The City and the Tower of London


This route goes eastward to the City of London, one of the most important financial and business centres in the world. Passing Charing Cross station note a reproduction of the original Eleanor Cross, one of those erected by Edward I to mark where Queen Eleanor’s funeral procession rested before reaching Westminster Abbey.

As we go along the Strand there are glimpses between buildings on the right down to the Thames. Adam Street leads to Adelphi, now almost entirely rebuilt, but retaining a few genuine Adam buildings, including that of the Royal Society of Arts.



Across the Strand, Southampton Street leads up to Covent Garden, famous as London’s principal fruit and vegetable market. Covent Garden was originally the garden of the convent of Westminster Abbey; at the dissolution the Earl of Bedford surrounded the site with a piazza designed by Inigo Jones, which for some time was a fashionable rendezvous. The sale of fruit and vegetables from portable stalls had already begun before the building of the piazza and in 1631 the Earl of Bedford began to build sheds and later (in 1671) acquired market rights which the family retained until they were sold in 1910. On the east side of the market is the Royal Opera House fronting on to Bow Street. East again is Drury Lane, with the theatre so long noted for pantomime but now known for its musical plays. Turn right down Drury Lane and so back to the Strand opposite the end of Waterloo Bridge. The large block of buildings facing the Strand east of the bridge is Somerset House, much of which is occupied by the Inland Revenue department; here too is the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The eastern part of the block is occupied by part of King’s College (University of London). The splendid block across the road beyond the isolated church of St. Mary is Australia House, and facing it is the west end of the church of St. Clement Danes. Beautifully restored after terrible damage, the church is now associated with the Royal Air Force. Its bells are those celebrated in the nursery rhyme.

Now on the left are the Law Courts, or the Royal Courts of Justice, extending back to Carey Street and Lincoln’s Inn, whose charming tree- lined square and ‘Fields’ are a delightful little park much appreciated by neighbouring office workers. On the north side of the Fields (at No. 13) is the museum formed by Sir John Soane who died in 1837. It is a fascinating collection ranging from Egyptian sarcophagi to the originals of Hogarth’s ‘Rake’s Progress’.

At the point where we regain the Strand a monument in the roadway surmounted by a dragon marks where the west gate of the city of London once stood. This is Temple Bar, a point of such significance to London and the Throne that when the Sovereign comes in state to this point the Lord Mayor is present to proffer the Sword of State, which is at once returned to him.

Across the road is The Temple, a tangle of lanes and little squares and picturesque buildings mostly occupied by lawyers. It originated when the Knights Templars (Crusaders) acquired the site in the 12th century when they built the famous round church in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Severely damaged by German bombs the whole estate has been splendidly restored.

In the magnificent Middle Temple Hall Shakespeare himself first produced Twelfth Night in 1601.

Opposite Temple Lane is Chancery Lane, with the Public Records Office (right), treasuring Domesday Book and many other unique documents.

As we enter Fleet Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral comes in view atop Ludgate Hill. This is indeed the Street of Ink: almost every building, every room, is the London office of a newspaper and the side streets lead to enormous printing establishments. In Gough Square on the left is the house in which Dr. Johnson lived and where his dictionary was compiled. Conveniently handy is the famous ‘Cheshire Cheese’ where Johnson, Goldsmith and many another outstanding personality have foregathered.

Halfway up Ludgate Hill we have a view on the left along the street named after the popular title of the Central Criminal Court — the Old Bailey. Continued beyond Holborn by Giltspur Street this leads to the Smithfield meat market, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and St. Bartholomew’s Church, the latter an impressive example of Norman work.



St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by Sir Christopher Wren to replace a church destroyed by the great fire of 1666 and which itself had been preceded on the site by at least two other churches. In recent years its exterior has been cleaned and many buildings (some damaged during the War) have been removed, but the projection of the new office building at the top of Ludgate Hill, which partly masks the front of the cathedral, has been much criticised, though its upper floor provides a novel point from which to view Wren’s masterpiece. The golden cross surmounting the Cathedral is 365 feet high; the gold ball is 6 feet in diameter. Running round the interior of the dome is the Whispering Gallery; on the outside is the Stone Gallery (375 steps) and 637 steps bring one to the foot of the ball and a view that is only rivalled by that from the Post OfficeTower.

