Whilst Westminster is London’s main political centre, with British Government departments as well as the Monarchy located there, the City of London is the original square mile that the city was founded upon, and is even run by its own corporation, separate of any other county in England. The City has some beautiful historic buildings, whilst also jointly being the most important financial institution in the world…
City of London:
Status: City of London County (historically Middlesex), City, England
Travel: London Underground (Various), Docklands Light Railway (Bank – Cutty Sark), Greater Anglia (London Liverpool Street – Chelmsford/Colchester)
Eating & Sleeping: Starbucks
Attractions: Great Fire of London Monument, Pudding Lane, Gog & Magog Statues, City of London Guildhall, 30 St Mary Axe, 122 Leadenhall Street, St Pauls Cathedral, Paternoster Square, Temple Bar Monument, Dr Johnson’s House, Royal Courts of Justice, Queen Anne Statue, Mansion House, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, All Hallows by the Tower Church, 20 Fenchurch Street, Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, St Albans Church Tower, St Lawrence Jewry, City of London Court etc
Our journey around the City began as we crossed over the boundary with Tower Hamlets at The Tower of London, and our 1st City landmark was “All Hallows by the Tower Church”, which of course refers to its location directly next to the Tower of London.
Despite having only been in the City for a few minutes, we had already stumbled upon an important part of its past, as All Hallows is the oldest surviving Church in the square mile, dating back to 675 AD. It actually predates the Tower of London itself so the Towers incorporation into its name must have been added much later.
Sadly not all of the fabric of the building is original, as the Church was almost destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the London Blitz in 1940, leaving it any empty shell, although the tower survived intact. Like many Churches and buildings throughout London it was rebuilt, and by 1957 it was ready to open its doors once more.
We set off to explore the city, heading for the Great Fire of London Monument, which affords a stunning view out across the City, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth & Southwark, from the top of the 317 step Spiral Staircase.
En route, we spotted a lovely nod back to the past, as a London AEC Routemaster, 1st designed in the 1950’s, rolled past. They have graced the capitals streets since 1956, although they were all retired in 2005, and newer buses took over their routes. The only exception is this 1, which runs on a special heritage route around the city.
What made the scene quite powerful was the brand new LT2, also known as the New Routemaster, which was following the older bus. It’s beautifully sleek design has made it a worthy successor to the originals, and who knows, in another 50 years the new routemasters may be all but extinct as well, running their own heritage route…
We soon approached the Monument to the Great Fire of London. The Fire swept through the City in 1666, destroying the vast majority of the Churches, Houses and Guildhalls that inhabited it, along with the previous incarnation of St Pauls Cathedral.
After the fire, the City was of course rebuilt, and a memorial to the Fire, which incredibly had a very low mortality rate, was planned for the new City. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723, famous English Architect), who was also given the job of rebuilding St Paul’s, created the iconic column, standing 202 ft tall. This was a deliberate height, as the Monument apparently stands exactly 202 ft away from the area of Pudding Lane where the fire began, in a local bakery. Completed in 1677 after 7 years of building work, the Monument remains the tallest isolated column in the world, and over 30 ft taller than Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square, Westminster.
The Monument also has a counterpart at the far West of the City, where the fire was eventually stopped before it could reach the City of Westminster, and the legendary Palace of Whitehall. This 2nd monument takes the form of a statue of a small golden boy, who was deliberately crafted as tubby, as “Gluttony” was blamed for the fire beginning in the 1st place. Known as the “Golden Boy of Pye Corner”, he can be found where Giltspur Street meets Cocklane in the area known as Smithfield.
You get some stunning views from this high up, and looking East along the Thames you can gaze over the outer areas of the City towards Tower Hamlets, with the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in the distance. The tallest is 1 Canada Square, an 800 ft skyscraper completed in 1991, topped by a distinctive pyramid with an aircraft warning light. When completed it assumed the title of tallest building in London, and the UK as a whole. It was a mantle it retained until 2012 when the Shard was completed, which is over 200 ft taller.
