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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 35 – Victoria Embankment – Aldwych – Somerset House

Not that many actual streets ticked off today but a reasonable distance covered and yet again a wealth of material to relay. It was also a fabulously bright (if cold) day as you will gather from the photographs. We start with a stroll through Victoria Embankment Gardens before doubling back and then dodging the joggers on the riverside promenade up to Waterloo Bridge. After that we head north to Aldwych and circle round to get back to Somerset House before ducking down onto the Embankment again and continuing eastward as far as Temple tube.

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The Victoria Embankment, as you might surmise from the name, is one of the great engineering feats of the Victorian era. The driving force behind this was the desire to improve the capital’s sanitation system by the creation of a new super sewer running west to east into which all other sewers would empty rather than into the Thames. This scheme gained the backing of Parliament when the dry summer of 1858 created what was known as “the Great Stink” with the raw sewage building up in the river making the atmosphere in the Houses of Parliament intolerable. Work began in 1864 and was completed in 1870.  Embankment walls were built close to the low-water mark and the area behind them filled in, making made space not only for the sewer but also for a road and for the new, partially underground, District Line. It also allowed for the creation of Victoria Embankment Gardens where our journey today begins.

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Prior to the construction of the Embankment this gateway on the topside of the gardens stood on the north bank of the river. Known as the York Watergate it was built in 1826 for our old friend George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham and, as we have reported previously, King James I’s “favourite”. Built as a point of access from Villiers’ garden to the river, the Watergate was created by Sir Balthazar Gerbier who modelled it on the Fontaine de Medicis at the Palais de Luxembourg.

First of several statues in the gardens is that of Robert “Rabbie” Burns (1759 -1796) to all intents and purposes the national poet of Scotland. This is the only statue of Burns in England whereas there are 16 in the USA and 9 in Canada. Oddly the Soviet Union was the first country to put him on a commemorative stamp (in 1956). There is also a crater on Mercury named after him.

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In the middle of the gardens stands this memorial to the Imperial Camel Corps which was comprised of battalions made up of British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian soldiers and formed part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in WWI. In total the brigade deployed around 4,800 camels which, fully loaded, could cross the desert at between three and six miles an hour. The corps was disbanded after the war.

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Continuing east through the gardens there are further memorials to : Sir Wilfred Lawson (1829 -1906) Liberal politician and temperance campaigner; Robert Raikes (1736 – 1811) philanthropist and founder of the Sunday school movement and Sir Arthur Sullivan (of popular duo Gilbert & Sullivan) who we have encountered before hereabouts. On the south side there is also Portland stone monument (listed grade II) designed by Edward Lutyens (1869-1944), erected to the memory of Major General Lord Cheylesmore, soldier, administrator, and philanthropist which incorporates a small water garden complete with Koi carp (and very popular with the local pigeons). On the north side in contrast there’s a rather odd little lilting hut whose function is not entirely clear. All in all the collection of memorials in the gardens is pretty random; though none the worse for that.

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Leaving the gardens and heading back west along the Embankment we pass the monument created by Blomfield and Victor Rousseau as an expression of thanks to the British nation from the people of Belgium for this country’s part in the liberation of Europe in 1944-5.

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Back at Embankment tube station we cross the road to the riverside walk. You have to feel a bit sorry for W.S Gilbert (the other half of Gilbert & Sullivan) since, whereas his musical partner gets a full bust job with a half-naked floozy draped across the plinth, all he gets is this somewhat unremarkable plaque on the wall by Hungerford Bridge.

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In 1878 Victoria Embankment became the first street in Britain to be permanently lit by electricity. The lampposts with their distinctive entwined fish (sturgeons apparently) on the bases were designed by George John Vulliamy.

