The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

You know that the nanny state has sunk deep into British society when companies - companies! - start encouraging you to fight obesity and ill-health by taking walks at lunchtime. Is this the return of paternalism, perhaps? Are we soon to be talked down to by avuncular industrialists who know what's best for us and who will ensure we adhere to a moral standard of their choice? Such thoughts were not on my mind when I took a quick amble from work the other day, following carefully the directions given in a pamphlet issued by my company.

For those who have not been paying attention, the centre of the world's financial industry is London - and not just anywhere in London, but the City of London, the ancient heart of this ancient metropolis, a centre of trade and finance since the Romans pottered around in their togas. Most of historic London has vanished in successive disasters - fires, war, riots, reconstruction. Pretty much the oldest structures still in use in the city date from 1666, after the Great Fire. What we see today is a modern shell over a hoary core. Stories from the past are preserved only in the street names, the pubs, and in the many many archives.

I make a sharp left out of the office onto Bishopsgate and, just past Chez Gerard (where every Friday activists assemble to yell imprecations against them for their use of foie gras), on the left is St. Helen's Place. At the entrance, on the gate, is a motto Soli Deo Honoret Gloria. The coat-of-arms - a ram and a stag rampant, holding a white shield displaying three red stags - that holds the motto is a marvel of repousse sheet iron work, installed there in 1927. The Place is a quadrangle surrounded by high white neo-classical buildings, all, it seems, the property of the Leathersellers' Company. [Photo by Matt of London.]

The Leathersellers' guild was founded in the 13th century. They were granted a royal charter in 1444 by King Henry VI. Originally it was formed by tanners, but after Henry's grant, it began to concentrate on the protection of the leather industry and to maintain standards in the production of leather. (Today, the guild provides technical education in leather-craft.)

Guilds, of course, were mediaeval cartels, monopolies of great power. The good thing about them, though, was that they also provided benefits, life insurance, and support for a guildmember's family should he die. The guilds in London were arranged in a hierarchical order of precedence, and the Leathersellers are fifteenth in that order.

Richard Long, a tanner, acquired land with houses around what is now London Wall, in the All Hallows parish. This was around 1250. A record to this effect is one of the many splendid documents that can be found in the Leathersellers' archives. In 1543, the guild acquired St. Helen's Place, where they have dwelt ever since.

I make a left onto Leadenhall Street, passing by Lime Street, where stands the enormous industrial carcass of Lloyd's, the champion reinsurer and maritime assurance company. It is a fairly impressive building, all exposed piping and metal.

Further on, to the left, is the Creechurch, or the Church of St. Catherine Cree. We are now in the ward of Aldgate, in the ancient parish of St. Catherine (founded 1108, and part of an Augustinian priory that stood in the area). Parisioners used the priory church until it turned out to be too disruptive for the monks, whereupon a new church was established for their use in 1280. I've mentioned this church in my Oranges and Lemons post, so take a look there if you like.

Leadenhall Street ends in Aldgate, and I make a left here. The St. Botolph Aldgate church is here, and beside it is the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School, founded in 1710. Across is the ancient Aldgate, or rather a Boots Pharmacy, which stands now where used to be the eastern entry into the walled city of London. (Aldgate was demolished in 1760.) Proceeding a little further up brings us to London's oldest timber-framed building, the Hoop and Grape pub. Originally, it might have been the Hop and Grape, as shown on the sign hanging outside - hop leaves and grapes, signifying that both beer and wine were served. There's a story that a tunnel leads from its cellar to the Tower of London, but that's very likely apocryphal. The building dates from the 17th century, survived the Great Fire, and today (after much structural reinforcement) appears with its frontage slanting jauntily to the side. A veritable Leaning Pub.

I double back a tad and enter Minories, a road that will take me all the way to the Tower of London. The name derives from an abbey of Minoresses (or nuns) that stood here from about 1294 till the time King Henry the Eighth dissolved the monasteries in 1539. Today it's a typically depressing and busy street with very little to recommend it, although I do notice a Chamberlain Hotel and Pub (part of the Fullers Group), and a side street named Crosswall. The WayOut at Number 9 Crosswall is touted as one of the greatest transgender night clubs in the world. Don't look at me, I know nothin' 'bout it.