The interior has an appearance of bareness notwithstanding the large number of monuments; the most conspicuous being that on the north of the nave to the great Duke of Wellington, whose tomb and massive funeral car are in the crypt. At the east end of the cathedral is the American Memorial Chapel, with a roll of honour containing the names of 28,000 who fell in operations based on Britain. Many national figures are commemorated in the crypt, the east end of which contains the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire. Outside the cathedral, to the east, is the new Cathedral Choir School. Beyond the General Post Office is Aldersgate Street in which is the ancient Charterhouse. It originated in the 14th century as a Carthusian monastery which at the dissolution was bought by Sir Thomas Sutton, who founded a school for poor boys and a home for poor old men. The school moved to Godalming in 1872 and the buildings were badly bombed during the last War, but they have been restored and the old men are again in residence.

We could return to St. Paul’s by way of St. Bartholomew’s Church, incorporating the remains of a church founded in 1123. After years of neglect and misuse it was restored and today provides a splendid example of Norman architecture. Adjoining the church is the great St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (‘Barts’), overlooking Smithfield and the busy meat market of that name.

St. Paul’s stands at the western end of Cheapside, where is the church of St. Mary-le-Bow, home of the Bow Bells (those born within the sound of Bow Bells are cockneys). Badly damaged in the War, the church has been beautifully restored.

King Street on the other side of Cheapside lead to the Guildhall, the venue of great banquets at which the Lord Mayor welcomes distinguished guests, particularly on Lord Mayor’s Show day in November. The great hall, dating from 1411, has survived both the great Fire of 1666 and the bombing of World War II, when the roof was destroyed, but the ancient figures of Gog and Magog have had to be replaced by limewood figu res by David Evans.

The Guildhall Library, open to the public, has a good collection of books, especially about London, which visitors may consult.

Visitors who wish to see Wesley’s House, Wesley’s Chapel and the adjoining old Nonconformist burial ground known as Bunhill Fields should, on leaving Guildhall, turn left along Gresham Street to Moor- gate and so to City Road and the house and chapel of such interest to all Methodists. On the way we cross the street known as London Wall, which traces the line of part of the old Roman Wall and can still show specimens of it. A short way further along Moorgate on the right is Finsbury Circus, a pleasant oasis with trees and beautifully kept flower beds. Beyond Finsbury Square we come on the left to Artillery House, the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, the country’s oldest military body, having been founded in 1537 as the Guild or Fraternity of St. George. Today they have the pleasant duty of firing salutes in Hyde Park on the occasion of Royal and other birthdays.

A little further up City Road is Bunhill Fields Burial Ground where are the graves of John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, William Blake and others. In the adjoining Friends’ Burial Ground is the grave of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends. Milton wrote most of Paradise Lost in Bunhill Row. On the other side of City Road is Wesley’s Chapel, ‘the Cathedral of Methodism’. John Wesley laid the first stone in 1777; he preached here and is buried in the graveyard. In his later years he lived next door at Wesley House, which is now a museum of Wesleyana.

Now we return down Moorgate to the extremely busy crossroads generally referred to as ‘The Bank’ because its northern side is bordered by the Bank of England. Straight ahead is the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence; the pillared building on the left is the Royal Exchange and all around are the head offices of many important British banks and the London offices of the leading world banks. In Throgmorton Street, behind the Exchange, is the Stock Exchange, with a gallery for visitors who wish to see how the stock market is conducted. Just west of the Mansion House, a little way into Queen Victoria Street, are the reconstructed remains of the Temple of Mithras, the god of light, erected during the Roman occupation in the 2nd century A.D. Figures and other relics found when the temple was discovered are shown in the Royal Exchange.