Vuilliamy also designed the faux-Egyptian cast- bronze Sphinxes that flank the most famous landmark on this stretch of the north bank of the Thames, Cleopatra’s Needle. This hieroglyph covered obelisk was created in the Ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis around 1450 BC. It stands 21 metres tall and weighs 224 tons. So it was no mean feat to transport it over to England in 1877 from Alexandria (where Cleopatra had had it moved by the Romans in 12 BC). The sponsor of this enterprise, at a cost of £10,000, was the renowned anatomist Sir William James Erasmus Wilson. The Needle was housed inside a massive iron cylinder which was then converted into a kind of floating pontoon, named Cleopatra, so that it could be towed by ship, the Olga to be precise. Disaster struck when a storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the pontoon to list uncontrollably and the rescue boat sent across from the Olga capsized with the loss of its volunteer crew of six. Cleopatra was left “abandoned and sinking” but remarkably stayed afloat and was found four days later by Spanish trawlers and then towed into port by a Scottish steamer. Its journey was eventually completed in the wake of the paddle tug Anglia, under the command of one Captain David Glue.

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As you can imagine the tribulations of Cleo’s transportation were front page news at the time as you can see here daily-news-19-october-1877-cleopatras-needle.

The presence of cormorants along the river attests to the cleanliness of the water in the Thames these days and the concomitant increase in fish stocks.

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As we reach Waterloo Bridge there is yet another memorial, this time to the Victorian novelist and historian Walter Besant (1836 -1901). These days little more than a footnote in literary history, Besant’s work was extremely popular in his own lifetime. His novel, All Sorts and Conditions of Men, about the working-class inhabitants of London’s East End slums sold 250,000 copies and introduced a vogue for so-called “slum fiction” in the last decades of the Victorian era.

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Climb the steps up onto Lancaster Place and head up to Aldwych on the other side of the road from Somerset House.

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The Waldorf Hotel on Aldwych was established in 1908 by William Waldorf Astor of the fabulously wealthy and well-connected Astor Family who had arrived in England in the late 18th century from Walldorf in Germany (natch !) before heading west to America. At the time he had the Waldorf’s namesake in New York built in 1890 Astor was reputedly the richest man in America.

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Opposite the Waldorf, now part of the Hilton empire, stands India House; home to the Indian High Commission in London (or embassy if you prefer). Designed by Sir Herbert Baker the building was inaugurated in 1930 by King George V. The decorations on the outside of the building represent the various states of India, as they were under the Raj. The closest one in the picture below signifies Madras. Every time I go past here there seems to be some form of demonstration going on but I didn’t manage to ascertain what this one was about.

Duck round the corner down the steps into India Place where there is a bust of Nehru which was unveiled by John Major in 1991. That year also saw the fatal stabbing of 26 year old D.C Jim Morrison, just yards away, trying to arrest a thief while off duty. His killer has never been found.

India Place morphs into Montreal Place and emerges on the Strand opposite to north entrance to Somerset House.

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Turning east we almost immediately pass by the church of St Mary-le-Strand which now sits on a traffic island in the middle of the Strand (stranded you could say). This is another one of the churches built at the start of the 18th century under the “Commission for the building of fifty new churches”. The steeple was completed in September 1717, but the church was not consecrated for use until 1723. Bonnie Prince Charlie is alleged to have renounced his Roman Catholic faith here in favour of Anglicanism during a secret visit to London in 1750.

Beyond the church we turn left up Melbourne Place then left again to arrive at the front of Bush House The building, opened in 1925, was designed by the American architect Harvey Corbett and financed by an Anglo-American trading organisation headed by Irving T. Bush, hence the name. By the end of that decade Bush House had been declared the ‘most expensive building in the world’, having cost around $10 million. The BBC World Service (or the Empire Service as it was then), with which the building is indelibly associated, first moved some of its operations here in 1940 and had fully taken the place over by the late 1950’s. Given the nature and purpose of the World Service the inscription made above the main portico by the original owners, “to the friendship of English-speaking peoples” was always something of an embarrassment to the BBC. By 1972 more than 750 hours of programming a week in 40 languages from French to Somali were being broadcast from Bush House. In 2012 the BBC departed and World Service staff were transferred to new offices on the Broadcasting House site. The building has been taken over by King’s College as an extension to its Strand campus.

