Day 44 – Bank – Threadneedle Street – Cornhill – Lombard Street

So we’re back after a bit of an extended summer break and we’re still in the City of London. Today’s expedition is all about the streets that radiate eastward from the Bank tube station junction, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill, Lombard Street and King William Street but also extends north up to Moorgate and London Wall. Might not look like a very wide area on paper but on pavement, once you’ve added in all the courts and alleyways, there’s a fair bit of shoe leather laid to rest. Highlights en route today include the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange along with the inevitable Wren churches and a couple more of those Livery Companies.

Day 44 Route

I’ve referenced it fleetingly in previous posts but for this outing I’m going to delve into this a bit more extensively as a source for the commentary (I don’t know the exact year of publication but it was some time in the 1930’s). Direct extracts will appear in italics.

Guide

We begin today from Bank underground station from where exit 1 leads us up to Princes Street heading northward. Set back from the west side of Princes Street is Grocers’ Hall, home to The Grocers’ Company, another of the original Twelve Great Livery Companies and proudly ensconced at no.2 in the Order of Precedence (appropriately in a “Nation of Shopkeepers”). This mob started out as the Ancient Guild of Pepperers as far back as 1100 then in the 14th century founded a new fraternity of spice traders in the City of London which came to be known as the Company of Grossers. It took them three years before they realised that this might cause a few sniggers come the 21st century and changed it to Grocers in 1376. They received their Royal Charter from Henry VI in 1428.  The current hall, the fifth, was built in 1970, its predecessor having survived WW2 only to be burnt down in 1965 reportedly due to a poorly situated lightbulb being left on in a cupboard.

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At the top of Princes Street we turn right into Lothbury and proceed along the back of the Bank of England where there is a statue of Sir John Soane (whose wonderful museum we visited on a previous excursion), architect and surveyor to the Bank from 1788 to 1833 during which time it doubled in size to 3.5 acres. It first moved to this site between Threadneedle Street and Lothbury in 1734, having previously leased the Grocers’ Hall (see above) from 1695, the year following its foundation. When the Bank was rebuilt between 1925 and 1939 by Sir Herbert Baker, the outer walls erected by Soane in 1828 were retained while all the interior buildings were demolished. Regarding these walls it will be observed that, for the purposes of security, they are completely windowless, all the rooms being lighted from interior courts; but even a Raffles who succeeded in passing this barrier would be baffled at the extraordinary series of defences surrounding the vaults, which include concentric walls of steel and concrete between which armed guards patrol day and night.

On the other side of Lothbury stands St Margaret’s Church, the first of a number of post-Great Fire Christopher Wren rebuilding jobs we’ll encounter today.

Right next door to the church is 7 Lothbury, built in 1868 and designed in a Venetian Gothic style by architect George Somers Clarke (1825 – 1882) as a head office for the General Credit and Discount Company. In the 1960’s it was taken over by the Overseas Bankers’ Club but despite a Grade II listing had fallen into disrepair by the early 21st century. It has now been converted for residential use.

Turn left next up Tokenhouse Yard then left again along King’s Arms Yard to Moorgate. Across the street is another Grade II listed building, Basildon House, which dates from the late 1800s and is in a Baroque style with Grecian details.

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Head north a short way then look in on Great Bell Alley on the westside before crossing back over and proceeding east down Telegraph Street. Loop round Whalebone Court and Copthall Court into Copthall Avenue and after a few paces north turn west again along Great Swan Alley. This is the site of the headquarters of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, though technically the address is no.1 Moorgate Place which is about half way along the street. Chartered Accountants’ Hall was built between 1890 and 1893 and is another Victorian neo-Baroque job courtesy of architect John Belcher. The façade on Great Swan Alley is part of an extension to the original building completed in 1930-31. In 1964-70 a much more extensive redevelopment was undertaken which included the creation of a Great Hall with five stories of office space above it. The ICAEW was granted a royal charter in 1880 and today has over 147,000 members. Presumably that’s one of them in the photo below (no not the guy the yellow jacket – he looks more like a Certified Accountant).

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After this it’s back to Moorgate and a continuation northward up to London Wall where we turn east and then head south once more all the way down Copthall Avenue. Swing round to the east and head up and back down the top section of Throgmorton Avenue with just a cursory glance at the Carpenters’ Hall – royal charter granted in 1477 and no.26 in order of precedence. Return along Copthall Avenue and then stroll down Angel Court to Throgmorton Street. Turn right a short distance to arrive at Bartholomew Lane which skirts the east flank of the Bank of England and houses the entrance to the museum. The Bank of England museum has two main things going for it; one it’s free and two it’s not that big. This does mean it can get quite crowded but it’s worth putting up with that.

