Dwarfed by the modern architecture surrounding it, St Magnus The Martyr church in the City of London is not such a prominent building as it used to be. However, for hundreds of years, this very church stood at the head of London Bridge, with its frontage as an unofficial ‘gate to London’. For visitors crossing into the City from Southwark, it was the first building that would greet them after they stepped off London Bridge. With the capital’s oldest bridge being relocated further west in 1830, the grand entrance to the church is now hidden away in a small courtyard.
St Magnus The Martyr is named after Magnus Erlendsson, Earl Of Orkney (1080-1116 or 1118AD), who was executed following a power struggle with his cousin. He was canonised in 1135 and was remembered for his piety and gentleness. It is believed the church was established in the early 12th century, after the previously marshland area of the riverbank was developed and one of the many London Bridges to stand on the site was rebuilt. Thames Street – the road on which the church stands – was built in the second half of the 11th century just north of the Roman river wall. One of the pilings from the Roman wall dating back to 65AD was discovered in 1931 and is now encased in the base of the church tower at the entrance.
It is believed the first St Magnus The Martyr Church was built by 1128-33. During the building’s early years, there were a series of wooden London Bridges, which never seemed to last long. Finally in 1209, the Old Medieval London Bridge was opened. Made of stone, it took 33 years to build. The new bridge was aligned with Fish Street Hill so all pedestrians walking into London from the bridge would walk directly in front of St Magnus. The bridge included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, where pilgrims would stop on their journey to visit his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The chapel and two 3rds of London Bridge were part of St Magnus’s parish. Read the rest of this entry
The Great Fire of London ravaged the City of London in 1666, altering the cityscape forever. However, despite the blaze ending around Giltspur Street just 300 metres away, one Smithfield home dating to before the fire still survives today.
Located opposite St Bartholomew The Great Church is what is said to be the oldest house in the City of London. The name Cloth Fair stems back to the annual cloth fair held in August in the churchyard of St Bartholomew, which has stood on the site since 1123 when it was an Augustinian Priory. The fair was originally a trading place for merchants, but its popularity meant other attractions became popping up, including freak shows, music and other stalls. It later became known as the Bartholomew Fair and ran until 1855. It was only after the dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII (1491–1547) that the priory was reduced and houses were allowed to be built in the area. Located in what is known as the Farringdon Without ward of the City, 41-42 Cloth Fair is the only home on the road surviving from that period. The building dates back to the late Tudor/Jacobean period, having been constructed between 1597 and 1614.
When the building of 41-42 Cloth Fair was completed in 1614, it was part of a scheme of 11 houses with a courtyard in the middle called ‘the Square in Launders Green’, named so because it was on the site of the priory’s laundry. Amazingly, the houses managed to survive the Great Fire when it struck 52 years later. Records show they were unscathed due to being enclosed with the large priory walls. The decades and centuries went by and the buildings remained – if a little ravaged by time – until the early 20th century. In 1929, 41-42 Cloth Fair was earmarked for demolition by the Corporation of London as part of its slum clearance programme on the grounds of public health. Fortunately it was saved when it was bought for £3,000 freehold, before being restored by Paul Paget (1901-1985) and John Seely (the 2nd Lord Mottistone) in 1930, who used the building as their home and an office for their architectural practice until 1978. It obviously survived The Blitz and was converted into offices in 1979 after it was sold by Paget and Seely. Over the 80s and early 90s it was rather neglected, but fortunately bought in 1995 and extensively renovated to the home you see today, with the co-operation of English Heritage, Royal Commission of Historic Monuments and the City of London Corporation.
The ground floor exterior is probably the most changed today and looks pretty modern. However, if you look up at the first and second floors, the rectangular timber bays with led glass windows and their pediment crowns are evidence of its history. Today the address is a Grade II-listed four-bedroom home with roof terrace worth several million pounds. In 2000, the building was honoured with the City Heritage Award for being an asset to the local area. Among the famous people to have visited the house include Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002). There are rumours that skeletons are buried in foundations of the building, which could be plausible given its location so close to the church.
Meanwhile, when you’re in the area check out 43 Cloth Fair next door – a Georgian house which was formerly home to Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), a writer and broadcaster who was a significant figure in the heritage movement and fought to save many historical buildings from demolition. A blue plaque notes the former resident and today you can rent the house for a holiday let from the Landmark Trust. Also, around the corner on West Smithfield is St Bartolomew’s Gatehouse, another survivor from the Tudor period.
