The experience of walking along a busy, bustling and noisy Fleet Street and stepping through an innocuous gate in to the quiet, calming courtyards and lanes of Temple, is (I think at least) ... rather magical. If you spend some time exploring this area, you'll find many fascinating historical trinkets but before long you'll find yourself standing in front of the 12th century Temple Church.
The church was originally built by and belonged to the Knights Templar, a monastic order of Knights that became one of the wealthiest and most powerful orders in Christendom; a fact that ultimately proved to be their undoing. The Round Church, modelled on the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (considered the site of Christ's death, burial and rising) came first, consecrated in 1185, whilst the rectangular Chancel or 'Hall Church' came in to use in about 1240. The Chapel once formed part of a much larger compound that comprised of halls, cloisters, domestic buildings, butteries and a kitchen. The whole ensemble sat conveniently next to the medieval waterfront, as at that time, the Thames invaded inland rather more than it does today.
On a date in 1307, which is now forever associated as a day of ill fortune (Friday 13th October) the mighty Templars were finally toppled on the orders of King Philip the Fair of France. The accusations of blasphemy and heresy brought against the Templars are generally considered to be a convenient excuse for King Philip to seize the order's vast wealth and treasures, so as to pay off his own substantial debts. Either way, it marked the end for the Knights Templar, and the church was passed to the Knights Hospitallers, an order which still survives today in the form of St John Ambulance. They in turn had the land confiscated by Henry VIII during the Reformation and the church and surrounding area reverted to the Crown. For centuries now, the area nestling between Fleet Street and the Thames has accommodated the legal profession, housing two of the four Inns of Court in London; Inner Temple and Middle Temple. In the early 17th century, James I formally granted the area to 'those studying and following the profession of the laws' and even today, as part of the same arrangement, the two Inns are responsible for maintaining the church and ensuring that its priest, the Master of the Temple has a splendid mansion to live in.
The church survived largely unscathed during the Great Fire of London, but almost inevitably, succumbed to German incendiary bombs during the Blitz. On the 10th May 1941, Temple Church was struck during an attack and badly damaged. It was to be seventeen years before it was fully repaired, and despite this it is amazing to think, that aside from the pews, a few Victorian alterations and the post WWII stained glass windows, the church is much as it would have looked to the Knights Templar all those centuries ago. If you're familiar with your William Shakespeare, then there is a scene in the play 'Henry VI, part 1' which takes place in the church garden; the plucking of two roses, one red and one white, representing the War of the Roses.
More recently, the Temple Church has seen a bit of a renaissance in the interests of tourists visiting London (and perhaps why they began charging a modest fee to enter) which can probably be attributed to a visit from Tom Hanks whilst filming the film version of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code'. Either way, it's a beautiful area, an incredible church and is one of those places that often, people who have lived in London for many years don't even know exists.
The City of London, the area in the heart of London, known as the 'square mile' has about 200 gardens, churchyards and open spaces for you to enjoy, and on a day like today (it's actually sunny) they make great little quiet enclaves away from the hustle and bustle of City life. St Mary Aldermanbury garden is one such miniature haven you might like to visit, just a short walk down Wood Lane from St Peter Cheap and just a few seconds from the Clockmakers' Museum.
Both the name, and the layout of the garden still evoke the church that once stood on the site. It was burned during the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and again succumbed to bombing during the Blitz in 1940, leaving only the outer walls remaining. It languished in this state of disrepair until 1966, when it was taken down brick by brick and re-erected in a place called Fulton. If you haven't heard of Fulton, then you might be surprised to learn, that it's actually in Missouri, USA. the church is still there today, and stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech he made at the college there, Westminster College, in 1946.
Back to London, and you may also be forgiven for wondering why a bust of William Shakespeare presides over the garden, so far from his regular stomping grounds of Bankside or Shoreditch, but it serves as a memorial to the two actors, Henry Condell and John Heminge (there are various spellings of his surname), who after Shakespeare's death in 1616 were instrumental in collating and printing what became the first folio of Shakespeare's works. Both men lived in the parish and were buried at the church.
