Walk 14b - 2000 Years of Religion in the City of London - Part B

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WALK 14b START

GREY FRIARS PRIORY TO LIVERPOOL STREET

- IF STARTING THIS WALK FROM ST PAUL'S TUBE

Leave St Paul’s station via exit 2 which is to the right of the ticket barrier. Turn left onto Newgate Street, and cross to the right hand pavement. 

- IF CONTINUING THE WALK DIRECTLY FROM PART A

On Newgate Street, heading west, make sure that you are on the right hand pavement.

You will pass the tower of Christchurch on your right, then the Bank of America. On the next building is a plaque commemorating the site of Grey Friar's Monastery (1225-1538), and another commemorating the site of Christ's Hospital (1552 - 1902).  

The plaque to Grey Friar's Monastery gives an idea of the scale of the complex (described in detail in walk 1), which covered the whole block between Newgate Street, Giltspur Street, Barts Hospital, and King Edward Street.

Continuing along Newgate Street, you will pass Old Bailey on the left,  the site of the Central Criminal Court, and previously the site of Newgate prison. At the junction with Giltspur Street on the right, is The Church of The Holy Sepulchre without Newgate.

The Church of The Holy Sepulchre without Newgate was founded in 1137, and originally dedicated to St Edmund. The church became associated with the quest to recover the Holy Land for Christendom and was the point from which English crusaders ceremonially departed. The church is located just outside the north west gate of the City, a similar location to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, erected on the site of the discovery of the “true cross” by St Helen mother of Constantine the first Christian Roman emperor. The church was rebuilt in 1450 to become the largest parish church in the City, but was very badly damaged in the Great Fire and was the rebuilt by one of Wren’s master masons Joshua Marshall 1670/4. Apparently the church authorities were not prepared to wait for Wren to become available!

Inside the church is a mix of architectural styles with traces of the 15th century church in the north chapel, and evidence of the impact of the Great Fire on the south wall. Burials include John Rogers, the vicar at the time of Mary Tudor’s accession, who was the first Protestant to be burned in her campaign to restore Catholicism. Also buried here is Captain John Smith the first Governor of Virginia. Sir Henry Wood, the founder of The Proms, was christened and learned to play the organ in this church, his ashes form the centrepiece of the Musicians Chapel.

The proximity to Newgate prison gave rise in the 17th century to a macabre practice, in which the night before an execution a man would access the prison via a tunnel from the church, ringing a handbell and reciting a rhyme the last two lines of which were; “When St Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls - The Lord have mercy on your souls”. The following morning the condemned person would be led out, to be taken to Tyburn and presented with a nosegay at the gates of the Church, while the “Great Bell of Bailey” signalled the unfolding event to the wider population.

Continue along Holborn Viaduct, crossing high above Farringdon Street, which follows the course of the River Fleet. 

Holborn Viaduct was completed in 1869, to provide an east west route across the City. Spanning the steep sided valley of the Fleet had been notoriously difficult for horse drawn traffic to negotiate. A number of City churches and churchyards were swept away in this process, and are now commemorated by grand monuments at the City of London Cemetery in East London.

On the left just before Holborn Circus are two churches. The City Temple, a large Baptist church built in 1874, attests to the continuing significance of nonconformism into the 19th century. The church was badly damaged in the blitz, and its reopening in 1958 was attended by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Despite the Monarch’s formal role as head of the Church of England, efforts have been made for most of the last 300 years to engage with other denominations, George III for example contributed wood from Deptford Dockyard to the building of Wesley’s Chapel.

Next door is St Andrew Holborn, first mentioned in 951. The fabric of the building is still maintained from the income deriving from property left to the church in 1348 by John Thavies, whose name is inscribed on a building across New Fetter Lane. Henry VIII was godfather at the christening of the future Earl of Southampton in the church in 1545. During the Civil War, the rector continued to use the old Anglican Prayerbook, contrary to Parliament’s instructions. Soldiers entered the church and held a pistol to his head. He apparently responded “ I’m doing my duty, now do yours”,  they left without harming him.

On a winter’s night in 1827, Dr William Marsden found a homeless young girl dying from exposure in the graveyard. He tried and failed to have her admitted to a hospital, none of which would take her without payment, or a letter of recommendation from a subscriber. She died, and the experience prompted him to found The Royal Free Hospital, accessible to all.

