Monday, 3 February 2014

City of London East (Tower to Monument)

The Tower of London

I was in London to meet up with a friend for a drink and I decided to do another walk from Stephen Millar's wonderful London's Hidden Walks beforehand. This one is from vol 2. As ever, I will just comment on the things that most interested me.

You start out at Tower Hill and of course are immediately confronted with a view of the Tower. I crossed the road to get this pleasing side view (above). Back on the same side as the tube station is Trinity Square Gardens, where there is a monument by Lutyens to merchant seamen killed in the both World Wars. In earlier times the site was a place of public execution.

Across the road again to the church of All Hallows by the Tower, which has claims to be London's oldest church, being founded in 675. it was badly damaged during the war, with only the 18th century tower and the walls left standing. The tip of the Shard can be seen in the background.

Now up Seething Lane and past the chilling entrance to the former graveyard of St Olaf's church.

From here you follow Crutched Friars, named for a monastic order who founded a monastery here in 1249 and into Jewry St, indicative of the medieval ghetto.

At the top there is the 18th century church St Botolph's Aldgate (once Old Gate, one of the six gates to the Roman city). The interesting construction in the foreground is "A palace on pillars"designed by Stuart Weave to mark the precise location of the gate and the start of a route to the 2012 London Olympics.

Heading west, you are soon presented with a fine view of the Gherkin.

And shortly you emerge into Bevis Marks, where you will find the oldest synagogue in the country, founded in 1701.

It looks rather like some of the Wren churches built around the same time, but the synagogue's website says that it was principally influenced by the design of its mother synagogue: the Spanish and Portugese Great Synagogue of Amsterdam, built in 1674.

At the end of Bevis Marks you turn right into Bishopsgate and left past the church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate to encounter this remarkable structure, now a pub.

It dates from 1895 and was originally a Turkish bath. I have walked past here many times and wondered what its story was. Now I know.

The route then passes Drapers Hall, the headquarters of that Livery Company. It is a large building in a narrow street  and so hard to photograph, but I have done my best.

The Drapers, along with other Livery Companies played an important part in the provision of almshouses in London and I saw a wonderful group of Drapers Almshouses in Bruce Grove only a couple of weeks ago.

I was surprised to discover from a plaque on the wall that this was the site of Thomas Cromwell's house Austin Friars, so vividly brought to life in Hilary Mantel's novels. Cromwell's property was confiscated by Henry VIII on his execution in 1540 and his mansion was sold to the Drapers in 1543. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire and again after a further fire in 1772.

Now briefly back to rejoin Bishopsgate and turn right into Great St Helen's, where the twin-naved church of St Helen's Bishopsgate is dwarfed by the Gherkin.

Passing the church you soon arrive at another famous modern building, Richard Rogers's Lloyd's Building, which actually dates back to 1986. It is still extremely striking and futuristic.

Perhaps every site in London has a story. This was once the home of the East India Company, whose role in the Opium trade, and subsequent wars, I have recently been reading about in Amitav Ghosh's wonderful books The sea of poppies and The river of smoke.

Round the corner lies Leadenhall Market, originally founded in 1445, but now housed in a splendid structure of 1881.

From here I found my way past through a warren of city bars and restaurants to Lombard and then the Bank of England. Nearby is Wren's wonderful church of St Stephen Walbrook, with its lovely dome and surprisingly spacious interior.

Down to Cannon St and into King William IV St, heading for the Monument. At the junction of the two a future London landmark can be seen to be nearing completion: it's the Walkie Talkie being built on Fenchurch St.

The Monument was built in 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire and was designed by Wren and Robert Hooke. Hooke is well known as a scientist, but he was apparently also surveyor to the City of London and an architect, although few of his buildings survive.

From the top of the 300 steps there was a great view east towards Tower Bridge ...

... and south towards the ubiquitous Shard.

A rapid descent of the 300-step spiral staircase left me quite dizzy and I decided to call it a day, rather than return to Tower Hill.

Conditions: bright but cold.

Distance: 3.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. A wonderful mix of ancient and modern.

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