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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.