Category Archives: walking tours

Guildhall

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The last  in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

The Guildhall was originally built sometime before 1128, possibly on the site of an even older building, where the Saxons held their “Husting”, or indoor assembly; and subsequently substantially rebuilt between 1298-1356, and rebuilt again, by the Master Mason John Croxton, between 1411-30.

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It was damaged in the Great Fire, and repaired  in the aftermath, only to be badly damaged by  bombing  in the Blitz, and repaired again after that.  The lower levels of the walls – up to the level of the clerestorey – still survive from the Medieval period, as do some of the original windows, made from slivers of  horn, and the crypts.  The porch, though, is a later, eighteenth-century addition, by Dance, in a bizarre style described as Hindoo Gothic.  Inside, the famous statues of the mythical giants Gog and Magog replace two sets of earlier ones, the first destroyed in the Great Fire, and the second in the Blitz.

 

 

 

Tower of London

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

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The Tower of London was originally built under William I, William II and Henry I in the late eleventh to earliest twelfth century, between 1076-1101, and added to by a succession of later kings and queens, many of whom used it as a royal residence, through to the seventeenth (the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within is arguably of even older, Saxon origin).

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The Tower features in the earliest known painting of London, by an unknown artist, dating to the late fifteenth century, and commissioned to illustrate a book of poems written by Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was imprisoned here for twenty-five years after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.   Hundreds were imprisoned here over the centuries; and scores tortured and executed, in a variety of horrible ways – one wonders how much better a world it would have been if all the imaginative effort expended in  devising means of inflicting suffering had instead been channelled elsewhere.

 

St Olave Hart Street

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

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The church of St Olave Hart Street was originally built in wood in the eleventh century, sometime after the canonisation of St Olave in 1031, and rebuilt in stone in the late twelfth to early thirteenth, and again in the mid-fifteenth, around 1450, and extended in the sixteenth to seventeenth.  It was undamaged  in the Great Fire,  although damaged by bombing on the last night of the Blitz, 10th/11th  May,  1941,   and rebuilt again between 1951-4.

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The thirteenth-century crypt, some thirteenth- and fifteenth- century walls, the fifteenth-century tower, the gateway, dating to 1658, and the vestry, dating to 1662, survive, as do a number of sixteenth-, seventeenth- and early eighteenth- century memorials, including  ones to not only Samuel Pepys but also his long-suffering wife Elizabeth (whose expression suggests she is “admonishing her wayward husband”).  The gateway  to the churchyard is especially memorable   for its adornment of skulls and cross-bones, from a design by Hendrik de Keyser.

 

St Katharine Cree

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

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The church of St Katharine Cree was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory in  around 1280-1303, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Late Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in the Renaissance  style.  It was undamaged by the Great Fire, although later requiring restoration  in 1878-79, and again, after being damaged in the Blitz, between 1956-62.

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The tower dates to 1500-4, the porch to 1628-31, and the gateway to the churchyard, on Mitre Street, by William Avenon, to 1631.

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The interior contains some Late Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Renaissance ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.

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It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) and Sir John Gayer (d. 1649), a marble font of around 1631, and a Father Smith  organ of 1686, once played by Handel and Purcell (as well as  some  memorial plaques and a reredos salvaged from St James Duke’s Place).

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The church is the home of the “Lion Sermons”, given each year on or around  October 16th in remembrance of the aforementioned Merchant Adventurer of the Levant Company and former Mayor Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on that day in 1643.

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It has associations from that same Civil War period with the Royalist cause, and even contains a wooden statue of Charles I, depicted as a martyr and saint.

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Archbishop William Laud, who reconsecrated the church in 1631, was executed in 1645 for his support of  Charles, his High Church views, and his persecution of Puritans.

 

Covent Garden

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Covent Garden  was first recorded as Covent Gardyn, that is to say the garden of the convent or monastery (Westminster Abbey), in 1491.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the area was given over to John Russell, the First  Earl of Bedford,  in 1552, whose descendants built Bedford House here in the later sixteenth century  (which was demolished in the early eighteenth).  The Piazza was laid out in the 1630s, and the Market, famed for its fruit and vegetables,  in the 1650s.  The Market moved to a new location at Nine Elms in 1974.

