane and use this to return northward, poking our noses into Brabant Court on the west side before arriving back on Fenchurch Street. This route takes us around no.20 Fenchurch Street, better known to you, me and everyone else as the “Walkie-Talkie” and the 2015 winner of Building Design Magazine’s Carbuncle Cup for the worst building in the UK. It is notorious of course because its concave shape makes it reflect sunlight into a concentrated beam that on reaching street level has been known to melt the bodywork of parked cars and facilitate the frying of eggs on the pavement. Those incidents took place in 2013, since when the glass exterior has been covered with a non-reflective film. In an interview with The Guardian the building’s architect, Rafael Vinoly, blamed the problem on global warming “When I first came to London years ago, it wasn’t like this … Now you have all these sunny days”.  The ‘sky garden’ at the top of the building was claimed to be London’s highest public park, but since opening there have been debates about whether it can be described as a ‘park’, and whether it is truly ‘public’ given the access restrictions. On the day there was a queue of about eighty or so people waiting to be allowed up.


This time we strike eastward until we reach Cullum Street which curves back onto Lime Street. At the junction here that man Damien Hirst makes a second appearance in today’s post, lowering the tone of the neighbourhood with one of his giant anatomical models as part of Sculpture in the City.


This time we make an easterly retreat from Lime Street along Fenchurch Avenue and after a short distance cut back to Fenchurch Street via Fen Court. There is a small garden here in what was once the churchyard of St Gabriel Fenchurch, lost in the Great Fire. The sculpture “The Gilt of Cain” by Michael Vissochi was unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 and commemorates the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. It takes its name from a poem of Lemn Sissay which is inscribed on the sculpture and combines Old Testament text with the language of the Stock Exchange.

You’re probably wondering by now where all the churches had got to but don’t worry, there are one or two on the menu today – though fewer than you’ve had to put up with in the last few posts. First up is All Hallows Staining which we reach by taking Star Alley south from Fenchurch Street through to Mark Lane. Mind you, all that remains of this one is its tower which was built around 1320 AD. The rest was demolished c.1870 when All Hallows merged with nearby St Olave Hart Street (see Day 40). The latter was badly damaged in WW2 so a prefab church was erected next to the tower and named St Olave Mark Lane (as you see the sign in the photo confusingly still refers to St Olave). The tower is maintained by the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, whose hall sits in nearby Mincing Lane.


Next we follow Mark Lane down to Great Tower Street which at its eastern extremity adjoins with Byward Street which as it heads west turns into Lower Thames Street. At the juncture here sits The Hung Drawn & Quartered pub which acts as a reminder of the public executions which once took place on nearby Tower Hill, including those of Thomases More and Cromwell.


We leave Lower Thames Street almost immediately and wend our way through Bakers Hall Court, Harp Lane and Cross Lane to St Dunstan’s Hill where lie the ruins of the church of St Dunstan in the East, now set within a public garden that was laid out in 1967. St Dunstan’s wasn’t completely destroyed in the Great Fire so it was patched up in the immediate aftermath and then a Wren-designed tower and steeple were added at the end of the 17th century. Apart from a couple of walls this tower was all that remained intact after the WW2 bombing and it was decided not to rebuild again. Personally I like it as it is now – as do the birds.

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Dropping back down onto Lower Thames Street it’s time for another Open House visit – to the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths (or rather the very partial remains thereof) located beneath a drab 1980’s office block. Discovered in 1848 during the construction of the Coal Exchange building (more of that in a while) these are the only remains of a Roman house accessible in London. It is believed that the house was originally built around the late 2nd century AD and the baths added in the following century. The latest theory is that at the time the baths were constructed the building had become a resting-place for travellers, essentially a Roman version of a hotel. I have to again commend the guides who were exceptionally informative and engaging. Visits to the site are restricted but you can book a tour through the Museum of London outside of Open House weekend.

