Day 39 – Smithfield – St Bartholomew’s Hospital – Newgate Street

Today’s trip covers the triangle formed by Charterhouse Street to the North, Holborn Viaduct/Newgate Street (A40) to the South and Aldersgate Street (A1) to the West, encompassing both Smithfield Market and St Bart’s Hospital. Another compact area but once again one that’s teeming with historical echoes of the likes of William Wallace, Wat Tyler and Henry VIII (of course).

Day 39 Route

We start out from Holborn Circus and head east along Charterhouse Street, almost immediately taking a detour into Ely Place, apparently the last privately-owned street in London. This is the site of the first of several churches we’re going to cover this time out, St Ethelreda’s RC. It might not look that impressive from the outside but St Ethelreda’s is the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I. It was the town chapel of the Bishops of Ely from about 1250 to 1570 (hence Ely Place). Ethelreda, daughter of King Anna, ruler of the Kingdom of East Anglia, was born in 630. She wanted to be a nun but agreed to a political marriage with a neighbouring King, Egfrith, on condition that she could remain a virgin. When the King tried to break the agreement she fled back to Ely where she built a magnificent church on the ruins of one founded by St Augustine. For reasons more obvious than is generally the case with such designations she is the Patron Saint of Chastity.

Continuing along Charterhouse Street we cross Farringdon Street and enter the surrounds of Smithfield Market. This area was originally known as Smoothfield, meaning a flat plain, from the Saxon word smeth, eventually corrupted again to become Smith. In the 12th Century it was used as a vast recreational area where jousts and tournaments took place and by the late Middle Ages had become the most famous livestock market in the country. It was also the location of Bartholomew Fair – three days of merrymaking, dancing, trading and music which over the centuries became the most debauched and drunken holiday in the calendar. This went on for almost 700 years before it was eventually closed in 1855.

Before we get to the actual market though there are a couple of buildings on Charterhouse Street to take stock of. First up is the Port of London Authority (PLA) building. The PLA is the self-funding public trust that governs the Port of London and has responsibility the maintenance and supervision of navigation on the tidal stretch of the Thames from the estuary upstream to Teddington. Built in 1914, this only lasted five years as the main HQ of the PLA before being superseded by a grandiose monolith adjacent to the Tower of London.  The motto at the top of the building “floreat imperii portus” translates as “let the imperial port flourish” (curse of the commentator as it turned out of course).

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Right next door is the Central Cold Store (constructed in 1899 for the Dutch margarine manufacturers, Van Den Bergh). In 1992 the two buildings were gutted and behind their facades a power station was installed; the Citigen CHP (combined heat and power) plant which supplies 31 MW of electricity to the London Electricity network and provides heat and cooling through a system of heating and chilled water pipes to a variety of buildings in central London.

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In total contrast, just a few steps further along is the recently-reprieved, world famous nightclub, Fabric.
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The building just to the right of Fabric at 79-83 dates from 1930 and was home to the Corporation of London Meat Inspectors. 

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Following the relocation of Covent Garden and Billingsgate, Smithfield is the last of London’s three big food & produce markets still operating from its original home. Just to rub this in it also goes by the alternative name of London Central Markets and, not surprisingly, its the largest and oldest wholesale meat market in the country. It came into being when the livestock market was re-sited north of Islington in 1852 and plans were drawn up to create a new market in the area which would specialise in cut meat. Built to a design of Sir Horace Jones, the cathedral-like structure of ornamental cast iron, stone, Welsh slate and glass was completed in 1868. It consisted of two main buildings linked under a great roof and separated by a central arcade, the Grand Avenue and also included an underground area where fresh meat delivered from all over the country by the new railways could be unloaded in specially constructed sidings.
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Within in a few years four more buildings had been added including the Poultry Market, opened in 1875, which is the only one still in use today.  The original building however was destroyed by a major fire in 1958. A new building was commissioned, at a cost of £2 million, and was completed in 1963. While unremarkable from the outside, inside it is a feat of engineering: at the time its domed roof was, at 225 feet, the largest clear spanning dome roof in Europe. The appositely named West Poultry Avenue and East Poultry Avenue run beneath the arches either side and taking the former we emerge onto West Smithfield.

 

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Head west from here then take a sharp right down Snow Hill before returning to the market via Smithfield Street. Nip up East Poultry Avenue, turn right and then duck into the aforementioned Grand Avenue. The market opens for business at 2 a.m. and is pretty much done for the day by 7 a.m. Some of the local pubs have adjusted opening hours to cater for this, and they no doubt pick up a bit of extra business when Fabric chucks out.

Opposite the southern end of the Grand Avenue is where the underground railway used to terminate. Nowadays it’s a car park and is topped by the West Smithfield Rotunda Garden which features a bronze statue of Peace courtesy of John Birnie Philip (1824-1875), echoing the statue of Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey which you can see in the distance below. 

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Circling round to the other side of the garden/car park we reach the west gate of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (or just Barts Hospital as it is generally known).  Barts and the adjacent priory of St Bartholomew the Great (of which more later) were established it 1123 by the priest/monk Rahere, a favourite courtier of King Henry I. It was refounded by Henry VIII in 1546 on the signing of an agreement granting the hospital to the Corporation of London which endowed it with properties and income entitlements that replaced the support from the priory taken away by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Barts is the oldest hospital in Britain still providing all medical services and which occupies the site it was originally built on. The west gate continues to be the main public entrance; and the statue of Henry VIII above it is the only remaining statue of him in London.

Passing through the gate we arrive almost straight away at the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less St Bartholomew-the-Less. The church’s tower and west façade date from 15th century, with two of its three bells dating from 1380 and 1420 respectively. These hang within an original medieval bell frame, believed to be the oldest in the City of London.

The North Wing of the hospital contains the Barts Museum which tells the story of this renowned institution and showcases historical medical and surgical equipment as well as displaying a facsimile of that agreement between Henry VIII and the City of London.

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The museum overlooks the main square which was designed by James Gibbs (1682 – 1754) and built in the 1730’s. The fountain in the centre dates from 1859.
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After a circuit of the square we exit the grounds of St Barts onto Giltspur Street, almost immediately crossing over and proceeding west along Hosier Street. This takes us back to Smithfield Street where we turn south to reach the lower section of Snow Hill. The police station here has a plaque commemorating it as the site of the Saracen’s Head Inn (demolished 1868) which merited several mentions in Samuel Pepys’ Diary and one in Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby. The station also has a bit of an homage to yours truly painted on the street in front.

The quaint No.1 Snow Hill Court was formerly a parish schoolhouse but these days is a suite of consulting rooms for hire. Next port of call, Cock Lane, is closed off for building work so we have to trek all the way back round Hosier Street to get to the eastern end.