So, if you're in the vicinity today, what a pleasant place to sit and have your lunch whilst contemplating your strange connection with the USA and a playwright who celebrated his 449th birthday yesterday.
If you've ever been down (or up) Clerkenwell Road, you would have passed a big gate way just up the hill from Farringdon Road, and if you'd spied it, would have probably thought 'Jeepers ... that looks like it's straight out of a film set ... of a period film of some sort ... like a film that's set ages ago, maybe one that Cate Blanchett's in.' You would be quite correct in this assumption, because it's been there since 1504 and for me is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaphorical iceberg is formed of the rich history of the area that has so many stories, so many facets and such a wide reach spanning centuries, that to write about it here would do it an injustice. Instead, I shall furnish you with a few bits of information and leave it up to you whether you visit or not. Oh yes, the gate is called St John's Gate and looks like this.
So, in an unsatisfactory nutshell ... up until the point when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and began taking away land that belonged to them (often referred to as the Dissolution of the monasteries) much of London (and the rest of the country for that matter) was dotted with huge swathes of land that belonged to various monastic orders. The area around Clerkenwell belonged to the Order of St John, the Hospitallers, whose origins date back to the late 11th century in a role caring for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. The gate I just mentioned was a later addition, which lead in to a Priory that included a couple of large halls, dormitories, buttery, refectory, counting house, kitchen, stables, orchards, gardens, fish ponds and unusually for a monastic precinct, an armoury (those pilgrimages often got violent). After the Dissolution, I think Henry VIII used the Priory as a store house before giving it to his daughter Mary, who used it as a private palace.
The Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers, had an unexpected renaissance in the 19th century, when it became apparent that there was little or no provision for the aid of injured people in civilian life, particularly those succumbing to fatal injuries in the work place, at public events or indeed at home. For this reason, in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association was founded, continuing the same ethos that the original order begun, all those centuries earlier. As you know, St John Ambulance still very much exists today, continuing to carry out what the Victorian's called rather aptly 'Ambulance Crusades'.
You can uncover this fascinating history over two sites. St John's Gate houses a museum (free to enter, and free to exit) detailing all of this stuff, and if you cross over the road you will find hiding beneath the facade of a reasonably modern building, the 12th century Priory crypt, one of London's few remaining Norman structures along with another small museum, garden and church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in WWII.
Also, just as an aside, William Hogarth (well known pictorial chronicler of debauched 18th century London) lived for 5 years in the east tower of St John's Gate, as his father ran a coffee shop there. Samuel Johnson wrote parliamentary reports there long before anyone approached him with the idea of compiling a dictionary, Charles Dickens visited the Jerusalem Tavern which popped up there in 1760 (of course he did) and the west tower currently houses one of the few remaining Tudor spiral staircases in England (although you can only see this if you join one of their tours at 11am or 2.30pm on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays). Also, if that's not enough name dropping, in the 16th century, the Priory housed the office of the Master of Revels (which sounds like a pretty cool job) responsible for licensing and organising all court entertainments and plays, and 30 of William Shakespeare's plays were licensed there.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (10am - 5pm), so if you're in the area or work nearby then why not pop in.
On Sunday, I had just started the walk with Sarah, Tim and Sue and also Christina and Dave (who came on one of my first ever Saturday morning walks just over a year ago) when we were approached by four others searching for another guided walk, a company who describe themselves as the 'first and best' in London. Well, all I can say is that their loss is my gain, because Dennis and Ann from Canada, Gretchen from Los Angeles and John from Kent joined us and I really enjoyed the walk around the east end.
Here they all are in Hoxton Square. The building behind them is currently occupied by bluu, (one of the many bars in the area) on the site of the home of James Parkinson (1755 - 1824), who aside from a career in medicine was variously a geologist, paleontologist and political activist. He wrote an essay on what he referred to as the 'shaking palsy' and is now more commonly known as 'Parkinson's Disease'. It was his tumultuous political career and activism that lead him to being arrested and questioned about a plot to assassinate King George III (often referred to as 'the mad King'), know as the 'pop gun' plot as it seems the plan had been to use a pop gun to fire a poison dart at the King, thus ending his reign.
