OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Landmarks of Old London

Pages: <1> 2

The sceptic wandering about the streets of the rapidly-changing metropolis and getting bemused by the immense buildings which have arisen in recent days and are still arising daily might question whether there are such things as landmarks of the London of the past in existence at all. The wanderer will find little to carry his mind back to past times; little from which he can reconstruct earlier periods in the long history of London The fact is that while much has been destroyed, sometimes by fortuitous circumstance, often by thoughtless or intentional vandalism, what we still possess in the way of architectural relics have a way of concealing themselves. Thus it is that in order properly to discover and appreciate the ancient landmarks with time and the successive centuries of builders and restorers have left us, we must not be content to tread the beaten path, but must penetrate into the byways of the great city.

As everyone is aware, in early times the City - the nucleus, that is, out of which the present London grew - was surrounded by walls, and at certain spots the old gates gave access to it. Originally there were four principal openings: Aldgate, Aldersgate, Lud-gate and Bridge-gate; but in course of time others were found necessary, and Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate and Newgate came into existence. Now, with the exception of Bridge-gate, all these have left their names on the areas which they served, and their relative positions (they were finally destroyed during the 'sixties of the eighteenth century) can thus be approximately established, although the wall in which they were the openings had disappeared long before.

Fleet Street is, of course, so called from the Fleet Stream which ran (and still runs in a drain) along the way now known as Far-ringdon Street and New Bridge Street, and was no doubt the "lode" that gave its name to Lode Gate or Ludgate.

Place-names form so large and fascinating a study because by them facts and persons, the memory of which has long departed, are preserved, and the City is naturally rich in such landmarks. Thus Thames Street is to us divided simply between the Upper and Lower portion of that thoroughfare; but in earlier days one part of it was known as Petty Wales, probably, as Stow surmises, from the presence there of a "great stone building sometime appointed as the lodging of the Princes of Wales when they repaired to the City," and another as Stockfishmonger Row, which tells its own tale. Harp Lane, a turning from it, was so called from a messuage or estate in it, known as "La Harpe," which was in existence in Henry VIII's reign, and Pudding Lane, another of its tributaries, is derived from a scalding house used by butchers here, when the "puddings" or offal "were voided down that way to the Thames."

Where a doubt exists as to the origin of a street name, it may be generally assumed, I think, that it took it from some previous owner of land, as, for instance, Seething Lane, for which no ready solution has been discovered except for a Saxon surname no doubt signifying such a freeholder Here and there the one-time presence of a religious community was responsible for a street name that has become so common as to have ceased to intrigue us, as in the case of Mincing Lane, where the mynchens or nuns of S. Helens once congregated, and the Min ories, a word derived from the Minoresses or Nuns of the Order of S. Clare, whose abbey, founded by Edmond, Earl of Lancaster, in 1293, was situated here Some names speak for themselves as to their origin, but at the same time are none the less landmarks of an earliei stage of civic life, and in Jewry Street and Old Jewry we have the obvious centre of Jewish life. But we are apt to forget that the latter was the Jews' centre of activity until the thirteenth century, when their wholesale banishment took place, and the former their refuge when they returned under Cromwell's rule.

Although within the City proper there have been fewer drastic reconstructions in street alignment than in the ampler West End, at the same time two changes in this respect have resulted in the clearing away of certain subsidiary streets. The changes I indicate are the formation of Queen Victoria Street in 1871, and of Princes Street on the west side of the Bank of England. The latter need not concern us, but the former, notwithstanding its modern appearance, abuts on the site, in Water Lane, of the theatre which James Burbage erected in 1596, and in which in all probability Shakespeare was one of the performers. Which reminds me that at least one City thoroughfare bears the actual name of a once famous playhouse; for Curtain Road in Shoreditch is so called on account of the Curtain Theatre, another of Burbage's ventures, which was erected in 1576, within the former precincts of Holywell Priory, whose exact site has been identified as being immediately on the north of New Inn Yard, where that outlet joins Curtain Road.

