A London Adventure: Pt 2 – The City, Islington, Camden & Covent Garden

Continuing my long walk around London and heading past the stunning exterior of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, I came across the “Golden Boy of Pye Corner”, where Giltspur Street and Cock Lane meet.

It’s setting marks the spot where the Great Fire of London, which raged across the city in 1666, was finally stopped. The solution was to blow up a number of houses in this area, to stop the fire spreading. The plaque beneath the statue reads:

“This Boy is in Memory Put up for the late Fire of London Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony 1666”.

The original sculpture was built into a tavern called the “Fortune of War” in the 18th century, later moved to it’s present location called the “City & Guilds Headquarters” after the Inn was demolished in 1910. Londoners would have first seen the statue in its wooden form, before it was repainted in Gold. It’s chubby appearance is supposed to represent gluttony, as the fire started at a Bakers in Pudding Lane.

As I mentioned in part one of this post, the main entrance to St Bartholomew’s Hospital is through the King Henry VIII gate, which includes the only remaining statue of Henry VIII in London.

The next area along is known as Smithfield, which is famous for having both the oldest Church in London (St Bartholomew-the-Great) and the only wholesale market to have been in constant use since Medieval Times (Smithfield Market).

Starting with the Church, access into the Churchyard is gained by passing through the stunning 13th Century St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse, which was once part of the Church building itself. St Bartholomew’s originated as a Priory, and after the reformation it was ransacked and the Nave partially demolished.

The main entrance was once this Gatehouse, which fronted the long Nave behind it.

Heading through the Gate, I emerged into the small Churchyard which surrounds St Bartholomew’s Church. As I said earlier, it is the oldest surviving Church in London as a whole, having been founded back in 1123.

It is an enormous building. From the front it looks quite small, but the rest of the Nave and the Chancel stretch back far behind it, taking up the rest of the block.

To the very far left of the picture is perhaps one of the most incredible buildings in the City of London, hidden in plain site. It happens to be Numbers 41 & 42 Cloth Fair, the only house in the city to survive the Great Fire of London. Built sometime prior to 1614, it was largely saved thanks to the Priory Walls around it which deflected the flames.

Moving on to Smithfield Market, which was once a large field just outside the walls of the local Priory. A few centuries later it would become a major Marketplace, and it remains one of the oldest in London.

It was eventually established as a Poultry Market by the 1860’s, which it remains today. It is housed in a modernist building from the 1960’s, after the original Victorian Market-house burnt down in the 1950’s.

Outside, in front of Smithfield Market is a large, circular recessed Car Park, above which is the “Rotunda Garden”, containing an ornate fountain.

In the background, the dome of the Old Bailey is visible in the distance, with the golden statue of Lady Justice looking out across the city.

Passing through Smithfield Market-hall itself, the next stop was North up St John’s Lane, to the St John’s Gate. Much like the St Bartholomew’s Gate, this was also once the entrance to a large Priory, that of Clerkenwell.

The Gate was completed in 1504, and was the main access point into the South end of the Priory. There have been numerous additions to the building over the centuries, including a Library & Attic added by Richard Norman Shaw (1831 – 1912, Scottish Architect from Edinburgh) in 1874.

During the 20th century, it became the home of the St John’s Ambulance, founded by the Order of St John who have long been associated with the Priory and the Gatehouse.

Following Clerkenwell Road West, I soon arrived in central Clerkenwell, a prominent area in the Borough of Islington. It’s most famous landmark is the Church of St James, also known as the Crypt on the Green, in reference to the area surrounding it being known as Clerkenwell Green.

Slightly newer than some of its counterparts, it opened for worship in 1792, the culmination of five years building work to the designs of James Carr. It was around this time that Clerkenwell began to come into its own, and it became quite a sought after area, being a suburb of inner London. Oliver Cromwell himself had a house here, as well as the Duke of Northumberland.

There has been a place of worship here however for many centuries prior to the modern incarnation of St James’s, as around 1100 a small priory was founded here, as part of the parish of St James.

Moving on, I took this photo on a bridge crossing the railway tracks heading into Farringdon Train Station. In the distance, two of London’s most famous landmarks loomed, the finely sculpted dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, courtesy of Sir Christopher Wren, and the more modern behemoth that is the Shard, Britain’s tallest building.

Coming out onto the A40 (Holborn), I was right on the border with the City of London. To my left was Islington, whilst on the right, the towers of two of the City of London’s numerous Churches greeted me.

The first, with the distinctive copper dome, is called the “City Temple”, which belongs to the Nonconformist branch of Christianity. The Temple was founded by Thomas Goodwin (1600 – 1680, English Puritan) sometime in the mid 17th Century, who became its first minister. It has been based at various sites, until its permanent home was erected here at Holborn during 1873/4.

The building was badly damaged during the blitz, however it was rebuilt and open to the congregation by 1958.

In the foreground, lies the Church of St Andrew Holborn. It was one of the few Churches in the City of London which actually survived the Great Fire of 1666, as a change in the wind pushed the fire away. Unfortunately the Church itself was already in a state of disrepair, so whilst Sir Christopher Wren was drawing up plans to reconstruct the rest of the cities medieval Churches, St Andrew’s was added to the list.

It became the largest Parish Church that Wren recreated, and he incorporated the original Stone Tower into his design, albeit cladding the exterior in Marble.

One of Holborn’s most notable landmarks is the “Staple Inn”, shown above. This stunning Tudor Building from 1585 is one of the original four “Inns of Chancery” in the City. These Inns were each joined to their respective “Inns of Court” where Barristers could train and practice. All Barristers within the England & Wales legal system are a member of one of the Inns.

The Chancery Inns contained the offices of the Solicitors, and until 1642 they were also where the Barristers themselves would start their training, before moving into the Courts.

Staple Inn is the only surviving example in London, and is currently used by the “Institute & Faculty of Actuaries” who deal with measuring Risks for liability etc.

To the left, in the centre of the road sits the “Royal Fusiliers War Memorial”, erected in 1922 in memory of around 22,000 soldiers attached to the Royal Fusiliers of the City of London, who sadly perished during World War I.

Outside Staple Inn, you will find a tall pedestal bearing one of the City of London’s famous Dragons, marking the boundary between the City, and the adjacent Borough of Camden. These statues can be found on various main roads into the City, including London Bridge, Embankment, outside the Tower of London and of course here at Holborn.

They all descend from the original two, much larger statues which once adorned the outside of the City of London Coal Exchange, completed in 1847.

When the building was demolished in 1962, the Dragons were moved to their present location on Embankment, standing guard, looking out towards Westminster. The other Dragons, bar the Temple Bar Dragon, which is of a different design, are all copies, albeit slightly smaller.

Leaving the City of London behind me once more, I headed West along Holborn, to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest public square in London, across the border in Camden.

I spoke about the Chancery Inns earlier, which were attached to the Inns of Court, four of each. Lincoln’s Inn is one of the Inns of Court, and is made up of a large complex of buildings on the Eastern side of the square. Most prominent of these is the Great Hall, shown above, a 19th century construct from 1845. Designed by Philip Hardwick (1792 – 1870) it is primarily used for fine dining and meetings.

An exact foundation date for the Inn as a whole is not known, as the four inns all regard themselves as a similar age, however a Chapel was on this site in 1428, and the Old Hall was built around 1489, pre-dating most of the rest of the city. The Inn also predates the square itself, which was primarily laid out during the 1630’s.

