Finsbury Court EC2
Bus: 9 11 21 43 76 141 To Finsbury Pavement
From Moorgate Station walk north along the west side of Moorgate for about 140 yds and cross Ropemaker Street. Continue straight ahead for a further 35 yds and the site of Finsbury Court is on the left.
Finsbury Court is included here purely for its historical and reference value - it was obliterated in a recent redevelopment programme taking in Finsbury Pavement. Even so, the entrance to the Court can easily be traced, adjacent to number 125 where it now forms the access to the underground car park for Lloyd's Bank.
Finsbury Court was the minor of the great Finsbury's; every Londoner has heard of the well known Square and the equally famed Circus, most will have heard mention of the Street and perhaps the not so famous Avenue. Few, however, will be able to pin-point the site of the narrow little Court which used to link Finsbury Pavement and Finsbury Street. It is hardly surprising since nobody actually went to it and only a minority of those who were familiar with its presence passed through it. Guide books by ritual failed to allow it even a fleeting mention, and history books in their endeavours to tell a good story disregard it in favour of the more prominent Circus and Square. As truly as these two monsters do hog the lime-light Finsbury Court held a central position, albeit a small one, in the history surrounding this area.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, when the citizens of London thought their City had expanded outward from the centre as far as was physically possible, green fields lay only yards from the Royal Exchange. The boundary of the City was then London Wall and to the north the drainage from the higher grounds of Hampstead and Islington settled, forming a vast area of marsh land totally unsuitable for even the most adventurous attempts at building. Numerous unsuccessful attempts had been made to drain the land and notably, in 1511 Sir Roger Acheley achieved a degree of headway by constructing a culvert to channel the water into the Walbrook, a little to the west, and thereby into the Thames. The problem was that the narrowing of the channel as it passed through the City wall was constantly blocked up with rubbish which caused the water to overflow back into the fields. In its water-logged state, Finsbury Fields became the City playground with annual events such as winter skating on the solid ice.
A little to the north, the bury of Finn, a large manor house, had stood since at least the 15th century on the site of the junction between Finsbury Pavement and Chiswell Street. It was a large fortress style building with several outhouses and spacious courtyard enclosed by a wall around three sides. Finsbury Court occupied the site of a pathway running along the southern courtyard wall of the manor house. Its length would have been approximate to that of the old Court which ran through to Finsbury Street, but for what reason it was made is unclear; there was no access way into the courtyard via the southern wall and the path seemed to lead from nowhere, to nowhere. It can only be assumed that it started out as a track, worn by pedestrians making their way along the northern edges of the boggy land.
Until the early 15th century the Roman wall was continuous along the southern stretch of Finsbury Fields, with no way through between Bishopsgate and Cripplegate. The boggy moor of Finsbury Fields was about mid-way between the two gates, and although the people of London had been pleading for a means of direct access to the recreation facilities for years, nothing was done. There are some who hold the belief that Moor Gate was a relic of the Roman era, but it actually came about through the consideration of Thomas Falconer, Lord Mayor in 1414. Not only did Falconer breach the wall and erect a gate, he was successful in raising a ridge of land sufficiently high enough to lay a dry path across the fields to link with the more solid ground near the manor house and beyond. This path, of which Finsbury Court was a tributary, has carried the same name of Finsbury Pavement through the centuries to the present day.
Gardeners Lane EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 11 15 17 23 26 76 172 To Friday Street
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street south side) walk down Garlick Hill. At Upper Thames Street turn right and in about 150 yds cross to the south side via the pedestrian crossing. Gardeners Lane is almost opposite.
Squashed into a distance of less than 300 yards along the south side of Upper Thames Street there are no less than eight little alleyways all with a character of their own. Almost all have suffered a name change over the years, for example, High Timber Street used to be called Timber Hythe and Gardeners Lane was the rather less appealing Dunghill Lane. The scene here is currently changing daily as developers demolish one building after another and ultra modern replacements spring into position almost as quickly as the old ones vanish.