Opposite here, straddling the area between Lower Thames Street and the river is another Open House destination, Custom House. An English Customs service on an ad hoc basis has existed since at least the middle of the 8th century and was formalised by King Edward I in 1275 as a means of beefing up the royal finances. The current Custom House is thought to be the fifth such to have been built on this site, chosen because beyond this point London Bridge has historically prevented ships from going further upriver. The present building was put up between 1813 and 1817 and initially designed by David Laing (1774 – 1856), Surveyor to the Customs. However within a few years of completion the ceiling of the Long Room had partially collapsed and the floor completely given way. The latter event occurred just a day after Sir Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867) had concluded an inspection of the premises and advised staff to evacuate. Smirke was then engaged to oversee the rebuilding and Laing’s career suffered the same fate as the floor. The Custom House now comprises a west wing built by Laing, a central block built by Smirke and an east wing dating from 1962-66. The southern façade, made of Portland stone, is much more aesthetically-pleasing than the northern face of yellow stock brick; this is because the building was designed to be seen from the river and impress shipfarers from overseas.

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The Great Long Room was an innovation of Christopher Wren (prolific doesn’t even begin to do the man justice) for his version of the Custom House, built in 1671. This was to be the public room where all import and export business was to be transacted. Because of this room, the public rooms in Custom Houses around the world have become known as ‘Long Rooms’ irrespective of their shape or size. The current Long Room is the work of the aforementioned Sir Robert Smirke, it is 190 feet long and 63 feet wide and has one of the largest unsupported wooden ceilings in Europe.

The Long Room

The Coal Exchange which I mentioned earlier was one of the glories of Victorian Architecture, built in 1847-49 to the designs of City architect, James Bunstone Bunning (1802 – 1863) and opened to great fanfare by Queen Vic herself. The interior was one of the earliest and most remarkable examples of cast-iron construction in the world, several years before the Crystal Palace. However that didn’t cut any ice with the town planners of the 1960’s who had little regard for Victorian extravagance. Despite the objections of the Victorian Society and Sir John Betjeman (naturally) the building was demolished in 1962 in preparation for a road-widening scheme that didn’t actually take place until the 1980s. Why do I mention this ? Because the alternative would have been to shave off that unlovely north face of the Custom House, an option which from a 21st century perspective appears immeasurably more appealing.

Coal Exchange

James Bunning was also responsible for the original Billingsgate Fish Market built just to west of the Custom House in 1850 but rendered obsolete by increased levels of trade within 25 years. Work on a new market building, designed by Horace Jones in the Italianate style, began in 1874 and was completed three years later. In 1982 the fish market was relocated to the Isle of Dogs and the building on Lower Thames Street was refurbished under the guidance of Richard Rogers (he gets about a bit as well). The Grade II listed building is now used as an events venue.


Time we got moving again I think. Head up Idol Lane which runs to the west of St Dunstan’s and turn right on Great Tower Street before proceeding north (with a manly stride) up Mincing Lane. Next move is west along Plantation Lane which leads into Rood Lane. Venture northward first before doubling back towards Eastcheap. On the corner here stands the Guild church of St Margaret Pattens (unlike Parish churches Guild churches hold regular weekday services rather than serving a Sunday congregation). The church’s exterior is notable for its 200-ft high spire, Wren’s third highest and the only one that he designed in a medieval style. The name of the church derives from pattens, wooden-soled overshoes which historically enabled Londoners to walk about the city without sinking too deep into the mud and effluent which covered the streets. The church still has an affiliation with the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers.


Cross over Eastcheap and drop down St Mary at Hill back towards the river. At no.18 we find the Watermen’s Hall, home to the Company of Watermen and Lightermen (in a riverfaring context the Watermen were the equivalent of taxi-drivers and the Lightermen the truckers). The hall was built in 1780 by William Blackburn and is the only remaining Georgian hall in the City of London. The Watermen are not a Livery Company as such, hence no Worshipful before the name. This is because the Waterman are governed by statutes and Royal Charters that extend beyond the boundaries of the City of London. So unlike the Pattenmakers (no.70) they don’t appear in the Order of Precedence.IMG_20170917_153709

So we’re almost at our final stop and to get there we have to negotiate as follows: north up Lovat Lane, left turn into Botolph Alley, north up Botolph Lane, west along Eastcheap, south down Pudding Lane, left along St George’s Lane back to Botolph Lane, south this time and then west into Monument Street. Which, as you might have guessed, brings us to The Monument itself. As I’m sure you’re aware, this was erected in commemoration of the Great Fire of 1666 and the subsequent rebuilding of the City and was completed in 1677. The fire was alleged to have begun in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane and the height of The Monument is equal to its distance from that starting point, 202 feet. The designers of the memorial were Sir Christopher Wren (goes without saying really) and his friend Dr Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703). They came up with the idea of a classic Doric column with 311 steps up to a viewing platform and a summit topped with a drum and copper urn from which flames emerge. A total of seven people died falling from the viewing gallery (six suicides and one who accidentally fell after leaning over the balcony to look at a live eagle kept in a cage) before it was enclosed in an iron cage in 1842. It costs £5 (cash only) if you want to ascend up to the platform.