Other buildings in the complex include:
1) 8 Canada Square, HQ of the HSBC Group (direct left of 1 Canada Square) and topped out in 2000.
2) 25 Canada Square, HQ of the American Bank, Citigroup (direct right of 1 Canada Square), completed in 2001.
Also looking East, in the foreground of the 1st picture, you can see the spire of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, a former Roman Catholic Church that has its origins in 1100, with various additions over the centuries until it was almost destroyed in the Fire in 1666. The building was soon repaired, and the steeple was added in 1701. Sadly the history of this incredible Church was cut short in 1940, as aside from the main tower, and a handful of outer walls, it was destroyed by Germans bombs, and left as a ruin.
On the 2nd picture, looking at the Thames itself, you can see Tower Bridge, a large bascule bridge completed in 1894. To the right of the Bridge sits City Hall, the office of the Mayor of London (excluding the City) and the Greater London Authority since it was completed in 2002.
Looking South across the River into Southwark, the aforementioned Shard dominates the skyline, and is currently the tallest building in London, the UK, and European Union. You can visit a viewing platform near the top of the Shard, for the highest views available in the Capital. The rest of the building is a mixture of office space and flats.
In the 2nd picture, near to the left is another, much smaller skyscraper, called Strata SE1, which stands 486 ft high, compared with the Shards 1004 ft. Whilst many similar towers contain offices, this is a purely residential tower, with over 1000 residents across 400 flats on 43 floors.
In the foreground of the picture lies the square tower of Southwark Cathedral, a Church of England Cathedral dating back to the 12th century. It luckily escaped major damage during the Blitz, despite the area around it being devastated.
In the distance you can see past Westminster to a 3rd Skyscraper, the new Vauxhall Tower in Lambeth, a 594 ft tower with 223 flats spaced out over 52 floors. It is named after the area of Lambeth it inhabits, Vauxhall, and overlooks Vauxhall bridge which connects Lambeth with Chelsea. Completed in 2010, it is currently the tallest residential building in the country. At night you get a great view of the tower from Westminster Bridge, from outside the houses of Parliament.
The City of London isn’t without its own fair share of interesting and visually stunning towers, making up Londons financial district, with at least 16 towers standing higher than 328 ft (or 100 m). The Monument affords one of the best close up views of the various skyscrapers, notwithstanding the views from the towers themselves.
From left to right, you can see:
1) Tower 42 (partially out of shot): Londons 1st proper Skyscraper, designed by Richard Siefert (1910 – 2001, British Architect) for the National Westminster Bank, opening for business in 1980. NatWest moved out in 1996, and it has changed hands a number of times, although it still primarily houses office space. If you look at the building from above on Google Maps here you will see the top of the building actually mimics the logo of NatWest, with the distinctive hexagonal design.
2) Heron Tower (partially obscured, to the right of the 2 smaller office blocks): The square miles tallest building, it was topped out at its full height of 755 ft in 2011. The building is notable as its home to the highest restaurant in the UK, the Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor. The rest of the building is filled with offices, and a large aquarium down in the lobby.
3) 122 Leadenhall Street (in front of the Heron Tower): The City of London’s newest skyscraper has been nicknamed the Cheesegrater after its sloping exterior facade, and was only completed in July 2014. At 738 ft, it is the 4th tallest building in the whole of London, and the 2nd tallest in the City.
4) 30 St Mary Axe (right of 122 Leadenhall): The buildings official name of 30 St Mary Axe is rarely used, as most people instead refer to it as the Gherkin, again due to its aesthetic appearance. It is perhaps the most well known skyscraper in the city centre, becoming a recognisable image since it opened in 2004. It is 1 of the smaller towers in the area, at only 591 ft tall, but it is the most striking. The 41 floors contain a variety of offices, as well as a restaurant at the top.
