Day 52 – Houses of Parliament – Westminster Abbey – Parliament Square

A pretty meaty one this to the say the least; with two of inarguably the three most iconic and important buildings in London to cover off (the third being St Pauls’ Cathedral – sorry, Buckingham Palace). So most of today’s excursion is taken up with visits to the Houses of Parliament (or, more precisely, the Palace of Westminster) and Westminster Abbey, though we did manage to fit in a few actual streets to the south and west of those behemoths before circling back to Parliament Square.

Day 52 Route

Starting out from Westminster tube station we cross Bridge Street and head along the south side of Parliament Square to the public entrance of the Houses of Parliament at Cromwell Green. After an inspection of my ticket – I’ve booked the audio guide tour – I make my way down the ramp at the bottom of which the airport-style security check awaits. En route we pass the statue of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), one of only two in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. The statue was erected in 1899 in the face of fierce opposition from the Irish National Party owing to Cromwell’s ravages against the Catholic population of Ireland. In the end Parliament only approved the statue because an anonymous benefactor, later revealed to be ex-Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, agreed to fund it. After his death Cromwell was originally buried, with great ceremony, in Westminster Abbey. However, following the restoration of Charles II, his body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution and his severed head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall (for twenty-four years).

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Given the scaffolding in evidence in the picture above, including the complete coverage of Big Ben, this is perhaps the time to note that, after series of protracted debates, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords voted in early 2018 in favour of a temporary decampment from the PoW to allow a long overdue so-called Restoration and Renewal programme to take place.  They won’t be vacating the premises until 2025 however so you’ve still got plenty of time to visit before it’s closed down for six years (at least).

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First port of call, and where you pick up the audio guide, is Westminster Hall (on the right above minus Cromwell’s severed head). This is the oldest part of the PoW and has, miraculously, survived intact since it was built by William II (aka William Rufus) son of William the Conqueror in 1097. The magnificent oak hammer-beam roof, commissioned in 1393 by Richard II, is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe measuring 68ft by 240ft. In addition to the new roof, Richard also installed statues of every king of England from Edward the Confessor to himself in niches in the walls (only 6 now remain). Ironically, the first event to take place in the hall after Richard’s redevelopments was his own deposition by Henry IV in 1399. On 16 October 1834 a fire broke out in the Palace when two underfloor stoves that were injudiciously being used to destroy the Exchequer’s stockpile of tally sticks ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber. The two Houses were both completely destroyed but Westminster Hall was saved, partly by its thick Medieval walls  and partly because the PM, Lord Melbourne, directed the fire fighters to focus their efforts on dousing the Hall’s timber roof.

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There are a number of brass plaques embedded in the floor of the Hall commemorating events of historic significance that have taken place there, including the passing of the death sentence on Sir Thomas More in 1535. The stairs at southern end of the Hall were created by architect Charles Barry in 1850 along with a new arch window as part of his post-fire renovations. Turning left at the top of these stairs brings us to the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall above which can be seen the light sculpture New Dawn created by, artist-in-residence, Mary Branson, in commemoration of the campaign for women’s suffrage and unveiled in 2016.

St Stephen’s Hall started life as St Stephen’s Chapel in 1292 and was the in-house place of worship for the reigning Kings of England up to Henry VIII. In 1550, two years after the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry’s son Edward IV gave the chapel over to the House of Commons for use as their debating chamber. The chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834 and was reconstituted as St Stephen’s Hall as part of Charles Barry’s restoration work. Following the destruction wrought during WWII the hall once again became the venue for sessions of the Commons from 1945 to 1950 while the Commons Chamber was being rebuilt.

On either side of the Hall are statues of famous parliamentarians including John Hampden, Robert Walpole, William Pitt and Charles James Fox and on either side of the doorways are statues of early Kings and Queens of England. The paintings on the walls depict various important events in British history, while the ten stained-glass windows, five on either side, depict the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs; these were damaged in air raids during the Second Word War and since restored.