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Doubling back round the arc of Aldwych brings us to Australia House which is, yes you’ve guessed it, the home of the Australian High Commission – both the oldest Australian diplomatic mission and the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London. Construction of the building began in 1913 but it was only fully completed just after the end of WWI (for obvious reasons). The two sculptural groups that flank the entrance are named The Awakening of Australia and The Prosperity of Australia and are the work of the Australian artist Harold Parker. The flashing chap on the roof is Phoebus driving the horses of the sun the creation of another Australian sculptor, Bertram Mackennal. The building’s luxuriant interior (merely glimpsed below) was used at the setting for Gringott’s Wizarding bank in the first Harry Potter film.

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Turning the corner back onto the Strand we pass what was the entrance to the now disused Aldwych tube station (originally called Strand station).  The station sat on a branch line of the Piccadilly Line and although there were various plans to extend this it remained just a single-stop shuttle from Holborn up until closure in 1994 (having only operated during peak hours for the 32 years previous to that). Due to its self-contained nature (and the fact it was closed most of the time) the station was always in high demand for film and TV productions. This has continued post-closure with Atonement, 28 Weeks Later, Mr Selfridge and Sherlock amongst the productions to have shot scenes here.

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Next block along is the rather unlovely main campus building of King’s College.

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And once past that we’re back at the northern entrance to Somerset House. This riverside site was once occupied by a palace built by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset in 1547 and lived in by Elizabeth the First during the five years prior to her coronation. When Anne of Denmark (wife of James I) moved in in 1603 it was renamed Denmark House in her honour. The palace survived the ravages of the Great Fire but after decades of neglect following the departure of its last royal resident, Catherine of Braganza, in 1693 it was demolished in 1775. Within a year work had started on a replacement designed by Sir William Chambers. The new Somerset House (initially just the North Wing) opened in 1779 with the Royal Academy of Arts as its first occupant. The South Wing was completed in 1786 and the East and West Wings two years after that. At which time the Navy Board and the Stamp Office moved in. 1836 saw the establishment of the General Register Office, responsible for the recording of births, deaths and marriages, with which Somerset House became synonymous. Then in 1849 the Inland Revenue was created from the merger of the Board of Taxes and the Board of Excise and took over Somerset House for the next 15o years or so. The Registry Office actually moved out as long ago as 1970 and HMRC finally left for good in 2011. In between times the Courtauld Gallery moved into the North Wing in 1989 and in 1997 the Somerset House Trust was established to preserve and develop Somerset House for public use. The Riverside Terrace was first opened to the public in 2000, the same year that saw the first installation of a temporary ice rink in the piazza that was once, ignominiously, relegated to the status of a car park for Inland Revenue employees.

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Arriving to find the dismantling of the ice rink in full flow I initially cursed my sense of timing (again) but on reflection the photographs are probably more interesting than they would otherwise have been. The (free) exhibition on in the South Wing – until 26 February 2017 – is the Eye of Modern Mali a retrospective of work by the late Malian photographer, Malick Sidibe, and is highly recommended. Superb accompanying music as well.

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View across the Thames from River Terrace

Leave Somerset House via the Riverside Terrace and head down the steps on the east side of Waterloo Bridge to return to the Embankment. At the intersection with Temple Place stands this sadly rather obscured memorial to the godfather of Civil Engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859).

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Veer left up Temple Place and then again into Surrey Street which features some splendid red-brick terrace houses dating form the late 1760’s.

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In the bottom right of the picture above you can see the entrance to Surrey Steps which leads down into Strand Lane which, according to the signage, is the site of a “Roman Bath”.

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The provenance of the bath appears to be a matter of debate but most sources believe it actually originated as the feeder cistern for a grotto-fountain built in the gardens of the first Somerset House for Anne of Denmark in 1612 (some time after the Romans left Britain I think it’s fair to say). Shortly after the construction of the Georgian terraces, the owner of no.33, a Mr James Smith , converted the derelict cistern into a spring-fed cold bath which he opened to the public. It was only in the 1830’s when the management of the bath was taken on by one Charles Scott that the spurious Roman connection began to be advertised. The National Trust took possession of the Bath in 1948 and opened it to the public in 1951 following restoration. Nowadays visitors are only by appointment, otherwise you just have to peer through the very murky basement window to get a view of the bath (that’s if the outside light switch is working).