Once we get there we’re in the presence of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner. This small wooden statue covered in gold marks the reputed spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was brought to a halt. The inscription immediately beneath the (pretty surly looking) boy reads This Boy is in Memmory Put up for the late FIRE of LONDON Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony. Presumably that’s a reference to the fire having started in the baker’s on Pudding Lane. I won’t repeat the full inscription positioned at eye level but it’s worth clicking the link to see that. Suffice to say that papists get equal billing with gluttony here when it comes to the causality of the fire.

At the southern end of Giltspur Street where it joins Holborn Viaduct as it turns into Newgate Street is the Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate. As seems to often be the case, a church has existed on this site since Saxon times. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Great Fire (a few yards further up the street and it might have made it) and extensively restored in Victorian times. Today it is the largest parish church in the City. The bells of Old Bailey in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons refer to those of St Sepulchre which were tolled on execution days as the condemned were led to the gallows of Tyburn.  For hangings at the even nearer-by Newgate, between the 17th and 19th centuries, a handbell was rung outside the condemned man’s cell by the clerk of St Sepulchre’s. This handbell had been acquired for the parish in 1605 at a cost of £50 by London merchant tailor Mr. John Dowe for this express purpose. It now resides in a glass case to the south of the nave.

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The church has been the official musicians’ church for many years and is associated with many famous musicians. Its north aisle is dedicated as the Musicians’ Chapel, with four windows commemorating John Ireland, the singer Dame Nellie Melba, Walter Carroll and the conductor Sir Henry Wood respectively. Wood, who “at the age of fourteen, learned to play the organ” at this church and later became its organist, also has his ashes buried in this church. The south aisle of the church holds the regimental chapel of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)  and its gardens are a memorial garden to that regiment.

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Proceed eastward next along Newgate Street then cut through Christchurch Greyfriars Garden to King Edward Street. The site of the Franciscan church of Greyfriars was established in 1225.  Four queens were buried in the medieval church, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, including Margeurite, 2nd wife of Edward I, Isabella, widow of Edward II and Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III (though in her case it was only her heart that was interred here) . A new church, designed by Wren, was completed in 1704 and survived until incendiary bombs destroyed the main body of it in 1940. Only the west tower now stands.

 

A short way up King Edward Street is a statue to Sir Rowland Hill (1795 – 1879) the inventor and social reformer generally credited with the concept of the postage stamp.

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Continue east along Angel Street as far as St Martin Le Grand and follow this north as it turns into Aldersgate Street. Here there is one of the few remaining (though no longer used) Police “Call Posts” which from 1888 to 1969 provided bobbies on the beat and the general public with the means to make emergency calls to the local Old Bill station. The larger variant of these, the Police Call Box, was of course the inspiration for Dr Who’s TARDIS.

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Turn west again through Postman’s Park which contains a real oddity in the form of G.F Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Conceived and created by the Victorian Artist George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) this wooden pavilion contains an array of 120 tile plaques commemorating individuals who lost their lives trying to save others.

Double back to Aldersgate Street via Little Britain (and no I’m not going to mention that TV series – doh !). Then proceed clockwise round the Museum of London roundabout to Montague Street and take this back to the northerly section of Little Britain which runs along the back of St Barts. On the eastern side more major development work is taking place.

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(I just liked the colours of the crane). Anyway we’re back now at the north face of St Barts where there are separate memorials to the two historical figures I mentioned right back at the start of the post (I know it seems at eternity ago), Wat Tyler and William Wallace.

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Taking these chronologically we’ll deal with William Wallace (c.1270 – 1305) first. Wallace led a Scottish rebellion against Edward I. Having won a famous victory at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 Wallace was defeated by a much larger English force at Falkirk a year later. He fled to France and in his absence Robert the Bruce negotiated a truce with Edward that he was excluded from. A large reward was posted on him and 2 years after his 1303 return to Scotland he was captured and brought to London where he was hung, drawn and quartered at Smithfield having been dragged there behind a horse. (Again I shall say nothing about that Mel Gibson film – doh!)

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The main trigger for the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was the levying of new taxes to finance wars in France. A group of rebels from Kent and Essex marched on London under the leadership of Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball. After they had burnt and ransacked part of the city and supporters had murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury they were met at Mile End by the 14-year old King Richard II. After he had heard their grievances and made certain promises some of the mob dispersed and the rest set up camp at Smithfield. When the King returned to see them accompanied by a number of loyal soldiers and William Walworth, the Mayor of London an altercation broke out which led to Walworth stabbing Wat Tyler who was dragged into the church of St Bartholomew the Great. Troops then surrounded the rebels who effectively surrendered. Tyler was beheaded and his head placed on London Bridge. The memorial below commemorating the Great Rising of 1381 (alternative title) was unveiled in 2015.

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This brings us on to the aforementioned Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great which is more than worth a visit despite an entrance fee of £5 (keeps the rabble out). As noted earlier this was founded as an Augustinian Monastery by the monk cum priest, Rahere, in 1123 making it the oldest church in London. During the dissolution of the monasteries (1539 remember) the nave of the Church was demolished and one Sir Richard Rich (seriously), Lord Chancellor from 1547-51, took possession of the remaining buildings. During the religious rollercoaster of the reigns of Queens Mary and Elizabeth I a number of Protestant and Catholic Martyrs were burnt at the stake outside the west gate of St Bartholomews. The Tudor timber frontage of the gate that remains intact today was erected by Lord Rich.

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The Lady Chapel at the eastern end was used for secular purposes from the 16th century until the 1880’s including as a printing works where Benjamin Franklin was employed and a lace and fringe factory. In the latter years of the 19th century it was restored along with the rest of the church.

The church today contains a number of works by notable contemporary artists; some permanent fixtures, others on temporary loan (details in the slide show below). It has also featured extensively as a location for many recent films including Four Weddings and a Funeral (the fourth wedding), Shakespeare in Love and (somewhat incongruously) Avengers:Age of Ultron.

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The church also has a resident squirrel who must be the tamest one in London.

Leave the grounds of the church via steps down into Cloth Fair which connects with Long Lane via the alleyways of Barley Mow Passage, Cloth Court and Rising Sun Court.

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There are several pubs in this small area including the Hand & Shears on Cloth Fair which claims to have been established in 1532. The name of the pub derives from the prevalence of cloth merchants trading in the area in Tudor times (as does teh name of the street self-evidently). Apparently St Bartholomew’s Fair (see above) was for many years officially opened by the Lord Mayor from the doorway of the inn.

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The pub is on the corner with Kinghorn Street which we turn down as far as Bartholomew Court which is a dead end due to the building works. So we zig-zag west to east courtesy of Newbury Street, Middle Street and East Passage which all intersect with Cloth Street. Long Lane then sends us back to Aldersgate Street across the way from the Barbican Complex and turning south we finish up at the steps leading to the Museum of London – which you will be relieved to hear can wait for another day.