Keeping my five pounds in my pocket I walk on by and finish today’s epic with a stroll up and down Fish Street Hill.

And that’s us finally just about done with the City of London. Next time we’ll be heading back west over to Hyde Park for a complete change of scene.
















































Day 44 – Bank – Threadneedle Street – Cornhill – Lombard Street

So we’re back after a bit of an extended summer break and we’re still in the City of London. Today’s expedition is all about the streets that radiate eastward from the Bank tube station junction, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill, Lombard Street and King William Street but also extends north up to Moorgate and London Wall. Might not look like a very wide area on paper but on pavement, once you’ve added in all the courts and alleyways, there’s a fair bit of shoe leather laid to rest. Highlights en route today include the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange along with the inevitable Wren churches and a couple more of those Livery Companies.

Day 44 Route

I’ve referenced it fleetingly in previous posts but for this outing I’m going to delve into this a bit more extensively as a source for the commentary (I don’t know the exact year of publication but it was some time in the 1930’s). Direct extracts will appear in italics.


We begin today from Bank underground station from where exit 1 leads us up to Princes Street heading northward. Set back from the west side of Princes Street is Grocers’ Hall, home to The Grocers’ Company, another of the original Twelve Great Livery Companies and proudly ensconced at no.2 in the Order of Precedence (appropriately in a “Nation of Shopkeepers”). This mob started out as the Ancient Guild of Pepperers as far back as 1100 then in the 14th century founded a new fraternity of spice traders in the City of London which came to be known as the Company of Grossers. It took them three years before they realised that this might cause a few sniggers come the 21st century and changed it to Grocers in 1376. They received their Royal Charter from Henry VI in 1428.  The current hall, the fifth, was built in 1970, its predecessor having survived WW2 only to be burnt down in 1965 reportedly due to a poorly situated lightbulb being left on in a cupboard.


At the top of Princes Street we turn right into Lothbury and proceed along the back of the Bank of England where there is a statue of Sir John Soane (whose wonderful museum we visited on a previous excursion), architect and surveyor to the Bank from 1788 to 1833 during which time it doubled in size to 3.5 acres. It first moved to this site between Threadneedle Street and Lothbury in 1734, having previously leased the Grocers’ Hall (see above) from 1695, the year following its foundation. When the Bank was rebuilt between 1925 and 1939 by Sir Herbert Baker, the outer walls erected by Soane in 1828 were retained while all the interior buildings were demolished. Regarding these walls it will be observed that, for the purposes of security, they are completely windowless, all the rooms being lighted from interior courts; but even a Raffles who succeeded in passing this barrier would be baffled at the extraordinary series of defences surrounding the vaults, which include concentric walls of steel and concrete between which armed guards patrol day and night.

On the other side of Lothbury stands St Margaret’s Church, the first of a number of post-Great Fire Christopher Wren rebuilding jobs we’ll encounter today.

Right next door to the church is 7 Lothbury, built in 1868 and designed in a Venetian Gothic style by architect George Somers Clarke (1825 – 1882) as a head office for the General Credit and Discount Company. In the 1960’s it was taken over by the Overseas Bankers’ Club but despite a Grade II listing had fallen into disrepair by the early 21st century. It has now been converted for residential use.

Turn left next up Tokenhouse Yard then left again along King’s Arms Yard to Moorgate. Across the street is another Grade II listed building, Basildon House, which dates from the late 1800s and is in a Baroque style with Grecian details.


Head north a short way then look in on Great Bell Alley on the westside before crossing back over and proceeding east down Telegraph Street. Loop round Whalebone Court and Copthall Court into Copthall Avenue and after a few paces north turn west again along Great Swan Alley. This is the site of the headquarters of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, though technically the address is no.1 Moorgate Place which is about half way along the street. Chartered Accountants’ Hall was built between 1890 and 1893 and is another Victorian neo-Baroque job courtesy of architect John Belcher. The façade on Great Swan Alley is part of an extension to the original building completed in 1930-31. In 1964-70 a much more extensive redevelopment was undertaken which included the creation of a Great Hall with five stories of office space above it. The ICAEW was granted a royal charter in 1880 and today has over 147,000 members. Presumably that’s one of them in the photo below (no not the guy the yellow jacket – he looks more like a Certified Accountant).


