Another London Walk
It’s cold and sunny, so another morning of research takes me through the Square Mile, where several nasty shocks await. First, all around Bishopsgate are vast holes where entire city blocks have been razed, ready to have Tokyo-style skyscrapers dropped in. I hope they keep the alleyways and ginnels that ran between so many of them. Next, the courtyard of the Royal Exchange has been turned into a shopping centre filled with chain-stores selling expensive bits and pieces, nothing you’d ever want to actually buy. It’s pretty to perch there with a coffee, but move along fast because this courtyard ‘shopping experience’ has security-monkeys looking for anyone behaving in a suspicious manner (i.e. not buying anything).
I beat a retreat and head off to a few City churches. Here I can talk to wardens and vergers, who love telling stories about their buildings. All Hallows By The Tower bills itself as London’s oldest church (founded by the Abbey of Barking in 675AD, 300 years before the Tower of London) but is it? The St Pancras Old Church goes back a further 300 years, although there’s nothing left of it from that time. It’s still a stunning church with an unusually constructed ceiling.
In the crypt and tunnels of All Hallows are various oddities. I liked this plaque about the exhausting carillon of bells rung on this spot, 8448 changes rung in 5 hours and 24 minutes – have I read that right?
One thing that strikes me is that now so few central churches are used for congregational worship, they do provide a very necessary space for solace and reflection for anyone stressed out by working in the city. Although it is a bit off-putting to have the calm periodically disturbed in some churches by tour guides showing groups around the features. On the way down to the crypt of All Hallows there are further oddities, first the crow’s nest used by Sir Earnest Shackleton on his last Antarctic voyage (although I’m not sure why it’s there)…
And then there’s this strange-looking thing. During the Blitz a bomb fell through the East window of the church, and later intense firebombing melted all the lead on the roof, causing it to run in rivers through the building and pour down into the crypt, of which this molten lead stalactite is preserved.
St Magnus-The-Martyr is a guild church – that is, a number of the town guilds used it including the Haberdashers. I attended a guild school, the Royal Leathersellers (a wonderful education formerly open to everyone for over 300 years, now only available to fee-paying families thanks to Margaret Thatcher), so I was interested in seeing the interior, with its elaborate ancient pews which had survived so many fires. It’s one of the churches featured in ‘Oranges and Lemons’ – “Because we are smarter, Say the Bells of the Martyr…” And it has this, a model of the old London Bridge when it still had houses on it.
I’m heading next for a church in Shakespeare’s old parish, St Andrew-By-The-Wardrobe, first mentioned in 1170, when it was part of Baynard’s Castle, burned down, rebuilt and rebuilt again, and now surviving in a simple style that renders it a bit invisible among the buzzing city streets. It gets its odd name from the fact that Edward III stored his royal wardrobe there (a wardrobe being a storehouse for Royal accoutrements, housing arms and clothing among other personal items of the Crown). Unusually, it has steep steps going up into it, and is behind Blackfriars Station. In a wall plaque, Shakespeare is shown kneeling before ‘the final curtain’. Bit over the top, that.
Enough for one morning. I have what I need to start writing again this afternoon. From here it’s a 30 minute walk home, by which time I’ll be gagging for a cup of tea and a biscuit.