 

 

 

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Day 36 – Chancery Lane – Fetter Lane – Fleet Street

“If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this great City you must not satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts..” These words, which could stand as a mission statement for this blog, were spoken by Dr Samuel Johnson, creator of the first proper dictionary of the English language and the man who also coined the immortal aphorism “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. We visit Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square towards the end of today’s itinerary but before we get there we have to wend our way through the labyrinth of streets and squares and courts that huddle in between Chancery Lane and Farringdon Street as well as picking out the major points of interest along the north side of Fleet Street.

Before all that though here’s a quick update on how much of the designated target area we’ve now covered overall since beginning this a year and a half ago..And I thought I’d be done in six months !

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Anyway back to today’s route..

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Starting point is on Chancery Lane by the eastern gate of Lincoln’s Inn. From here we head north and take a right into Southampton Buildings where we find the former home of the Patent Office, purpose built at the turn of the last century some fifty years after the founding of the Patent Office in 1852. In 1991, having outgrown these premises, the Patent Office (now called the Intellectual Property Office) was relocated to Newport in South Wales.

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Just around the corner is Staple Inn which is the last of the so-called Inns of Chancery to survive largely intact. The building dates from the the second half of the 16th century and the original half-timbered Tudor frontage still adorns High Holborn in incongruous fashion. The rest of the building behind this was pretty much fully reconstructed in 1937 though the courtyard and garden at the rear retain their original structure. Since 1887 it has been the London home of the Institute of Actuaries and was Grade I listed in 1974.

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Once out onto High Holborn by Chancery Lane tube station we turn right briefly then venture south down Furnival Street. Next turn is into the dog-leg that is Took’s Court where the early 18th century property at no.15 has been renamed Dickens House, not because this was another of the writer’s residences but because this building featured in Bleak House (under the guise of Cook’s Court).

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Took’s Court emerges onto Cursitor Street where we turn right and come out onto Chancery Lane again; opposite a blue plaque installed by the Cromwell Association in commemoration of John Thurloe (1616 – 1668). Thurloe joined Cromwell’s government after he seized power, first as Secretary of State then as Head of Intelligence and finally as Postmaster General. In 1660 following the Restoration he was arrested for high treason but never tried (he was released on condition that he assist the new government on request). He died at Lincoln’s Inn in 1668 and was buried in the chapel there.

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After a quick detour to Quality Court (which doesn’t really live up to its name) we double back down Cursitor Street, nip back up Furnival Street and then swing right into Norwich Street. This takes us into Fetter Lane where we head north to Holborn Circus then switch south again down New Fetter Lane. Cut back westward along Plough Place then continue on Greystoke Place before Mac’s Place takes us through to Breams Buildings. (This area was hit particularly hard in the Blitz so there was a lot of post-war rebuilding which has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years). Anyway just here on Breams Buildings is what remains of the overflow burial ground for St Dunstan-in-the-West Church (which we shall come to later) dating back to at least the 17th century.

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Turning right on Breams Buildings returns us to Chancery Lane where to south you have the Law Society’s Hall on the west side and King’s College Maughan Library to the east. The Law Society is the professional association representing the interests of the UK’s solicitors (barristers have the Bar Council). It was founded in 1825 then acquired its first Royal Charter six years later as “The Society of Attorneys, Solicitors, Proctors and others not being Barristers, practising in the Courts of Law and Equity of the United Kingdom”.   No doubt to everyone’s relief, a further Royal Charter in 1903 changed this to simply “The Law Society”. Women members were first admitted in 1922. It’s not entirely obvious from the pictures below but today the building is also home to the swanky 113 Restaurant.

The neo-Gothic Maughan Library building was originally built between 1851 and 1858, to a design of architect Sir James Pennethorne, in order to house the Public Record Office. The PRO had been formed in 1838 to streamline the maintenance of government and court records. The Domesday Book was one of the records transferred here, in 1859 from Westminster Abbey. It now resides at the National Archives in Kew, the successor to the PRO, formed in 2003 when that merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission. King’s College took over the building in 2001 to create the largest new university library in Britain since WW2 with a £35m renovation. The library is named after, Sir Deryck Maughan, an alumnus and major benefactor of King’s College.

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The library contains a dodecagonal reading room which features in The Da Vinci Code (I’m sure the University is delighted with that !). The bronze statue of Confucius in the garden was donated in 2010 by the Confucian Academy to mark the official launch of the Lau China Institute.

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Entering Fleet Street from Chancery Lane and turning east we reach the aforementioned St Dunstan-in-the West church. There has been a church on this site since around the turn of the first millennium, named in honour of St Dunstan who was elected as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 and was instrumental in bringing about peace with the Danes. That original church lasted right up until the early 19th century when it was rebuilt in 1831. The most well known feature of the church is its clock, which dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. Figures of two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the possibly mythical ruler of pre-Roman times, and his sons. Lud gave his name to Ludgate, one of the original gateways to the City of London, where these statues stood before they were moved to the church.  Above the porch where they hide away is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I from 1586, the only one known to have been carved during her reign.

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As well as being an Anglican church, St Dunstan’s is home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London. The beautiful iconostasis (altar screen) was brought here from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966. The high altar and reredos are Flemish woodwork dating from the seventeenth century. The church hosts classical music recitals on Wednesday lunchtimes so I was fortunate enough (along, sadly, with only about half a dozen other people) to hear a young pianist from the Guildhall giving the ivories a proper working over.

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Fleet Street is of course synonymous with the newspaper and magazine publishing industry even though the actual printing presses and the businesses that ran them have long since departed. In the pictures of the exterior of the church you will have seen glimpses of its next door neighbour, the London office of Dundee-based D.C Thomson, best known  as the publisher of the Beano and the Dandy. Thomson also print a number of Scottish regional newspapers and when in 2016 they relocated the two London-based correspondents for their Sunday Post paper its was perceived as being the very final end of newspaper journalism on Fleet Street.

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Heading back up Fetter Lane we pass, on the corner with Rolls Buildings, a statue to the radical English parliamentarian John Wilkes (1725 – 1797). Wilkes was expelled from Parliament on several occasions for his outspoken views but he was far from your typical social reformer. As well as being a member of the Hell-Fire Club, infamous for its debauched gatherings and Black Mass rituals he was also not beyond voter bribery in his efforts to get elected to the Commons. In 1754 he stood for election in the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed and was unsuccessful despite bribing a ship’s captain to land a boatload of opposition voters coming from London in Norway instead of Berwick.

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Forking right into New Fetter Lane and following this to its northern end we then turn tight into the heart of the modern developments I referenced previously. So we can move rapidly through Bartlett Court, Thavies Inn, St Andrew Street, the upper part of Shoe LaneNew Square, Great New Street, Nevil Lane, West Harding Street and Red Lion Court with nothing to detain us apart from this, frankly quite unexciting, water feature in New Square.

