Day 62 – Tower Bridge – Queen’s Walk – Hay’s Wharf

Well it’s taken nearly four years, which is about three and a half more than originally planned, but after 62 days and god knows how many miles every street covered by the central section of the London A-Z has finally been walked. Of course, give it a few more years and no-one will have a clue what that means as they’ll only ever have used Google maps to get around but, just as a reminder, this is roughly the area we’re talking about :

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or to put it another way :

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And (having just counted them up) that’s roughly 2,028 streets, roads, lanes, walks, passages, avenues, mews(es) and rents altogether. Though I probably shouldn’t count Downing Street as it wasn’t actually possible to set foot there.

Anyway back to today’s valedictory lap which is mercifully short – just across Tower Bridge and west along the river to London Bridge.

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Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 and is a combined bascule (the bit that raises and lowers – from the French for “see-saw”) and suspension bridge. It has a total length of 244m and the two towers are 65m high. Over 50 designs had been submitted for the new river crossing and the successful proposal for a bascule bridge was a collaboration between Horace Jones, the City Architect, and engineer, John Wolfe Barry. The incorporation of twin towers with connecting walkways was intended to allow pedestrians to be able to continue to cross the river when the bridge was raised. However, in 1910 the walkways were closed due to lack of use – the general public preferred to wait for the bascules to close rather than clamber up the two hundred-odd stairs and (allegedly) run a gauntlet of pickpockets and prostitutes once they got to the top. Only in 1982 with the creation of the Tower Bridge exhibition were the Walkways re-opened and covered over. Two massive piers were sunk into the river bed to support the construction and over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the Towers and Walkways. This framework was clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the Bridge a more pleasing appearance.

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Compared to many London attractions entry to the Tower Bridge exhibition is relatively reasonably priced at just under a tenner. This gets you up to the walkways, 42m above the river, and also includes access to the engine rooms. I chose to climb up the 200-plus steps inside the north tower rather than take the lift. Those that go for the latter option miss out on half the exhibition (including the “dad-dancing diver – you’ll see what I mean). Each walkway now includes a short glass-floored section which is not great for those that lack a head for heights. If these had only been configured “à la bascule” then the world would be able to rid itself of a bevy of annoying teenagers on regular basis.

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To get to the Engine Rooms, which are situated underneath the southern end of the bridge, you follow a blue line from the base of the south tower. The bascules are operated by hydraulics, originally using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so that, as soon as power was required to lift the bridge, it was always readily available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees. Today, the bascules are still operated by hydraulic power, but since 1976 they have been driven by oil and electricity rather than steam. The original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are now exhibits within the Engine Rooms.

We descend from the west side Tower Bridge Road down onto Queen’s Walk and then turn left immediately and follow Duchess Walk past a line of upscale eateries to Queen Elizabeth Street. On the triangular island bordered by this, Tooley Street and TBR stands a statue of Samuel Bourne Bevington (1832 – 1907) who was Bermondsey’s first mayor and came from a Quaker family who made their fortune in the local leather trade.  The sculptor was Sydney March (1876 – 1968) who was something of a go-to guy at the start of the 20th century if you wanted a monument to a major figure of Empire or a WW1 memorial. Beyond this statue (and you can only just see the plinth in the photo below) is a bust of the far more significant figure of Ernest Bevin (1881 – 1951) who was co-founder of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and served as Foreign Secretary in the 1945-51 Labour Government.
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At the junction of Queen Elizabeth Street and Tooley Street sits the building that was built in 1893 as a new permanent home for St Olaves’ Grammar School. The school was founded in the late 16th century following a legacy of £8 a year granted in the will of Southwark brewer, Henry Leeke. The building on QE Street was designed by Edward William Mountford, the architect of the Old Bailey. The school upped and decamped to suburban Orpington in 1968 and the building was acquired for use as an annexe by South London College. That tenure lasted until 2004 after which the listed building lay idle for ten years until it was bought by the Lalit Group as the latest addition to their chain of luxury boutique hotels, opening in 2017.

We turn right past the west side of the hotel down Potters Fields which runs into its eponymous park where a lunchtime session of Bikram yoga is in full swing.

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On the north side of the park, heading back towards Tower Bridge is London’s newest major theatre, the Bridge, founded by former National Theatre luminaries, Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, and opened in 2017.  Diagonally opposite across the park stands City Hall the headquarters of the Greater London Authority (GLA) a combination of the Mayor of London’s office and the London Assembly. The building was designed by Norman Foster and opened for business in 2002, two years after the creation of the GLA. The unusual shape of the building was supposedly intended to minimise surface area and thus improve energy efficiency but the exclusive use of glass for the exterior has more than offset any benefit this confers. In a singular display of unity, former Mayors, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, have both likened the form of the building to a particular element of the male anatomy; the former dubbing it “the Glass Testicle” and the latter “the Glass Gonad”.