My next stop was Covent Garden, however I came across something unexpected en route. Exiting Lincoln’s Inn Fields at the South West corner, down Portsmouth Street, I stumbled across the “Old Curiosity Shop”. The shop was of course made famous in the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, released in 1840.

He based the shop in the novel off of this one, a 16th century building which was once part of the London School of Economics. It was renamed the Old Curiosity Shop after the book became famous. I was unaware the novel was based on a genuine shop so it was a great moment to suddenly come across it.

A short walk later, I arrived on the outskirts of Covent Garden. The area contains a plethora of historic buildings, and it is a genuine joy to almost take a step back in time as you explore the famous streets.

Covent Garden is well known for the former Market at the heart of the district, first opened in 1654. Prior to this the central part of Covent Garden was a large open space, eventually bounded by houses, including Bedford House, built the Earl of Bedford when Henry VIII granted the area to him after confiscating it from Westminster Abbey during the reformation.

From 1830, Covent Garden Market was housed in a grand neoclassical building designed by Charles Fowler (1792 – 1867, English Architect from Devon). Originally it included a number of open sections between the main ranges, which were later roofed over during the late 19th century with a large iron frame.

Around the square you will also find the London Transport Museum, housed in the Old Flower Market of 1871.

Behind the Market Hall, at the West edge of the square lies the Parish Church of St Paul, designed by Inigo Jones (1573 – 1652, English Architect from London) during the 1630’s.

When it was first constructed it was never consecrated due to the objections of the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, whose Parish Covent Garden fell under. The dispute was solved in 1645 when Covent Garden became it’s own parish, with St Paul’s the Parish Church.

The Church is also notable as being the final resting place of the first victim of the Black Death after it reached England, a woman called Margaret Ponteous, who died in 1665.

My last stop was a bit of an in joke. I had another hour or two to kill before my train, so I took the Northern Line from Leicester Square, to the most southerly station on the network, Morden.

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you may remember a famous scene where Sean Bean – Boromir, says “One does not simply walk into Mordor”. Many people have likened Mordor to Morden based on the name, so I got a great picture, later captioned on Facebook as “One does not simply walk into Morden”. Worth it for a terrible joke. It’s a notable stop anyway as the terminus of the Northern Line, and was the perfect end to an incredible day.

A London Adventure: Pt 1 – The City, Spitalfields & Shoreditch

I was recently in London for a job interview, and seeing as how I was going to have the whole afternoon free from around 2 o’clock until 7 o’clock when my train home left, I decided to plan myself an extensive walk around some of London’s maybe slightly lesser known landmarks…

London Miscellaneous:

Boroughs Covered: Tower Hamlets, City of London, Hackney, Islington, Camden, City of Westminster, Merton

Date: 14/03/2017

Travel: Virgin Trains (Manchester Piccadilly – London Euston), London Underground: Northern Line (London Euston – Moorgate, Leicester Square – Morden, Morden – London Euston) – Circle Line (Moorgate – Tower Hill)

Attractions: George Peabody Statue, Smithfield Market, Christ Church Spitalfields, Spitalfield Market, St Stephen Walbrook, Christ Church Greyfriars, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Old Bailey, St Mary Le Bow Church, St Sepulchre’s Church, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, King Henry VIII Gate, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Covent Garden, Liverpool Street Station etc

My walked started just around the corner from the Bank of England, where, on a pedestrianised street directly behind the Royal Exchange, I came across a large pedestal, atop which sat a statue of George Peabody (1795 – 1869, American Philanthropist born in Massachusetts). George was later made a freeman of the City of London, after a significant financial contribution to the poor people of the city.

Until demolition in 1846, this area had been the site of the Church of St Benet Fink. The statue itself was erected before Peabody actually passed away, but sadly he was too ill by this stage to attend its unveiling.

Moving on, my next stop was Liverpool Street Station. In my various trips to London I have used a number of stations, including Euston, King’s Cross, St Pancras, Paddington and Waterloo, however there are many other well known stations we haven’t explored. Liverpool Street is one of these, and although we have actually taken a train from here to Chelmsford, we arrived by Tube from Euston, and never saw the exterior.

From the outside, Liverpool Street isn’t quite on the same scale as some of the much grander stations like St Pancras, whose street exterior shows off Victorian Architecture at its very best, yet it is still an interesting stop on my walk, and the site of plenty of history.

The Station was designed by Edward Wilson (1820 – 1877, Scottish Civil Engineer from Edinburgh), and originally opened in 1874, becoming the new Southern Terminus of the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML), which runs East towards Norwich and Ipswich, via Essex. Despite having a relatively small number of destinations, it was the largest station in London by 1895, with more platforms than even King’s Cross or Euston.

Directly beneath the station lies Liverpool Street Tube Station, on the Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan Lines, providing good access to most of central London.

During World War II, Liverpool Street was the main arrival point into London of thousands of Jewish Child Refugees from Europe during 1939, through a campaign known as the “Kindertransport”, after the German word for children. They usually arrived in Britain by ferry to Harwich in Essex, and would then take the GEML to Liverpool Street. The rescues ceased after war broke out, and Europe was cut off.

In 2006, a sculpture called “Kindertransport – The Arrival” was installed outside the main entrance to the station. Sculpted by Frank Meisler (Born 1929, German Architect), it features a number of children arriving at the station after escaping Europe.

Leaving the area around Liverpool Street Station, the next stop was Spitalfields Market, across the border into the Borough of Tower Hamlets. The route took me up Bishopsgate, past the striking Heron Tower, whose shiny glass exterior creates an impressive hue amongst the darker, Victorian constructs.

The Heron Tower was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), a firm of American Architects based in New York City, although they also have a regional office here in London. The Tower has a mixture of commercial tenants, as well as a public restaurant on the 38th floor, spread across 46 floors, which total a grand height of 755 ft.

Spitalfields is an ancient area of London, originally named after St Mary’s Spittel, a Priory/Hospital founded in the area in 1197. It also has a lovely historic feel to it, and at the centre of the district lies the famous Spitalfields Market. The Market can trace it’s origins back to 1682, when King Charles II approved the creation of a Market to be held here on Thursdays and Saturdays. It is now held in a vast Victorian complex completed in 1893 (shown left), which has since grown as both the trade, and population in Spitalfields has increased.

In the foreground is the 3.5 metre tall “I Goat” sculpture by Kenny Hunger. The Goat, which is stood atop a mountain of packing crates represents the history of the area, and Goats would have been one of the many animals which were traded here in days gone by.

At the rear of the picture, you can see “Christ Church Spitalfields”, the local parish Church constructed in 1714. By the 18th century, London’s population was expanding rapidly, so in 1710 the “New Churches in London & Westminster Act” was passed, which allowed for the building of 50 new Churches across London, one of which was Christ Church, one of the earliest of the 50. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661 – 1736, English Architect from London).

Leaving Spitalfields behind me, I began to head in the direction of Shoreditch High Street, roughly 3/4 of a mile North into the Borough of Hackney.

The area between Spitalfields and Shoreditch is certainly one of contrasts, as evidenced by the picture above. Old Georgian/Victorian terraces line cobbled streets, whilst behind them, an ever growing array of steel and glass rises above the skyline.

