Day 41 – London Wall – Cheapside – Guildhall

Today’s journey starts with a visit to the Museum of London and then weaves it way between London Wall and Cheapside before finishing (more or less) at the City of London Guildhall. It’s an area full of historical resonance (to which the scurrying office workers are blithely indifferent) despite almost wholesale reconstruction after WWII. It also has the highest concentration of Livery Company Halls in the City though they maintain a discreetly low profile .

Day 41 Route

Although today’s walk properly begins at the Museum of London I take time out beforehand to revive the tradition of the pub of the day. In this case that involves a visit to the Hand and Shears on Middle Street which is pretty much where we closed proceedings two posts ago. This is a proper unreconstructed old boys’ boozer and none the worse for it; though it does mean it’s not exactly heaving for a Friday lunchtime.

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Anyway back to the Museum which sits in the south-western corner of the Barbican complex. There are vague plans afoot to turn this site into a new concert hall and relocate the museum elsewhere locally but in the current climate I won’t be holding my breath for that. I won’t dwell too much on the collections in the museum;  if you haven’t been I can recommend it – and it’s still free entry as we speak. Here are some of my personal highlights though.

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The sandwich board in the final slide was worn by one Stanley Owen Green (1915 – 1993) who strolled up and down Oxford Street wearing it for 25 years from 1968 until his death. I remember him well from my younger days though I was never really sure how less sitting was supposed to dampen the libido.

On leaving the museum we head east along what remains of the Bastion Highwalk, taking its name from the 21 bastions built along wall by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 122. In short order descend the steps onto London Wall and then veer off-road to check out the remnants of the wall in this the north-west corner, the Aldersgate section, diametrically opposite the bit we looked at in the previous post (by Tower Hill for those with short memory). These remains include St Giles Cripplegate Tower which was one of the towers added when the wall was comprehensively rebuilt in the early 13th century. What’s left standing today represents about 2/3 of the original height. The Roman fort at Cripplegate was a bit further east as we shall shortly see.

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In the final slide (again) you can see the Barber’s Physic Garden which is on the site of the 13th of Hadrian’s bastions and showcases a selection of plants which have been used in medical and surgical practice throughout the ages. Barber-Surgeons Hall, the HQ of The Worshipful Company of Barbers, 17th out of 110 in order of precedence and 700 years old in 2008, is round the corner in Monkwell Square. The Company first included surgeons amongst its number in 1312. Barbers and surgeons had overlapped in their duties for many years, largely because in the 13th century Pope Honorarius III had prohibited all persons in holy orders from practising medicine. Barbers in the monasteries therefore began to add minor surgical skills to their repertoire, which in due course were passed on to barbers elsewhere.

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Across Wood Street from Monkwell Square is the former site of Cripplegate that I referred to above. This entrance to fortified London was rebuilt at least twice after its original construction in c. AD 120 and was finally demolished in 1760.

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To the east of here is St Alphage Gardens which, hemmed in by the massive ongoing redevelopment of this area, currently leads to nowhere. This former churchyard derives its name from St Alfege, the 29th Archbishop of Canterbury, who was killed by the Vikings in 1012. The garden is bordered by another chunk of the Roman city wall.

There are more wall remains back on the south side of London Wall at the top of Noble Street. It was actually the destruction of this area by the German bombing raids in WW2 which allowed the remains of the old City Wall to see the light of day again.

At the junction of Noble Street and Gresham Street sits St Anne & St Agnes Church which typically can trace its history back to Norman times. It was rebuilt to a design of Christopher Wren’s in 1680 then largely destroyed in the Blitz. Its restoration was largely paid for by the worldwide Lutheran church in order for it to be used by the exiled Estonian and Latvian communities. When that congregation moved on in 2013 the building became the secular Gresham Centre and home to the music-based charity, VCM.

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Heading a little way back up Noble Street we turn eastward next, down Oat Lane. On the corner with Staining Lane we find the hall of the Worshipful Company of Pewterers. These guys were granted their charter by Edward IV in 1473 and they sit at number 16 in the Livery Company charts. The use of pewter as an everyday production material had effectively died out by the end of the 17th century but the trade survives as a decorative art.

