This is the third in a series of posts I have called City of London Steeplechases, virtual guided walks of each of the City’s Wards, seeking out the sites of all the churches, past and present and many other points of interest along the way.
Previous Steeplechases have covered the Tower and Billingsgate Wards. Continuing westwards along the Thames, we now come to the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without, comprising London Bridge and a narrow band around its northern approach, covering the area around The Monument and spreading north up Gracechurch Street as far as its junction with Lombard and Fenchurch Streets.
Bridge Without what?
The ward’s name is confusing to say the least and takes some explaining.
Until 1550 Bridge Ward occupied broadly its current boundaries but in that year the new ward of Bridge Without (ie without, or outside, the City walls) was created to reflect the City’s jurisdiction over three manors in Southwark to the south of the bridge. By 1899 the administrative government of the Southwark parts had become removed from the City of London’s responsibilities, but the City retained the right to appoint an Alderman. In 1978 the two wards were merged together and, at least officially, are still known as the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without – despite the fact that the ‘real’ ward boundaries are all ‘Within’ the old City Wall and the ‘Bridge Without’ element is nominal only.
Walking Bridge Ward
Starting from London Bridge station, leave the station into Tooley Street and head onto the bridge, keeping to the right hand (eastward) side. Note the large dragon on its pedestal guarding the entrance to the City of London.
Similar statues stand sentinel over most of the City’s entrance roads. As explained in an earlier post, the dragon has been an important symbol of the City for centuries and is a fundamental component of the City’s heraldry: look closely at any modern City street sign or roadside bollard and you will see what I mean:
Stop half way across London Bridge and admire the views of the City and downriver. It’s worth reflecting that there have been a succession of bridges here for almost 2,000 years dating back to Roman times. The current bridge is a relatively modern affair dating back only to 1967 when its predecessor, unable to stand the weight of traffic, was dismantled and shipped off to the USA where it was reassembled at Lake Havasu City in Arizona. That bridge, opened in 1831, had itself replaced the famous medieval London Bridge with its houses, shops and traitors’ heads upon spikes.
The medieval bridge stood some way downstream of its successors, and was aligned with the porch of St Magnus Martyr which bestrode the northern approach, as illustrated by the image below from around 1800 (note that the houses and other buildings on the bridge had been demolished around 1760). The map, from 1830, shows that the medieval and 19th century bridges briefly co-existed.
As you reach the northern bank, look down again over the wall and notice how the riverside walkway juts out immediately downstream of the bridge. This area was on the upstream side of the medieval bridge and was the site of the famous water works by which the City’s drinking water was pumped up to the Standard at the top of Cornhill. Fans of Rob Lloyd’s Restoration London thriller The Bloodless Boy (my favourite London book of 2014, reviewed here) will recall this spot!
As the bridge meets the northern bank you will see some rather unpromisingly dank steps down to the riverside walkway. Descend these and head upstream under the bridge.
As you re-emerge into daylight note the imposing Fishmongers’ Hall to your right, dating from 1835 and the 3rd hall on the site. As you pass the hall you will see a pair of Coade Stone statues of a fishmonger and fishwife.
Continue along the riverside walkway until you reach Swan Lane. Turn right: this is the western boundary of Bridge Ward. Now lined with modern offices, it is hard to imagine this lane dates back at least to the 12th century. Originally known as Ebbgate, it was renamed after the Old Swan Inn that stood here. Samuel Pepys described eating there in 1660 as ‘a poor house and ill-dressed, but very good fish and plenty’. The Old Swan was also the start point for Doggett’s Coat & Badge race. As you turn the corner look up high on your right for a small sign showing that the property belongs to the Fishmongers’ Company.
Continue along Swan Lane and cross Upper Thames Street. Keep to the left of the large building site and pass up Arthur Street which curves up to the right and returns to the bridge approach. From this side of the bridge notice the bulk of Adelaide House across the road and scandalously blocking the view of Wren’s beautiful St Magnus, built to stand sentinel over the bridge’s northern approach.
