London – There’s More to the Sqaure Mile Than a Bunch of Bankers

I had a couple of meetings in the City yesterday, so rather than waste the hour or so in between appointments I did some exploring.

This is the Monument to the Great Fire of London. appropriately it stands at the junction of Monument Street with Fish Street Hill.

The Monument

Designed by the then Surveyor General Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant, the microscope pioneer Robert Hooke, at 61 metres it’s the tallest isolated stone column in the world. It was built between 1671 and 1677 . At its base there is a bas relief of the destruction of the City by the Great Fire in 1666, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, who also sculpted Soho Square’s statue of Charles II in the West End. Given my dodgy knees and hypertension I passed on the opportunity to climb the 311 stairs to the top and view London from within the suicide cage, that was installed in the mid 19th Century.

I am constantly amazed by what I find out about people like Wren, Hooke and their contemporaries like Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley, they were men of such diverse ability, vision and energy, turning their hands to architecture, astronomy, biology and other sciences. Little wonder the period they ushered in was known as the Enlightenment.

At the bottom of Fish Street Hill is Lower Thames Street and the Church of St Magnus the Martyr.

The Spire of St Magnus the Martyr

There had been a church of this name on the site for hundreds of years before the Great Fire of London cleared much of the area. St Magnus the Martyr was only 300 metres away from the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane, where the fire started. The present church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the building was completed around 1676. The interior is quite beautiful but unfortunately the light was too poor to get a decent photograph of the alter or the magnificent pipe organ. I did however get this shot of the window showing St Magnus himself . It’s one of four stained glass windows that were designed by Lawrence Lee and installed between 1949 and 1955 replacing those destroyed by enemy bombing during World War II.

St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus himself was an Earl of Orkney who was executed after being captured by his cousin in 1116. He had a reputation for being pious and gentle  and was canonised in 1135. there is also quite a sweet wooden ststue of him inside the church, complete with horned Viking  helmet.

Behind St Magnus is the Thames itself where I got a splendid view of HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

Walking back up towards the Monument I found another Wren church St Mary-at-Hill

St Mary-at-Hill

Actually Wren was responsible for the interior and the east wall, seen above. The other three walls are older medieval structures. On entering the church the smell of fish assailed my nostrils, which I thought was a bit odd, until I discovered that the Eucharist of the Harvest of the Sea was being celebrated inside. St Mary-at -Hill was one of the parish churches for the old Billingsgate Fish Market that used to operate from Lower Thames Street. I didn’t want to disturb the congregation by poking around, so I left them to it and continued on to Ledenhall Market in Gracechurch Street

Ledenhall Market

Ledenhall Market, with its ornate wrought iron and glass roof, was designed by Horace Jones who also designed London’s Smithfield and Bilingsgate Markets. It opened in 1881 as a fish, meat and poultry market, but is now mostly full of pubs, sandwich bars and restaurants serving city wage slaves. It also served as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. And speaking of things magical I particularly like the Griffins, the symbol of the City of London, that hold the roof up.

City of London Griffin holding up the roof of Ledenhall Market.

If you’d like to see these places the nearest London Underground stations are: Bank on the Northern and Central Lines and Dockland’s Light Railway: and Monument on the District and Circle Lines


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