Formerly known as the National Westminster Tower (NatWest Tower for short), Tower 42 – sometimes referred to as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper – was once the tallest building in the London (but now comes in at number eight).

Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners (who had proposed a couple of different options), the 47 storey building at 25 Old Broad Street was built between 1971 and 1980 as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank.

The length of the build – which ended up costing £72 million – was due to the fact that it was paused in the mid-1970s to allow for a redesign of the ground area after the City of London Club was heritage listed (and thus its planned demolition couldn’t proceed).

Some 42 of its stories are cantilevered off a concrete core which contains elevators and service rooms. It has been repeatedly said the building was designed so that in plan view it resembles the NatWest logo – three interlocking chevrons – but Seifert apparently said this was just a coincidence.

It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11th June, 1981, and, at 183 metres tall, was not only the tallest in London but in the entire UK until it was surpassed by One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It remained the tallest building in the City of London until 2009 when Heron Tower took over that title.

Among its innovations were use of sky lobbies – located on levels 23 and 24, they are accessible by express elevators from the ground floor, and an automated external window washing system. Problematically, however, its interior layout proved somewhat inflexible which meant some of the bank’s operations remained outside of the building. Thanks to a need for large trading floors after deregulation in 1986, NatWest subsequently relocated its headquarters.

After the building was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993, the entire tower, under the supervision of GMW Architects, was reclad and the interior refurbished. It was subsequently renamed the International Finance Centre and again renamed in 1998, this time as Tower 42 (a reference to the 42 cantilevered floors).

In 2011, it was purchased by South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a reported £282.5 million. These days it contains office space, several restaurants, health clubs and other services as well as and a champagne bar with panoramic views, Vertigo 42.

An LED light display was installed in 2012 in time to display the Olympic rings for that year’s Games.

The building was refused listed status in 2014 owing to its now greatly altered nature.

Interestingly, part of the site was once occupied by Crosby Hall, built in 1466 for City alderman Sir John Crosby and one time residence of King Richard III. The hall was relocated to Chelsea in 1910.

PICTURE: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0


Another project to celebrate the new Millennium, the O2 – originally known as the Millennium Dome – is the largest domed structure in the world.

Occupying a prominent site at the northern tip of the Greenwich Peninsula (on the south bank of the River Thames), the building is 365 metres in diameter, 50 metres high at its highest point and features 12 100 metre high masts which hold up the Teflon-coated glass fibre dome using some 45 miles of steel cable.

It was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and his firm with construction commencing in 1997 after the project, conceived by the Conservative Government, was endorsed (and expanded) by the new Blair Labour Government.

The Dome was officially opened on 31st December, 1999, at a ‘New Millennium Spectacular’ attended by, among others, members of the Royal Family and government.

Throughout the following year the venue hosted what was known as the ‘Millennium Experience’, a celebration of the beginning of the new millennium which attracted more than six million visitors (a big figure but apparently only half of what was projected initially).

A controversial project since its very inception due to its cost and speculation about its use after the year 2000, the facility was largely devoid of life for several years after the year 2000 (apart from a few major events) but the site, which was eventually sold to consortium Meridian Delta Ltd which turned to then consortium member the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to oversee the transformation of the facility into a sports and entertainment complex.

The building, rebranded O2 following a deal with the telco company of the same name, reopened in 2007 (the first band to play there in a public show was Bon Jovi and more than 600 bands had played there as of last year) and has since been used for a range of events including music concerts and sports, the latter including some of the indoor sports played at the 2012 Olympic Games including gymnastics and basketball.

As well as a more than 20,000 seat sports arena, the O2 now features music venues, a cinema, bars, restaurants and shops as well as an exhibition space. There’s also a 90 minute climb over the top of the Dome for the adventurous.

More than 60 million people visited the O2 since it opened in 2007.