A few yards to the west of Gardeners Lane is Broken Wharf, now modernised and only the narrowness of the lane remains as evidence of its ancient past. To the east is Queenhythe which used to lead down to the Queenhythe Dock first mentioned in the 9th century, and is notable for two firsts: The earliest London fish market was established here, and in the 12th century London's premier public toilet, built by Henry I's Queen Matilda, occupied the site. Queenhythe still retains a morsel of its latter day character, in the shape of an isolated warehouse and overhanging crane but I fear that the demolition gangs already have it in their sights. Next, continuing east, Bull Wharf Lane is a derelict site; all the buildings are flattened and building is about to commence. Likewise, Kennet Wharf Lane has lost its old warehouses and the developers are currently at work changing its shape. At the far eastern end of the cluster is Vintners Place where the wine merchants of Bordeaux toiled at the quayside unloading their cargo. Because of a lack of storage space the wines had to be sold within forty days of arrival and so the merchants would often be doing deals with the local tavern owners as the cases were landed. This situation was far from satisfactory and in 1300 the merchants made a complaint to the King spelling out the simple facts that much of the wine had to be sold for well below the market value in order to dispose of it quickly or the whole was likely to be stolen. The King lent a sympathetic ear and arranged for the building of warehouses with cellars along with accommodation for the merchants.
All these lanes used to lead down to steps at the Thames side where barges unloaded their various cargoes for storage in the high built wharves which, like those of the wine merchants, began to spring up all along the waters edge. Some of these one time narrow passages still reach down to the water side but others have been cut short and are now linked together in the recently opened Thames Side Walk. Here there are gardens with ample seating and an unhindered panoramic view of the Thames.
Back in Gardeners Lane there used to be set into the wall a curious little figure of a man leaning on a spade with the date of 1670 above his shoulders. Indeed the history of this small area goes back a long, long way and although the developers in recent years have made an impression on the place you can still just about savour an air of old London's Thames side.
Great Turnstile WC2
UG: Chancery Lane
Bus: Any to Holborn (Chancery Lane Station)
Off the south side of High Holborn, approx 300 yds west of Chancery Lane Station, just by the London Weather Centre
When the area around here was largely open space and cattle grazed in the fields to the south, known as Cup Field, Fickett's Field, and Purse Field, a turnstile in a narrow lane allowed the passage of pedestrians but prevented the straying of cattle. This lane, sometimes known as Turne Style Lane, was the main access to the group of fields from the highway and was therefore called 'Great' to distinguish it from another turnstile (Little Turnstile) further west. When the turnstile was abandoned the alley was built up with shops and became what was described in 1720 as a great thoroughfare having the shops of milliners and shoemakers. When these traders moved out the alley was taken over by literary buffs, housing bookshops and publishing houses. Until earlier this century there were four sturdy wooden posts fixed into the ground at the entrance to the alley, they served as a reminder of the restrictions imposed by the old turnstile. On the south- west corner stood the Turnstile Tavern but, alas, that was many years ago and today not a single stick of evidence remains. It was closed in 1640 and subsequently given over to the Council.
To the south of Great Turnstile is Lincoln's Inn Fields, formed under that name in the early 17th century out of the three previously named fields - Cup, Fickett's, and Purse. Until the early 18th century a path crossing these fields was a perilous place to tread. By day it was a favourite resort of beggars and hired children who often used violence on unsuspecting victims in order to relieve them of anything worth having. By night, thieves lurked in the darkness ready to pounce on anyone daring to travel the lonely road. The fields, in the course of time, have been witness to events ranging from tragedy to comedy. It was here that Babington and his scheming band were put to death after their planned conspiracy to oust Queen Elizabeth from the English throne and replace her with Mary of Scotland. For his supposed involvement in the Rye House Plot, Lord William Russell was executed in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
On the 29th January 1727 the first staging of John Gray's The Beggar's Opera took place at the Lincoln's Inn Playhouse, on the south side of the Fields. This was also the venue for Thomas Arne's first opera Rosamund, performed here in 1733.
John Gray knew this area well and probably suffered at the hands of muggers on more occasions than one; he gives this warning and advice to anyone contemplating a crossing:
Where Lincoln's Inn wide space is railed around,
Cross not with venturous step; there oft is found
The lurking thief, who while the daylight shone
Made the wall echo with his begging tone:
That crutch which late compassion moved shall wound
Thy bleeding head and fell thee to the ground.
