One of the major thoroughfares of the City of London, Cannon Street’s name has nothing at all to do with artillery or religion. In fact, the street, which runs from St Paul’s Churchyard in the west to Eastcheap in the east, owes its name to the industry that once took place there.

Like many other streets in the City connected with the occupations of past residents, Cannon Street is a corruption of a street formerly known as Candelwichstrete (one of many various spellings of which the modern English version is Candlewick Street) which relates to the candlemakers and wax chandlers who lived and conducted their trade along the street in the Middle Ages (the Tallow Chandlers Company, involved in regulating candle-making, has been located in adjoining Dowgate Hill since 1476, although the current building dates from 1672).

The name was gradually corrupted into Cannon Street (apparently the corruption was at least partly due to its pronunciation in the Cockney dialect), which is what it was known as by the late 17th century when the seemingly ever-present Samuel Pepys was writing his diary.

Cannon Street – which was only extended to its current length in the mid-1800s under the supervision of architect JP Bunning, having formerly been a narrow lane which stopped at Dowgate Hill in the east – apparently later become known for the number of drapers based there and was also home to the Steelyard or Stalhof, the trading base of the German Hanseatic League in London in the 13th and 14th centuries (a plaque commemorating this was erected at Cannon Street Station in 2005).

Now lined with office buildings including some former warehouses from the Victorian era, the street is also home to a recently redeveloped above ground train station and Underground station- both of which were opened in the late 1800s (the station, which built was on the site of the Roman governor’s palace, was originally located behind the Cannon Street Hotel, birthplace of the British Communist Party). Cannon Street is also the location of the mysterious London Stone – formerly located at the now long-gone St Swithin’s Church, it can be found behind a grill at number 111 – for more on it, see our earlier post here).

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The proposed cable car crossing of the Thames will be sponsored by airline Emirates in a 10-year, £36 million deal announced last Friday. To be known as the ‘Emirates Air Line’, the cable car will link the DLR station Royal Victoria with the Jubilee Line station North Greenwich and will involve the creation of two new cable car stations bearing the sponsor’s name – Emirates Greenwich Peninsula on the south bank and Emirates Royal Docks on the north. It is the first time a corporate brand will appear on the Tube map. Transport for London has said the new service could be operational by summer 2012 (although whether it will be ready for the Olympics remains uncertain). It will feature 34 cable car gondolas and ferry as many as 2,500 passengers across the river every hour with an expected two million passengers to use the service each year. The journey is expected to take five minutes and will see the gondolas travelling at a height of 160 feet above the river. The sponsorship deal was announced by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, along with Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, and Mike Brown, managing director of London Underground and Rail.

• The Duke of Gloucester unveiled a new statue, called Plumber’s Apprentice, at Cannon Street Station last week to mark the 400th anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter to London’s Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Sculpted by Martin Jennings (he also created the statue of British poet Sir John Betjeman that now stands in St Pancras Station), the seven foot tall bronze statue is said to underline the livery company’s ongoing commitment to train young plumbers. The company, which was formed in 1365, received its charter from King James I in 1611. From 1690, following the destruction of the company’s previous hall in the Great Fire of London, it was based in a building on the site of the railway station. In 1863, it was forced to again move when the hall was compulsorily purchased to make way for the railway. Also present at the unveiling were the Lord Mayor of London, Michael Bear, and the Lady Mayoress, herself a sculptress and liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. For more, see www.plumberscompany.org.uk.

• On now: Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin. The Imperial War Museum is hosting the largest ever exhibition of the life and works of acclaimed photographer Don McCullin. The display features some 250 photographs including rarely seen before portraits of anonymous victims of war, contact sheets, objects, magazine and personal memorabilia. Conflicts covered include those of the Cold War, in places like Vietnam and Cambodia, Bangladesh and the Middle East – the latter include images from the Gulf War and the 20o3 invasion of Iraq. There is also a newly commissioned video in which McCullin talks about the exhibition. Runs until 15th April, 2012. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

Yes, this is a rather odd one but it was 140 years ago this month that, on the 10th April, 1877, 14-year-old acrobat Rossa Matilda Pitcher (stage name Zazel), became the world’s first “human cannonball”.

