by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:9th February 2021

A Square Mile full of history, intrigue and a towering Gherkin

Oh yes, I’m back on to one of my beloved subjects again, and that’s London, more specifically the City of London.

It doesn’t matter how many times we return, there is always something new that we discover. Despite the fact that the financial City of London only covers one Square Mile, the alleyways and passages that weave amongst the centuries of history are captivating.

Stroll down a lane, you wouldn’t usually take or wander along a winding route to your next destination. Look up, look down there are historical secrets hidden everywhere.

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Where is the City of London?

The City of London is one of two cities in London; the other is the City of Westminster (more of that later).

Known as the 'Square Mile', the Roman city of Londinium was founded here in around AD 47–50. It is known as the financial centre of London (something Canary Wharf is trying to change).

A tourist in the ‘City’

Deserted streets of London

The City of London is one of those unusual places whereby it is predominantly weighted towards one industry. In the case of the City of London, it’s finance from top to toe.

From the tip of ‘The Gherkin’ soaring high above, to the Roman artefacts discovered beneath Bloomberg’s European headquarters in Queen Victoria Street.

The modern 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin, standing behind St Andrew Undershaft Church in the City of London
The Gherkin behind St Andrew Undershaft

What makes this region so unique is that very few people permanently live in the City. Therefore, at the weekends when the city-folk have headed home after their working week, it becomes a ghost-town.

Conversely, this is when I adore it the most, and we’re free to wander aimlessly, not stepping into anyone’s path. That’s when I can truly become a proper tourist in my hometown.

A traditional red bus travelling through the deserted streets of London next to St Paul's Cathedral
A very quiet City of London
I will hasten to add that I worked in the City of London for 27 years. Therefore, I appreciate how the pesky sightseer can sometimes be.

If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.

You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.

Entrance to the City of London

Crossing the path of the silver dragon

You’ll know you’ve arrived in the City when you’ve crossed the path of the City of London Dragon boundary marker.
The thirteen cast-iron silver dragons sit high on plinths, holding a shield that bears the City of London's coat of arms. They are located on the main roads that enter into the City.

The pewter coloured dragon with bright red tongue holding shield displaying the coat of arms of Saint George signifies the entrance to the City of London.
The City of London Dragon

One that is particularly important is at Temple Bar. Where The Strand from the west within the City of Westminster artfully becomes Fleet Street as you enter east into the City of London.

The dragon that is located here stands on the site of Temple Bar Gate. The original Bar Gate escaped The Great Fire of London in 1666; however, a new gate was commissioned to Sir Christopher Wren by Charles II.

The beautiful Temple Bar Gate in Paternoster Square, a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral
The Relocated Temple Bar Gate

Due to increased traffic flow through the ancient gate, in 1878, Temple Bar was dismantled. Oddly the gate was then purchased and erected on an estate in Hertfordshire, England where it remained until 2003.
Owing to its significance, in 2004 it was restored and re-erected at the Paternoster Square entrance next to St Paul’s Cathedral.
‘First Dates’ fans may recognise the Paternoster Chop House in Paternoster Square.

We have a little book on our shelves that we sometimes delve into when we're about to hit an area of London.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different regions of London, it's a great resource to help you see what's hidden in plain sight.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves London.

Where are the City of London’s roads?

The weird and wonderful street names
Another quirky aspect that is quite unique to the City of London is that none of the street names includes the word ‘Road’. They are Lanes, Alleys, Passages, Court, and many more; however, you won’t find a ‘Road’ within the Square Mile.
The City of London Street sign for Savage Gardens in the EC3 quarter of the square mile. The street sign has a red font for the City of London & EC3, and the street name is in a black font, all on a white background.
Savage Gardens EC3

They may even refer to trades or professions flourishing in the area many moons ago, such as Ironmonger Lane or Cloth Fair.

The ones I especially like are Barely Mow Passage, Huggin Hill and Savage Gardens. Have a wander and see which ones catch your eye?

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London’s Blue Plaques

Remembering the city's history

Don’t forget while you’re strolling the City lanes to look out for the Blue Plaques dotted around London's streets.
They tell an interesting story of the past lives of heroines and heroes who have lived or worked within the area. Or curious facts relating to the district.

