If anyone doubts the value of planning controls, this walk will illustrate it. Right next to the City’s glass office blocks lies the old market of Spitalfields, streets of early Georgian housing, and one of the most individual yet beautiful churches in London. All were once threatened with demolition. What more natural than flattening them and replacing with acres of glass? Only the planners and pressure groups saved the area.
And when, under the two London mayors Livingstone and Johnson, planning conditions were relaxed and height restrictions removed, the London skyline was irretrievably damaged, and historic areas overshadowed by the modern and incongruous.
The walk is on the eastern fringe of the City of London, exploring the startling transition between City and East End. Notice alleyways, old streets, ancient churches, modern offices, quaint street names, familiar company names, hurrying city people, cranes and hoardings and non-stop building work. You are in London. Notice, also, the absence of choked traffic. Some busy roads, yes, but many of them are not, and this is to the credit of the Greater London Authority and its London Mayors.
Until the early nineteen sixties, the river from London Bridge eastwards past Tower Bridge was packed with ships and tugboats. There were docks on both sides of the river, and this was the busiest port in the world. It all changed in a short period, bigger ships outgrowing the shallow docks and the use of shipping containers making the warehouses out of date.
St Katherine Docks were the westernmost of the docks, and the two small docks and the basin (i.e. the entrance lobby) survive. Some of the warehouses from the 1820s remain, converted into housing.
Tower Bridge still rises spectacularly for the occasional tall masted boat. Its beautiful design was produced, not by a celebrity architect, but by a firm of engineers.
The Tower of London was erected by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century as part of his subjugation of the Anglo Saxons. It has been used as a prison through the centuries, and was the last home to many regarded as traitors by the Kings and Queens of England, so do be careful what you say. The distinctive cupola roofs on the towers are a modern addition, not appearing until the sixteen hundreds.
Trinity Square continues the seafaring theme of St Katherine Docks. The various London docks were placed under control of the Port of London Authority in 1909, and Number 10 Trinity Square was their impressive headquarters (see left).
The building was also the setting for the first ever meeting of the United Nations in 1946.
Trinity House, next door, is much older and is the home of the charity responsible for safety at sea. All UK lighthouses and lightships are controlled from here.
Samuel Pepys lived and worked in Seething Lane, and attended St Olave's church, a hotch potch of pieces from different centuries. The incongruous brick section of the tower was added in the eighteenth century, not post-Blitz as you might expect.
Lloyds Register of Shipping has maintained a list of all merchant ships since 1760, although originally they did so at Lloyd's Coffee House rather than in the substantial office you see now. The practice of conducting business in coffee houses has enjoyed a revival, and you will hear earnest discussions in any City Starbucks or Costa.
In the pedestrianised Cullum Street, look out for Bolton House, an unusual highly decorated building from the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Lloyds Insurance, another institution founded in that coffee house, is an association of insurance underwriters who group together to insure risks. They will still insure your ship today, but now operate from a startling office built in the nineteen eighties, pictured on the right. Richard Rogers designed it inside out, with the pipes, ducts and most spectacularly the lifts, all on the outside walls. It's an acquired taste, but those of us who love it really do.
Right next to the Lloyds building is the old Leadenhall Market (left). The structure is nineteenth century but the market operated for hundreds of years until the late twentieth, when the ironwork was repainted and the interior taken over by shops and cafes. In the walk directions I tell you to stand beneath the central dome and look up. 'Why?' you may ask. 'Why not?' I retort.
After the market you will pass the front of Lloyds, incorporating the facade of their earlier building. Across the road is the church of St Andrew Undershaft, named because it used to be overreached by a maypole. The maypole was destroyed as a heathen symbol in 1549 but the church is now overshadowed by the pagan buildings of commerce, all periods and styles jostled together.
Much damage was done by a 1993 IRA bomb, and The Gherkin was erected in place of the most heavily affected building. This is another rare example of a modernist building which inspires affection, though its distinctive place on the skyline is being eroded by the construction of ever taller blocks in attempts to make more and more money. Bring back the maypole.
Here in the East of the City we are just beyond the reach of the Great Fire, and St Helen's is another ancient, pre-Wren church.
