Category Archives: City of London

A Stroll along the Embankment

Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House from the London Eye

A Stroll along the Embankment

 

If you’ve read my article about how the Victoria Embankment came about, you may like to know a bit more about some of the points of interest that can be seen along here.

The Embankment runs for about a mile and a half between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge on the north side of the river and I’m going to describe the route starting from the Westminster end.

If you start out underneath the statue of Boudicca and stay on the same side of the road, then the river and Westminster Pier will be on your right. Boats depart regularly from Westminster Pier to Greenwichbut unless you intend doing the boat trip, your eyes will be more focused on what’s on the other side of the river. It’s impossible to miss the London Eye or even the former County Hall, but don’t forget to look out for what’s on the Westminster side as well.

New Scotland Yard is across the road, as is Whitehall Gardens, the first of a series of gardens that stretch along the embankment and collectively known as the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

Back on the riverside, there’s a unique memorial to the Battle of Britain, with another memorial to the RAF a bit further along. It should be remembered that Whitehall, including the Ministry of Defence opposite, backs on to the embankment, which is why the area has so many statues of past military figures and memorials to different parts of the armed forces.

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The Victoria Embankment

The Victoria Embankment

 

It’s strange isn’t it, that although London’s practice of discharging raw sewage into the Thames caused cholera epidemics which cost thousands of lives, it was only when MPs kicked up a stink about the smell that something was actually done about it.

The job of sorting the whole problem out was given to a Victorian engineer by the name of Joseph Bazalgette.

His scheme involved an extensive network of underground sewage pipes that took the effluent from Central London out into the Thames Estuary.

The project involved several locations including the mile and a half section of riverside between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges, the most challenging of them all.

After buying up and demolishing many expensive riverside properties, work started on the Victoria Embankment project in 1865.

Not only did Joseph Bazalgette deal with the sewage problem, he also narrowed the river to make it more controllable, built a new road to ease congestion along the Strand (which linked Westminster to the City of London), and even allowed for the construction of a line for the Metropolitan and District Railway beneath the road.

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Liverpool St Station

The Station Concourse

Liverpool St Station

 

I’m sure somebody out there may well tell me that I’m wrong, but I reckon there are thirteen stations in London that can be regarded as a main line terminus.
London’s railway network has evolved over many years and is more complicated than you might think – but I’m sticking to thirteen.
Four of those appear on the original Monopoly board, and Liverpool St is one of them. (If you can’t remember the other three, they were King’s Cross, Marylebone and Fenchurch St).

It’s the terminus for train companies that operate mainly to the north-east of the capital to counties such as Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and is the third busiest in the UK after Waterloo and Victoria.
The statistics for 2015/16 show that sixty six and a half million entries/exits were recorded, and that doesn’t include the underground which has four lines converging underneath the main line station (The Circle, Hammersmith & City, Central and Metropolitan Lines).

It was originally built in 1875 as the terminus for the Great Eastern Railway and extended in 1895.
During an air raid on 13th June 1917 the station was hit by three bombs, two of which exploded, killing 162 people and injuring more than 400. It was the deadliest single raid in Britain during the First World War.

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St Paul’s Cathedral

Wren's Masterpiece

 

I would hazard a guess that the majority of first time visitors to the City of London want to see St Paul’s Cathedral more than anything else, and it’s not hard to see why.

This magnificent structure built by Sir Christopher Wren, is more than just another church. It’s an architectural delight with a host of famous people buried within its walls – but more than that, for British people at least, it’s a landmark that is remembered for defying the might of the Luftwaffe during the blitz.

Before making your way over there it would be useful to know what to expect as it’s very different from Westminster Abbey.
Whereas Westminster Abbey is medieval in origin with gothic additions, St Paul’s is 17th century and has been described as English Baroque which seems a fair description to me even though I’m no expert on architectural terms.

Many people will know that Sir Christopher Wren was hired to re-build St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London, but perhaps not so many people will know that the Norman church that stood here until 1666 was one of the biggest in Europe, if not the world, with a spire that reached close to 150m high. It wasn’t just the height of the church that made it impressive but also its length.

