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.

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