Though thou art tempted by the linkman's call,
Yet trust him not along the lonely wall;
In the midway he'll quench the flaming brand,
And share thy booty with the pilfering band.
Still keep the public streets, where oily rays,
Shot from the crystal lamps, o'erspread the ways.
Hansard, the Government publication which records the business of the House of Commons first saw the light of day in Great Turnstile. In 1797 Luke Hansard, a printer from Norwich inherited a business together with a contract for the printing of Government papers. However, it was not until 1892, long after Hansard's death, that the publication was produced under his name.
At the end of Great Turnstile, to the right, is a narrow turning into the quiet backwater called Whetstone Park. On its appearance today we may be coaxed to conclude that it has always been that way - but how wrong that would be. A local rag of 1682 puts to right any deception: 500 apprentices, and such like, being got together in Smithfield, went into Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they drew up, and marching into Whetstone Park, fell upon the lewd houses there, where, having broken open the doors, they entered, and made great spoil of the goods; of which the constables and watchmen having noticed, and not finding themselves strong enough to quell the tumult, procured a party of the King's guards, who dispersed them, and took eleven, who were committed to New Prison. This was not an isolated incident; the same gang, on being released from the cells came again, and made worse havoc than before, breaking down all the doors and windows and cutting the feather beds and goods in pieces. It was all part of everyday life in Whetstone Park where theft and violence flourished hand in hand with the antics of ladies who lived by immoral earnings.
Great Trinity Lane EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 6 9 11 15 17 23 76 95 To Mansion House station
From Mansion House Station (Cannon Street south side) turn down Garlick Hill. In about 35 yds turn right.
In this old Lane stood the church of Holy Trinity the Less, so named because it was smaller than the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity, in Aldgate - St Katherine Cree now stands on the site of the Priory cemetery. Holy Trinity the Less was consecrated at some time in the early 14th century but when John Stow passed by here in 1598 he noticed that it was in danger of down falling. He says that a collection had been organised to pay for the repairs but the parishioners had to wait for another nine years before sufficient funds were raised. Even then, the kitty was short to the tune of several pounds allowing for only essential work; it was 1629 before finances provided for completion of the renovation. On the 3rd September 1666 the wildest furnace the City had ever witnessed raged around these lanes and destroyed the work of over thirty years saving, in minutes. Holy Trinity was never rebuilt and the parish was annexed to that of St Michael Queenhyth. In actual fact the church was not in Great Trinity Lane at all, but in Knightrider Street, which at that time continued from the south side of St Paul's Churchyard along the line of Old Change Court, Great Trinity Lane, Great Saint Thomas Apostle, and part of Cloak Lane. The names of these streets were changed when the City was rebuilt after the fire.
All the houses in the Lane were demolished in 1888 in the building of Mansion House Underground station. Included in the work area was a vital Alley - Jack's Alley - providing access to Keen's Mustard factory. Although every effort was made to maintain a right of way the task was flawed with problems and it became evident that the only solution was to clear the Alley away. However, the right of way still existed and the factory owners enforced the construction of an iron foot bridge; it still retained the name of Jack's Alley.
Great Saint Helen's EC3
UG: Bank/Liverpool Street
Bus: 8 25 26 35 43 47 48 149 To Bishopsgate/Threadneedle Street
From Bank Station walk along Threadneedle Street by the side of the Royal Exchange and continue to the junction with Bishopsgate. Cross to the east side of Bishopsgate. Great Saint Helen's is then about 130 yds.
Within a few feet of leaving Bishopsgate, this narrow passage widens out into a courtyard, where the church of St Helen forms the backdrop. Belief has it that a church built by the Emperor Constantine existed on this site during the 4th century although there is no documented evidence supporting the existence of any church prior to 1010. The present church, dedicated to the mother of Constantine, Helena, was erected in the early 13th century and is one of the oldest religious establishments in the City.
St Helen's, Bishopsgate is an oddity among the London churches. Unlike many other parish churches that were first established as monastic houses and only transferred to parochial use after the Reformation, St Helen's was built as a parish church and in later years incorporated a Benedictine convent. About 1212 William Basing, a sheriff of the City, was granted permission by the Dean and Canons of St Paul's to build a priory for Benedictine nuns, whilst still retaining the existing church for parochial use.