WHERE: O2, Greenwich Peninsula (nearest Tube station is North Greenwich); WHEN: 9am to 1am daily; COST: Various; WEBSITE:

The first building in London to exceed the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, the 118 metre (387 foot) high Millbank Tower opened in 1963.

Said to have been inspired by the works of Modernist German-American architect Mies van der , the 32 storey building, located on the river just south of Westminster, was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners.

It was originally built as the headquarters of the engineering firm, the Vickers Group (hence its original moniker of Vickers Tower) and the Legal and General Assurance Society.

The glass walled building, which features a 31 storey tower atop a two storey podium, only held the title of London’s tallest building briefly – in 1965 it was overtaken by the Post Office Tower.

Now Grade II-listed, it was famously the headquarters of the Labour Party between the mid-Nineties and early Noughties – it was from here that it ran its 1997 general election campaign which saw the election of Tony Blair to the office of Prime Minister.

The Conservative Party has also been a tenant (although in this case of the complex to which the building is attached) as has the United Nations and numerous government agencies. The bulding has also appeared in episodes of Dr Who.

The building was recently the subject of an application for it to be redeveloped into a hotel and luxury apartments.

PICTURES: Top – David Curran (licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Łukasz Czyżykowski (licensed under CC BY 2.0)


Currently known as the Coca-Cola London Eye (it’s had several name and sponsorship changes over its life), this unmissable structure started operations in the year 2000.

Designed by Marks Barfield Architects and located at the south-western corner of Jubilee Gardens on South Bank, it stands 135 metres tall and, with a diameter of 120 metres, is the world’s biggest cantilevered observation wheel. It was also the tallest observation deck in London but lost that title to The Shard.

It features 32 sealed, ovoid-shaped capsules for passengers, each of which can hold up to 25 people, and rotates at the rate of about 0.6 mph, meaning a rotation takes around half an hour (a rate which allows most people to get on or off without stopping the wheel).

The Eye, which offers a birds-eye view of surrounding areas including the Houses of Parliament, was formally opened by then PM Tony Blair on 31st December, 1999, but didn’t open to the public until the following March (thanks to a clutch problem on one of the capsules).

It originally intended as a temporary structure built to mark the new millennium (after which it would be dismantled an moved to another location) but its popularity (and the resolution of a dispute over its lease in the mid-Noughties) has seen become a permanent fixture.

The capsules – there’s apparently no number 13 – were upgraded in 2009 and in 2013, one of them was named the Coronation Capsule in honour of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Eye has been lit up on numerous occasions to mark special events – among them Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.

WHERE: Coca Cola London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster); WHEN: 11am to 6pm daily (till 29th March); COST: See website for details; WEBSITE:



The second tallest building in the UK (and once, very briefly, the tallest building in Europe), Canary Wharf’s One Canada Tower is a symbol of London’s revamped Docklands.

The 50 storey skyscraper  (there’s also three underground) was designed by Cesar Pelli and constructed between 1988 and 1991. Containing some 1.2 million square feet of office space making it the largest office building in the UK, it was officially opened on 26th August of the latter year by Prince Philip.

Often called the Canary Wharf tower, One Canada Tower was apparently the first skyscraper to be clad in stainless steel and was designed to reflect the sky. There’s an aircraft warning light on top which flashes some 57,600 times a day.

An office building with no public observation deck, current tenants include a range of financial institutions as well as other companies such as the Trinity Mirror Group, owner of several UK newspapers.

As with other newer skyscrapers in London, One Canada Tower has been seen in its share of movies including in 28 Weeks Later and  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.


Loved and loathed by Londoners over the years since its construction in the mid-Sixties, the column-like BT Tower, despite growing competition, remains a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.

The tallest building in Britain at the time of its official opening in 1965, the 189 metre tall structure (including a 12 metre tall mast) was commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials which carried communications from London to the rest of the UK.

Designed by a team led by architect GR Yeats under the direction of Eric Bedford, chief architect of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, its narrow, tubular shape was engineering to reduce wind resistance and ensure stability.