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St Stephen’s Hall represents the last opportunity to take photographs inside the Palace of Westminster; beyond here it’s strictly verboten. As a consequence I won’t dwell too long on the rest of the tour which takes us into the Central Lobby where we turn right to pass through the Peers Lobby, the Lords Chamber, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room and back again. Traversing the Central Lobby for a second time gains access to the Members Lobby and the Commons Chamber. Now on the day of my visit neither of the Houses was sitting so it was possible to get right in among the green and red benches (though of course you’re not allowed to sit on them). When either of the Chambers are in session visitors can, of course, view the debates from the respective public galleries – no tickets required except for PMQs. The visitor’s gallery in the Commons is formally known as the Strangers’ Gallery. Back in the 1930’s according to my guidebook “any Foreigners desirous of listening to a debate” needed to apply to their Ambassadors”. There was also a separate Ladies’ Gallery back then though persons of the female persuasion had recently also been granted access to the main viewing gallery. The grilles referred to below were installed over the windows in the Ladies’ Gallery (earning it the nickname “the Cage”) so the women could see out but men could not see in, and therefore not be distracted by the women watching them. They were removed in 1917 following a petition from the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and just a couple of months after the passing of the bill giving the vote to women over the age of 30.

Galleries

Once the tour is over we leave the HoP and head across to the South-West corner of Parliament Square and follow Broad Sanctuary down to the entrance to Westminster Abbey.  As ever my timing is the complete opposite of impeccable since if I’d just waited a couple more weeks then the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries would have been open. Reached via the newly-built Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745, these apparently offer stunning views down into the nave of the church as well as housing 300 treasures from the Abbey’s collection selected to reflect it’s thousand-year history. Still, I expect the queues are going to be absolutely horrendous. It’s busy enough on the day of my visit though having pre-booked a ticket online I get in pretty quickly. At £20 a time (£22 if you buy on the day) the revenue from visitors to the Abbey is probably sufficient to keep the Church of England solvent all on its own. Despite the crowds it’s not that unpleasant shuffling round; I suspect it’s the free audio guides rather than piety that keeps the noise to a minimum and the no-photography rule is universally adhered to.

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Westminster Abbey can trace its origins back to the middle of the eleventh century when Edward the Confessor built a new stone church dedicated to St Peter alongside an existing Benedictine monastery founded around a hundred years earlier. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London. Unfortunately, when the new church was consecrated on 28 December 1065 the King was too ill to attend and died a few days later, his mortal remains being entombed in front of the High Altar. This set something of a trend since when King Henry III (1207 – 1272) had the Abbey rebuilt in the new Gothic style he died before the nave could be completed. Henry did however have time to transfer the body of Edward the Confessor (by then sanctified as Saint Edward) into a more magnificent tomb behind the High Altar in the new church. This shrine survives and around it are buried a cluster of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III himself, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V. Westminster Abbey is of course irrevocably linked with the history of the English/British monarchy. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII (abdicated) who were never crowned. The ancient Coronation Chair can still be seen in the church. Elizabeth I was buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, in the so-called Lady Chapel which he had constructed in 1516. Her successor, James I, didn’t attend her funeral service but he later had a white marble monument erected in her memory in a chapel adjacent to the Lady Chapel. Although a few years after that he had a taller and grander memorial installed for his mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

But it’s not just royalty that’s buried and/or commemorated in the Abbey of course. When Geoffrey Chaucer was buried here in 1400 it was because he was Clerk of The King’s Works not for his literary achievements. However, nearly 200 years later, when Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queene fame) asked to be buried next to Chaucer the concept of Poet’s Corner was born and continues to this day. Deciding which dead writers merit the honour of being immortalised in Poet’s Corner is the prerogative of the Deans of Westminster.  Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Handel and Laurence Olivier are among those whose actual remains lie here while Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron and a host of others are memorialised in brass or stone. The most recent additions to the pantheon include Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and David Frost.

As I noted already there’s no photography allowed inside the abbey so the next selection of photographs are all of or from within the College Garden and the Little Cloister Garden. Before we get to that those though I just wanted to record one personal highlight of the tour which is the murals in the Chapter House. These were painted in the late 14th century at the instigation of one of the monks of Westminster, John of Northampton, and depict scenes from the New Testament’s Revelation of St John the Divine (otherwise known as the Apocalypse). Only fragments of the paintings remain and many of those that do are extremely faint but this ghost-like appearance only adds to their macabre impact.

