My weekends invariably mean taking a walk up to the square mile to ferret amongst its alleys and building, as well as to enjoy the simple pleasure of wandering about at a snail’s pace, when city workers are away. Even though it is a favourite haunt, I could not resist this tweet and the chance of being guided through the city:[tweet https://twitter.com/guidediane/status/639579733773164547]
I’m not going to outline the route which is really the provenance of our walk guide, Diane. Instead here follows some sights, impressions and interesting facts that I gathered, as we went walkabout from Bank to Monument.
As an English bourse, the Royal Exchange was founded by Thomas Gresham in the Elizabethan era, as a central locale for merchants to trade goods. Prior to this business was done on the streets. Then and now it had retail outlets and although trading no longer continues here, upmarket retailers still do. Phoneboxes to the rear, painted Samaritan green, serve as a listening alternative for over-stressed city workers. And looking towards Threadneedle street, the Royal Exchange’s third architectural manifestation of 1840s Roman revival contrasts with yet another glass-fronted office block, in which is reflected the iconic ‘walkie talkie tower’ of Fenchurch street.
History is written in all the details too, much of which I seem to have missed until now. On Cornhill, the ornate metal gates bear the city’s arms – the Cross of St George with the martyrdom symbol of St. Paul- patron of the city. And carved into two mahogany doors, eight panels of historical events, illustrating the religious, monarchic and mercantile foundations of the square mile.
Coffee houses, pubs and eateries featured in the walk, not only for the historic lineage these establishments have, nor for the famous people they’ve been associated with, including Pepys and Dickens. Such establishments were for many years, the meeting places for stockbrokers to do business, since they were excluded from the Royal Exchange until the 17th century.
Churches abound in the city, often in the same wards – for example both St Michael’s and St Peter’s reside in Cornhill. Along with many others, these two were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt under the auspices of Wren, though some like St. Laurence Pountney were never re-established. And where fire, bomb and re-development has destroyed the physical and metaphysical presence of the church, cathedralesque businesses abound instead.
And all the time one is looking up at the architecture, it is interesting to remember that we tread in the footsteps of Romans. Here between Lime and Gracechurch street London’s Basilica and Forum once stood.
“Occupying nearly 2 hectares of land and standing at a height of up to 3 storeys high, this building was larger than the present day St Paul’s Cathedral”. Historic UK
As so often happens, the archaeological remains were only discovered during excavations for the construction of Leadenhall Market in the 1880s. (Today Bloomberg’s construction site further west is yielding thousands of Roman artefacts, precious and urbane from the lost Walbrook river).
The city of London is a maze of passageways and thoroughfares where every space is claimed and re-claimed in a melting-pot of very different architectures. It continues to be a work in progress.
Postscript: A serene sundown walk home followed – see my photoblog: “Angling for Light”