After this it’s back to Moorgate and a continuation northward up to London Wall where we turn east and then head south once more all the way down Copthall Avenue. Swing round to the east and head up and back down the top section of Throgmorton Avenue with just a cursory glance at the Carpenters’ Hall – royal charter granted in 1477 and no.26 in order of precedence. Return along Copthall Avenue and then stroll down Angel Court to Throgmorton Street. Turn right a short distance to arrive at Bartholomew Lane which skirts the east flank of the Bank of England and houses the entrance to the museum. The Bank of England museum has two main things going for it; one it’s free and two it’s not that big. This does mean it can get quite crowded but it’s worth putting up with that.

The Bank was the brainchild of Scottish entrepreneur William Paterson (1658 – 1719). The aim was to provide a secure and continuous loan to the nation (at a healthy profit of course). Public subscriptions raised £1.2 million in a few weeks, which formed the initial capital stock of the Bank of England and was lent to Government in return for a Royal Charter. The Royal Charter was sealed on 27 July 1694, and the Bank started its role as the Government’s banker and debt manager. I’m not going to write at length about the history of the Bank but it does make for interesting reading so it’s worth clicking on the link.

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Just a bit about the gold held by the Bank to finish off with – as I know that’s what you’re really interested in. The Bank itself only owns two of the gold bars in its vaults (one of which is actually on display in the museum). The rest are stored on behalf of HM Treasury, other central banks and some commercial firms. As of April 2017 the vaults held a total of 164.7 million Fine Troy Ounces of gold (about 5.1m kg or c.400,000 gold bars). Gold is currently trading at around £1,000 an ounce so I guess you can just about do the math as they say.

After leaving the museum we return to Bank station along Threadneedle Street. The Bank has of course long been known colloquially as “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”.


Across the street from the Bank, in the angle of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill, is the Royal Exchange, founded by Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579) in 1566 as London’s first purpose built centre for trading stocks and commodities. The first exchange, opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1871, came to grief in the Great Fire and its successor also burnt down in 1838. The present building, designed by Sir William Tite and inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. After WW2, during which the building was damaged, the traders moved out and the building fell into disuse until the 1980s’ when it was repaired and taken over by LIFFE (the London International Financial Futures Exchange). By the turn of the millennium LIFFE had also moved on and the building was extensively remodelled to transform it into a luxury shopping and dining destination. In front of the building stands a memorial, designed by Sir Aston Webb, to London troops who fell in the Great War.  Close by is an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington (riding without stirrups) by Chantrey cast from bronze from captured enemy cannons in 1844 . Historically the steps of the Royal Exchange have been one of the places from which the accession of a new monarch is proclaimed. It remains to be seen if this tradition is maintained.

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Walk through the Royal Exchange, without pausing to sample the fine dining though I did have a look in the Paul Smith sample store. Outside the eastern entrance on Royal Exchange Buildings are statues to George Peabody, founder of the Peabody Trust (several of whose housing estates we have encountered on previous journeys – and which look more and more like exemplary models of social housing with the passage of time) and Paul Julius Reuter, founder of the eponymous News Agency which had its first home nearby.

East of the Peabody statue, at the entrance to Royal Exchange Avenue, is a former drinking fountain dating to 1878 adorned by a sculpture entitled La Maternité by Jules Dalou (this was originally in marble but that weathered badly and so was replaced by a bronze copy in 1897). This was partly paid for by the Merchant Taylors’ Company, whose hall is just round the corner but falls into one of today’s blind spots.  So the Livery Company which is either 6th or 7th on the OOP (they alternate each year with the Skinners) miss out on their write up.


Walk down Royal Exchange Avenue into Finch Lane, turn south down to Cornhill and then head back towards Bank. In the middle of Cornhill is a statue of James Henry Greathead (1844 – 1896), a Civil Engineer who was instrumental in the creation of the London Underground and patented a number of inventions that facilitated the tunnelling operations. The statue was erected in 1994 and is positioned on a plinth which hides a ventilation shaft for the Underground.


