Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Great Fire of London...continued

The heart of the old City - and the new...

I know you're waiting with bated breath to hear about The Monument, the central object of my walk around London City with my guide, Mr Andrew Duncan, author of "Walking London - Thirty Original Walks In and Around London".  We should find it soon...

Built in 1703
 Mr Duncan guides us through the back streets, just one block up from The Thames:

At the top of the hill turn right past Cannon Street Station and then right again into Bush Lane. Then take the first turning on the left into Gophir Lane and turn left again into cobbled Suffolk Lane. Follow this around to the right and turn right into Laurence Pountney Hill. On the right are now two merchants' houses, built in 1703 and the finest houses of their date in the City.
In the little square turn left along the sunken path between the two churchyard gardens. Here stood Laurence Pountney Church and Corpus Christs College, both destroyed in the Great Fire. They were founded by Sir John de Pulteney, a Drapers' Company man and Lord Mayor in the 1330s. His house stood on the site of the two merchants' houses mentioned earlier. 

And from the Lanes and remains of fourteenth century drapers,  we continue straight across Laurence Pountney Lane and..."on the left corner is the Olde Wine Shades, started just before the Great Fire and one of only a couple of City taverns to have survived the conflagration." I'm sure the survivors were grateful for this survivor.

Looking up at...The Monument.

And so at last (after crossing bust King William Street) we come to The Monument, the great column commemorating the fire that destroyed the city in 1666, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. At this point - the centrepiece of the walk, really - Mr Duncan fails somewhat in his guider-ly duties and refers us to the base of The Monument for more history. So what does it say?

The monument, which was designed by Sit Christopher Wren, was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London 1666 which burned for three days consuming more than 13,000 houses and devastating 436 acres of the city. The monument is 202 ft in height, being equal in distance westward to the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire broke out. It took six years to construct 1661 - 1677. The balcony is reached by a spiral stairway of 311 steps and affords panoramic views of the metropolis. A superstructure rises from the balcony and suports a copper vase of flames. The allegorical sculpture on the pedestal above was executed by Caius Gabriel Cibber.
Fish Street Hill to the South leads to St Magnus the Matryr (a Wren church) alongside which is the ancient footpath which led to the first London Bridge. 
But then Mr Duncan returns to his duties and directs us to "go past the Monument along Monument Street and take the first turning on the left into Pudding Lane. The Great Fire started here during the nights of 2 September 1666 in the ovens of the king's baker - aptly named Faryner ('farine' is French for flour)." 

Pudding Lane today is, I can report, nothing to look at.  It is a short street with bland concrete twentieth century buildings, blank faces and nothing of any aesthetic beauty to recommend a visit. But still -- to stand i Pudding Lane is to stand where the conflagration that destroyed London began with the very first lick of flame...

Pudding Lane today: unprepossessing

St George's Lane -- what's that at the end?

Ah yes, the beautiful 'Shard', under construction on the South Bank,
soon to be the tallest building in London. 
But I digress, entranced by the view of the shimmering new 'Shard' building from the medieval alleyways of the Old City.  Mr Duncan urges me on:

"...go straight across Botolph Lane and through Botolph Alley to St Mary-at-Hill Church in Lovat Lane. This church was gutted in 1986 by a fire, a more than usually sad event because it was the only Wren church to have retained its original interior more or less as Wren designed it. Go through the passage to the right of the church...and then turn left into cobbled St Dunstan's Lane. With the exception of its tower, now used as a chapel, Wren's church of St Dunstan-in-the-east at the end of the lane was largely destroyed during the Second World War. It has since been converted into a public garden."

The quiet and meditative garden built inside the ruins of
St-Dunstan-in-the-East, destroyed in the Blitz.
 After a quiet sit-down in this garden, I more or less abandoned Mr Duncan's route - it will be there for another day - and crossed Lower Thames Street towards the river. The massive yellow building infront of me is the former Billingsgate Market. It must have been a bustling place in its day - it's rear elevation backs onto the Thames. Today it is quiet, well-preserved looking, but has an abandoned air. It is not clear to a casual passer-by just what function the building serves these days.

Old Billingsgate Market

Tower Bridge and the busy Thames

London Bridge today

Crowds hurry home across London Bridge

And as the storm clouds gathered, I tucked Mr Duncan under my arm and headed for the nearest tube station.


  1. I was very interested in your post, having worked for several years in the vicinity, particularly in the Old Billingsgate Market. After the fish market moved to a new premises East a few miles, the architects got to work, preserving the old facade whilst building offices inside. I was there (part time) in 1993 and 1994, on contract to NatWest Bank, which I think held the lease on the entire building.

  2. Thanks Vincent - interesting background. The facade of the building is rather beautiful and well preserved. Is it still full of bankers, I wonder? My only observation would be that it seems rather a 'dead' zone, compared to what it must have been like when it was a working market. But glad it's been preserved.