- 41-42 Cloth Fair, Smithfield, EC1A. Nearest station: Barbican or St Pauls. Please note this is a private residence and not open to the public.
To read about the St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse around the corner, click here.
Or to find out about the nearby Golden Boy Of Pye Corner, to commemorate the end of the Great Fire, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
The history of the ‘little brother’ to The Monument.
Most Londoners have heard of The Monument in the City – after all there’s a tube station named after it and it’s pretty visible on the skyline (despite the increasing amounts of skyscrapers). The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and erected in the 17th century to commemorate the beginning of the Great Fire Of London in 1666. However, did you know there’s also a monument to mark the end of the Great Fire? While The Monument is a 202ft tall Grade I-listed structure, the sculpture commemorating the end is rather more low-key.
The Golden Boy Of Pye Corner is located on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in the Smithfield area of the City. The name Pye (or Pie) Corner is believed to have come from a nearby inn, named the Maypie or the Magpie, which has long since gone. At the time of the Great Fire in September 1666, a pub named The Fortune Of War stood on Pye Corner. Five days after starting at a bakery on Pudding Lane, the Great Fire finally came to an end at the pub (although this has been disputed by critics who believed it’s too convenient to have a Pudding Lane and a Pye Corner at either end of the inferno). Cock Lane stems back to at least 1200, taking its name from where fighting cocks were sold. However, the lane had a rather more smutty association by the late Middle Ages, when it was the only place in the City you could find legal brothels (most of brothels of the time being south of the river in Southwark/Borough). Meanwhile, Giltspur Street is believed to have been named for the gilt spurs worn by knights at jousting tournaments at Smithfield. While the name is first recorded in the 16th century, it was previously known as Knightsriders Street during the Medieval heyday of the jousting tournaments in the area.
While The Monument was completed in 1677 – 11 years after the Great Fire – the sculpture of the Golden Boy did not appear until the early 18th century, erected on The Fortune Of War public house. The wooden carving of a chubby little boy, around 2ft tall, was made to represent the gluttony of Londoners. One of the many causes suggested for the fire was it had been a punishment from God for the city’s residents being so gluttonous. He originally had the words ‘This boy is in memory put up for the late Fire of London, occasion’d by the sin of gluttony, 1666’ inscribed upon his torso, but it eventually became impossible to read. When he was first carved, he was a natural wood colour and was given many nicknames, including ‘The Glutton’, ‘Fat Boy’ or ‘Naked Boy’. It was only when he was gilded in the late 19th century, he became known as ‘The Golden Boy’.
A few decades after being gilded, The Fortune Of War was torn down in 1910 and on its site now stands the Grade II-listed headquarters of City & Guilds (an image of the pub just before demolition, can be found here.). Fortunately, The Golden Boy was remounted on the Edwardian building with his original chest inscription carved underneath him in stone. Below that, reads a rather lengthy sentence (which in my opinion is crying out for some punctuation): ‘The boy at Pye Corner was erected to commemorate the staying of the great fire which beginning at Pudding Lane was ascribed to the Sin of Gluttony when not attributed to the papists as on the Monument and the Boy was made prodigiously fat to enforce the moral he was originally built into the front of a public-house called The Fortune of War which used to occupy this site and was pulled down in 1910. The Fortune of War was the chief house of call North of the River for Resurrectionists in body snatching days years ago. The landlord used to show the room where on benches round the walls the bodies were placed labelled with the snatchers’ names waiting till the surgeons at Saint Bartholomew’s could run round and appraise them.’ This rather gruesome fact refers to The Fortune Of War being renowned as a popular hotspot for body snatchers in the 19th century. Located across the road from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, surgeons and anatomists would visit the pub to buy bodies for research.
- The Golden Boy Of Pye Corner can be found on the junction of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street, Smithfield, EC1A. Nearest stations: Farringdon, St Paul’s or City Thameslink.
To read about The Monument, click here.
Or to read more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
A visit to the landmark of the Great Fire of London.
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.
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 and Robert Hooke 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.
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…
- Christ Church Greyfriars: A little bit of nature amidst the concrete jungle of the City
- Missing – One church: The lonely bell tower of St Alban
- Temple Bar: The only surviving gateway into the City of London
- St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street – where the tiered wedding cake began!
- A hidden garden in the City: The ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East
- Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks
For Metro Girl’s contents page of other history posts, click here.