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Back on Gresham Street, opposite the bottom end of Staining Lane, is Wax Chandlers Hall, the sixth incarnation of the home of that particular Livery Company. Wax Chandlers were in the business of making products out of beeswax; before the Reformation acts of devotion to speed souls through Purgatory required vast quantities of beeswax for candles, tapers and images. These days I think its safe to assume that Wax Chandlers are even thinner on the ground than Pewterers, though there is apparently a European Wax Federation based in Brussels. Uniquely, their charter was granted by Richard III (I guess he wasn’t around long enough to do any more). In the Order of Precedence they rank a few places lower than the Pewterers at no.20.

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From here we turn north again up Wood Street. On an island in the middle of the street sits the 92ft tower which is all that remained of the Church of St Alban after WWII bombs destroyed the rest of Christopher Wren’s post-Great Fire handiwork. These days the tower is used as a private residence.

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Adjacent to the tower is Wood Street police station which was built in the mid-1960’s to the neoclassical design of architect Donald McMorran and has been Grade II listed since 1998.

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Just north of the Police Station we cut through between the buildings to get to Aldermanbury Square. This is the location of Brewers’ Hall, home of the Brewers’ Company, which as you might have worked out has a somewhat more extensive membership than its fellow Livery Companies we have encountered thus far. This lot got their charter from Henry VI (who completes the triumvirate of monarchs associated with the Wars of the Roses) in 1438. The current hall is the third on the site and was constructed in 1960 (I’m sure by now I don’t need to explain what happened to the previous two). Apparently there was something of a feud between the Brewers and Mayor Dick Whittington which blew up because the Brewers had fat swans at their feast on the morrow of St Martin and the Mayor didn’t. Whittington’s revenge was to make the Brewers sell their ale at 1d per gallon all the following day. The Brewers are at position 14 in the O.O.P. (between the Dyers and the Leathersellers).

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Nipping up Brewers’ Hall Gardens we emerge back on London Wall and then sortie eastward towards Moorgate. Although it’s not strictly on today’s route I just wanted to mention Electra House which stands at no.84 Moorgate, as it’s kind of fallen in between the cracks. This was completed in 1903 and was the headquarters of the Eastern telegraph and Allied Companies. The rather resplendent bronze sculpture atop the dome was created by F.W Pomeroy (1856 – 1924) and depicts a group of four cherubs holding aloft a globe within a wire structure showing the signs of the zodiac (why is anyone’s guess).

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Anyway, back on track we head south on Coleman Street before turning west along Basinghall Avenue which brings us to the home of the Worshipful Company of Girdlers (girdle makers). Unsurprisingly, this is one of the smaller Livery Companies with only around 80 active members and is no longer allied with an extant trade. Girdles, as in a kind of belt used to fasten a cassock rather than the elasticated figure-enhancing garment produced by Playtex in the 20th century, began to go out of fashion in the 16th century. Even in its heyday, the Company overlapped with other crafts concerned with metal or leather and was at various times associated with the Pinners, the Cordwainers and the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers. Today the Girdlers’ Company no longer practises its craft, with the single proud exception that it has the privilege of presenting the sword belt for the Sword of State and stole for each Sovereign’s coronation. Oh, no.23 since you ask.

At the end of Basinghall Avenue we turn south into Aldermanbury Street where we find the Institute of Chartered Insurers which incorporates the Worshipful Company of Insurers (but I reckon we’re Livery Company’ed out for the moment and we know what these guys do and besides they’re only placed at a lowly no.92).

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In St Mary Aldermanbury Garden at the corner with Love Lane is a memorial to John Heminge and Henry Condell, members of the King’s Men actors’ company, who in 1623 published the “First Folio”of Shakespeare’s collected plays.

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I took this photo of One Love Lane because I was going to make a weak joke about this having nothing to do with Bob Marley, but I don’t think I’ll bother.