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We exit the Abbey on its west side opposite the Crimea and Indian Mutiny memorial which sits inside a triangular island created by Victoria Street and The Sanctuary. Turning south we pass through the gatehouse of the octagonal turreted building  known as The Sanctuary built to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1853-54. Nowadays this accommodates the Deanery of the Abbey and also the Attorney Generals’ Office.

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On the other side of the gatehouse is Dean’s Yard which comprises most of the remaining precincts of the former monastery of Westminster, not occupied by the Abbey buildings. The East side consists of buildings occupied by Westminster School, the South by Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England and the West by Westminster Abbey Choir School.
Historically the Abbey was one of the last ecclesiastical sanctuaries to surrender its ancient rights, with the result that the precincts were largely occupied by the most undesirable and dangerous of inhabitants. They were held in check by the Abbot’s own penal jurisdiction, and by the knowledge that the Abbot could instantly expel them to their fate at the hands of the Common Law. Westminster School displays a royal pardon of Charles II for the King’s Scholars who murdered a bailiff harassing the mistress of one of the scholars in Dean’s Yard, allegedly in outrage at the breach of traditional sanctuary although it had been legally abolished by then.

After a circuit of Dean’s Yard we leave the same way we came in, head back up to Victoria Street and after a few steps to the left turn south down Great Smith Street. Take a right next into Abbey Orchard Street past the Department of Education building and down to the end where it forks in two by Companies House. This unprepossessing building is just the London office and information centre; the actual Registrar of Companies (for England & Wales) is down in Cardiff.

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Taking the left fork we drop down onto Old Pye Street and continue west. On reaching Strutton Ground we turn south as far as Great Peter Street where we head back eastward. On the corner with Perkin’s Rents we have today’s pub of the day (the first in a long while), The Speaker. Aptly-named given its location of course and though it doesn’t look much from the outside the interior is salubrious enough and they do a damn fine bacon, brie and onion chutney bagel to go with a decent selection of beers. Used by male House of Commons researchers as a venue for mansplaining to their female colleagues (on the evidence of this one visit).

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In Victorian times, the area round here was a notorious slum known as the Devil’s Acre.  The houses were mostly occupied by what a contemporary described as “mendicants, hawkers, costermongers, lodging house keepers, thieves and abandoned females of irregular and intemperate habits” and it wasn’t unusual for 10 to 12 people to share a room. The slum was cleared from 1877 onward and the Peabody Trust built one of their estates to replace a large part of it.

We pass through the middle of the estate up Perkin’s Rents back to Old Pye Street then follow that east to its junction with St Ann’s Street and turn south back down to Great Peter Street. Here we turn east as far as Great Smith Street and head north towards the Abbey again. On the west side of the street is the Westminster Library which when it was built in 1891 incorporated a public baths and wash house. The baths themselves were removed in 1990 when that part of the building was turned into the Westminster Archive Centre but if you look in the top left corner of the picture below you can see the original sculpted panels of swimmers created by Henry Poole (1873 – 1928).
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We turn right opposite into Little Smith Street which runs through to Tufton Street. At no.11 resides J. Wippell & Company, suppliers of clerical vestments and church furnishings. The Wippell family set up in business in the West Country in 1789 but this London shop was established just over a hundred years later.

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Proceeding north up Tufton Street brings us to Great College Street where we turn right briefly, past the southern end of Westminster School, before diverting into Barton Street. Barton Street and Cowley Street, which comes off it at a right angle, are fertile ground for blue plaque hunters. No.14 Barton Street is the one-time home of T.E Lawrence (1888 – 1935) better known of course as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence lived here while writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and account of his experiences working for British Military Intelligence in the near east during WW1.

Round the corner at no.6 Cowley Street Lord Reith (1889 – 1971), the first Director-General of the BBC, lived from 1924 – 1930. Despite having no broadcasting experience (though it’s hard to see where he would have got any at that time) he got the job as general manager of the newly formed BBC in 1922 and stayed in the lead role until 1938. He is memorialised by the BBC’s annual series of Reith Lectures which began in 1948.