Just a little way further back no. 24 Cornhill (now a cocktail bar and restaurant) has a Grade II listed façade designed by that man Sir Aston Webb (1849 – 1930) again. Webb’s most famous works are the façade of Buckingham Palace and the main V&A building.


As we approach Bank station once more the Mansion House hoves into view. We pretty much circumvented this last time out so for the sake of completeness here are a few 80 year-old snippets about this official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. It was built between 1739 and 1753, mainly, it is said from fines levied on stalwart Nonconformists. It has a fine Corinthian portico from the platform of which official announcements are often made. The chief room is the Egyptian Hall where the somewhat lavish hospitality expected from London’s chief citizen is exercised. The Lord Mayor receives a salary of £10,000 a year, but if rumour speaks correctly he is generally out of pocket at the end of his year of office.


Just before we reach the Bank intersection we cut down Pope’s Head Alley to Lombard Street then turn right to where this apexes with King William Street. Here stands the church of St Mary Woolnoth, which surprise. surprise is not part of the Christopher Wren portfolio but one of the Queen Anne churches designed by that other great ecclesiastical architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. Today the church is used by London’s German-speaking Swiss community and doubles up as the official London church of the government of British Columbia (why that is even a thing heaven knows).

Next up we switch between Lombard Street and King William Street for a while courtesy of Post Office Court, Abchurch Lane, Nicholas Passage and Nicholas Lane before we find ourselves heading south down Clement’s Lane at the bottom of which is the decidedly underwhelming St Clement’s Church (of “Oranges and Lemons” say fame). Clement was a disciple of Saint Peter and was ordained as Bishop of Rome in AD 93. Legend has it that his was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea, hence his status as patron saint of sailors. The church is currently home to the administrative offices of the human rights’ charity the Amos Trust. So in lieu of shots of the interior here’s a reflection of the day.


Back on King William Street we turn east and swing round past House of Fraser into Gracechurch Street. Continue north before turning west down Lombard Court and then cutting up Plough Court to return to Lombard Street. To the left here is the Church of St Edmund King & Martyr, reconstructed to a design of Wren incorporating a tower ornamented at the angles by flaming urns in allusion to the Great Fire that destroyed the medieval church.


Across the street the entrance to the Royal Insurance Building is guarded by this bronze sculpture of three “allegorical” female figures – the lady on the left holds an anchor to represent the power of the sea, the one on the right a flaming torch to represent, well, fire and the sphinx in the centre (according to some sources) signifies the uncertainty of the future. The work is by Francis William Doyle Jones (1873 – 1938) and is entitled, with commendable literalness, Chimera with Personifications of Fire and the Sea.


We double back a short distance and then proceed north into George Yard as far as the George & Vulture pub. This self-proclaimed Old Pickwickian Hostelrie dates from 1748 and is reputed to have been one of the meeting places of the notorious Hell-Fire Club. Dickens was a regular punter and the inn is mentioned at least 20 times in The Pickwick Papers.IMG_20170823_161505

Just before the pub we turn left down Bengal Court then cross Birchin Lane and follow Cowpers Court back to Cornhill. Turn eastward here as far as Ball Court on the south side which doglegs round to St Michael’s Alley where, opposite the George & Vulture is another legendary City drinking-hall, The Jamaica Wine House. Known locally as “the Jampot” this was originally the first coffee house in London, opening in 1652 and counting Samuel Pepys amongst its clientele.


Taking St Michael’s Alley back to Cornhill we reach St Michael’s Church  rebuilt by Wren after the Fire and restored by Sir G.G. Scott. It has a fine Gothic tower, modelled on Magdalen Tower, Oxford and a pulpit carved by Grinling Gibbons. The organ of St Peter’s Church, almost next door, was played several times by Mendelssohn and in the vestry his autograph is treasured. The church was founded, according to an ancient tablet in the vestry, by “Lucius, the first Christian king of this land called Britaine”. Many remains of Roman London have been discovered hereabouts and many authorities place here the site of the Roman forum.