‘Zazel’ was launched into the air by a special ‘cannon’ – invented by Canadian William Leonard Hunt (aka ‘The Great Farini, he was a famous tightrope walker), it used rubber springs to propel the person forward – in an event at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster.

She apparently flew some 6.1 metres before landing in a net.

Zazel later went on to perform in PT Barnum’s circus but sadly, in 1891 she was forced to retire after an accident in New Mexico during which, thanks to a net mishap, she landed badly and broke her back.

It’s worth noting that there is another claimant to the title of first human cannonball – some accounts have the “Australian Marvels”, a couple named Ella Zuila and George Loyal, first performing such an act in Sydney in 1872 (which, if true, would predate Zazel). Guinness World Records, however, has awarded the title to Zazel.

The Royal Aquarium, meanwhile, opened in 1876 in Tothill Street, west of Westminster Abbey, and was demolished in 1903 (we’ll look at its further in an upcoming Lost London post).

PICTURE: Via British Library/Public domain

The name of this City of London street – which leads from Upper Thames Street to the intersection of Queen Victoria and Cannon Streets – speaks to the City’s past when it originated at the now-lost dock or jetty known as Garlickhithe. 

Garlickhithe was, not surprisingly, where garlic was landed and sold in a tradition dating back to at least the 13th century. It’s one of numerous thoroughfares in the City named for what was traded there.

The name is also remembered in the church which still stands at the bottom of the hill, St James, Garlickhythe, and which once stood right on the back of the Thames. The church was founded in the 12th century, rebuilt several times – the last time after the Great Fire of London under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.

 

Located on Cheapside (with entrances on Friday and Bread Streets), the Mermaid Tavern is best known for being the home of Elizabethan-era drinking club known as the Mermaid Club (and also as the Friday Street Club or even the ‘Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen’). 

cheapsideFounded in the early 17th century (and meeting on the first Friday of each month), its members included such literary luminaries as Ben Jonson, John Donne and Francis Beaumont.

There are also suggestions it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh and that William Shakespeare was also a member but modern scholars have cast doubt upon both claims.

The earliest reference to the tavern, meanwhile, dates from the early 15th century.

The tavern, the location of which today corresponds to the corner of Bread and Cannon Streets, burned down in the Great Fire of London but lives on in John Keats’ poem Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.

roman-gardening-toolsRoman tools and other artefacts from the era including a stamp for metal ingots and pottery are among objects found in London’s ‘lost’ Walbrook Valley which have gone on display at the Museum of London. Working the Walbrook features objects excavated during the past 170 years of digs around the watercourse which once cut the city in half, running from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street. Created as part of a PhD project being supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading, the objects on show include an iron stamp dating from the Roman period inscribed with the letters MPBR (understood to be an abbreviation for ‘Metal Provinciae Britanniae’ – “the mines of the province of Britannia”) which is believed to have been used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent. Other items include Roman farming and gardening tools, and a pot decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs which was found at the bottom of a well in Southwark and which may have been linked to worship of the god Vulcan. The free display is on show until March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: Gardening tools from Roman London. A pruning hook, bailing fork and shears © Museum of London

• A series of prints by Pablo Picasso spanning the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s form the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The prints, which include 16 lithograph prints and three aquatint prints, were recently acquired by the museum in what represents the final part of the museum’s effort to more fully represent the artist’s work as a printmaker. Six of the lithographs were inspired by the beauty of Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot while others feature Bacchanalian scenes and portraits of German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. On display from Friday in Gallery 90A, they can be seen in the free exhibition until 3rd March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The details of some 160,000 people buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London have been made available online. Deceased Online has announced that all records for the period from May, 1839, to August, 2010 – a total of 159,863 people, are now available, including digital scans of original registers, details of who is buried in each grave and location maps for most graves. Notable people buried at Highgate include author Douglas Adams, philosopher Karl Marx and chemist and physicist Michael Faraday. For more, see www.deceasedonline.com

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Resurgam3
Old St Paul’s Cathedral was certainly the largest and most famous casualty of the Great Fire of London of 1666. And its passing – and rebirth – is recorded on several memorials, one of which can be found on the building itself.