This picture was taken on Fleur De Lis Street, with the 541 ft tall Broadgate Tower in the background, completed in 2009.

Onwards to Shoreditch, and a charming walk up Shoreditch High Street. Shoreditch itself grew up around “Ermine Street”, a historic Roman Road from London to York via Lincoln, exiting the City of London at Bishopsgate and heading North through Shoreditch.

The central feature of the High Street is the Church of St Leonard, which has Saxon origins. The Tower of the original Church collapsed in 1716, necessitating a rebuild by George Dance the Elder (1695 – 1768, City of London Architect) during the 1730’s. The Steeple now stands an impressive 192 ft tall.

Turning left off the High Street onto Old Street, Shoreditch’s second most prominent landmark is the Town Hall, whose existence was brought about by the “Municipal Reform Act 1835” which made provisions for new Municipal Corporations to cover the major areas of London. Shoreditch was an up and coming area, and was designated as such. The new Town Council needed somewhere to make a base, so during the 1830’s a Vestry Hall was built here. This was the section to the right with the main Tower. It was the most expensive new Vestry Hall in London, and it’s grand design celebrated this.

The functions of the Council soon outgrew the Hall, so in 1866 the foundation stone for Shoreditch Town Hall was laid. This was the first phase of building work, completed by 1867, covering the area left of the main tower, with the five large bay windows. To the far left of the bay windows is a smaller, set back section comprising just one window, and a door on the ground floor, which was added sometime prior to 1897.

The second phase of building work commenced in 1899, when a new act created Municipal Boroughs, covering larger populations and granting extra powers to the new local authorities which covered them. The Vestry Hall and phase one of the more recent Town Hall were combined to create one large building, which we can still see today. This part of the building houses the main Council Chamber.

Moving away from Shoreditch, I re-entered the City of London near Moorgate Underground Station, shown above, after following Tabernacle Street to the border with the City from Shoreditch.

I had changed tube trains at Moorgate earlier in the morning to get from London Euston to Tower Hill, but only ever saw the platforms, not the exterior.

Moorgate Station opened in 1865, as part of the “Metropolitan Railway”, the worlds first underground line, although at the time it was called Moorgate Street Station. The Railway eventually became what we now know as the Circle Line, the Yellow Line on the Tube Map around Central London. In 1900, the “City & South London Railway, which eventually became the Northern Line, was constructed and was routed to connect up with Moorgate. Sadly the station itself is most famous for the Moorgate Tube Crash of 1975, which killed 43 people. The exact cause of the disaster is unknown, however the driver made no attempt to stop the train as it over ran the station at high speed and crashed into a set of buffers.

Behind the station is “Moor House”, a large office block built in anticipation of the arrival of Crossrail, in 2004. The building has a large ventilation shaft directly beneath it specifically for Crossrail, and at the time of construction it had the deepest foundations in the whole of London.

My next planned stop was the Old Bailey, so I took a scenic route via Bank to St Paul’s Cathedral. Bank is covered by an area known as Walbrook, named after a subterranean River called the Walbrook which has long since been covered over. The area is marked by the Church of St Stephen, just behind Mansion House.

The original St Stephen’s was one of many Churches which succumbed to the Great Fire of London in 1666. A vast programme of rebuilding was instigated after the Fire, lead by Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723, Famous English Architect) who rebuilt many of the cities Churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral. The new St Stephen’s was completed in 1679, based on an early design for the reconstructed St Paul’s.

Closing in on St Paul’s Cathedral, I took a wander up Watling Street, past a sculpture called “The Cordwainer”. A Cordwainer is another name for a Shoemaker, after a town in Spain called Cordoba, which was well known for its quality leather.

Created by Alma Boyes, it originally stood outside St Mary Le Bow Church, until it was moved to Watling Street a few years later. Cordwainers had become important parts of London society after the Crusaders brought the materials and techniques back to England many centuries ago.

Watling Street also offers a stunning view up towards St Paul’s itself, with it’s distinctive dome the stand out landmark in this area of the city. Watling Street was originally based on another Roman Road, which ran from Canterbury in Kent, through London towards St Albans, and then on to the Roman Fort at Wroxeter in Shropshire.

Instead of approaching St Paul’s head on, I turned right off Watling Street onto Bow Lane, which brought me out into Bow Churchyard, by the famous St Mary Le Bow Church.

Much like St Stephen’s Church, the original incarnation of St Mary’s, completed in the Norman Era, was destroyed during the Great Fire of London, and it fell to Sir Christopher Wren to design and build its replacement. The new Church was one of the first Churches to be reconstructed, as at the time it was one of the most important Churches in the City of London, behind only St Paul’s itself. This was because St Mary’s was, and still is the home of the “Arches Court”, which gives it jurisdiction from the Church of England over religious matters in the area.

During World War II, London was heavily bombed by the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe. Many of the City of London’s Churches would not escape unscathed, during a fire-storm which many have dubbed the Second Great Fire of London, due to the sheer area of devastation which was left. A number of them were rebuilt, whilst others were left in a ruinous state as a permanent reminder of the horrors of war. I came across one such Church during my walk, as shown above.

This is Christ Church Greyfriars, although it is sometimes referred to as Christ Church Newgate Street. It lies at the junction of King Edward Street and Cheapside, not far from St Paul’s Underground Station just round the corner from the Old Bailey. It was a monastic Church until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530’s, when it was seized by Henry VIII and became a Parish Church. Rebuilt by Wren in 1687 after the Great Fire, it was bombed out on December 29th, 1940.

The Parish it covered was later merged with St Sepulchre’s, negating the need for the building to be repaired.

Speaking of St Sepulchre’s, that happened to be my next stop. It is just a little further up Newgate Street, which follows on directly from Cheapside, almost directly opposite the Old Bailey itself. It faired slightly better than some of the other Churches in the City, originally created by the Saxons prior to 1137. It was rebuilt in the 15th century, before being completely gutted by the Great Fire in 1666. The stone Tower, and outer walls survived however, which immediately stands out as many of the Churches completely rebuilt by Wren used Portland Stone. It survived the Blitz intact, and is one of the stand out historic buildings in the area.

You can see one of London’s new Routemaster Double Decker Buses passing by in front of the Church. They continue the well known tradition of the Red London Bus, but with a modern touch. They are a Hybrid design, with a mix of diesel and electric power, and have been serving the Capital since 2012.

Moving across the road, I stopped to admire the grand exterior of the Old Bailey, the highest court in the land in England. The Old Bailey’s origins relate to the original Courts held by the Lord Mayor/Sheriffs of the City of London, which also covered the historic county of Middlesex at this time.

They built a courtroom sometime prior to 1585, although it burnt, along with the rest of London, in 1666 in the Great Fire. A new building was completed by 1674, and stood near the old Newgate Gaol. A new act was passed in 1856, called the “Central Criminal Court Act”, which allowed anyone who committed a crime to be tried at the Old Bailey, regardless of whether it was committed in London. This was to ensure impartiality when it came to high profile cases, as the accused may be discriminated against in their home county.

In 1902 the Newgate Gaol was demolished, and the new Old Bailey, still standing today, was built in it’s place, to designs by Edward William Mountford (1855 – 1908, English Architect who also designed Lancaster Town Hall, Sheffield Town Hall and Battersea Town Hall, all of which still survive). The famous statue of Lady Justice can be seen atop it’s great dome, with both the statue and the rest of the building surviving bomb damage from the Blitz.

