The other evening, I was driving around Sydenham in south east London, and took a wrong turning. I pulled in to an access point which opened in to what looked like a small estate of modest 1970s housing so I could reverse out. In front of me, quite incongruously was what looked like a large stone monument, so obviously I got out for a closer look.
It turned out to be the spire of a long gone church that once stood in the City of London and had been built by none other than Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is a name that pops up regularly on my walks. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, 87 churches were destroyed within the City of London, a small area, known today as ‘the square mile’. Wren, professor of astronomy at Oxford university at the time was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of 51 of these churches; his most famous being St Paul’s cathedral, where he is also buried. Another famous spire of his is that of St Bride's church, said to have inspired the modern day wedding cake, which we pass on my regular Saturday morning 'pay what you want' London walking tour.
A few of these churches were demolished during the Victorian period, and most of the remainder were destroyed during the bombing of WW2, although a large number were restored. So how did the spire of one of Wren’s City churches end up in the middle of a housing estate in Sydenham?
The spire once belonged to a church called St Antholin’s which was completed in 1682 and stood on Budge Row, a street that no longer exists, just off Watling Street. It’s where the current New Change shopping centre now stands, literally a stone’s throw from St Paul’s cathedral. The spire was apparently damaged in 1829 and bought for £5 by a guy called Robert Harrild who had made his fortune by inventing a new bit of machinery used in the Fleet Street printing presses. He had the spire transported to his manor house, Round Hill House, in Sydenham and re-erected in his garden.
St Antholin’s church was demolished in 1875, and in the 1930s, Robert Harrild’s house became a social club, until it too was demolished in the 1960s. A housing estate was built on the site, but somehow Wren’s spire seems to have stayed where it was. Up until three years ago the spire was in a pretty dilapidated state, but has been restored by the Heritage of London Trust and the L&Q Housing Association.
Last week was the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London of 1666, a cataclysmic event in London’s history in which the medieval City of London, captured by the top notch Czech drawer and etcher, Wenceslaus Hollar in his ‘Panorama of London’ just 19 years earlier … was lost. Just under 14,000 homes were burned to the ground, along with 87 churches, including the gothic monster that was Old St Paul’s cathedral.
The occasion has been marked by a number of events, including a ceremonial burning of a wooden model replica of the old City on the Thames, the centre piece of a ‘London’s Burning’ weekend created by the creative company Artichoke. The Museum of London have a ‘Fire Fire’ exhibition which will be open until April 2017. A plethora of other exhibitions, talks, concerts and walks are happening throughout the City over the coming months, all of which are listed on the Visit London #GreatFire350 website.
When I first started learning stuff about London (in my early days of being a tour guide), there was something about the Great Fire that caught my imagination more than any other period or event. One of the things I very quickly discovered, learning about history, is that we never seem to actually learn anything. History certainly does seem to repeat itself, and the more I read about the Great Fire, the more connections I saw with the present day, many of which are (unfortunately, in my view) glossed over. Perhaps this is why we fail to learn. One of the main aspects of the fire that intrigued me, was not the immense destruction caused, but the reaction of Londoners, which manifested itself in xenophobic attacks; that omnipresent need to blame foreigners, those that ‘don’t belong’. Although today, kids are taught that the fire was an accident, their 17th century ancestors, had a very different view. As far as they were concerned, the Great Fire was a terrorist attack. I have read horrendous accounts of foreigners being bludgeoned to death in the street or hung up on make shift gallows and murdered, whilst the fire was raging. The first thing that the King, Charles II did upon entering the City to take control, was to arrest and imprison foreigners, to save them from the angry mobs. The Monument, which has stood since the 1670s, close to where the fire started on Pudding Lane, commemorating The Great Fire, is adorned with Latin inscriptions around the base. On the north side, the inscription detailing the aftermath and rebuilding of the City had a line removed in 1830, a line, which in itself was incendiary. In English it read “But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched” … or the nutter Catholics did this and we still haven’t sorted them out. Londoners in 1666 had good reason to suspect foul play, in fact, they’d be waiting for a revenge attack after an admiral in the English Navy called Robert Holmes, had just, a few weeks earlier, committed an absolutely unnecessary atrocity on Dutch soil, known as ‘Holmes’s Bonfire’, an act which Londoners had just been celebrating.
