Day 61 – London Bridge – Hanseatic Walk – Tower of London

I guess I should begin this post with an apology for raising false expectations because this won’t in fact be the last of these as predicted in the previous post. By the time I’d spent several hours at the Tower of London discretion became the better part of valour and I decided to leave the planned home stretch across Tower Bridge and back along the river to London Bridge for another time. Today’s excursion is therefore restricted to a short but interest-packed stroll across London Bridge from south to north, along the Hanseatic Walk to Southwark Bridge and then back east beside the river to the Tower of London.

Day 61 Route

The current, undeniably prosaic, London Bridge is a box girder affair that was completed in 1973, replacing a 19th century stone arch bridge that (as we all know) was dismantled block by block and shipped over Arizona. Though commonly-believed (and repeated by the Yeoman warders at the Tower) the story that the purchaser, Missourian oil millionaire Robert P. McCulloch, thought he was actually buying Tower Bridge is entirely apocryphal. There has been a bridge on this site since Roman times and up until 1729 (when Putney Bridge was constructed) it was the only crossing downstream of Kingston. Several wooden bridges were built and destroyed (either by the elements or enemy forces) during the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods before Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge on which work began in 1176. It was finally completed 33 years later in the reign of King John. John tried to recoup the cost of building and maintenance by licensing out building plots on the bridge which eventually led to there being around 200 buildings in situ by the time the Tudors came to power. With the buildings came the threat of fire which materialised several times including in 1381 (Peasant’s Revolt), 1450 (Jack Cade’s Rebellion) and 1633 (which was actually fortuitous since it created a natural fire-break at the northern end which halted the spread of the Great Fire three decades later). The southern gatehouse of Henry’s bridge was notoriously used to display the severed heads of deemed traitors such as William Wallace, Jack Cade, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. The practice only stopped following the restoration of Charles II. Houses continued to be built on the bridge up until the middle of the 18th century by which time is was finally recognized that the medieval bridge was no longer fit for purpose. It wasn’t until 1831 however that this vision was realised with the opening of the John Rennie designed five stone-arch replacement – and we’ve already revealed the ultimate fate of that one.

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Looking East from London Bridge
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Looking north from London Bridge

At the northern end of London Bridge we drop down onto the riverside to the west and the Hanseatic Walk named after the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe that dominated maritime trade in the Baltic and North Sea from the 13th to the middle of the 15th century and continued to exist for several centuries after that. The main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London was known as The Steelyard and was situated on the north side of the Thames where one end of the Southwark Railway Bridge now stands. Its remains where uncovered by archaeologists during maintenance work on Cannon Street Station in 1988. In 2005 a Commemorative Plaque was installed at this western end of the Hanseatic Walk by the British- German Association.

Appropriately, Steelyard Passage runs under the rail-line out of Cannon Street and joins the next stretch of the Thames Path that takes us as far as Southwark Bridge. Here we climb up the steps onto Queens Street Place which has a number of richly ornamental facades on its west side. (At this point I should acknowledge again the Ornamental Passions blog which has been an invaluable source of information on architectural sculpture and statuary). First up, on the riverside, is the horrendous neo-neo-classical Vintner’s Place built at the behest of the Vintner’s Company (another of the 12 original Livery Companies). The one saving grace of this building is that it preserved the portico of its predecessor, a 1927 art deco office block called Vintry House. This portico incorporates one of London’s most brazen pieces of sculpture, a full-frontal nude Bacchante (priestess of Bacchus) flanked by a pair of goats and with a cape made from bunches of grapes. The creator of this was one Herbert Palliser and the model was Leopoldine Avico, one of three sisters who posed for numerous sculptors and painters during the early decades of the 20th century.

Next door Thames House was built in 1911 for Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, which made a Bovril-like goo from boiled up cows at a huge plant in Fray Bentos in Uruguay and later developed the Oxo cube. (Until I looked this up I had no idea there was an actual place called Fray Bentos). The sculptures on the two wings of the façade are the work of Richard Darbe who also dabbled in ivory and ceramic figurines for Royal Doulton.

Finally on the corner with Upper Thames Street is Five Kings House, which was originally the northern end of Thames House but was divided off in 1990. The figures above the entrance were created by George Duncan MacDougald. The male figure appears to represent the god Mercury but it’s not clear who the female figure is meant to be.

