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Visit the Medieval ruins of Whitefriars in the basement of a London office block

The history of the City’s Carmelite monastery.

Remains of the Whitefriars monastery in the City of London

Most Londoners are aware of Blackfriars, as it lends its name to a bridge and busy train and tube station. The name stems from the Dominican Friars – who wore black mantles – who had a priory in the area. Although the Blackfriars priory was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, the name remained. However, the names of some of the City of London’s other monasteries and priories weren’t so durable throughout history.

In Medieval London, a number of monastic organisations owned a lot of property in and around the city. After King Henry VIII (1491-1547) ordered the dissolution of the monasteries, a large number in London were closed. Among those shutting their doors were Grey Friars in Newgate Street and Whitefriars at Fleet Street. Grey Friars managed to survive in name after the King gave its 14th century church to the City Corporation and it was renamed Christ Church Greyfriars. After it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designed its replacement, which hosted worshippers until it was bombed during the Blitz and now its ruins survive as a public garden. (Read Metro Girl’s blog post on Greyfriars to find out more).

The 14th century crypt is believed to be part of the priory mansion

White Friars was a Carmelite religious house which sat between Fleet Street and the River Thames, spreading west to Temple and its eastern boundary at Whitefriars Street. The order was originally founded on Mount Carmel in what is now Israel in 1150. After fleeing the Saracens in 1239, the White Friars travelled to England and established a church on Fleet Street in 1253. Their name White Friars comes from, you guessed it, the colour of their mantles. In 1350, it was replaced by a larger church, rebuilt by Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon (1303-1377). The White Friars were popular with nobility and Londoners, with many leaving money to the monastery in their wills. The friars’ extensive grounds included cloisters, a cemetery and garden, along with the church.

After nearly three centuries in the capital, the White Friars monastery was closed by Henry VIII in 1538. The king gave the Grey Friars chapter house to his physician, Doctor William Butts (1486-1545) as a residence. The king’s son and successor King Edward VI (1537-1553) ordered the church’s demolition and allowed noblemen’s houses to built on the site. One of the few surviving buildings, the refectory of the convent, became the Whitefriars Theatre. Established in 1608, the Jacobean theatre only lasted for around a decade and was thought to have been abandoned by the art scene by the 1620s. The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) often frequented the establishment and noted his visits in his famous diary. At the time, the surrounding area was pretty notorious, with refugees, prostitutes and debtors known to hide there from the authorities. This bad reputation lasted well into the 19th century, with Charles Dickens writing about the area in the 1830s.

Now, all that remains of the friary is a 14th century cellar or crypt, believed to be part of the priory mansion. It was discovered in 1895, later being restored in the 1920s when the News of the World were developing their Fleet Street offices. After the NotW moved east to Wapping in the 1980s, a new building was constructed on site. During building in 1991, the ruins were lifted up on a crane and replaced in a slightly different location. Today, the basement of 65 Fleet Street features a large window so the ruins can be viewed from Magpie Alley.

  • Ruins of Whitefriars, Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street), City of London, EC4Y 8DP. Nearest station: City Thameslink, Temple or Blackfriars.

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Peterborough Court: An Art Deco temple to journalism standing on Fleet Street

The Daily Telegraph may have moved on, but its imposing offices remain.

Peterborough Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Peterborough Court was built on Fleet Street in 1927-1928

The newspapers have long moved out of Fleet Street, but their buildings remain. Standing halfway along the iconic street is an art deco temple to journalism. Peterborough Court is the former home of the Daily Telegraph. Although the publication has moved on to Victoria, there are still subtle signs of the building’s former use on the façade.

Peterborough Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The colourful Art Deco clock

The Daily Telegraph was founded in 1855 and its first offices were in the Strand, before it moved to 135 Fleet Street in 1862. In 1882, the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII – 1841-1910) opened the Telegraph’s new offices made of Portland stone and Aberdeen granite, designed by architects Arding, Bond and Buzzard. The building remained until the twenties when it was torn down to make way for the current design.

Peterborough Court was built in 1927-1928 to a design by architects Elcock and Sutcliffe, with Thomas Tait (1882-1954) and Sir Owen Williams (1890-1969) as consulting engineers. Tait worked on Adelaide House (the City’s tallest office block in 1925), later phases of the Selfridges department store on Oxford Street and the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Meanwhile, Williams was the head engineer for the original Wembley Stadium (1923-2003) and architect of The Dorchester. The building was named Peterborough Court after the Bishop of Peterborough, who used to have a house on Fleet Street. The name inspired the ‘Peterborough’ diary column in the newspaper, which remained for decades until it was renamed in 2003.