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So now we’re back on Fleet Street and the next little alleyway to the east, Johnson’s Court, will via a rather torturous route take us appropriately up to Gough Square where we finally encounter the house occupied by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) while he was compiling his dictionary. That was during the years from 1747 until 1755 when the dictionary was published. It wasn’t the first dictionary of the English language produced but it was far greater in scope and erudition than any of its predecessors. Its pages were nearly 18 inches (46 cm) tall, and the book was 20 inches (51 cm) wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries and it sold for the (then) extravagant price of £4 10s. Not surprisingly therefore it didn’t sell terribly well and Johnson and his publishers were forced to rely on subsequent abridged versions to make any money from it. Johnson had married Elizabeth Porter, who was 20 years his senior, in 1735 and when she died in 1752, Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined his  household as a servant along with his wife and children.. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years and was ultimately named as his heir.

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On the opposite side of Gough Square is a statue of Dr Johnson’s favourite cat, Hodge, unveiled in 1997 by the Lord Mayor. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells on top of a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”. Unlike today, in Johnson’s time oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor (and cats).

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Moving on we wind our way through Pemberton Row, East Harding Street, Gunpowder Square, Hind Court, St Dunstan’s Court and Bolt Court dipping in and out of Fleet Street until we reach the Grade II listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub at no.145. Reportedly there has been a pub here since 1538 and according to the sign outside the current hostelry dates from 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Inside the pub is a warren of numerous wood-panelled rooms all deprived of natural lighting which lends a sombre, conspiratorial air even when the several open fireplaces are lit in the winter. Past patrons of the pub are said to include the ubiquitous Charles Dickens along with Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, P.G Wodehouse and G.K Chesterton. Dr Johnson must also have been a regular though his writings coyly neglect to mention it by name.

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Running up the side of the pub is Wine Office Court at the entrance to which is affixed this handy resumé of its history (from where you will see I nicked the opening to this post).

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We follow Wine Office Court up to Printer Street and then return to Fleet Street via Little New Street and the lower section of Shoe Lane (shown below).

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Now we’re right in the epicentre of Fleet Street‘s historic association with the Fourth Estate as we emerge in between Peterborough Court, the former home of the Daily Telegraph at nos. 141-135 and the Daily Express building at 128-121. These two very different looking buildings are both icons of the Art Deco age and both Grade II listed. Peterborough Court, with its “monumental facade” and Egyptian themed decoration, was built in 1927-8 and designed by architect Thomas Smith Tait. The Telegraph group decamped in the 1980’s post-Wapping and this is now the European HQ of mega-Investment bank Goldmans Sachs (who reputedly pay rent of £18m a year to the Qatari owners of the building).

 

The slightly younger Daily Express building with its striking black vitrolite panelling was built in 1931-2 and designed by architects Ellis and Clarke with the assistance of Sir Owen Williams. The flamboyant lobby, designed by Robert Atkinson, includes plaster reliefs by Eric Aumonier, silver and gilt decorations, a magnificent silvered pendant lamp and an oval staircase. The drawn curtains on the ground floor ensure that this, one of the very finest masterpieces of British Art-Deco, is invisible to the public except on Open House weekend. If you’ve never seen it I would urge you to seek out that opportunity (as I did many years ago though I couldn’t locate the photographs I took at the time so the one below is courtesy of http://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/dailyexpress.html.)

The Express Group left the building in 1989 and following a major redevelopment of the site in the nineties it was also let to Goldman Sachs in 2000.

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Beyond the Daily Express Building we turn north again up Poppin’s Court into St Bride Street from where we criss-cross into Farringdon Street via Harp Alley, Stonecutter Court and Plumtree Court before finishing up under the Holborn Viaduct whence we shall return in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

Day 32 – Royal Courts of Justice – Kingsway – Lincoln’s Inn Fields –

Another compact area today but one packed full of history, sights and places to visit. We start on the border between the Strand and Fleet Street with a tour round the Royal Courts of Justice then head north up Kingsway to Holborn tube before working our way back south through Lincoln’s Inn Fields and surrounding streets, taking in Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Hunterian museum along the way. And there’s a pretty good pub of the day thrown into the mix as well. On the downside none of those ports of call (apart from the pub) allow internal photography so either take a bit more notice of the external links than usual or better still go and visit yourselves – especially since they’re all free admission.

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The Royal Courts of Justice is home to both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The former deals with higher level civil disputes and is comprised of three divisions; the Queen’s Bench division, the Chancery division and the Family division. The latter is split into two divisions which hear referrals from the Crown Court (criminal cases) and the High Court (civil cases) respectively. However, since the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the Court of Appeal at the RCJ is no longer the last chance saloon for those who wish to challenge their convictions. Most of the Courts’ proceedings are presided over by a single judge but certain cases may be heard by a bench of two judges and very exceptionally, usually for cases against the police, a jury will sit. Cases being heard on any particular day are published on the Daily List which is available for public view just inside the entrance. On this occasion there were no cases sitting which I was inspired to look in on – but you would have to be very lucky to come across anything juicy if just visiting on spec.

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This soaring Gothic edifice was opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 following eleven years of construction. The architect, George Edmund Street (1824 – 1881), beat off competition from ten of his peers to win the commission but since, as you see, he didn’t live to see its completion that may have something of a pyrrhic victory. The cathedral-like quality of the building is perhaps unsurprising  given that when the architects bid for the contract that was exactly what they were led to believe it was for. You need to pass through security control to enter the building as a visitor and, as already noted, no photography is permitted. However you can wander around quite freely including along the corridors lined by the 19 courtrooms where barristers and their clients will often be huddled together discussing strategy. There are bookable guided tours or you can pick up a self-guided tour leaflet at the reception desk. This I didn’t do until I’d already been round once so I’d spent some time looking for the “Bear Garden” in the mistaken belief that this might be an actual garden. The lady on the desk set me straight by explaining that the Bear Garden is just a room where solicitors, barristers and their clients meet to discuss cases (and so I had already passed through it a couple of times). The name arose after Queen Victoria, on one of her visits, described the noise in the room as sounding like a “bear garden” (i.e. a place where bear baiting takes place). I have to say it was a bit more subdued than that when I was there.

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Once back outside we turn up Clements Inn which flanks the western wing of the RCJ and then along St Clement’s Lane and Portugal Street which cut between the main buildings that make up the London School of Economics (LSE). (I had intended to make a visit to the LSE library to look at some papers but had overlooked the fact that this was Freshers’ week so that turned out to be a non-starter). Emerge onto Kingsway by the Peacock Theatre (which is affiliated with Sadlers Wells and presents a more family-oriented dance programme) and head north.

On the corner with Sardinia Street you’ll find this sculpture called Square the Block by the artist Richard Wilson which was commissioned by the LSE for the opening of its New Academic building in 2009.

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A bit further up on the eastern side of Kingsway is the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Anselm & Saint Cecilia. Despite being a bit on the shy and retiring side as far as RC churches go there were quite a few members of the faithful paying their respects this particular lunchtime.