The church escaped the Great Fire, but was still rebuilt by Wren, and is his largest parish church. Bombed in 1941, restoration was not completed until 1961. The tomb of Thomas Coram, founder of The Foundling Hospital, was moved here from that site, together with the pulpit, font and organ case.

Benjamin Disraeli was baptised here when he was 13, after his father had fallen out with the authorities of his Synagogue in 1817. An accident of history which enabled him to pursue a political career that would not have been open to him until the 1860’s if he had retained his father’s religion.

If you have crossed over Holborn to explore the City Temple and St Andrew Holborn, cross back over to the north side. On the opposite side of the road from St Andrew Holborn, the pavement splits off right, walk down it, then cross  Charterhouse Street and walk through the gates into Ely Place. 

Ely Place was the site of the London residence of the Bishops of Ely from the 13th century till 1772, when it was replaced with the current brick terraced houses. St Ethelreda’s church, the Bishop’s chapel, is the only survivor of the old Palace.

Ely Place is probably unique in featuring in both Shakespeare (twice) and Dickens. John of Gaunt lived at Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace had been destroyed by Wat Tylers rebels. Shakespeare’s famous speech in Richard II “This sceptred isle, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” is spoken by John of Gaunt at Ely House. In Richard III the future King asks the Bishop of Ely to send him some of the good strawberries from his garden in Holborn. Almost three hundred years later, Dickens used one of the Georgian houses that replaced the palace, as a setting for a scene in David Copperfield.

St Ethelreda’s Church, in Ely Place, is dedicated to a 7th century Abbess of Ely, part of whose hand is kept as a relic in the church. It was built as the private chapel of the Bishop in 1293, on an existing structure some of which may be Roman in origin. After the Bishops left the site, the church was sold to Welsh Episcopalians, and then in 1874 it returned to the Roman Catholic Church.

Return down Ely Place and on the right before you get to the main entrance, exit Ely Place via the small alley of Ely Court. 

Go through Ely Court, past the Olde Mitre Tavern, onto Hatton Garden, named after Elizabeth I’s Chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton, who leased part of Ely Place, including the garden on favourable terms dictated by the Queen in 1576. 

Turn left, then cross Holborn Circus and proceed down New Fetter Lane and Fetter Lane to arrive at Fleet Street.

Turn right into Fleet Street and on the right is St Dunstan’s in the West, first mentioned in 1185. 

William Tyndale, the translator of the bible into English and a key figure in the reformation, was a preacher at St Dunstan’s in the West in 1523. John Donne the poet and Dean of St Paul’s was rector in the 1620’s. In 1666, the great fire was contained within yards of the building. A year later, Pepys’ diary reports his failed attempts to seduce lone young women in the church, while ostensibly listening to a sermon. The old church was demolished in 1830 to enable Fleet Street to be widened, and replaced by the present octagonal gothic revival building, which fittingly for Fleet Street, has a Lutyens designed memorial to Lord Northcliffe, the founder of the Daily Mail on the outside wall.

Cross Fleet Street, and pass through the small gateway of Inner Temple Lane (opposite to Chancery Lane). 

At the end of the lane on the left is Temple Church. The Knights Templar were an order of soldier monks, founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims, after the capture of the Holy Land from Moslem control in 1099. They were granted a base by Baldwin the Christian King of Jerusalem on the Temple Platform of Mount Moriah, believed to be the site of The Temple of Solomon, and took their name from this association. They became very popular across Europe and established themselves in London, initially in Holborn, moving to a site near the river in 1162. Temple Church was built in 1185 in the round style which characterised Templar churches, usually described as following the pattern of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, although some authorities suggest the Dome of the Rock, on the Temple Platform is a more plausible inspiration. The church was consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the presence of Henry II, indicating the significance of the event and the influence of the order.

The church, although much restored following war time bomb damage, remains an excellent   example of Early English Gothic, described by Pevsner as “one of the most perfectly and classically proportioned buildings of the 13th century in England. Edward III wanted to be buried in Temple Church, and the choir was rebuilt in 1240 to create a fitting space for his mausoleum. This now forms the main body of the church. On a grimmer note, the “penitential cell” near the wheel window, was used to punish members of the order who excited the ire of the leadership. Walter le Bachelor, Preceptor of Ireland, was left to starve here for disobeying the Master of the Order.

