City of London Walk

You can't go wrong with a walk on a cold, crisp, sunny winter day, so when a day off work aligned with that perfect weather I headed to the City of London to follow a self guided walk around just a few of its points of interest. If you aren't aware the City of London is a distinct area within London and is largely made up of what formed London from its settlement in Roman times up until the Middle Ages but, of course, the modern city has since grown far beyond this. 

I more or less (I always seem to get a little lost somewhere whenever I follow any self guided walks) followed the Artful Lunchtime walk published in the book, 33 Walks in London That You Shouldn't Miss by Nicola Perry. As you may have guessed from the title this book has thirty three walks from all around London, many with a specific theme. The book even recommends the best time of day or year to do the walk to get the most from it. We've followed a couple now and it's a good way to discover different parts of London. There are a whole load of books in this series for cities, areas and countries all over the world, we had an Edinburgh one which I used a lot when we lived there, and I've bought several London based ones with different themes since we moved back. You can find more information here if you're interested in discovering some for yourself. 

First stop on this walk though was St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, believed to have been the site of Christian worship since Roman times. The first known written record of a Saxon church on this site is from 1212. The church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 but by the eighteenth century had fallen into disrepair and the decision was taken to build a new church which was completed in 1729. Walk a little further from here and you'll find a Turkish inspired Victorian bathhouse, perhaps not something you'd expect to find in the City of London! Bathhouses like this though, enjoyed by both wealthy men and women, were once commonplace across London and the country. Though not in London I mentioned some public baths (the Bristol Lido) dating from around the same time in my post about our recent trip to Bristol. These were introduced as a result of an Act passed in 1846 encouraging local authorities to build public baths and washhouses with the aim to improve public health in the nineteenth century.

Although there had been baths of one sort or another on this site for many years, the building we can see today dates from 1895. It closed as a bathhouse in 1954 and was restored in 2016 as a private hire venue, most of the space lies underground however with the building going down a further two floors. Unfortunately it's not accessible, unless you are attending an event there, but I think you have to agree it's a pretty lovely building from the outside and unlike any other you'll find in that area.

St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate

Turkish inspired Victorian bathhouse

My next stop was on London Wall, named because it runs along part of the old defensive wall first constructed by the Romans to protect the settlement of Londonium, where I was heading though was to All-Hallows-on-the-Wall.  The present church was built in 1767, replacing an earlier one built in the 12th century. The original, although managing to escape destruction during the Great Fire of London due to its position under the wall, did unfortunately fall into dereliction.


After leaving All-Hallows-on-the-Wall I managed to get a bit lost in the narrow passageways that the walk took me along so missed a little part of it but eventually got back on track finding my next church, St Ethelburga's. St Ethelburga's is one of the few surviving medieval churches in the City of London, most of them having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London. 

Whilst its foundation date is unknown the first record of the church dates from 1250. The church was rebuilt in the 15th century with further additions added at various dates afterwards. Perhaps the most surprising being two shops at the front of the church which were used to raise revenue for it. These were eventually removed in 1932 with the widening of Bishopsgate and the original fa├žade of the church was restored. It suffered minor bomb damage during the Blitz in the Second World War but far more severe damage following the explosion of an IRA bomb on Bishopsgate in 1993. There was a lot of disagreement about what should happen to the church as the bomb destroyed approximately 70% of the building. Demolition was considered but in the end, with the support of the then Bishop of London, the church was rebuilt to serve a new function and the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace was opened in 2002.

St Ethelburga's with the Gherkin looming above it

At this stage of the walk the Gherkin stands tall over many of the nearby smaller buildings and city's churches including my next stop, St Helen's Bishopsgate. The first mention of a church here is in the 12th century, though it is thought that a Roman or Saxon building may have stood here before that. In 1210 permission was given to establish a priory of Benedictine nuns and a nunnery was built alongside the existing church. The church was subsequently divided into two giving it the unusual feature of having two naves, one side for the nuns and the other for the parishioners. When the priory was dissolved as part of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 the nunnery was incorporated into the parish church and the screen separating it from the rest of the church was removed. It too is another church in the City of London that did survive the Great Fire of London.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The church of St Andrew Undershaft with the Gherkin behind it

A peak en route into Leadenhall Market

Passing the many modern buildings of the city and Leadenhall market my next stop was without doubt my favourite and was somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time, the ruins and garden of St Dunstan-in-the-East. I apologise now for the photo spam of this particular spot on the walk but the light and autumn colours that day were just perfect. I could not have picked a better day to visit!