The Great Fire occurred also in a fascinating period of English history, just six years after the restoration of the ‘Merrie Monarch’ (after twelve years of being a Republic), one year after the Great Plague, whilst we were embroiled in war with the Dutch and were, as a country, financially crippled. All of this was well documented obviously by our very own diarist, philanderer and cheese burier, Samuel Pepys. A book entitled ‘1666: Plague, War & Hellfire’ by a young historian called Rebecca Rideal has just been published, examining this whole period of London’s tumultuous history. Had this book existed 8 years ago, I’m sure I would have found it an incredibly useful source of research, as it was about that time that I began writing a novel set in the days leading up to and during The Great Fire of London.
The novel, ‘Sixteen Sixty-Six’ begins a few days before the fire breaks out, plunging a number of characters in to the midst of it. I began initially to try and write the idea as a film script, but very quickly realised that it wasn’t enough; I didn’t just want to write dialogue with brief descriptions like “He rows across the river”, “They walk down the street”. I wanted to know what the City smelt like, how it sounded, how it looked, what they wore, what they ate, what it tasted like and much more. Once I made the decision to turn my idea in to a novel, I realised I was creating a world of pain, and about 5 years later I finished it (that was two years ago).
The same xenophobic concerns and prejudices that permeated society in 1666 are very much still swirling around today, as illustrated by the recent EU Referendum ‘Brexit’ vote in June, and its aftermath and the rhetoric of Donald Trump in the States. The Great Fire of 1666 also opened the flood gates for violence and crime, after the thin veneer of law and order had been broken. I had actually already started writing Sixteen Sixty-Six in 2011 when the ‘London Riots’ broke out in various hot spots around the capital. At the time I was living very close to one of the affected areas in Hackney and realised that the behaviour I was seeing was exactly the same way Londoners behaved during those few days in September 1666. It was quite illuminating. This aspect of the Great Fire is just one piece in a much larger puzzle that forms ‘Sixteen Sixty-Six’, but certainly something I explore.
I have added a page to the website called 'Writing' where you can find a synopsis of Sixteen Sixty-Six. Maybe it’s rubbish, perhaps I’ve wasted 7 years of my life. Who knows … but if you think it is something you might like to read, have a Kindle or some kind of e-reading device then it is available to download through Amazon.
Last week I showed a young guy from Singapore around London. We spent the whole day together and in the afternoon, found ourselves by The Monument, just north of London Bridge. It'd been years since I'd traipsed up the 311 steps to the viewing platform, 160 feet (48.7 metres) above ground. Yong Hao, who I was with was incredibly keen to go up, so we paid our £3 (he very kindly paid for me) and began our ascent. It dawned on me, that I'd never written specifically about The Monument, so am rectifying that now.
Monuments in general are usually erected to commemorate specific events, so they naturally form part of a much larger picture than just the stone that was used to make it, or the architects whose vision it was. The Monument I suppose is reasonably intriguing in this respect as its very being manages to encapsulate the essence of modern London, and is completely entwined with so many facets of the City's history and the people responsible for both its destruction and its rebuilding. For starters, it's simply called 'The Monument' ... which would indicate that any other monument anywhere must surely pale in to insignificance. As people who have been on my walks can testify, I can talk about the Great Fire of London for hours. I don't though, because that would be incredibly tedious, but suffice to say it is a fascinating, remarkable and catastrophic period of London's history. As ever, to do it justice here would be entirely inadequate (which is why there are entire books on the subject) so I shall give you a light dusting, a sprinkling of information about The Monument, which if you didn't already know, commemorates, the Great Fire of London, which in the 17th century, burned and destroyed the vast majority of the medieval (and largely wooden) City of London.
