The first great stone cathedral on the site where Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s now stands was a relative – and as yet incomplete – newcomer in 1215. Construction on it had started more than 120 years before in 1087 but it eventually took more than 200 years to finish.

Old-St-PaulsIt was Bishop Maurice, chaplain to William the Conqueror (he donated some Caen stone for its construction), who began the project after the previous wooden Saxon church on the site – the latest in a succession of them dating back to the 7th century – had been destroyed by fire (although it was under successor Bishop Richard de Beaumis that work began to really take shape).

The first part of the building to be completed was the quire in 1148 – its opening was delayed by another fire in 1135 caused during civil unrest following the death of King Henry I – but it wasn’t until after the Magna Carta’s advent – in 1240 – that the church was eventually consecrated by Bishop Roger Niger.

Originally designed in the Norman Romanesque-style, the architectural style changed during the building process into the Early English Gothic style.

Enlarged and renovated several times since construction began, it wasn’t fully completed until the 14th century – when it was the largest church in England and the third largest in Europe featuring the tallest steeple, built in 1221, and spire, built in 1315, ever built (that is, until 1561 when it was knocked down by lightning).

It later contained a number of important relics including the arms of Mellitus, the first bishop of London (see our earlier post on him here), St Mary Magdalene’s hair, the head of King Ethelbert and, importantly for the time, some pieces from the skull of St Thomas á Becket. Among the tombs inside the emerging church in 1215 were those of Sebba, King of the East Saxons, who had been buried in the north aisle in 695, and that of King Ethelred “The Unready”.

While the exterior was remodelled in the early 17th century – including the addition of a monumental new porch by architect Inigo Jones – the medieval building remained standing until the Great Fire of 1666.

PICTURE: Via Wikipedia

In the first of a new series looking at some of London’s most historic markets, we take a look at the history of Borough Market in Southwark, now the city’s most famous food market.

The origins of a food market in the area go back to at least to the reign of the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready in early 11th century (some have suggested as far back as Roman times) with food vendors clustering around the southern end of London Bridge. The market was relocated to Borough High Street in the 1200s.

In 1755, traffic congestion saw Parliament close the market but Southwark residents raised £6,000 and bought a small area of land known as The Triangle – once part of the churchyard of the now long gone church of St Margaret’s – and reopened the market there.

The Triangle still remains at the heart of the market which sits partly under railway arches just to the south of the Southwark Cathedral churchyard. New market buildings were constructed in the mid 1800s but deemed “impractical”, they were replaced by new buildings in the late 1800s and 1930s (the latter was when the art deco entrance on Borough High Street was erected).

The market was refurbished in 2001 and the ornate Grade II-listed Floral Hall, which was originally the south portico on the Floral Hall at Covent Garden (taken down to make way for the Royal Opera House), was installed in 2003.

There are now more than 100 stalls in the wholesale and retail food market, making it one of the largest in London. It is owned by a charitable trust, The Borough Market (Southwark), with the volunteer trustees all local residents. Sections in the market include the Jubilee Market and the Green Market and a blue plaque, declaring the market London’s “oldest fruit and veg market”, was installed by Southwark Council earlier this year.

The amazing variety fine food on offer will tempt even the most jaded of palates but be warned that you have to queue as it can get a little packed with tourists at lunchtimes!

WHERE: 8 Southwark Street (nearest Tube Stations are London Bridge or Borough); WHEN: 10am to 3pm Monday to Wednesday, 11am to 5pm Thursday, 12pm to 6pm Friday, and, 8am to 5pm Saturday; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.boroughmarket.org.uk