Now re-cross the busy junction to the eastern side of the bridge approach. Before the bridge was moved, this was part of Eastcheap, the east chepe or market so named to distinguish it from West Cheap (now Cheapside). As you turn right into Eastcheap look for the blue plaque marking the site of St Leonard’s Eastcheap, one of the many churches lost in the Great Fire and not rebuilt.
Cross Eastcheap and head north up Gracechurch Street, looking out for the marks showing the boundary between the parish of St Leonard’s and that of St Benet Gracechurch. Gracechurch meant ‘Grass Church’ or ‘church near the herb market’ that was held on this street.
A little further on, take a little detour down Talbot Court to the right where you will find The Ship Inn, an interesting old pub. Outside, across the passageway you will see further parish boundary marks, this time delineating St Benet’s from the parish of St Andrew Hubbard (see our Billingsgate post).
Retrace your steps to Gracechurch Street and continue northwards. [by the way, if you want to see further parish boundaries there are two more sets, separating St Benet’s from All Hallows Lombard Street, one across the road on the corner of Lombard Court and a further set along the Court itself].
A little further up Gracechurch Street, you will pass St Benet’s Place and then, just before you come to the Boots chemists on the corner of Fenchurch Street you should see another blue plaque, this time marking the site of St Benet Gracechurch. St Benet’s stood on what is now the roadside junction before being demolished for road widening in 1867 (not 1876 as stated on the blue plaque!).
There have been three catastrophic periods in the history of City of London’s churches. Everyone knows about the Great Fire and the Blitz, but few appreciate that between 1781 and 1939, 27 City churches, including 20 by Wren, were demolished mostly as part of a series of metropolitan improvements that would (hopefully) be unthinkable today. One of the greatest losses was St Benet’s, as is evident from the pictures below.
As far as I can identify, the only tangible remnants of St Benet’s are its fine pulpit, which been renovated and installed at St Olave Hart Street (see image below), and its font which is at All Hallows’ Twickenham.
Turn right into Fenchurch Street. Just before you pass the Paperchase shop, look down the gap between the buildings and you can just catch a glimpse of a giant sign for the Clothworkers’ livery company (you can get a much better view through the back window of Paperchase if it is open!). I have been unable to find more about why this sign is there so please comment if you know!
Turn right again onto Philpott Lane passing to the right of 120 Fenchurch Street or the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. Take a brief detour into Brabant Court to see a fine early 18th century house.
Just before you reach Eastcheap again look carefully up at the gothic-looking building on the corner on the left. Hopefully you will spot one of London’s smallest and most intriguing public sculptures: two mice eating a piece of cheese!
The mice appear to date with the building from 1862, but seem to have attracted little notice until relatively recently. Now, however they are the subject of a probably apocryphal tale linking them to to the deaths of two workers on the construction either of the building itself or of the nearby Monument. Legend has it that one of the workers, perched high up the building, found his bread and cheese missing one day, blamed his co-worker and the ensuing fight saw them both tumble to their deaths. This was then commemorated by the tiny sculpture. I have been unable to find any reference to this story prior to 1977 and so am extremely dubious of its veracity!
Cross Eastcheap and head westwards again, passing Pudding Lane and turning left into Fish Street Hill. Pause to take in the view: in the 18th century this cobbled lane, past the Monument and down to St Magnus, led down to the medieval bridge and the river.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London, as it is properly known, was built in 1671-1677 by Robert Hooke, under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren. It is 62m tall, representing the distance from its base to the site in Pudding Lane of Thomas Farriner’s bakery where the fire began.
Before ascending the Monument it is worth a circuit around the outside. Note in particular the frieze on the west face by Caius Gabriel Cibber depicting the destruction of the City, with Charles II and his brother James II giving directions for its restoration; the Latin inscription on the north face with its addition (now excised) blaming ‘Popish frenzy’ for starting the Great Fire; the plaque set in the ground to the east to Robert Hooke, the Monument’s designer; also more dragons carved on the four upper corners of the pedestal. Almost unnoticed at the north-west corner of the base is an old fire plug marking the parish of St Margaret New Fish Street – the church that formerly stood on the site of the Monument and which was the first to be destroyed in the Great Fire.