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After turning right onto Upper Thames Street we cross between this and the riverfront three times, Bell Wharf Lane, Cousin Lane and All Hallows Lane respectively, to return to the western end of the Hanseatic Walk. As we head back east we pass through Walbrook Wharf which is still an actual operating wharf, acting as a waste transfer station where refuse from central London is loaded onto barges to be shipped downstream to the Belvedere Incinerator which lies halfway between the Woolwich and Dartford crossings. When waste is being transferred onto the barges the riverside walk is closed to pedestrians. This point on the river, known as Dowgate, is also the mouth of the River Walbrook one of London’s lost rivers which now runs completely underground and feeds the sewer system.

There are two more links between Upper Thames Street and the riverside walk before we get back to London Bridge; Angel Lane and Swan Lane. Adjacent to the bridge, still on the west side, is the hall of the Fishmongers’ Company coming in at a mighty 4th place in the Livery Companies’ Order of Precedence which, as we have seen several times before, means that it got its original charter from Edward I (circa 1272). The Company enjoyed a monopoly on the sale of fish in the capital up until the 15th century. The original hall was the first of forty Livery Company halls to be consumed by the Great Fire. However thanks to the Hall’s riverside location, the Company’s most important documents and its iron money chest and silver, were safely transported away by boat. The present hall was the second built after the Great Fire enforced by the start of construction of the “New” London Bridge in 1828. Following substantial destruction during the Blitz the hall underwent major restoration which was completed in 1954. Until 1975 the Company enjoyed the use of a private wharf which excluded the public from access to the riverfront here. The statue in the garden is of “in memory of Mr. James Hulbert late citizen and Fishmonger of London deceased” and was moved here in 1978 having been first erected at St Peter’s Hospital Wandsworth in 1724.

On the east side of the northern end of London Bridge on Lower Thames Street stands the church of St Magnus the Martyr. I’ve visited an awful lot of churches since I started doing this and it’s taken until almost the very end of the mission to discover the two that are probably my favourites, starting with this one. The church was originally established in the early 12th century and it is now accepted that it is dedicated to an earl of Orkney named Magnus who, despite his reputation for piety and gentleness, was killed by one of his cousins in a power struggle around 1116 and was canonised some twenty years later. At various times through the church’s history however it has been contended that the dedication is actually in favour of the St Magnus who was persecuted by the Emperor Aurelian back in the 3rd century AD. The medieval church survived pretty much intact until it was one of the first buildings to be destroyed in the Great Fire, being mere yards from Pudding Lane. Rebuilding after the fire took place (naturally) under the direction of Christopher Wren and was completed in 1676. This new church emerged relatively unscathed from WW2 and what repair work was needed was concluded by 1951, the year after it was designated a Grade I listed building. Though not large, the interior of the church contains a number of interesting artefacts and decorations not least of which is a splendid scale model of Old London Bridge created by David T. Aggett  a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. It also has an historic late 18th century fire engine (well more of a cart really) acquired by the parish in compliance with the Mischiefs by Fire Act of 1708 and the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act of 1774. Despite the church’s C of E denomination its interior is very ornate thanks to a neo-baroque style restoration of 1924 which reflected the Anglo-Catholic nature of the congregation at the time. That heritage may also explain why the rector uses the title “Cardinal Rector”, making him the last remaining cleric in the Church of England to use the title Cardinal.

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On leaving the church we return to the Thames Path and head further east past the riverside facades of Old Billingsgate and Custom House both of which we looked at back in Day 45. The two buildings are separated by Old Billingsgate Walk and beyond the latter Water Lane takes you back up onto Lower Thames Street.

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Old Billingsgate facing the Thames