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Next block along on the same side is the grade II listed Africa House. This was built in 1921 and both the name and the large scale sculptural group above the central colonnades are a somewhat bathetic evocation of the British Empire which was already only just holding together by that time. The sculpture is by Benjamin Clemens (1875 – 1957), assistant master at the Royal College of Art. The group has Britannia at its centre, flanked by noble Arab traders with their camels and a big game hunter oiling his rifle. A native bearer carries a pair of tusks while the hunter’s victim lies open-eyed next to them. Other animals include a lion, a crocodile, a bison and a massive python. After a major overhaul in 2013 the building is now home to international law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP. But on its ground floor it also houses a branch of Ladbrokes and a Wetherspoons Pub – which couldn’t make more of a mockery of the pretensions of its original designers.

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On the other side of the road is what was originally Holy Trinity Church, built around 1910 following the demolition of Little Queen Street Chapel of 1831 whose foundations were destroyed during the building of the Piccadilly Line. Holy Trinity Church was badly damaged by fire in 1985 and was closed. At the turn of the millennium it was redeveloped as offices and incorporated into the adjacent Aviation House which is home to both Ofsted and the Food Standards Agency.

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Turn right past the tube station then cut down the alleyway that is New Turnstile, take a right again on Gate Street back to Kingsway, go past Africa House and left down Twyford Place. At the end turn left into Gate Street again before veering off up Little Turnstile, another alleyway, which re-emerges on High Holborn. Heading east from here takes us past the Rosewood Hotel, yet another 5* job, opened in 2013 in the former Chancery Court which was built in 1914 as the headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company in which capacity it lasted up until 1989. (From 2000 to 2011 it was The Renaissance Hotel, part of the Marriott Group).

About a hundred yards further along turn south down Great Turnstile (the third and final of the turnstile alleyways). Return west along Whetstone Park which has nothing park-like about it and is, considering its length, one of the most unremarkable streets in the capital apart from these two very strange tiny doors on the southern side about half way down.

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After a quick look up and down Remnant Street we switch eastward again along the northern stretch of Lincoln’s Inn Fields which is the location of Sir John Soane’s Museum. This inhabits nos. 12 to 14 which were all owned by SJS, no.12 bought initially as family home and the other two acquired subsequently to house his burgeoning and eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and historical artefacts, and then bequeathed to the nation on his death in 1837. Four years before that, he had negotiated an Act of Parliament: to preserve his house and collection, exactly as it would be at the time of his death – and to keep it open and free for inspiration and education.

The no-photo rule is strictly enforced here and mere words would struggle to convey the remarkable nature of the collection and the unique ways in which it is displayed so I would urge you to take a look at the website or simply go and see it for yourselves. I will just mention a couple of things though. Firstly, the original paintings of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress form part of the collection that is ingeniously housed in the tardis-like Painting Room. If you’re not familiar with this series of eight tableaux, they depict a salutary tale of the perils of a life of dissolution and ignoring the love of a good woman. Secondly, down in the basement you will find the astonishing Alabaster sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti of the XIX dynasty. This is regarded as one of the most important relics of Ancient Egypt ever found. It was discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1825 and was originally offered to the British Museum but when they baulked at the £2,000 asking price Soane stepped in to acquire it (then held three separate parties to celebrate its arrival.)

 

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Tom Rakewell at peak dissolution

After leaving the museum we cut through Lincoln’s Inn Fields itself (the park rather than the fours streets surrounding it) where there is no shortage of folk taking advantage of the Indian summer weather.

Once out the other side we head south down Newman’s Row and enter into the grounds of Lincoln’s Inn. I won’t repeat the origins of the four Inns of Court that we covered when visiting Gray’s Inn a few posts back but just note that this is considered the earliest of the four with records dating back to 1422. The Great Hall and Library which are the first buildings you come to, on the north side of New Square, completed in 1845 these have a touch of the Hogwarts about them though the former is basically just a glorified refectory cum common room. From the north-east corner of New Square we head up through Old Square into Stone Buildings passing Chambers that mostly date from the last quarter of the 18th century.

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Retracing our steps we return to the Chapel the basic structure of which dates back to 1620.  This was laid by John Donne (1573 – 1631) who was preacher of the Inn at this time prior to becoming Dean of St. Paul’s. The Chapel bell, cast in 1615, also has an association with John Donne. In addition to ringing for curfew at nine each evening, the Chapel bell, cast in 1615,  is by ancient custom rung at midday on the death of a bencher of the Inn. This a practice is held to be the inspiration for the quotation from Donne’s poem beginning “No Man is an Island” which concludes “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. The stained glass windows on the north and south sides are original 17th century. The window on the east side depicts the crests of the 228 treasurers from 1680 to 1908. The window at the west end shows the colours of the Inns of Court regiments. Inside the entrance there is a Latin-inscribed memorial to Spencer Perceval (1762 – 1812), the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated whilst in office and who studied at Lincoln’s Inn.

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Next door to the Chapel is the Old Hall which was erected four years into the reign of Henry VII, three years before Columbus set foot in America (do the Math). Sir Thomas More, who joined the Inn in 1496, spent much of his professional life here. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Old Hall was used as a court of justice and the opening scene of Dickens’ Bleak House, with the start of the interminable Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case, is set here. (Had I known all this beforehand I would have taken more notice of the building – which only just about made it into the shot below).

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Circle round the back of the Chapel through Old Buildings and return to New Square by the Hardwicke Building. After a circuit of the square we exit Lincoln’s Inn via New Square Passage and the southern entrance onto Carey Street.

Here we turn left and then left again up Star Yard which is home to Ede & Ravenscroft, founded in 1689 and thought to be the oldest firm of tailors in the world. Beginning with the coronation of William and Mary they added royalty to their client base for the supply of ceremonial robes alongside church, judiciary and academia.

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Also in Star Yard is this decorated cast-iron structure which is apparently a urinal (though one which hasn’t been in use since the 1980’s). It’s the sort of thing you might expect to commonly find in Paris but I’m not aware of anything similar in London; which is why it has a Grade II listing no doubt.

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Bishops Court takes us out onto Chancery Lane and from there we go south and turn west back onto Carey Street. We’ve passed many red telephone boxes on our previous travels without comment but the collection at the back of the RCJ is unusual enough to warrant some remark. As hinted at in the last post, the designer of the first all metal red box was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. This came about as a result of a 1924 competition to find a replacement for the concrete boxes (known as K1’s) introduced four years earlier but rejected by the London Metropolitan Boroughs.  At the time Scott had just been made a trustee of the SJS Museum and his design for the K2 includes a dome inspired by Soane’s self-designed mausoleums. After going through a number of iterations the design was refined by Scott until in 1935 he arrived at the K6 version which is the one which can still be seen everywhere today. The USP of the group on Carey Street is that the outer pair are original K2 models which can be compared to the two common or garden K6s in between.

