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.

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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/.

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).

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.

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).

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).

• 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).