The Bank was the brainchild of Scottish entrepreneur William Paterson (1658 – 1719). The aim was to provide a secure and continuous loan to the nation (at a healthy profit of course). Public subscriptions raised £1.2 million in a few weeks, which formed the initial capital stock of the Bank of England and was lent to Government in return for a Royal Charter. The Royal Charter was sealed on 27 July 1694, and the Bank started its role as the Government’s banker and debt manager. I’m not going to write at length about the history of the Bank but it does make for interesting reading so it’s worth clicking on the link.

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Just a bit about the gold held by the Bank to finish off with – as I know that’s what you’re really interested in. The Bank itself only owns two of the gold bars in its vaults (one of which is actually on display in the museum). The rest are stored on behalf of HM Treasury, other central banks and some commercial firms. As of April 2017 the vaults held a total of 164.7 million Fine Troy Ounces of gold (about 5.1m kg or c.400,000 gold bars). Gold is currently trading at around £1,000 an ounce so I guess you can just about do the math as they say.

After leaving the museum we return to Bank station along Threadneedle Street. The Bank has of course long been known colloquially as “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”.

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Across the street from the Bank, in the angle of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill, is the Royal Exchange, founded by Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579) in 1566 as London’s first purpose built centre for trading stocks and commodities. The first exchange, opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1871, came to grief in the Great Fire and its successor also burnt down in 1838. The present building, designed by Sir William Tite and inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. After WW2, during which the building was damaged, the traders moved out and the building fell into disuse until the 1980s’ when it was repaired and taken over by LIFFE (the London International Financial Futures Exchange). By the turn of the millennium LIFFE had also moved on and the building was extensively remodelled to transform it into a luxury shopping and dining destination. In front of the building stands a memorial, designed by Sir Aston Webb, to London troops who fell in the Great War.  Close by is an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington (riding without stirrups) by Chantrey cast from bronze from captured enemy cannons in 1844 . Historically the steps of the Royal Exchange have been one of the places from which the accession of a new monarch is proclaimed. It remains to be seen if this tradition is maintained.

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Walk through the Royal Exchange, without pausing to sample the fine dining though I did have a look in the Paul Smith sample store. Outside the eastern entrance on Royal Exchange Buildings are statues to George Peabody, founder of the Peabody Trust (several of whose housing estates we have encountered on previous journeys – and which look more and more like exemplary models of social housing with the passage of time) and Paul Julius Reuter, founder of the eponymous News Agency which had its first home nearby.

East of the Peabody statue, at the entrance to Royal Exchange Avenue, is a former drinking fountain dating to 1878 adorned by a sculpture entitled La Maternité by Jules Dalou (this was originally in marble but that weathered badly and so was replaced by a bronze copy in 1897). This was partly paid for by the Merchant Taylors’ Company, whose hall is just round the corner but falls into one of today’s blind spots.  So the Livery Company which is either 6th or 7th on the OOP (they alternate each year with the Skinners) miss out on their write up.

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Walk down Royal Exchange Avenue into Finch Lane, turn south down to Cornhill and then head back towards Bank. In the middle of Cornhill is a statue of James Henry Greathead (1844 – 1896), a Civil Engineer who was instrumental in the creation of the London Underground and patented a number of inventions that facilitated the tunnelling operations. The statue was erected in 1994 and is positioned on a plinth which hides a ventilation shaft for the Underground.

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Just a little way further back no. 24 Cornhill (now a cocktail bar and restaurant) has a Grade II listed façade designed by that man Sir Aston Webb (1849 – 1930) again. Webb’s most famous works are the façade of Buckingham Palace and the main V&A building.

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As we approach Bank station once more the Mansion House hoves into view. We pretty much circumvented this last time out so for the sake of completeness here are a few 80 year-old snippets about this official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. It was built between 1739 and 1753, mainly, it is said from fines levied on stalwart Nonconformists. It has a fine Corinthian portico from the platform of which official announcements are often made. The chief room is the Egyptian Hall where the somewhat lavish hospitality expected from London’s chief citizen is exercised. The Lord Mayor receives a salary of £10,000 a year, but if rumour speaks correctly he is generally out of pocket at the end of his year of office.