5) 20 Fenchurch Street (far right): Another very recent tower, the 525 ft “Walkie-Talkie” has graced the skyline since April 2014. The top 3 floors are home to a viewing gallery and a large Sky Garden, whilst the rest of the building houses offices across the remaining 31 floors.
Looking West across the rest of the City of London you can see the imposing dome of St Pauls Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren to replace the previous Cathedral destroyed in the fire. Far in the distance, past Westminster in the Borough of Camden, the Post Office Tower cuts a solitary figure. The Tower had been the tallest building in the country until Tower 42 came along, at 581 ft high. It opened as the Post Office Tower, with large aerials on the upper floors designed to help broadcast signals around the country. The top floors were previously occupied by a souvenir shop, and a rotating restaurant, however a failed terrorist attack in 1971 resulted in the permanent closure of these.
The Tower is currently owned by BT (British Telecom), and known as the BT Tower. Across the 36th/37th floors a large display board containing over 500,000 LED’s displays information and adverts, and is even visible from as far out as Wembley Stadium.
We left the Monument, and made our way North West up King William Street to a large intersection called Bank Junction, where some of the cities most famous buildings are located, starting with the Royal Exchange, shown above.
The original Royal Exchange here was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579, Royal Financier) in 1571. It became a local centre of commerce, and it acted almost as a Corn Exchange, as it was actually goods that were changing hands, not physical money. The Great Fire destroyed the building in 1666, but it was rebuilt and ready for business within 3 years. Unfortunately this 2nd incarnation suffered the same fate as the first, as a fire broke out in 1838, destroying the building once again.
The present building was designed by William Tite (1798 – 1873, English Architect) and completed by 1844. Luckily the Germans missed the Royal Exchange during the Blitz, or the building could well have gone up in flames a 3rd time. The Exchange is now primarily a large retail space, containing restaurants and shops, which I suppose does still make it a centre of commerce.
Behind the Exchange you can see the top of 122 Leadenhall Street, and on a plinth in the centre of the junction sits a statue of the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852, Defeated Napoleon during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815), atop a horse. Between the Duke and the main entrance to the exchange sits the “London Troops War Memorial”, a memorial to soldiers from London killed in the World Wars, and flanked by large bronze soldiers.
The North boundary of the square, (with the Royal Exchange to the East) is the famous Bank of England, founded over 300 years ago in 1694, missing become the worlds oldest Central Bank by 18 years. This honour goes to the National Bank of Sweden, Sveriges Riksbank.
The Bank of England has its origins in a defeat of the English Navy by the French in 1690 (17 years before the Act of Union). With English finances in a bad state, a new corporation, the Bank of England, was formed, to look after the Government’s finances. The new Bank issued their own notes, and helped raise a staggering amount of money, enough to rebuild the Navy and kick start the economy of the newly formed United Kingdom a few years later.
The Banks original HQ was in an area known as Walbrook, just South of here, towards London Cannon Street Station. In 1734 the Bank moved to its present location, on Threadneedle Street, into what is believed to be the 1st ever purpose built Bank building in the UK. The building was expanded over the following years by numerous architects, and became 1 of the grandest in London. The most well known architect to work on this version was Sir John Soane, responsible for much of its final appearance (1753 – 1837, English Architect), whose home in Holborn is now a museum. Sadly the entire Bank was then knocked down and rebuilt by Herbert Baker (1862 – 1946) in the 1920’s, so what you see today was only finished in 1939. The new building does have a certain dominance about it, however at the time it was a very unpopular move, as it was widely thought of as 1 of London’s most impressive buildings.
Along the Southern end of the square, to the right of the Royal Exchange, stands No 1 Cornhill, which also incorporates No 82 Lombard Street. This fine Portland Stone clad building was designed by John Macvicar Anderson (1835 – 1915, Scottish Architect from Glasgow) in 1905, complete with an intricate dome on the corner, with a small clock at its base.