City Hall forms part of a larger riverside development, called More London, with the usual mix of offices, shops and restaurants, which covers the area once filled with wharves and warehouses forming part of the so-called Upper Pool of London. Adjacent to City Hall is a sunken amphitheatre called The Scoop which hosts open-air music performances and film screenings during the summer months (and more lunchtime yoga as you can see below).

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In order to arrive at The Scoop we cross Potters Fields Park back to Tooley Street and return via Weaver’s Lane and More London Riverside. En route we pass through a herbaceous garden, of forty different perennial species, designed by the man responsible for the highline garden in New York, Piet Oudolf.

The thoroughfare known as More London Riverside continues beyond The Scoop, veering away from the river in between new HQ’s for accountancy firms Ernst & Young and PWC and lawyers, Norton Rose.

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On arriving at More London Place we head back down to river along Morgan’s Lane, which joins Queen’s Walk by the mooring of HMS Belfast. Although I have been aboard HMS Belfast before that was about 45 years ago I reckon so I was sorely tempted to repeat the experience but time was against me so I spurned the opportunity.

Built by Messrs Harland & Wolff in 1936, HMS Belfast was launched by Anne Chamberlain, wife of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, on St Patrick’s Day in 1938. A year later she was commissioned into the Royal Navy under the command of Captain G A Scott (the ship that is, not Mrs Chamberlain). The Belfast was immediately called into service patrolling northern waters in an effort to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. However, disaster struck after only two months at sea when she hit a magnetic mine. There were few casualties but the damage to her hull was so severe she was out of action for three years. On rejoining the fleet in 1942 the Belfast played a key role in protecting arctic convoys en route to the USSR. She then went on to spend five weeks supporting the 1944 D-Day landings. She retired from service in 1963 and a few years later a trust was formed under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum to preserve her. After a successful campaign HMS Belfast was opened to the public in 1971, the last remaining vessel of her type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.

Bang in front of HMS Belfast on the riverfront, and taking up valuable real estate that could be otherwise utilised for even more bars and restaurants, is the enduring loveliness that is Southwark Crown Court. Opened in 1983 its 15 courtrooms make it the fourth largest centre for criminal sentencing in the country. It specialises in serious fraud cases. High profile cases in 2019 include the founder of Extinction Rebellion and another activist being cleared of all charges relating to protests in which they entered Kings College London and spray painted “Divest from oil and gas” on the walls and Julian Assange being convicted for breaching bail conditions by taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy. (Who says judges are out of touch ?).
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The front entrance to the court building is away from the river on English Grounds which is off Battle Bridge Lane. Surrounded by the latter, Counter Street and Hay’s Lane is Hay’s Galleria. In 1651 merchant, Alexander Hay took over the lease of a brewhouse beside London Bridge which included a small wharf. By 1710 his family company owned most of the warehouses along the river between London Bridge and the future southern end of Tower Bridge and the expanded wharf officially became known as Hay’s Wharf. By 1838 the company had fallen under the control of John Humphrey Jnr, an Alderman of the City of London. He commissioned architect William Cubitt to design and build a new wharf with an enclosed dock which work was completed in 1857. Unfortunately, just four years later, the Great Fire of Southwark destroyed the warehouses surrounding the new wharf. The buildings that form Hay’s Galleria are some of those arose from the ashes of that fire. Within a few years Hay’s Wharf was handling nearly 80% of the dry produce coming into the capital earning it the soubriquet of “London’s Larder”. The area suffered terrible bombing during WW2 but the Hay’s Wharf company recovered and by 1960, was handling 2m tons of foodstuffs and had 11 cold and cool air stores. However, over the course of the following decade, the explosion in the use of container ships led to the shipping industry moving out to the deep water ports of Tilbury and Felixstowe. Quite rapidly the London docks began to close and in 1969 The Hay’s Wharf Company ceased operations. In the 1980’s the site was acquired for redevelopment by St Martin’s Property Corporation, the real estate arm of the State of Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund. Hay’s Wharf, renamed Hay’s Galleria, was filled in and paved over and a glass barrel vault installed to join the two warehouse buildings at roof level to create an atrium like area with shops and stalls on ground level with offices in the upper levels. The adjoining wharf to the east, Wilson’s Wharf, was levelled to make way for the Crown Courts and the wharf buildings to the west, Chamberlain’s Wharf together with St Olaf House, were taken over by London Bridge Hospital (see below).