Now ascend the Monument’s 311 steps. Take time to look up and down the spiral staircase as you ascend, and look out for the (surprisingly few!) old graffiti carved on the walls.
When you reach the top and catch your breath, take time to admire the views. Look out for some of the City’s finest churches: the spires of All Hallows Barking and St Dunstan-in-the-East, the tower of St Mary-at-Hill and the tower and dome of St Magnus Martyr (our next stop).
Notice the fencing around the balcony, installed in the mid-19th century to prevent additions to the many suicides for which the Monument had become famous. For fans of Rob Lloyd’s Bloodless Boy this will again be a poignant spot!
Before descending, don’t forget to look up at the gorgeously worked golden ball of flame that tops the structure.
Having returned to ground, continue down Fish Street Hill and cross Lower Thames Street (ideally via the elevated Pedway bridge – another fine viewpoint) and enter St Magnus Martyr via the courtyard by the west porch.
Before entering the church, look around the courtyard for: a blue plaque noting that this was the approach to Old London Bridge; a piece of wood from the old Roman wharf on the site; some stone remnants of the old bridge; a fine set of parish boundary marks; and above your head the enormous clock bearing the date 1709.
The clock was donated in 1709 by the retiring Lord Mayor, Sir Charles Duncombe, banker, Alderman of Bridge Ward and reputedly the richest commoner in England. Legend has it that as a poor apprentice crossing London Bridge on his way to work, Duncombe never knew the time and was repeatedly thrashed for lateness: his gift was therefore to prevent future apprentices from suffering the same fate. By coincidence, Duncombe’s banking business was based at the sign of the Grasshopper in Lombard Street, about which I have previously written.
Inside, the church is a beauty.
Although a Church of England church, St Magnus’ is Anglo-Catholic in its ministry and there is a distinctly Catholic feel to it. T S Eliot referred to St Magnus’ in The Wasteland:
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.
The origins of its dedication are disputed. Officially it is dedicated to St Magnus-the-Martyr, Earl of Orkney (d. 1126) although there is some evidence that the dedication predates this Magnus and may therefore refer to a Bishop of Cesarea of that name, martyred in 258 AD.
As you wander round inside, it is clear that the Viking version is preferred:
Among many other interesting exhibits, look out especially for the fine sword rest dated 1708. This was the year of Sir Charles Duncombe’s mayoralty, and given that it bears the arms of the Goldsmiths Company I assume it was created for, or donated by, him.
For a London historian, the star attraction at St Magnus-the-Martyr is the astonishing scale model of Old London Bridge as it was c.1400, built in 1987 by David Aggett. Every aspect of life on the bridge is captured, including around 900 figures as shown in the pictures below. Look out especially for the one figure not in medieval garb: a 20th century policeman in uniform intended to represent David Aggett (a former police officer) himself!
Upon leaving the church turn right on Lower Thames Street and immediately turn right behind the church towards the river. Behind the church look across the river and imagine the old bridge that began just here. On it, in front of you, on the left side of the bridge towards its centre, stood the last of Bridge Ward’s five churches: the chapel of St Thomas-the-Apostle. St Thomas’s is captured twice in St Magnus’s: once in a stained glass window and again in Mr Aggett’s model.
As you return to the south bank, leave the bridge down the steps to the left under the archway of Number 1 London Bridge. Walk along the riverside walkway to the rear of the former London Bridge Hospital where you will find a plaque on the river wall commemorating the old bridge. Now walk through the hotel courtyard and return to London Bridge station via Tooley Street.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please take the time to add any comments, and look out for the next City of London Steeplechase!
Transport: the walk is designed to start and end at London Bridge station.
Opening times: the walk takes in the Monument and the interior of the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr. Check the links for opening times.
Footwear: the Monument’s spiral staircase has 311 well worn stone steps. Shoes with a good grip are recommended.