Construction of the tower started in June, 1961, and some 13,000 tonnes of steel and 4,600 square metres of specially treated glass were used in building the £2.5 million tower.

Along with the aerials capable of handling up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone calls and 40 TV channels, the tower also housed 16 floors of technical and power equipment, as well as other floors with offices and even a revolving restaurant on the 34th floor (it made one revolution every 22 minutes).

PM Harold Wilson did the honours of officially declaring the tower open on 8th October, 1965. Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit would come on 17th May, 1966, just two days before then Postmaster General Tony Benn opened the tower’s public areas – an observation gallery and a 34th floor cocktail bar and restaurant, called Top of the Tower, which was managed by Butlins. More than 50,000 visited the observation gallery in the first three weeks after its opening.

A bomb exploded in the men’s toilets on the 31st floor – the location of the viewing gallery – in October, 1971, and took two years to repair. Despite this – no-one has apparently ever claimed responsibility for the bombing, public areas continued to remain open until the restaurant closed in 1980 and access to the observation gallery ceased in 1981 (although the restaurant is still used for corporate and charity events).

Originally known as the Post Office Tower, the tower has had many other official names since it was built including the Museum Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the BT Tower while staff suggestions at the time it was being constructed included the Pointer, Spindle, Liaiser and Telebeacon. Interestingly, the tower was apparently designated an official secret when built and didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after MP Kate Hoey, following on from other members who had “given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret”, told Parliament of its address – 60 Cleveland Street – in February, 1993.

The now Grade II-listed tower, which is located just off Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia, remained the tallest building in London until it was overtaken by the NatWest Tower in 1980. The last of its famous satellite dishes were removed in 2011.

Its wrap-around LED light display, officially called the Information Band, went live in 2009. It has since carried special messages on occasions like Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day as well as an Olympic countdown and even the first ever tweet sent by the Queen (a message to mark the opening of the BT-sponsored ‘Information Age’ communications gallery at the Science Museum in 2014).

The tower has featured numerous times in literature and film, the latter including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

PICTURES: Top – BT Tower with Wembley in the background (Robert Speirs, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – View of BT Tower from The Monument (Dun.can, licensed under CC BY 2.0)


This rocket-ship shaped glass skyscraper made its mark on the City of London skyline in the early Noughties after plans to build a much taller building on the site were shelved.

The award-winning building stands on the site of what was the late Victorian-era Baltic Exchange which was extensively damaged by an IRA bomb which went off in the neighbouring street, St Mary Axe (for more on the origins of the street name, see our earlier post here), in 1992.

It was initially proposed that a 92 storey building, to be known as Millennium Tower, be built on the site – it would have been the tallest building in Europe. But the plan was shelved after both Heathrow and London City Airports objected to the interference it would have on flight paths while others pointed to the rather dramatic impact it would have on the City skyline.

The site was subsequently sold to reinsurance giant Swiss Re who then commissioned Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners) to design a building for its UK headquarters. The resulting 41 storey, 180 metre (591 foot) tall skyscraper – which features some 24,000 square metres of glass and was said to be the first environmentally sustainable skyscraper in London – was eventually completed in late 2003 and opened in 2004.

The glass dome which sits at the top of the building offers panoramic, 360 degree views of the surrounds and is said to be a reference to the glass dome that once sat over part of the ground floor of the Baltic Exchange.

Interestingly, the nickname for the building, The Gherkin, is actually an abbreviated form of a name first coined by some design critics  who described the building as an “erotic gherkin”, according to The Guardian. Some wags have also used the nickname ‘Towering Innuendo’ for the property.

PICTURES: Top – Samuel Zeller/Unsplash; Right – David Adams.



This iconic building – home to the venerable insurance firm Lloyd’s of London – stands on the former site of East India House on the corner of Lime and Leadenhall Streets in the City of London.

Designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership (now Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners) in conjunction with structural engineers Arup, this 12 storey building – which features galleries adjoining a series of towers located around a central, glass-topped atrium – was completed in 1986 after eight years of construction. The £75 million building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The building, which was granted grade I-listed status in 2011 (making it the youngest building to receive the honour), used more than 33,000 cubic metres of concrete, 30,000 square metres of stainless steel cladding and 12,000 square metres of glass in its creation.

Among its most famous innovations is the location of services – including lifts, toilets and tubes containing wiring and plumbing – on the exterior of the building in an effort to maximise space inside (inviting comparisons with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which Rogers was involved in the design of, along with Renzo Piano, prior to working on this building).

The building incorporates – in Leadenhall Street – part of the facade of the previous Lloyd’s building which had occupied the site since 1928 (the corporation had been founded in 1688 in Tower Street by Edward Lloyd and endured several moves before coming to its current home).

The 11th floor Committee Room incorporates the Adam Great Room, an adaptation of the original dining room from Bowood House in Wiltshire which was designed by Robert Adam for the 1st Earl of Shelbourne. It was purchased from Bowood in 1956 and incorporated into Lloyd’s former Heysham building before being moved into the current building.

Also present in the building, hanging from the Rostrum on the ground floor, is the famous Lutine Bell. It was recovered from the wreck of HMS Lutine – lost at sea with all hands and cargo in 1799 and, as a result, the subject of a claim against Lloyd’s which was paid in full – in 1859 and has since graced Lloyd’s underwriting rooms. While it was formerly rung to announce when news of an overdue ship arrived – once for a loss, twice for its safe return – these days it is only used on ceremonial occasions.

The building’s futuristic and iconic look meant it’s served as a location in numerous films including 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Mamma Mia (2008) and The Ghost Writer (2010). It has also, in recent years, attracted climbers, leading Lloyd’s to seek an injunction to prevent such actions.

PICTURE: Stephen Richards/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Recapping our recent Wednesday series. We kick off a new series next week…

10 subterranean sites in London – 1. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel…

10 subterranean sites in London – 2. The London Silver Vaults…

10 subterranean sites in London – 3. The Banqueting House undercroft…

10 subterranean sites in London – 4. St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 5. Whitefriars Priory crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 6. Guildhall crypts…

10 subterranean sites in London – 7. Alexander Pope’s Grotto…

10 subterranean sites in London – 8. Priory of St John of Jerusalem church crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 9. The Mail Rail…

10 subterranean sites in London – 10. Chislehurst Caves…


We finish our series on subterranean London with a visit to the Chislehurst Caves in the outer south-east.

The ‘caves’, located in Chislehurst in Kent, are actually 22 miles of man-made tunnels which were dug out in the search for chalk – used in lime-burning and brick-making – as well as, in later years, flint for use in tinder boxes and flintlock guns.

There’s considerable debate over the age of the caves but it’s claimed the earliest mention of the complex apparently dates back to the 13th century and they are believed to have been last worked in the 1830s. The three main sections of the caves are named after the Druids, Romans and Saxons in a reference to who some believed helped to create them.

They were first opened to the public at the turn of the 20th century and have since been used for munitions storage (during World War I, to cater for overflow from the Woolwich Arsenal), mushroom growing, and, during World War II provided accommodations for some 15,000 people as one of the largest deep air-raid shelters in the country.

They also hosted music events in the 1960s when the likes of David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd were among those who performed there and have appeared in several episodes of Dr Who

These days the caves are visited only on lamplit, 45 minute guided tours, which take in about a mile of the tunnels.

WHERE: Chislehurst Caves, Caveside Close, Old Hill, Chislehurst, Kent (nearest railway station is at Chislehurst); WHEN: 10am to 4pm everyday during school holidays and Wednesday to Sunday outside those periods; COST: £6 an adult/£4 seniors and children aged three to 15 (children under three free); WEBSITE:

PICTURE: Above – the entrance; Below – a reconstruction of the church, part of the air-raid shelter (both images – David Edwards, licensed under CC BY -NC-ND 2.0)


We’ve finally reached numbers 1 and 2…

2. Lost London – The Mermaid Tavern…

1. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

Wishing all our readers a very happy and safe start to 2018. Our usual coverage resumes on Tuesday!


