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Nooks and Corners of Old London



SAID the Italian sculptor Canova, "Gladly would I journey to London if only to see Somerset House, St. Paul's and St. Stephen's, Walbrook." Just behind the Mansion House, in the ancient by-way called Walbrook, stands hidden away the church of St. Stephen's, Wal-brook, planned by Sir Christopher Wren. Its name recalls one of the little streams of the London of centuries ago, called the Brook by the Wall. Outwardly the only thing to take notice of is the shop which has been built into its side, and it is a surprise to note its lofty dome as seen from within. The Corporation was very proud of St. Stephen's when it was first built, and after many expressions of gratitude as to the skill and economy evidenced by the great architect, presented Lady Wren with a purse of ten guineas.

On the tower of the Royal Exchange rests a great gilded grasshopper, eleven feet in length, put up when the Exchange, founded by Sir Thomas Gresham, was built. It has been there for more than three hundred years. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the building, but the metal grasshopper was rescued from the ruins and raised above the dome when a new structure was erected. In 1838 the Exchange was again burned, but the tower on which the emblem rests was saved. The grasshopper was believed to cast a spell of enchantment, insuring riches and good fortune, at least so the old Romans used to think.

Close by the Mansion House the street called Poultry ends. This homely name has clung to it for more than three hundred years, ever since the poulterers had their chief market here. Where the house numbered 31 stands, Thomas Hood, who wrote the "Bridge of Sighs," was born in 1799. Elaborate terra cotta panels on the house No. 14, commemorate the royal processions that passed through Poultry in 1546, 1561, 1660 and 1844.

The thoroughfare called Old Jewry was occupied by the Jews whom William I. brought over from Rouen, and came by its name from a synagogue which was located in this street up to the time of the persecution of the Jews in 1291.

Bucklersbury enters from the south where Poultry ends and Cheapside begins, taking its name from the Bukerels, quite a famous family of the 13th century, one member of whom was made the Lord Mayor. The thoroughfare was for centuries a market place for fruits and herbs, and here dealers in medicines and drugs had their shops. In "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Shakespeare tells of those who smell like Bucklersbury in simple time. At this end of Bucklersbury there stood, in the middle of the road, set up in 1285, the Great Conduit or cistern, round, and of stone, to which water was brought underground in leaden pipes from Paddington. Beside the Great Conduit, Jack Cade, the Kentish rebel, beheaded Lord Say, the king's favourite. Here Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen, here DeFoe was put in the stocks and the Bishop of Exeter beheaded. After the Great Fire Bucklersbury market was no more.

In Pudding Lane by London Bridge, in the year 1666, a fire started which has always been known as the Great Fire, for by it five-sixths of London within and without the walls was destroyed. From September 2nd to the 7th it burned, eating up 13,200 houses, 89 churches, and despoiling 460 streets.

"Chepe" is an old-time name for market, and there have been markets of one kind or another in the neighbourhood of Cheapside for hundreds of years. In the days of King Edward III. and on into the times of Burly King Hal, Cheapside was a famous street and the place of city pageants. When Elizabeth held her much bejewelled court, Cheapside was the gathering point for the shops of goldsmiths.

Set in the wall of house No. 6, near the end of Ironmonger Lane, is a panel of 1668, limning the head of a girl with flowing hair—part of the arms of the Mercers' Company.

Turn again, Whittington
Lord Mayor of London.

This is what the bells of St. Mary le Bow, sometimes called Bow Church, chimed in the ears of Dick Whittington running away from London and his hardships as a kitchen boy. And the sound cheered him, so that he did turn, and in time came to be the best and most famous Lord Mayor that London ever had. The church came by its name for being the first church in London to be built on "bows" as the stone arches were called. Bow Church was swallowed up by the Great Fire, and Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the present frame upon the ruins of the old arches. The tower is considered the finest of the great number built by Wren after the Fire. From the balcony many kings and queens and their attendants have witnessed the shows and pageants in Cheapside. The Great Bell of Bow is the last of the churches to speak in the old rhyme "Oranges and Lemons," in which one can almost hear the different tones of the bells as they question and answer each other:

Oranges and lemons,
Said the Bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings,
Said the Bells of St. Martins.

When will you pay me,
Said the Bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Said the Bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be,
Said the Bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Said the Great Bell of Bow.