Across the road no.16 was the home of legendary luvvie Sir John Gielgud (1904 -2000) from 1945 to 1976. Gielgud’s career spanned almost 80 years, ranging from leading roles in Hamlet and King Lear on the stage to playing the butler to Dudley Moore’s Arthur for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Nothing to do with these famous ghosts but if I could have my pick of somewhere to live in London then Barton Street / Cowley Street would be very high up on the list.

There’s a small second section of Cowley Street, perpendicular to the main stretch, which emerges back out on Great Peter Street. Then the next northward turning is Little College Street which takes us back to Great College Street from where it’s a short hop east to Abingdon Street, on the other side of which are the Victoria Tower Gardens. At the entrance to the gardens stands the memorial to the mother and daughter leading lights of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline (1858 – 1928) and Christabel (1880 – 1958) Pankhurst. The main feature of the memorial is a bronze statue of Emmeline by Arthur George Walker which was unveiled in 1930. Shortly after Christabel’s death the statue was moved to its present location and bronze reliefs commemorating her achievements were added.

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On the river embankment wall is a green plaque in memory of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank (1881 – 1951) who as Chief Engineer for the London County Council during WW2  directed repair operations to public infrastructure including the Thames wall such that although this was hit at least 121 times during the war years the city never flooded.

Above left is a shot of the southern end of the Palace of Westminster showing the Victoria Tower after which the gardens are named. I mentioned earlier that there were just two statues in the grounds of the PoW and we pass the second of those as we return towards the Palace via Abingdon Street and through Old Palace Yard. The equestrian statue of Richard I (popularly known as Lionheart or Coeur de Lion) was created by Baron Carlo Marochetti (who collaborated with Landseer on the Trafalgar Square lions if you remember). The statue was originally produced in clay for the Great Exhibition of 1851 then funds were raised to enable it to be cast in bronze and it was installed in Old Palace Yard in 1860.

Having arrived back at the HoP we cross the road again and set off on an clockwise circuit of Parliament Square. Plans for the Parliament Square Garden were included in Charles Barry’s design for the new Houses of Parliament following the 1834 fire but the gardens weren’t laid out until 1868.  The first batch of statues were erected between 1874 and 1883 as monuments to the nineteenth century Prime Ministers; the Earl of Derby, Viscount Palmerston, Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli. Most of the others were installed after the post-WWII redesign of the garden to commemorate both giants of 20th century British parliamentary history and iconic world statesmen. So, in the slides below, we have, respectively :

  • Nelson Mandela, sculpted by Ian Walters (2007) in the foreground with Sir Robert Peel sculpted by Matthew Noble (1876) beyond him and in the background Abraham Lincoln (1920).
  • Mahatma Ghandi sculpted by Philip Jackson (2015) in the foreground and Benjamin Disraeli sculpted by Mario Raggi (1883) behind him.
  • The most recent addition to the pantheon and the first woman to be granted the honour – Dame Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929) sculpted by Gillian Wearing (2018). The statue was erected to coincide with the centenary of women being granted the vote. Millicent Fawcett was a leader of the suffragist arm of the campaign for votes for women who were less militant than the suffragettes though unlike the suffragettes they didn’t call a halt to their campaigning during the First World War.  The words on the banner her statue holds are from a speech she made after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.
  • George Canning sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott (1832 but moved to its present location in 1949).
  • David Lloyd George sculpted by Glynn Williams (2007)
  • Winston Churchill sculpted by Ivor Robert-Jones (1973)

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Final port of call for today is the Supreme Court Building which stands on Little George Street which runs parallel with the west side of the square. The building, originally known as the Middlesex Guildhall, dates from 1913 and was designed in the neo-gothic style by Scottish architect, James Gibson. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the UK but it has only been in existence since 2009; prior to that the House of Lords (or rather the Law Lords) occupied the top-tier of the British legal pyramid. It was the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 that led to the creation of the Supreme Court in order to fully separate the legislature from Parliament. The Supreme Court doesn’t conduct trials as such; it sits in order to determine whether the correct interpretation of the law has been applied in civil cases that are referred to it for appeal. The Justices of the SC, currently numbering eleven and appointed by an independent selection commission, determine which cases they will hear based on the extent to which they raise ‘points of law of general public importance’.  The same 11 justices also form The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council (JCPC) which is the court of final appeal for the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, as well as many Commonwealth countries.