A blue enamel plaque recognising the spot there the ancient Stocks Market stood
A plaque to the old Stocks Market
The blue plaques are a little few and far between within the City of London. Although a couple we came across, Sir John Betjeman, the English Poet along Cloth Court in Smithfield.
The other was a brown plaque erected in 1876 for the author and lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson. This is one of the original plaques issued by (Royal) Society of Arts, and there are very few of these remaining. The blue plaque scheme that we now know and love today is run by English Heritage.

Where to stay in London

Like us, why not splash out on a little luxury at Leonardo Royal London St Paul’s (formerly Grange St. Paul’s). A short hop from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The original memorial plaque on no. 17 Gough Square the home of Dr Johnson
The Oldest remaining Plaque

The Great Fire of London

Did it actually start at Pudding Lane?
Prior to 1666 and the Great Fire of London, the City’s streets would have been awash with medieval architecture, timbered dwellings and parish churches.
The lone Doric column topped a golden fireball know as the Monument.
The Monument

The uncontainable devastating fire that is believed to have started at a bakery in Pudding Lane destroyed a vast medieval City. It continued from the evening of Sunday 2nd September through to Wednesday the 5th obliterating everything in its wake.

To commemorate the Great Fire of London stands The Monument which was built between 1671 and 1677. The Monument is 202 feet high (62 metres), and if it were laid down, it would rest at the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started, (or so they say).

Places of worship in the City of London

From a cathedral to a tranquil garden

Ahh, yes, the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral undoubtedly gets the headlines.
Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral was erected in 1710 following the destruction of the previous cathedral in the Great Fire. This incredible structure, with its 365 feet dome took just 35 years to build.
St. Paul’s Cathedral stood relatively unscathed until it suffered damage during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941, luckily the main building survived.
The beautiful cathedral dominates London’s skyline like no other and a stunning legacy to the City. It’s from within these walls, many Royal and state occasions have taken place, including the funeral of Admiral Nelson, and the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II.

The view of the front of St Paul’s Cathedral from the statue to Queen Anne
The front of St Paul’s Cathedral

West of St Paul’s Cathedral just off of Fleet Street is St Brides Church, and noticeable by its delightful church spire erected in the shape of a ‘wedding cake’.

A succession of churches has stood on this site from the 7th-century, and once again the Great Fire devoured the church and left it in ruins. It was Sir Christopher Wren’s design in 1675 that can still be seen today from miles around.

The tiered spire of St Bride’s Church said to influence the design of a traditional British Wedding cake
St Bride’s Church

A little further west in the heart of the legal district of London you’ll discover Temple Church. This incredible church was built by the Knights Templar, the soldier-monks who protected pilgrims to the Holy Land during the crusades.
Weave your way amongst the ancient lanes to seek out Temple Church, as its history is astonishing. The round nave is the oldest and most distinctive part of the church and was consecrated in 1185, which was believed to be in King Henry II's presence.

A column, topped with a Knight Templar, in front of the Templar Church in London's legal district
The Temple Church in Inner Temple

Now if you want to call yourself a true cockney, you need to have been born within earshot of the ringing of the ancient Bow Bells.

The Church of St Mary-le-Bow along Cheapside is another of Sir Christopher Wren’s churches built in 1683 and famous for its bells.

The Bell tower of St Mary-le-bow in the heart of the City of London, home to the famous bow bells. If you are born within earshot of these bells you can consider yourself a true cockney.
The bell tower of St Mary-le-Bow
The war torn shell of a histroic church in London, with a Christopher Wren designed spire now houses a tranquil garden for all to enjoy.
St Dunstans in the East

One church that had been resurrected one too many times is St Dunstan-in-the-East. The Church of St Dunstan was originally built around 1100.
It has been repaired and rebuilt over many years and was severely damaged in London's Great Fire. The steeple and tower that remain today were designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
However, during the Blitz in 1941, St Dunstan-in-the-East took a huge hit and was never rebuilt as a whole church. Nonetheless, I love it as it is, the ruins of the beautiful tranquil retreat have been given a new lease of life and transformed into a peaceful oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

It’s good to talk!