Gretchen was keen to see the site of 'The Theatre', so called because, in 1576 it was the first purpose built playhouse in London. The troop who occupied it were called the 'Lord Chamberlain's Men' of which a certain William Shakespeare became an integral member. I know I've mentioned this before, but basically it was the same theatre that in 1599 opened on Bankside as The Globe. They dismantled it and took it over the Thames due to an ongoing feud with the landlord who wanted to get rid of them, but as they owned the building (but not the land) they removed it. Gretchen told us an interesting little snippet of information as to why they were keen to maintain the fabric of the building, which was that the price of oak had soared due to ship building requirements necessary to repel the Spanish Armada. There were two Elizabethan theatres in the vicinity, the other, was The Curtain. Now Great Eastern Street and Old Street are connected by Curtain Road, which during the Victorian period was the hub of the furniture industry and looked like this ...
And now looks a bit like this ...
Sorry, I got distracted. The reason Gretchen was keen to visit the former site of The Theatre, was because she happens to be an author of children's books and has written a book entitled 'All The World's A Stage - A Novel in Five Acts' about a young boy called Kit who as an orphan gets embroiled in to a life of crime at the very same theatre, but gets caught up by the drama on stage and the whole dismantling of the theatre I just mentioned, as well as rubbing shoulders with William Shakespeare himself. You can even watch a nice little trailer for it, if you feel inclined.
Most likely to run 10 miles home - Tim
Best hat - (joint winners) Sarah & Gretchen
Best moustache - No winners
Bowl Of Chalk veterans - Christina & Dave
Most Canadian - Dennis & Ann
Image of Curtain Road courtesy of Hackney Archives Department
All three London walks took place this weekend, albeit with varying amounts of people, beginning with just one person, Luciana from Argentina, who came on the Trafalgar Square to St Paul's walk on Saturday morning. Here she is outside Twinings Tea Shop, where we stopped for a cuppa.
Twinings have been operating from the same premises on the Strand since 1706, when Thomas Twining opened Britain's first tea room. Twinings also hold the distinction of holding a Royal Warrant (which you can see just above the door), which basically means they provide tea for HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and also lay claim to having the world's oldest continually used logo.
Next up was the St Paul's to the Monument walk and I was joined by two young French men, Anthony and Mickael spending a year over here to improve their English. It seems to have worked, as their English was 'Superbon, fantastique et tres, tres, tres bien'. Here they are (and me actually for once) standing beneath the Monument, a monument (not surprisingly) to the Great Fire of London. If you come on one of my walks, I'll probably talk about this particular fire quite a bit. It happened in 1666 and in just four days burnt down most of the City of London. The idea is that the Monument stands 202 feet tall, exactly 202 feet to the west of what at the time of the fire was a bakery on the now infamous Pudding Lane, where the fire started.
Today was the east London 'my neck of the woods' walk and I was joined by Maddi and Kim from Australia, Mike, Susan, Kahlee and John from the USA and Brynn from Stoke. The Sunday walk is a mixture of history and street art, and right at the beginning, noticed that Street artist Eine's CHANGE mural on Old Street is in the process of being ... well ... changed. I haven't been able to confirm it, but it looks like Eine himself is doing it. It seems to be half finished and still masking tape all over it. It currently looks like this ...
Here are the group standing outside the Foxtons Estate Agents on Curtain Road. You may wonder why I chose to take a photo of them there, but back in 1577 a building was built on that very site, and was the first in London to be devoted to the performance of plays. It was called The Theatre and was run by a group called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. They moved The Theatre in 1598 over the Thames to Bankside and re-opened it the following year re-naming it 'The Globe'. The Lord Chamberlain's Men employed a young man who arrived in Shoreditch from Straford-Upon-Avon as an actor and playwright. You might have heard of him. He was called William Shakespeare.
So, there we have it. Another weekend of walks. Thanks as ever to everyone who came and made it so enjoyable.
Most Australian - Maddi & Kim
Best Moustache - Mike
The only English person all weekend - Brynn
Looking after English peoples kids award - Luciana, Anthony & Mickael
Most American - Everyone else (inc. Mike)
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.