Dick Whittington’s Church

st michael pasternosterSt 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 “Dick Whittington’s Church”

Postman’s Park

DSC_0026A 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 “Postman’s Park”

One New Change

One New ChangeThe architect of One New Change, Jean Nouvel, described his building as a ‘stealth bomber’; it’s something very big – well over half a million square feet of shops, restaurants and offices spread over eight floors – designed to almost be unnoticed.

The main reason for this of course is its proximity to St Paul’s. Certain views of the cathedral are legally protected. These are generally the views from some major London parks – Richmond, Greenwich, Alexandra Palace, Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill – which aren’t allowed to be blocked by tall buildings. That’s why the really big skyscrapers in the City tend to cluster in the East and why there aren’t any in the area around the cathedral.

So One New Change hasn’t been allowed to impose on St Paul’s, but what it has done is to give us some great new views. Coming up the escalator with the dome appearing in front of you is a wonderful experience, as is riding in the glass lift; the panels in the central atrium reflect views of the Cathedral so that you’re aware of its presence whichever way you look; and on the sixth floor is a terrace that puts you on a level with the roof of St Paul’s – you feel like you can almost reach out and touch it. Continue reading “One New Change”

The iPlayer London collection

p018dsmgIf you’re at all interested in the recent history and culture of London (and let’s face it, if you’re not you really have come to the wrong place) you should head across to the BBC iPlayer.

Simon Jenkins has curated BBC documentaries from the 1940s through to the early 1990s – some personal views, some behind the scenes at various London institutions – which give a wonderful encapsulation of a lost London. Because London is always ‘lost’ – the city is so varied and moves so quickly that trying to preserve some aspect of it runs counter to its very nature. Or as Ian Broad, the proprietor of the Colony Room Club says in John Pitman’s 1985 programme about Soho“Of course it isn’t what it used to be; but it never ever was what it was”. Continue reading “The iPlayer London collection”

Wood Street Architecture

wood street city of london
From the left – Wren, Foster, Rogers

Stand with your back to the City of London police HQ in Wood Street and you can see the collision of old and new in the City’s architecture. The number of cranes that are visible and the noises of construction one hears as one walks around the square mile are testament to the sheer number of new buildings being built.

It was ever thus. In the years following the war concrete and glass square boxes dominated. They’ve now been largely replaced with glass and steel curves and other forms. This is a sign of the City’s strength – it has always been able to reinvent and rebuild itself. The new being constructed on and around the old. Continue reading “Wood Street Architecture”

No. 1 Poultry

DSC_0051If you want to build anything in the City of London there are three hurdles to be overcome – first you have to be allowed to knock down what’s already there, then you have to planning permission for your new building, and third, you have to let the archaeologists in to dig up what’s been there before.

The classic example of this is the process for the development of Number One Poultry, the site opposite Bank junction and the Mansion House where Sir James Stirling’s post-modern construction now stands.

The story starts back in the 1950s when a developer called Rudolph Palumbo started buying the buildings on the site. He wanted to demolish the Victorian Gothic buildings that stood there, including the home of the jewellers Mappin & Webb. This project was picked up by his son Peter (now Lord) Palumbo who was given conditional planning consent to build a Mies van der Rohe-designed 18-storey bronze and glass tower on the site. (Many may not like Stirling’s design – Time Out readers voted it one of the five worst London buildings – but the block would have utterly changed the complexion not only of the junction, but of the entire City). Continue reading “No. 1 Poultry”

The Wobbly Bridge

Since September I’ve been doing the ITG Course for London Blue Badge Guides; two years’ worth of lectures, visits, written exams and practical tests to allow me to take visitors around London. It’s a lot of work, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been neglecting the blog.

We’ve now moved onto a phase where we’re doing a number of presentations – five minute talks on particular spots in the city, or on the contents of the museums and galleries – so I thought I’d adapt these into short blog posts.

The first is on the Millennium Bridge:

wobbly bridgeSpanning the river from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern, London’s gallery of modern and contemporary art housed in the former Bankside power station , is the Millennium Bridge – known to Londoners as the ‘wobbly bridge’, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

Designed by the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro in association with Foster and Partners architects and Arup engineers, the Millennium Bridge is a 330 metre long steel suspension footbridge with aluminium decking. It was conceived as a ‘blade of light’ across the river and used an innovative new technique which gave it a much lower profile than traditional suspension bridges.

It cost £18 million and opened in June 2000 – a couple of months late, but no big deal – but then the problems started. It swayed when people walked on it. And once it started swaying a bit, everyone on it started walking in step to the sway, which made it sway even more. So two days after opening, it closed.

The architects blamed the engineers and the engineers blamed the architects, and it took nearly two years and another £5 million to sort out the problem. But even though it doesn’t sway any more, it’s still known as the ‘wobbly bridge’. And probably will be for ever.

The bridge is now owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates Trust, who took it over in 2002. The Trust can trace its origins back to at least the 13th Century when the City of London took over responsibility for old London Bridge. They are now own Tower Bridge, Blackfriars and Southwark, as well as the Millennium Bridge. Continue reading “The Wobbly Bridge”