The City of London is not renowned for its abundance of trees, but right in the heart of the City, just a stones throw from St Paul's cathedral on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street is a reasonably resplendent Plane tree, threatening to usurp the row of tiny shops beneath it.
It feels almost like the tiny little square was made specifically for the tree, but in fact, it was previously the site of a medieval church, St Peter Cheap, which was one of the 87 churches that burnt down during the Great Fire of London, 1666. However, it was also not one of the 51 rebuilt after the fire by Christopher Wren. Cheapside incidentally, is a medieval word for market, hence why a number of the streets leading off it, relate to produce that would have been bought and sold in the area; Bread Street, Milk Street and Poultry ... for instance.
The area where the Plane tree stands, was instead preserved as a tiny grave yard and public space and that very same tree features in a poem by William Wordsworth, called 'The Reverie of Poor Susan', inspired (allegedly) after hearing a thrush singing in its branches. If you happen to pass by, the verse in question has been handily painted on to a board for your perusal.
Funnily enough (and this has nothing to do with anything) I worked in a telephone call centre years ago with a thoroughly nice chap called John Wordsworth, a budding actor and descendant of the poet himself. If you happen to read this John, I hope you're well.
On the corner of the little row of houses I mentioned, you can perhaps see in the photo above, there is currently a shop that sells greetings cards and party masks of celebrities and Royals, but if you look carefully at the back wall, you'll find a little stone tablet, with the date 1687, which was the year the shops were built.
There are over 200 little parks, squares and churchyards within the City of London, otherwise known as the 'Square Mile'. St Peter Cheap is particularly small; just a few benches clustered around a paved area, three weathered headstones and a few trees, but all of these spaces have a story to tell and are oozing history. In fact, the railings of St Peter Cheap are the same ones they put there in the early 1700's.
We were talking about this on yesterday's walk, so thought I'd do a little post about it. As you may or may not know, the City of London was once a walled and gated city. The gates have long since disappeared, but linger on in the names of streets, areas and Underground stations like Aldgate, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate, Newgate and Ludgate. Only one of the gates still exists; Temple Bar, itself a curious later addition outside the original western most gate of Ludgate and providing a sort of sticking plaster at the point where Fleet Street meets the Strand, and a boundary between the City of London and Westminster.
First mentioned in 1293 it was very possibly nothing more than a chain strung between two posts, but by 1351, a gate had been built housing a small prison above it.
Temple Bar survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but as if they didn't have enough building to do, it was decided (largely at the insistence of King Charles II) that a new gate should be erected, courtesy of course of Sir Christopher Wren.
Temple Bar stood proudly on its spot on Fleet Street for just over 200 years and as you left the City, you'd have been looked down upon by stone carvings of King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and if you were arriving from Westminster, greeted by King Charles I and Charles II.
Eventually, due to the widening of the street and the cost of maintenance, the gate was taken down in January 1878, stone by stone, numbered and spent the next ten years lying in a yard on Farringdon Road. After a new owner was evidently not forthcoming (there's only a short list of people who need a massive gate) it was given to a London Brewer, Sir Henry Meux, who erected Temple Bar as the gatehouse to his newly acquired residence; Theobalds Park and Mansion in Hertfordshire.
The family sold the property in 1929 and subsequent owners neglected the gate until by the 1970's it was a decaying wreck.
Many people in the City of London had always hoped that one day, Temple Bar would return home and in the late 1970's, the Temple Bar Trust was formed with this objective being their sole purpose. It took 25 years, but in 2001 the current site between St Paul's cathedral and Paternoster Square was approved. It took 16 months to remove, restore and re-assemble Temple Bar, at a cost of £2.9 million.
There's a small room above the main arch, which in the 19th Century had been a ledger room for the adjacent Child's Bank on Fleet Street and during its stay in Theobalds Park, an additional dining room where Lady Meux entertained guests such as King Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill. Today, it can be hired by the public for meetings or meals, seating up to 14 people. Quite a unique experience, I think you'll agree.
So, next time you're by St Paul's cathedral and see the rather large gate forming the entrance to Paternoster Square, remember that it's had an interesting history and moved ... twice.
This weekend, the groups were small, but each one a minor delight to wander around and chat about London with.
On Saturday afternoon, I met Ben and Jess for the St Paul's to the Monument walk and almost forgot to take a photo of them, which would have been a double shame, seeing as I've just had my camera fixed after it broke on a walk a couple of weeks ago. Here they standing by the Monument, which is, as I have undoubtedly mentioned before, a Monument to the Great Fire of London, a rather horrific fire which burned down most of the medieval City of London in 1666.
