St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street was among the hundreds of historic sites removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register this year. Published last month, the register is an annual inventory of historic sites “most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development”. It shows that while some 310 items have been removed from the list over the past year, some 247 were added, meaning there were 5,073 entries on the list this year, 87 less than the previous year. The Grade I-listed St Bride’s, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, had needed repairs to both its famous steeple – said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake design – and the body of the church itself. Historic England spent almost £8.5 million on grants to help restore some of the country’s most historic sites over the past year. Among London sites still on the list are the Grade II*-listed Crystal Palace Park, the Grade I-listed St Pancras Church and sections of what remains of London’s Roman and medieval wall. For more, see www.historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/.

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This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

PICTURE: Harshil Gurka/Unsplash

One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

A silver trencher plate – one of only three silver pieces in the world known to have belonged to 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys (and the only one on display in the UK, the other two being in the US) – has gone on show in the Museum of London’s ‘War, Plague and Fire’ gallery following its recent acquisition. The plate, which was only recently recognised as belonging to Pepys – a naval administrator and MP, bears his coat-of-arms on the rim while the underside features London hallmarks testifying to the metal’s purity. The plate is also stamped with a “date letter” representing 1681-82 as the year it was made along with an MK in a lozenge, the maker’s mark of the workshop of Mary King in Foster Lane (the date 1681 also appears scratched on the surface but this was done at a later date). Knife and fork scratch marks are also visible on the trencher which may have been among the silver objects Pepys boasted about serving his guests with in his diary instead of the less expensive pewter. Admission to see the plate is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/samuel-pepys-silver-plate. PICTURES: © Museum of London.

Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).

Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.

In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street  in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.

He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.

But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.

He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.

His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.

Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.

He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.

Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).

He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.

PICTURE: David Adams

PICTURE: Greg Jeanneau/Unsplash.

This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.

The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.

A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.

Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.

The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.

Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash

 

London’s annual, month-long celebration of the River Thames, Totally Thames, has kicked off and this year’s program includes everything from concerts in Tower Bridge’s bascule chamber to the largest ever exhibition on mudlarking and a mass boat regatta at the end of the month. The programme includes more than 100 events stretching over 42 miles of the river as it winds through London, covering everything from art installations to heritage-related walks and talks, family-oriented offerings and the chance to get out on the river itself. Other highlights include the Rivers of the World Retrospective art exhibition, a scented heritage exhibition –The Barking Stink, a heritage walk through riverside Rotherhithe, open days at the RNLI Tower Lifeboat Station and this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks. Many events are free. Runs until 30th September For the full programme, head to https://totallythames.org/. PICTURE Courtesy of Totally Thames.

London’s grand building plans that never went ahead are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery tomorrow. The London That Never Was imagines a city where the Tower Bridge is clad in glass and where a colossal burial pyramid looms over Primrose Hill. The free exhibition can be seen until 8th December. For more, head here. (To see some of the projects that were never built, see our previous series, 8 structures from the London That Never Was).

A new garden celebrating the evolution of plants has opened at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The Agius Evolution Garden is divided into eight sections to form “garden rooms” with each room containing closely related plants, revealing fascinating stories such as the connection between strawberries and nettles and why the Asteraceae family have “false flowers”. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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

Objects relating to climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion have gone on display at the V&A. The items, which can be seen in the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting Gallery, range from the open source ‘Extinction Symbol’ created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by the group, known as XR, in 2018 through to the first ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ pamphlet and flags carried during demonstrations. The objects – which also include a child’s high-vis jacket worn during a peaceful XR protest which has gone on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – were given by the Extinction Rebellion Arts Group, a coalition of graphic designers, artists and activists responsible for XR’s design programme. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © V&A London

The City of London has launched an alternative giving campaign aimed at helping the City’s homeless and rough sleepers, establishing four contactless card points where people can donate £3 a time. The contactless devices, which donate the money to homelessness charity Beam, are located at the City of London Information Centre in St Paul’s Churchyard, the Barbican Library, the Tower Bridge’s engine room and the Guildhall West Wing reception window. The campaign will run for three months.