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Opposite the phone boxes is today’s pub of the day, the Seven Stars. One of London’s oldest pubs, this dates from 1602 when it was reputedly a popular haunt Dutch sailors. Nowadays of course the clientele is principally from the legal profession, something reflected in the decor of the pub, as you can see the photos below. Based on the merguez sausages with couscous I had the food here is highly recommended. Not surprising as the landlady, the fantastically and genuinely named Roxy Beaujolais, has form presenting one of the BBC’s  myriad of food programmes.

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(You might also have spotted the long overdue return of reflection of the day in amongst the above). Also on Carey Street, another family business dating back to the later 17th century – it’s a different world round here and long may it stay that way.

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We’ve already mentioned Sir Thomas More in connection with Lincoln’s Inn and in the south-western corner at the junction of Carey Street with Serle Street, on the Chambers that bear his name, is this statue, designed by George Sherrin and erected in 1888. The inscription reads :

Sir Thomas More Kt
Some time
Lord High Chancellor
of England
Martyred July 6th 1535
The faithful servant
both of God and the King

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At the end of Serle Street we turn left into the southern section of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, go past the old Land Registry building (now another part of the LSE) and arrive at the Royal College of Surgeons, built 1813, which is home to the Hunterian Museum.

The museum houses the collection of human and animal anatomical and pathological specimens put together by John Hunter (1728 – 1793) considered as the founding father of scientific surgery. Much of the collection of 14,000 items was lost when the College was struck by bombs in 1941. The present form of the museum, with the remainder of Hunter’s collection at its core, took shape more than 20 years later in 1963. Due to the nature of certain of the exhibits photography is again disallowed here so I’m afraid we’ll have to make do with this shot of the staircase leading up to the museum and this report on the 1963 re-opening in the Illustrated London News at the time hunterian_2. (The skeleton of the “Irish Giant” is still on display.)

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From the south-western corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields we do a round trip of Sardinia Street back in the heart of LSE territory. The London School of Economics was founded in 1895 by Beatrice and Sidney Webb with support from Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. These four, who were all members of the recently created Fabian Society, decided to establish the School following a bequest of £20,000 in the will of Derby lawyer Henry Hunt Hutchinson who wished to advance the Fabians’ objectives of a fairer society. Today the LSE has a student body of over 10,000 around 70% of which are international (the highest proportion at any British University) representing over 150 different nationalities. And, as an illustration of how far things have changed since the LSE’s origins, a recent survey revealed more billionaires amongst its alumni than those of any other European university.

At no.13 Portsmouth Street is this representation of Dickens’ (yes that man again) Old Curiosity Shop. The old part is certainly apposite as the building is 16th century and was once the dairy on an estate given by Charles II to one of his mistresses. There is though no direct evidence that this actual building was the inspiration behind the novel. At the time of writing the shop is an upmarket men’s and women’s shoe store.

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Fork right into Sheffield Street then left into Portugal Street past the LSE library on the other side of which is a building that from 1920 to 1076 was the head office of WH Smith, as celebrated by this plaque.

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Here we veer off right for another visit to Carey Street and once beyond the phoneboxes turn south along the eastern flank of the RCJ to end up back where we started and so bring today’s marathon – in terms of word count rather than distance travelled – to a close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 26 – St Giles – Shaftesbury Avenue – Drury Lane – Denmark Street

Another brief one in terms of distance but a lot of stuff to pack in nonetheless. Area covered is split into two main sections; firstly the territory to the north of Covent Garden in between Long Acre and High Holborn and then the streets squeezed into the angle formed by the eastern side of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. Along the way there is a visit to the Freemasons’ Hall , “Tin Pan Alley” and the church of St-Giles-In-The-Fields, which gives its name to this district.

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We start on Kingsway and head briefly west along Great Queen Street before turning north up Newton Street. This ends at High Holborn where we turn west again before veering left into Smart’s Place which leads into Stukeley Street. Formerly known as Goldsmith’s Street this was the site of the original permanent residence of the City Lit. , one of five literary institutes set up after WW1 to cater to the need for adult learning provision. City Lit moved in here in the late twenties but had outgrown the original building within a few years so that was demolished and a new purpose built facility constructed. Opened in 1939 by Poet Laureate John Masefield, the new building contained a theatre, concert hall and gym and remained the home of City Lit. until 2005 when they moved to new premises in the Covent Garden area.

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Just round the corner on Smart’s Place is what remains of the almshouses built here by the parishes of St Giles and St George Bloomsbury in 1895.

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Westward again on Macklin Street brings us out onto the northern stretch of Drury Lane. We’re on the fringes of “Theatreland” here and first of the three (current) theatres we pass on our travels today is the New London Theatre. One of the most modern of London’s West End theatres this was built in 1973 on the site of the old Winter Garden Theatre. Probably best known for hosting the original run of Cats from 1981 to 2002 it’s currently playing the critically-lauded revival of Showboat.

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So we turn east down Parker Street and make our way back to Great Queen Street. Heading west again we pass the Grade II listed Grand Connaught Rooms at nos. 61-63. Currently a conference, weddings and events venue owned by a hotel group this retains the façade of the Freemason’s Tavern, Britain’s first Grand Lodge, which originally stood here (until 1905).

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On that façade are two plaques commemorating events which took place at the Freemasons’ Tavern – the creation of the Football Association in 1863 and the first geological society in 1807. It was also where the Anti-Slavery Society was founded apparently. Surely you’d want to make more noise about that than the geological thing (or the FA for that matter).

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Which brings us to the Freemasons’ Hall and to be honest I hadn’t expected any part of this to be accessible but there is a Museum of Freemasonry on the first floor that you can visit free of charge as well as an extensive library both of which are full of some quite remarkable artefacts. The current art-deco behemoth is the third incarnation of the Freemasons’ Hall on the site since 1775 and was built during 1927-32 in honour of the Freemasons who died in the Great War. Its Grand Temple seats up to 1,700 – that’s a lot of aprons.

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Now I think it’s fair to say that the Freemasons have enjoyed a somewhat ambivalent reputation throughout their history. I myself have shared some of the prejudices inspired by the whole regalia, funny handshake and initiation ceremony schtick – not to mention the secret brotherhood aspect that (allegedly) wields influence in the upper echelons of the police, the judiciary and certain political institutions. In the interests of balance therefore it needs to be noted that the Masons is a secular (and supposedly non-political) organisation with all members free to practice their own religion; it emphasises personal moral responsibility and does a lot of work for charity. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is of course exclusively male. There is an Order of Women Freemasons which has been around since the turn of the 20th century but UGLE doesn’t officially recognize it (though they did acknowledge its existence in 1999 which was nice of them). However you wouldn’t necessarily gather that from the materials on display in the museum which include a number of items relating to women freemasons. I haven’t room to go into the history of Freemasonry but you can read up on it here.

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Just a couple of things to note from the slide show above: that chair (Grand Master’s Throne) is one of three commissioned in 1791 to mark the election of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) as Grand Master of the Moderns Lodge, the silver elephant is a cigar lighter made from smelted rupees and one of three gifted by an Indian Maharajah to the Lodge of Humility with Fortitude, the pentagon symbol I can find no information on but I suspect is a stand-in for the sacred pentagram (five pointed star inside a pentagon inside a circle) with its Da Vinci Code associations. You probably also saw today’s reflection of the day (“selfie” has now been retired).