The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house on Pudding Lane belonging to a guy called Thomas Farriner (or Farynor). It began in the early hours of the 2nd September 1666 and as you can imagine, got pretty out of hand. So much, so than in about four days it had burned down approximately 14,000 homes, 87 churches and about 100,000 people were forced to flee the City. That is an incredibly abridged version of events that makes no mention of the political climate, the wind, the preceding hot summer, the plague year of 1665, the inept Mayor Thomas Bludworth or the fact that instead of trying to put out the fire, many Londoner's ran around in mobs murdering foreigners. The wooden City was turned to ash, and from those ashes a new City was built, this time out of stone and brick (a good idea) largely by Christopher Wren (Surveyor General to King Charles II) and his right hand man, Robert Hooke. If you haven't heard of Hooke, then the name Wren might be familiar, as he rebuilt 51 of the City churches, including St Paul's cathedral ... which had also succumbed to the fire.
One of the churches that was not rebuilt was called St Margaret on Fish Street Hill, but on the site where it had stood, it was decided to build a monument to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It was finished by Wren and Hooke in 1677, and is the same one, myself and Yong Hao climbed just last week. At a total of 202ft (61 metres) tall, The Monument is the largest free standing stone column in the world, and the idea apparently is that if it were to fall to the east (which hopefully it won't) the top would reach the spot where the fire began. If you're not claustrophobic, scared of heights or unable to climb all those steps, then the viewing platform (for a very small fee) gives you really great 360 degree views across London.
The pictures above from left to right show the Thames and Tower Bridge (unfortunately the Tower itself has recently disappeared behind a new building development), the Shard just south of the river, the view to the west, which includes the dome of St Paul's cathedral, and in the distance, the BT Tower (originally Post Office Tower), the first building in London to be taller than St Paul's. Finally, the view north is dominated by a cluster of the City's newer additions, which continue to develop.
As you're either going up or coming down the staircase, keep an eye out for bits of graffiti, which are still carved in the walls. The one on the photo below was evidently etched in to the wall in 1770, just 20 years after the picture you can see at the top of the page was made. I should mention that when you reach the bottom, you are handed a certificate to verify that you have indeed just ascended and descended all 311 steps, and the drawing forms the front and is reproduced courtesy of Guildhall Library.
On final point I will mention is that when you exit, turn to your left, have a look at the inscription on the north facing part of the base. There is a latin inscription, which details the rebuilding of the City after the fire. If like me you can't read latin, then don't worry because all of the inscriptions have an English translation. At the bottom you'll discover that in 1830 a line was deleted. It said "But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched" which in my own layman's terms can be read as "The Catholic's did this and we still haven't sorted them out".
On this note, I'll end my very brief post about The Monument and the Fire of London by mentioning that today we are generally told that the Great Fire of 1666 was an accident, but at the time (and for a long time after) it was anything but ... it was considered to be a terrorist attack. Very often, history has a habit of teaching us that in the grand scheme of things ... very little has changed.
Many churches in London are affiliated to particular groups of people or associations, like St Paul's in Covent Garden (the actor's church), or St Bride's on Fleet Street (the journalist's church). The church of St Clement Danes which stands alone on a little island close to where the Strand and Fleet Street collide is known as the RAF church. It is the Central Church to the Royal Air Force.
You'll often find that churches occupy sites that have had religious significance for centuries and in this respect, St Clement Danes is no different. There's been a church on the plot since the 10th century. It is often muted that Danish settlers first commandeered the area as an explanation for the 'Dane' in the name. However, although there have been a number of differing suggestions for the title, I'm not sure any have been proved definitive. It seems most are speculation.
Although the church survived the Fire of London (1666), Christopher Wren (as if he didn't have enough to do) built a new one because it was a bit dilapidated, with James Gibb adding the tower in 1719.
On the 10th May 1941, St Clement Danes suffered a direct from an incendiary bomb during WWII. All that remained was a shell, and the outer walls stood abandoned for over a decade. It was finally restored and rebuilt in 1958 courtesy of the Royal Air Force and donations from sister air forces throughout the world, and now, not only is it a regular place of worship, but a memorial to all who died whilst serving in the Royal Air Force.