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So Love Lane takes us back to the St Alban Tower on Wood Street from where we go south back to Gresham Street then turn left for a short way before continuing south on Gutter Lane. From her we turn west along Carey Street which joins with Foster Lane. Foster Lane is the site of Goldsmiths’ Hall, the very grandiose home of the Goldsmiths’ Company (no.5 with a bullet !). The current hall is the third of its kind and was built in the early 1830’s to a design of Philip Hardwick, the Company’s Surveyor. the grand opening in 1835 was attended by the Duke of Wellington. In 1941 a bomb exploded in the south-west corner but as you can see in the picture below the hall (unlike most of the surrounding buildings) survived relatively unscathed. Goldsmith has always referred to someone who works in both gold and silver and today encompasses those who work in platinum and palladium as well. In 1300 King Edward I passed a statute requiring gold and silver to be of a defined standard and requiring ‘les Gardeins du Mester’ (Guardians of the Craft) to test it and mark it with the leopard’s head. This was supposedly taken from the royal arms and later known as the King’s mark. This is the first legal recognition of the Company, and the beginning of hallmarking in Britain. If you look closely you can see the leopards’ heads on the coat of arms sculpted on the exterior of the building.

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Turn back south down Foster Lane then make a round trip of Rose Crown Court and Priests Court before visiting the Church of St Vedast. Same old story here I’m afraid; originated in the 12th century, burnt down in the Great Fire, rebuilt by Christopher Wren, burnt out in the Blitz and restored after the war.  St Vedast is a fairly obscure French saint from the 6th century. His name in England has been corrupted from St Vaast, by way of Vastes, Fastes, Faster, Fauster and Forster to Foster, hence the name of the lane, and the reason that the official designation of the church is St Vedast-alias-Foster.

We return to Gutter Lane via Cheapside and find ourselves at Saddlers’ Hall which is where I was stationed as a volunteer for the Dominoes event commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire in 2016.  The Worshipful Company of Saddlers occupies 25th place on the list despite being one of the oldest companies, having received its first Royal Charter in 1395 courtesy of Richard II. The Saddlers attribute their relatively lowly placing to the fact that by the time the order of precedence was established in 1515 the economic balance of power in the City of London had shifted from the craft guilds to the merchant companies.

That’s the last mention of Livery Companies you’ll have to put up with for today you’ll be relieved to hear. So, moving swiftly on, we head east next down Goldsmiths’ Street then across Wood Street again and continue through Compter Passage to Milk Street. Crossing over again we enter Russia Row which in a brilliant twist of up-to-the-minute irony segues directly into Trump Street.

Swiftly leaving Trump Street behind we turn north up Lawrence Lane which takes us back up on to Gresham Street and the church of St Lawrence Jewry which is so-called because the original 12th century church was in an area occupied at the time by the Jewish community. Since then it’s been a familiar tale of Great Fire, Wren-designed rebuild, WWII destruction (as a result of action by the King’s enemies according to the plaque outside) and post-war restoration, in 1957 in this case. St Lawrence is now the official church of the Corporation of London. St Lawrence met a particularly grisly end at the hands of the Romans. You can follow the link to get the full details but suffice to say his symbol is a gridiron, a representation of which forms part of the weather vane on the church.

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St Lawrence occupies the south side of the square on the opposite of which stands the Guildhall. The Guildhall was built between 1411 and 1440 and was designed to reflect the power and prestige of the Lord Mayor and the ruling merchant class. It is the only non-ecclesiastical stone building from that era to have survived (at least in part) until the present day. The Great Hall lost its roof in both 1666 and 1940 but the walls stood firm. The second replacement roof, erected in 1954, was designed by our old friend Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The giants, Gog and Magog, are associated with Guildhall. Legend has it that the two giants were defeated by Brutus and chained to the gates of his palace on the site of Guildhall. Carvings of Gog and Magog are kept in Guildhall and 7-foot high wicker effigies of them donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in 2007 lead the procession in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show. The Guildhall hosts the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet which marks the change from one Lord Mayor to the next and includes a speech on world affairs by the incumbent Prime Minister.

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On the east side of the square you can find the Guildhall art gallery. Having visited this before I felt no compunction to repeat the experience, though you can see the (somewhat scant) remains of London’s Roman Amphitheatre in the basement.