Sir Christopher Wren, who built the present Bow Church, was a renowned English architect, and is looked upon as having fashioned most of modern London. He was born in 1632 and died in 1723. Early in life he devoted himself to astronomy, chemistry, anatomy and mathematics as well as to architecture, his real art. He gave much time to the invention of mathematical instruments, and perfected the then recently invented barometer. When St. Paul's Cathedral was found to be in a ruined condition, Wren worked on plans for its restoration, but the Great Fire of 1666 swept it away together with the greater part of London. Wren planned to rebuild the city along new lines, with wide thoroughfares radiating from a great central square. This, however, was not adopted despite his great reputation. He did, though, rebuild St. Paul's and more than fifty other churches which the fire had destroyed. His economical use of money in his work was remarkable. In most cases he did not attempt to make a feature of the entire building, confining himself to a special part—a spire or an interior. He was 90 years old when he died and was buried in the St. Paul's he had constructed. His last years were sorrowful in that he was almost entirely neglected by the country for which he had done so much.

The pigeons strutting about Guildhall Yard in front of the Guildhall, that council hall of the City, are descendants of those that have inhabited the yard time out of mind. The birds of to-day are a remarkably tame variety, and crowd the court so thickly that there is danger at every foot of treading upon them, for they seem to feel their right to be here and refuse obstinately to give way to anyone. Although the Guildhall suffered much in the Great Fire, and although it has been many times restored and altered, there are still remaining portions of the original building of 1411, and the crypt is as when first designed. It was in this hall that Buckingham urged the people to acknowledge the Duke of Gloucester king, after the death of Edward IV. and while the little princes were shut up in the Tower; here, too, that Anne Askew, a young and beautiful woman and one of the first Protestant martyrs, was tried for heresy. Afterwards she was burned at Smithfield.

Close by the Guildhall, to the west of the Yard, stands the official church of the Corporation—St. Lawrence Jewry, the most expensive of all the churches built by Wren, costing 1 2,000 pounds, and which it took nine years, from 1671 to 1680, to build. The original clock, still to be seen in the spire, was made by a clockmaker whose shop was to be found in one of the houses which in that day lined both sides of London Bridge.


When the Great Plague raged in 1665, the churchyard of St. Stephen's, Colman Street, was a place of interment for plague victims. It is said of John Hayward, sexton of the church at the time, that when everyone through fear refused him aid, he alone drove the death cart and unaided buried all the victims who lived within the parish limits.

Almost opposite St. Stephen's, in the short and narrow passageway with the musical name of Great Bell Alley, midway of the block on the north side, Robert Bloomfield, the poet of country scenes, in early days worked as a shoemaker in a garret. While living here in extreme poverty, Bloomfield, during his working hours, thought out the "Farmer's Boy," which when he was able to purchase paper for, he made haste to write. In two years twenty thousand copies of the poem had been sold. Bloomfield was born in a little Suffolk village in 1766, and worked as helper to a farmer, but ran away to London hoping to gain fame and fortune as a poet. After the success of the "Farmer's Boy," he wrote "Rural Tales," "News from the Farm" and other stories in verse, but although they met with a welcome he finally drifted back to his own country where he died very poor.

An aged sign, setting forth what looks to be a swan with two heads, is set in the doorway above a railway parcels office in Gresham Street, at the Aldermanbury corner, and is the original marking of the tavern called "The Swan with two Necks," a most famous resort, which stood on this site for almost three hundred years. It was a thriving place in 1556, and fell from public favour only when the age of stage coaches passed away.

Aldermanbury came by its name because of there being held in the street a famous court or bury of the Aldermen.

The church of St. Mary in Aldermanbury, close by the Guildhall, was the scene of the marriage in 1656 of John Milton and Catherine Woodcock his second wife. These two were very happy, and Milton mourned deeply when fifteen months after the wedding he was left a widower. Under the altar of this church was buried in 1689, Lord Jeffreys, the great favourite of James II. and the notorious leader of the Bloody Assizes. His tomb is still to be seen here.

From the west side of Aldermanbury stretches Love Lane, at the end of which stands the small church of St. Alban's, built by Inigo Jones in 1634, severely damaged in the Great Fire, and restored by Wren in 1685. It guards the site of the first house of worship set up by good King Alfred after he had defeated the Danes. Close by the altar is an ancient hour glass of quaint design, a relic of 16th century days, when the preacher regulated the length of his sermons by the running sand.

The name of Milk Street, in a locality formerly given over to the sellers of milk, has crept into history because it was here that Sir Thomas More the great Lord Chancellor was born, on the east side of the way, near Cheapside in 1480. He was found guilty of high treason when he refused to acknowledge the lawfulness of the marriage of Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn and was beheaded in the Tower, the grim Tower whose frowning walls hide many dark secrets.