Looping round Petty Wales and Gloucester Court brings us to the second of those churches – The Church of All Hallows by the Tower. All Hallows (which means “all saints”) was founded by Erkenwald, Bishop of London in 675 AD (as a chapel of the great Abbey of Barking). The original Anglo-Saxon church was built on the site of an earlier Roman dwelling, part of the tessellated floor of which was uncovered during excavations in 1926. The only surviving part of the Anglo-Saxon church, its great arch, re-emerged even later as a consequence of WW2 bomb damage. In 1311 the church was used as the venue for a series of trials of members of the Knights Templar which had become a prescribed organisation across Europe following the issue of a papal bull by Pope Clement. Due to its proximity to the Tower, post-reformation the church found itself the recipient of several bodies which had been deprived of their well-known heads including Thomas More and John Fisher (both executed by Henry VIII) and Archbishop Laud (executed by the Puritan government after the fall of Charles I). In 1650 the ignition of seven barrels of gunpowder in a nearby shop led to an explosion that left the church tower in such a precarious state that it had to be rebuilt in 1659. It was particularly fortunate therefore that the due to the efforts of Admiral General William Penn in ordering the destruction of surrounding houses to create a fire-break the church survived the Great Fire intact. The Admiral’s son, also called William, was baptised in the church and went on to found the American Quaker colony of Pennsylvania. A century later John Quincy Adams, who was to become the 6th President of the USA, was married here. The church’s crypt museum contains as number of Roman and Saxon artefacts as well as the original registers recording the events described above. Bizarrely, it also houses a barrel which was used as the crow’s nest on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 125-ton Norwegian Steamer “Quest”. Departing England on the 24th September 1921 Quest set sail for Antarctica on what was to be Shackleton’s last expedition. The ship ventured south visiting Rio De Janeiro and then moving onwards to South Georgia where Shackleton died on the 5th January 1922 and is now buried. At this point I should give an honourable mention to the lady on the gift-shop desk who was extremely helpful and friendly.

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And so finally on to the Tower of London which we reach via a circular route of Byward Street, Lower Thames Street (again) and Three Quays Walk beside the river. Obviously, I could write reams and reams about the Tower if I had the time and inclination but for both our sakes’ I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. The original central fortress, now known as the White Tower, was built after 1070 by William the Conqueror as he sought to protect and consolidate his power. In the 13th century, Henry III and Edward I added a ring of smaller towers, enlarged the moat and created palatial royal lodgings inside these imposing defences.

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The Tower had a starring role to play in the Wars of The Roses. The Lancastrian King Henry VI was murdered here in 1471 and twelve years later the two young sons of his successor, the Yorkist Edward IV, were reputedly killed on the orders of their uncle Richard Duke of York (subsequently Richard III) who had had them installed in what became known as “the Bloody Tower” for their “safekeeping”. From the Tudor Age onward the Tower of London became the most important state prison in the country. Among those sent here never to return were Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes. The last person to be executed at the Tower was a German WW2 spy, Josef Jacobs, who was on the wrong end of a firing squad in August 1941. Many of those imprisoned, but not always executed, were held in the Beauchamp Tower, named after Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here at the end of the 14th century for rebelling against Richard II. (Beauchamp is my mother’s maiden name so I’d like to imagine a distant family connection there). Anyway, several of these prisoners whiled away the hours of incarceration by carving graffiti in the form of inscriptions, poems, family crests and mottoes into the walls.

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Of course what most of the three million visitors a year come for is a gawp at the Crown Jewels. The original 11th century Jewels were destroyed by the victorious Parliamentarians after the Civil War. Precious stones were prised out of the crowns and sold, while the gold frames were sent to the Tower Mint to be melted down and turned into coins stamped ‘Commonwealth of England’. The crowns, orb, sceptre and swords that form the bulk of the collection as seen today were created for the coronation of Charles II following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The most famous of the individual jewels were acquired much later however; the two Cullinan diamonds were cut from a stone discovered in South Africa in 1905 and the Koh-I-Nur diamond, which was unearthed in 15th century India, was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849. The Crown Jewels are housed in the Waterloo Barracks on the north side of the Tower complex. Although the queue to get in looks daunting it moves quite quickly; largely because once you get to the heart of the collection a moving walkway whisks you past the cabinets containing the principal regalia. No photos are allowed so you’ll need to click on the link above to see what you’re missing if you’ve never been to see for yourself.

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The two other things that everyone associates with the Tower are the Yeomen Warders “Beefeaters” and the Ravens. There are currently 37 of the former who all live in accommodation at the Tower (they have their own pub, The Keys, which visitors are excluded from) and have to be ex-forces with at least 22 years service behind them and having attained the rank of warrant officer. So at lot of them are former Sergeant Majors which means they have no trouble herding and making themselves heard by the visitors who join the hourly tours they run. Legend has it that both the Tower of London and the kingdom will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. Charles II took this seriously enough to insist that they be protected against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower. Today there are seven Ravens kept at the Tower; to encourage them to remain they are fed handsomely, including a weekly boiled egg and the occasional rabbit, and their flight feathers are trimmed.

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And that’ll have to be that for this time. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the final instalment (honestly !).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.