Please share with us your favourite spots in London that you love to visit.

City of London districts

Which one is your favourite?

Every time Gary and I re-visit London, we love to choose a district and uncover as much as we can old and new. One district, in particular, I found fascinating was Smithfield, there is so much history in such a tiny region.
Not only is Smithfield home to the 12th-century meat market and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which is England’s oldest continually running hospital since 1123, it also holds some dark history.

The 18th-century stone Henry VIII gatehouse, leads to St Bart's Hospital, with its statue of the King and offices and a clock.
Henry VIII gate at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital
A stone plaque memorial to the Scottish hero Sir Williams Wallace, close to the spot he was put to death in the Smithfield district of the City of London
William Wallace Memorial

It was at Smithfield that Sir William Wallace was executed in 1305 and hung, drawn and quartered. A plaque marking the nearby spot stands very modest on the side of St. Barts wall.
Further along, on the same wall are scars from the First World War. The marks still remain from the First World War Zeppelin raids on 8th September 1915 and 7th July 1917.
There are so many intriguing parts of the City of London, the other region I enjoyed digging into was all around Bank Station, in the heart of the City.

Looking up at the impressive 18th century, Palladian style, Mansion House at Bank Junction
Mansion House, City of London, London
Here you’ll find the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, Mansion House home to the Lord Mayor of London, a role that has existed since 1189. Also, the striking Royal Exchange where merchants once traded inside the courtyard and the City of London’s town hall built in 1440, the Guildhall.

A little retail therapy

Style in the City of London

There’s certainly no reason why you can’t treat yourself to a little shopping while you’re in the City of London. One New Change at the western end of Cheapside has been transformed into a stylish retail complex.
It opened in 2010 and is the only large shopping centre in the City.

St Paul’s Cathedral from the roof of One New Change, St Paul's station, London, England, UK
St Paul’s Cathedral from the roof of One New Change

Although putting retail therapy aside, I highly recommend heading up to the roof-top terrace. The Roof Terrace is free to visit and gives you magnificent views across the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and London’s skyline.
Due to current restrictions keep track of the re-opening of the Roof Terrace on One New Change website.

City of London drinking holes

From the rooftop to the cellars

Whether you’re in the City very early in the morning or very late in the evening, there is always somewhere to have a tipple.
Due to the nature of the working hours of the market porters in Smithfield meat market, a refreshing pint was occasionally needed after a long-hard shift. To most people, this was breakfast; however, to these lads, it was a quick pint after work with your mates.
Times have changed over the decades, and there are now only a couple of pubs open early in the morning for these porters. They are the stylish Art Nouveau “Fox & Anchor” on Charterhouse Street and “The Hope” on Cowcross Street.

The Fox & Anchor pub, a stone's throw from Smithfield Meat Market, Which is one of the few remaining early opening pubs that serve alcohol with a full English breakfast to the market porters
The Fox & Anchor pub

However, if you fancy soaking up centuries of history, I suggest a visit to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, just off Fleet Street.
The original tavern was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire. Yet there was no delay in rebuilding it as the current dwelling dates from 1667.
Dark wood panelling lines the walls, cosy open fireplaces warms the cockles of your heart, and a maze of tiny rooms and secret snugs lead you up the creaky stairs beyond.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has had much literary clientele pass through its doors, including Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Alfred Tennyson, to name a few.

A sign to the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese public house stating it was rebuilt in 1667 (After the Great fire of London)
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
The discreet entrance to the City of London Distillery, in Bride lane off Fleet Street
The City of London Distillery

If gin is your tipple of choice, I recommend heading to the City of London Distillery on Bride Lane. The only gin distillery in the City.

The distillery threw open its doors in 2012. It began producing gin from its two original copper stills called Clarissa and Jennifer (named after the British cooks ‘The Two Fat Ladies’).

In 2016 a new still was introduced named Elizabeth for the Queens 90th birthday.

The first gin produced here was the classic London Dry Gin. This has now been shadowed by eight mouth-watering sidekicks with, spicy, fruity and aromatic tones.

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