Category Archives: City of London

Temple Church, The Knights Templar and the Da Vinci Code

Temple Church - The Chancel

Temple Church, The Knights Templar and the Da Vinci Code

Temple Church attracts visitors from all over the world, many of whom have read Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”, hoping to add another piece of the jigsaw to the quest for their own Holy Grail.

For those who haven’t read the book it does a good job of blurring the lines between fact and fiction, especially for anyone who is not familiar with the subjects of religion and the crusades. For those who are familiar with these subjects it’s been controversial to say the least, especially to Roman Catholics.

The inclusion of the Knights Templar into the storyline has only added to the mystery of what some people already regarded as a secret society, and Temple Church is the church of the Knights Templar in London – and that’s one fact nobody can dispute.

To talk about Temple Church requires going back to the days of the crusades and the role of the Knights Templar, and as I’m no expert on this subject, I’d like you to bear with me while I try to unravel truth from fiction in just a few paragraphs.

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Temple

Middle Temple Hall and Garden

Temple

I’m going to have to tread carefully writing this article because Temple is at the heart of the UK’s legal system, and as I know next to nothing about how it works, I don’t want to end up with a solicitor’s letter on the doormat.

I think I’m on safe ground though by saying that the area gets its name from the 12th century Temple Church built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters.

Temple, or The Temple, as it’s sometimes called, covers an area roughly between the Strand/Fleet Street to the Victoria Embankment, and Surrey Street to Blackfriars. This means that some of the area lies within the City of Westminster and some of it within the City of London.

The Strand meets Fleet Street near to the Royal Courts of Justice and the Westminster/City of London boundary. This boundary was traditionally marked by Temple Bar, an invisible barrier to begin with, but then a ceremonial gateway where the monarch halted before being welcomed into the City by the Lord Mayor of London. The gateway, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was removed in 1878 and currently stands at Paternoster Square near St Paul’s Cathedral; The boundary is now marked by a large plinth with a dragon – a symbol of the City of London.

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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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Blackfriars

Blackfriars

To most people these days, the name Blackfriars probably means the railway and underground station, but the history of this small area in the south-west corner of the City of London has a history that goes back much further.

 As far as I’m aware, there are no official boundaries to define the area that we know as Blackfriars today, but I have seen a map that suggests it stretches from Fleet Street/Ludgate Hill to the River Thames, and from the Mansion House/Garrick Hill to Temple Avenue/Bouverie Street. That may be the modern interpretation of Blackfriars, but it would have been different when the Dominican Friars founded their priory here back in 1278.

For the uninitiated, and that includes me, the word ‘Friar’ is an anglicized version of the French word Frère meaning brother, and it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to learn that these Dominican Blackfriars were distinguished from the Carmelite Whitefriars and Franciscan Greyfriars by the colour of the cloaks that they wore.

The Blackfriars are a Catholic order founded by St Dominic in Toulouse in 1215, and in 1223 they established a priory in Holborn before moving to their new site between the Thames and Ludgate Hill.

Edward I gave them permission to build this new priory near to where the River Fleet entered the Thames. He also allowed them to re-build the city wall around it, and from a humble house and church it expanded to include a refectory, cloisters, a hall, library, stables and garden: In fact, it didn’t only become an ecclesiastical home for the friars, but also an important centre for state affairs with Parliament meetings and state visits from foreign dignitaries.

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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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Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Metaphorically speaking, Leadenhall Market links Roman London with the Modern City of London, and the reason, is that its location on the site of the old Roman Forum and Basilica is slap bang in the middle of the modern Financial District.

It’s also appropriate that there’s a market here because in Roman times the Forum was their marketplace, and the one in Londinium was the largest north of the Alps, but we know very little of what happened after the Romans left.

What we do know though is that by the 14th century there was a manor house at Leadenhall, and the area around it became known as the place to come to buy poultry. That trade was still in evidence when Dick Whittington, the former mayor of London, came to own the lease of the manor house in 1408, and when he bought the land around it three years later, it was the best place to come, not just to buy poultry, but also meat, game, and fish.

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The City of London’s Modern Skyline

The City of London's Modern Skyline

The City of London may be steeped in history, but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s set in aspic. The city’s Financial District is leaving its stuffy image behind and charging into the 21st century without, it seems, pausing for breath.

Nearly all the financial institutions (The Bank of England being a notable exception) have moved into more modern premises in either Canary Wharf or here in the Square Mile.

Many of these new offices are in skyscrapers, which even though they may not rank amongst the world’s tallest, have captured the public’s imagination with their design. Not all of them are iconic, but below is a selection of some of the buildings that have made their mark already, but as each year passes, so it seems that yet more major landmarks pierce the skies over the City of London.

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The Bank of England Museum

The Bank of England Building in Threadneedle St

The Bank of England Museum

There are many powerful institutions in the City of London’s Financial District, but none more so than the Bank of England. Now before you skip this article thinking that it’s going to be another one of those boring Easymalc ramblings, I promise I won’t go on about Fiscal Policies or Quantitative Easing. For a start if I understood any of it I would be sipping a Pina Colada in the Cayman Islands or somewhere instead of struggling to see which lasts the longest – my meagre savings, or me. Anyway, back to the Bank of England.

I don’t imagine too many people know, or even care, about what the Bank of England actually does, but the museum, which is free to go in by the way, will explain its beginnings, the role it plays, and even how Quantitative Easing works (sorry, I couldn’t resist it). To be honest it’s not only educational, but interesting as well – or at least I thought so.

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The Origins of London’s Financial District

The Bank of England and Royal Exchange

The Origins of London's Financial District

Following on from my article about the City of London Corporation, it’s not difficult to see how London became an important trading and financial centre.

As British explorers opened up new trade routes, then most of the important trading and commerce ended up on the streets of London, the hub of which was centred around what is now called Bank Junction.

The junction is where nine streets converge and includes three of The City of London’s most influential buildings –  the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, the Royal Exchange, and the Bank of England.

The Bank of England was founded in 1694 and ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ was opened in 1735, but the story goes back much further than that.

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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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