The nuns built their church adjoining the north side of St Helen's, with convenient doors and passages leading off to their domestic quarters; hence there are two parallel naves. There was no static dividing wall, but merely a high screen over which the naughty nuns would call out and waive to the congregation in the south nave. Frivolity among the community was common place, with excessively loud singing, dancing and hysterical laughter frequently causing a disturbance to the worshipping parishioners. Yapping dogs, owned by the mother superior, were allowed to roam about the church wearing outrageous veils and other articles of religious regalia. It took many years of complaining to stop the revelling; only after a formal rebuke by the Dean of St Paul's in 1433 was it brought under control, and even then there were periodic outbreaks.
When Henry VIII dissolved the nunnery in 1538 there was no great disarray as with other religious house closures; the nuns were sent packing, the dividing screen between the two naves was removed and the entire church given over to parochial use. The dormitory, refectory and kitchen, making up the nuns domestic quarters were sold off to the Leathersellers' Company and converted into their hall, with the refectory fitted out for banquets and meetings.
Sometimes referred to as the Westminster Abbey of the City, St Helen's holds some fine relics, many having been brought from St Martin Outwich, demolished in 1873. Among them, on the south side of the chancel, is a unique sword rest bearing the arms of Sir John Lawrence who was Lord Mayor of London in 1664; it is the oldest in london, dating from pre-Fire years. The pulpit is Jacobean and the font dates from the mid 17th century. There are numerous monuments to dignitaries of the City. On the north side of the chancel beneath a fine canopy is the memorial to William Pickering (1574), Ambassador to France; During his early years he was restrained in the Tower for firing a crossbow at windows. Sir John Spencer (1609), Lord Mayor, lies along side his wife on the south wall with their daughter kneeling at their feet. On the south side of the chancel lies Sir John Crosby with his Lady wife. The bodies of John Oteswich, founder of St Martin Outwich, and his wife were transferred here in 1873 when his church was pulled down. A memorial to Sir Thomas Gresham who died in 1579 is in the nuns' choir.
Great St Helen's was also the site of Crosby Hall Then have you one great house called Crosby place, because the same was built by Sir John Crosby, grocer and woolman, in place of certain tenements, with their appurtenances, letten to him by Alice Ashfed, prioress of St Helen's, and the convent for ninety, from the year 1466 unto the year 1565....
The land leased by Crosby lay to the south of St Helen's church and the entrance to his large and beautiful house - built of stone and timber, was approximately opposite to Threadneedle Street. It stood sheltered from the main street by a row of mean houses and was accessed by a passage leading through to the courtyard, Crosby Square. Adjoining the mansion there was a private chapel, guest lodgings, a banqueting hall, debating chamber, a bakery, a brewery, stables, and extensive gardens. Crosby Hall was not only a fitting abode for a man of Sir John's standing but a place highly desired by lords, and even royalty. Before ascending the throne as Richard III,the Duke of Gloucester made it his base and it was while in residence that he received word that he was to be king.
When the Crosby family gave up the house in 1503 it became the temporary lodging of ambassadors until 1516 when Sir Thomas More moved in, staying for seven years during which time he wrote his Life of Richard III and Utopia. Successive owners of Crosby hall were: Thomas More's son-in-law, William Roper; William Rustill, nephew of More; Thomas d'Arcy, and William Bond, Alderman of the City, who carried out modifications to the place, increasing the house in height, with building of a turret on the top thereof.
In 1666 the Great Fire was prevented from spreading to the north of Leadenhall and the east of Throgmorton Street because of open spaces - gardens - across which the Fire could not jump, and so St Helen's and Crosby Hall were saved. However, six years after the great blaze a fire started in a nearby house destroyed most of the buildings and only the debating chamber and the banqueting hall were preserved. These remaining buildings were taken up by the Presbyterian church and for seventy years were used as their meeting house, before being demoted to a packing warehouse. In 1831 the Hall was renovated and converted into lecture rooms and a concert hall before once again having its status lowered to a restaurant for City workers.