Spotting The Shard

Although, as I said, I was lucky to have gorgeous, if not cold, weather on my visit I'm pretty sure that even on the dankest of grey London days you could still find something beautiful about this place. Nature has entwined itself with the ruins in the most perfect way creating a real beauty spot. I'm pretty sure if I worked that way it would definitely be a spot I would find myself returning to time and again.

The church was originally built in 1100 and was unfortunately severely damaged in the Great Fire of London. The church was not completely rebuilt following the fire but was instead patched up in the following years. A tower and steeple designed by Sir Christopher Wren was added between 1695 and 1701, built in the Gothic style to match the old church. In the early 19th century the church fell into disrepair and was rebuilt between 1817 and 1821. Disaster struck once again during the Blitz in 1941 leaving not much of the church standing beyond Wren's tower and steeple. After this it was decided not to rebuild St Dunstan's and in 1967 the City of London Corporation decided to turn it into a public garden which opened in 1971.

Eventually I managed to drag myself away from spending the rest of the afternoon in the garden of St Dunstan-in-the-East and headed on to my next stop, the Monument. Just in case you don't know The Monument commemorates the Great fire of London and celebrates the rebuilding of the city. It stands on the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill on the site of St Margaret, New Fish Street the first church to be destroyed in the fire. It was built between 1671 and 1677 and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. It is topped with a gilded urn of fire and its height marks the distance from that point to the site of the shop on Pudding Lane where the fire began.

The Monument

The walk was almost over by this point but there were still a couple of more stops to make, the next one being the London stone on Cannon Street. You could very easily miss this one as although it's in the protective casing which you can see in the photo below, it's low to the ground and quite unassuming. The London stone is an irregular block of limestone which was once part of a much larger object which stood for many centuries on the south side of the medieval Candlewick Street which was later widened to create the modern Cannon Street.

Its original purpose is unknown but the earliest references to the stone date from the Middle Ages in documents cited by John Stow, an English historian, to some properties belonging to Canterbury cathedral with one piece of land being described as lying, 'neare unto London stone'. Unfortunately this can't now be verified as the document he refers to cannot be identified with certainty. It was though a well-known landmark in Medieval London being a place where debts were paid and oaths were taken. It was also where Jack Cade, leader of a rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI, claimed to be ruler of London in 1450. I wonder how many people walk past this casing and barely even notice it and what it contains?

London stone

I had one final stop on my walk, which I actually ended up returning on another day to see. On the day I did the rest of the walk the book suggested going up one of the many passageways around the city, I did this but found the path was closed off and I couldn't get to the next church, St Stephen Walbrook. I did mange to see it but only between some office buildings (see the photo below) so it wasn't the best of views. I left and came home and it was only after doing so, thinking about it a bit more and checking a map of the area again that I realised there was a road the other side of the church and that in theory from there I would be able to get that bit closer! So I returned, which was actually a good move on my part as I was able to get to the church by that other road and the church also had an open day on my second visit so I was able to have a look inside too.

St Stephen Walbrook

Just like many other churches in the City of London the original was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and, again like many others, the present building was built by Sir Christopher Wren. The original church stood on the east bank of the Walbrook, an important fresh water stream for the Romans and now one of many subterranean rivers running across London. It was believed to have been built directly on the remains of a Roman Mithraic temple a common practice at the time during the Christianization of former pagan sites. The church was moved to its present location in the 15th century with the river later being diverted and concealed as the city continued to grow.

The dome, which you can just about see from the outside in the photo below as well as from the inside in the photo above, was based on Wren's original designs for St Paul's cathedral. Many consider this to be one of Wren's finest church interiors. Asides from the dome and the openness of the church the other striking feature is the massive white polished stone altar right in the middle by the sculptor Henry Moore. Its position in the church requiring permission from the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved.

A glimpse of St Stephen Walbrook between its modern neighbours

After my visit here my walk around some of the City of London was finished. I haven't spent a great deal of time in this part of London so this was a great overview of some it. It's hard to imagine now, with all the modern well known skyscrapers that dominate here, what this part of London must have looked like before the Great Fire of London destroyed so many of its churches. Stepping inside those that are left or were rebuilt afterwards perhaps gives us some idea as well as providing a little respite from the weekday hustle of the area. Those that are left, whether that be completely or just partially, still fit well within their modern surroundings and are certainly worth a visit to see.