On leaving Hay’s Galleria we continue west along the river as far as London Bridge, passing the aforementioned eponymous hospital. On ascending up to bridge level we turn south and take the walkway that curves round to London Bridge Station then take the stairway down from Duke Street Hill to Tooley Street emerging opposite another part of London Bridge Hospital, a private hospital opened in 1986. St Olaf House, which houses the hospital’s Consulting rooms and Cardiology Department, was built as the Headquarters for Hay’s Wharf in 1931. This outstanding example of an Art Deco building was designed by the famous architect, H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, and is one of his best known works. It is a listed building, with its well-known river facade and its Doulton faience panels by Frank Dobson, showing dock life and the unloading of goods – ‘Capital, Labour and Commerce’.

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The building on Tooley Street is somewhat less impressive and so perhaps not the most fitting way to close this project. But then again this has not just been about venerable and grandiose old buildings and the ports of call for the open-top bus tours. It’s been about poking into every corner of the heart of this great city and circulating round each and every one of its arteries from the grandest boulevard to the grimiest cul-de-sac. In that spirit therefore, please salute these former shipping offices which first saw the light of day in 1860.
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And so it’s goodbye from me…..for now.

 

 

Day 34 – Bishopsgate – Middlesex Street – Finsbury Circus

Today’s walk sees us back east again; first of all south of Spitalfields in the streets taken over by the stalls of Petticoat Lane market then skirting Aldgate before heading back into the City across Bishopsgate and west into Finsbury Circus.

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We kick things off on Liverpool Street, which runs south of the eponymous mainline station. This takes us into Bishopsgate where, passing the front entrance of the station and crossing the road, we arrive at the Bishopsgate Institute.  Since the 1st of January 1895, when it was established using funds from charitable endowments made to the parish of St Botolph without Bishopsgate, the Institute has operated as a public library, public hall and meeting place for people living and working in the City of London. The architect behind this now Grade II-listed building with its elements of styles ranging from Byzantine to Art Nouveau was Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928). Today, in addition to being a venue for a disparate selection of cultural events, the Institute is best known for its adult education course covering over 120 different subjects.

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Turning right down Artillery Lane we head into the area between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street which is a twilight mix of the rapidly vanishing old East End and new upscale development. Dip in and out of Brushfield Street (which borders Spitalfields) using Fort Street, Stewart Street and Gun Street before heading further south down Crispin Street. On the east side here is a massive new development on the site of the old Fruit and Wool Exchange, something else we have our old friend Boris Johnson to thank for. On the other side of the street the historic painted signwriting for the Donovan Brothers paper bag making business, which they set up here in the 1830’s, still survives. As does the family business itself though it now operates out of the New Spitalfields Market in Leyton.

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A couple of doors along is Lilian Knowles House which now provides accommodation for post-graduate students of the LSE and is named after a former Professor of Economic History but was once the Providence Row night refuge for homeless women and children. Anecdotally, it is believed that Jack the Ripper’s final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, lived and worked here – she was found murdered in a nearby alley which no longer exists.

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From here we turn east down White’s Row then dip briefly south down Toynbee Street before taking a right into Brune Street. On the corner here is the Duke of Wellington pub which I mention because (a) it’s one of the few pubs in this part of the world that has a beer garden (of sorts), when I worked in the City we would occasionally trek all the way over here in the summer for that reason alone and (b) I’m surprised it’s still here.

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On the north side of Brune Street is the ceramic-tiled facade of the soup kitchen established here in 1902 to serve impoverished members of the local Jewish community. Amazingly, the facility existed right up until 1992. In earlier times it was providing groceries to up to 1,500 people a day.

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After a quick visit to Tenter Ground, at the end of Brune Street we turn left down Bell Lane then right into Cobb Street and right again into Leyden Street. On the bend where this turns into Strype Street is tucked away the 1938-built Brody House, a rare surviving example of thirties architecture in this part of town. The street itself was named after the clergyman and historian John Strype (1643 – 1737 good innings !) who in 1720 produced a new survey of London which revised and expanded the pre-Great Fire original by John Stowe (1525 – 1605) published in 1598.