Surrounding the church was a large monastery, sweeping down to the river with associated buildings paid for from gifts showered on the order by the elite of mediaeval society. The Templars also used their political influence to acquire exemptions from taxes and other obligations, enabling them to accumulate vast wealth, which underpinned a thriving banking business. Eventually, resentment undermined the Templars position, and following lobbying by the King of France, the Pope suppressed the order in 1312.

In England, most of the Templars property was assigned to the Knights Hospitallers of St John. The London properties were granted by Edward II to the Earl of Lancaster, who was approached by professors and students of common law to allow them to rent lodgings in the Temple complex. This began the process through which the site became the Inns of Court that we are familiar with today.

Keeping Temple Church on your left, proceed into Kings Bench Walk. Turn right briefly and then exit left through the gate into Tudor Street. 

You have now entered the precincts of the Carmelite Monastery, founded in 1253 and known by the colour of the Friars habits as Whitefriars.

This is another institution with its roots in the Holy Land. In 1241, Henry III’s brother returned from the crusade accompanied by a group of hermits, displaced from their monastery on Mount Carmel by the Saracens, and seeking a new location to follow their calling. Consistent with their preference for solitude, the King made provision for them in Northumberland. This arrangement only survived until 1247, when the Prior General of the Order persuaded the Pope to change their mission towards a focus on living among the people in towns and cities.

The Carmelites acted quickly, building their first London church just off Fleet Street in 1253. The site was to grow significantly, and eventually covered the entire area bounded by the river, the modern Fleet Street, Carmelite Street and Whitefriars Street. The suppression of the Knights Templar next door, only sixty years after the Carmelites established themselves in London, was beneficial for the Whitefriars,  who were able to access much of the patronage that had previously gone to the Templars. A much larger Church was built in the 14th century, and the location of the priory between London and Westminster made it a convenient place to convene public meetings. Despite their growing wealth and influence as an institution, the Friars remained true to their individual vocation to live a life of poverty and minister to the common people, and this enabled them to escape the Peasants Revolt unscathed.

On dissolution, the Priory buildings were used by various members of the King’s household, and the Great Hall functioned as a theatre until the early 17th century. Nothing remains of the Priory above ground, but there is plenty of evidence remaining underneath the rather ugly and squat office buildings that now dominate the area.

At the end of Tudor Street turn right. Walk down New Bridge Street. Just past Watergate, cross New Bridge Street on the pedestrian crossing. This is near the point at which the Fleet originally entered the Thames. Turn into Queen Victoria Street, keeping the Black Friar pub on your left. On the right is Blackfriars Station then on the left is Blackfriars Lane, leading into the tight complex of lanes, alleyways and courtyards, that make the area one of the most evocative parts of the City. 

Unsurprisingly, we have arrived in the precincts of The Blackfriars Priory, more accurately that of the Dominican Order. 

The above picture shows your approximate position now on the 1561 Agas map.

The Dominicans first established themselves in London in 1221, moving to this site in 1275. Under the patronage of successive Kings, beginning with Edward I, who allowed them to demolish part of the City Wall.  The Dominicans became intimately involved in government, and grew richer as their influence increased. Parliament met here in the Priory on a number of occasions, State Records were stored, Courts were held, Foreign Royalty were entertained. Perhaps most significantly, Blackfriars was the location of Cardinal Wolsey’s failed attempt to persuade the Papacy to sanction Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which ultimately led to his fall and the King’s split from Rome.

From Blackfriars Lane turn right into Playhouse Yard, the site of an indoor theatre used by The Kings Men, Shakespeare’s company, from 1608, and then turn left into Church Entry. 

Shortly on the left is a small burial ground, which marks the site of the Nave of Blackfriars Church, with Church Entry following the line of the Transept. The monastery was dissolved in 1538, the Church plate went to the King, and the buildings to the Master of the Revels. By the early 17th century, the neighbourhood had become fashionable, numbering Van Dyck, Ben Johnson and Shakespeare among its residents.

Continue up Church Entry to Carter Lane, which follows the southern boundary of the precincts of the old mediaeval St Paul’s. Turn right, soon passing on the right Wardrobe Place, originally used for storing royal regalia, now operating as a pleasant al fresco bar. On the left is Dean’s Court, walk up it, and at the end you will emerge opposite the front of Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

This is the latest in a succession of St Paul’s, beginning in 604. All but one of the Cathedrals burned down, the exception was destroyed by Vikings in 962. The enormous Norman Cathedral was both larger and taller than Wren’s building, boasting the tallest spire ever built in England. 

