Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Fire of London: A Walk

The Monument, London

Discovered on my bookshelf the other day: “Walking London - Thirty Original Walks In and Around London” by Andrew Duncan. Leafing through it, it became clear that there are great swathes of the city that I have never visited, and Mr Duncan would probably be a good companion if I wanted to take a walk. So I set out from St Paul’s Cathedral and followed a walk called “The City - East” It was quite a revelation, although I only got about half-way through it. Parts of London - in fact, to be honest, many parts of London - are rather grey, grubby and unprepossessing. But with Mr Duncan in hand, even the dingiest side street and greying old pile was illuminated with interest.
Come along and I’ll show you what I mean....

St-Mary-le-Bow Church
Mr Duncan first draws our attention to this rather drab looking stone frontage on a busy street. It is the church of St-Mary-le-Bow, once a Wren church:
Founded in or around 1080 as the London headquarters of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the medieval church of St-Mary-le-Bow survived three devastating collapses before being completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, it was destroyed once more in 1941, but was again rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1964. (from the church's website)
Per Mr  Duncan: Traditionally, anyone born within the sound of Bow Bells was said to be a true Cockney, or pure Londoner.

Williamson's Tavern

Ah, you're thinking - one of those atmospheric old London pubs. But Mr Duncan can tell us so much more: 

Continue along Bow Lane. To the right in Groveland Court is Williamson's Tavern, started in 1739 by Robert Williamson in what had previously been the Lord Mayor's house. The gates at the end were presented to the then Lord Mayor by William III and Queen Mary after a visit to the city.

Watling Street

This is just an ordinary, narrow old street, eh? You can see St Paul's at the end of it, but is there anything else special about it, tucked in the oldest part of the old city? Mr Duncan: Watling Street - the Roman road from Dover in Kent to Shropshire on the Welsh border. Roman road?? 

Ye Olde Watling Pub
Another pub, this one perhaps cuter than the last. Anything special about it? Let's ask Mr Duncan:

Wren is said to have built what is now Ye Olde Watling pub and to have worked here while St Paul's Cathedral (visible to the right) was being built.

Garlick Hill

...cross Victoria Street into Garlick Hill by Mansion House Station, where the ground begins to drop steeply away towards the river. Garlic was once sold in this district; more recently it was the centre of the fur and skin trade...

St Thomas the Apostle Church site

Here's an unassuming small blue plaque - testament to another loss in the Great Fire that swept through this district in 1666 -  which I would never have noticed without Mr Duncan to bring it to my attention. And below are some "handsome merchants' houses" on the site of the old church, which he also pointed out to me.

Handsome merchants' houses

Dick Whittington was here!!

And once I'd followed Mr Duncan across Queen Street, into Cloak Lane and taken the first turning right down College Hill - these exciting finds!

Here on the left lived Richard Whittington, the most famous of all London's citizens. The youngest son of a Gloucestershire landowner, Whittington made his fortune as a mercer (dealer in textiles) and was Lord Mayor four times between 1397 and 1419. Although he married, he died childless and so left most of his enormous wealth to various charities. His generosity made him a popular hero, and he is still celebrated in children's stories and Christmas pantomimes. 
Sadly, Mr Duncan doesn't mention Dick's cat, also a pantomime star.

Although no sign of his cat.

The Innholders' Company
We now wind through the backstreets a little further and find the livery hall of the Innholders' Company; then the Dyer's Company, the Skinners' Company and the Tallow Chandlers' Company. What are these, Mr Duncan? 

The oldest City livery companies (modern creations have taken the total to over 100) are the descendants of the trade guilds that controlled all business life in the medieval city. Today they are mainly charitable and social bodies. All livery men are freemen and all vote in the Lord Mayor's election.

A rather Harry Potter-ish address...

Another livery Company

But what of "The Monument" to the Great Fire of London? I hear you ask. We're not there yet. We have several more medieval side-streets to be continued.....

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