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Just before we reach the Bank intersection we cut down Pope’s Head Alley to Lombard Street then turn right to where this apexes with King William Street. Here stands the church of St Mary Woolnoth, which surprise. surprise is not part of the Christopher Wren portfolio but one of the Queen Anne churches designed by that other great ecclesiastical architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. Today the church is used by London’s German-speaking Swiss community and doubles up as the official London church of the government of British Columbia (why that is even a thing heaven knows).

Next up we switch between Lombard Street and King William Street for a while courtesy of Post Office Court, Abchurch Lane, Nicholas Passage and Nicholas Lane before we find ourselves heading south down Clement’s Lane at the bottom of which is the decidedly underwhelming St Clement’s Church (of “Oranges and Lemons” say fame). Clement was a disciple of Saint Peter and was ordained as Bishop of Rome in AD 93. Legend has it that his was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea, hence his status as patron saint of sailors. The church is currently home to the administrative offices of the human rights’ charity the Amos Trust. So in lieu of shots of the interior here’s a reflection of the day.

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Back on King William Street we turn east and swing round past House of Fraser into Gracechurch Street. Continue north before turning west down Lombard Court and then cutting up Plough Court to return to Lombard Street. To the left here is the Church of St Edmund King & Martyr, reconstructed to a design of Wren incorporating a tower ornamented at the angles by flaming urns in allusion to the Great Fire that destroyed the medieval church.

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Across the street the entrance to the Royal Insurance Building is guarded by this bronze sculpture of three “allegorical” female figures – the lady on the left holds an anchor to represent the power of the sea, the one on the right a flaming torch to represent, well, fire and the sphinx in the centre (according to some sources) signifies the uncertainty of the future. The work is by Francis William Doyle Jones (1873 – 1938) and is entitled, with commendable literalness, Chimera with Personifications of Fire and the Sea.

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We double back a short distance and then proceed north into George Yard as far as the George & Vulture pub. This self-proclaimed Old Pickwickian Hostelrie dates from 1748 and is reputed to have been one of the meeting places of the notorious Hell-Fire Club. Dickens was a regular punter and the inn is mentioned at least 20 times in The Pickwick Papers.IMG_20170823_161505

Just before the pub we turn left down Bengal Court then cross Birchin Lane and follow Cowpers Court back to Cornhill. Turn eastward here as far as Ball Court on the south side which doglegs round to St Michael’s Alley where, opposite the George & Vulture is another legendary City drinking-hall, The Jamaica Wine House. Known locally as “the Jampot” this was originally the first coffee house in London, opening in 1652 and counting Samuel Pepys amongst its clientele.

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Taking St Michael’s Alley back to Cornhill we reach St Michael’s Church  rebuilt by Wren after the Fire and restored by Sir G.G. Scott. It has a fine Gothic tower, modelled on Magdalen Tower, Oxford and a pulpit carved by Grinling Gibbons. The organ of St Peter’s Church, almost next door, was played several times by Mendelssohn and in the vestry his autograph is treasured. The church was founded, according to an ancient tablet in the vestry, by “Lucius, the first Christian king of this land called Britaine”. Many remains of Roman London have been discovered hereabouts and many authorities place here the site of the Roman forum.

Beginning with St Peter’s Alley we trace a double loop southward additionally involving Corbet Court, St Michael’s Alley again (this is at least three alleys for the price of one) and Bell Inn Yard. That brings us back to Gracechurch Street where we drop further south to Lombard Street and then proceed west to Birchin Lane which takes us north again. After a quick detour exploring the labyrinth that is Change Alley we resume northward, crossing over Cornhill into Finch Lane then over Threadneedle Street into Old Broad Street. Almost immediately veer left down Threadneedle Walk to return to Throgmorton Street generally crowded by bare-headed individuals of varying degrees of frivolity, whose presence betrays the whereabouts of that important institution, the Stock Exchange in Capel Court. The Stock Exchange referred to is the one that was created in 1801 as the first purpose-built and regulated “Subscription Room” for brokers to ply their trade. Prior to that they had gravitated away from the Royal Exchange to conduct their business in the coffee-houses of Change Alley and beyond. Capel Court no longer exists as such; in 1972 a new Stock Exchange Tower was opened on Old Broad Street and the original site redeveloped. However, come the ‘Big Bang’ and the introduction of electronic trading in 1986, the Tower became something of a white elephant and when an IRA bomb blew a whole in the 26-storey building four years later the writing was firmly on the wall. It closed permanently in 1992 and it was another 20 years before this unloved totem of the “Brutalist” era was stripped back to its core and redeveloped as a 21st century glass-clad monolith. In 2004 the London Stock Exchange eventually found a new home in Paternoster Square. Coincidentally the company I worked for made the same journey from Old Broad Street the same year.

