A change from the usual programme, Kate booked our guide and plenty of us signed up and paid our £14 for this very informative and interesting two-and-a-half hour walk around the Square Mile of London. Sadly, Kate caught Covid and was unable to attend herself.
I thought I knew the City, but we were taken down tiny back streets and alleyways to places I’d never seen before. Beginning at St Pauls we were told how London was burnt down three times: by Bouddica, in 1666 and then in 1940 in the Blitz and a range of building styles and ruins nest together mostly on the original mediaeval street plan. We moved to Paternoster Square, so called because the monks recited the Lords Prayer (in Latin) as they processed through the space, ending up at ‘Amen Corner’. St Pauls survived the Blitz due to fire watches, but not so the printing firm that occupied the site, and millions of books went up in flames, leading to a shortage of printed material in the coming 1940’s and 1950’s. A memorial to the flames is in the square, doubling up as an air shaft for the underground carpark. Opposite, is the only original city gate, also designed by Christopher Wren. It was moved from Fleet Street when it caused too much congestion, sold, moved to the Chilterns, then returned to its present site, framing St Pauls.
We walked briskly to the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward’s street. The latter used to be called Stinking Street because it was where the poultry was slaughtered in earlier times. It was renamed because Edward VI built St Bartholomew’s hospital, and school for orphans, near this site. Their uniform was blue, the cheapest bye. A lovely sculpture marks the spot. The school moved to Sussex, a church was built in its place after the 1666 fire, and it was destroyed, like so many churches, in the Blitz. With a population having shrunk from 70,000 to about 7,000, there was already an excess of churches, and many were not rebuilt. This one is now a pleasant garden.
We passed a plaque showing the site of the Guild of Poulterers, then visited the gardens of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate Church. This was a cemetery: a few grave stones can be seen against the wall between Brenda and Hilary. The ground rose in mounds as more and more bodies were buried, and when it rained, fingers and toes were exposed on the surface. Eventually they were exhumed and moved to out of city cemeteries such as Highgate.St Botolph was the saint of travellers: before journeys people would come to the church to pray, for safety, then return to give thanks afterwards.
East to Noble Street, we looked at the remains of the Roman Walls. The city was walled after Bouddica burnt the city down in AD60. Later the Victorian built sweat shops above the foundations, then more modern buildings came on top of that. All was exposed during the Blitz, and it has been left undeveloped with a plaque, the Barbican’s concrete edifices in the background.
Noble street used to be called Silver street because in the opposite corner is the Goldsmith’s hall, where all silver and gold coming into the city was weighed, checked for quality and Hallmarked’.
By the way, there are no 'roads' in the city because 'all roads lead to London'.
On Wood Street we came face to face with the City Police Station. The square mile has its own 750 strong police force, with its own uniform, separate from the Met. In the centre of the road stands the remains of a church tower, now private residence. Often the towers remained when the churches burnt as they acted as a chimney. The police woman grooming the huge horse was happy to talk to us.
We turned down Love Lane, which used to be Brothel Lane. The Victorians renamed several similar streets: e.g. Grope Street becomes Grape Street, then we visited a tiny green square with the foundations of a church, St Mary Aldermanbury. Destroyed by fire in 1666, rebuilt by Wren, this church was gutted in the Blitz leaving only the walls. Winston Churchill, in 1946, gave a speech in Missouri about the Iron Curtain. Missouri wished to commemorate this speech to mark its 20 year anniversary and requested a memorial. The City of London had this church ruin it no longer needed, so it donated it to Fulton, where it was transported stone by stone to the USA much like London Bridge! Can you spot the statue of Churchill behind Christine?
We entered the square of the Guildhall. We were heartened as we had been promised ‘posh loos’ at 11 o’clock and also deduced that we’d be out of the North Wind for a bit. The square was the site of a Roman Amphitheatre, discovered in 1980’s when the Guildhall was to be extended to incorporate an art gallery. It was the largest Roman Amphitheatre in the country and a ring of black tiles marks its extent in the court-yard. The Guildhall was the centre of the city’s government and is designed to impress, looking very like a cathedral.
In the basement of the extension are the remains of the amphitheatre: the gate way with small buildings either side where bating animals would have been held. A wooden sluice was excavated, used for washing down the arena after the slaughter, and also a sump. Here were many bones, trinkets and coins found.
We also were shown the painting to the Mayor of London’s procession the day after Jack the Ripper’s 4th victim was found. Hence everyone is looking sombre at what should be a joyous carnival.
Nicely warmed we were back outside, to find the sun was shining and the air temperature considerably higher. We walked down Jewry Street to Cheapside. Jews were encouraged to move to Britain by William the Conqueror to lend money to the impoverished country. However, they had special privileges, were resented and expelled in the C12th, not to return until the C18th . A synagogue was on this street, commemorated by a blue plaque. Cheap is the Saxon word for Market hence Cheapside is derived. We diverted up a cul-de-sac to see the house where Disraeli first worked (left), and past the Mansion House (below). This was is the Lord Mayor’s residence and underneath are 11 prisoners, 10 for men and one for women. Famous prisoners include Emily Pankhurst.
Opposite is the Royal Exchange. The grave of a very tall man, 6ft 7”, is situated here from the time of the resurrectionists who coveted his body: it was rumoured that medics were prepared to pay £2000 for his remains. A guard was put on his body, and the problem was later solved by building on his grave. Also on this corner is the statue of Wellington. It was made from bronze from French cannons and when the sculptor revealed his work he was mortified as the crowd called out ‘But he has no stirrups!’ The sculptor committed suicide.
There is a maze of ancient alleyways off Cornhill (so called because it had windmills for grinding corn). One of these leads to the original Simpson's Chophouse, mentioned in Dicken’s Bleak House. Workers would buy their meat on the way to work, drop it off, giving the time of their 15 minute lunch break, and when they arrived at the exact time, the meat would be cooked for them with a helping of potatoes. It is still open weekdays and not for vegetarians! Around the bend was the Eagle, mentioned in Pickwick Papers, then the Jamaica. This was the first coffee shop open in London. They became a popular alternative to the pub for business men as ale could lead to bad judgement for deals and the caffeine kept them alert. This one specialised in trading from the West Indies, spices …. and slaves. Later there were 7000 coffee shops in London. Perhaps there still are!
Next to Leadenhall Market. This sold cheeses and geese. The geese would be driven here, their feet dipped in tar, and slaughtered on the spot. The goose-hooks can still be seen on the left. One gander escaped slaughter and was kept as a sort of pet and named Tom . He lived for 38 years! His carcass was buried about where the white van in parked. More recently, it was the scene of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter films: he bought his wand in one of the shops.
Finally we crossed the Thames and had lunch to the George Inn, the oldest Gallery Pub in London. Afterwards, Tony took us for a tour through Borough market (lots of street food and very busy) and Southwark Cathedral before returning home.