One of the most important of London taverns, The Mermaid, stood in Cheapside beyond Friday Street and close to Bread Street on the south side of the road. Ben Jonson founded the Mermaid Club at this house in 1603, and here met in social converse Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Dr. Donne, Selden and many another author. It is recorded that here assembled "more talent and genius than ever met before or since." The house, among so many others, was destroyed in the Great Fire. In the epistle of Beaumont to Jonson, the Mermaid is spoken of thus:

                           What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid; heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
of his dull life.

In Friday Street, strangely enough, the Wednesday Club had its meetings, and in 1694 were held the conferences, headed by William Paterson, Scotch merchant, which resulted in the establishment of the Bank of England, the first joint-stock bank of England.

Friday Street was, in other days, the heart of the district of fishmongers, and came by its name because of Friday being the market-day and fish-market-day as well.

In Cheapside, where Wood Street joins it stood a cross, set up by Edward I., to mark one of the spots where the funeral bier of his beloved Queen Eleanor rested on the journey from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey. This cross was finally destroyed in 1643, during the mayoralty of Isaac Pennington, as under the Commonwealth it came to be regarded as a relic of superstition.

Where Wood Street joins Cheapside, close by the northwest corner, grows a plane-tree, in a spot surrounded on three sides by houses, on ground estimated to be worth one million pounds an acre. Although the space is amply large for a building, and although innumerable legal efforts have been made to build here, the tree is protected in the leases of the nearby houses—evidently indefinitely protected under the "ancient lights" laws which prevent shutting off light from windows. Still further is the tree safe from invasion because it grows on ground that was once part of the churchyard of St, Peters—a church destroyed in the Great Fire—and an English k w prevents building on sacred ground without a special act of Parliament. This is the tree that Wordsworth knew and loved, and of which he wrote in "Poor Susan":

At the corner of Wood Street when daylight appears,
There's a thrush that sings loud; it has sung for three years

Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard,
In the silence of morning, the song of the bird.


A clock without a face, set in a church steeple, is the strange detail of the church of St. Vedast in Foster Lane opposite the Post Office, east. No other church in London has its like. It has all the works of a regular clock, but there are no dials, a bell proclaiming the hours.

Near the northeast corner of St. Paul's Cathedral at the top of Ludgate Hill, once stood the Cross of St. Paul, where for centuries before the present cathedral was built sermons were preached, heretics were made to recant and witches to confess. The pulpit was destroyed by order of Parliament in 1643. Where the cathedral stands a church has been from very early times. The first is believed to have been built by Christians in the time of the Romans, There certainly was a church here, which was reconstructed under Ethelbert, King of Kent, in 610. It was burned in 961 and immediately rebuilt. Again in 1087 it was destroyed by fire and a new church begun at once, but this was not completed for more than 200 years. This Old St. Paul's, being many times restored, finally came to an end in the Great Fire of 1666. The present cathedral was begun in 1675, from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, and completed in 1710.

The open way called St. Paul's Churchyard was of much greater extent around Old St. Paul's than it is about the cathedral of this day. Then it extended quite to the present Paternoster Row on the north and to Carter Lane on the south. On the northern side were the business places of many booksellers just as in Paternoster Row now; and to the south were several taverns of renown. Here, where Bell Yard is, to the north of Knightrider Street, was the Doctors' Commons where, previous to 1861, marriage licenses were issued. Right here, too, where the archway leads into Bell Yard from Carter Lane is a tablet to mark the site of the old Bell Tavern, where Shakespeare and his companions used to meet and talk about the plays which were afterwards to delight an entire world.

The Chapter Coffee House of the 18th century ceased to exist in 1854, but on its old site, at the eastern end of Paternoster Row, is a new tavern. There has been a house of public entertainment on this spot for more than two hundred years. In its palmy days the Chapter was the gathering place of the booksellers whose business places were in this locality, and many of them still continue here. To the Chapter, Charlotte Brontë and her sister came on their first visit to London, much to the surprise of the proprietor who never remembered ever before having women guests. The Brontës had heard their father mention the Chapter, and as it was the only inn they knew by name they came here.

In Panyer Alley, a short and narrow road extending from the north side of Paternoster Row to Newgate Street, on one of the houses on the east side of the way, there is an odd little stone figure of a boy sitting on a pannier or basket. Carved in the stone is this quaint old rhyme:

When ye have sought
The Citty Round
Yet still this is
The Highest Ground
August 27 1688

In the 14th century a proclamation was made against the sale of bread in the houses of bakers, and it could only be sold in the king's markets, It was, however, sold on the streets in baskets, or panniers. Panyer Alley was a place where the bakers' boys could always be found and where their wares were eagerly purchased.