The final stop in the first half of my walk was St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which can be found just up Giltspur Street, heading North away from the Old Bailey. The Hospital was founded in 1123 by a Monk called Rahere, and is the oldest hospital in the UK that is still a practising medical establishment on it’s original site.

The original St Bartholomew’s was run by the Priory of St Bartholomew the Great, until the 1530’s when the Dissolution of the Monasteries almost bankrupted the Hospital when the main source of income, the taxes levied by the Priory, were removed. The instigator of the Dissolution, King Henry VIII, didn’t let the Hospital close however, he refounded it with Letters Patent, and it came into the care of the City of London Corporation.

Of the buildings themselves, the present complex was designed by James Gibbs (1682 – 1754, Scottish Architect from Aberdeen), and opened during the 18th century. The hospital consisted of the North Wing (1732), South Wing (1740), West Wing (1752) and finally the East Wing (1769). At the Hospitals heart there is also a small Church, called “St Bartholomew the Less”, a 15th century construct founded by the Priory in 1123.

The main entrance to the Hospital consists of a large gate which features a statue of King Henry VIII above it, the only statue of him in London.

I carried on, passing St Bartholomew’s, towards the King Henry VIII Gate, and approaching the large wooden archway which leads into the Churchyard of St Bartholomew the Great, the original Priory Church here…

Bedford, Bedfordshire, England

2016 was a great year for our travels around England, as by the end of February we had finally visited all 48 English Counties. Third from last was Bedfordshire, and we arrived into the county town Bedford for an early morning start…


Status: Bedford Unitary Authority, Bedfordshire, Town, England

Date: 27/01/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Travelodge Bedford Goldington

Attractions: Castle Mound, Great Ouse River, Bedford Corn Exchange, St Paul’s Church, Magistrates Court, Harpur Shopping Centre, Bedford Bridge, Market Square, John Howard Statue, Reflections of Bedford Sculpture, Bunyan Church, Howard Congregational Church, St Peter’s Church, Civic Theatre etc

My favourite scene in the town is on the High Street, where, stood in front of the magnificent Church of Saint Paul, we gazed up at the statue of John Howard (1726 – 1790, English Prison Reformer). John was born in London, but was sent to live in Bedfordshire when he was five after his mother died.

He resided in Cardington, just outside Bedford itself, and in 1773 he became the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. He became notable in 1774 when he gave evidence to the House of Commons about the dreadful prison conditions across England, along with recommendations on how to improve them, which were taken forwards. He would go on to publish a book in 1777 called “The State of the Prisons” which covered not just England, but Europe as well, and eventually led to “Single-Celling”, where prisoners each had their own individual cells instead of all being crammed in together.

To recognise his achievements, the statue of him was erected in 1890 by Alfred Gilbert (1854 – 1934, English Sculptor who also created the Memorial Fountain (Eros) in Piccadilly Circus, London), and it stands atop what was, until 1880, a drinking fountain.

The Church behind John Howard, St Paul’s, can trace it’s origins back to Norman Times. The precursor to what we see today was completed in the 1230’s, and was used by the Monks of Newnham Priory, as well as a Parish Church, although little of it remains, aside from the South Porch. It was later rebuilt in the 15th century, sometime just prior to 1414. The reformation would take it’s toll, as the Priory was disbanded and the Church fell out of use until a grant from the family of Thomas Christie (Then MP for Bedford) in 1697.

St Paul’s was vastly enlarged around the 1770’s, where it went from a small local Church to being one of the stand out buildings in the entire county.

At the North End of the Church lies the towns Market Stalls, which play host to various traders, customers and products every Wednesday and Saturday.

The Bedford Market dates back to 1166, when the town was granted a Market Charter by King Henry II (1133 – 1189). It’s present location was first used in the 1500’s, however its ever expanding size meant it had to be moved to a larger site. In 2002 stalls returned to the square here, at the heart of the town centre.

Just next to the Market Stalls stands a fantastic historical guide to the various interesting buildings in Bedford.

Each side of the post talks about a different structure, with a number for each one. This number is then also located on a map which takes up one side, allowing you to find the most historic buildings in the area.

Behind the post you can see the Bedford Corn Exchange, which opened in 1874. It became Bedford’s premier concert venue, and it remains in use for various performances throughout the year.

During World War II, the BBC Symphony Orchestra was relocated to the Corn Exchange for their safety. They were joined for 1944 by the BBC Proms, as the events previous home, the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place, Westminster, was sadly destroyed by a German bomb in 1941.

This central area of Bedford is absolutely stunning, with fine architecture in every direction.

We started to the rear of St Paul’s, outside the Civic Theatre (far right), built in 1861 by James Horsford as the Northern extension to Bedford Town Hall. The rest of the Town Hall, itself completed in 1767, is to the rear.

At the far end of the street, striking an elegant pose on it’s own is the Cowper Building, created by Basil Champneys (1842 – 1935, English Architect from London who also designed the famous John Rylands Library in Manchester). When it opened in 1886 it became part of the Girls Modern School, founded in 1882. This was later renamed the Dame Alice Harpur School, which eventually closed in 2012 after it merged with Bedford High School. Today the Council inhabit the building, which is in a prime location between the Town Hall and the adjacent Shire Hall.

To the left of the Cowper Building is the aforementioned Shire Hall, an absolutely stunning Victorian masterpiece which looks out onto the Great Ouse River. Designed in the 1880’s by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905, English Architect from Liverpool), as a Courthouse for the town, and indeed it still fulfils this function today.

The building was extended East in 1926 by Charles Holden, which can be seen in the picture above, just to the left of the Royal Mail Van. The brickwork is a different colour, but still fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

We moved North, away from the Guildhall, towards one of the towns most surprising modern additions, the “Harpur Shopping Centre”, shown above. It lies just across the road from St Paul’s Square, and what makes this particular shopping precinct interesting is that it is fronted by the old “Bedford Modern School”, whose stunning stone exterior was completed in 1834.

Prior to 1834, lessons were carried out in the adjacent Town Hall before the erection of a custom built premises. By 1974 the school had outgrown the building, so the developers moved in and created the brand new shopping centre behind it.

The square immediately outside the shopping centre is known as “Harpur Square”, and it is marked by an intricate statue called “The Meeting”. It is also known as the “Kid’s Statue”, and was created by John Mills.

Harpur square lies on… Harpur Street, which runs North away from the square past some of the towns main shopping thoroughfares.

Turning off onto Silver Street, we found one of the more unusual inhabitants of Bedford town centre, the “Reflections of Bedford” sculpture. Silver Street was apparently once home to a mint, and the statue is supposed to be homage to this, as well as the brick/lace trades of the town.

The designer was a man named Rick Kirby who, in 2008 had created another sculpture called the “Face of Wigan”. The design was later reused for his Bedford work in 2009, although they are slightly smaller than the 18ft original!

Heading back towards St Paul’s Square, we kept moving South, to meet the River Great Ouse, which is part way through its 143 mile journey from its source in Northamptonshire to the Wash between the Norfolk and Lincolnshire Coasts.

