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Who moved the Thames? York Water Gate at Embankment Gardens

A 17th century ‘waterside’ gate marooned away from the river.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Marooned: The York Water Gate in Embankment Gardens

With Embankment tube station and Charing Cross train station a popular meeting place, many tourists and Londoners find themselves going back and forward between the two along Villiers Street. The one-way street is filled with chain restaurants, pubs, shops and the popular Gordon’s Wine Bar, the oldest wine bar in London dating from 1870.

However, how many times when you’ve walked up and down this short road have you ducked east into Embankment Gardens? Well if you’re like me, never… until this year. I have walked along Villiers Street hundreds of times in my lifetime because Embankment is my station of choice if I’m going to Covent Garden or Leicester Square, which are only a short walk away.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Locked up: The gate as the owners of York House would have seen it as they walked towards their boat on the river

The small gardens are a much nicer meeting place than bustling Embankment or Charing Cross stations – weather dependent of course – with benches dotted around flowerbeds and statues of famous past Britons. On my first stroll in the Embankment Gardens, my eye was immediately drawn to the Italianate arch marooned by concrete in the north. Upon closer inspection, I learned it was a water gate… but yet the Thames was 150 yards south.

Anyone who has taken a boat trip down the Thames may have noticed how wide it is in the Greenwich and Docklands area and may be forgiven for wondering why it’s so slender in between the West End and South Bank. Well, for hundreds (probably thousands) of years the Thames was a lot wider, in fact Embankment station would have been in the river… or at least on some soggy marshland. As it still remains today, the Strand was always a coveted address, famous for being home to Somerset House and The Savoy Hotel. From the 12th century onwards, grand mansions and houses stood on the south side of the Strand, with many having gates directly into the river so the residents could climb straight into their boats – the best way to travel in those days.

The York Water Gate in the Embankment Gardens is the only surviving piece of the York House estate, which was originally built in the 1200s for the Bishops of Norwich. Over the years, various archbishops and dukes resided at the lavish abode – including a certain George Villiers, whose name lives on in the aforementioned street. The Italianate-style water gate wasn’t built until around 1626 as a grand entrance for York House residents and visitors to enter and exit via the riverways.

Today, York House is long gone and the only water the York Water Gate sees these days is the rain. The building of the Thames Embankment in the 1860s and 1870s saw London reclaiming a lot of the river, with the building of the busy road we know today to relieve pressure on The Strand and to create a sewer system for the rapidly expanding city. As well as the roads and pavements, gardens were built on the reclaimed land – the main one being where the Water Gate stands today. So many of the grand mansions were razed to the ground, leaving the Water Gate as one of the few reminders of a very different landscape seen by those walking down The Strand a few hundred years ago.

So if you want somewhere to sit for lunch or perhaps somewhere a bit more pleasant than a noisy station to kill time while waiting for a tardy friend, step into the gardens and have a look for yourself.

The York Water Gate and The Adelphi as painted by Daniel Turner

The York Water Gate and The Adelphi as painted by Daniel Turner, approx. 1800
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


For a Metro Girl’s post on the Arthur Sullivan Memorial in Embankment Gardens, click here.

 To find out the history of Charing Cross, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street | Where the tiered wedding cake began

The traditional wedding cake we know today was inspired by one of the City of London’s churches

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street

The name St Bride’s for a church off Fleet Street could not be more apt, because it plays an important role in today’s wedding culture. While the name of St Bride comes from St Bridgit or St Bride of Kildare – a druidic slave and daughter of an Irish prince, who was born in 453. She gave away so many of her father’s possessions, he eventually allowed her to follow her religious calling. St Bridgit is marked by a feast day, when it is customary to donate to the poor and a cake is baked for her travels.

The current St Bride’s was built by architect Sir Christopher Wren (1633-1723) in 1672, one of the first he designed as the City of London was rebuilt following the Great Fire Of London. It is thought to be the seventh church to stand on the site since the 6th century, with the Great Fire potentially destroying one dating back to the 15th century. The previous church was where the famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was baptised in 1633 and was mentioned in his diary entries concerning the great fire. Although the main church was open for worship from 1674, the tower and steeple weren’t complete until 1703.

The steeple, consisting of four tiers, each diminishing in size the higher they are, was originally 234ft high, but lost 8ft in 1764 due to a lightning strike. After St Paul’s Cathedral, St Bride’s was Wren’s tallest church and was prominent on the London’s then-skyline.