Set on the pediment which, carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber, sits above south portico off Cannon Street, the memorial depicts a phoenix rising from clouds of smoke (ashes), a symbol of Sir Christopher Wren’s new cathedral which rose on the site of the old Cathedral in the wake of the fire. Below the phoenix is the Latin word, ‘Resurgam’, meaning “I Shall Rise Again”.

The story goes that Wren had this carved after, having called for a stone to mark the exact position over which St Paul’s mighty dome would rise, the architect was shown a fragment of one of the church’s tombstones which had been inscribed with the word.

The foundation stone for the new cathedral, largely built of Portland stone, was laid without any fanfare on 21st June, 1675, and it only took some 35 years before it was largely completed. Some of the stonework from the old cathedral was used in the construction of the new.

We should note that the old cathedral was in a state of some disrepair when the fire swept through it – the spire had collapsed in 1561 and despite the addition of a new portico by Inigo Jones, it was generally in poor condition.

Stonework from the Old St Paul’s – everything from a Viking grave marker to 16th century effigies – are now stored in the Triforium, rarely open to the public (tours of the Triforium are being run as part of the programme of events being held at the cathedral to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire – see www.stpauls.co.uk/fire for more).

PICTURE: givingnot@rocketmail.com/CC BY-NC 2.0 (image cropped)

St-Swithins2Back into the City of London this week and it’s another garden located on the site of a former church.

Situated just off Cannon Street, this much overlooked tiny raised garden was created on the site of the former Church of St Swithin. The church is believed to have existed here as early as the 11th century and was replaced, thanks largely to the generosity of Lord Mayor Sir John Hind, with a larger building in the early part of the 15th century – it featured one of the first towers built specifically for the task of hanging bells inside.

St-SwithinsThe church was among those destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 but, now united with the parish of St Mary Bothaw, was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren shortly after in 1677-88.

Later known as St Swithin, London Stone thanks to the mysterious London Stone being built into the south wall of the church in the late 18th century (for more on the stone and its current location, see our earlier post here), the church survived until World War II when it was damaged beyond repair during bombing and was later destroyed.

Relandscaped in 2010, the garden features a rather dramatic memorial (pictured) to the suffering of women and children in war in general and medieval figure, Catrin Glyndwr in particular. Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw.

The daughter of the Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr, she was captured in 1409 and brought with her children and mother to the Tower of London. Catrin and two of her children died in late 1413 and were buried in the former church.

WHERE: St Swithin’s Church Garden, Salters Hall Court off Cannon Street (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/.

Whittington-Garden

The history of this City of London garden can be immediately spotted in the garden’s name.

It’s named for Richard (Dick) Whittington, a four time medieval mayor of London whose name (and cat) has been immortalised in stories and rhymes which continue to be retold in Christmas pantomimes every year (you can read more about the real Dick Whittington in our earlier post here).

Whittington-Garden2The reason for the garden’s name is in its proximity to the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal – it stands on the other side of College Street – which he poured money into rebuilding during his lifetime and where he was buried (you can read more about the building here). You can also see a Blue Plaque on the former site of Whittington’s house further up College Hill.

The garden (pictured above looking across to the church) stands on what was the river bank during the Roman era at the bottom of College Hill. It was previously the site of buildings connected with the fur trade but these suffered bomb damage during World War II and were subsequently demolished.

The City of London Corporation acquired the site in 1955 and laid out the gardens in 1960 and the small fountain now found there dates from later that decade.

The gardens, which contain some substantial trees and lawn areas as well as hedges and flower beds, were refurbished in 2005. Features include two granite plinths upon which sit two horsemen (pictured). Sculpted by Italian sculptor Duilio Cambellotti, they were presented to the City of London by the Italian President during a state visit in 2005.