I admit, that in the photo, it just looks like Ben and Jess are standing in the middle of a building site, which unfortunately, at the moment is kind of true. As with much of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, the Monument is largely the work of Christopher Wren. It stands 202 feet tall, the distance from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began. Daniel Defoe described the top of the structure as having a "handsome gilt flame like that of a candle." It also happens to be the tallest isolated stone column in the world, and as such, for the small fee of £3, you can climb the 311 steps to a public viewing gallery, and enjoy a rather splendid view of London.
There was no snow this Sunday for the My neck of the Woods east end walk, and I was joined by Mandy, Richey and Dylan. Mandy, who was on her second Bowl Of Chalk walk, writes a blog called 'emm in London' which is well worth a read anyway, but last year, she wrote a rather nice and detailed account of the Saturday afternoon walk she did with me entitled '9 Things I learned on a Bowl Of Chalk'.
Here they are standing in front of one of street artist Stik's large scale stick figures. You'll find this particular one on Great Eastern Street. Mandy is quite a fan of the various street artists whose work you find daubed around the walls and buildings of east London, and if memory serves me correctly, Stik is her fourth favourite. Might be wrong about that though.
Shortly after this, Dylan spotted a quite incredible bike, locked to a lamp post, which was so big (the bike, not the lamp post) that at first I didn't even notice it was a bike. I'm now quite intrigued to see the person who owns it, riding it around London.
Anyway, at the end of the walk, Richey suggested going for a curry at one of his favourite curry houses on Brick Lane ... so we did.
Most surprised - Jess
Best moustache - No winners
Best beard - Richey
Most American - Dylan
Most amount of flat caps on one walk - Sunday
Veteran Bowl Of Chalker - Mandy
Most 'Avid' - Ben
Libby, who came on the first 'My neck of the Woods' Sunday east end walk of 2013, sent me a few photos she took along the way, so I thought I'd share them here. This was the whole group at the end of the walk, by Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christchurch in Spitalfields.
So, the first one, is a rare photo of ... me, perusing one of street artist Ben Wilson's tiny bits of chewing gum art, which as it might suggest, are tiny paintings on bits of chewing gum, stuck to the pavement.
This next one was taken in Bunhill Fields Cemetery, with the buildings of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in the background. Despite being right on the cusp of the City, there's 6 acres of open space behind there, which once (as you might have guessed) was an artillery ground back when people were still using bows and arrows, but is now more commonly used as a cricket pitch. The HAC also have the distinction of being the oldest Regiment in the British Army.
The photo below shows an old bank, which a few years ago was a bar / gig venue / art space and much more, partly set up by Bill Drummond of KLF fame, called The Foundry. It's since been closed down and is awaiting development ... no doubt in to a swanky hotel. You can see work by street artists Cityzen Kane, Roa, Eine and Phlegm.
The next photo I really like, and if I had my arty farty hat on might feel inclined to say that it's a wonderful juxtaposition between the block of flats in the background and Sweet Toof and co's sideways clown in the foreground.
Onwards to Columbia Road Flower Market, where of course you are guaranteed to find another strange juxtaposition, which is rather burly Essex blokes shouting about how cheap their pansies are.
And ... if you look carefully, delicate little paper cut outs and their respective shadows painted on to the pavement, the work of Mexican artist Pablo Delgado.
Although pretty newish, that particular one is already quite weathered. It originally depicted a lamp post, from which the light is falling.
So, last but not least, Lucy and Jamie who accompanied Libby on the walk and although Jamie started empty handed, acquired a small olive tree along the way ... as you do.
So thanks very much to Libby for sending her photos. It's always great to see what people have snapped along the way.
I was incredibly impressed that people actually bothered or were able to turn up this weekend, what with all the snow and general coldness. Top marks for effort everyone.
On Saturday morning, I met Mackenzie, Wendy, Erica and April for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Just to give you an idea of the temperature, or lack of it, the fountains in Trafalgar Square looked like this:
Here are the group, standing in front of the statue of George Washington, which is situated outside the National Gallery (the building you can see above). Seeing as they were a group of American's, and George Washington was the first President of the United States, it seemed an appropriate place to take the photo.
There's a nice little story about that statue, which is that Washington apparently said that he never wanted to set foot in London again, so when the statue was given as a gift in 1921 by the people of Virginia, they sent over a load of American soil with it to be laid underneath, so that he never would. A bit cheeky perhaps.
On Sunday it snowed non stop for the entire My neck of the Woods walk, but Zuzana, Guglielmo and Mary still valiantly turned up to wander around the east end, Mary (from the USA) incidentally, was on her second Bowl Of Chalk, after coming on one last year. It was my first ever walk in the snow, so was interesting to see how everything looked under a blanket of white. Here they are at Arnold Circus, the first council estate in England, completed in 1896 and featured not long ago, in a BBC2 series called The Secret History of Our Streets.