Crossing the river here is the Town Bridge, designed by John Wing, and officially opened in 1813. With the increase in Motor Traffic, particularly during the first half of the 20th century, it was widened in 1940, and can now accommodate two lanes of traffic in either direction.

The riverside offers a great view back at Bedford Town Centre. You can see the spire of St Paul’s Church over to the left, with the charming Swan Hotel to the right…

The Swan Hotel is a beautiful Georgian construct dating back to 1794, when it was rebuilt by Henry Holland (1745 – 1806, English Architect from London), for the then Duke of Bedford, Francis Russell (1765 – 1802, 5th Duke of Bedford). Today it is of course a hotel, with a great location next to the river.

Out in the small courtyard at the front of the building sits the South African War Memorial, which pays tribute to the British Soldiers killed during the Boer War. Sculpted by Leon Joseph Chavalliaud (1858 – 1919, French Sculptor from Rheims, France) in 1904, it is one of a number of similar memorials which can be found all over the country.

Following “The Embankment” which runs past the Swan Hotel East along the riverbank, we came across a large mound, atop which once sat Bedford Castle. Unlike many of England’s great Castles, it was only in use for a couple of centuries, however it is still one of Bedford’s most historically interesting landmarks.

Originally constructed by Henry I sometime after 1100, its first major combat role was during the period known as the “Anarchy”. This was a Civil War between Empress Matilda (daughter of Henry I) who was to be his successor after his death, and Stephen (grandson of William the Conqueror, nephew of Henry I). The war lasted from 1135 – 1154 and resulted in Stephen being installed on the throne. His successor, Henry II was Matilda’s son, restoring the correct line of the throne.

It was during the war that the Castle was attacked by Stephen on his way to tackle an invasion by the Scottish under King David, who was supporting his niece, Matilda. The Castle was later mostly destroyed after the battle. Whilst sections of the building were reinforced during the later English Civil War (1642 – 1651), most of it was left ruinous, and it was eventually demolished to make way for housing in the mid 20th century. All that remains today is part of the stone moat, where the Keep would have stood.

The view from the mound is stunning, looking out over the River Ouse, the Castle Park and the landmark Park Inn Hotel tower on the far side of the river, over to the right.

The rest of our trip to Bedford was spent exploring the many side streets which lead back from the Riverside round to St Paul’s Square, where we found a few items of interest, mainly clustered around Mill Street.

The first was the Bunyan Meeting Church, named after John Bunyan (1628 – 1688, English Writer from Elstow outside Bedford) . He was the writer of a book called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” which is widely regarded as one of the most important religious works of its era.

The Church itself was formed back in 1650, although the present building was only completed in 1849, whilst the stone porch at the front was added in 1876.

Further up Mill Street, we came across another Chapel, the “Howard Congregational Church” of 1774. The Church was founded by the aforementioned John Howard, after attempts to convert the Bunyan Church into a Methodist Church. The building was later enlarged in 1849.

The building itself is no longer used as a Church, and when I took this picture it was being converted into a new Night Club.

Further down the road you will find a charming little coffee house called Frescoes, which features a stunning mural on its exterior wall. It was created by a man named Iain Carstairs, who sadly passed away in early 2016 after a battle with cancer. The painting is a replica of the “Libyan Sibyl” by Michaelangelo, whose original creation can be found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Vatican City.

Our final stop was on the outskirts of the town centre. We had stayed in a travelodge the night before, just on the edge of the city then we had driven in and parked up just round the corner from St Peter’s Church. We walked in from there, to get a good look at some of the fine Georgian town houses which line the main route into the town centre.

This charming little Church is Norman in origin, and can trace its history back to the 12th Century. All that remains of the original Church is the stunning Square Norman Tower, whilst the rest was largely rebuilt in the 15th Century, a similar story to many Churches in England. It certainly stands out as being one of the older inhabitants of the town, the perfect place to end our tour.

Bedford is a lovely little town, with plenty of great architecture around the town centre, Georgian houses around the outskirts, and a number of large, green open spaces.

Transport wise it is well connected, as it lies directly on the A6, historically an important South-North route which continues up through Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Lancashire etc. The M1 is also only a few miles away, where you can head South towards the M25 around London, or North towards Yorkshire and connections with the M6 for the North West and Birmingham.

Train services can take you direct to London and Sheffield, along with a number of other local services.

It was time to move on, and our next stop was the town of Buckingham…

St Ives, Cambridgeshire, England

Having already made a twilight visit to the town of Huntingdon on our way to Cambridge one evening, the next time we were in the area we popped into St Ives, as the sun was beginning to set…

St Ives:

Status: Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire (historically Huntingdonshire), Town, England

Date: 18/02/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Market Square, Oliver Cromwell Statue, Great Ouse River, All Saint’s Church, St Ives Bridge, Bridge Chapel, Town Hall, United Reform Church, Golden Lion Hotel etc

We started by the edge of the Great Ouse River, outside the Church of All Saints before heading into the main town centre proper.

All Saints is the towns Parish Church, and has it’s origins as a small wooden structure in the Norman Era, during the 11th century. By 1150 it had been rebuilt in stone, and like most Churches of that era, it was rebuilt again, around 1470. Although some stonework remains of its earlier incarnation, what we see today is largely 15th century.

It sits in a prominent position directly next to the river, which cuts through the trees to emerge at the towns famous Stone Bridge, but more on that later.

Moving into the centre, we came across a small maze of tight, narrow streets whose buildings span various centuries. This was taken from “Bridge Street” looking up “Merryland”.

The building to the right, currently housing the “Genesis Hair Company” is a lovely Georgian construction from the early 1800’s, which make up a lot of towns in this area.

The other shops are of a similar time period, making for a lovely Dickensian feel.

The Market Square in the centre of St Ives is a quaint little place, marked by a statue of Oliver Cromwell (1559 – 1658, Leader of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, MP for Huntingdon & Cambridge) who was born in nearby Huntingdon in 1559. Statues of Cromwell are rare as he is a divisive figure, but it has been displayed proudly here in St Ives since 1901. He is also notable as being the only British head of state in history that wasn’t a Royal.

St Ives, like many historic towns, has its fair share of Churches. We soon spotted the “United Reform Church” on the South Western side of the Market Square. Designed by John Tarring (1806 – 1875, English Architect from Plymouth), it was completed in 1836.

Directly to the left of the URC stands the “Golden Lion Hotel”, an old 19th Century Coaching Inn, lying just off the main route from Huntingdon towards Cambridge, and then London. It has been a prominent hotel in the town ever since.

To the left of the Hotel is “Stanley House”, which was taken over in 1924 by St Ives Town Council to become the new Town Hall. Prior to this it was temporarily the home of Lloyds Bank before their new premises were completed, and before that it was under the ownership of a Mr William Warner.

We cut up “Free Church Lane” and came out on the banks of the Great Ouse River, home to St Ives’s most famous landmark, the “St Ives Bridge”. Completed in 1425, it replaced an earlier wooden bridge from the 12th century built for use by the monks at nearby Ramsey Abbey so they could cross the river.

Perhaps it’s most notable chapter in history occurred in 1645, when Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian Forces held the town. The Royalist army under King Charles I would soon arrive, so they destroyed two of the arches on the far side, putting in a wooden drawbridge which could be pulled up when they attacked. Full repairs wouldn’t be carried out until 1716.