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

Imogen Pasley-Tyler, program manager and guide at Context Travel, explains why she’s fascinated with the City of London’s contradictions…

Born a Londoner, I’ve been through several incarnations in this city, lived in all corners and cycled most of the bits in-between. It’s a seemingly limitless source of discoveries, surprises and contradictions. From the river to the canals, the relentless urbanity to the abundance of parks and green spaces, the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, London is somehow simultaneously disarming and a little abrupt.

However, nowhere encapsulates this contradiction with quite the intensity that the ancient City does. As with much of this island, and its inhabitants, its charm might not be immediately apparent, however, penetrate beneath the surface of the surly urban throng and you’ll be rewarded with palpable layers of history and curious, unexpected encounters.

To provide a brief historical context, the physical ‘square mile’ known as the City of London is built on the site of the original capital, the Roman Londinium. Fast forward to the late 17th century and the medieval evolution of the city was largely decimated by the Great Fire of 1666. Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild the city, as part of a flamboyant  propaganda scheme for the recently ‘revived’ monarchy. The project lacked funds and was consequently built on the existing medieval foundations, hence the bizarre and entirely illogical network of streets and alleys. The resulting Roman ruins, medieval ‘patterns’ and baroque playfulness that sit alongside the contemporary metropolis of Norman Foster’s Gherkin and Richard Roger’s ‘Bowellist’ Lloyd’s building can leave any visitor initially discombobulated.

City of London, city of contrasts. PICTURE: Jaanus Jagomagi/Unsplash

It’s in the seeking out of the city churches of Wren and his protégé, Nicholas Hawksmoor, that the beauty and mystery of this district starts to reveal itself. Each of Wren’s churches has its own unique character, spire, weathervane and architectural vocabulary, thanks to the liberated flamboyance of the baroque vernacular. St Stephen Walbrook, thus named for the stream that ran under this site in Roman times, has an unprepossessing exterior, bar a relatively intricate tower that’s the only indication of the delight within. The interior, by contrast, is a luminous domed structure that has a sense of timelessness, an almost modern quality, that feels like it could happily accommodate any and all religions and was allegedly Wren’s ‘practice run’ for St Paul’s Cathedral. The nearby St Bride’s, of Fleet Street, has a spire that is claimed to be the inspiration for the evolution of the tiered wedding cake. And then there’s the elegant symmetry of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields, that dominates the eastern reaches of the city, the monumental scale of which is a marked contrast to the delicate playfulness of Wren’s constructions.

Every churchyard is a lush jungle, where nature seems to be overruling the interruption of modernist architecture and the sheer intensity of this financial hub. A bronze likeness of William Shakespeare is hidden amongst the foliage at St Mary Aldermanbury on Love Lane. The war-bombed remnants of St Dunstan in the East is a tragic testament to the impact of World War II but also a moving memorial to this period; an extraordinary skeleton of a Neo-gothic structure, now tangled with wisteria and general verdant abundance.

This square mile has been witness to every great event in London’s history and bears the mark of most of these, in some shape or form. It is this palpable sense of buildings that have endured  and lives lived that makes it so compelling and enigmatic. To truly explore you must either know precisely where you’re going or surrender to this haphazard maze and relish the subsequent surprises. Most importantly, and ultimately the real function of these churches, is the reminder to look up!