Should you ever seek to become a mason yourself then all the gear can be found in the Central Regalia emporium, conveniently situated just across the road. Special offer on masonic candles at the moment.

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Also opposite is the HQ of the Royal Masonic Trust for Boys and Girls one of the four charitable institutions established by the Freemasons in the 18th century.

We’re back up Drury Lane again next then turning left down Shorts Gardens as far as Endell Street. The Cross Keys pub with its splendidly ornate exterior has occupied no. 31 Endell Street since 1848 and by all accounts is well worth a visit.

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Another place worth trying is the Poetry Place (aka the Poetry Café) on Betterton Street which runs back to Drury Lane.

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A circuit of Dryden Street, Arne Street and Shelton Street finds us back on Endell Street at the northern end of which resides the Swiss Church (or Eglise Suisse if you prefer). Just about every major European nationality seems to have established its own ecclesiastical home here in London. This one dates from 1762 and has occupied this site since 1855 though has undergone major rebuilding after WWII and between 2008 and 2011 when the architects, appropriately enough, were the practice of Christ and Gantenbein. True to national form the all-white interior is the epitome of calm reflection (though I believe they will be showing Switzerlands Euro 2016 fixtures live in here.)

Next door, on the corner with High Holborn, is the former St Giles National School built in 1859 to the design of Edward Middleton Barry.

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Across the other side of High Holborn is our second theatre of the day, the Shaftesbury, which opened in 1911 as the New Prince’s Theatre. Longest run here seems to have been the musical Hair which started in 1968 and was curtailed in 1973 (two short of its 2,000th performance) when part of the ceiling fell in. Despite the threat of redevelopment in the immediate aftermath of this the theatre survived and was granted listed status a year later. It is currently host to yet another jukebox musical in the form of Motown though perhaps one with a classier songbook to draw on than most.

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Head past the theatre eastward along High Holborn before turning left up Museum Street and taking a dog-leg round West Central Street which is a cherishably rare corner of scruffiness in the heart of town.

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Having emerged onto New Oxford Street we cut back down the first few yards of Shaftesbury Avenue before skirting round the back of the theatre along Grape Street, apparently so-named because it once ran alongside the vineyard belonging to St Giles Hospital.

Leave the theatre behind and make our way west via Bloomsbury Street, Dyott Street, Bucknall Street and Earnshaw Street bypassing the Crossrail mayhem and the redevelopment of Centrepoint.

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This brings us to Denmark Street which, as noted in the intro, was colloquially known as the UK’s “Tin Pan Alley” for much of the twentieth century. The first music publisher set up home here in 1911. That was Lawrence Wright who founded the Melody Maker in 1926. In 1952 the New Musical Express was also started from an office here and during that same decade music publishers and songwriters took over most of the street.

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In the sixties groups who began to pen their own material and the predominance of recorded music helped to bring about a decline in both music publishing and songwriting for hire. Taking their place, a number of recording studios opened including Regent Sound Studio at no.4. This was where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album in 1964, under the guiding hand of manager Andrew Loog Oldham.

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In the mid 1970’s the Sex Pistols lived above in the upper floor of no.6 and rehearsed in its basement. Graffiti by Johnny Rotten depicting other members of the band was recently uncovered and has inspired the Department of Culture to grant Grade 2 listed status to the building. Just a little bit of that spirit still lives on.

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In 1992 the last of the publishers moved out and the focus shifted to musical instrument vendors (principally guitars). In the wake of Crossrail plans were drawn up for a redevelopment of the street which though committed to preserving the fabric of the street brought protests from those concerned that it would wreck the character of the place and force out many of the existing businesses. This struggle is still ongoing but for now at least the guitar shops seem to be hanging on tenaciously.

Double back down Denmark Street and you arrive at St-Giles-In-The-Field church. This was originally the site of a church leper hospital founded in 1101 by Queen Mathilda, wife of King Henry 1. The present church was designed and built in the Palladian style (after the 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio) in 1730-34 by Henry Flitcroft, who went on to design Woburn Abbey. Back in the day St Giles was the last church en route to the gallows at Tyburn and the churchwardens paid for the condemned to be given a draft of ale from the Angel pub next door before their execution. Whether or not Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh was granted this benefice before being hung, drawn and quartered in 1681 and then buried in the churchyard is unknown.

Among the many memorials inside the church are those to Richard Penderell who accompanied Charles II on his flight from Cromwell and the watchmaker Thomas Earnshaw (1749 – 1829). There is also the tomb of Lady Frances Kniveton who was the daughter of Sir Robert Dudley (1574 – 1649) the illegitimate son of the man of the same name who was the first Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I.

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After this it’s time for lunch, an Indonesian pulled chicken satay salad from one of the food stalls in the churchyard. While I eat this on a bench in the grounds the nearby bin is visited by a crow who has worked out that a meal is to be had by pulling out the discarded food trays and bags and spilling their remaining contents on the ground. Clever things crows. Your average pigeon hasn’t got a handle on that yet.

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Head away from the church down Flitcroft Street which takes us to the Pheonix Garden – a community garden and registered charity, managed by volunteers drawn from the local community and workers in the area. It’s currently closed for building works but is due to re-open this summer (2016).

Stacey Street runs alongside the garden passing Pheonix Street with its eponymous theatre. I don’t think I’d ever been down here before and so had only seen the theatre from the Charing Cross Road side which presents the main entrance and a incongruously functional office block sandwiched between it and the similarly neo-classical but superior Pheonix Street façade. The Pheonix Theatre was built on the site where the Alcazar music hall previously stood and opened in 1930 with a production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives.  The exterior was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crewe and Cecil Masey, whilst the interior, often considered to be one of London’s finest, was designed by director Theodore Komisarjevsky in an Italianate style with golden wall engravings and plush, red carpets. Currently showing, as you can see, is the classic Guys and Dolls.

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Returning to Stacey Street we head a short way further south to New Compton Street which is as non-descript as Old Compton Street is exuberant. At the end of this we turn right then right again down Shaftesbury Avenue. On the west side we pass by the institution that is Forbidden Planet, which started out as a comic shop in Denmark Street in 1978 but now styles itself as a “cult entertainment megastore” (yes that’s a “c” missing from the left-hand side of the picture not an “ad”).