The Bridge is also notable for the small Chapel (shown centre) which was added by the monks when it was rebuilt in stone.

It is one of only four surviving Bridge Chapels in England, along with:

  1. Rotherham Bridge, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
  2. Chantry Chapel, Wakefield Medieval Bridge, West Yorkshire (see my post here)
  3. Old Bridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

The riverside here is a beautiful place, and if you look downstream the river seems to just empty out into the distance, just the next stage in its 143 mile journey from Northamptonshire to the sea.

A number of elegant Georgian buildings line the river, creating a scene that most likely hasn’t changed much for the last 250 years!

I had parked on Bridge Street when we arrived, so it was back to the car, leaving us with a lovely snapshot of historic St Ives.

The town is a stunning little place, and was well worth the visit on our way through. Although unconnected to the rail network, it lies next to the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and is only a few miles from the A1 from London – Edinburgh.

It was time to head off, but more adventures always await…

Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England

One of England’s smallest historic counties ceased to exist in it’s own right in 1974, although by name it is now a district in Cambridgeshire. I refer of course to Huntingdonshire, and we soon arrived in the county town, Huntingdon…


Status: Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire (historically Huntingdonshire), Town, England

Date: 06/01/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Market Square, Town Hall, Cromwell Museum, Church of All Saints, South African War Memorial, Gazeley House, Church of St Mary, Falcon Inn, Wykeham House etc

As we were travelling down to Cambridge one evening, we decided to pop into Huntingdon on the way past. It was after dark, and by the lovely glow of the street lights, we arrived into the central Market Square, around which are located many of the towns major landmarks.

A beacon of light at the South Eastern edge of the square was Huntingdon Town Hall, from 1745. It replaced the earlier Court Hall, and indeed a new set of Courts/Cells were built on the ground floor, still visible today. The Council still regularly meet in the grand Assembly Room on the top floor, reputed to feature a number of impressive portraits, including those of King George’s II and III.

Outside, in the centre of the square stands the Huntingdon War Memorial, also known as the “Thinking Soldier”. It was beautifully created by Kathleen Scott (1878 – 1947, British Sculptor), the widow of the late Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868 – 1912, Royal Naval Explorer who perished in Antarctica in 1912). Unveiled in 1923, it pays tribute to all the soldiers from the town who gave their lives in WWI, and later WWII.

On the West side of the square you will find a number of historic buildings, many from the 18th century. A few in particular stood out, starting with the charming 16th Century “Falcon Inn”. Oliver Cromwell was born here in 1599, and of course was in charge of the Parliamentarian Army during the Civil War, and reputedly used the Falcon as his HQ when he was in the area. The Royalists captured the town in 1645, and blew out an arch of the Old Town Bridge over the Great Ouse River to slow down the Parliamentarian army.

To the right of the Falcon is “Wykeham House”, which opened as the Huntingdon Branch of the “London & County Bank” in the early 1700’s. The Bank eventually merged with “The Westminster Bank” to create the National Westminster Bank, or NatWest.

Huntingdon only has two remaining medieval Churches, one of which is the Church of All Saints, on the North Western side of the square.

Originally a Norman Church from the 12th century, it has been rebuilt a number of times over the years. One of the oldest sections is the 14th century Tower, with the rest of the building dating from the late 15th/early 16th. Like many other Churches across the country, it was given an extensive Victorian restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) in the 1850’s, and later Harold Doe 100 years later.

Towards the rear of the Town Hall stands the Jubilee Drinking Fountain (shown far right), erected by the Borough Council in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee that year.

The square is also surrounded by a lovely array of cobbles, which together with the glow of the streetlamps help create the perfect night scene!

Oliver Cromwell also went to school in Huntingdon, in the old Grammar School building, shown above, opposite the Church. Originally built in the 12th century, it was one half of a long Hall, part of the “Hospital of St John the Baptist”. After the Hospital fell under the control of the local council in the 14th century, the Hall was shortened to its present length, and then converted into the Grammar School in 1565. Today it houses the Oliver Cromwell Museum, which opened in 1962.

Huntingdon is a beautiful little town, and I would love to experience it by day, which would no doubt lend a whole new perspective to it. The centre is very historic, and every building around the Market Square looks like it was built yesterday, despite its age.

The town is reasonably well connected transport wise, with the A1 from London – Edinburgh via the East Midlands/North East of England running just to the West. Huntingdon is also directly connected to Cambridge via the A14, and King’s Lynn in Norfolk via the A141/A47.

The local train station is on the East Coast Main Line, although the main services towards Scotland/London don’t call at the station. It is instead served by “Great Northern” trains from London towards Peterborough along the same route.

We were making a habit of twilight visits to Huntingdonshire, as on our second trip to the nearby city of Ely, we stopped in the area again after the sun had set, this time in St Ives…

Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England

Another stunning Cathedral City loomed on the horizon, as we spotted the main front of Peterborough Cathedral…


Status: Peterborough Unitary Authority, Cambridgeshire (historically Northamptonshire), City, England

Date: 07/01/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Costa

Attractions: Peterborough Cathedral, Guildhall, Town Hall, River Nene, St John’s Church, Old Custom House, Market Square, St Nicholas’s Gate, Abbot’s Prison, King’s Lodgings, NatWest Building, Queensgate Shopping Centre, The Grain Barge etc

We parked up in a large car park just outside the city centre, with the grand presence of the Cathedral looming over us.

Peterborough Cathedral originated as the Abbey Church for a Benedictine Monastery here, and many of the buildings that surrounded it still exist, although most are now private homes. The Monastery was disbanded during the reformation by King Henry VIII, with the Church becoming a Cathedral.

To the left is the “Little Dorter”, a small building connected to the ruined walls of the refectory. Dorter is another word for Dormitory, and the Listed Buildings website says the Little Dorter was an attachment to the main dormitory.

We made our way round to the main Cathedral Yard, to the stunning West front of Peterborough Cathedral. It’s a magnificent building, and certainly one of the grandest in England, with it’s own unique style.

The present building is a Norman rebuild of the original Anglo-Saxon Church, destroyed by fire in 1116. Two years later work on the new Church began, taking over a century to complete, in 1237, consecrated the following year.

It’s most impressive feature is the vast wooden ceiling in the Nave, which took 20 years to craft, from 1230 – 1250. Although it has been repainted at least twice over the centuries, it was but a retouch of the original, making it the only Cathedral in the UK to retain its original wooden ceiling.

The Cathedral’s main three arches are the standout feature of the building, and were originally built in the new Gothic Style, in front of the old Norman Towers near the end of the build. To integrate them back into the main front, two new towers, at either end of the arches were built, so the Cathedral now has an incredible four towers clustered around the entrance. The centre arch has a small entry gate at it’s base, called the “Galilee Porch” from 1375.

A few decades later, by the 1380s the main central tower had been rebuilt, again in Gothic to match the West front, although it reused the original structural beams at its base.

As I mentioned earlier, the reformation dissolved the monastery, and the Church became a Cathedral, seat of the newly created Bishop of Peterborough, head of a new diocese.

During the English Civil War major damage was inflicted by the Parliamentarians, who were responsible for the destruction of the old Abbey buildings, the ruins of which we saw earlier. Various restorations have been carried out since, with the final marble altar being added in the 1880’s.

