London began at a crossing of the Thames, and on this walk youíll cross London Bridge and stand in the heart of the City centre.
At one point you will be surrounded by three classical buildings key to the City: the Bank of England (financial), the Mansion House (home to its independent Mayor) and the Royal Exchange (once the hub of trade).
The Great Fire and the Blitz, as well as commerce, have prompted extensive rebuilding, but the lines of the original courts and alleys have survived, while Wrenís post-fire churches are scattered everywhere.
The walk passes a great cathedral (St Paulís), and Britainís Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey). If youíd prefer to sue rather than prosecute someone, then you need the Law Courts instead, and youíll pass those as you cross the border from the City of London into the City of Westminster.
Many dash to work in the City without seeing very much, yet this walk could last for ever if you stopped to read about everything of interest. Here are selected sights.
From London Bridge, you can see Tower Bridge in the distance, and converted wharves to the right.
The Monument was built to commemorate the 1666 Great Fire, which destroyed the half timbered city and 88 stone churches too. Sir Christopher Wren oversaw the construction of an amazing 51 new churches.
In the dead centre of the financial City, ignore the crowds and admire the neo-classical architecture of the Royal Exchange (pictured right), the Bank of England and the Mansion House which are grouped facing each other across a busy traffic junction.
The Guildhall, much rebuilt after bombing, is a rare survivor of pre-Fire London, and is the centre of the Cityís own local government. Youíll pass the church of St Mary le Bow; if born within hearing of its bells, you qualify as a Cockney, and Bow Lane's line has been unaltered for hundreds of years despite all the rebuilding.
Wrenís St Paulís Cathedral was controversial for its Italian style at a time when Gothic was the default for religious buildings. Paternoster Square is a modern development which really does fit, without pretending to be old.
The stone gateway youíll use to leave the square is Temple Bar, also by Wren. It stood across Fleet Street as a gateway to the City for 200 years, where it caused horse drawn traffic jams. You'll no doubt turn to look again at St Paul's Cathedral as you go down Ludgate Hill. Incidentally, Paternoster Square and both sides of the road near St Paul's have plenty of coffee shops and restaurants.
The Central Criminal Court is always known as the Old Bailey, after the road it's situated in. It's on the site of Newgate Jail, and the crossroads near the dome was the scene for the last public executions in London. The gilt statue on the dome represents justice.
Farringdon Street is unappealing, but if you look back you'll see the Victorian Holborn Viaduct. You are in a valley, and hidden beneath the road runs the River Fleet, buried (like most of London's rivers) to prevent cholera.
Fleet Street used to be the centre of the British Newspaper industry, and youíll pass the last remaining bastion (Thompsons, known for the Beano and Dandy), a stone building with projecting clock (ex-Daily Telegraph) and a black panelled modernist place (ex-Daily Express).
On the other side of Fleet Street, down an alley, thereís a glimpse of St Brideís (see right), the Wren church whose tower was the model for the traditional English wedding cake, first baked near here.
Wine Office Court off Fleet Street is another old alleyway, this one just wide enough for one person. It leads to the peace and quiet of Gough Square, much rebuilt but still containing the house of Dr Samuel Johnson, eighteenth century man of letters, best known then for his dictionary, and now for his quotations, essential for any quiz. The square contains a statue of his faithful cat, and the house is open to visit at certain times.
In Fetter Lane, opposite the junction with West Harding Street, is the impressive Gothic Library of Kingís College. The college itself is comparatively unimpressive. It's passed later in the walk, and is overshadowed by its neighbour, Somerset House.
The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple are Inns of Court, ancient associations of Barristers. All barristers must belong to an Inn. The Temple is one of those places where you may be tempted to divert and explore before returning to the walk. Beside each doorway is a list of the barristers who have chambers in that building.
Much of the Temple is eighteenth century, but it was heavily bombed and you'll see many nineteen fifties sections. The medieval Temple Church predates the Inns of Court, and is from the time when the Temple was the English base of the Knights Templars, a society of crusaders whose power and influence unsettled English Kings so much they were eventually suppressed.
If you'd like to live in the place shown on the left, you'd better start learning law.
The Law Courts, shown on the right on a winter's afternoon, were built in the late nineteenth century and the stone facade is one of the finest Gothic designs in London, though the back is red brick because of budget constraints. Like Barry and Pugin, architects of the Houses of Parliament, GW Street had an unhappy time of it and died before completion. If only we could tell them how much we still love their contributions to London.
Look closely at the picture and you'll see a pillar topped by a griffin, a mythical figure familiar to anyone who's driven a Vauxhall. This marks the limit of the City of London. Beyond is the City of Westminster. The griffin was erected to replace the Temple bar gateway now at Paternoster Square earlier in the walk. At least the tradition of obstructing the traffic was continued when they placed it in the middle of the road.
Once past the griffin you are in the Strand, linking the centre of trade, the City, with the centre of government, Westminster. Wren's St Clement Danes church stands in the middle of the road; it featured in the 'oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements' nursery rhyme and more recently became the church of the RAF. St Mary le Strand is also surrounded by road and was by James Gibbs who later designed St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square.
Somerset House is said to be the first purpose-built office block in London. Until 1973 everyone's birth and marriage certificates were kept here, but now there is public access. This late eighteenth century classical building by William Chambers dominates the view across the Thames from Waterloo. The photo was taken from Waterloo Bridge; you might like to venture there too.