Peterborough Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The entrance features bronze detailing and typical art deco styling

Likes it predecessor, Peterborough Court is also made of Portland stone. The building’s façade features a combination of art deco and neoclassical details. Large Doric columns give the building a sense of heritage, while its modernist elements represents the present. Standing tall with six storeys and a recessed top storey, Peterborough Court features seven windows across each storey. The centrepiece is the ornate coloured clock on its third floor level, full of Art Deco details such as diamonds, chevrons and sunburst motifs. Read the rest of this entry

A reminder of Fleet Street’s tabloid past… and a rather creepy address

Demon Barbers and Scottish newspapers.

Sunday Post Fleet Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The DC Thomsom building at 186 Fleet Street

Fleet Street is synonymous with Britain’s journalism industry, with most of the country’s newspapers having offices or headquarters in the area in the first half of the 20th century. While most of the papers have moved on to less central areas, such as Canary Wharf, Southwark and Kensington, there still lies some signs of their EC4 past in the heart of the City.

Standing at 186 Fleet Street is an old remainder of Fleet Street‘s tabloid heyday. No.186, along with 184 and 185 belong to DC Thomson – a Scottish publishing house and TV company. The Thomson family originally started out in shipping before branching out in publishing by buying the Dundee Courier and The Daily Argus in 1886. David Coupar Thomson (1861-1954) established DC Thomson in 1905 as the family’s publishing assets expanded.

Sunday Post Fleet Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The Sunday Post and People’s Friend is still in publication

Although DC Thomson were headquartered in Scotland, they established a London base to cover relevant stories. Prior to the current building, the site featured the street’s last early 17th century timber-framed buildings before they were demolished.

No.186 was built around 1913 by Meakin, Archer and Stoneham. The architecture practice had an office in Nicholas Lane near Monument and also designed The Strand Cinema Theatre in 1910 (it closed in 1953 and although the façade remains at No.428 The Strand, the auditorium has been demolished). The practice changed in 1916 with Edgar Percy Archer and Frederic Martyn Stoneham remaining in partnership together after Meakin left.

The façade of the building features glazed red bricks with stone dressings. Five of DC Thomson’s titles were written across the building in mosaic bands as a form of advertising. Four of the five titles are still in publication, with The People’s Journal having folded in 1986 after a 128 history. The remaining publications are Dundee Courier (founded 1801); Dundee Evening Telegraph (founded 1877); Sunday Post (founded 1914) and People’s Friend (founded 1869).

In 2014, DC Thomson extensively renovated their London and Dundee offices. However, just two years later, DC Thomson took the decision to close their editorial office, which meant the last journalists to work on Fleet Street were leaving. DC Thomson continues to own the building, with advertising staff remaining on site.

As well being the home to the last Fleet Street journalists, 186 Fleet Street is also where fictional murderer Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber shop was located. The Victorian villain was known to dispatch his victims into the cellar from his barber’s chair and slit their throats with his razor. His sidekick Mrs Lovett then baked their remains in meat pies.

  • 186 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4A 2HS. Nearest station: Chancery Lane.
Sunday Post Fleet Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The last Fleet Street journalists moved out in 2016

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Merchant House Fleet Street review: Go on an exploration of whisky in a hidden cocktail bar

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

A Mulligan’s Travels (left) and a Brooklyn (right) at Merchant House Fleet Street

When it comes to finding a perfect bar, there’s two main things I look for – an extensive cocktail menu and a relatively low-key venue. I’m a sucker for speakeasies and hidden bars off the beaten track so I’m having a new experience and don’t feel I’m jostling for a spot at the bar with a big crowd. When it comes to whisky/whiskey, I’ve flirted with it in the past and am partial to a Bushmills and Coke when I’m visiting family in Ireland, but am yet to become a full whisky convert. However, after hearing of a new hidden Whisky bar in the heart of the City I went to check it out.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

A Rose Without Thorns (left) and a Karyukai (right)

Merchant House of Fleet Street is the sister bar to Merchant House Of The City in Bow Lane, the latter being a gin and rum bar with 300 varieties of each. The newer Fleet Street branch focuses on whiskys and whiskeys instead, boasting over 500 different types, predominantly from Ireland and Scotland, but also some offerings from Japan and American Bourbons. To those less experienced whisky drinkers, like myself, there can be the preconceived notion the drink is dark, strong and heavy. However, the experienced mixologists of Merchant House of Fleet Street are here to change your mind, showcasing the fresh and floral side of the mighty Scotch.