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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.

Coal Exchange

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 8 – Marble Arch – Hyde Park – Park Lane – Mayfair – Grosvenor Square

Today’s route involves a first trip to the two most expensive properties on the Monopoly Board, Park Lane and Mayfair via the underside of Oxford Street, the Marble Arch gyratory system and the eastern edge of Hyde Park. It also takes in that little bit of central London which is all about the US of A, Grosvenor Square.

Day 8 Route

Start at Bond Street tube station and immediately venture south down Davies Street where on the intersection with South Molton Lane we find the Grosvenor Works, which is now occupied by Grays Antiques but was from the late 19th century home to John Bolding & Sons makers of sanitary appliances (bathroom fittings in other words).

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Turning right along Weighhouse Street there is another reminder of London’s industrial and commercial past – this United Dairies signage on a building currently undergoing redevelopment. United Dairies effectively ceased to exist in 1959 when it was merged into what became Unigate – so this must have at least been obsolete for longer than I’ve been around.

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Up Gilbert Street and down Binney Street where, sandwiched between this and Duke Street, is the former King’s Weigh House Chapel which nowadays operates as the catchily-entitled Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile. Designed by the eminent Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse, the chapel’s original name derives from the fact that its dissenter congregation’s original place of worship, in Eastcheap, was above the office for checking the weight of merchandise.

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Head up Duke Street to Oxford Street again and then down Lumley Street (no sign of Joanna) to arrive back west of the church in Brown Hart Gardens. The eponymous gardens in the middle of this square are laid out on a raised terrace and replaced the original communal street level gardens which made way for the construction of what must be one of the world’s grandest electricity substations at the turn of the last century. The substation was completed in 1905 to the design of C. Stanley Peach in a Baroque style from Portland stone featuring a pavilion and steps at either end, a balustrade and Diocletian windows along the sides to light the galleries of the engine rooms. The overlaying of a paved Italian garden was carried out at the insistence of the then Duke of Westminster.

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The gardens have very recently been renovated and the terrace is now, like every other tarted up bit of the capital, graced with a posh café. The western end of the square is occupied by another five-star hotel – the Beaumont.

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We now head north on Balderton Street and turn left into North Row, which runs parallel with Oxford Street and has nothing of interest to detain us until we reach Marble Arch. Pause at the corner of Park Lane to note the detailing on the southern exterior of the Cumberland Hotel where Jimi Hendrix kept a room in the late sixties and which now has a suite (though not the same one) named in his honour.

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Cross the road to take a closer look at Marble Arch itself. This was originally designed by our old friend John Nash to be one of the state entrances to Buckingham Palace but was relocated in 1851 upon the widening of Park Lane and now sits isolated and underwhelming amid the traffic visited only by hordes of pigeons and a few less discerning tourists.

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Yes, if you were wondering where all the pigeons went after being driven away from Trafalgar Square here’s your answer. As a consequence the sign in the photo below which exhorts members of the public to keep the area clean is a perfect exercise in futility. The statue you can see in the far distance is a very recent addition to the area. The work, called ‘She Guardian’, comprises four tonnes of bronze, sculpted over two years by Russian artist Dashi Namdakov. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) its positioning means only the hardiest tourist (or pigeon) will ever get close enough to experience its true majesty.

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These little guys have even gone so far as to hide away down a disused subway entrance to escape its awesome majesty.

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We make our escape too; skirting round Cumberland Gate to enter Hyde Park at Speakers’ Corner. In accordance with an 1872 act of parliament anyone can still turn up unannounced to speak on any subject, as long as the police consider their speeches lawful. Though on this particular day no-one had made the effort.