Church of St Paul

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General view of exterior of church

The church of St Paul was built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones for Francis Russell, the Fourth Earl of Bedford, between 1631-33.  On being told by Russell,  “I would not have it  much better than a barn”,  Jones is reputed to have retorted,  “You shall have the handsomest barn in England”.  The cleric and theologian John Wesley, who preached here in 1784, described the church as “the largest and best-constructed … that I have preached in for several years”.  The church burnt down in  1795, and was rebuilt, and reopened in  1798.

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Situated in the heart of the West End, the church has had a long association with the theatre and arts.  The artist Peter Lely was buried here in 1680, the master wood-carver Grinling Gibbons in 1721, the composer Thomas Arne in 1778, and the actress Helen Terry in 1928.  The artist Joseph Mallord William Turner was baptised here in 1775, and the librettist William Schwenk Gilbert – of Gilbert & Sullivan fame – in 1837.  The Tuscan portico provided the setting for George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”, written in 1913.  It was also either here or in the neighbouring piazza that Samuel Pepys witnessed “an Italian Puppet Play” in 1662.  Since 1975 the event has been  commemorated by an  annual May Fayre and Puppet Festival, held in Covent Garden on the second Sunday in May.

 

St Helen Bishopsgate

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

The church of St Helen Bishopsgate was originally built in the eleventh century, possibly around 1010, the  adjoining former Benedictine nunnery church in the thirteenth, around 1210, and still later rebuilds, additions and embellishments to the fourteenth through early seventeenth  (*).  It was undamaged by the Great Fire, although nonetheless requiring to be restored in 1893, only to be damaged by IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993,  and restored again in 1993-5.

The exterior of the church is substantially surviving thirteenth-century, although  both  west front doors are later replacements, and the porch housing the south side door is much later, built, in the Renaissance style,  in 1633.   The construction of the church made use of much Roman dressed stone and tile, most likely sourced  either from a   Roman building  that once stood on the site, or from the city wall that once stood a short distance away.

The church is dubbed “The Westminster Abbey of the City” because of the beauty of its interior and the richness of its memorials.

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The alabaster effigies of Sir John de Oteswich and his wife, salvaged from the church of St Martin Outwich, date to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, and numerous other monuments to the fifteenth to seventeenth, including those of Sir John Crosby (d. 1476), Sir Thomas Gresham (d. 1579), and Martin Bond (d. 1643), together with some brasses with their “superstitious inscriptions” deliberately defaced by Puritans in 1644.  The arcade separating the former nuns’ quire from the nave dates to 1475; the nuns’ squint, built into the monument to Johane Alfrey, to 1525.  The carved wooden figure of a beggar supporting the poor-box,  the intricately carved and panelled  pulpit, and the south doorcase all date to the first half of the seventeenth century;  the inscribed wooden sword-rest to 1665.

(*) The nunnery was suppressed in 1538, whereupon the nunnery church was incorporated into the parish church, and the remaining nunnery buildings and land were given to Thomas Cromwell’s adopted son Richard Wyllyams, who sold them  to the Leathersellers’ Company.

St Ethelburga Bishopsgate

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

The church of St Ethelburga Bishopsgate was originally built in around 1250, possibly on the site of an even older, Saxon, church, and extended in 1390, and again in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire, although nonetheless restored   in 1861-2, and again, by Ninian Comper, in 1912,  and described by Nairn in 1966 as “one of the sweetest things in the City”. Sadly,  it was severely damaged by an IRA bomb on 24th April, 1993, and substantially rebuilt, and reopened as a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, focussing on the role of faith in conflict resolution, in 2002.  The west front was rebuilt using stone from the Medieval church, the doorway along the lines of the fourteenth-century one, and the three-light window along the lines of the fifteenth-century one.

“The Tent” and “Peace Garden” at the back were built at the same time,  to encourage inter-faith dialogue.   Ethelburga was the sister of Erkenwald, the seventh-century Bishop of London after whom Bishopsgate is named.