There is never a time when the City of London is free of cranes and hoardings, building and demolition works. Gibson Hall, built as a bank headquarters and mentioned in the directions, is now a propped-up facade and the walk up Bishopsgate will be noisy, dusty and crowded with office workers. That's London; it's not a museum piece. Look out for St Botolph without Bishopsgate on the other side of the road, near the junction with Camomile Street. It's just outside the line of the old city wall, hence 'without', and is near the site of the Bishop's Gate. St Botolph's speciality was protecting travellers.
On your right you'll pass (and might miss) the arts and crafts facade of the Bishopsgate Institute, a library devoted to London's history, complete with lecture hall.
As you turn into Brushfield Street, you have stepped out of the City into the East End. Straight ahead is All Saints Church (right), the finest work by quirky architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Spitalfields Market is no longer full of fruit and veg but it is still a market. The Spitalfields area contains early eighteenth century terraces which used to be occupied by French silk weavers. As protestant refugees, they had their own low church at the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane. This became a synagogue when the area was largely Jewish, and it's a mosque now the local population is mainly Bengali.
The walk takes us back into the City and through Broadgate, a startling modern development making use of former railway land. Some of the buildings straddle the lines into Liverpool Street Station and you can see how their frames spread the load, as in the picture. London is one of the world's leading financial centres and international companies are all around you. Spotting company names might appeal to a certain kind of mind, especially if you don't have the Bank of China in your home village.
You also pass the headquarters of one of the City Livery Companies, in this case the Girdlers who make girdles. You are allowed to be mystified at the survival of such organisations occupying the most expensive land in Europe.
The medieval Guildhall is the equivalent of the City's town hall, and is essentially fifteenth century, although much restored after Great Fire and Blitz. It's described and pictured in the City and Strand walk, as is the finishing point of the walk, effectively the centre point of the City. Three spectacular classical buildings, the Mansion House (the Lord Mayor's base), Bank of England (focal point of finance) and Royal Exchange (once the centre of trade) face each other across a busy junction.
Distance 8.3km / 5.1 miles.
1. Start at Tower Hill District & Circle tube station.
2. Turn left out of the exit, go down to the road.
3. Turn left along the road, Tower Hill, with the Tower of London opposite.
4. Pass a section of London wall on your left.
5. Cross at the lights, (4 crossings!) to the Tower side of the road.
6. There’s a sign to St Katherine Docks, which is where you’re heading. Continue for a few steps with the road on your left, the Tower on your right.
7. Cross the road to your left, on another 4 section crossing. (The former Royal Mint is amongst trees on the opposite side of the road, which is called East Smithfield).
8. Tower Bridge is straight ahead but go down the sloping service road, left of but parallel with Tower Bridge Road.
9. Take the modern steps on the left to descend to St Katherine Docks.
10. Walk with restaurants on the left and the dock on the right.
11. Go straight on (past Telford’s original warehouses on the right) alongside a second dock.
12. Walk all round this dock, with water to your right on the first two sides, on the third side behind retro cottages, fourth side with the Dickens Inn on left, and water on right.
13. Round the corner of the Dickens Inn and take the footbridge to your right.
14. Turn left off the bridge. The basin (dock entrance section) is on your left, cafés to right.
15. Turn left beside the temple building, which contains a Starbucks.
16. Turn left onto the roadway, but immediately before the drawbridge turn right onto a path.
17. Turn right at the Thames (the only alternative is to fall in).
18. Reach two adjacent archways beneath Tower Bridge. Enter the left one, ascending steps.
19. Admire the view from Tower Bridge, return down the steps and walk through the second arch on a cobbled roadway.
20. Walk alongside the Tower of London. The beehive-shaped building over the river is the Greater London Authority.
21. Turn right uphill, away from the river, past the Tower.
22. Pass a Welcome Centre on your left, then turn left before the main ticket office into Gloucester Court, heading for All Hallows church.
23. Pass the church on your right (you can look inside if it’s open), and turn right, round the end of the building.
24. Just after a griffin on a post, marking the boundary of the City, cross the road into Trinity Square (stay on the roadside pavement, not inside the gardens).
