If you came to this post expecting a defence of bankers and their bonuses or an erudite explanation of why the City isn’t to blame for the country’s economic woes, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I thought it time to have a break from employment law and go off piste, as they say. If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d like to be an historian and that is what this post is, sort of, about. Many commuters gripe about the trouble getting into the City; late and crowded trains, the cost of a season ticket and not seeing enough of the family during the week, to name but a few. And there’s no doubt that it can be a drag. But, lots of things make up for it. More pubs, bars and restaurants and gyms than you could shake a stick at, not to mention recitals in churches, proximity to the West End and all its theatres and shops. However, there is something beyond even that lot.
It’s the sense of history being all around you that you simply don’t get working in Hatfield or Basingstoke (and I have). This in itself is a paradox because the developers are forever pulling a building down or refurbishing somewhere else. On my 10 minute walk from Moorgate station (now the site of one of the Crossrail stations now under construction) to my office in Lombard Street, (see picture right). I don’t think there has been a time when there hasn’t been at least one major building development going on at some point. My usual thing is to rush to or from the office, dodging other people, potholes in the pavements and traffic in the road, but every now and then I like to stop and look at what is actually around me. Sometimes I even take a photo on my phone, which can give rise to looks of alarm or bemusement from other pedestrians, some of whom must think I’m certifiably insane.
It’s worth running that risk though because within a radius of about two minutes walk from my office, there is a wealth of fascinating buildings, monuments, curios and other items. It also pops up in literature and, for instance, nearby Gracechurch Street, is mentioned disparagingly in Pride and Prejudice thus
Mr. Darcy may, perhaps, have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month’s ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it;
In Austen’s time the City was seen as a disreputable place where no real gentleman would tread. Plus ca change plus ca meme chose, perhaps?
TS Eliot wrote about the Hawksmoor Church, St Mary Woolnoth in his seminal poem The Wasteland (“April is the cruellest month” etc
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
St Mary Woolnoth is at the end of Lombard Street, now hemmed in by Starbucks, EAT and Gymbox. Rather quaintly a man on a mobile coffee bicycle has set up in residence outside, dispensing Illy coffee. I remember studying The Waste Land for A-level English literature and very absorbing it was too. However, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin says the same thing more humoursly, in my view.
Wander back down King William Street and you will alight upon the Monument, erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666 and very impressive it is at 61metres high (311 steps to the top). Despite having worked less than five minutes walk from it for nearly ten years I have never been to the top. I intend to remedy that this year, especially as it is now open again following a long refurbishment. The trouble is, I’m not keen on heights.
This might be the solution. See the video below for a view from the top;
If you look carefully enough there are lots of relics of the past. For instance, just round the corner from my office is the Jamaica Inn, an old pub tucked away in a little maze of streets at the back of St Michael’s Cornhill. Next to that is an oasis of green, a patch of lawn where office workers can eat their lunches on the benches. Nearby is the George & Vulture restaurant where Dickens used to visit and is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers. It’s miraculous that this area survived the bulldozers.
On Birchin Lane, which runs alongside my office, there is a memorial plaque to a Captain Binney who was brutally killed whilst trying to prevent a robbery from a nearby jewellers. Sadly his was not the only violenbt death to occur in this area; more recently the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson died during the 2009 G20 protests on Cornhill.
Finally for this blog post, and still on Cornhill, a most curious relic from the past: a water pump with a trough underneath for people to water their horses. Sadly no longer in use it is a prominent object which people march past every day never giving it a second glance. It could do with some restoration and as you can see from the picture below, it is rather old. I love the idea of walking past something funded by the East India Company. It’s a direct link back to all those school history lessons, Clive of India and all that.
The other side of the Pump states how it was a replacement for an earlier pump and there has been a well on the site since the 1100s. I’m amazed it wasn’t removed in the 1960s by some modernisation plan, or because it was deemed to pose a threat to health and safety. But very glad that it has and long may it.
That’s it for this time. In due course, probably when the weather gets better I’ll get out again and cover some more notable sites.