In Search Of A London Street Pt. 3

London

IMG_0684I leave Postman’s Park, with the remains of the old White Horse Inn behind it, but I’m still no closer to discovering my mysterious cobbled street. Clearly it’s known to thousands; I’d seen it on a warm Friday night when its corners were overflowing with wine-imbibing city workers. Instead I start stumbling upon a few of the guilds of old London. Having gone to a guild school myself, I think I can bluff my way in. No such luck.
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On my second attempt, at the Ironmongers’ Guild, tucked into the base of the Barbican complex, I am confronted by a senior gentleman in a waistcoat and watch-chain, seated behind a rather Victorian desk, who warns me that I can’t just come wandering in for a look-around. Upon hearing my guild school spiel he softens and confides; ‘We used to conduct monthly tours but they don’t let us now.’ He points upstairs conspiratorially, perhaps to Heaven. ‘They’ve monetised it all. Three events a day we do.’

‘What kind of events?’ I ask.

‘Birthdays, anniversaries and office dos but weddings mostly. We get the lot in here, Sikhs, same-sex, you name it. It’s nice, you meet all sorts, but nobody gets to have a look around anymore unless they’re booked in for a bash. It’s all monetised.’ The word seems incongruous in his mouth. He gives a weary sigh and goes back to his Evening Standard. I thank him and head onward.

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Now I find yet more 19th century gravestones casually lining another courtyard and start to wonder how many London dead are scattered about here in pub gardens and alleyways. I own a book on the subject, of course, called ‘London Dead’, but that’s a whole other subject to explore and I’m on a time limit, so I press on. It’s now 3:00pm and I have to head back soon to record an interview.
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More churches, all empty and kept immaculately, if forlornly, open – I encounter no punters chucking their prayers skywards and consider using these unchanging halls simply as places of contemplation and calm – except that I can’t because my tinnitus springs to life in silence, a permanent road-drill-cum-siren that periodically destroys my inner peace. Or perhaps, Damien-like, I simply react against holy places.

But the more I step inside, the more my respect grows for these oases, run by volunteers who expect nothing in return. Many of the City’s churches are surprisingly plain inside, but what shocks me about all of them is their capacity. Of course there are plenty of small chapels, but the churches rarely seat less than 200. Now they are divided into the superstar churches like the Knights Templar church or St Brides, and the barely registered empty spots like St Andrew-By-The-Wardrobe.

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I start to get an idea that I’m approaching the neighbourhood wherein I might find my missing street. Everyone is back in their offices now and the streets are deserted. I pass a few corner pubs – they’re aren’t too many of those left in the Square Mile. City drinking culture, the world of the four hour claret-filled lunch, are long gone. Faced with a 24-hour digital economy, the City’s more languid traditions have dropped away.

IMG_0677A story went around about Baring’s Bank, the oldest and most arrogant bank in Britain (the Queen had an account there), which survived until it was destroyed by the risk-addicted rogue trader Nick Leeson, who now makes his money as an after-dinner speaker on fraud; an American came to see Baring’s on August 12th, and discovered that the entire senior management team had gone off to shoot game for the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. Shocked, he knew that the bank was complacent and could be taken over. But before that could happen, Leeson dismantled it by manipulating its flaws.

A trading jacket assumed to have been worn by Leeson was sold at auction for an absurd amount. Although his book was made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Leesom comes over as an unpleasant little thief exploiting financial weaknesses. The bank would probably have collapsed anyway, but it took a sociopath to hasten the process; each era gets the icons it deserves.

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On to St Dunstan In The East, a unique garden of the City set in the Blitz-bombed ruins of a Wren church. There are still occasional open-air services held at the church. It’s another oasis of calm greenery in a traffic-saturated corner of the city.

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I was on the verge of giving up my search. I decided to double-back on myself and return into the backstreets. I reached a narrow crossroads and turned into a street that I instantly recognised. This was the crowded, convivial spot I had discovered years earlier – unchanged. Now it was empty and quiet. It was called Carter Lane, perhaps a little too neat and tidy to be truly Dickensian, but I could imagine it set-dressed for a production of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

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I headed back from the Barbican tube station, where there’s an abandoned platform that resembles a remote railway halt in the countryside. I now had enough research notes for another Bryant & May scene. I want to visit the other talking statues, which combine phone technology and theatre as they tell you about their lives. I also want to revisit the Old Bailey as a spectator again. I have about thirty more walking routes planned in my head, for other times, but for now that’s one more off the list.
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27 comments on “In Search Of A London Street Pt. 3”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    Good English and well described.

  2. Jo W says:

    Well,Chris,I got that wrong. I thought you had been heading for Blackfriars Lane and Apothecarys Hall and when I saw the photo,I thought yes! But it was not that cobbled lane along which I had stepped very carefully last week,after having crossed Carter Lane. Drat! Foiled again,Moriarty. 🙁

  3. Jo W says:

    Btw,did you notice that the narrow lane off Creed lane,just before Carter lane, is called Ludgate Square? We wondered why. Does anyone out there in Fowler Land know?