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Back on Surrey Street is the old Norfolk Hotel which was patronised at different times by both the agents of the Special Operations Executive French Section and Joseph Conrad, author of The Secret Agent.

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At the top of Surrey Street we turn right then head south again down Arundel Street. The Arundel House which now stands at the end of the eastern side of the street is a 19th century Tudor revival-style building which is currently the HQ for the International Institute of Strategic Studies. It takes its name from the Arundel House which occupied this riverside site in the middle ages and was the townhouse of the Bishops of Bath & Wells.

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We’ve now arrived at Temple tube station and the small elevated garden which sits on top of it affords good views of the Thames down towards London Bridge and the back of Arundel Great Court a 1970’s carbuncle that is in the throes of a long-running demolition and re-development project. In front of the garden on Temple Place is one of the so-called Cabmen’s Shelters. These green huts dotted around central London were originally put up between 1875 and 1914 by an eponymous charity with the aim of providing drivers of hansom cabs with somewhere they could get refreshments (non-alcoholic) without having to leave their vehicles prey to theft. Because they were situated on public highways the huts were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart. All of the remaining huts are Grade II listed.

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So after all that it’s one final scoot along the Embankment back to Waterloo Bridge and we’re done.

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Day 21 – Soho – Cambridge Circus – Shaftesbury Avenue – Wardour Street

Back after another enforced hiatus tackling Soho for the third and final time. This visit includes some of the most famous streets that bridge the divide between Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue: Greek Street, Frith Street, Berwick Street and Wardour Street; as well as Brewer Street and Old Compton Street which intersect them. I touched upon the history of the area in the two previous posts and if you’re interested in a glimpse of Soho in in its 1950s cosmopolitan heyday this film from the BFI archives is well worth dipping into – Sunshine in Soho 1956.

Day 21 Route

For what seems like the umpteenth time I start out from Tottenham Court Road tube station only this time head south down Charing Cross Road. First site of interest on the western side is the building which up until 2011 housed St Martin’s School of Art (now to be found in Kings Cross). Aside from its famous alumni such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, P J Harvey and M.I.A. the building also holds the honour of being the venue for the first ever gig by the Sex Pistols on 6 November 1975.

Right next door, as you can see, is Foyles bookstore, often proclaimed as the most famous such emporium in the world. The company was founded by brothers William and Gilbert in 1903 and moved to this site just before WW1. From the end of WW2 up until the turn of the millennium (when she died) the store was effectively under the iron control of William’s daughter, the notorious Christina. This went well up until the 1970’s when (as admitted even in the in-store display) her increasingly idiosyncratic business decisions began to alienate both staff and customers. Happily, the family members who subsequently took over the reins have succeeded in revitalising the business and the store, with its five floors holding the largest stock of books in the UK, is a pleasure to wander around.

Next up is Cambridge Circus, home to the imposing Palace Theatre. This red brick monolith was commissioned by Richard D’Oyly Carte in the 1880’s and was intended primarily as a stage for English Grand Opera. Within a few years of its opening however it was sold at a loss and became a music hall theatre. The Palace Theatre name was introduced in 1911 and the first proper staging of a musical came in 1925 with No, No Nanette which ran for 665 performances. This of course pales beside the 2,385 shows racked up by The Sound of Music in the 1960’s, the 3,358 achieved by Jesus Christ Superstar in the 1970’s and the nineteen-year (1985 to 2004) residency of Les Miserables. The theatre is currently dark but is gearing up for another blockbuster when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens in July 2016 (initial run already sold out).

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Adjacent to the theatre is the Spice of Life pub (another haunt of mine in the Eighties) which is still doing its bit for the Soho jazz tradition with regular gigs in the basement.

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Head past the pub down Romilly Street where on the corner with Greek Street stands the Coach and Horses perhaps the most famous of all the many Soho watering holes. This fame is largely attributable to the 62-year reign of Norman Balon as the self-proclaimed rudest landlord in London which ended in 2006. During this period the pub counted the likes of Peter O’Toole, Francis Bacon and the staff of Private Eye amongst its regulars. And then there was the journalist, Jeffrey Bernard, whose hard-drinking exploits were immortalised in the successful play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell.