It's a beautiful church, crammed with interesting pieces of air force memorabilia, poignant memorials, books of remembrance, Coats of Arms and gifts from around the world. Here's just a few things to look out for.
Oranges and Lemons
It's difficult to write about this particular church without mentioning the children's nursery rhyme/song ... 'Oranges and Lemons', which begins with the verse, "Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements" and name checks numerous London churches and the message their bells are ringing. If you happen to pass by the church of St Clement Danes at the right time, you'll hear the bells ringing out the well known tune. You can be forgiven then, for assuming that the church that stands before you is the very same, so famously immortalised in the aforementioned song. Well ... according to Steve Roud in his book 'London Lore - The legends and traditions of the world's most vibrant city', this particular church basically hijacked the whole thing in the 1920s. The nursery rhyme is incredibly unspecific as to which St Clements church it is referring to, so spare a thought for the church of St Clement's Eastcheap, who theoretically have as much right to the title as their Westminster counterpart. After installing the bells and inaugurating a special 'orange and lemon' service and handing out citrus fruits to the congregation, the church of St Clement Danes have effectively claimed the prize for themselves.
Talking of bells, as I was, the oldest bell in the church tower was cast in 1588 by Robert Mot, the founder of the Whitechapel Foundry, the same company that cast Big Ben ... many years later. Either way, if you happen to be in the area ... why not pop in.
May is almost upon us, so I thought I'd share with you a few of the Private weekday walks I've done for people in April, all very different, but equally enjoyable.
East London walk
First up is father and son duo, Paul and Sam who came on an exploration of east London. Paul was pretty familiar with London (they live near Basingstoke), so wanted to see an area he hadn't visited. It's true, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Old Street isn't necessarily on every tourists 'must see' list of things to do on their visit to London, but it's brimming with history, fascinating characters and a healthy dose of street art which for me is now as much a part of the fabric of the area as anything else. Here they are standing in front of street artist Eine's 'Scary' bridge on Rivington Street.
All Day London Extravaganza
I met Lindsay and her mum at their hotel in St James's, Piccadilly and we set off through the sleet and the snow for what I call an 'all day extravaganza'. I started by introducing them to the area around their hotel which is full of shops that have for centuries provided all sorts of goods to the Royal family, including Fortum and Mason, Lock & Co, Paxton & Whitfield and Floris to name but a few, then passed by Buckingham Palace on a way to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. During the day, and despite the weather they saw loads of London, and we even took the underground, popping out by the Tower of London and worked our way back through the City to finish at St Paul's cathedral. Here they are outside the Houses of Parliament.
City of London - Churches
One rather wet Friday morning I did a special City of London churches walk for Peter and his family. As the City and its churches were rebuilt after the 'great' fire of 1666, it made sense to me to start at Monument, where the fire began. The first church to burn down, St Margaret on Fish Street Hill is now where the Monument stands, so the first church we visited was St Magnus Martyr and I think in one morning, we managed to visit or pass by ten churches, which wasn't bad for one morning, including All Hallows by the Tower, Samuel Pepys church, St Olave's and St Stephen Walbrook. Here they are standing in the ruins of St Dunstan in the east.
The City, Bankside & Southwark
On a slightly more clement day, I met a group which included a tiny three month old baby and a dog called Hendricks by St Paul's cathedral, starting at Temple Bar gate and took them over to Bankside, home of Elizabethan theatre, where the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre currently stands and explored the area just south of London Bridge. Here they all are outside Borough Market.
East London - Evening post-work wander
Last Friday, Andrew who had come on one of my Saturday morning walks had asked if I'd do a walk around east London for him and his colleagues. We obviously made sure there was a pub stop and I deposited them back at Spitalfields in time for dinner. Here they are standing in front of Australian street artist Jimmy C's portrait of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, which arrived in good time for last years Olympics.
If you are interested in booking a 'Private Walk' around London, whether it be just for you, your family or with colleagues, then please let me know via the Contact Form and we'll see what we can do.