  4. Chris Webb says:

    Is that an HDR photo of Carter Lane? I’m not sure the cobbles are genuine “Ye Olde”. The cobblestones in Leadenhall Market are only about 20 years old, and I was working in Gracechurch St when they replaced the old tarmac and for several weeks they caused pandamonium. (That’s a panda playing a harmonium.)

    There’s a little alleyway off Carter Lane, along which is a small paved area perhaps 20 yards square. It’s obviously an old churchyard (or part of) as it’s yet another example of gravestones lined up along one side. It is built up several steps so must be one of the churchyards raised to accommodate more dearly departed stiffs.

    When you mentioned on Tuesday a road near St Paul’s named after a profession, some vague idea floated into my head that there was a road called Bookbinder Street (Lane/Court/Whatever) in the area. It would make sense as it was a centre of printing and bookselling at one time, and many London streets are named after the trades centred on them. Can’t find a trace of it though. Probably a figment of my imagination.

    Anyone interested in little cobbled streets might like to look around the area just south of Spitalfields Market – Artillery Lane, Gun Street etc.. (Guess what they used to do round there.) I even think the cobblestones might be genuine. There’s a nice little pub in Artillery Lane called Williams, and there used to be a pub in Brushfield St. called The Gun but it’s currently being redeveloped as offices or flats.

  5. Richard Turner says:

    Good to walk down memory lane once again. I used to work as an appentice in the factory opposite (1964-67).

  6. admin says:

    Oh no, The Gun going too? No-one seems able to stop scumbag developers from shutting down pubs. I had to pull the shot of Carter Lane from the web because mine weren’t the right format. I don’t care whether cobbles or bricks are old or new so long as the integrity of the area is kept intact.

  7. Chris Webb says:

    Richard,

    What is an appentice when it’s at home? I am sure the word you are looking for is “apprentice”?

  8. Chris Webb says:

    Sussex in Long Acre. RIP.

    Molly Moggs in Charing Cross Road. RIP. “Entertaining Soho since 1731”. It’s was older than the USA FFS! I wonder if they had drag queens in 1731?

    http://chriswebbphotography.tumblr.com/post/141583417131/molly-moggs-charing-cross-road

    I must have some photos of The Gun somewhere but can’t find them.

    I don’t understand the economics of the sort of pubs that are always packed closing down. Suburban and country pubs are no longer the centres of their communities like they were in the “olden days” and even trying to reinvent themselves as gastropubs or whatever is really clutching at straws. (I hate the word gastropub. Reminds me of gastroenteritis!) But permanently packed city-centre pubs? I suppose the owners prefer to flog off flats and get large amounts of money in one go rather than maintaining a regular rental income. Very short-termist.

    Also, in Central London councils don’t seem too interested in giving buildings listed status as would happen elsewhere.

    There used to be an authentic little Chinese food shop somewhere near Carter Lane selling rare and genuine Chinese ingredients. I can’t remember exactly where but I’m pretty sure it’s long gone. The building will still be there but probably a coffee shop or whatever now.

  9. David Ronaldson says:

    Jo W, Ludgate Square used to be just that. In the early 19th century, it’s shown as 4 streets around an open space to the Western end of Carter Lane

  10. admin says:

    I get a 404 on your website galleries, Chris. The Molly Mogg may have had a licence for the site since before America, but it has been called a hundred different names in my lifetime. I guess it makes a good property purchase because of the large lower ground floor.

  11. Jo W says:

    Thanks for the information, Mr.Ronaldson. It should have been obvious really. I suppose that somebody made money later that century,by allowing building on the open space. I tried finding out from the web,but I could only finds lots of adverts for flats to rent or buy.

  12. Chris Webb says:

    That link works for me so might have just been a temporary glitch. It’s not my site, just my blog on Tumblr so out of my control. It was only a boring photo of a sign outside Molly Moggs saying “Entertaining Soho since 1731”, or 45BUS (Before Uncle Sam).

    I didn’t know it had had many names. Renaming pubs is second only to closing them in terms of annoyingness.

    The Nelly Dean round in Dean Street has just been refurbished so is presumably good for a few more months. Question: what came first, the pub name or the street name?

  13. Ian Luck says:

    It’s almost as if snot-nosed punk developers don’t like normal people, who actually know what work is, having a reviving swift half. It goes on in my town, too. “It’s an old pub, used by a lot of people.” “Tell me, these people, do they work, and get their hands dirty?” “I believe so, sir – they are workers, after all.” “Fuck them – they can make do with cans of fizzy piss at home; I want this ‘pub’ to gut and convert into wanker flats, so that bouffanted, too-neatly bearded pricks like myself can live here, feeling trendy, and pricing everyone else out of the area. Am I clear on this?” etc. (Insert anonymous brown envelopes full of cash where you feel fit). Bastards.

  14. Vivienne says:

    Used to work opposite the Nelly Dean and I’m ashamed to say I never thought of what came first.