Beginning with St Peter’s Alley we trace a double loop southward additionally involving Corbet Court, St Michael’s Alley again (this is at least three alleys for the price of one) and Bell Inn Yard. That brings us back to Gracechurch Street where we drop further south to Lombard Street and then proceed west to Birchin Lane which takes us north again. After a quick detour exploring the labyrinth that is Change Alley we resume northward, crossing over Cornhill into Finch Lane then over Threadneedle Street into Old Broad Street. Almost immediately veer left down Threadneedle Walk to return to Throgmorton Street generally crowded by bare-headed individuals of varying degrees of frivolity, whose presence betrays the whereabouts of that important institution, the Stock Exchange in Capel Court. The Stock Exchange referred to is the one that was created in 1801 as the first purpose-built and regulated “Subscription Room” for brokers to ply their trade. Prior to that they had gravitated away from the Royal Exchange to conduct their business in the coffee-houses of Change Alley and beyond. Capel Court no longer exists as such; in 1972 a new Stock Exchange Tower was opened on Old Broad Street and the original site redeveloped. However, come the ‘Big Bang’ and the introduction of electronic trading in 1986, the Tower became something of a white elephant and when an IRA bomb blew a whole in the 26-storey building four years later the writing was firmly on the wall. It closed permanently in 1992 and it was another 20 years before this unloved totem of the “Brutalist” era was stripped back to its core and redeveloped as a 21st century glass-clad monolith. In 2004 the London Stock Exchange eventually found a new home in Paternoster Square. Coincidentally the company I worked for made the same journey from Old Broad Street the same year.

Bit of a digression there but back to Throgmorton Street and the Drapers’ Hall. The first hall here was bought from King Henry VIII in 1543 for the sum of 1,800 marks (c.£1,200) and had previously been the home of Thomas Cromwell (up until his execution in 1840). The hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire and again in 1772 after another fire. In the 1860’s the frontage and the interior were redesigned by Herbert Williams. Further changes at the end of the 19th century included the creation of the two Atlantes (male equivalents of Caryatids); turbaned and muscular Djinns that guard either side of the entrance. These are believed to be the work of sculptor H.A Pegram (1862 – 1937).


The full title of the Drapers’ Company is “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London”. The word Mystery comes from the Latin “misterium” meaning professional skill. You wouldn’t get away with that if you were much lower than no.3 on the Order of Precedence. We follow Drapers’ Hall and its gardens all the way up  Throgmorton Avenue to where it joins Copthall Avenue.

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There is a bit more to come  but since we’ve just about breached the 3,000 word barrier we’ll continue from this juncture next time.





















Day 43 – Queen Victoria Street – Cannon Street – Cheapside

So what have we got for you today ? Well, we’re still in the City of London but no major landmarks this time so it’s half a dozen more of those Wren churches, a couple more Livery Halls and a lot of building sites. Fear not though, we’ll try and get through this a bit more briskly than of late and see if we can’t extract some reasonable entertainment value out of it.

Day 43 route

We begin at Bank tube station and making our way down the west side of Mansion House arrive at the first of those Wren churches, St Stephen Walbrook. This is considered to be among the very finest of Wren’s work, particularly admired by the great Italian sculptor-architect, Canova. The geometry of the church is perfectly rectangular, unusually for Wren, but it’s the interior that really impresses. In 1953 the rector at the time, Dr Chad Varah (1912 – 2007), founded the Samaritans charity in the church vestry.

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(Of course the exterior would look a little bit more impressive without another one of those bloody white vans parked in front of it). Head back up to Queen Victoria Street along Bucklersbury and then turn west. To the south, between here and Cannon Street, the massive Bloomberg Place development has been taking shape since 2014 under the combined force of architects, Foster & Partners and constructors, McAlpine. As the name suggests this is intended as Bloomberg’s new European HQ (though I imagine in 2014 they didn’t have much inkling that the UK would be in the process of divorcing itself from Europe come 2017).

Circumnavigate the development via the top section of Queen Street and east on Cannon Street before heading back to the church up Walbrook Street. After a quick peek at Bond Court on the south side of the church we turn eastward in between the north side and the back of Mansion House down St Stephens Row.  This leads into Mansion House Place which in turn emerges on St Swithin’s Lane. At the bottom of this we continue east on Cannon Street before switching northward again up Abchurch Lane. Here we find the second of today’s Wren reconstructions, St Mary Abchurch. The most striking feature of the church is the painted domed ceiling (though there is no exterior dome) believed to be the work of local artist, William Snow, who was paid £170 for his efforts according to the church accounts of the time – 1708.  Painted in oils directly on the plaster, the decorations are divided in two horizontally by a painted Trompe-l’œil cornice. Above this a choir of angels and cherubs in adoration surrounds a golden glow, in the centre of which it the name of God in Hebrew characters.