The Cathedral is also the resting place for two important figures from British history, namely Catherine of Aragon (1485 – 1536, 1st Wife of King Henry VIII) and for a number of years, Mary Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587, Queen of Scotland from 1542 – 1567).

We passed through the stone “St Nicholas’s Gate” (shown centre) into the Market Place beyond, an enormous square that contains many of the city’s most historic buildings.

The Gate itself dates back to the late 12th century, built by the then Abbot, Benedict. The section to the right, the royal apartments, became known as King’s Lodgings. Various monarchs have visited the Cathedral over the years, King Stephen (1143), Henry II (1154), King John (1216), Henry III (1268) etc and presumably it was here that they stayed. The name may also come from the fact that after his arrest, King Charles I was held here for a short time before his trial.

The ground floor was used as the “Abbot’s Prison”, whilst at one point the court met above the main Gateway, also once used as a Chapel dedicated to St Nicholas, and later a music room.

To the left of the gate is “Number 1 Precincts”, a charming 19th century construct originally crafted by Lloyds Bank. The style mimics the prevailing architectural style around it, and is now home to a Starbucks.

To the right is the Natwest Building, one of the squares most ornate structures. Designed in the 1920’s by F C R Palmer (in-house architect for the National Provincial Bank, which later became part of NatWest) and W F C Holden, again to match its surroundings.

The centre of the Market Place is marked by a number of historic landmarks, starting with the truly beautiful Peterborough Guildhall (a perfectly detailed Lilliput Lane model of which sits on my shelf!).

The Guildhall, aka “Butter Cross” is a common feature in old English Market Towns, where the old outdoor markets were once held. The main rooms of the building are sat atop stone columns, allowing the markets to be held beneath. Indeed, the Butter Market was still being regularly held here until 1963.

Completed in 1671, the Guildhall has had various uses, starting out as a Courtroom/Meeting Hall. Later in life it was home to a Boys School (1779 – 1839), and prior to the present building being created, it was the Town Hall until 1932.

It even held an important position during WWII, being the HQ of the Fire Watch and the distribution point for Gas Masks in the event of enemy attack.

Behind the Guildhall sits the “Parish Church of St John the Baptist”. Despite the fact Peterborough Cathedral is a minutes walk away, it was an important building for the city. The Cathedral was for centuries an Abbey for the use of the Monks, so a new Church was built for the townsfolk, where they could pray and worship.

The present building was completed in 1407, and reuses stone from the original, which was moved here specially when the new Market Square was established outside the main gate to the Cathedral. It was almost demolished after the English Civil War, when a plan to use it’s stone to repair damage to the Cathedral from the war was put forwards. Despite permission being granted, happily it never happened, although like the Cathedral some of its stunning features such as the Stained Glass were destroyed.

I mentioned earlier the two famous figures once buried at the Cathedral, Catherine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots. Both women had their funerals here at St John’s, in 1536 and 1587 respectively.

On the South edge of the square is a rather interesting mock timber building from 1911, housing Pizza Express. It looks stunning, and features five highly detailed statues on the exterior:

Left: Athelwold (904 – 984, Bishop of Winchester) and Prince Rupert (1619 – 1682, Nephew of King Charles I).

Centre: King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547)

Right: King Peada (Died 656, King of Mercia from 655) and the Earl of Essex, although I am unsure which holder of the title it refers too.

Most of the squares Northern edge is taken up by the “Queensgate Shopping Centre”, opened in 1982 by Queen Beatrix (Born 1938, Queen of the Netherlands until 2013).

It is perhaps most well known for the Mechanical Clock Tower that has stood at it’s heart for over 25 years.

We left the square behind us, and headed South along the pedestrianised Bridge Street, past Peterborough’s impressive new Town Hall from 1933. The City Council still use the building for many functions, up on the first floor, whilst the ground floor is inhabited by a number of shops.

Before the Town Hall opened, the council were using the Guildhall in the Market Square. At this time in history, Peterborough fell under the jurisdiction of the “Soke of Peterborough” which in 1888 become its own county (although associated with Northamptonshire), until the 1960’s. This meant that the Town Hall was used by both the County Council of the Soke, and the City Council itself.

Now Peterborough is a Unitary Authority, broadly following the same boundaries as the Soke once did, with one council responsible for all services in the district.

Crossing the A15, and continuing South along Bridge Street past the Magistrates Court, we arrived at the original boundary of the city, the River Nene. The city spread South of the river centuries ago, away from the main centre around the Cathedral.

The UK’s tenth longest river, the Nene begins a 100 mile journey near Badby in Northamptonshire, and eventually empties out into “The Wash”, a large bay between the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts.

Above you can see the “Nene Viaduct”, built in 1850 by Sir William Cubitt (1785 – 1861) and his son Joseph (1811 – 1872) to carry the Great Northern Railway, from London to York, with a branch line towards Lincolnshire. The line was eventually subsumed into what is now the East Coast Main Line from London – Edinburgh.

Following the Town Halls completion in 1933, a new road bridge was built over the river here in 1934, called the “Town Bridge”. It replaced an earlier Iron Bridge which was taken down in 1933, and stood a few metres downstream of its successor.

Moored along the riverbank here is a floating pub/restaurant called the “Grain Barge”. The name comes from the fact that it is located within an old Grain Barge, becoming one of only four floating pubs in the country.

Had you been stood here prior to 1965, you would have seen a view unique in England. Before local government reform, three different counties met here. Peterborough has historically been part of Northamptonshire, whilst the grassy area to the left became Cambridgeshire a few metres further along the riverbank. The far side of the river would have brought you into Huntingdonshire.

In late 1965 this all changed, as Peterborough and Huntingdonshire were merged to create a new county. In 1974, this was in turn merged with Cambridgeshire, where they remain today.

Next to the Grain Barge is the old “Custom House” from 1790. Before the arrival of the railways in the mid 19th century, the River would have been the principal way to transport goods into the city.

It is thought the location of the Cathedral was deliberate, being relatively close to the river, where the buildings stone was brought in.

The Custom House would have been the home of the Toll Collector, who levied tolls on this section of the River.

Trade on English Rivers and Canals began to disappear after the Victoria Rail Revolution, making these type of Tolls redundant. The building is now used by the Sea Cadets.

Looking back towards the main city centre, Peterborough Cathedral is an impressive sight, dwarfing any other building around it.

Peterborough is a lovely historic city, with plenty of landmarks worth visiting. It also has good transport links, lying directly on the East Coast Main Line, between LondonEdinburgh via York, Durham and Newcastle, with branchlines out to Lincolnshire and Leeds. The City is also close to the A1, again from London to Edinburgh via important towns such as Stamford, Grantham, Newark and Berwick etc.

We had now visited all three cities in modern day Cambridgeshire, but our next trip was a quick foray into what was once Huntingdonshire…

Ely, Cambridgeshire, England

Cambridgeshire is home to one of England’s smallest cities, although it has its fair share of historic buildings…


Status: East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, City, England

Date: 07/01/2016 & 19/02/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Peacocks Tearoom

Attractions: Ely Cathedral, Oliver Cromwell’s House, River Great Ouse, St Mary’s Church, High Street, Market Square, Market Street, Minster Tavern, Steel Eel-y, Jubilee Gardens, Ely Porta, Sebastopol Cannon, Bishops Palace, Townhouse Inn etc

Ely is located within the Fens of Cambridgeshire, a vast, flat area which was once a giant area of marshland. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Fens were systematically drained, resulting in an enormous, incredibly flat piece of countryside.

