Just after midnight on 2 September 1666, the bakery of one Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane near the north end of London Bridge caught alight. Fires – sometimes major conflagrations – were not unusual in the towns and cities of the time, but this one proved to be a class apart.
Fanned by a strong wind from the east, and with wooden houses tinder-dry from a long, hot summer, the efforts of the citizens, the King and his brother, the army and the navy, failed to halt the progress of the fire until the wind abated and fire breaks were made by blowing up streets in the path of the flames.
In the four days of devastation, over 80% of the City of London was left a smouldering ruin, around 13,000 homes had been destroyed (as had the magnificent medieval St Paul’s cathedral) and up to 80,000 people had been made homeless, many living as refugees in camps in the fields on the roads up to Highbury.
On 10 September John Evelyn wrote “I went again to the ruins; for it was now no longer a city.”
Next week I’ll be giving an online talk about the fire on UKToursOnline.com, looking at how it started, its progression through the City and the destruction caused. We’ll look at the plans for the rebuilding from Wren, Evelyn and Hooke, how rumour spread throughout the city that the fire had been deliberately started by the Dutch, or the French, or Jesuits, and how a new city emerged from the ashes of the old.
In 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.
Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.
The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly. Continue reading
Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the view lays out the 21st century City. To the north the Walkie Talkie seems close enough to touch, and behind that are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, Heron Tower and the other towers of skyscraper alley.
To the south the view is dominated by the Shard, but the Elephant and Castle developments are now starting to block that horizon; the east has the packed legoland towers of Canary Wharf.
The west gives some relief with a great view of St Paul’s and down the river to Westminster, but look down into the City and one can see the current building boom with cranes and construction sites all around. Continue reading
In the post on the Firefighters’ Memorial we talked about the destruction caused by the Blitz – and Christchruch Greyfriars gives a hint of that devastation. This was a Wren church built after the 1666 Great Fire and gutted in WW2. Rather than being restored like so many others, it was turned into a garden. Flowerbeds mark where the pews once stood, and wooden frames with climbing plants show where the towers once stood in the nave.
Before Wren’s church it had been one of the largest churches in London. Originally it was part of a Franciscan friary (Franciscans wore grey habits, hence greyfriars). Four queens were buried in the friary grounds, including the wives of Edward I and Edward II , which stretched from King Edward Street (once known as ‘Stinking Lane’ by the way) right down to the City Wall at Newgate.
75 years ago George Orwell, the author of 1984 wrote, “as I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me”.
He was talking about the Blitz, the WW2 bombing campaign by the German airforce that attempted to destroy London’s industry and infrastructure and shatter the morale of the population. Between September 1940 and May 1941 over 18,000 tonnes of high explosive was dropped on London, up to a million and a half homes were damaged or destroyed, and nearly 30,000 people killed. It seems almost impossible to us, living here in this cosmopolitan city, that all this horror and destruction took place within a human lifetime.
And this monument commemorates some of the people who helped London survive: the firefighters – professionals and auxiliaries, men and women – the “heroes with grimy faces” as Winston Churchill called them. Continue reading
With the current building works going on around it, the approach to St James’s is now down Garlick Hill, an indication – along with the church’s suffix – of what the area was known for in medieval times. A ‘hythe’ is an old English word for a jetty or landing, so this is the place where garlic was unloaded and brought into the City. It was also where wine was landed, as the church is in the ward of Vintry – home to wine merchants. More on this shortly.
There has been a church on this site since at least the 1100s and the scallop shell motif seen above the door indicates that this was a pilgrim church – it was a stop on the route to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostella which was reputed to hold the body of St James the Apostle. It was rebuilt in the 1320s with money from Richard de Rothing, a member of the Vintners’ guild and, although St James’s is the Guild Church for ten Livery Companies, it is with the Vintners that it is most closely associated. Continue reading
With so much noise and traffic in the City it’s sometimes nice to take a bit of time out. And that’s what places like Cleary Gardens attempt to provide – a little spot of tranquility among the roar and bustle of the Square Mile.
There are over 200 open spaces within the City, managed by the City Gardens Team, and the Corporation also owns huge areas of open space outside central London – Epping Forest for example, Hampstead Heath, Ashtead, Kenley and Coulsdon commons. The City of London principally funds these spaces through its ‘City Cash’ funds, with other revenue coming from donations, sponsorship and visitors.
Stand on Dowgate with your back to Cannon Street station and you can see the entrances to three of the halls of the City’s oldest guilds – from right to left, the Tallow Chandlers, the Skinners and the Dyers.
These days Guilds are charitable, social and networking institutions, but their origins go back to at least medieval times and quite possibly predate the Norman Conquest. They were ‘trade bodies’ like the fraternities or ‘mysteries’ found throughout England and Europe in the middle ages. You paid to belong: the word comes from the Saxon ‘gildan’ – to pay. Within the City of that time you would find tradesman living and working in the same areas, worshiping in the same churches, drinking in the same alehouses and so forth – so for example, Cannon Street used to be called Candlewick Street as that is where one would find candle makers; an obvious link to Tallow Chandlers – so it must have been a natural step to meet and discuss business. (As an aside, the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall is built where once the Roman Governor’s palace stood, more evidence of the incredible – and literal – depth of history in the City.) Continue reading
St Michael Paternoster Royal is one of 51 churches rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. St Michael is the archangel Michael – God’s warrior angel – who had seven churches dedicated to him in the City, and, so to distinguish it from the others it got the suffix ‘Paternoster’ after Paternoster Lane, a local street where rosaries were made and sold. The ‘Royal’ part of the title is a corruption of another street called Le Ryole, which itself was believed to come from a mispronunciation of the town of Le Reole in Burgundy. This connects to the wine merchants from Burgundy who lived in this area – Vintry, from ‘vintners’ (wine merchants). Like many things in the City the layers of history and threads of connection are still visible beneath the glossy surface of the 21st century.
As well as being destroyed in the Great Fire, it was burned again by German bombing in WW2 – though not in the Blitz. It survived everything the Luftwaffe dropped around it in 1940/41, only to be hit by a flying bomb in 1944. Only the walls and the tower survived. Continue reading
A small bit of green space on the site of the churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s, Aldersgate, which opened in 1880. Over the next 20 years it also incorporated the burial grounds of Christchurch, Greyfriars and St Leonard’s, Foster Lane. Because it is an old burial field, the ground level is considerably higher than the area around it.
It’s called Postman’s Park because over the road is the old headquarters of the GPO, and the park was very popular with the workers there.
But that’s not why it is famous. Continue reading