The old St Paul's Cathedral before 1561 (when the spire burned down). 

It had fallen into great disrepair over the centuries through neglect, and deliberately mistreated for theological and ideological reasons during the Commonwealth. Following Charles II restoration,  in 1663 Wren was asked to repair and renew the building. He argued strongly in favour of demolition and a fresh start, but was overruled. His final plan for restoration was agreed only six days before fate intervened, and Wren got his own way via the Great Fire.

Wren made three separate plans for St Paul’s, only having the final design approved by the King in 1675. Fortunately, the Royal Warrant authorising building enabled Wren to modify the design enormously between sign off and completion 35 years later. In particular, the building was much shorter than planned, and the expected steeple was replaced with the dome that now defines the building, and defined the London skyline until the later 20th century.

St Paul’s is open to the public but the scale of the building and the cost of entry suggest it deserves a dedicated visit, rather than what would have to be a cursory glance inside if the timetable for this walk is to be maintained.

Turn right onto St Paul’s Churchyard, keeping on the opposite side of the road to the Cathedral. St Paul’s Churchyard soon becomes Cannon Street, and just before the junction with Distaff Street, Cross Cannon Street on the pedestrian crossing and then turn left onto New Change, and walk up it. 

On the left is St Paul’s Cathedral Primary school, which incorporates the tower of St Augustine, a church of 1148 destroyed in the Great Fire, with Wren’s 1683 replacement destroyed in bombing in 1940. Only the tower remains. 

Turn right into and walk down Cheapside, the City’s chief shopping street since the middle ages, a tradition being maintained by the modern One New Change complex to your right.

Halfway down the street on the right is the soaring tower of Wren’s St Mary le Bow, containing the famous Bow Bells. The crypt is Norman, with typical arches which are presumed to be the origin of the “le Bow” suffix. 

First mentioned in 1091, the church seems to have attracted disaster. In 1196, a protester against unfair taxes who was taking refuge, had to be smoked out after killing one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s guards. The tower collapsed in 1271, killing twenty people. A goldsmith seeking sanctuary was killed by a mob in 1284, 19 men were hanged and 1 woman burned for his murder. In 1331 during a joust to celebrate the birth of the Black Prince, a wooden balcony containing Queen Philippa and her Ladies collapsed.

Consistent with its turbulent history the old church was destroyed in the Great Fire, and Wren’s 1673 replacement, regarded by contemporaries as one of the finest churches in Europe, was bombed in the Blitz and rebuilt in 1962.

During the 14th century, the bells rang the nightly curfew for the City, the probable explanation for the notion that a true Londoner has to be born “within the sound of Bow bells”.

Turn right into the St Mary le Bow Churchyard, which forms a pleasant square to the side of the church, and exit via a passageway to the left behind the church. Turn right onto Bow Lane, and left onto Watling Street, a remnant of the Roman Road from Dover to St Albans. 

On the right, near the junction with Queen Victoria Street and outside St Mary Aldermary, is a statue of a Shoe maker or “Cordwainer”, so called because of the importation of high quality leather from Cordoba in Spain. 

The church site is believed to be even older than the 11th century St Mary le Bow, hence the name. Lost in the great fire, the Wren replacement was itself damaged in the war, but contains excellent fan vaulting.

Cross Queen Victoria Street, and enter Bloomberg Arcade, a new continuation of Watling Street going through the 2017 Norman Foster designed Bloomberg Building. At the end, turn left into Walbrook, which tracks the route of the River Walbrook on its course to the Thames. 

On the left is The London Mithraeum a museum dedicated to the Temple of Mithras, which stood on the banks of the Walbrook. The cult of Mithras, which is Persian in origin, became popular in the Roman empire in the second century. The museum displays the remains of a temple believed to date from around 200 CE. The exhibition which is as atmospheric as it is educational. Entry is free, but advance booking is required. 

Further up Walbrook, on the other side of the buried river, is St Stephen Walbrook. Founded on the west of the river in the 11th century, the church was rebuilt on the east bank in 1439. It was destroyed in the Great Fire, and the Wren replacement is judged as among his finest work. 