One of its standout landmarks is Ely Cathedral, and thanks to the flat nature of the surrounding land, it is visible for miles around. We got this picture as we approached the city along the A142 from the Cambridge area, and what a magnificent sight it was!

We had a good reason to be in the area, as one of my distant American Cousins was stationed at a local Airbase, and it was our first chance to meet them. They recommended a lovely little tea shop down by the river, before showing us round…

We had a rather interesting Chocolate Imperial flavoured cup of tea at Peacocks Tearoom, which is set in a lovely Georgian Building which was originally two separate houses. Established ten years ago, the Tearoom has many different teas from around the world for you to sample, and is extremely popular, with a small queue just to get in!

We then took in the beautiful view along the banks of the Great Ouse River…

Looking North West back towards the city centre from the far side of the River, the towers of Ely Cathedral rise up above the various Georgian buildings in this part of Ely.

We had previously visited Cambridge, and taken a walk along the River Cam which flows through its centre. That eventually empties out into the Great Ouse, which then flows through Ely, and completes its 143 mile journey when it reaches “The Wash”, a large basin between the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts.

Lining the riverside are the “Jubilee Gardens”, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. One of its signature landmarks is the “Steel Eel-y” by Peter Baker, gifted to Ely by the Ely Rotary Club in 2006.

We made for the city centre, passing through the Jubilee Gardens, up to  Cherry Hill Park which runs parallel with Ely Cathedral.

It really does dominate the city, from pretty much any angle you care to look at.

We emerged out onto a road called the Gallery, exiting the park through the “Ely Porta”, also known as the Walpole Gate.

In 1083 the present Ely Cathedral was started, succeeding the original Church built by St Etheldreda (636 – 679) in 672. At this time it was an Abbey Church, although it also became a Cathedral in 1109 when it was also jointly the seat of the Bishop of Ely, covering most of modern day Cambridgeshire, and part of Norfolk.

The Abbey covered a large area, which stretched out into the gardens that surround it today. A new entrance to the Abbey complex was constructed starting in 1397, which became the Walpole Gate. It was named after Ralph Walpole, the Bishop of Ely from 1299 until 1302.

Ely Cathedral is rather unique in the UK. It has one of the longest naves out of any Church (12th century), at nearly 164 metres, as well as the stunning Octagonal Tower at the West End. In 1322, the original central Tower collapsed, and instead of simply replacing it, a new design was created. The interior was opened up, creating a vast new Lantern Gallery, atop which sat a new Octagonal Tower.

The final major part of the building work was the wooden ceiling of the Lantern Gallery by William Hurle. By 1350 the vast majority (aside from restoration work) of what we see today was complete, and the next major chapter of it’s history occurred in the 1530’s. Henry VIII instigated the reformation, abolishing the Monastery, after which it became an Anglican Parish Church, retaining Cathedral status. It remains the seat of the Bishop of Ely, as well as the Bishop of Huntingdon, his subordinate.

Lining the Southern edge of the Cathedral Yard lies the old Bishops Palace, built by the then Bishop John Alcock (1430 – 1500). Much of the building has been changed over the centuries, so that only the larger tower to the East (left) and the lower portion of the West Tower (right) are original.

In 1550 Bishop Thomas Goodrich (1494 – 1554) constructed the West Wing, and built up the remains of the West Tower to match the East. Much of the original Palace was then demolished by Bishop Benjamin Laney (1591 – 1675) who built the remainder of what we see today, during the late 1660’s and early 1670’s.

Today the building, along with the Ely Porta (now the School Library), is leased to the “King’s Ely”, an independent school which was established in 970.

The Cannon out in the Cathedral Yard was, like many others in the UK, captured by the British during the siege of Sebastopol in the 1850’s during the Crimean War. Queen Victoria herself later gifted it to the city in 1860.

Leaving the Cathedral Yard, past the cannon, we came out onto Church Lane, by two of Ely’s other notable landmarks.

To the left is the Church of St Mary’s, built by Bishop Eustace (Died 1215, also Chancellor of England in the 1190’s). The main Tower with Spire was added in the 14th century.

The Church is accompanied by a 16th Century timber-framed building, which was the home of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Lord Protector of England) between 1636 – 1647. Cromwell was born locally in the town of Huntingdon, and a statue of him stands in the Market Square in St Ives.

Today you can tour the house which has been laid out as it would have looked when Cromwell was in residence. It makes for a cracking Museum, and is certainly worth a look.

We cut through to the High Street, where there are various historic old shops along its length, most dating from the 18th/19th centuries, when modern Ely began to expand.

At the far end lies the Market Square, home to the Ely Market, held on Thursdays, Sundays and other select days of the month.

The city’s Market Charter was first granted in 1224 by King Henry III (1207 – 1272), and it’s position by the river allowed goods to be imported and exported with ease. Until the Fens were drained, Ely itself actually sat on an island within the marshes, and the area was historically known as the Isle of Ely.

Heading along Market Street from the North end of the Market Square, we passed the entrance to “High Street Passage” which runs back through to the High Street.

A lovely network of small alleys hide a plethora of independent shops, crowned by the Cathedral’s Octagonal Tower in the background.

Just beneath the tower is a small shop called “Italian Jewellery”, at Number 4. Despite it’s 16th century brick exterior, the interior is timber framed from 100 years prior.

Continuing up Market Street, we reached “The Townhouse Inn”, which is one half of a stunning 18th century brick house, converted in 1996 into a Pub. The Townhouse sits at Numbers 60-68…

…whilst across the road at Numbers 39-41  you will find the “Market Street Brasserie”. Completed in the 18th century as part of a row of cottages, it was used as a Staging Post until 1845.

A large sign was uncovered on the 1st floor which explains all. It reads:

“Lynn, Cambridge and London. Vans, Fly and Stage Waggon. To the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street. Every Day. Isaac Marsh and William Swan Proprietors.”

The company, Marsh & Sons, operated coaches out of Cambridge towards London. Some of these services originated in Norfolk, and others ran on to Downham Market and Ely, before heading to Bishopsgate in the City of London where the Bull Inn was located.

Our last stop was on the Corner of St Mary’s Street and Minster Place, opposite the Western end of the High Street, close to the Cathedral.

One of the towns most ornate buildings is the local Lloyds Bank Branch, although so far I am unable to find a date for it’s construction.

To the left lies the “Minster Tavern”, which proudly boasts on its website that it is the oldest hostelry (Inn) in the city. Again I haven’t found a date for it but I believe it was around 1817 when the pub opened. It is also supposedly haunted by a Monk from the nearby Cathedral.

Ely is a beautiful city, and remains the standout settlement in the Cambridgeshire Fens. The Cathedral is unlike no other in England, in design and scale, and is one of the most visited attractions in the area.

Ely is located just off the A10 which runs between Cambridge and King’s Lynn, as well as the Fen Railway Line which follows the same route.

Various longhaul services pass through the city, including the regular Norwich – Liverpool service via Peterborough and Manchester, as well as other trains towards Birmingham, Leicester and London.

It was time to move on, to the Cathedral City of Peterborough, a few miles away…