Leave the square via Guildhall Buildings and turn right up Basinghall Street. The part of the Guildhall that faces onto this street was built as its library by Sir Horace Jones (architect of Tower Bridge) in 1870. Three niches that Jones incorporated into the building were later filled by statues of Queens Elizabeth I, Anne and Victoria. These were created by J.W. Searle of Lambeth and were representative rather than strictly realistic. (In real life, Anne was supposedly so short and stocky she was buried in a square coffin).

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Basinghall Street turns into Basinghall Avenue which sweeps east to Coleman Street. Head south here and after a quick poke around White Horse Yard continue down to Masons Avenue and cut through back to Basinghall Street. It’s gone 5pm by now so as it’s also Friday the Old Doctor Butler’s Head pub already has quite a congregation outside it. This is named after the court physician to King James I, Doctor William Butler who as well as setting up a number of taverns in the City also invented a medicinal ale for which he claimed rejuvenating properties. Since he lived to be 83 he may have been onto something.

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As I could do with some of that ale myself I’m racing through to the end of today’s trip; crossing back over Gresham Street into Old Jewry before threading my way westward between Cheapside and Gresham Street via St Olaves Court, Frederick’s Place, Ironmonger Lane, Prudent Passage and King Street before concluding at St Pauls’ station.

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If you ask me it’d be more prudent to take the long way round

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 30 Pt2 – Drury Lane – Covent Garden

Bit of a summer recess but finally we’re back with the second leg of the tour of Covent Garden and its environs. Picking up where we left off at the upper end of Drury Lane we circle east and back through the densest concentration of theatreland then loop round the Royal Opera House and into the piazza itself.

Day 30 Route

To start we head down Drury Lane then turn left along Kemble Street back up Wild Street and cut through to Kingsway via Keeley Street. Double back down Kemble Street then take Kean Street to return to the bottom stretch of Drury Lane. Move straight on down Tavistock Street and into Catherine Street where there are theatres every way you look . The Duchess Theatre  dates from 1929 and has the dubious honour of playing host to the world’s shortest theatrical run. On the 11th March 1930 a show called The Intimate Review opened and closed on the same night. Current production is The Play That Goes Wrong whose popularity completely eludes me – the concept is lame enough but the fact that they had to fully disclose it in the title speaks volumes about the deemed intelligence of the average West End theatregoer. It’s as if Shakespeare had called Hamlet the Play In Which Everyone Dies.

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Turning westward along Exeter Street and into Wellington Street we reach the Lyceum Theatre. The Lyceum has a long and interesting history going back to the 18th century. The grand portico you see below survives from the 1834 designs of Samuel Beazley but the rest of the building was fully reconstructed in 1904. In 1939 the building was bought by the London County Council who planned to demolish it but that was put on ice due to the onset of war and in 1945 it was acquired by Matthews and Sons who converted it into the Lyceum Ballroom. During its years as a dancehall it also played host to the Miss World Contest (from 1951 to 1968) then from the late sixties onward it became one of London’s foremost pop and rock concert venues. Bob Marley and the Wailers recorded a 1975 live album at the Lyceum and during the heyday of punk all of the most successful bands played there. By 1986 however it had run its course as a live music venue and the building fell dark for ten years before being reconverted for theatrical use. In 1999 The Lion King opened and looks like it will stay here until every single living soul has succumbed to see it (may I be the last).

 

Keep going west on Exeter Street then turn right up Burleigh Street and head back east on Tavistock Street to Catherine Street again and switching northward pass the front entrance to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Four theatres have been built on this site, the first of these by the dramatist Thomas Killigrew under charter granted by Charles II in 1663. The present theatre was built in 1812 to a design of Benjamin Wyatt. In its early years it became synonymous with the success of the Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean (after whom the nearby street is named of course). During WWII the theatre was used as the headquarters of ENSA. In the post-war period Drury Lane’s notable successes have included a five year run of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews and Miss Saigon which ran for ten years. The Monty Python team recorded a live album here in 1974. The bust outside the theatre is of Augustus Harris who was its manager in the latter part of the 19th century and known as “the father of modern pantomime”.