We are now at the heart of the City of London and may pause to consider how the City differs from the rest of London. Historically of course the City was the original settlement, later (about 200 A.D.) walled around and later still extended to cover 677 acres or slightly more than the ‘square mile’ as it is sometimes known. Although surrounded by the vast area governed by the Greater London Council the City still has its own governing body m direct descent from the Common Council elected by the citizens in 1322. It has had a mayor since 1192 and as early as the 13th century he was ‘Dominus Maior’ or Lord Mayor. William the Conqueror and, later, Magna Carta guaranteed London’s citizens ‘all their ancient liberties and free customs’, but having been a corporation for so long the Corporation of London, unlike other local authorities, has no charter of incorporation.

The City therefore is self-governing through its mayor and aldermen. It runs the markets, maintains the bridges and such open spaces as Burnham Beeches and Epping Forest and has its own police force who wear red arm bands when on duty as distinct from the Metropolitan Police who wear blue bands.

Returning to the Mansion House we get a glimpse down King William Street of the tall pillar commemorating the great fire which swept London in 1666, destroying 13,000 houses, 86 churches, St. Paul’s cathedral, the Royal Exchange and many guild halls. To Londoners it is just ‘The Monument'; to visitors who wish to admire the view from the top it offers a flight of 311 steps. Just a few yards from the Monument is London Bridge, and a popular occupation is to lean on the parapet and watch seagoing vessels loading and unloading at the neighbouring wharves. That part of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge is called the Pool of London. At the far end of London Bridge tall pinnacles signal the where abouts of Southwark Cathedral, closely surrounded by Borough Market, tall warehouses and an overhead railway. Entering by the south transept one is struck by the venerable air of the building, whose Choir and Lady Chapel date from 1207 and parts of the nave are Norman. To many the cathedral is especially interesting for its Shakespearian associations. Here were buried Chaucer’s friend John Gower, William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, Fletcher and Massinger the dramatists and Lawrence Fletcher who was joint lessee of the Globe theatre with Shakespeare and Burbage. John Harvard, founder of the famous American university was baptised here on 29th November, 1607, his father being a churchwarden.

In Park Street, turning off Borough High Street on the right, a monument marks the site of the Globe theatre. Wall tablets on buildings in Borough High Street record the sites of various Dickensian resorts now vanished, but fortunately we still have preserved to us the galleried George Inn dating from 1677. Recrossing London Bridge we look down on Billingsgate Fish Market and then turn right along Eastcheap to Great Tower Street where is the church of All Hallows, bombed, rebuilt and still the Guild church of the Toe H movement.



Now at last we come to the Tower of London, begun by William I to overawe rather than to protect the citizens. Successive monarchs have altered or added to it but it has always been more of a prison than a fortress and almost every stone has its own tale of tragedy. The building of the Tower extended over several centuries and it was not until the reign of Henry III that the keep became known as the White Tower. In the 13th century the inner wall with its 13 towers was added and Richard I made the moat. Henry III made further additions, Edward I built a second wall with towers facing the river and Henry VIII added the rounded bastions on the north wall. The White Tower contains the armouries and St. John’s Chapel, a perfect piece of Norman architecture. On the Green is the site of the scaffold and beyond it the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. At the river end of the Green are the Bloody Tower and the Wakefield Tower, which contains the Crown Jewels. The so-called Beefeaters, by the way, are more properly called Yeoman Wardens of the Tower.



From Gun Wharf, between the Tower and the Thames, there is a good view of Tower Bridge, built in 1894 and still serving its purpose though the vast increase in London’s traffic threatens changes. The main traffic deck of the bridge is in two parts, hinged at the ends so that they can be raised to allow shipping to pass to or from the Pool of London. The central span is 142 feet long, each leaf, or bascule, weighs bver 1,000 tons; the upper footbridge (closed) is 142 feet above river level.

Below Tower Bridge London’s docks extend as far as Tilbury and technically the Port of London includes all the Thames below Teddington.

The best way to see the docks themselves is to join one of the very popular launch trips organised in the summer by the Port of London Authority.

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