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Guildhall

Inside the Great Hall

Guildhall

London’s Guildhall is the administrative and ceremonial centre for the City of London, and amongst other things, is where the Corporation and Liverymen elect and swear in the City of London’s new Lord Mayor.

Guildhall (and not The Guildhall by the way), comprises a number of buildings, but for the purposes of this review I shall just be talking about the Great Hall which can be regarded as the City of London’s town hall and is the third largest civic hall in England.

This Grade I listed building is the only medieval secular building in the Square Mile and is built over the top of the Roman Amphitheatre, the location of which is marked by a circle of block paving in Guildhall Yard, and the remains of which can be seen under Guildhall Art Gallery (see Londinium).

Guild derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gild’ meaning payment, and a Gild Hall would have been where people had to pay their taxes, and there is evidence to suggest that there has been a tax office or Guildhall on this site since at least the 13th century.

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The City of London Corporation

The Guildhall

The City of London Corporation

The City of London is run totally differently from any other part of London and I never really understood why, so to try and make some sense of it I’ve decided to unravel some of its history and workings and find out more.

It’s not my intentions for this article to appeal mainly to those who suffer from insomnia, and so I’ll gloss over much of it and just concentrate on the main reasons why the City has become what it has today.

There’s no official date as to when the City of London came under municipal control, but there’s proof that it was before the Norman Conquest, and that probably makes it the world’s oldest continuously elected local government authority.

In Saxon and medieval times, the authority was principally administered by Aldermen (Elder men), and they still hold important positions today. One Alderman is elected from each one of the 25 wards that make up the City of London.

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The London Mithraeum

The Temple of Mithras

The London Mithraeum

 

If you catch the Tube to Bank and walk down Walbrook towards Bloomberg’s Mithraeum it might be worth casting your mind back almost 2,000 years to when the Romans arrived.

Under your feet is the River Walbrook, which was the limit of the first Roman settlement, but as the swampy land around it was reclaimed, then so it expanded. A map of Roman London shows that the brook eventually dissected Londinium into two and played an important part in Roman life. It brought fresh water downstream and discharged waste into the Thames. It was also navigable up to a point near to where the Mansion House now stands.

Around 200 years after the Romans arrived, the Temple to Mithras was built on the east bank of the brook, possibly by an army veteran called Ulpius Silvanus. The question has to be asked who was Mithras, and why build a temple to him here? The answers can be found in a visit to the London Mithraeum.

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Londinium

The Amphitheatre at the Guildhall

Londinium

 

As I explained in my introduction to the City of London, it was the Romans who first laid the foundation stones for the metropolis that we call London today.

After the failed attempts by Julius Caesar to conquer Britain in 55 and 54 BC, Emperor Claudius brought a larger army and made a successful invasion in 43 AD. He landed on the Kent coast near Richborough and headed towards the River Thames, where, after another successful battle, he was able to cross the river somewhere near Westminster.

It wouldn’t have taken him long to realise the strategic location of a place just downstream at where the river narrowed. Not only could the river be bridged, but it was also navigable up to this point, and so near to where London Bridge stands today, he set up camp on the north side of the river.

The location was also suitable for expanding a road system that could spread out across the country, and it wasn’t long before Londinium became an important trading post, both by road and by river. As the town grew though, so did the opposition to the conquerors and a revolt led by Boudicca left Londinium practically in ruins. However, there were very few casualties and the town was soon re-built.

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The City of London

The City of London

 

London was born almost 2,000 years ago, when the Romans set up a trading post on the banks of the River Thames called Londinium in 47 AD.

The wall that they built around their town corresponds roughly with the boundary of the City of London today.

It borders Westminster to the west, Tower Hamlets to the east, Camden, Islington and Hackney to the north, and the River Thames to the south.

The area covers just one square mile and has a population of less than 8,000, far fewer than any other borough in London. In fact, it’s not even a borough, but a city in its own right and is administered by the City of London Corporation.

It may be small in size and population, but it has always been one of the most important and influential areas of the city.

After the Romans left, the Anglo Saxons created their own community just to the west of the wall and the former Roman town became virtually uninhabited. However, the location of old Londinium still had its advantages for trading. The Thames being tidal, meant that boats could come up this far, and yet it was still narrow enough to be bridged.

 

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