Celebrated indeed was the Ivy Lane Club, in Ivy Lane off Paternoster Row. Dr. Samuel Johnson started the gathering to promote literary discussion and to lighten and relieve his heavy working hours in Gough Square, and it met every Friday evening, at the beefsteak house called the King's Head.

Cut through the grounds of old Warwick Palace, where Paternoster Row ends, is Warwick Lane. There is a reminder here of a long ago time, in a carved panel of 1668, set in the wall of the first house from Newgate Street on the west side of the way, depicting the grand old man of those historic days—Warwick the King Maker. Bulwer Lytton has interestingly combined history and fiction in his spirited tale the "Last of the Barons," dealing with the life of the Earl of Warwick, who literally held the fortunes of kings in the hollow of his hand.

One of the oldest streets of London is New-gate, named during the reign of Henry I. at the time Old St. Paul's was being repaired. Then the street from Cheapside to Ludgate was blocked and impassable and a new gate was pierced through the wall of the city, where now Old Bailey touches Newgate Street, so as to make a direct road to Ludgate and to Ludgate Hill. The very beginning of Newgate Prison was here at this gate, for the rooms over the arch were used as a prison.

Where the New Central Criminal Court now is, famous Newgate Prison stood for more than one hundred years the chief prison of London. The building of Newgate was begun in 1770. In 1780, when scarcely completed, it was partly destroyed by the No-Popery rioters. At the head of these was Lord George Gordon, and the lawless scenes are picturesquely written of in Charles Dickens' novel of the times, "Barnaby Rudge." Of the many famous prisoners of old Newgate were Jack Sheppard, Titus Oates, Claude Duval, Dick Turpin, and Lord George Gordon himself who died here a prisoner. DeFoe was detained here for publishing his "Shortest Way with Dissenters," and William Penn for preaching in the streets. For eighty years the open space in front of Newgate was used for public executions, taking the place of Tyburn.

Prisoners were taken from Newgate to Tyburn for execution, and as they passed the church of St. Sepulchre, each was given a nosegay of flowers. Another custom of this church, carried on for many years by means of a legacy left by a Christian Londoner, was in having the church clerk ring a bell beneath the windows of the cell of the condemned the night before his execution, so that he might be reminded to make his peace with God, reciting as he rang his bell:

All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty shall appear;
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent;
And when St. Sepulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

Within this church of St. Sepulchre were interred the remains of Captain John Smith, who is said to have married the Indian princess Pocahontas. He died in 1631, and his epitaph reads:

Here lies one conquered
that hath conquered kings.

St. Sepulchre was the last church edifice swept away by the great fire of 1666.

Where Cock Lane touches Giltspur Street, is Pie Corner, the extreme limit of the Great Fire of 1666. It was finally stopped here, after it had burned its destroying way quite across London from Pudding Lane.

On a Giltspur Street house wall, near Pie Corner, there is part of a carved figure of a child, placed here where the Great Fire was finally extinguished. The inscription beneath the figure is now obliterated, but it originally read:

This boy is in memory put up
of the Fire of London,
occasioned by the sin
of Gluttony, 1666.

Just what the inscription meant is uncertain, but perhaps it referred to the fact that the Great Fire started in Pudding Lane and burned itself out in Pie Corner, which would seem to indicate that some Old Londoners had a nice sense of humour. This Giltspur Street was in olden times a continuation of Knightrider Street, taking its name from the spurs worn by the knights who galloped along the road on their way to the tournaments at Smithfield.

The Cock Lane Ghost found its way into history in this wise. In this lane in 1762, lived a man named Parsons. Passers-by heard strange noises coming from his house, and neighbours thought they saw a luminous lady who bore a resemblance to a Mrs. Kemt who had died here a few years earlier. The rumour spread that Mrs. Kemt had been poisoned. The supposed ghost submitted to questioning, making replies by knockings. Mr. Kemt finally was suspected of having done away with his wife. Great crowds came to see the ghost and hear her ghostly rappings. Many were sceptics, and eventually the daughter of Parsons, who was suspected of causing the ghostly sounds, was spirited away from her home and taken to the crypt of St. John's Church, close by the square of that name. There Dr- Samuel Johnson and others of prominence who had taken deep interest in the affair, by inducement, argument and threats, cleared up the deception. It was learned that the girl had taken a board into bed with her and by scratching upon it had produced the mysterious sounds. As a result of the exposure, Parsons was prosecuted for imposture, and condemned to stand three hours in the pillory.