WHERE: Whittington Garden, between College Street and Upper Thames Street, City of London (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Whittington-Garden.aspx.

NPG_920_1362_RobertLouisSteA major exhibition of the works of John Singer Sargent has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends – which has been organised in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – brings together a collection of the artist’s intimate and informal portraits of his friends including Robert Louis Stevenson, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin. Sargent (1856-1925), born the son of an American doctor in Florence, studied in Italy and France before scandal led him to move to England where he established himself as the country’s leading portrait painter. He made several visits to the US during his career, painting portraits as well as decorative paintings for public buildings including the Boston Public Library and Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

It’s Chinese New Year and the celebrations kick off in London’s Chinatown in Soho this Sunday. The day starts with a parade at 10am which runs from Duncannon Street to Shaftesbury Avenue featuring floats and Chinese lion and dragon teams. It will be followed by a free programme of events in Trafalgar Square which, starting at noon, include music, dance, acrobatics and martial arts. Other events are taking place at a range of locations across the West End. For more information, check out www.london.gov.uk/get-involved/events/chinese-new-year-2015.

Ever wondered how your appetite is shaped by food? A new free exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington, Cravings: Can Your Food Control You? explores how the brain, ‘gut brain’ and bacteria influence our diets. Along with personal stories and objects as well as the use of science and tech to present the display, those who attend the exhibition will also be able to take part in a ground-breaking neurogastronomy experiment to explore how our senses influence appetite (the experiment is also available online – follow the link below). There’s also a digital quiz where you can consider the ethical challenges that cravings, appetite control and food regulations pose. Runs until January next year. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/cravings.

The history of the Foundling Hospital’s Boy’s Band is the subject of a display at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Foundlings at War: Military Bands is part of a series of exhibits supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund exploring the hospital’s links with the military. The Boy’s Band was established in 1847 and boys who joined increasingly went on to serve in the military. Runs until 10th May. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…

Westminster-AbbeyWestminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.

The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard IIHenry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.

The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).

The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).

Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).

The Thames-side property known as the Steelyard – the phrase comes from the Dutch-German word Stahlhof and relates either to a steel beam used for weighing goods or a courtyard where the goods were sold – was the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London from the 13th century onward.

Located near where Walbrook flows out of the Thames on the north bank (the site is now at least partly covered by Cannon Street Station), the walled compound – which at some point housed as many as 400 people – was in some senses a mini city within a city complete with a hall, warehouses, a weighing house and counting houses as well as residences and a chapel.

While the community – which represented an alliance of towns and cities in northern Europe – was mentioned as far back as the late 1200s, it wasn’t until 1303 that King Edward I formerly confirmed the tax and customs concessions of the merchants (at some point, in return for privileges they were given, the group was charged with keeping up the maintenance of Bishopsgate).

The power of the trading post had grown substantially by the 15th century and the concessions the group had been granted meant there was inevitably considerable friction with English merchants. There was also some official friction and one example of it was when the Steelyard was closed temporarily in the 15th century when the Hanse cities were at war with England.

In 1598 Queen Elizabeth I took away the Steelyard’s trading privileges (after which the compound was apparently looted). It was subsequently allowed to reopen by King James I but never regained the prominence it had previously had.

Much of the compound was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but nonetheless, the Steelyard was rebuilt and continued to provide links between German cities and the English until the mid 1800s when the land was sold off and, in 1866, Cannon Street Station built on the site.

A couple of surviving objects from the Steelyard include a series of at least eight portraits of Hanse merchants painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and a stone model of the Hanseatic Arms which were placed over the gate into the compound can be seen at the Museum of London.

Henry-Moore-altar

A beautiful church in the round, St Stephen Walbrook has a rich history with one of its stand-out features is an altar designed by world renowned sculptor Henry Moore. 

The centrally located circular altar, carved between 1972 and 1983 of polished travertine marble (the marble was taken from the same quarry as that used in Michelangelo’s work), is eight foot across and weighs several tons.

It was commissioned  by property developer and churchwarden, Lord Palumbo, as part of a £1.3 million restoration of the church – built under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s, replacing an earlier church which burnt down in the Great Fire – which took place between 1978 and 1987.