Just around the corner on Russell Street is the somewhat more understated Fortune Theatre, built in 1922-24 in the Italianate style. It was the first theatre to be built in London after the end of the WW1 and since the demolition of the original Wembley Stadium is now the oldest remaining public building designed wholly using concrete as a textured and exposed façade. The theatre’s famous figurine, Terpsichore, overlooking the entrance, was sculpted by M. H. Crichton of the Bromsgrove Guild, a noted company of artisans from Worcestershire. The supernatural thriller, The Woman in Black, has been playing here since 1989 which means it must have been seen by over half a million people even though this is the second smallest theatre in the West End.

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As you can see in the picture above, the theatre, rather incongruously, incorporates an entrance to the next door Crown Court Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has been active in London since time of James I (originally James VI of Scotland of course). It took up residence here in Covent Garden from 1719 though the present building only dates back to 1909. Rather confusingly the name of the church implies no kind of legal jurisdiction but simply references the thoroughfare on which it sits, Crown Court, which is where we turn next.

At the top of Crown Court we turn left into Broad Court which brings us out on to Bow Street right by the eponymous magistrates’ court. The original Bow Street court was established in 1740 across the road on what is now the site of the Royal Opera House. A few years later the author Henry Fielding took charge of the court in his capacity as London’s Chief Magistrate. The extant building was completed in 1881 and among the famous and infamous names to have occupied its dock are such as Oscar Wilde, Dr Crippen, the Kray twins, the Pankhurst sisters, Jeffrey Archer and General Pinochet (some dinner party that would be). However the final session at what had become the most well-known magistrates’ court in Britain (if not the world) took place in 2006. The Grade II listed building, put up for sale by its joint owners, the Greater London Magistrates’ Courts Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority, was originally acquired by a property developer, Gerry Barrett, who had intended to turn it into a boutique hotel. His plans never came to fruition and in 2008 it was sold on to Austrian developers, the Ploberger brothers, who hoped to retain the police cells and create a World Police Museum (alongside a boutique hotel). However, having finally obtained planning permission in 2014, the brothers in turn decided to sell on just a year later – at a price tag of £75m.

That brings us on to the Royal Opera House which as already noted is across the road, occupying the whole of the north-east section of Covent Garden. This site has been occupied by three theatre buildings and has witnessed opera and ballet performances since the 1730’s. The current building (the first two were both destroyed by fire) was opened in 1858 having been built by the Lucas Brothers Company (who were also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall). At that time it was known as the Covent Garden Opera House. It was only after WW2, during which it had been used as a dancehall, that the building became the permanent home of the companies now called the The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. In 1997 the building closed for a thirty month major redevelopment at a cost of over £200m. The Royal Opera Company curently performs an annual repertoire of around twenty operas here amounting to 150 separate shows.

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We finally head towards the piazza itself along the western stretch of Russell Street which bears a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in 1763.

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As anyone born in the 20th century should know, Covent Garden was originally London’s main fruit and vegetable market. The earliest recorded market on the site dates back to 1654, a time when the land was part of the estate of the Russell family a.k.a the Earls and then the Dukes of Bedford. It wasn’t long (1670) before the incumbent Earl of Bedford acquired a private charter from Charles II  for a permanent fruit and vegetable market, permitting him and his heirs to hold a market every day except Sundays and Christmas Day.  Unfortunately, the presence of the market led to the area becoming increasingly insalubrious and by the 18th century it had descended into a fully-fledged red light district attracting such notable prostitutes as (the brilliantly-named) Betty Careless. Descriptions of the prostitutes and where to find them were provided by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the “essential guide and accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure”. In 1830, in an attempt to improve the image of the area, the 6th Earl commissioned Charles Fowler to design the neo-classical market building that remains at the heart of Covent Garden today. The Floral hall and the Charter Market were added later and in 1904 the Jubilee Market for foreign flowers was created. The Covent Garden Estate passed out of the hands of the Bedfords in 1913 when the 11th Duke sold out to the first in a series of property investors. Then in 1962 the bulk of the remaining properties in the area, including the market, were sold to the newly established government-owned Covent Garden Authority for £3,925,000. By the end of the 1960s however, traffic congestion had reached such a level that the use of the square as a modern wholesale distribution market had become untenable, and significant redevelopment was planned. Following a public outcry, buildings around the square were protected in 1973, preventing redevelopment. The following year the market moved to a new site in south-west London while the square lay idle until its central building was eventually rejuvenated in 1980 as a retail mall with a bias toward independent traders and artisans. In the picture below you can just about still make out the inscription commemorating the building’s origin.