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Moor Street takes us back to Charing X Road.

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Head back into Soho along Old Compton Street then swiftly turn north up Greek Street. Up at no.48 is L’Escargot, reputedly the oldest French restaurant in London. Its founder, M. Georges Gaudin, originally owned a restaurant called Bienvenue further up Greek Street but when he moved his business to this site in 1927 it was renamed after his most famous dish. There was a snail farm in the basement and the plaster cast above the entrance depicts M. Gaudin riding a snail along with the motto “slow but sure”.

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Turning left down Bateman Street brings us into Frith Street where you will find Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. This has been a Soho institution since October 1959 (it started in Gerard Street and moved to its present location in 1965) and has played host over the years to such as Miles Davis, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard. Ronnie himself passed away in 1996. Only got to see the illustrious Mr Scott in the flesh on one occasion – a Roy Ayers gig in the early nineties – and true to form he bestowed his full repertoire of time-worn jokes on the audience. Amongst the old chestnuts there was a surreal gag to which the punchline was “a fish”. Sadly I can’t quite recall the rest of it.

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Cutting across the corner of Soho Square and nipping down Carlisle Street takes us on to another stretch of Dean Street. Here on the west side is a legacy of old Soho in the Wen Tai Sun Chinese News Agency (though sadly not for much longer it appears). Despite the name this is basically just an outlet for the sale of oriental gewgaws  – so if you need a nodding gold cat you’d better get down there quick. On the opposite side we have the Soho Theatre; which offers an eclectic and extensive selection of comedy and cabaret acts. Have been to see loads of stuff here (was there just last week in fact) and most of it has been pretty good.

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A little further down at no. 28 is a blue plaque marking the residency of Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) for five years in the 1850’s. Remarkably he earned a living during this time as European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. The building is currently occupied by the Quo Vadis restaurant – Quo Vadis ? being the phrase which Christian tradition attributes to St Peter upon meeting the risen Jesus when fleeing from Rome. A tenuous touch of irony given Marx’s staunch atheism.

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Having taken in further stretches of Romilly Street and Old Compton Street we emerge out of Dean Street and onto Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of theatreland. And turning right we reach the Queens’ Theatre where the aforementioned “World’s Longest Running Musical” has sailed merrily along since leaving the Palace Theatre 12 years ago (can it really be that long ?)

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Turning right next up Wardour Street and almost immediately on the right is The Church of St Anne Soho. The design of this is attributed to Christopher Wren and/or William Talman and construction took place between 1677 and 1685. The original tower was demolished in 1800 (though the 1 ton clock bell, cast in 1691 and still in use, was retained) and a replacement completed within 3 years. Until the mid nineteenth century the churchyard was the final resting place of Soho’s inhabitants – up to 100,000 of them by some estimates. By then though the volume of burials had created such a sanitation problem that further interments were banned and in 1891 the churchyard was laid out as a public garden. The most famous post-mortem resident is the writer William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) who died in a house on Frith Street.

There’s a final stretch of Old Compton Street before we retrace our steps up Dean Street. OCS and its several pubs are indelibly linked with London’s gay community though the best known of these, the Admiral Duncan (named after Adam Duncan who defeated the Dutch fleet in 1797) will always be associated with the heinous nail-bomb attack perpetrated in 1999.

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Sandwiched in between the pub and one of a fair few remaining “adult” emporia is the Algerian Coffee Store one of the survivors from Soho’s bohemian golden age (check out the film).

Strung between Dean Street and Wardour Street are Bourchier Street, Meard Street, Richmond Buildings and St Anne’s Court. The Soho Hotel is tucked away around the penultimate of these, providing a home for this giant (and rather impudent) cat in its foyer.

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On Meard Street there are indications that some visitors may have been a bit over-zealous in their search for the vestiges of Soho’s sleazier past.

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On the other side of the Soho Hotel is Flaxman Court named after the sculptor, John Flaxman (1755 – 1826) who lived on Wardour Street after his marriage.