25. Walk past number 10 (used to be the Port of London Authority, managing the London docks) and Trinity House (responsible for the UK’s lighthouses). You’re almost back where you started. Hope it was worth it.
26. Retrace your steps and turn into Muscovy Street, next to number 10.
27. Turn right into Seething Lane. Step into St Olave’s churchyard if open.
28. Turn right off Seething Lane into Crutched Friars.
29. Go under the railway bridge, and immediately left into Lloyds Avenue.
30. Turn left into Fenchurch Street. (Lloyd’s Register of Shipping is the first building on left).
31. Turn right into Cullum Street. (Notice Bolton House, last building in the pedestrianised section).
32. Go right at the roadway into Lime Street.
33. Turn left into Leadenhall Place. (The Lloyds insurance building is on right).
34. Straight on into Leadenhall Market. Turn right at the ‘cross roads’ under the central dome.
35. Turn right into Leadenhall Street. (Pass Lloyds, seeing the old façade and the new building with its external lifts).
36. At the lights turn left into St Mary Axe. (See St Andrew Undershaft on the right).
37. Opposite the Gherkin, turn left into Undershaft.
38. Bear right away from the road to the front of St Helen’s church.
39. With your back to the front doors of the church, go straight on towards Bishopsgate.
38. Look left to Gibson Hall (with statues on the roof line) but turn right into Bishopsgate.
39. Step into St Helen’s Court on your right to see its Victorian buildings, and back out again.
40. See St Botolph Bishopsgate church on the opposite side of road, opposite Houndsditch.
(Deposit any dead dogs you’re carrying here; it’s how it got the name).
41. Continue straight on along Bishopsgate, and look out for the spectacular doorway of the Bishopsgate Institute which you pass on your right.
42. Turn right into Brushfield Street, with Hawksmoor’s Christ Church straight ahead.
43. Bear slightly left to enter the modern passageway parallel with Brushfield Street. Spitalfields Market is on your left; explore it if you like.
44. Come back out onto Brushfield Street proper, and head towards the church.
45. Cross Commercial Street, enter Fournier Street. (Early eighteenth century weaver’s houses. The mosque was originally a church, and then a synagogue).
46. Turn left into Brick Lane.
47. Turn left into Princelet Street.
48. Turn right into Wilkes Street.
49. Turn left into Hanbury Street, with a blue plaque to Bud Flanagan.
50. Cross Commercial Street and turn right.
51. Turn left into Folgate Street. (No 18, Dennis Severs’s house, is sometimes open to view).
52. Turn right into Norton Folgate. You are well and truly back in the City.
53. Cross at the zebra crossing and go up steps signposted to Broadgate Plaza.
54. Turn left into broad walk beneath steel buttresses.
55. Cross a road and go up steps beneath an office block supported on a steel arch.
56. Down more steps, keeping to the left hand side, to the Plaza.
57. Walk straight down past a water feature, to the train sheds over Liverpool Street Station and turn right, glancing down into the station.
58. At the corner of the train shed, go up a few steps then left, down more steps into Sun Street Passage.
59. Stay on ground level; don’t go down the underpass.
60. Sun Street Passage ends at a fence. Ignore the side entrance to the station on the left; turn right instead.
61. Turn left by 8 Broadgate, and walk past Broadgate Circle which is on your right.
62. Turn left down steps to a rusty steel sculpture, up more steps and straight on into Blomfield Street (signposted).
63. Turn right into Finsbury Circus; go round the circus on its left. Take the second exit (opposite your entry).
64. Turn left into Moorgate.
65. At the traffic lights, turn right into London Wall but also cross to walk on its left hand side.
66. Turn left into Coleman Street. Pass Girdlers’ Hall, rebuilt in 1960 after bombing.
67. Turn right into Mason’s Avenue, an alleyway.
68. At the end turn left into Basinghall Street.
69. Turn Right into Guildhall Buildings.
70. Take the next turn left (but do spot the medieval Guildhall, the City’s town hall, first).
71. Turn left into Gresham Street.
72. Turn right into Ironmonger Lane.
73. Turn left into Poultry.
74. Go straight on to crossroads surrounded by the Bank of England, Royal Exchange and Mansion House. The walk ends here, at Bank tube station.
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