 

An iron stylus bearing an inscription – described as the sort of cheap souvenir you might bring back for a friend after visiting a foreign city – is among thousands of Roman-era artefacts discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in Cannon Street. The stylus, which is about the length of a modern pen, dates from about AD70 and was used to write on wax-filled wooden writing tablets. It is inscribed in Latin text which, translated by classicist and epigrapher Dr Roger Tomlin, reads: “I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty”. It is believed the “city” referred to is Rome. The stylus is one of some 14,000 items Museum of London Archaeology archaeologists unearthed on the dig – including 200 styli (although only one bears an inscription) – which took place on what was the bank of the (now lost) Thames tributary, the Walbrook, between 2010 and 2014. It is among items on show in an exhibition now on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Last Supper in Pompeii. Head here for more details. Other finds from the excavations can be seen at the recently opened London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. PICTURE: © MOLA

Close-up of the facade of Mizuho House, London branch of the Japanese investment bank Mizuho, in the Old Bailey London. PICTURE: Valdemars  Magone/Unsplash

The name of this City of London establishment relates directly to the trade that once existed in nearby environs – namely in sugar.

Located at 65 Cannon Street, the area to the south of the pub was once a centre of the city’s sugar refinement industry.

There were several small sugar refineries there – where raw sugar was taken and transformed into cone-shaped sugar loaves – but these were apparently destroyed when Southwark Bridge was built in the early 19th century.

The now Grade II-listed pub is said to date from the 1830s. More recently, it was part of the Charrington group before becoming one of the O’Neill’s Irish-themed pubs in the late 1990s. It became part of the Nicholson’s group a few years ago.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thesugarloafcannonstreet.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

London’s oldest chophouse, Simpson’s, can be found in the City of London, just off Cornhill, and dates from the mid-18th century.

Thomas Simpson had opened his first ‘Fish Ordinary Restaurant’ in Bell Alley, Billingsgate, in 1723, catering to a clientele made up largely of those working at the Billingsgate (Fish) Market.

When that was demolished, he retired briefly before purchasing the Queen’s Arms in Bird in Hand Court off Cheapside.

Located in Ball Court Alley, Simpson opened the current establishment in 1757 (although the Grade II-listed building itself dates from the late 1600s or possibly early 1700s). It was a gift from his father.

Customs at the restaurant included having meals were presided over a chairman who would ensure lunch started promptly as one (their job also included introducing notable guests and measuring the cheese – a task related to a tradition of placing bets on the height, weight and girth of the cheese).

Seating is arranged in stalls and the layout is apparently consistent with that of the 19th century (although some things, thankfully, have changed – ladies were finally admitted in 1916).

For more, see www.simpsonstavern.co.uk.

PICTURES: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Located in the heart of the City of London (actually, according to a myth, it’s the exact centre of the Roman-era city), Williamson’s Tavern dates from the mid-18th century.

The tavern, located in Groveland Court, just off Bow Lane, owes its name to Robert Williamson who bought residence which once stood on the site – and happened to be the home of the Lord Mayor of London – in  the mid-1700s.

It was Williamson who turned the premises, which had been built soon after the Great Fire of 1666, into a hotel and tavern (the Lord Mayor, meanwhile, moved into the George Dance-designed Mansion House in 1752).

Said to be popular among merchants and seafarers, the hotel, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1914 when James Williamson died and the property was auctioned.  The hotel eventually disappeared but the tavern – now housed in a building dating from the early 1930s – lives on.

There is a remnant of its glorious past nearby – King William III and Queen Mary II, who were said to have dined at the previous Lord Mayor’s residence, presented the Lord Mayor with a gift in the form of now Grade II-listed wrought-iron gates with their monogram and they still stand at one end of Groveland Court.

The tavern, meanwhile, claims to have “probably…the oldest excise license in the City of London”. It also features a stone plaque in the floor which, so the story goes, marks the exact centre of London (although its apparently covered by carpet) and there are some Roman-era bricks or tiles incorporated into a fireplace which were discovered during the 1930s rebuild.

It’s also said to have a resident ghost – Martha (also the name of one of the pub’s dining rooms). According to the pub’s website, police dogs won’t go near the place as a result while longer serving members of staff say they have all seen a painting of her in various parts of the pub (of course, no such painting exists).