On the road between the Royal Exchange and No 1 Cornhill stands a statue of James Henry Greathead (1844 – 1896), a famous engineer who invented the “Travelling Shield”. The Shield allowed tunnels to be dug underneath London, forming some of the deeper levels of the tube, by stabilising the surrounding soft soil which would have otherwise collapsed.
At the South West corner of the junction sits Mansion House, shown above. The Hall was purpose built as the home of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, a post which still exists today, and sits alongside, and separate to the Mayor of London. This incredible building was completed in 1752, to the designs of George Dance (1695 – 1768, English Architect), and remains 1 of the cities most well known structures.
The office of Lord Mayor of the City of London was created in 1189, when Henry Fitz-Ailwin de Londonestone (1135 – 1212) became the 1st holder of the office. A typical term only lasts 1 year, however Henry was in office for a full 24 terms (1189 – 1212) before his time was cut short due to his death. Since the post was created, the City itself has appointed the Mayor, which actually replaced a royal representative previously in charge.
Beneath the road junction as a whole lies Bank Tube Station, which opened in 1898 as part of the Waterloo & City Railway, a short line running from London Waterloo Station South of the Thames into the City. It was renamed Bank in 1940, and is connected by pedestrian passageways to Monument station, dating back to the 1880s when it opened as Eastcheap in 1884.
Today Bank is located on the Northern & Central Lines, and it is also 1 of the two stations (both terminus stations) that make up the Waterloo & City Line direct from Waterloo to Bank. Bank is also 1 of the few places in the city centre where you can connect for the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), a large metro system which covers a large portion of Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, London City Airport and Stratford etc. The DLR opened in 1987, with new platforms at Bank completed in 1991 after the networks 1st extension, located beneath the other tube lines here.
We left the area around Bank, and headed North along Princes Street, which runs down the side of the Bank of England. We soon passed the side door into the Bank, made up of enormous iron gates each featuring a large English Lion holding a key. Further down the door other roundels feature snakes interlinked, along with a sun and a moon at the top of the door.
Princes Street eventually empties out into a road called Lothbury, and looking East we could see the Church of St Margaret’s, located directly behind the Bank of England, which takes up the entire block. There has been a Church here since the 12th century, with the present version having been built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1692, 26 years after the Great Fire of London destroyed the previous building. The tower was added 8 years later, in 1700 by Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703, English Architect).
Today the Church is sandwiched between a number of much newer buildings, including the 1 on the left, officially labelled as 6, Lothbury. Clad in Portland Stone, it was completed in 1932 by an architectural firm called Stanley Hall, Easton & Robertson, based in London.
On the way into the Guildhall Square in the heart of the city, we passed the County Court of the City of London, although the word County is excluded from the official title, making it the only County in England with this arrangement.
The Cities Court dates back centuries, and stood alongside the Mayor’s Court. Both courts were later merged together in 1921, an arrangement that would last for the next 50 years. The combined court was replaced with the arrival of the “Courts Act 1971” when the City of London was finally incorporated as a County Court District, 100 years since the rest of England bar the City had been split up into various County Court Districts for law purposes. The Act also moved all the other County Courts into a new system, although the City Court was allowed to keep its former name of “Mayor’s & City of London Court”.
The Court is housed in a fine old building at the Eastern edge of Guildhall square, which was designed by Andrew Murray and completed in 1893.
Moving into the centre of the square, we arrived at my favourite building in the whole of London, the beautiful Guildhall itself dating back to 1440, one of the few survivors of the Great Fire of London as it was built out of stone. It has been effectively the Town Hall of the City of London throughout history, and has seen a number of additions to the complex, starting with the grand main entrance at the front of the building, added in 1788.
To this day the Guildhall remains the home of the City of London Corporation, the ruling body of the city established at some point prior to 1067. Along with the new adjacent building from 1960 housing the Guildhall Library, which actually blends in really well with the Guildhall and the rest of the square, the day to day running of the city is conducted here, with official functions held inside the Guildhalls famous Great Hall.
