The Camels of Eastcheap

Eastcheap – from an old english word for market (and “east” to distinguish it from the original Westcheap, now ‘Cheapside’) – runs from Monument tube station towards the Tower of London; its name dates to at least anglo-saxon times.

At number 20 is a bar called Eastcheap Records, but look above the door and you will see a frieze of three laden camels being led by a Bedouin across a desert. The bones of a fourth camel might be made out in the centre foreground.

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A steam ship in the City of London

There are quite a number of ‘Holland Houses’ in the capital – the remains of a Jacobean country home in Holland Park, Kensington; a school in Edgware; a student hostel near Victoria – but it’s only outside Holland House in Bury Street in The City (a stone’s throw from the Gherkin), that they still fly the Dutch flag.

This Holland House dates from 1916 and is sometimes called the first modern office block in London. Designed by the Dutch modernist architect Henrik Petrus Berlage, it was the first steel-framed building in Europe, with walls of green glazed terracotta bricks (shipped in from Delft) rising from a black plinth. (It is also said to be the first office block in Britain to have an atrium.)

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The Lloyd’s Building

Rogers' Lloyd's Building reflected in Foster's Willis Building

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.

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Wren’s Monument to the 1666 Great Fire

The Monument and the Shard

Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the the 21st century City spreads out around you. 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.

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Christchurch Greyfriars and the 1666 Great Fire

In the post on the Firefighters’ Memorial we talked about the destruction caused by the Blitz – and Christchurch 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.

When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church in 1533 over his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, he also ‘dissolved’ many religious institutions and Greyfriars was one of those. The friary church became Christchurch. Another part of the friary was to become the site of Christ’s Hospital School – which still exists, although it moved out of the City at the start of the 20th century. The pupils still wear a tudor-style uniform of a long blue coat and yellow knee length socks.

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The Firefighters Memorial, St Paul’s

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.

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St James Garlickhythe

DSC_0013With 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 “St James Garlickhythe”

Cleary Gardens – one of the City’s ‘Pocket Parks’

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.

And they’re not just for people of course. The City’s open spaces are planted to encourage bio-diversity, insects and birds. Blue tits and sparrows nest in the buddleia of Cleary Gardens, with greenfinches, robins and blackbirds being other frequent visitors.

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The City and the Guilds

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 “The City and the Guilds”

Dick Whittington’s Church

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.

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