From Strand to Cornhill in 35 minutes
Fleet Street, named after the River Fleet, is a continuation of the Strand. Here are the Royal Courts of Justice, an extensive structure of the Victorian Gothic style of architecture built in the 1870s. The Law Courts moved from Westminster in 1882. Fleet Street used to be the newspaper and journalism headquarters of London. All major British daily papers had their offices here, and the pubs were full of journalists. The offices have long moved to the suburbs, but many still refer to Fleet Street as the home of the British Press.
South of Fleet Street are Temple buildings, consisting of the Inner and the Middle Temples. These two Temples form two of the four Inns of Court. The Temple was initially a lodge of the Knights Templar or simply the Templars, a catholic military order founded in Jerusalem in 1119 to protect the Holy Sepulchre. When the order was terminated in 1313, its possessions became Crown property. The separation into two Halls dates from the time of Henry VI, who ruled England from 1422 to 1461.
Middle Temple Hall, with its splendid double-hammer Elizabethan beam roof, was built in 1573. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first played here on February 2, 1601. Middle Temple was famous for hosting various forms of entertainment, including plays.
Temple Church is a round church built by the Knights Templar to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the twelfth century. The interior is split into two sections, the Round Church and the Choir. The Round Church is the older part, and here are some monuments of Templars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Oliver Goldsmith, an Irish novelist and poet, who lived and died in Middle Temple Lane, is buried in the churchyard.
To become a barrister in England, the student has to join one of the Inns of Court. The four Inns are Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, and the Inner and Middle Temple, which are governed by older members called Benchers.
Lincoln’s Inn derives its name from the Earl of Lincoln, who took the old Blackfriars monastery on this site for his townhouse given to him by King Edward I. After his death, it became an Inn of Court. The Inn’s oldest building, Old Hall, dates from the time of King Henry VII. The impressive Library, founded in 1497, is the oldest in London and one of the world’s first official libraries. The beautiful gateway is one of the four oldest still standing in London. The date 1518 can be read below the coat of arms.
The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn has existed as a law school since 1370 and takes its name from Lord Gray de Wilton, 1st Baron Grey de Wilton of Henry VII’s time. The beautiful Elizabethan Banqueting Hall, constructed in 1560, contains fine wainscots, carvings, and stained-glass windows of the Tudor period. In this Hall, Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” was acted in 1594. The garden was laid out by Sir Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, who studied here. Gray’s Inn Walks, opened to the public between 12 pm and 2.30 pm, was a fashionable promenade in the seventeenth century.
Returning to Fleet Street, famous for its newspaper offices, was the very cradle of printing. Fleet Street was also an excellent street for shows and waxworks, even for taverns such as the Mitre, the Cock, the old Cheshire Cheese, and the Rainbow. Milton, Izaak Walton, Dr. Johnson, Goldsmith, and many other literary lights, haunt Fleet Street. John Milton once lived near St. Bride’s Church, adjoining the old office of Punch, a magazine of humour established in 1841, at 85 Fleet Street.
The very name that takes us back to legendary London was the site of one of the ancient gates of the City. Lud, King of Britain in pre-Roman times, is said to have built one here sixty-six years before the birth of Christ.
The famous old Inn, La Belle Sauvage, was located between Limeburner Lane and the Old Baily. The Inn has apparently been named in honour of Pocahontas, who became the rage in London when she went there in 1616 as the bride of the tobacco planter John Rolfe. She was presented at Court, and called “La Belle Sauvage.”
St. Paul’s Cathedral
From this point forward, Ludgate Hill stretches to St. Paul’s Churchyard. Old St. Paul’s was bigger than the present Cathedral. It was one of the most magnificent churches in Europe, of Gothic architecture, like Westminster Abbey, with noble aisles, glowing windows, shrines sparkling with jewels, and was adorned with rich carved work, and filled with remarkable and important artefacts. In the course of time, it had also become a favourite meeting place for Londoners in the daytime. Here merchants transacted their business, lawyers received their clients, and servants came to apply for service.
In the Crypt are many tombs and memorials of artists, scientists, and musicians. The Crypt contains graves of Sir Christopher Wren, one of the most highly acclaimed English architects; Sir Joshua Reynolds, an English painter specializing in portraits; Joseph Mallord William Turner, romantic painter and watercolourist; Benjamin West, an American artist; John Opie, a Cornish historical and portrait painter; Sir Edward Landseer, an English painter and sculptor; Lord Leighton, a British painter, draughtsman and sculptor; Sir John Millais, an English painter and illustrator; George Cruikshank, a British caricaturist and book illustrator; and the two great heroes, Vice-Admiral Horatio and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The Duke of Wellington’s monument featured a giant marble sarcophagus once intended for Henry VIII. Originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII confiscated it along with other of the Cardinal’s possessions at Hampton Court Palace.
There are also many statues and monuments, including those to John Howard, the philanthropist, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Cornwallis, Sir Astley Cooper, Admiral Napier, General Gordon, the Crimean War Cavalry Memorial and tablets to heroes of the Boer War.