    On another topic, old cobbled streets have wonderfully smooth cobbles, but any new ones are rough and flinty. What did they used to do – it can’t have been easy? These are the sort of questions you wished you had asked your grandparents.

  15. admin says:

    I’ll have to source the Nelly Dean history in my London books…

  16. Jan says:

    Vivienne is n’t it just decades of use that have smoothed the cobbles?
    Or have fallen for a subtle chicken + egg type joke!

  17. Peter Tromans says:

    Thank you for a wonderful journey!

    I understand that things change. It would be preferable if the motivation were something better than a fast buck.

  18. Jan says:

    Throughout history it’s always been build for defence and the pursuit of the fast buck. Only relatively recently have we become aware of conservation. Seems a dreadful shame that over time most of these curiosities will dissappear.

    Ultimately though it must all be transient. Wonder if in 500 years time tourist guides will point out nooks and crannies created in the 1980s? Or will all cities follow the Las Vegas model torn up and recreated every 25 years or so? The City of London is there already. The ancient places coexisting with extreme modernity. Apparently there’s a cause written into the lease of that horrendous walkie -talkie building saying unless it reaches 50-60% occupancy with 15 years it gets demolished. (We can only hope)

  19. chazza says:

    Your quest reminded me of an amalgam of certain short stories/essays by Arthur Machen!

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Am I losing the plot, and imagining things, or is it true that new plaques are being installed in the long-empty spaces in Postman’s Park? I went there a long time ago, when the sentiment was dismissed as ‘Victorian Mawkishness’. Far from it – the people commemorated here had balls. Big steel ones. I thought that it would be depressing, but no, it’s a display of what it means to be human, and I left feeling elated.

  21. Jan says:

    Yeah they r going to add at least one more shelter apparently as well as putting new plaques in What some of those folk did was unbelievable you are quite right Ian

  22. Helen Martin says:

    When we walked down from St. Paul’s I am willing to swear it was Carters Lane we turned along to reach the Rising (?) Sun pub. Oldish pub which had been gutted and refitted with painted plywood counters and tables. We had a pint and watched cricket on their tv. The building at the corner had a Latin phrase painted on a border above the ground floor windows. It appeared to be part of the St. Paul’s complex.

  23. Ian Luck says:

    For some reason, that picture of Carters Lane, made me think of the late Monty Python short, ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’. A work of mad genius.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    I have just been given a book from 1957, Innocents in Britain, in which a Price and his wife travel through parts of Britain. The main part is them travelling down the Thames from its source (Thames Head) to London. They walk until the water is deep enough to carry a canoe which they paddle down towards Oxford, try punting (Don’t you think you’ve left learning a little late? Better stick to the paddle.) and rent a motor boat . It’s quite funny and friendly and they visit all the places you would expect, plus some you wouldn’t expect. Blenheim Palace they dismissed as ugly on the outside and magnificent on the inside. They were glad to find that Winston Churchill’s birthplace was quite plain. Anyway I’m finding it a lovely calming read.

  25. Jan says:

    Helen did you know that if Hitler had won the war he stated he would live at Blenheim Palace and his “capital” would have Oxford? He considered Oxford to be England’s most beautiful and powerful location and liked the city so much it was very lightly bombed in WW2.

    Funnily enough the Gunpowder plotters wanted to make Stratford-upon -Avon the nation’s capital if their operation had been successful. There’s a programme on telly at present about the Gunpowder plotters I don’t know if they are going to include this fact or not.

    Mercia and the Midlands roughly Oxfordshire through to Staffordshire -much larger in pre Norman Britain – contains some very important locations. It’s sort of overlooked now caught between the North, London and the S.E.

  26. Ian Luck says:

    I was always rather amused at Von Ribbentrop’s request for a home in England if the invasion was successful – Cornwall. All of it. I have heard he rather liked the idea of living in St. Michael’s Mount. Thanks to Monty Python, I can only see him as ‘Ron Vibbentrop’, accompanied by a chain-smoking ‘Bimmler’, and a very tall, shouty ‘Hilter’. Interestingly enough, post-war experiments to see if an amphibious German invasion was feasible, and using German documentation, which showed that landings would have taken place in low lying areas of West Sussex, which were heavily mined and defended. Tests using Royal Marines as Germans showed that, due to the boggy nature of the land, and it’s proximity to several army bases, Invaders would have struggled to get a maximum of 16 miles inland before being totally wiped out. Several scenarios were tried – all ended in the same way.

  27. Jan says:

    From Seaton a small seaside town in east Devon right up through East Devon/Dorset + Somerset to end to the the west of Bristol. (Sorry I can’t remember exactly where.) runs a stop line to stop any German invasion which landed on the SW peninsula travelling E toward the capital. The line is marked by massive concrete blocks topped with a pyramid shape. These things crop up all over the shop. Near reservoirs, in people’s gardens, car parks, school grounds there’s one not far from where you marooned the other evening Chris not too far from Yeovil junction station. It’s interesting subject amazing to see how much of the country Churchill was willing to concede to any German invasion force. Course there was at least one more stop line further east I believe and London outskirts defences

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