Next we’re out onto Middlesex Street and bang in the midst of Petticoat Lane Market. There has been a clothing market here, in the heart of the area that has been home to the various iterations of the garment industry for centuries, since the mid 1700’s. And the name of the market has endured even though the street ceased to be called Peticote (or Petticotte) Lane in the reign of William IV c.1830. Today the Middlesex Street section of the market is only open on Sundays (this walk took place on a Sunday) whereas the Wentworth Street stalls are in situ six days a week. It’s still predominantly clothing up for sale and the majority of vendors and customers these days are drawn from the local Bangladeshi community. It’s remains a vibrant place but (and it’s hard to avoid being snotty about it) the merchandise on offer is basically an ocean of tat.

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Check in on the remaining section of Cobb Street then navigate the Wentworth Street section of the market before turning northward into Toynbee Street with its unkempt charms and note of blind faith (see left side of top right photo).

At the apex with Commercial Street we turn south again past a welcome nostalgia tug in the form of a graffiti-ed Snagglepuss. Out of the same Hanna Barbera stable as Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss actually appeared first in the Quick Draw McGraw Cartoon Show in 1959 (so he’s precisely the same vintage as me). “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

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Turn back into Wentworth Street and then continue south towards Aldgate East via Old Castle Street, Pommel Way and Tyne Street. On the former is a vestige of the Public Wash House that was completed in 1846 and construction of which therefore started prior to the passing of the Baths and Washhouses Act by parliament in the same year. That was down to the “Committee for Promoting the Establishment of Baths and Wash-Houses for the Labouring Classes” founded in 1844 under Robert Cotton, the then Governor of the Bank of England.

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Moving on we head back towards the market up Goulston Street where these pigeons seem blissfully unaware of the danger lurking in the background;

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before cutting west down New Goulston Street which has some more striking street art. The rat crawling out of the brickwork is by graffiti artist ROA, and the horror themed building facade was created by Zabou specifically for Halloween 2016.

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Then we’re back on Middlesex Street again and turning south down towards Aldgate again we stop in the shadow of this condemned sixties’ block and turn the corner into St Botolph Street. St Botolph, the patron saint of wayfarers, lived and founded a monastery in East Anglia in the 7th century. Unusually for a Saint he lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes.

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Nothing special about this other than the fact that it’s pretty much the last man standing in terms of the post-war concrete boxes round here being demolished and their sites redeveloped. Next up, in rapid succession, we traverse Stoney Lane, White Kennett Street (named after an 18th century Bishop of Peterborough), Gravel Lane and Harrow Place. This funky fire escape brings the next pause for breath at the end of Clothier St cul-de-sac.

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Cutler Street, which was once the site of the largest tea warehouse in the city, leads into Devonshire Square. Rather confusingly this is both the name of the road feeding into and the original Georgian square itself and also the name of the mammoth 2006 office, retail and residential redevelopment of the Cutler Gardens Estate (land owned by the East India Company back in the day). Even further back than that, the end of the 10th century in fact, the land was supposedly given by King Edgar to thirteen of his knights on condition of them each performing three duels; one on land, one below ground and one on water. Sounds pretty apocryphal to me but the creator of this work on the edge of one of the courtyards was obviously a believer.

The original square is the site of Coopers Hall home to the smallest of the London Livery Companies, The Worshipful Company of Coopers. The origins of this Company go back to the 11th century, barrel-making being one of the oldest of all the trades I guess. Not one of the most highly respected though unfortunately; apparently there is a hierarchy of Livery Companies and the Coopers only rank 36th.

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From the square we loop round Barbon Alley and Cavendish Court to arrive in Devonshire Row which takes us back into Bishopsgate. On the way the spaces created by impending new developments allow for some interesting views of the ones that have recently been completed.

Turn north on Bishopsgate then east along New Street which dog-legs left and then merges into Cock Hill. At the top here we turn left into the highly insalubrious Catherine Wheel Alley which snakes back to Bishopsgate. This is named after the Catherine Wheel pub, which was reputedly the haunt of notorious highwayman thief Dick Turpin, and stood for more than 300 years before it was demolished in 1911. The name of the pub derives from the instrument of torturous execution linked with the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the 4th century. Consequently, the name of the alley was briefly changed at one point to Cat and Wheel Alley in order to placate Puritans who objected to the association of a filthy, crime-ridden alley with a martyred saint.

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Swiftly moving on, we finish off the rest of Middlesex Street then do a circuit of Sandy’s Row, Frying Pan Alley and Widegate Street before returning once more to Bishopsgate. Frying Pan Alley, perhaps unremarkably, gets its name because it once housed a shop selling pots and pans that had a huge cast iron frying pan suspended from chains as its sign.