It was deliberately designed to be placed at the centre of the church and didn’t take up its new position without controversy with objectors to it taking the matter to the Court of Ecclesiastical Cases Reserved (they ruled the altar was acceptable for use in a Church of England church).

WHERE: St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook (nearest tube stations are Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: 10am to 4pm weekdays (check website for changes); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ststephenwalbrook.net.  

Where-is-it--#65

Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Apologies for the delay in revealing the answer to this. The picture shows a bronze sculpture entitled ‘Break the Wall of Distrust’, located in a niche at the corner of Cannon Street and Laurence Poutney Lane (number 108 Cannon Street). Designed by Soviet artist Zurab Tsereteli, it dates from 1990.

London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.

St-PancrasThe first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.

That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.

Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).

And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.

Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.

Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.

We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.

A covered – and splendidly decorated – Victorian-era market located just off Gracechurch Street in the heart of the City of London, Leadenhall Market might go un-noticed by many but visit at lunchtime on a weekday and you’ll to fight for space among the besuited City workers looking for sustenance there.

The history of a market on this site goes back to Roman times for it was under the current market that the remains of Londinium’s basilica and forum – the Roman marketplace – can be found (there’s apparently a part of the basilica wall in the basement of one of the Leadenhall shops).

This fell into disuse following the Roman period, however, and the origins of the current market are generally agreed upon as emerging in the 14th century when it occupied the site of a lead-roofed manor (hence “leaden hall) which was at one stage leased by the famous Lord Mayor Richard “Dick” Whittington before it burnt down in the late 1400s. The subsequent market was initially associated with poultry and then with cheese and other foodstuffs (it remained known for game and poultry) and separate areas were later developed for trade in wool, leather and cutlery.

In 1666, a small section of the market was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but it was rebuilt shortly after – for the first time under cover – and was divided into three sections: the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market.

In 1881, after the existing building was demolished, a new structure boasting wrought iron and glass was designed by Sir Horace Jones (architect for the Corporation of the City of London, he also designed Billingsgate and Smithfield Markets – see our earlier entries here and here). The market is now one of the City’s five principal shopping centres and, as well as fresh food and flowers, hosts a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The Grade II* listed building was extensively restored in 1991. It has since starred in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as well as other films including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Before we finish, we would be remiss not to mention Old Tom. A celebrated gander, he managed to avoid the axe for years and became a favorite of traders and customers (even being fed by local innkeepers) – so much so, that when he died at the age of 38 in 1835, his body lay in state before he was buried on site. There’s a bar in the market named for him.

WHERE: Gracechurch Street, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: Public areas are generally open 24 hours a day with core trading hours between 10am and 5pm weekdays (check with individual shops for opening hours); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk

PICTURE: DAVID ILIFF. Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia.

The London Stone was once considered to be one of the City’s most important relics with the very existence of the city depending on its survival. Yet, hidden away behind an iron grille set into the front of a building at 111 Cannon Street, the block of Clipsham limestone is these days all but forgotten, occupying an ignominious position opposite the gleaming new Cannon Street Station.

The stone’s origins lie shrouded in mystery but the legend, propagated in the 19th century, goes that it once formed part of an altar built by Trojan wanderer and founder of London, Brutus. Yet, according to the Museum of London, the saying often associated with the legend  – “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish” – was apparently invented in 1862.

It has been suggested the stone, which is a Grade II* listed structure, may be a relic of the city of the Roman city of Londinium, although no-one seems to know for sure. The earliest mention of it was apparently around 1100 AD and it was subsequently associated with some of London’s most famous characters.

It is said that Jack Cade, leader of the 15th century Kentish rebellion, struck it with his sword after entering London in a symbolic gesture designed to reflect his taking control of the city and naming himself ‘Lord of London’. The poet William Blake is said to have believed it to be associated with druidism – perhaps it was part of an altar? – and even the great 17th century architect Christopher Wren had a view on it – he thought it was part of a Roman ruin after seeing its foundations.