More outstanding theatrical memories of Elizabethan and Jacobean days are, however, associated with the south side of the river, in Southwark, where Bankside still recalls the one-time presence of the Globe, the Rose and the Swan, with which the fortunes of the drama and its greatest exponent are for ever identified.

If we turn to more tangible monuments of the past within the City's precincts, we shall find them scattered about in a rather haphazard way; and Roman London (to which a special chapter has already been devoted) can be but dimly adumbrated by the fragments of the old wall which have survived its otherwise almost complete destruction.

For what remains of Norman London, with the exception of the White Tower and S. John's Chapel in the Tower, one must go to the older churches which escaped the Great Fire, such as S. Bartholomew the Great, S. Saviour's, Southwark, the circular portion of the Temple Church, and the crypts of S. Mary-le-Bow, S. John, Clerkenwell, and the Abbey. And the same holds good with regard to relics of medieval times, with two exceptions: the crypt of the Houses of Parliament and that of the Guildhall.

With the ecclesiastical remains I am not here concerned, as this portion of the subject is being dealt with elsewhere in this work, and so I need say nothing about these landmarks, which are naturally those whose preservation has been most regarded even by iconoclasts, to whom old and beautiful architecture, for its own sake, has not always been so sacrosanct.

Before leaving the more easterly part of Central London there are two memorials which, in spite of additions and restorations, still retain the atmosphere of a past day because of certain existing architectural features, but still more because of the associations with which they are connected. The first of these is the Guildhall, which, as I have said, hides itself at the end of a narrow street. The original Guildhall faced Aldermanbury and probably covered a portion of the site of the existing building, but the date of that structure is unknown. A larger one was erected between 1411 and 1435, and certain features, including the gatehouse and the crypt, still remain; but the Great Fire destroyed much, including the roof, which Wren replaced by a temporary one with a flat ceiling. As we look at the front of the building from Guildhall Yard, what we see is George Dance, junior's, restoration of 1789, with Mr. Sydney Perks's alterations and additions of the first decade of this century. The Great Hall was restored by Sir Horace Jones in 1866-70; but nothing can quite obliterate the memories with which the original structure was filled - the trials of Anne Askew and the Earl of Surrey, of Lady Jane Grey and Lord Guildford Dudley, the picturesque Stuart king come to demand the surrender of the five members, or his merry son dining with Sir Robert Vyner.

The associations of the Charterhouse are of a far different character. This beautiful relic of Tudor days recalls the memory of its pious founder, Sutton, whose exquisite Renaissance tomb in the chapel vies in beauty with the panelled chimney-piece of Italian work in the Great Chamber and the impressive proportions of the Great Hall.

For the rest, the outstanding landmarks of the City are S. Paul's and the churches which Wren created, and whose forest of spires rises (or did rise before we took to emulating their height by great commercial structures) above the sky-line and stamps the City as the great architect's own domain.

The halls of the City Companies would, but for the Great Fire, have formed architecturally interesting features, and as it is, some of them can claim relics of such. But in most of them rebuilding has caused their old-world atmosphere to be confined to the ancient customs that obtain in them as the headquarters of the trade guilds, and their possessions in plate and so forth, which have in many cases survived intact.

It is along the main artery linking up east and west London that the street names indicate departed landmarks. There is, for instance, Poppin's Court, whose name comes from the fact that here was once the Poppingaye, the inn or hostel, as such places were formerly termed, of the Abbot of Cirencester, and Peterborough Court, which runs through part of the site of the London residence of the bishops of that see. Crane Court once contained the headquarters of the Royal Society (although in this case the name had nothing to do with that fact); just as Bolt Court is so famous as the great Doctor's residence that we need not trouble ourselves to connect it with a secular inn from which it no doubt takes its name. On the south side of the street Salisbury Court and Square, the former of which was once Dorset Court, are so called from the Bishop of Salisbury's one-time residence here, a residence exchanged with Lord Treasurer Buckhurst for some land at Cricklade. But these memories are overlaid by the later presence here of the famous playhouse which was known variously in Caroline days as the Salisbury Court, Dorset Gardens, the Duke's and Davenant's (William Davenant built it) Theatre. Much rebuilding has altered all the character of this south side of Fleet Street. The notorious area known as "Alsatia" or "Whitefriars," the refuge of the ne'er-do-wells of the seventeenth century, occupied it and enjoyed a kind of immunity from justice, making the place as noisy as the machinery of the daily press in the Whitefriars Street of to-day does.