Here are a few other snowy scenes we saw along the way.
Not surprisingly, Columbia Road Flower Market was pretty sparse but it at least meant that Mary and the other two were able to have a good look around the many independent shops that line the road and are pretty much only open on Sundays. Incidentally, the pub you can see there in the photo, The Royal Oak has featured in a few TV shows and films, including 'Goodnight Sweetheart' (with Nicholas Lyndhurst, best know for playing Rodney Trotter in 'Only Fools and Horses') and Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'.
Many of the houses in the area of Spitalfields where I took the above photo were built in the early 1700's to house the influx of French Huguenots who had settled in the area in the 17th Century. Also, whilst I'm thinking about it, there's a great blog called 'Spitalfields Life' written by The Gentle Author who has set himself (or herself?) the challenge of writing 10,000 stories about the area, the fascinating characters that live there, shops, customs, history and much more. The project should be completed in the year 2037, but one volume has already been published as a book. It's well worth having a read if you are of even a mildly curious disposition.
Most Italian - Guglielmo
Most likely to be celebrating her 40th birthday - Wendy
Best moustache - No winners
Best named person to meet in Old Street - Mary Young
Most bobbly hat - Zuzana
On Saturday morning I was joined by Liz and John for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Here they are standing outside Apothecaries' Hall, situated in the precinct of the former priory of the Black Friars in the City, from which the nearby bridge and station get their name.
It's got a lovely courtyard and is the oldest existing livery company Hall in the City, which despite a major refurbishment in the 18th Century, retains a number of rooms and features (including a rather grand staircase) from when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire between 1668 - 1670.
For Sunday's walk around the east end I met Martin and Wendy who run a hotel in north Devon called The Rocks Hotel in Woolacombe, so if you fancy a visit to the area, why not look them up. Joining them was William, Caroline, Emmett, Lucian (all based in Hackney) and Elodie visiting from Germany. Just before I met them, I spotted one of street artist Christiaan Nagel's mushrooms on top of the Shoreditch Grind cafe next to Old Street roundabout. Not sure how long it's been there for because sometimes these things have been around for ages, then one day you suddenly notice them. Anyway ... if you live in or have visited east London, you'll be familiar with the colourful mushrooms that adorn rooftops and walls and are apparently made out of a mixture of polyurthane (a sort of expandable foam), fiber glass and stainless steel.
Anyway, we had a wander around Old Street, Hoxton and Shoreditch and here are the group just by Hoxton Square.
Most likely to have an MBE - John
Keenest spotter of padlocks and buses - Emmett
Most German - Caroline & Elodie
Youngest - Lucian
Best moustache - No winners (although John did have some facial hair)
Had the same P.E teacher as me at school (weirdly) - Martin
After a brief Christmas break, it was great to get back in to the metaphorical saddle and kick off the new year with a Sunday walk around the east end with a nice healthy sized group of nine. Simon and Sue had come along after a recommendation from someone who came on two walks last year, Fiona and her family were visiting London for the weekend and 'found me' just that morning after utilising the interweb powers of her new iPhone and Libby and her two friends Lucy and Jamie, had made a New Year's resolution to discover London a bit more in 2013.
Here they all are outside Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christchurch in Spitalfields, and as you can probably tell, we stopped off at Columbia Road flower market on the way. Jamie didn't carry that olive tree for the entire walk.
Just before Christmas, I did a couple of private walks. The first was for Pauline, Anthony, Charlotte and John Harvey who were visiting London on a pre-Christmas trip. They were staying on Seething Lane, which if anyone interested in 17th Century London will know was home to Samuel Pepys, well know diarist, gossip and (wanna be) ladies man.
Here they are standing in the beautiful Leadenhall Market, a late Victorian structure, built by Horace Jones and is a little bit like stepping back in time to an old 19th Century street ... which is probably why it's been used as a back drop to numerous period films.
The final walk of 2012 was an all day extravaganza with a family from the USA that took in Victoria, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and we finished at St Katherine Docks next to the Tower of London. We even took a ride on one of the old route master buses via Fleet Street and St Paul's cathedral, as one of the boys was keen to sit on the top deck of an old bus.
If you're visiting the Tower, it's well worth wandering through Dead Man's Hole (if you dare) and taking a look at the dock as it's a bit of an oasis that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find there. You'll also find the Dickens Inn (where I took the below photo) one of the few pubs in London that Charles Dickens didn't supposedly drink, although it was formally opened in 1976 by one of the author's great grandsons, Cedric Charles Dickens.
Most interested in Louis Vuitton - John Harvey
Members of one family with names beginning with 'R' - Roy, Riannon & Rowan
Best moustache - No winners
Most helpful when official BOC photographer's camera broke - Simon
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.