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These days of course, Covent Garden is a serious tourist magnet fueled by the presence of myriad street performers and artists as well as the ubiquitous “living statues”.

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In the background of a couple of the above slides you can see St Paul’s Church which was completed in 1633 having been designed by Inigo Jones. It was the first entirely new church to be built in England since the Reformation. It is also commonly referred to as “The Actors’ Church” due to its associations with the theatrical community. Since 2007 it has been home to its own in-house professional theatre company, Iris Theatre – currently staging a production of Treasure Island. Opposite the church is the Punch and Judy pub – default reunion destination for generations of students since the 1980s.

As we circle back round the north side of the square we pass the new flagship store for Brazilian footwear brand Melissa which occupies 43 King Street a.k.a Russell House, a Grade II listed building from 1716, making it the oldest survivor in the piazza. It was designed by the Baroque architect Thomas Archer as a townhouse for Lord Russell, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. Between 1891 and 1929 it was also home to the National Sporting Club, the organisation responsible for the creation of the sport of glove boxing, under its president Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth earl of Lonsdale (after whom the Lonsdale belt is named). This is testified by the green plaque outside the building.

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Just round the corner from here is a shrine to the modern-day religion of techno-worship in the form of the Apple Store. Been a while since I was last in here and I had forgotten just how massive it is inside.

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Head away from the square up James Street, which is where the “living statues” ply their trade (see slideshow above), then veer right down Floral Street which flanks the north side of the ROH. In doing so we pass beneath the “Bridge of Aspiration” which links the Royal Ballet School to the ROH.

Emerge out onto Bow Street again and turn north to reach Long Acre where we head west past the tube station. Covent Garden station is notorious for two things – firstly for being party to the shortest distance between any two adjacent stations on the London underground network, Leicester Square is a mere 20 second journey, and secondly for the overcrowding (if you eschew the wait for a lift it’s 193 steps up the stairs to reach the surface). For both these reasons TFL go to great lengths to try to discourage anyone from using the station at all.

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This is the view from James Street which was a better shot 

Moving swiftly on we duck down Langley Court on to another section of Floral Street and continue west. Loop round Rose Street, Long Acre again and Garrick Street to get back to Floral Street. At no.15 Garrick Street is the Garrick Club, founded in 1831 by a group of literary gentlemen under the patronage of the Duke of Sussex, brother of King William IV, and named after the 18th century actor, David Garrick. Today this private members’ club has around 1,300 members and anyone wishing to join has to overcome the credo “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

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I can only assume that the Garrick Club has some kind of status in the Far East that has escaped me up until now.

Lazenby Court and the southern dog-leg of Rose Street surround the Lamb and Flag pub, one of the most historic and well-known hostelries in London. The very first mention of a pub on this site dates from 1772, when it was known as The Coopers Arms (the name changed to The Lamb & Flag in 1833). The pub acquired a reputation in the early nineteenth century for staging bare-knuckle prize fights earning it the nickname ‘The Bucket of Blood,’ and the alleyway beside the pub (see below) was the scene of an attack on the poet John Dryden in 1679 by thugs hired by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, with whom he had a long-standing conflict.

We return to the square along King Street then go back past the church and along the southern side of the arcade. On the building at the south-west corner you can still just about make out the lettering advertising this as the one-time premises of Butler’s Medicinal Herb warehouse.

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The south-east corner of the square is occupied by the London Transport Museum (which I may or may not return to but with an hour until closing was reluctant to part with £17 on this occasion). Doubling back along Henrietta Street we pass the modern incarnation of the Jubilee Hall where general tat has now replaced the foreign flowers of yesteryear.

Arrive back at Garrick Street and complete the circle bringing today’s epic to a close. If you made it all the way here I salute you.