After all this unsettling change Crosby Hall went into retirement in 1910. It was pulled down stone by stone and re-erected in Danvers Street, west of Chelsea parish church; it is now used as the dining hall of the British Federation of University Women, founded in 1907.
Leathersellers Hall was demolished in 1799 and rebuilt in St Helen's Place in 1878. Along with the demolition of the Hall went five almshouses reserved for retired and infirm followers of the trade of leathersellers.
The passage of Great St Helen's continues along the south side of the church and leads into St Mary Axe.
Great Saint Thomas Apostle EC4
UG: Mansion House
Bus: 11 15 17 23 26 76 172 To Mansion House station
From Mansion House Stn (Cannon St south side) turn down Garlick Hill and in about 30 yds turn left.
Standing on this site, until the fire saw it off in 1666, was the medieval church of St Thomas the Apostle. Its originally dedication in about 1170 was purely to St Thomas, and being the only church in the City so dedicated, no distinguishing identification was required. Only a few years later when the church of St Thomas a Becket was dedicated in Cheapside (to commemorate his canonization in 1173) did it become necessary to differentiate between the two. St Thomas's was then rededicated St Thomas the Apostle. About 1325 work began on the construction of a new chapel on the south side of the church but excavation disturbed the original structure which resulted in an almost complete rebuilding. Shortly before the Great Fire, major repairs were carried out on the church but by the evening of the 3rd September 1666 the Fire had taken its toll and it was nothing more than a pile of ashes.
After clearing up the parish was amalgamated with St Mary Aldermary and the site of the church was eventually covered up in the construction of Queen Street. Part of the churchyard could still be seen until 1849 when Queen Street was widened.
Groom Place SW1
UG: Hyde Park Corner
Bus: 2 8 16 36 38 52 73 82 To Grosvenor Place/Chapel Street
From Hyde Park Corner walk south along the west side of Grosvenor Place. Cross Grosvenor Crescent then Halkin Street. At the next turn right into Chapel Street. In about 165 yds turn left into the tiny passage. At the end is Groom Place.
Here we have an oddity, a rarity not only long departed from the streets of this great metropolis but a feature quickly becoming extinct in our villages and towns. Once a common sight on almost every street corner, they have been driven into the ground, never to be resurrected, by the sell-everything trading houses springing up like daisies in a meadow - it is, of course, a shop. So, what is the big deal? The West End is a Mecca of shops; Oxford Street and Regent Street contain precious little else, and some of the alleys and courts of central London could just as fairly be termed markets. But Groom Place is no ordinary court; in this area once teaming with the aristocracy it lies tucked away as a segregated community. It is a moderately wide court surfaced in glistening cobble stones set in an environment in keeping with the character usually encountered in places designated as mews. Napoleon once implied that the population of England had no occupation other than keeping shops, but he was talking on the subject in the 18th century and times have changed. However, Groom Place has not changed that much and still retains its distinctive corner shop - a small general store which sole existence relies on the patronage of local residents - and perhaps a few workers as well.
This is a pretty court - not in the way of cottage gardens and hanging baskets - but in the characteristic style of its village street. On a deviating route it winds between Chapel Street and Chester Street with a cul-de-sac yard leading off. On the corner of Chester Street is the village pub, the Horse and Groom, a small two bar house which like Groom Place has changed little with the passage of time.
Guildhall Yard EC2
Bus: 4 56 172 To Aldersgate Street/Gresham Street
Leave Bank Station via Princes Street, by the side of the Bank and at the next junction turn left into Gresham Street. Guildhall Yard is approx 150 yds on the north side of Gresham Street, opposite King Street.
Peering around the east end of the church of St Lawrence Jewry brings into view one of London's most distinguished buildings; this is Guildhall Yard and directly ahead is the Guildhall itself. For near on a thousand years the governing body of the City, the City Corporation, have administered from buildings on this site.
The present Hall is of the early 14th century but the sparking white south frontage, added in 1789, is the work of George Dance the younger. High above the central doorway, between two soaring pilaster, is the Arms of the City; a shield bearing the cross of St George, in the left upper quarter is the sword of St Paul, patron saint of this great City of London. On either side the supporting dragons rest on the scrolled motto: Domine dirige nos which means O Lord guide us.