We’re crossing over Bishopsgate next and heading south past Liverpool Street Station again. We turn right into Bishopsgate Churchyard which actually runs through the churchyard of the Church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate. As is so often the case it seems, the presence of a church on this site dates back to Saxon age. The original Saxon church was replaced twice, with the third version even surviving the Great Fire, before that was demolished in 1725, and the present church was completed four years later to the designs of James Gould, under the supervision of George Dance (the Elder). It is aisled and galleried in the classic style, and is unique among the City churches in having its tower at the East End, with the chancel underneath. Having got through WWII with the loss of just one window, the church fared less well during the IRA bombing campaign of the early 1990’s. The explosion on 24 April 1993 opened a hole in the roof and took out all the doors and windows. It was three and half years before the church was returned to its former state.

St Botolph’s was the first of the City burial grounds to be converted into a public garden. At the time this was strongly opposed but today it is treated as a welcome place of retreat from the bustle of the City. For the more energetic there is also a netball and tennis court there now.  The church garden also hosts St. Botolph’s Hall, once used as an infants’ school, but now a multipurpose church hall available for hire. Either side of its front entrance stand a pair of Coade stone figures of a schoolboy and girl in early nineteenth century costumes and nearby is the tomb of Sir William Rawlins, Sherriff of London in 1801 and a benefactor of the church.

The free standing partially-opened door you can see in the photos below is the work “Ajar” by Gavin Turk, erected in 2011 as part of the Sculpture in the City programme.

 

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Just beyond the churchyard is one of the most striking buildings in the City, the Turkish Bathhouse built by Henry and James Forder Nevill in 1895. The baths themselves were underneath the Moorish-style kiosk you see below; which as well as being the entrance originally housed water tanks. The baths were open from seven in the morning until nine at night and  a ‘plain hot-air bath, with shower’ cost 3/6d (17.5p in new money) and the ‘complete process’ 4/- (with reduced prices after 6pm). Also available were perfumed vapour, Russian vapour, Vichy, and sulphur vapour baths. There were scented showers, together with ascending, descending and spinal douches. Sounds terrifying. The baths closed in 1954 and the building was used for storage up to the 1970’s when it was converted into a restaurant for the first time. It is currently an events venue, catering for up to 150 guests at a time (it has a lot in common with the Tardis).

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The adjacent pub has outside TV screens for the convenience of its smoker clientele so I was able to freeze my nuts off watching the last 15 minutes of Bournemouth 4 Liverpool 3.
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Hurrying on (to try and thaw out) I emerge onto Old Broad Street turn right up to Liverpool Street then back down Blomfield Street to New Broad Street (which completes the loop back to its Old namesake). New Broad Street, with its masonry-faced late Victorian and Edwardian blocks on either side, is a designated conservation area and no-through road. In the distance is the Heron Tower, one of the new mega-skyscrapers constructed in the City since the turn of the millennium. More of that another time.

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Turn right on Old Broad Street this time down to London Wall and then head west past All-Hallows-on-the-Wall church. This one also traces its origins back to the 12th century when a church was built here on a bastion of the old Roman wall. The current church was built in 1767, again replacing one which had survived the Great Fire only to fall into dereliction. The new build was the work of George Dance the Younger (son of the George Dance associated with St Botolph’s).

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Back up Blomfied Street and a swing to the left and we arrive at our final destination of the day, Finsbury Circus. The circus was created in 1815-17, following demolition of the second iteration of the Bethlem Hospital that previously stood on the site, with central gardens, including a sweep of lime trees, also designed by the junior George Dance. None of the original early 19th century houses survive, all having been replaced by offices. Several of those replacement buildings are listed including Lutyens House (Nos.1-6 Finsbury Square), designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, 1924-7 (listed grade II*); London Wall Buildings (No.25), designed by Gunton and Gunton, 1901 (listed grade II); and Salisbury House (No.31), designed by Davis and Emmanuel, 1901 (listed grade II). Salisbury House is now yet another upscale hotel. Up until recent times the centre of the gardens was occupied by a bowling green of 1925 vintage and a pavilion built in 1968, when the bowling green was enlarged, as a bowling pavilion and wine bar, to the south. To the west of the bowling green was a bandstand that was erected in 1955 and restored in the 1990s. Whether any of this remains now is extremely moot since the gardens were commandeered for the construction of a 42m deep temporary shaft to provide access for construction of the additional Crossrail station at Liverpool Street. Just as I was thinking I might have to consider taking up Lawn Green Bowls in the not too distant future.

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