Bit of a digression there but back to Throgmorton Street and the Drapers’ Hall. The first hall here was bought from King Henry VIII in 1543 for the sum of 1,800 marks (c.£1,200) and had previously been the home of Thomas Cromwell (up until his execution in 1840). The hall was rebuilt after the Great Fire and again in 1772 after another fire. In the 1860’s the frontage and the interior were redesigned by Herbert Williams. Further changes at the end of the 19th century included the creation of the two Atlantes (male equivalents of Caryatids); turbaned and muscular Djinns that guard either side of the entrance. These are believed to be the work of sculptor H.A Pegram (1862 – 1937).

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The full title of the Drapers’ Company is “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London”. The word Mystery comes from the Latin “misterium” meaning professional skill. You wouldn’t get away with that if you were much lower than no.3 on the Order of Precedence. We follow Drapers’ Hall and its gardens all the way up  Throgmorton Avenue to where it joins Copthall Avenue.

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There is a bit more to come  but since we’ve just about breached the 3,000 word barrier we’ll continue from this juncture next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 31 (part 2) -Finsbury Square – Golden Lane – Charterhouse Square

Second part of today’s walk is itself split into two. First off we continue west from Liverpool Street Station and make a circuit of Finsbury Square before pausing on the eastern side of the Barbican Centre. Then it’s a return trip through the Beech Street tunnel to get to Golden Lane and its eponymous estate; after which we loop round the extensive site occupied by the Charterhouse and one of the four campuses of Queen Mary University traversing Clerkenwell Road, St John Street and Charterhouse Street to finish in Charterhouse Square.

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Leaving Broadgate Circus we turn right along Eldon Street then turn back north up Finsbury Avenue which leads into Finsbury Avenue Square which contains both table tennis tables and a few pieces of public art including this piece, Rush Hour.

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Exit the square from the north-east corner into Sun Street first turning left then swiftly right into Crown Place and completing a figure of eight involving those two along with Christopher Street, Earl Street and Wilson Street. Continue south on the latter past the Wilson Street Chapel which is currently besieged by both roadworks and redevelopment of the Flying Horse pub next door. The chapel was built in 1889 which (à propos of nothing) is one of the longest Roman Numeral dates to have yet occurred – MDCCCLXXXIX.

 

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At the end of Wilson Street turn right along South Place then right again into Dominion Street facing directly towards the back entrance of City Gate House. This was constructed in the mid 1920’s to the design of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960) son of the better known and much more prolific George Gilbert Scott, creator of the Midland Hotel St Pancras (as was recorded many posts ago). Giles’ main claim to fame rests on the design of something on a much smaller scale but that’s one for our next post. City Gate House was originally built as a gentleman’s club but it’s not clear how long it lasted as such. American media giant Bloomberg acquired the building in 1991 though in 2015 they sold it on to developers (leasing it back on a temporary basis).

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Turn left next along Lackington Street then north up Finsbury Pavement (part of the A501) before turning the corner into Finsbury Square. First building you come to is the Norman Foster designed no.50 which is adjacent to City Gate House and which Bloomberg expanded into in 2000. Two years later they created the Bloomberg Space on the ground floor as a showcase for newly-commissioned contemporary visual art. The exhibitions there are generally worth a visit but the current offering left me distinctly underwhelmed I’m afraid.

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Continue round the square anti-clockwise passing the front of City Gate House and the drinking fountain that was erected by Tom and Walter Smith as a memorial to their mother Martha who died in 1898. Their father, another Tom, was the man who, in 1847, invented the Christmas Cracker. The business he created on the back of this, Tom Smith & Co., subsequently taken on by his three sons, operated from premises in Finsbury Square up until 1953 (when they moved to Norwich).

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The north side of the square is dominated by the former Triton Court (now known as the AlphaBeta Building). Triton Court was constructed in 1920, comprising three buildings, Mercury, Jupiter and Neptune Houses, internally arranged around a full height 9 storey central atrium. It underwent a first major refurbishment in 1984 and another, costing £36m, has just been completed following the change of name. On top of the tower stands a statue of the messenger of the Gods; Hermes or Mercury depending on whether you favour the Greeks or the Romans.

