So what have we got for you today ? Well, we’re still in the City of London but no major landmarks this time so it’s half a dozen more of those Wren churches, a couple more Livery Halls and a lot of building sites. Fear not though, we’ll try and get through this a bit more briskly than of late and see if we can’t extract some reasonable entertainment value out of it.
We begin at Bank tube station and making our way down the west side of Mansion House arrive at the first of those Wren churches, St Stephen Walbrook. This is considered to be among the very finest of Wren’s work, particularly admired by the great Italian sculptor-architect, Canova. The geometry of the church is perfectly rectangular, unusually for Wren, but it’s the interior that really impresses. In 1953 the rector at the time, Dr Chad Varah (1912 – 2007), founded the Samaritans charity in the church vestry.
(Of course the exterior would look a little bit more impressive without another one of those bloody white vans parked in front of it). Head back up to Queen Victoria Street along Bucklersbury and then turn west. To the south, between here and Cannon Street, the massive Bloomberg Place development has been taking shape since 2014 under the combined force of architects, Foster & Partners and constructors, McAlpine. As the name suggests this is intended as Bloomberg’s new European HQ (though I imagine in 2014 they didn’t have much inkling that the UK would be in the process of divorcing itself from Europe come 2017).
Circumnavigate the development via the top section of Queen Street and east on Cannon Street before heading back to the church up Walbrook Street. After a quick peek at Bond Court on the south side of the church we turn eastward in between the north side and the back of Mansion House down St Stephens Row. This leads into Mansion House Place which in turn emerges on St Swithin’s Lane. At the bottom of this we continue east on Cannon Street before switching northward again up Abchurch Lane. Here we find the second of today’s Wren reconstructions, St Mary Abchurch. The most striking feature of the church is the painted domed ceiling (though there is no exterior dome) believed to be the work of local artist, William Snow, who was paid £170 for his efforts according to the church accounts of the time – 1708. Painted in oils directly on the plaster, the decorations are divided in two horizontally by a painted Trompe-l’œil cornice. Above this a choir of angels and cherubs in adoration surrounds a golden glow, in the centre of which it the name of God in Hebrew characters.
Skirt left round the church via Abchurch Yard and follow Sherborne Lane up to King William Street. Turn right for a short distance then go all the way back down Abchurch Lane to Cannon Street again. Keep going east as far as the junction by Monument station where we turn south briefly (still on King William Street) before veering west down an alley that runs into Arthur Street. Next up is Martin Lane which is home to The Olde Wine Shades, one of London’s oldest pubs. Built just three years before the Great Fire as a Merchants house it managed to survive the conflagration and was later, reportedly, used by smugglers who exploited a tunnel running from the cellars to the river. It’s now part of the El Vino chain and currently under refurbishment.
Back up to Cannon Street and then down the next turn on the left which is Laurence Pountney Lane. The name is a relic of St Laurence Pountney church which was one that wasn’t rebuilt after its destruction by the Great Fire. Pountney is a corruption of Pultneye, as in Sir John de Pultneye, one time Lord Mayor.
With their street cobbles and heritage brickwork Laurence Pountney Lane and the adjoining Laurence Pountney Hill are a brief but welcome antidote to the frenzy and modern bluster of Cannon Street and its construction sites.
We’re back on Cannon Street soon enough though having completed a circuit of Laurence Pountney Hill, Suffolk Lane, Gophir Lane and Bush Lane. Cross the road for a quick excursion into Oxford Court where we catch sight of what has to be the most reductive attempt to retain a historic façade yet encountered.
Back on the other side we continue west passing the eponymous Cannon Street Station. The original incarnation of this terminus, now serving south east London and Kent, dates back to 1866. That Victorian station was fronted by a five storey hotel in the Italianate style which was converted into offices in the 1930’s. Prior to that though, in 1920, it had hosted the first meetings of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The station was pretty much wiped out during the Second World War and after a 1960’s redevelopment overseen by the infamous John Poulson (1930 – 1993) all that remained of the original station were its 120ft twin red brick towers (Grade II listed in 1972). In the 1980’s office blocks were constructed above the platforms and Poulson’s main station building was replaced as part of a major regeneration programme by Network Rail starting in 2007.
On the other side of the station we head south once more down Dowgate Hill and on the right here we have three Livery Company halls all in a row. First up is the Tallow Chandlers Company, granted its charter by King Edward IV in 1462. The trade in tallow (rendered animal fats) candles had pretty much run its course by the 17th century as tallow was superseded by new materials such as spermaceti (a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale) and paraffin wax. This decline was partly offset by the use of tallow in the manufacture of soap in the 19th century (in 1853 Lord Palmerston, seeking to encourage public cleanliness, removed all duty on tallow). Today like most of the Livery Companies, as we know, the Tallow Chandlers are a purely charitable institution. They do nonetheless sit at a fairly lofty no.21 in the Order of Precedence.
Right next door is the Skinners’ Hall, the Grade I listed home of the Skinners’ Company (re)-built in 1670. The Skinners (developed out of the medieval guild of fur traders) are one of the so-called Great Twelve Livery Companies, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1327 and standing firm right up there at no. 6 in the OoP (you have probably twigged by now how much I enjoy a good chart). For a ten year period at the turn of the 18th century the hall was rented by the East India company who, upon departure, left as a gift a mahogany East India table which is still in use today.