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Dodge the joggers and cyclists en route through the park to exit by the Joy of Life fountain, a 1963 creation of T.B Huxley-Jones. Take the subway under Park Lane to emerge on the edge of Mayfair by Mount Street. On this stretch of Park Lane we have at no.93 the Grade I listed former London residence of Disraeli from 1839 to 1872. And at no. 100 the Grade II listed Dudley House, one of the few surviving aristocratic private palaces in London. It didn’t exactly come as shock to learn that this 17-room mansion is now owned by a member of the extended Qatari royal family.

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For the next stretch of the walk we weave in and out of Park Lane and the parallel running Park Street which isn’t exactly short of high-end apartment blocks.

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No. 16 on the interconnecting Upper Grosvenor Street was once the residence of Sir Robert Peel. Although he served twice as Conservative Prime Minister in the 1840’s Peel was one of the great political reformists, playing a key role in the repeal of the Corn Laws, Catholic emancipation and the 1832 Reform Act by supporting the Whig government from the opposition benches. Such Liberal tendencies have not exactly endeared him to certain elements of subsequent generations of Conservatives. His best-known legacy is probably the creation of the Metropolitan Police and the designation of its members as either “Peelers” or “Bobbies”.

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Culross Street, Upper Brook Street, Woods Mews and Green Street are the other interlinking streets. The second of these is home to Michael Roux Jr.’s Michelin two-star, Le Gavroche at no. 43.

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Reaching the top of Park Lane again we cut back down Dunraven Street where no.17 announces itself as the former home of the immortal P.G Wodehouse. There are very few surer ways of fending off a bout of the glums than a good dose of Jeeves and Wooster. If you’re not familiar with the radio adaptations featuring the late greats Richard Briers and Michael Hordern I urge you to seek them out.

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Continue via Lees Place and Shepherds Place to North Audley Street where at no.13a we find the former St Mark’s Church. Dating from 1828 and designed in the (by now familiar) Greek revival style the building ceased to be a parish church over 30 years ago and after an long period of abandonment and aborted re-usage attempts is now re-branded as One Mayfair and owned by the same events company that previously brought you One Marylebone. The adjacent red-brick No. 13 was originally the vicarage and is still today used as a private home.

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Nearby Providence Court provides a prime example of the vogue for redevelopment that involves propping up historic frontages and completely rebuilding behind them.

P1040568George Yard takes us back to Duke Street from where it is a short hop to Grosvenor Square. As already noted this is dominated by the monstrous incongruity that is the American embassy. Chap with his hands on his hips is Dwight Eisenhower. He’s joined at the southern end of the building by Ronald Reagan whose statue was unveiled in 2011. I suppose the thinking was that the one was a hero of the Second World War and the other of the Cold War, though the equivalency escapes me.

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Pride of place in the gardens in the centre of the square goes to a statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt and on the eastern side there is a pavilion and memorial garden created to honour the victims of September 11. The building in the background is the significantly more discrete Italian Embassy.

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Leave the square via Carlos Place which is the location of the Connaught Hotel and also the Timothy Taylor gallery where one of the works in the current exhibition provides today’s selfie of the day.

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Duck through Mount Street Gardens, created in 1889 out of a former burial ground, passing the rear of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception before entering onto South Audley Street. Here we find the 120-year old Mayfair Library which is still just that, a public library run by Westminster Council. It’s quite difficult to imagine any of the residents of this part of town popping in to borrow an actual book so perhaps it’s not surprising that the library has expanded its services to include offering itself as an approved venue for wedding ceremonies.

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Opposite the library is the Grosvenor Chapel which was built in the 1730’s and whose Anglican congregation was swelled during the Second World War by the presence of American servicemen and women.

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South Audley Street is also, at no. 57, home to James Purdey and Sons, Gun and Rifle makers by Royal appointment. Still no sign of Joanna (tenuous cultural cross-reference of the day).

P1040586Right, we’re nearly done now. Aldford Street and Rex Place bring us back to Mount Street and a stretch which is the location of the Brazilian Embassy proper and a swathe of high-end boutiques and restaurants (which in fairness the buildings do deserve).

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Finish off with Adams Row, Reeves Mews and then Grosvenor Street where the final pause of the day is to clock the embassy of the Principality of Monaco at no.7. Not quite sure why they feel the need for an embassy as most of their residents will be too scared to visit London in case they get asked to pay some tax (God forbid!)

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