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Now we’re back on that same Wardour Street which back in the day was renowned for being the centre of the British Film Industry and for its clubs and live music venues. Sadly (and I seem to be using that adverb quite a lot today) in both those regards it is a pale shadow of its former self. The Film industry connection is still evident in the names of many of the buildings – Film House at no. 142 Wardour Street was formerly the headquarters of the Associated-British Pathé film company and Hammer House at nos. 113-117 was home to the eponymous “House of Horror” production company from 1949 until the mid-eighties.

Check out the dapper gent with the plastic bag in front of Hammer House – at least someone’s making an effort to maintain the sartorial image of the area. In terms of the nightlife associations Wardour Street was in different eras home to the likes of the Flamingo Club, the Marquee and the Wag Club not to mention (as the Jam did in their A Bomb in Wardour Street) punk favourite the Vortex.

At the northern end of Wardour Street we do a quick to and fro of Sheraton Street where yet more Crossrail workers are enjoying a break.

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Cross westward into D’Arblay Street where the lunchtime queue is building up outside the Breakfast Club.

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Into Poland Street and I’m pleased to see that the QPark has kept these reminders of motoring days past.

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Turn left onto Broadwick Street and then northward on Berwick Street. On the cul-de-sac that is Livonia Street one splendidly Afro-ed temporary denizen is single-handedly reviving the spirit of the Seventies. Although you can’t tell from the photo she (?) has got a friend with her and I think they’ve just stopped for a coffee though the suitcase maybe tells a different story.

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Berwick Street itself is the location for two of the records shops I spoke of in the last post. Reckless Records and Sister Ray are now on opposite sides and both deal mainly in second-hand vinyl. The former relieves me of the largest chunk of change.

Have to retrace my steps down Broadwick Street to get to Lexington Street where I take a quick left into Beak Street. Although it was mentioned in a previous post I couldn’t resist making the Old Coffee House pub of the day. Delighted to see that it’s hardly changed a bit in the last 25 years or so and also to have my half of one of Brodies’ craft ales and brie and chorizo sandwich in splendid isolation (apart from the old school Irish barman).

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On leaving the pub turn south down Great Pulteney Street where the composer Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) lived for brief time.

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The ill-fated writer and physician, John William Polidori (1795 – 1821) also lived in this street. His most successful work was the short story “The Vampyre” (1819), the first published modern vampire story but even this was originally wrongly attributed to Lord Byron. Despite his early death (probably suicide brought on by debt and depression) present day interest in the gothic and the romantic has led to an increasingly high posthumous profile.

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Emerge on to Brewer Street opposite the Vintage Magazine Shop and just along from the Brewer Street Car Park which as well as being probably the most expensive car park in the country has set aside a space in which the Vinyl Factory outfit put on some of the most innovative art installations to be seen in the capital. (Unfortunately nothing on at the moment though).

So next it’s back up Lexington Street, cut through Silver Place on to Ingestre Place which leads into Hopkins Street which turn ends at Peter Street. Opposite is Green Court which is basically just an alleyway. Its in these passages (forgive me) that the seamier side of Soho retains a foothold.

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Not sure exactly what characterises a British adult shop as opposed to any kind of foreign adult or if Up West has a connotation that has previously eluded me but I didn’t venture in to seek enlightenment. These pigeons have probably seen it all before mind you.

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Walker Court which joins Brewer Street to Berwick Street is another case in point.

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This stretch of Berwick Street contains the market and yet again we’re talking shadow of former self (check out the film and you’ll see what I mean.)

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On the corner of Broadwick Street and Duck Lane is the third and final record shop of the day (and probably my favourite), Sounds of The Universe.

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Another couple of albums acquired and I have quite a haul to lug around the final lap of today’s journey. Here’s a selection :

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So that final lap is taken a quite a pace and involves heading back down Wardour Street, turning right into Winnett Street opposite the church, left down Rupert Street, right into Archer Street, up Great Windmill Street, right into Brewer Street again and then at the junction where the boarded up husk of one of Paul Raymond’s Revuebars forlornly sits proceed the full length of Rupert Street back to Shaftesbury Avenue where there’s just time to look back at the string of three practically adjoining theatres before escaping into Piccadilly tube station.

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