With the ridiculous Griffin clawing at the traffic as it conies and goes, we are on the site of a landmark which I (and I say it regretfully) am old enough to remember - Temple Bar. You must make a journey far beyond London to-day to see Wren's beautiful but - in view of changed conditions - admittedly inconvenient and cumbrous structure. But once at least it really did form a kind of advanced guard to the City's liberties, and when sovereigns went through it on their way to the east, the ceremony of knocking at the gate and receiving the state sword from the Lord Mayor was effective and picturesque; but the only point in knocking at its substitute would be to knock it down.

The prominent landmark here is the Temple, whose warm brickwork, recalling "the bricky towers " of Spenser's verse, is a joy to the eye, especially in these days when reinforced concrete has become a passion. The gem of the Temple is the Middle Temple Hall, the most exquisite thing we have in London, architecturally and because of its associations - associations which link our day up with the great Elizabeth and the greater Shakespeare. There is, of course, a legal air over all this part, and behind Street's medieval Law Courts expands that splendid square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, one of whose houses was certainly designed by Inigo Jones and another by that Captain Wynde who built the red-brick Buckingham House which, through a variety of changes, has passed to royal hands and become the stone Buckingham Palace of to-day.

Nearly all the old houses here are sentient with the decorative charm of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; many of them are architecturally interesting; not a few contain memories of the illustrious who lived here in the past. But notwithstanding all this, just as Thackeray has made the Charterhouse his own, so here has Dickens overlaid the old bricks and stone with the spirit of his imaginative genius, and Lincoln's Inn Fields is for ever the home of Mr. Tulkinghorn (whose actual house exists), Mr. Snagsby seems still to carry on his business in Cooks (or Tooks) Court, and Chi Chester Rents still to echo to the excitement caused by the inquest on "Nemo." The immortal "Old Curiosity Shop," by the way, was in all probability in Green Street, Leicester Square.

Being thus, by this chance, in Leicester Square, let us stop a moment at one famous landmark there - the one-time residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, now a well-known auction room. Many great ones have lived in what used to be called Leicester Fields.

A royal prince - Fritz, the father of George III - at Leicester House, and Lord Saville at Saville House next door, on whose joint sites the new Empire is arising; Hogarth, where Bishop Tenison's schools are, and so on. The list of notable residents would fill pages. But only one old place remains, the house where the great Sir Joshua received all the illustrious of his day and transferred them to the canvases that are now fought for in crowded auction rooms.

A few years ago another landmark might have been seen here - the little house in which Sir Isaac Newton lived and where later Fanny Burney wrote a part of "Evelina." But London cares for none of these things, and a building which, had it been in Paris, would have been made a national monument was allowed to be pulled down (although it bore on its front a tablet telling of its great associations), and the only memorial of Newton's connexion with this part of the Metropolis is his bust in the central garden of the square.

We have wandered from the Strand and the great houses that once lined it. To return to it there are many ways - by Long Acre, for instance, or St. Martin's Lane, where the Hop Garden reminds one of a once agricultural character very alien from the spot to-day and where Goodwin's Court contains some old shop-fronts which are a joy to some and a revelation to more. Wherever we join the Strand we shall be on ground which formerly boasted a lordly pleasure-house, the presence of many being still perpetuated by the names of subsidiary streets. Essex House and Arundel House begin a long line of private palaces which included the mansions of the Russells and the Somersets and the Cecils, with the magnificent Buckingham House at the west end and the still more architecturally imposing Northumberland House at Charing Cross. Nearly all these great houses arose on the sites of ecclesiastical inns, and the residence of the prince-bishop of Durham preceded that of the princely Villiers, as that of Cardinal Wolsey had preceded Whitehall.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2

Pictures for Landmarks of Old London

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About