Wide-spreading Smithfield Market stretches over ground that for centuries has witnessed scenes of butchery, both human and animal. It was originally a "smoothfield" beyond the wall of the City, where tournaments took place, and where Bartholomew Fair was held annually for more than seven centuries until its extinction in 1855. This Fair, planned to foster trade and establish useful relations in buying and selling, degenerated into an excuse for unrestrained license and pleasure seeking, In the 13th century, Smithfield became a place of public execution, the forerunner of Tyburn and Newgate, and on this ground was beheaded in 1305, William Wallace, the Scotch patriot, hero of Jane Porter's once famous "Scottish Chiefs," It was here, too, that Wat Tyler was slain by Lord Mayor Sir William Walworth in 1381; here too Protestants were burned at the stake in the days of "Bloody Mary," and Nonconformists in Queen Elizabeth's time. To the south of the market there is an open square, and in the centre of this is a statue erected as a memorial to the Martyrs. Smithfield came to be the great cattle mart of London, and so remained until 1855 when it was removed and the present market soon after established.


The Square, where stands the memorial to the Martyrs, is between the market and St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the oldest institution of its kind in London and one of the wealthiest. Rahere, the favourite of Henry I., founded it in 1123, and it has been restored in parts and enlarged many times. You can see above the west gate the statue of Henry VIII. where it was set When the gate was built in 1702. Close by in the wall is a commemorative tablet that recites the burning of the Protestant martyrs. Many world famous men have been connected with the Hospital. Sir Richard Owen, noted as an anatomist was a surgeon here, and so was Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood.

St. Bartholomew the Less is the name of the church inside of the walls of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. This church was built by Rahere, but has been modernized several times and partly rebuilt in 1824. It was here, that Inigo Jones, the great architect, was baptised.

Quaintly picturesque in its location is the mediæval burying ground of St. Bartholomew the Great; its monuments crumbling to decay, its greenery growing rank—a strangely hidden spot, hemmed in by church walls, and on one side by tottering, hundreds-of-year-old buildings whose seething humanity makes the place the more ancient by contrast. The church of St. Bartholomew the Great, of which this is the old time burying ground, lies hidden beyond the West Smithfield houses, hemmed in by the overcrowded human hives of Little Britain and Cloth Fair. From some points, just a glimpse can be had of its ancient red brick tower. This church is very old, next to the chapel in the Tower the oldest in London, founded by Rahere in 1123. Entrance to it is through an Early English gateway between the houses of West Smithfield, and so past the mouldering graveyard. The overhanging houses of Cloth Fair seem to have turned their backs on this home of long dead people.

Like a wraith of bygone romance is dingy Cloth Fair, with its lath-and-plaster houses and the tottering remains of the grandeur of other days. Once the habitation of merchant princes and their wealthy neighbours, it has degenerated into the abode of swarming small tradesmen and day workers whose scant means find expression in ugliness and penury. In this street, in times when the Bartholomew Fair held yearly sway in Smithfield, the quaintly named "Court of Pie Powder" was held, where licenses were granted for the Fair and where weights and measures were corrected.

The ancient and picturesque Charterhouse extends over the ground once used as a field in which were buried victims of the Plague. Parts of the Charterhouse have been there since 1371, and the buildings of to-day have been gradually added during the passing centuries. This was originally a Carthusian monastery, but after its dissolution in 1537, the property passed through many hands before it came to that of a wealthy coal owner of the North, Thomas Sutton, in 1611, who here set up his school for "40 poor boys" and "80 poor men." Thackeray's Colonel Newcomb was one of the "poor boys." The school occupied the buildings until 1872 when it was transferred to Surrey, and the place is now an almshouse for the "poor men" and for the Charterhouse School of the ancient Merchant Taylors' Company.

Gothic St. John's Gate, a mediæval survival in St. John's Lane out of Clerkenwell Road, is all that remains of a priory which was the chief English seat of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and which was erected in 1504. Dr. Johnson lived in a room over the old gateway in 1731, and did hack work for Cave, the founder of the "Gentleman's Magazine," whose office was here also. Nowadays the building is headquarters for the Order of St. John which is engaged in hospital work.

The church of St. John in nearby St. John's Square, was built upon a crypt which was part of the old priory church of the Knights of St. John. The crypt is still to be seen, and it was here that the final exposure of the Cock Lane Ghost was made by Dr. Johnson.


Delightful memories of Dickens' folk crowd strong upon the journeyer into Goswell Road beyond St. John's Square, for it was in this thoroughfare that Mr. Pickwick lodged with Mrs. Bardell.

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