Thursday, 13th September 2018 – Lunchtime Tourism, Day 4, London Wall and Spitalfields, London
It had to be done. I’d said nice things about the Duck Truck on Twitter and out of the blue they offered me a free lunch, so on a sunny Thursday lunchtime I decided I’d collect on the offer. I also wanted to see what else I could find around the area to entertain or interest me. I opted for a slightly different route to that which I had taken the last time I went to Old Spitalfields Market, and cast off along the side of the London Guildhall, through Aldermanbury Square, which is lovely and leaf-shaded at this time of year. The low-level fountains help too, though obviously whoever is responsible for such things has decided summer is over as they’ve removed the benches that line the space normally.
From there I made for London Wall, passing the Girdlers Hall, yet another of the many guild halls that still exist in the City today. This one, however, belongs to a company that is no longer particularly connected to its original trade. The Worshipful Company of Girdlers was founded in 1327, and was, you’ll not be surprised to find, an association for tradesmen who made girdles and belts). It does still present the girdle and stole worn by the Sovereign at each coronation, so they’ve not exactly been busy with this since the 1950s, but it is still closely connected with the government and Livery Companies of the City of London, and it still does charitable works. Their hall presents an interesting juxtaposition between the old and new, with an office block looming behind its hall. This is despite the fact that the hall was rebuilt after WWII and only completed in the 1960s.
Across the way from the Girdlers I passed the Armourers Hall. Needless to say they don’t carry out their original trade either, and are more known for their charitable works than fully crafted tin cans for humans and horses! They are now also associated with materials science, and support science in schools, and at university level among other things. They are a rarity among the Livery Companies in that they are actually still based on their original site where they have been since 1346 (they were founded in 1322). It’s not the original building, but it did manage to avoid the German Redevelopment Corporation’s best efforts, and the Georgian building is a scheduled ancient monument and Grade II listed building.
I turned onto London Wall and walked along towards Bishopsgate, taking in the new buildings of the City, which I can’t help thinking will not be a source of wonder in a century or more’s time, if they even survive that long.
I passed by another section of the old city walls, and came to Saint Botolph’s without Bishopgate, a church dedicated to an Anglo-Saxon saint of the 7th century, Botold, who was the patron saint of travellers prior to the adoption of Saint Christopher to that role. That is apparently why the four Saint Botolphs in London are all outside the city gates. There are also those who regard this as the edge of the East End.
I crossed over into the selection of small streets on the other side, pleased to be away from the traffic and gravitated towards Widegate Street, an interestingly named street on the Spitalfields side of the road, where I looked up and found this, a representation of the baking process, dating from 1916 and sculpted by Philip Lindsey Clark. They were somehow unexpected, as were some of the other things I found as I headed for the market.
Round the corner I found Artillery Passage which owes its existence to Henry VIII, who gave the Guild of St George a charter of incorporation in 1547 for “the better the increase of the defence of this realm and maintenance of the science and feat of shooting longbows, cross bows and hand guns”. They were permitted to practice shooting in the fields outside the city walls. Later they would also be known as the “Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden” and barracks were later built there. These Artillery barracks gave rise to streets in the area being called “Artillery” this and that, including Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. There is also Gun Lane, just in case anyone failed to get the point. There is a suggestion that it was used as a setting for at least one of the Harry Potter films, but I can’t verify that.
There is also this wonderful shop front, one of the oldest surviving examples in London. It dates from 1756 and was a shop where Huguenot silk weavers sold their wares.
From there I was soon across the road and in pursuit of my duck treat, but not before I noticed the facade (which thanks to Boris “Bloody Idiot” Johnson is now just a facade and nothing more) of what had been the London Fruit and Wool Exchange.
Also in the distance (I didn’t have time to get closer) was Christ Church Spitalfields, a church designed by Nicolas Hawksmoor. It was begun in 1714 after an Act of Parliament in 1711 commissioned up to 50 potential new churches including this one. It’s a very striking building indeed.
As I was leaving the market with my lunch clutched in my hot, sweaty hand I came across a somewhat unexpected sculpture of a couple seated in front of the building. They’re somewhat different, it’s fair to say. This is apparently “Rabbitgirl and Dogman Coffee Drinkers” by a pair of Australians, Gillie and Marc Shattner, known it would seem for their human/animal hybrid works in public places. I can’t argue with that…
As if that were not enough, I then found “I Goat”, which is indeed a hand-crafted sculpture of a goat, by a Scottish artist called Kenny Hunter. It’s been there since 2011, and is made of aluminum, and it stands on a stack of boxes. I think it’s rather wonderful.
Apparently there are several other public artworks at Spitalfields that I haven’t yet found, so I suspect I may need to go back (and there is after all the delicious duck to be eaten too). I had to get a bit of a shift on now but I did have time to snake through the arcade opposite Liverpool Street and resolve to try to find out more about it. It is the Metropolitan Arcade, saved from demolition in the 1980s, and since sympathetically restored. It’s rather old-fashioned in a good way.
From there I legged it past Salisbury House, the very grand edifice on the site of the second Bethlehem Hospital (this being the origin of the word “Bedlam” for chaos, madness, etc.) up until 1815. The Bethlehem or Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first institution in the UK to specialise in the care of the mentally ill. It moved to south London in 1930 and is now part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
There is also an somewhat unexpected obelisk, George Dance’s obelisk, which apparently is a modern addition marking a ventilation shaft from the underground system. Things are not always what they seem in London.
And so back to the office via London Wall and the statue of the gardener hard at work behind some flowerbeds.
My final stop was to admire the blue plaque that marks the site of the Parish Clerks Company’s third hall, destroyed by fire in 1940 along with so much else around this small area of the city. They are, it hardly bears mentioning, the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks, and they do still exist, having been around since the 1440s. There isn’t much information around about them, and their website mostly seems to consist of headings and placeholders.
I am becoming increasingly fascinated by the old guilds and companies now, and would like to see if I can find a themed walk or similar, because I really, really need to know more about them. For this walk, however, that was all I had time for and I retreated indoors to eat my duck.
It was really, really tasty!