Skirt left round the church via Abchurch Yard and follow Sherborne Lane up to King William Street. Turn right for a short distance then go all the way back down Abchurch Lane to Cannon Street again. Keep going east as far as the junction by Monument station where we turn south briefly (still on King William Street) before veering west down an alley that runs into Arthur Street. Next up is Martin Lane which is home to The Olde Wine Shades, one of London’s oldest pubs. Built just three years before the Great Fire as a Merchants house it managed to survive the conflagration and was later, reportedly, used by smugglers who exploited a tunnel running from the cellars to the river. It’s now part of the El Vino chain and currently under refurbishment.


Back up to Cannon Street and then down the next turn on the left which is Laurence Pountney Lane. The name is a relic of St Laurence Pountney church which was one that wasn’t rebuilt after its destruction by the Great Fire. Pountney is a corruption of Pultneye, as in Sir John de Pultneye, one time Lord Mayor.


With their street cobbles and heritage brickwork Laurence Pountney Lane and the adjoining Laurence Pountney Hill are a brief but welcome antidote to the frenzy and modern bluster of Cannon Street and its construction sites.


We’re back on Cannon Street soon enough though having completed a circuit of Laurence Pountney Hill, Suffolk Lane, Gophir Lane and Bush Lane. Cross the road for a quick excursion into Oxford Court where we catch sight of what has to be the most reductive attempt to retain a historic façade yet encountered.


Back on the other side we continue west passing the eponymous Cannon Street Station. The original incarnation of this terminus, now serving south east London and Kent, dates back to 1866. That Victorian station was fronted by a five storey hotel in the Italianate style which was converted into offices in the 1930’s. Prior to that though, in 1920, it had hosted the first meetings of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The station was  pretty much wiped out during the Second World War and after a 1960’s redevelopment overseen by the infamous John Poulson (1930 – 1993) all that remained of the original station were its 120ft twin red brick towers (Grade II listed in 1972). In the 1980’s office blocks were constructed above the platforms and Poulson’s main station building was replaced as part of a major regeneration programme by Network Rail starting in 2007.


On the other side of the station we head south once more down Dowgate Hill and on the right here we have three Livery Company halls all in a row. First up is the Tallow Chandlers Company, granted its charter by King Edward IV in 1462. The trade in tallow (rendered animal fats) candles had pretty much run its course by the 17th century as tallow was superseded by new materials such as spermaceti (a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale) and paraffin wax. This decline was partly offset by the use of tallow in the manufacture of soap in the 19th century (in 1853 Lord Palmerston,  seeking to encourage public cleanliness, removed all duty on tallow). Today like most of the Livery Companies, as we know, the Tallow Chandlers are a purely charitable institution. They do nonetheless sit at a fairly lofty no.21 in the Order of Precedence.


Right next door is the Skinners’ Hall, the Grade I listed home of the Skinners’ Company (re)-built in 1670. The Skinners (developed out of the medieval guild of fur traders) are one of the so-called Great Twelve Livery Companies, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1327 and standing firm right up there at no. 6 in the OoP (you have probably twigged by now how much I enjoy a good chart). For a ten year period at the turn of the 18th century the hall was rented by the East India company who, upon departure, left as a gift a mahogany East India table which is still in use today.


Final member of this triumvirate is the Worshipful Company of Dyers with their, frankly, quite disturbing coat of arms. The Dyers received their first charter from Henry VI in 1471 and they occupy the 13th position on the OoP. That might have had something to do with the fact that having been rebuilt after the Great Fire the Dyers Hall burned down again just 14 years later.


And just round the corner in College Street we have a fourth, the Worshipful Company of Innholders, number 32 on the OoP and receiving its first charter from Henry VIII in 1514.  In a familiar story, the hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire and completed in 1670.

Back then, in the 17th century, there was often a shortage of small denomination coins of the realm and tradesmen found it impossible to give change for small items – in the case of innkeepers for a drink of ale or a bale of hay. They therefore solved their problem by issuing their own tokens which could only be redeemed where they had been issued.