Through the gothic doorway is the partly medieval Great Hall, restored in 1670 after being seriously damaged in 1666. As the Great Fire swept its course through the alleys and courts to the east it quickly took its toll on the tightly pack wooden houses of Guildhall Yard. Two taverns on the west side of the Yard, the Three Tuns and the White Lyon, closed their doors on the night of Monday, 3rd September and never opened again. Highly charged with fuel, it then attacked the Great Hall, but this was of solid stone and only the tremendous heat from without caused the ignition of the timbers within. Gog and Magog, the elaborately painted famous giants, fell casualty and were reduced to ashes. Saved from the flames were the treasured historic records of the City; they were stored in the heavily armoured stone crypt beneath the Hall.
Further restoration work was completed in 1866 by Sir Horace Jones who at the same time added a long awaited new timber roof. For almost two centuries the outstanding architecture of the Hall had remained spoilt by a hideous flat roof; the design by Sir Horace was closely in keeping with that of the original and was crowned with a lantern and slender spire. Unfortunately, it lasted for less than 80 years; destroyed in a 1940 air raid and repaired in 1954 by Sir Giles Scott, it now features a panelled ceiling and stone arches. After their fete in 1666 the two giants were remodelled and there stood firm until the tragic day in 1940 when they were so badly disfigured by fire. New figures were created by David Evans in 1953 and once again they stand ever watchful from their pedestals.
Today the Great Hall is used for Council meetings, conferences of importance to the City, it yearly hosts the gathering for the election of the Lord Mayor, it is the venue for many Corporation banquets, and in November of each year the Lord Mayor's Banquet, attended by the Sheriffs of the City, members of the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister is held within these great walls. But it has not always been the scene of such splendid ceremonial; the Great Hall has also witnessed a fair share of the most tragic moments in history. Here in 1554 was held the pointless trial of Lady Jane Grey, her fete already decided; and for assisting in her cause Thomas Cranmer was here found guilty and sentenced to his doom at Tyburn. In 1546 the Protestant martyr Anne Askew was told of her end; frail from previous torture, she was too weak to stand and so had to be chained to the stake while her spectators, the Duke of Norfolk and the Lord Mayor watched the flames consume her body. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, accused of stealing the coat-of-arms of Edward the Confessor for his own use, unsuccessfully attempted to defend his case and was sentenced to death on Tower Hill. There were many more and whilst the Hall of today is a cheerful place, it holds numerous sorrowful memories.
The modern Guildhall Library, to the west of the Great Hall, houses a collection of almost 150,000 books, pamphlets and manuscripts dealing with every aspect of London, its history, and its inhabitants. If you need to delve deep into the antiquity of this fascinating City then look no further. The Library is open Monday to Friday, 09.30 - 17.00.
At the entrance to Guildhall Yard is the church of St Lawrence Jewry, standing on the site of an earlier church probably built in the 12th century. In 1294 the patronage of the church was transferred to Balliol College, Oxford and the Master of the College still retains a stall in the front pew. The old church was burnt down in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1671 and 1676 largely at the expense of Sir John Langham, Sheriff in 1642. Incorporated into the parish of the new church was the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street, also burnt down but never replaced. Extensive war damage in 1940 caused the church to be closed until restoration was completed in 1957 by Cecil Brown.
With the exception of the eastern facade, the exterior is plain and architecturally uninspiring with a tower of similar character supporting a square pedestal and topped with a slender octagonal spire with weather-vane. The interior, however, is typically Wren and has a single aisle on the north side separated from the nave by Corinthian columns and a fine wooden screen. The panelled ceiling with flowers representing the gridiron of St Lawrence's martyrdom is spectacular and the suspended ornate multi-armed chandeliers are all that we would expect. The oak reredos, containing a painting by the restorer, although new is of very fitting proportions. Remains of the old roof from the Guildhall have been worked to form the covering for the 17th century font, a relic from Holy Trinity, Minories.
Since the Guildhall was deprived of its chapel in the 14th century St Lawrence Jewry has served as the official church of the City Corporation. The Lord Mayor has the privilege of a private pew, with sword rest, on the front row. A special service, attended by the retiring Lord Mayor, is held here every year prior to the election of his successor.