Centuries of history was very nearly destroyed in 1940, when German Bombs caused fires that completely gutted the interior of the Guildhall, destroying the Great Hall and the statues of Gog and Magog, figurines of 2 mighty Giants. The Giants are part of a legend that tells how Brutus, a hero from Trojan Mythology and whom Great Britain is supposedly named after, defeated the Giants and chained them to a palace which stood on the site the Guildhall presently inhabits. They eventually became associated with London, as the city grew up around Brutus’s palace, and they are now known as the Guardians of the City of London, and stand watch over functions held in the stunning Great Hall.
The Hall also contains statues of Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965, British Prime Minister during World War II) and the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852, defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo). The Hall is free to visit by the public, and is certainly not to be missed if you get chance to visit the City.
Sitting directly opposite the Guildhall, enclosing the South West side of the Guildhall square is the 17th Century Church of St Lawrence Jewry, the official Church of the Mayor of the City of London. Like many of the Churches in the City, its history began many centuries ago as a local Parish Church, sometime around the 12th century, before the original Church perished in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Again like many Churches and important buildings the task of rebuilding was given to Sir Christopher Wren, and by 1677 the Church had been rebuilt, once more gracing the skyline.
During bombing raids in late 1940 the building was badly damaged and the interior severely burnt, but for the 2nd time in its history it rose from the ashes, in defiance of its Nazi attackers, and was fully restored by 1957, when it became the official Church of the City of London Corporation, and the City Mayor.
The name Jewry comes from a street between the Guildhall Square and Bank called “Old Jewry”, which became a Ghetto populated by Jews who had migrated across Europe after the Norman conquest in 1066. Whilst the Church was dedicated to St Lawrence, so were many other Churches in the city, so Jewry was added to distinguish it from the others, and it also showed its location in the city.
Leaving the Guildhall Square, we began to head for St Pauls Cathedral, heading West along Gresham Street. We took the road as far as Gutter Lane, which runs South to St Pauls itself. On the way we passed a junction with Wood Street, and spotted the old Tower of what had once been St Albans Church. Another of London’s beautiful old Churches, it’s fate was sealed in 1940 by German Bombers, and instead of rebuilding the ruins of the main body were cleared, leaving only the 92 ft Tower which had escaped intact.
Prior to WWII, its history is very similar to that of St Lawrence Jewry, dating back to at least the 10th century, dedicated to Saint Alban, who was the 1st British Christian Martyr. He was supposedly beheaded in Verulamium, which became the city of St Albans in Hertfordshire, and some remains of the Roman city still survive today. The Church was then rebuilt in 1634. The Great Fire of London destroyed the building just 30 years later, and of course it was Sir Christopher Wren who oversaw the rebuilding. I never realised just how involved he was with the rebuilding of the City of London, and he certainly deserves some recognition, another truly great Englishman.
Just round the corner, as we entered Gutter Lane, a lesser known London landmark greeted us, in the form of the “Wax Chandlers Hall”, 1 of the official Livery companies of the City of London. The company existed as far back as 1371, when they gained control of the Cities Wax Chandlers, who were responsible for making official Wax products using Beeswax, for medical use, Candles and seals etc. Out of 108 such Livery companies still in the city, Wax Chandlers sits 20th in the pecking order, in a largely ceremonial role to promote trade and sustainability for the City and elsewhere.
It is based in the impressive Hall shown above, and whilst the building may not be the original due to various factors, from the Great Fire to general disrepair, the ground on which it stands has been owned by the company for over 500 years.
We pressed on, as the dome of St Pauls Cathedral came into view, perhaps Sir Christopher Wrens greatest achievement. Join us for Part 2 as we explore the Cathedral, Paternoster Square, some of the fine Tudor Buildings that survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz, and the many Dragons that guard the entrance to the City…