The Innholders’ motto, Hinc Spes Affulget, is Latin for Hence Hope Shines Forth.

Further along College Street we arrive at the Church of Saint Michael Paternoster Royal which is strongly associated with our old mate Richard Whittington, four times Mayor of London. In 1409 good old Dick paid for the rebuilding and extension of the church and in 1422 he was buried here, though the actual tomb has not survived. The three stained glass windows you can see below where designed by John Hayward in 1968. The main window depicts St Michael trampling a red-winged Satan and the windows on either side show, respectively, the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and Adam and Eve with St Gabriel and the serpent. There is a separate window depicting Dick Whittington with his cat.

Whittington also founded an almshouse and chantry college adjacent to the church on College Hill which lasted there until the early 1800s when they moved to Highgate. The façades of both institutions from the late 17th century can still be seen on the east side as you go up the hill (one of them with a distinctly Pirates of the Caribbean feel).

Halfway up College Hill we turn right into Cloak Lane then follow a loop of Dowgate Hill, Cannon Street and College Hill again to return to the western section of Cloak Lane and then head south down Queen Street. At the bottom we turn right again into Skinners Lane which leads down to the Church of St James Garlickhythe. Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective) this one wasn’t open for visits today. The name of the church is derived from the Saxon word ‘hythe’ meaning a landing place.  So this spot, formerly on the river, was where garlic (a vital medicine and preservative in the Middle Ages) was unloaded and probably traded on Garlick Hill at the foot of which the church stands. The forty foot ceiling in the church is the highest in the City apart from St Pauls. In the landscaped area to the west of the church stands a bronze statue of ‘The Barge Master and Swan Marker of the Vintners Company’.

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We ascend the aforementioned Garlick Hill and two thirds of the way up turn east again along Great St Thomas Apostle (just that, no Street no Lane). At the end we do another loop back round Queen Street, Cannon Street and the top bit of Garlick Hill and this time go west on Great Trinity Lane which is much smaller than Little Trinity Lane which occupies us next. Backtrack up to Queen Victoria Street  take a few steps to the west and then head south again down Huggin Hill (which is only an alleyway) to Upper Thames Street. Continue west alongside the Castle Baynard section of the east -west cycle superhighway before returning to Queen Victoria Street via Lambeth Hill. Turning east then north up Friday Street and Bread Street we reach the One New Change shopping mall. This was created only a few years ago, not without controversy given its proximity to St Pauls. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the exterior if not for the range of stores contained within. In my judgement it also hasn’t exactly achieved the desired level of footfall since it opened.

On the edge of the small garden to the south of the mall is a memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip (1738 – 1814) the first Governor of New South Wales and the man who founded the British penal colony that eventually formed the basis of the city of Sydney. His early years were spent in a tenanted family home near Cheapside.


And Cheapside is where we head next, cutting through the shopping complex to make this latest visit. Proceeding east we arrive at the church of St Mary-le-Bow, famous of course for its bells which, according to tradition, you have to be born within earshot of to be considered a true Cockney. The bells also feature prominently in the story of how that man Dick Whittington (yes him again) came to be Lord Mayor. Hearing the sound of them supposedly persuaded him to return to London (with his cat) when he was on his way to leaving the capital. As he was reported to have heard the bells in Highgate this would incidentally imply quite a large catchment area for your native Cockneys. During WWII the church was hit by a bomb which brought the bells crashing to the ground. New bells were cast in 1956 and ringing only resumed in 1961. Since the early 1940s, a recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for its English-language broadcasts.

In Bow courtyard stands a statue of Captain John Smith (1580 – 1631) the soldier and explorer, best known these days (thanks to the Disney film) for the story of his capture by the Powhatan Native American tribe and his release courtesy of the chief’s daughter Pocahontas who, according to Smith, threw herself across his body: “at the minute of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown”.


Cut through the courtyard and into Bow Lane then turn south down to Watling Street which we complete a quick up and down of before resuming on Bow Lane and taking in our final church of the day, St Mary Aldermary. According to the eminent architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, this is one of the two most important 17th century Gothic churches in England. It was one of the very few churches rebuilt by Wren to employ the Gothic style.

After that it just remains to complete the return to Bank station via a circuit of Queen Street, Pancras Lane and Sise Lane. Thank you and goodnight.