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And a bit further down is what I will always think of as the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue but was rebranded in 2001 as the Odeon Covent Garden . The building, which opened in 1931, actually started life as the Saville Theatre (perhaps just as well that didn’t last).  The sculptured frieze which extends for nearly 40 metres along the façade of the building is by Gilbert Bayes and represents ‘Drama Through The Ages.’ In the sixties the theatre was often leased by the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who promoted gigs there by the likes of The Who, The Bee Gees and the Jimi Hendrix Experience as well as the Fab Four themselves. In 1969 the theatre was bought by ABC Cinemas (then owned by EMI) and converted into the 2-screen ABC1 and ABC2. The takeover of ABC by Odeon Cinemas in 2001 resulted in a further conversion into four screens and the change to its current name (ignoring the fact that it can’t by any stretch of the imagination be considered to fall within the borders of Covent Garden).

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And with that it’s Roll Credits for today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 22 (part 2) – Gray’s Inn – High Holborn – Red Lion Square

So with an hour so in hand there was just time for a second leg of today’s journey which took care of the streets within the more or less rectangular area bounded by Southampton Row to the west, Theobalds Road to the north, Gray’s Inn Road to the east and High Holborn to the south. A large proportion of this territory is occupied by the land and buildings owned by the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court (all in London) which are the professional associations that all barristers in England & Wales must belong to one of. By contrast, in the western section of the quadrant lies Red Lion Square which has associations altogether less aligned with the establishment.

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So I hop off the bus on Theobalds Road and turn left down Drake Street which is part of both the A40 and the Holborn one-way system. It’s also where you’ll find the second abandoned site of Central St Martin’s School of Art (the one that won’t be hosting a pop-up theatrical performance in May starring James Norton 0f War & Peace and Happy Valley fame – that’s the site on Charing Cross Road that featured a couple of posts back).

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Swiftly take another left to skirt the northern side of Red Lion Square including a trip up  and down Old North Street. In the north eastern corner of the square sits the Conway Hall which is owned by Conway Hall Ethical Society and was first opened in 1929. The name was chosen in honour of Moncure Daniel Conway (1832 – 1907), anti-slavery advocate, out-spoken supporter of free thought and biographer of Thomas Paine. Nowadays it hosts a wide variety of lectures, classes, performances, community and social events and is renowned as a hub for free speech and independent thought. Its Library holds the Ethical Society’s collection, which is the largest and most comprehensive Humanist Research resource of its kind in the United Kingdom.

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Head east away from the square via Lambs Conduit Passage then briefly south on Red Lion Street before resuming eastward along Princeton Street. No.1a (aka Tudor House) is now the London home of Novelty Automation which is a collection of, frankly, bonkers alternative amusement arcade machines. Didn’t have time to go in but having experienced the delights of the sister operation on Southwold pier would recommend a visit if you’re ever in the vicinity.

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Next up is a circuit of Bedford Row which has to be one of the widest residential streets in the capital. If you were wondering who can afford properties like these then the clue is in the opening paragraph.

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Continuing east we get to Jockey’s Fields, one side of which is taken up by the western wall of Gray’s Inn. The equestrian origins of the name of this former mews of Bedford Row have unfortunately been lost in the mists of time. As you will note, the entrance to Gray’s Inn, at the southern end of the wall, is suitably forbidding.

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Just inside the gate to the left is a private road on the right side of which are the series of chambers known as Raymond Buildings. And behind you, on the wall itself, is a sign which continues the forbidding theme. The Servants of the Inn are a bit like the Deatheaters from Harry Potter I believe.

The Inn’s substantial gardens are known as The Walks and are only accessible to the general public between 12.00 and 2.30 on weekdays.

Apparently none of the Inns has a verifiable date of foundation. For many centuries it was the view that the starting point of the Inns of Court was a writ of Edward I made on the advice of his Council in 1292. The formal records of Gray’s Inn only date back to 1569 however. During the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I herself was the Inn’s patron lady there were many more members than those who went on to be admitted to the bar including Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s First Minister, Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Chief Secretary who founded the Queen’s secret service.

Passing the southern entrance to the gardens we head through the arch leading into Gray’s Inn Square.

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On your right as you enter the square is the Chapel at Gray’s Inn which predates the Inn itself in that its earliest in carnation is purported to have been around from 1315. The current building is largely a post-WW2 bombing reconstruction however.

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Behind the chapel is the South Square which houses the Library of over 75,000 books and journals. In the centre of the square is a statue of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1621 ) which was erected in 1912. Bacon was admitted to the Inn in 1576 and called to the bar in 1582. He was elected Treasurer of the Inn in 1608 and held the position until 1617, when he was appointed Lord Privy Seal.

Exit the square by its south-west corner and emerge out onto High Holborn. Turning right we pass the Cittie of Yorke  which, although it looks (especially inside) like something from medieval times, actually dates from the 1920’s. Nonetheless this Samuel Smiths’ pub is distinctive enough to have earned a Grade II listing.

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Duck back up the alley that is Fulwood Place, the north end of which (opposite the entrance to the Walks) is guarded by these stone griffins. The badge of Gray’s Inn  (as opposed to a true coat of arms) is a gold griffin on a black background encircled with the motto Integra Lex Aequi Custos Rectique Magistra Non Habet Affectus Sed Causas Gubernat, or “Impartial justice, guardian of equity, mistress of the law, without fear or favour rules men’s causes aright”.

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Make our way back to Red lion square now traversing en route Warwick Court, Brownlow Street, Hand Court, Sandland Street, Red Lion Street and Princeton Street (again). Despite its small size, Red Lion Square has something of a colourful history. Legend has it that beneath this site lie the bodies (but not the heads) of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the judge John Bradshaw, the chief architects of the regicide of Charles I. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, parliament had the bodies of the three men disinterred and posthumously tried and executed at Tyburn. Their heads were then cut off and displayed on the roof of Westminster Hall while the bodies were initially buried near the gallows. Rumour has it though that the bodies were exchanged while being kept at the Red Lion Inn the night before the hanging and the real remains buried behind the inn where the square is now situated.

The square itself was laid out around 25 years later by a property speculator by the name of Nicholas Barbon. This didn’t go down that well with the lawyers of Gray’s Inn however. Ironically though their legal attempt to prevent the development of the land failed and they ended up taking the law into their own hands. Around 100 of them attacked the workmen on the site, armed with bricks and other building materials. In the ensuing pitched battle the workmen came out on top and the building work carried on.

In the 1850’s Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelites lived here as did his friends William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

Back in the present day; there is a bust of our old friend Bertrand Russell on the eastern side of the square (which the local pigeons have shown scant respect to) and on the west side a statue of the politician and anti-war activist Fenner Brockway (1888 – 1988). Living to the ripe old age of 99 meant that he got to be one of the few people to unveil their own statue.

After circling the square it just remains to visit Dane Street, Eagle Street, Catton Street and Fisher Street before calling time on today’s excursions.

 

 

 

 

Day 18 – Clerkenwell – Farringdon – Hatton Garden – Holborn

Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.

Day 18 Route

We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.

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Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.

St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.

Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which  straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.

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Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.

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And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.

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Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.

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Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.

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At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan.  One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.

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From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.

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Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.

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So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.

At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).

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After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.

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On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).

The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.

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Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.

The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.

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It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.

I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.

Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.

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Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott.  The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.