The Stone Gallery of St Paul’s Cathedral provides the best view of the City. The Gallery stands at 173 feet from ground level and is reached by 378 steps. Looking at the magnificent panorama below, what immediately strikes, is the large number of towers that were mostly erected after the Great Fire of 1666 and designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
The most notable of them is St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, the famous old Bow Church. You can always remember its tall steeple (225 feet high) with the dragon ten feet long for a wind vane. Bow Bells have long been important in London’s history. They used to ring the Curfew at sunset for the gates to be shut, and after a long interval of disuse, they were restored in 1905 but declared un-ringable in 1926. After restoration in 1933, the bells were entirely destroyed in 1941 by a German air raid. The current bells were cast in 1956 and were rung for the first time on December 21, 1961.
St. Paul’s also has its bells. In the northwest tower, there is a peal of twelve, and in the southwest, tower hangs “Great Paul,” the greatest bell ever cast in the British Isles, thirty feet in circumference, ten inches thick in metal, and weighing sixteen tons. Unfortunately, Great Paul has not sounded for several years because of a broken chiming mechanism.
St. Giles’s Cripplegate
The bells of St. Giles’s Cripplegate used to toll day and night during the Great Plague. St. Giles’s remarkably escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church was built in 1100 and rebuilt in 1545, 1897 and 1940. In St. Giles’s Oliver Cromwell, aged 21, married Elizabeth Bouchier and in it, John Milton is buried whose burial place is marked by a stone on the floor near the pulpit.
Cheapside (from Chepe, meaning market) extends from Newgate Street to the Poultry and is famous for its shops, food outlets, and offices. Cheapside Cross, one of the nine crosses erected to Queen Eleanor, by Edward I of England, was located at the corner of Wood Street until demolished by Parliament on May 2, 1643. The neighbouring Friday Street commemorates a Friday fish market, and Bread Street was the birthplace of John Milton, an English poet and intellectual, best known for Paradise Lost, one of the greatest epic poems in the English language. Between Friday and Bread Streets, on the south side of Cheapside, was the “Mermaid Tavern,” where Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, and other poets gathered.
King Street leads out of Cheapside to the Guildhall, home to the City of London Corporation. After the Great Fire, all that remains of the old Guildhall, built in the reign of Henry IV (1411), are the old walls and the most significant medieval Crypt. The Great Hall, with its fourth roof designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1953, is 153 feet long, 50 feet broad, and 55 feet high, with stained-glass windows at each end. This Hall was used for municipal meetings, the election of the Lord Mayor and members of Parliament, and great civic entertainments. Today it is the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London, and here, every November 9, the new Lord Mayor holds a great banquet.
Many historical events have taken place in the Guildhall. Here Richard III attempted to make the citizens accept him as King, Anne Askew was tried for heresy, the Earl of Surrey was tried for high treason. The old Crypt, divided by three aisles and clusters of columns, dates from 1417. The Alderman’s Court, a beautiful room with rich carvings and allegorical paintings, was rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. In the Library, there is a valuable collection of 70,000 books, plays, and pamphlets relating to the history of London, and the City Museum, in a vaulted chamber below, contains London relics of all kinds, including Roman antiquities and old tavern signs.
The lower end of Cheapside, known as the Poultry, opens into an ample space where seven other streets converge. There are Prince’s Street, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill, Lombard Street, King William Street, Walbrook, and Queen Victoria Street. The Bank of England is on the left, the Royal Exchange in front, and the Mansion House on the right. No other part of London is so busy during the day and so still and desolate at night.
On the point between Cornhill and Threadneedle Street is the Royal Exchange with the equestrian statue of Wellington in front.
The official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Mansion House, dates from 1739. The principal part of the building, based on the designs by the classical Roman architect Vitruvius, is called the Egyptian Hall. Almost opposite the Mansion House is the Bank of England, covering 3.25 acres of ground. Threadneedle Street, which gives the Bank of England its popular name, the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,” leads into Bishopsgate Street where is a famous old church, St. Helen’s, and the site of Crosby Hall, the palace of Richard III. The medieval structure was built in 1466 and moved stone by stone to its present location in Chelsea in 1910. It is now the site of the 2019 skyscraper, 22 Bishopsgate.
St. Helen’s Church Bishopsgate, is the survival of the Priory of the Nuns of St. Helen’s founded about 1212. The nuns of the priory were of the Benedictine order, and wore a black habit, with a cloak, cowl and veil. The remains of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, were interred in the church of St. Helen’s on December 15, 1579, beneath a tomb which he had constructed for himself during his lifetime. William Shakespeare was a parishioner in 1598, which explains why a stained-glass window was erected to his memory in 1884. Among the tombs is that of Sir John Crosby (1475), and his wife, Anne. He is wearing an Alderman’s cloak over his armour and the badge of the House of York around his neck.
Bishopsgate Street ends at Cornhill, and its continuation to London Bridge is Gracechurch Street. Cornhill also ends at this point, Leadenhall Street being the name that continues eastwards to Aldgate. The latter was named after a gate in the ancient London Wall around the City, midway between the Tower and Bishopsgate. Here lies the well-known Whitechapel, the beginning of the enormous East London, which has swallowed up all the old villages and all the land between the Thames and Epping Forest.