It is regarded by some as surpassing St Paul’s Cathedral. Jenkins describes the church as having been designed “inside out”, with all the theatricality inside the building, the exterior of which, other than the tower is a simple box. A must see if at all possible. The Samaritans was founded here in the 1950’s by Chad Varah who was the Rector. The original phone used by the Samaritans is on display within the church.

Continue to the corner of Mansion House, passing a plaque commemorating St Mary Woolchurch. 

The church is so called because scales for weighing wool, on sale at the nearby Stocks Market, were set into the wall here. Despite surviving the fire, the church and the market made way for the Mansion House in 1739.

Cross the junction to Cornhill, to the right of the Royal Exchange. 

On the right is St Michael Cornhill, first mentioned in 1055. Destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt, it is unusual in having a Wren Church and a Hawksmoor tower, the funds to build Wren’s original tower having run out. To complete an ‘A’ list of architects, the Church was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1850s. The church has a long musical tradition, and the organ, which is still in use, was inaugurated by Henry Purcell in 1684.

At the junction with Gracechurch Street is St Peter’s Cornhill, allegedly founded on the site of a Roman basilica which covered this area in 179 CE. In the middle ages it contained one of London’s few Grammar Schools and a large library. Destroyed in the Great Fire, it was rebuilt by Wren whose daughter is believed to have designed the chancel screen. Much of Wren’s church furniture was removed in a Victorian restoration, but the chancel screen and an organ played by Mendelssohn remain.

Cross the junction, and look back across the street to see the very plain fa├žade of St Peter’s on Gracechurch Street, amongst some of the last remaining vestiges of the Victorian cityscape. Proceed away from London Bridge, and Gracechurch Street becomes Bishopsgate, continue along it. Opposite the junction with Threadneedle Street, enter the passageway on the right through 22 Bishopsgate, the City’s largest new building, it’s signposted to Crosby Square.

Proceed downstairs to enter the square noting St Andrew Undershaft, 12th century and a fire survivor, on your right, dwarfed by modern buildings in which it’s reflection is captured. Head towards St Helen’s Bishopsgate on your left. 

St Helen’s survived the Great Fire and the blitz, but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993. Originally two churches, the north aisle served a Benedictine Nunnery established in 1204, divided from the parish church by a wall, which has been replaced by an arcade down the centre of the church. The parish church is much older, legend claims that it was founded by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, hence the dedication to his mother.  There is evidence of a Saxon church on the site, which is believed to  have housed the body of the martyred St Edmund, to protect it from desecration by the Danes.

In 1389 the nuns were scolded for various misdemeanours, including “ kissing secular persons” and wearing ostentatious veils. In 1439 they were banned from “dancing and revelling”, except at Christmas. The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 with its land passing to relatives of Thomas Cromwell.

Following the 1990’s bombings, the church was restored by neo-classical architect Quinlan Terry, who swept away the accretion of styles which typifies any church in constant use for a thousand years. The restoration promoted the evangelical style of worship favoured by the congregation, over the preservation of the historical record, and caused great controversy.

Behind St Helen’s is 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin, 500,000 sq ft of offices designed by Norman Foster in 2004. Once a landmark on the City skyline, it now jostles for visibility with later, taller buildings. 

Walk around the Gherkin, keeping it on your left until you see Bury Street. Turn left when you come to it, then right onto Bevis Marks.

Bevis Marks is, at present, undergoing a refurbishment.

Bevis Marks is a corruption of “Buries Marks” the mediaeval town house of the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds, which also explains the nearby street names.

A few metres along the street, on the right, is the Bevis Marks Synagogue, built on the site of the Abbots House in 1701 by London’s Sephardic Jewish community to replace an earlier one in Creechurch Lane, established when Cromwell readmitted Jews to England in 1657. The synagogue was built by a Quaker to a standard early 18th century chapel design, with Queen Anne contributing some timbers. Benjamin Disraeli’s birth was registered here in 1804, prior to his father falling out with the Synagogue authorities which precipitated his later baptism into the Church of England.

Cross Bevis Marks, walk left, and after a few yards turn right into Goring Street. Turn left into Houndsditch to pass through another new office development, eventually arriving at Bishopsgate, opposite to Liverpool Street station and the completion of the circuit. 

WALK 14b END

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