If you're walking along Eastcheap, which connects Tower Hill to the Monument and the north end of London Bridge, and turn off towards the Thames down a narrow cobbled street called Idol Lane, you'll come across a church called St Dunstan-in-the-East.
There are no shortage of churches in the City of London, which you can visit, although considerably less than there once were, thanks to the Great Fire and the devastation caused by WWII bombing. Upon entering St Dunstan-in-the-East (There's also a St Dunstan on Fleet Street) the one thing that you can't fail to notice is that despite the church-like appearance as you approach down Idol Lane (see above photo), the church has ceased to exist. You will find yourself standing in a lovely, quiet walled garden.
The original church, which had stood since about 1100 was badly damaged during the Great Fire of 1666, and although generally classed as one of the many churches built by Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the fire, St Dunstan-in-the-East was actually mainly repaired and patched back together between 1668-71. It was then given a major refurbishment in the 19th century and then flattened during the Blitz in 1941. All that survived were a few of the walls and the distinctive steeple with its four smaller spires perched on each corner and the flying buttresses arcing up to support the main spire.
Suffice to say, the church was not rebuilt and it wasn't until 1971 that it was opened as a public garden.
In 1668, as Samuel Pepys (who I seem to manage to mention in just about every post) was wending his way through the post fire ruins of the church, he encountered what he describes as two ruffians armed with clubs, and had to make a hasty escape back to his home on Seething Lane. I sincerely hope you don't encounter something similar, and I'm sure you won't. I've visited many times, and during the week at lunchtimes, the walled enclosure, open to the elements provides a nice secluded haven for 'in the know' City workers to have their lunch. Quite often, I've seen young newly weds having their wedding photos taken amongst the flowers and trees, some of which are quite unusual, including 'Winter's Bark', once eaten to prevent scurvy.
It snowed for most of the walk on Saturday morning, so as you can imagine, was pretty cold. Still, five people ventured out with me for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, including Keith (from Canada) who came on the east London walk a year ago. He was joined by Natasha and Cerys and also Thomas and Charlyne from France.
They're standing in a little courtyard just off Carter Lane called Wardrobe Place. As you might be able to see from the plaque behind them, it was the site of something called the King's Wardrobe which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Wardrobe, originally housed within the Tower of London was where (as the name might suggest) King's kept their clothes, and also armour and treasure. It was moved in 1311 by Edward II to Lombard Street, then later to the site where the group are standing, by Edward III. It's currently a quiet little space populated by a few trees, offices, a hotel and enclosed largely by 18th century houses. If you have ever read any of Samuel Pepys' diary, the name might sound familiar, as 'The Wardrobe' was the generic name given to the surrounding area and one he mentioned quite frequently.
As I mentioned, Keith came on the east London walk previously. One of the first things he said when he met me on Saturday morning was 'I don't suppose we'll see quite so much street art today'. He was quite correct in this assumption, but at the end of the walk, as we were standing outside St Paul's cathedral, I noticed two pieces of painted chewing gum on the floor, that unless I'm mistaken, look suspiciously like the work of Ben Wilson (who I've mentioned before). He's a prolific street artist, who (if you hadn't already guessed) uses pieces of discarded chewing gum as his canvas. The ones we saw outside St Paul's cathedral looked like this:
Sunday was a nice compact group of Vix, Matt, Mary and Helen for the wander around the east end. Here they are at Columbia Road Flower Market, where I seem to quite often take group photos.
After the walk (again, bitterly cold) I noticed that Eine has re-painted his two well known pieces on Ebor Street. In fact, they were so well known, I'd wager that people just call it the 'Anti & Pro' street (I know I do), as it was emblazoned with the words ANTI and PRO. It now looks like this:
He kept one of the 'PRO's' which were on the Tea Building, so it now says PRO TAGONISTS.
Most French - Thomas & Charlyne
Most Canadian - Keith
Most Welsh - Cerys
Best moustache - No Winners
Most likely to have eaten Kendal Mint Cake - Helen
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
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.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.