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After completing the circuit of Finsbury Square we head west on Chiswell Street where we pass Longbow House which now houses a branch of Currys PC World. This post-war building incorporates a relief of an archer, referencing back to the days when this area was to archery what St Andrews is to golf. That was before the advent of the musket though and the establishment of the Honourable Artillery Company whose grounds lie just to the north of here (see Day 28).

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Turn south down Finsbury Street and onto Ropemaker Street then continue west past the Barbican Centre and through the Beech Street tunnel to resume the trail at the southern end of Golden Lane. Take the first left into Brackley Street and when this junctions with Viscount Street head south initially into Bridgewater Street then double back and enter the Golden Lane estate from Fann Street.

The Golden Lane Estate was built in the 1950’s in an area which, as we have seen previously, was effectively razed to the ground by the blitz. A competition for the  design had been launched in 1951 and was won by Geoffrey Powell, a lecturer in architecture at Kingston School of Art. He then formed the partnership of Chamberlain, Powell & Bon with two of his fellow lecturers in order to carry out the project – the three had entered into an agreement that if any one of them won they would share the commission. The first  phase was opened in 1957 and the final block completed five years later. The estate consists of a series of relatively low-level maisonette blocks and the 16-storey centrepiece, Great Arthur House, which was the first residential tower block in London over 50 metres in height. The architectural style takes definite inspiration from the work of Le Corbusier but is softened by the use of primary colours on the facades.

At the time of construction the estate was regarded enthusiastically as a template for integrated social housing and it has indubitably stood test of time better than most of its contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, given the location, slightly over half of the 559 flats have been sold on leasehold since the Thatcher government’s introduction of the right to buy scheme. The attractiveness of taking advantage of such opportunity is enhanced by a level of on-site facilities replicated in scant few other London council estates – including a leisure centre with tennis courts and an indoor pool. Since 1997 the estate buildings have been Grade II listed.

So we exit the estate back out onto Golden Lane itself and continue north before turning west onto Baltic Street East and completing a grid consisting of this, Honduras Street, Timber Street, Domingo Street, Crescent Row, Memel Street, Memel Court, Sycamore Street and Baltic Street West. And the only thing of note to record in this whole area is this doorway of a former school which I can find no information about.

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Anyway, after all that we find ourselves out on the Goswell Road and then turning the corner into Clerkenwell Road where the mural that we saw back in Day 14 has now been replaced by a giant-sized Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Turn south all the way down St John Street to arrive opposite Smithfield Market then take a left down Charterhouse Street which soon splits in two. Take the left fork which takes us past a couple of pubs of note. First is the Smithfield Tavern which on the website which is still running advertises itself as Smithfields’ only vegetarian and vegan pub. You can see how well that worked from the picture below. Second is the Fox and Anchor which in its current four-storey art-nouveau facaded Grade II-listed incarnation has been around since the tail end of the 19th century (though there has been a pub of some kind here for several centuries).

Continuing on we arrive at Charterhouse Square. On the north side of the square sits the Charterhouse,  a former Carthusian monastery which since Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century the house has served as a private mansion, a boys’ school and an almshouse which it remains to this day. The site was originally set aside in the middle of the 14th century as a burial ground for victims of the Black Death and the monastery was established in 1371 on the unused portion of the land. In 1611, the year of his death, Thomas Sutton (1532 – 1611), businessman, civil servant and philanthropist, founded an almshouse for “80 impoverished gentlemen” and a school for 40 boys. Charterhouse School eventually outgrew its premises and moved to Godalming in Surrey in 1872 selling the site to another school, Merchant Taylor’s, which itself moved on in 1933. Today this part of the site is occupied by one of the four campuses of Queen Mary University London. The almshouse, which remains, is formally known as Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse and is a registered charity. For historic reasons the residents are still known as “Brothers”.

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The entrance to the University campus is via Rutland Place at the north-east corner of the square. On the east side of this lies Dean Rees House, part of the University now but built in 1894 as the Headmaster’s House and still bearing the motif of the Merchant Taylor’s School.

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The east side of Charterhouse Square itself is dominated by the Art Deco Florin Court built 1935-37 by Guy Morgan & Partners. When the building was refurbished in 1988 the original roof gardens were reinstated and a basement swimming pool added. Post-refurb and through the nineties it found fame in the guise of Whitehaven Mansions home to the TV version of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

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Leaving the square via Carthusian Street (named after those monks of course) we arrive on Aldersgate Street, flanking the west side of the Barbican complex, and the finish of today’s perambulations.