Final member of this triumvirate is the Worshipful Company of Dyers with their, frankly, quite disturbing coat of arms. The Dyers received their first charter from Henry VI in 1471 and they occupy the 13th position on the OoP. That might have had something to do with the fact that having been rebuilt after the Great Fire the Dyers Hall burned down again just 14 years later.
And just round the corner in College Street we have a fourth, the Worshipful Company of Innholders, number 32 on the OoP and receiving its first charter from Henry VIII in 1514. In a familiar story, the hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire and completed in 1670.
Back then, in the 17th century, there was often a shortage of small denomination coins of the realm and tradesmen found it impossible to give change for small items – in the case of innkeepers for a drink of ale or a bale of hay. They therefore solved their problem by issuing their own tokens which could only be redeemed where they had been issued.
The Innholders’ motto, Hinc Spes Affulget, is Latin for Hence Hope Shines Forth.
Further along College Street we arrive at the Church of Saint Michael Paternoster Royal which is strongly associated with our old mate Richard Whittington, four times Mayor of London. In 1409 good old Dick paid for the rebuilding and extension of the church and in 1422 he was buried here, though the actual tomb has not survived. The three stained glass windows you can see below where designed by John Hayward in 1968. The main window depicts St Michael trampling a red-winged Satan and the windows on either side show, respectively, the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and Adam and Eve with St Gabriel and the serpent. There is a separate window depicting Dick Whittington with his cat.
Whittington also founded an almshouse and chantry college adjacent to the church on College Hill which lasted there until the early 1800s when they moved to Highgate. The façades of both institutions from the late 17th century can still be seen on the east side as you go up the hill (one of them with a distinctly Pirates of the Caribbean feel).
Halfway up College Hill we turn right into Cloak Lane then follow a loop of Dowgate Hill, Cannon Street and College Hill again to return to the western section of Cloak Lane and then head south down Queen Street. At the bottom we turn right again into Skinners Lane which leads down to the Church of St James Garlickhythe. Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective) this one wasn’t open for visits today. The name of the church is derived from the Saxon word ‘hythe’ meaning a landing place. So this spot, formerly on the river, was where garlic (a vital medicine and preservative in the Middle Ages) was unloaded and probably traded on Garlick Hill at the foot of which the church stands. The forty foot ceiling in the church is the highest in the City apart from St Pauls. In the landscaped area to the west of the church stands a bronze statue of ‘The Barge Master and Swan Marker of the Vintners Company’.
We ascend the aforementioned Garlick Hill and two thirds of the way up turn east again along Great St Thomas Apostle (just that, no Street no Lane). At the end we do another loop back round Queen Street, Cannon Street and the top bit of Garlick Hill and this time go west on Great Trinity Lane which is much smaller than Little Trinity Lane which occupies us next. Backtrack up to Queen Victoria Street take a few steps to the west and then head south again down Huggin Hill (which is only an alleyway) to Upper Thames Street. Continue west alongside the Castle Baynard section of the east -west cycle superhighway before returning to Queen Victoria Street via Lambeth Hill. Turning east then north up Friday Street and Bread Street we reach the One New Change shopping mall. This was created only a few years ago, not without controversy given its proximity to St Pauls. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the exterior if not for the range of stores contained within. In my judgement it also hasn’t exactly achieved the desired level of footfall since it opened.
On the edge of the small garden to the south of the mall is a memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip (1738 – 1814) the first Governor of New South Wales and the man who founded the British penal colony that eventually formed the basis of the city of Sydney. His early years were spent in a tenanted family home near Cheapside.
And Cheapside is where we head next, cutting through the shopping complex to make this latest visit. Proceeding east we arrive at the church of St Mary-le-Bow, famous of course for its bells which, according to tradition, you have to be born within earshot of to be considered a true Cockney. The bells also feature prominently in the story of how that man Dick Whittington (yes him again) came to be Lord Mayor. Hearing the sound of them supposedly persuaded him to return to London (with his cat) when he was on his way to leaving the capital. As he was reported to have heard the bells in Highgate this would incidentally imply quite a large catchment area for your native Cockneys. During WWII the church was hit by a bomb which brought the bells crashing to the ground. New bells were cast in 1956 and ringing only resumed in 1961. Since the early 1940s, a recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for its English-language broadcasts.
In Bow courtyard stands a statue of Captain John Smith (1580 – 1631) the soldier and explorer, best known these days (thanks to the Disney film) for the story of his capture by the Powhatan Native American tribe and his release courtesy of the chief’s daughter Pocahontas who, according to Smith, threw herself across his body: “at the minute of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown”.
Cut through the courtyard and into Bow Lane then turn south down to Watling Street which we complete a quick up and down of before resuming on Bow Lane and taking in our final church of the day, St Mary Aldermary. According to the eminent architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, this is one of the two most important 17th century Gothic churches in England. It was one of the very few churches rebuilt by Wren to employ the Gothic style.
After that it just remains to complete the return to Bank station via a circuit of Queen Street, Pancras Lane and Sise Lane. Thank you and goodnight.