The countdown continues…

4. Lost London – Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House…

3. Where’s London’s oldest…street sign?

Come back tomorrow for the two most popular posts…


The countdown continues…

6. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

5. What’s in a name?…Hanging Sword Alley…

Come back tomorrow for the next two…



The countdown continues…

8. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

7. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!


And so we begin our annual countdown of the 10 most popular (new) posts of the year, starting with number 10…

10. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Brett Street, Soho…

9. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 1. Fetter Lane, Old Jewry and Wapping…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!



Long out of active service, London’s Mail Rail service has recently made a comeback as a tourist attraction (which means you can now experience it for yourself!)

The Mail Rail – more officially known as the London Post Office Railway – was initially opened in 1927 as a more efficient means of moving the mail than fighting traffic congestion above ground.

The six-and-a-half mile (10.5 kilometre) route linked the Paddington sorting office in the west, the centrally located Mount Pleasant sorting office and depot, and the Whitechapel sorting office in the east. The main tunnel sits at about 21 metres underground.

The system operated for 22 hours a day and hauled tons of mail through up to nine stations. There were even plans to extend it to the north and the south.

The Mail Rail was eventually closed in 2003 with the Royal Mail, rather ironically given its origins, apparently citing the costs of using it compared to road transport.

These days, the Mail Rail serves as one of the attractions at the new Postal Museum and, located in the former engineering depot, offers a 20 minute ride through stalactite-filled tunnels beneath what was the Mount Pleasant sorting office.

WHERE: Mail Rail at The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place, Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations are Chancery Lane and Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (except from 24th to 26th December) COST: £16 adult/£14.30 concession/£8 child (includes donation/timed ride on Mail Rail and general admission to exhibition); WEBSITE:

PICTURES: Above and right – The Mail Rail as it is today; and a curve in the tracks (© Postal Museum); Below – London Post Office Railway cars from 1930, now at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (Oxyman/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)


More correctly known as the crypt of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, this subterranean chamber dates from the 12th century and is the oldest surviving part of what remains of the priory.

Based close to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell – another surviving section of the monastery, the partly Romanesque crypt features some magnificent 16th century monuments including the rather skeletal-looking funeral effigy of the last prior, Sir William Weston, who apparently died on the very day the priory was dissolved in May, 1540 (he apparently collapsed on hearing the news).

The crypt also contains a 16th century tomb effigy (pictured below) believed to be that of Don Juan Ruiz de Vergara, a Castilian Knight Hospitaller who died fighting the Turks at sea off the coast of Marseilles (it had apparently formerly been located in Valladolid Cathedral in Spain and was donated by a member of the order (and first Keeper of the London Museum, now known as the Museum of London), Sir Guy Francis Laking, in 1915). Understood to have been the work of Esteban Jordan, sculptor to King Philip II of Spain, the knight bears the eight pointed star of the order on his breastplate.

Meanwhile, the stained glass in the crypt chapel’s east lights depict the entombment of Christ as well as Raymond du Puy (Grand Master of the Order of St John from 1118–60), St John the Baptist and St Ubaldesca. Other stained glass windows in the chapel depict saints like St George, Andrew, Patrick and David and some of the English branch’s priors and knights.

Other items of interest in the crypt include a 13th century font, originally from a church in Buckinghamshire, and a stone fragment from the pavement of the Grotto of the Nativity at Bethlehem.

The priory once served as the English headquarters for Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The order was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and spread across Europe. The English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset. It was dissolved, as we’ve already heard, in 1540.

WHERE: Crypt, St John’s Church, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: The crypt can only be visited on tours – public tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation); WEBSITE:


Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)



Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE:


Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)