The bar is located down Bride Court, a covered alley off Fleet Street dating back to the 18th century. The venue has a natural and contemporary feel, with a rustic wood and white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle. Behind the bar are huge shelves showcasing the expansive whisky collection. My boyfriend (who happens to be a bit of a whisky aficionado) and I grabbed two stools at the bar as we were looking to experiment with flavours so wanted a seat near the action.

Before we began perusing the extensive menu, we enjoyed a shot of whisky for ‘Whisky Wednesday’ to kick things off. You’ll notice the menu doesn’t list any brands under the cocktail ingredients, just a rough description of the whisky so it means you focus on the flavours instead. I’m a bit of a sucker for floral flavours such as elderflower and rose so started with a Rose Without Thorns (Island Malt, Rosehip Water, Raspberry Cordial and Americano Rosa). It was quite different to any whisky cocktail I’d had before, sweet and light and went down really well. My companion opted for a Karyukai (Japanese whiskey, plum wine and smoked water), which involved the bartender getting out a blowtorch on the water – who doesn’t like a bit of bar theatrics?! Out of the three cocktails we would try that evening, my boyfriend said this was his favourite as he particularly liked the smoky flavour.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

A sweet Émigré (left) and a strong Sazerac (right)

Next up, I continued the floral theme with an Émigré (Single Pot Still Whiskey, Bramley Apple Juice, Rhubarb and Elderflower) which came served with a big slice of rhubarb and tasted very dessert-like and I really enjoyed it. My boyfriend opted for something harder – a Sazerac (Cognac, Rye, Sugar, Bitters and Absinthe) which was served in a short glass – definitely one to be sipped slowly!

Finally, we finished with a Mulligan’s Travels (Poitin, Banana, Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Soda) and a Brooklyn (Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Picon and Maraschino). The Mulligan’s Travels was my first introduction to Poitin – essentially an Irish moonshine with potatoes as one of the ingredients. The bartender was happy to educate me and I tried a some of it straight before my cocktail. The strength hits you immediately, before the sweet after-taste comes in. When it came to the cocktail, it was somewhat of a hard shake thanks to its ingredients, with the sweetness overpowering the alcohol so it’s a good choice for those who don’t like their concotions too boozy tasting. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn was bittersweet mix served in a sherry glass, complete with maraschino cherry in the bottom.

Overall, it’s a fabulous bar for both whisky and cocktail fans alike. Those unfamiliar with whisky would do well to pay a visit and will be surprised at the variety of flavours in a whisky cocktail. For more seasoned whisky drinkers, with 500 to choose from, there’s more than enough choices to keep your glass topped up. When it came to the venue, the cosy space and the hidden location makes Merchant House particularly appealing. During our couple of hours in the bar, we were never without an empty glass thanks to the attentive and friendly bartenders, who certainly knew their stuff when it came to whisky and were happy to educate us. As well as cocktails, Merchant House also serves a small food menu and host whisky masterclasses if you want to delve in further.

  • Merchant House of Fleet Street, 8 Bride Court, City of London, EC4Y 8DU. Nearest stations: City Thameslink, Blackfriars or St Paul’s. Open Mon-Fri 11am-11pm. For more information, visit the Merchant House of Fleet Street website.
© Merchant House

Cosy: Merchant House features a white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle

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St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street – where the tiered wedding cake began!

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.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street

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. She 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 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)

At weddings, it is commonplace to expect a tiered cake as the centrepiece of the reception, with everyone grabbing their cameras or iPhones to capture the iconic cutting of the cake by the bride and groom. The 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.

However, it was pastry chef William Rich (1755-1812), who lived on Ludgate Hill in late 18th century London, who was 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 by looking at the tiered steeple.

Amazingly, the steeple survived World War II, despite the actual church being fire bombed by the Luftwaffe on 29 December 1940 (the same night Wren’s Christ Church Greyfriars was bombed – with only the steeple surviving again). 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 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 other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

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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