At the end of Minories is the great Tower of London, seething with tourists even on this slightly drizzly day. I used the traffic lights to cross over Tower Hill, bearing left to take the steps down to Tower Gardens. There, I find an enclosure protecting the remains of a Postern Gate. Its fine masonry suggests that it was built by royal masons (13th century), and is part of the London Wall.

Crossing the street at the tourist entrance to the Tower brings me to Trinity Square where stands the enormous Port of London Authority building (constructed 1912; now inhabited by the Willis Insurance group). There's a rumour that when Willis vacate the building this year, it is to be converted to a luxury hotel. The land in front of the building is owned by the Crown and leased for a peppercorn to a US developer; no development or building is allowed on the land, but the Crown earned £2,500,000 on the transaction. I wonder why. [Photo by stevecadman].

Walking along Byward Street, I pass the All-Hallows-by-the-Tower church, from the steeple of which Samuel Pepys observed the progress of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current building was rebuilt after extensive damage during the Blitz, and today is some kind of ecumenical centre for faith and things.

A bit further along, on the left, is the Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub (on Great Tower Street), about which Pepys wrote (and the quotation appears on the side of the free house)
To my Lord's in the morning, where I met with Captain Cuttance, but my Lord not being up I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.
This is yet another Fullers' pub and no doubt provides libation for any hungry pre-prandial perambulist passing by.

At 19-21 Great Tower Street is Grazing (Mouthwatering Meats), and boy, did it make my mouth water. Succulent comestibles in sandwich form, I say. And Stornoway Black Pudding. Yum-mmy! Terrible thing to inflict on a person who is (for no reason he can fathom now) delaying lunch till after his walk.

I stagger, drooling, onto Eastcheap, where hidden demurely is St. Margaret Pattens church (see the Oranges and Lemons post for details). At 31 Eastcheap (right of centre in the photo to the left) is a very faux-Gothic building, all angular vaulted windows, pointy as whatsit. There is now a shabby off-licence in its ground floor, and I can't tell what or who else dwells in this edifice. It's narrow, squished in between nondescript buildings on either side, and I have to find out what it's all about, ya know?

A quick right onto Philpot Lane brings me to the Ship Tavern. In front of this pub used to be where incoming loads of coal were weighed and taxed, the proceeds from which were used to reconstruct St Paul's Cathedral after the conflagration of 1666.

Before me is Leadenhall Market, which I rush through to emerge at Gracechurch Street at the other end. A nifty right and heigh-ho back to work. I have covered roughly 3600 paces, around 1.5 miles, I haven't broken a sweat, my stomach is rumbling. I've been walking for about half an hour, and I don't really feel any less obese than I did when I started. Oh well.


Veena said...

Nice. Nowadays, I pop in and out of Leadenhall St for a couple of hours almost every day so should do my own lunch time explorations.

(No, I prefer Leicester Sq. Bankers or tourists is not really a choice. I will take tourists over bankers any day. Plus the office in Leicester Sq has a fully stocked kitchen)

Also, OT: For goods on Toma, I am told you have to befriend the Russian mafia in Cambridge. Or befriend Bill. Dunno which is worse.

Space Bar said...

I love this post. And I'm glad you had a map - I felt dizzy just reading all the lefts and rights and directions.

All these divisions in the church really confuse me. whatever happened to the one true god?

Fëanor said...

Veena: ah, so that explains the popping noise we hear on a daily basis - it's you apparating in and out of Leadenhall. You have a stocked kitchen?! We lesser mortals have to trudge out among the milling millions to cadge luncheon from local eateries. No fun, especially when hailstorms the size of my ego are falling all about me.

I see Bill is assiduous in his stalking of Toma? A panther in human guise!

Space Bar: London's reasonably well sign-posted, but it helps to have the fundoo A-Z maps for the little alleys and byways. Re: the one true God, I'm told his name is Allah.

Szerelem said...

Gah...I did a similar walk when i was in London!! I love the Lloyds building! And Leadenhall market! And I miss London!

Shefaly said...

Feanor: Take my (doctoral) word for it - you have to walk at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes every day to make a dent in any extra weight you begrudge. Combine it with suitable dietary changes - knowing your basal metabolism is a good start - and you may take a step or two... ;-)

And to help you along, here is a link to my other blog. Which suffers even more neglect than the one you normally read. But I will clean up my act soon.

Fëanor said...

Shefaly: you are right, of course. There was a time that I used to walk 3 miles daily. Briskly. Now I meander with all the grace of a buffalo. All it wants is a bit of will power...

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