St Brides Cake 5050 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012 and Ashley Jane Cakes

St Bride’s steeple is said to have inspired the design for the modern wedding cake (right photo – © Ashley Jane Cakes)

 

St Bride’s as seen from Ludgate Hill

At weddings, it is commonplace to expect a tiered cake as the centrepiece of the reception, with everyone grabbing their cameras or smartphones to capture the iconic cutting of the cake by the bride and groom. Dessert at weddings were originally a stack of cakes, then a bride’s pie, before the bride and groom had their own separate cakes. Just like the traditional colour of a bride’s wedding dress, the white icing was meant to symbolise purity.

Who invented the tiered wedding cake?

The church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren

Pastry chef William Rich (1755-1811), who lived on Ludgate Hill in late 18th century London, is said to be responsible for the tiered wedding cake we know today. Living a stone’s throw from St Bride’s on Fleet Street, he found inspiration for making a cake for his own marriage to Susannah Prichard (1758-1810) in 1776 by looking at the tiered steeple. Despite claims Susannah was the daughter of his boss, William was actually apprenticed to a baker named William Stiles for years, while Susannah’s father Davis Prichard was a peruke maker (wigmaker) from nearby Cheapside. Following the couple’s nuptials, they continued to live on Ludgate Hill and had 12 children, many of which were baptised at St Bride’s. By the time of William’s death in Stockwell, south London in 1811, he had built up quite a bit of wealth and was listed as a venison dealer and cook. The couple were buried at St Bride’s Church, followed by their son Henry Thomas Rich in 1828.

Amazingly, the steeple survived World War II, despite the actual church being fire bombed by the Luftwaffe on 29 December 1940 (see a photo of the bomb damage). By now, the church had been embraced by the journalists and editors of Fleet Street, who financially contributed to the church’s rebuilding in the Fifties, with the building being Grade I listed by Historic England in 1950. Despite the damage, the bombing did uncover the 6th century foundations of an earlier Saxon church on the site, which can be visited on tours.

  • St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, EC4Y 8AU. Nearest stations: Blackfriars or City Thameslink. St Bride’s Church is open for worship and visits. Please check their website for more information.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Still dominating the skyline: The view of St Bride’s from Ludgate Hill on a
stunning September evening


For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

Many thanks to the talented proprietor of Ashley Jane Cakes – a caterer located in Lancs – for allowing me to use a photograph of one of her wedding cake designs.

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Christ Church Greyfriars: A little bit of nature amidst the concrete jungle of the City

The history behind the ruined 17th century church in the City of London.

Greyfriars Christ Church City of London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wooden frames stand where the Corinthian columns once held up the roof of Christ Church Greyfriars

Greyfriars Christ Church City of London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wren’s tower and steeple of Christ Church Greyfriars

The City of London was ravaged by bombs during World War II, with many iconic buildings and churches damaged or destroyed by the Nazis.  Many of the churches created by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) after the City was rebuilt following the Great Fire Of London in 1666 were again smouldering on the sites of their medieval predecessors.

Today, the City is a mish-mash of old and new, with what would have been some of the tallest buildings at the turn of the 20th century, now dwarfed by the likes of the Tower 42 and the Gherkin. Ruins of ancient buildings were cleared up or built over to create the metropolis of concrete and glass which dominates the City today.

However, just a stone’s throw away from St Paul’s tube station is a rare lasting monument to the damage of World War II. The ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, now incorporating a rose garden, lie on the junction of King Edward Street and Newgate Street.

The site was originally a Franciscan monastery in the Middle Ages, with the name Greyfriars referring to the grey habits worn by the monks. Built in 1225, the friary stood for over 300 years. Throughout the centuries, several religious buildings were on site, with a Medieval church being built in the early 14th century. Amongst the notables buried in the church included King Edward I‘s (1239-1307) second wife Marguerite of France (1279-1318) and Edward II’s (1284-1327) widow Isabella of France (1295-1358).

Greyfriars Christ Church City of London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The ruins provide a spot of history and nature in the middle of modernity and traffic

Christ Church Greyfriars

A 19th century sketch of the church before it was bombed
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Following the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII (1491-1547), the church was handed over to the Christ’s Hospital School, with pupils using it as their primary place of worship. However, like most of the City, the medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666 and Wren was put in charge of the capital’s rebirth. Over the next few decades, Wren oversaw the building of 50 churches in the area, The Monument, and of course, his pièce de résistance, St Paul’s Cathedral. Wren’s team ended up using some of the Medieval church foundations to save time and money.