The tavern is now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/williamsonstaverngrovelandcourtlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Once located in Cowper’s Court, just off Cornhill, this City of London establishment was in the 1770s said to be a favoured place to gather of members of the East India Company.

Along with other coffee houses like the more famous Lloyds, it was one of those locations where shipping news would first be broken. As well as attracting those associated with the East India Company, it had also been popular with traders connected to the South Sea Company.

Most famously, this was where, in 1845, John Tawell was apparently apprehended for murdering his mistress Sarah Hart by giving her prussic acid, apparently to prevent his affair becoming known.

His arrest became famous thanks to the fact the telegraph system was used by police for the first time to help apprehend a suspect. In this case it was used to send a message from Slough, where a person matching Tawell’s description had been seen boarding a train to Paddington.

Police were hence waiting when Tawell arrived at Paddington. He was subsequently tailed and eventually arrested the next morning in the Jerusalem Coffee House.

Tawell was hanged in Aylesbury on 28th March that year following his conviction (he’d put forward a somewhat implausible defence that Hart had been killed after eating apples and accidentally ingesting the pips which contained the acid).

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem went into decline in the mid-19th century and eventually disappeared from the fabric of the city.

PICTURE: The entrance to Cowper’s Court today (Google Maps).

The grave holding the remains of Puritan preacher and writer John Bunyan, who died in August, 1688, now celebrates  the famed author of The Pilgrim’s Progress with an effigy lying atop a chest tomb. But it was not always so.

Bunyan, was in fact, first buried in the Baptist corner of the burial ground but it was understood that when the tomb of his friend John Strudwick was next opened (it was at Strudwick’s London home that Bunyan had died), his body would be moved into it. It’s thought this was done which Strudwick himself died in 1695.

Bunyan’s name was inscribed on the side of the monument over the tomb which took the form of a relatively unadorned stone chest in the Baroque style.

By the mid-1800s, however, this had fallen into decay and a public appeal was launched for the tomb’s restoration.

More than simply cleaning up the existing tomb, however, the Portland stone monument was completely reconstructed in 1862.

Designed by sculptor Edgar George Papworth, the new monument was again constructed as a chest, but this time with an effigy of Bunyan lying on top and two relief panels on the sides depicting scenes from his famous book.

The now Grade II* monument has been further restored a couple of times since, including after World War II when it was damaged by bomb shrapnel.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 8am to 7pm weekdays/9.30am to 7pm weekends; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx.

PICTURES: Top – Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams

This narrow City of London street, which runs from Fleet Street to St Bride Street, apparently has nothing to do with Mary Poppins. In fact, it’s named after a bird.

The name is said to be a corruption of ‘popinjay’, an archaic word for parrot (and later used to describe someone who is vain). So, what’s that got to do with London?

Well, the bird was apparently featured on the crest of the Abbot of Cirencester and in medieval times, their London property – a hostel or inn – stood where the court now stands and was given the name of Popyngaye.

In later years Popinjay Alley became Popinjay Lane, Popinjay Court and, eventually, Poppin’s Court.

The north end of the alley was cut off in 1870.

There was once a relief of a carved parrot over the entrance to the court to remind people of its history but it’s long gone.

PICTURE: jansos (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

A much-fought for building in the City of London, the neo-gothic Mappin & Webb building was built in the 19th century as a branch of the royal jewellers, Mappin & Webb.

Located on the corner of Poultry and Victoria Street opposite Mansion House – the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, the triangular-shaped building was designed by John Belcher and completed in 1870.

The building, which featured a cone-roofed tower on the main corner of the site, was granted Grade II status

Following a long – and complicated – battle over the future of the site (which involved no less than Prince Charles), the Mappin & Webb building was demolished in 1994.

The site is now 1 Poultry, which was completed in 1997 and subsequently became the youngest building to be listed as Grade II*. It was designed by James Stirling and is considered an exemplar of post-modernist architecture.

PICTURE: The Mappin & Webb building in 1993 (Derek Voller (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))