One widely believed and circulated theory was that it was the stone from which all distances from London were measured during Roman times. Its heritage listing says it may have been a Roman milestone. It has also been suggested it is the base of an Anglo-Saxon waymarker or cross.

The stone was located in its current position after World War II. Since the 18th century it had been set into the wall of a Wren-designed church, St Swithin London Stone, which had stood on the site where the stone now sits but which was demolished in 1962 after being bombed in the Blitz. Prior to being moved to the church, the stone stood upright on the south side of Cannon Street. It was moved to the church after becoming a traffic hazard.

There has been talk in recent years of moving the stone to a better home but for the moment it remains behind the grill by the footpath.

In the first of a series in Famous Londoners looking at past mayors of London, we profile the first person recorded as having that title, Henry Fitz-Ailwyn (also known as Henry Fitz-Ailwin). While his name might not be familiar to us today, it’s clear than in the 12th century, he was a personage to be reckoned with.

Believed to have been born in the 1130s or 40s, Fitz-Ailwyn is said to have been the son of a wealthy Londoner. Apparently involved in the cloth trade, possibly as a draper, he owned property in several counties and in what was Candlewick Street in London (now named Cannon Street).

Records show he was a London alderman in 1168 and later served as mayor, thanks apparently to the support of King Richard I (the dates are uncertain – some claim he took up the post in 1194 but the City of London Corporation records his tenure as 1189 to 1211).

Among his claims to fame are that he issued London’s first building regulations (concerning the need to build in stone) after a fire in 1212 destroyed parts of the city (although he apparently had no powers to enforce them).

Fitz-Ailwyn died the same year and is noted by the Museum of London as “the only mayor ever to serve in office for a full life term”.

His name is commemorated in a window at the Guildhall and by a statue which stands on the exterior of one of the step buildings at Holborn Viaduct (pictured).

Jonquils add a splash of color on a grey day during a busy lunchhour in Bow Lane in the City. Bow Lane runs from Poultry down to the junction of Queen Victoria and Cannon Streets.

• Four hundred years of London’s history is being put online as part of a new project on the City of Westminster’s website. The council is publishing a new picture depicting a different historical event from the city’s tumultuous history every day throughout 2011 under its A date with history project. The images, taken from the council’s archives, include photographs, engravings and sketchings. They include a black and white photo of queues of people waiting on Vauxhall Bridge to pay their final respects to King George V lying in state at Westminster Hall after his death on 20th January, 1936, another photograph showing the King and Queen with PM Winston Churchill inspecting damage to Buckingham Palace’s swimming pool following a raid during the Blitz in September, 1940, a hand-colored print depicting the execution of King Charles I on 30th January, 1649, and an engraving showing a comet passing by the spire of St Martin in the Field in 1744. It is the first time the images have been made freely available online. To see the images, head to www.westminster.gov.uk/archives/day-by-day.

What could be London’s oldest structure has been unearthed on the Thames foreshore. Six timber piles up to 0.3 metres in diameter have been discovered only metres from the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, part of what archaeologists believe is part of a prehistoric structure which stood on the river bank more than 6,000 years ago during the Mesolithic period when the river was lower. The find, made by a Thames Discovery Programme team, is only 600 metres away from a Bronze Age timber bridge or jetty dating from 1,500 BC which was discovered in 1993. The piles may be able to be seen from Vauxhall bridge during low tides between 10.25am on 22nd January and 11.15am on 23rd January.

Homes in London were purchased for an average price of £14,000 back in 1910, according to land tax valuations documents released online this week. Ancestry.co.uk has placed the London, England Land Tax Valuations 1910 – compiled as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act, known as the Domesday Survey – online to help people discover more about the financial situations of their ancestors. The documents put the value of the Bank of England at £110,000, the Old Bailey at £6,600, and Mansion House at a more impressive £992,000. The average value of property on Fleet Street was £25,000 (compared with £1.2 million today) while in Cannon Street, the average value was £20,000 (£2.2 million) and in Chancery Lane, the average value was just £11,000 (£1.1 million).