Wren’s Christ Church was completed in 1687 and comprised of a tower and steeple, with parishioners entering the nave from the west, which was smaller than the original medieval church. The stone walls included large windows letting in lots of light, with Corinthian columns separating the space into naves and aisles. The four corners of the roof featured carved pineapples, which were a symbol of welcome. As well as the pews on the ground, the building included two galleries for pupils (one of which being a young Samuel Taylor Coleridge) from nearby Christ’s Hospital School.

However, on 29 December 1940, a German firebomb crashed through the roof and nave. Amazingly, Wren’s tower and the four main walls remained standing (see a photo of the bomb-damaged interior here). On the same night, Wren’s St Bride’s Church at Fleet Street was also bombed, again the steeple amazingly survived. However, with Britain bankrupted by the war, the decision was taken not to rebuild Greyfriars, although the ruins were designated Grade I listed. The East Wall was demolished in 1962 to allow the widening of King Edward Street, with only the North Wall standing today.

Greyfriars site sign © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

A blue plaque marking the site of the monastery

While the Tower has now been converted into private residences, the site of the actual church is now a rose garden, providing a bit of nature to city workers, although with busy Newgate alongside, not necessarily peace and quiet. Rose beds have been placed where the pews once were, while the ghosts of the Corinthian columns are represented by wooden frames.

Alternatively, if you walk further north along King Edward Street, on the right is an entrance to Postman’s Park, another little sanctuary in the City.

  • Christ Church Greyfriars Rose Garden, junction of Newgate Street and King Edward Street, City of London, EC1. Nearest station: St Paul’s.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Although all four walls survived the Blitz, the north wall is the only one which remains


For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.

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Only 311 stairs… climbing The Monument

A visit to the landmark of the Great Fire of London.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Ready to climb? The spiral staircase of The Monument

Londoners are no stranger to stairs. How many times have you been forced to take the stairs when the lift in your block of flats has broken down..? Or when the queues for the Piccadilly line lifts are so crowded, you know you could be underground another five minutes unless you take the ’emergency steps’ to the surface.

Monument far © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

A long way up: The caged viewing platform has great views

Of course, walking up or down an incredibly long flight of stairs is simply a means to an end – to exit or enter a building. But how often does a heart-pounding trip up a long flight of stairs actually provide a reward at the end?

Most Londoners rely on their feet, as well as the tube, buses and overland trains, to get around, so are used to walking. However, I have to admit I’m not the fittest of people and do feel a little out of breath after a brisk climb up a flight of steps. So I was rather apprenhensive about visiting The Monument.

Like many who have grown up in the city, we were taught about the Great Fire Of London at school. I’ve known about the Monument to the Great Fire for many years, and seen it from afar, but had never climbed it, until recently.

Quick history lesson for those who don’t know – the Great Fire of London started at a bakery on Pudding Lane – near the site of the Monument – on 2 September 1666. The fire ravaged the old city, including the original St Paul’s Cathedral. During the 17th century, the buildings were mostly made of wood and built very compacted together, so the fire spread rapidly. To commemorate the fire – which completely changed the City of London – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Robert Hooke (1635-1703) designed a 202ft tall stone Roman doric column, which was completed in 1677. Although the tallest structure in the city at the time, it has since been dwarfed by the Canary Wharf skyscrapers and the Swiss Re (Gherkin) building, amongst others.

On a very windy day in November 2011, I finally decided to visit The Monument with a relative visiting from Scotland. Although I highly recommend the London Eye as a great attraction for visitors, The Monument offers a similar birds’ eye pespective of the city for a fraction of the price.  At the time of writing, it only costs £3 (I went for the Tower Bridge Exhibition combo ticket for both attractions for £9). Anyone energetic enough to tackle the 311 steps to the top is rewarded with a 360 degree view of the city. When I finally reached the top, it was worth all the breathlessness. The viewing platform has been caged in since a spat of suicides in the late 18th and early 19th century… and thank goodness. Situated not far from the windy River Thames, the top of The Monument is really exposed to the elements. The excessively windy day I had chosen to visit, I was taking photos with my camera and smartphone and was terrified they were going to get blown out of my hands. As much as I would hate being caged in, I was grateful for the caged platform for my safety.

  • The Monument is located at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Hill Street, City of London, EC3R 6DB. Nearest station: Monument. For more information, visit The Monument website.

Docklands view from Monument © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View of the East of the Docklands and Tower Bridge


To read about The Golden Boy of Pye Corner, to commemorate the end of the Great Fire, click here.

For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For Metro Girl’s contents page of other history posts, click here.