Distance 5.8km / 3.6 miles.
1. Start at London Bridge station. There are many exits. Either turn left onto Tooley Street; or go straight along London Bridge Station Approach. In either case, turn right and cross London Bridge itself.
2. Take the first right after the bridge into Monument Street; walk straight on past the Monument.
3. At the end of the street, continue along the main road. (Note old Billingsgate Fish Market is on the opposite side of the road).
4. Turn left up St Mary at Hill.
5. Right into St Dunstanís Lane.
6. Turn left up Idol Lane, but after a few steps cross the road and go through a gate into the churchyard.
7. Go right into the ruined church (St Dunstanís), and straight across to go out through the opposite archway. Immediately turn left and head through a gate in the fence.
8. Turn left, uphill, St Dunstans Hill.
9. Turn left onto Great Tower St, which becomes Eastcheap.
10. Cross Eastcheap, and reach a major road junction with many traffic lights and crossings.
11. Go straight ahead across Gracechurch Street.
12. Turn left off the crossing so youíre walking with buildings by your right shoulder.
13. Follow this pavement as it bears right up King William Street.
14. Take the first right, St Clementís Lane.
15. Left onto Lombard Street. Cross onto the right hand pavement when you can.
16. As you turn right past an entrance to Bank underground station, look behind you to the very odd St Mary Woolnoth church.
17. Cross Cornhill, to a paved area with benches and statues. This is the centre of the financial City. On your right is the temple-like Royal Exchange. Stand with your back to its pillars and steps; on your right is the Bank of England, while opposite you and to the left is the Mansion House.
18. With your back to Royal Exchange, walk along Threadneedle Street, cross it to the corner of the Bank of England and go up Prince's Steet.
19. Turn left at crossroads onto Lothbury. Walk on the right hand pavement.
20. Turn right into Coleman Street.
21. Turn left into Masons Avenue (donít miss it: itís a narrow passageway through buildings).
22. Turn left into Basinghall St.
23. Turn right into a passage called Guildhall Buildings.
24. Turn left to leave Guildhall Yard via a gate (but admire the Guildhall first).
25. Cross the road and go straight ahead into King St (walk on the right hand side).
26. At the crossroads, first cross and then turn right onto Cheapside.
27. Pass St Mary le Bow church and immediately turn left into Bow Churchyard.
28. Turn left again round the back of the church, then right into Bow Lane alleyway.
29. Turn right at the end onto Watling Street.
30. At the end of Watling Street, cross and turn right along New Change Street.
31. Immediately before the traffic lights, turn left into Paternoster Row, look for and go through the walkway between modern red brick shops. (Ernest Jones and itsu at the time of writing).
32. Go straight ahead into Paternoster Square, where there is a modern monument showing the western extremity of the Great Fire. Leave the square by going left via Temple Bar stone gateway.
33. With the main entrance of St Paulís to your left, turn right and walk along Ludgate Hill.
34. Take the second right, Old Bailey, and walk up to the end of the road at traffic lights.
35. Cross Old Bailey and look back at the Central Criminal Court, with its statue of justice on top of the dome.
36. Opposite the court, still in Old Bailey, take a few steps away from the lights to take Bishopís Court (alley). then bear left to Fleet Place pedestrian square.
37. You enter the square through the top left corner; make your way to the bottom right corner and leave down some steps.
38. Turn left onto Farringdon Street.
39. At the crossroads (Ludgate Circus), turn right into Fleet Street.
40. Immediately after Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese inn, turn right into the tiny Wine Office Court, signposted to Dr Johnsonís house.
41. Keep left as the alleyway widens and splits, turning left into Gough Square.
42. At the other end of the square by Dr Johnsonís house turn right then left into Pemberton Row which becomes West Harding Street.
43. Turn left onto Fetter Lane. (Kings College Library is opposite).
44. At the end of Fetter Lane, cross Fleet Street.
45. If itís a weekday: turn left along Fleet Street. If itís a weekend: turn right along Fleet Street, and skip to step 51 of these instructions.
46. Turn right into Bouverie St.
47. Take the second right into Temple Lane.
48. Turn right into the stone arched entrance to the Temple. Turn right into the square, Kings Bench Walk, turning left at the corner as you must, and bear right across the car park into a covered alleyway.
49. Continue straight on to pass the 12th century Temple Church. (Built by Knights Templar crusaders).
50. Turn right past the rounded end of the church, and reach Fleet Street via another stone arch. Turn left onto Fleet Street.
51. Pass the griffin marking the City of London boundary (this is where Temple Bar originally stood). The Law Courts are opposite. You are now in The Strand, City of Westminster.
52. Carry straight on past St Clement Danes and St Mary-le-Strand churches (both in the middle of the road), then divert left into the gateway of Somerset House.
53. Walk across or round the square; directly opposite the entrance you came in by are glass doors. (Signposted: South Wing and River Terrace).
54. Go through the building and out the other side onto a terrace with river view and turn right.
55. At the end, go up a shallow ramp and turn right onto Lancaster Place.
56. At the traffic lights, turn left onto the Strand.
57. Turn left at Adam Street. (Look out for the decorated facades of the few remaining Adam designed houses).
58. Turn right into John Adam Street.
59. Turn right into Villiers St.
60. Turn left at the top of the hill to end the walk at Charing Cross Station.
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