Tag Archives: Footprints of London


Before I start on this blog post, I just want to extend my condolences, and best wishes to the people of France after the recent atrocities in Paris.

Nous sommes unis, nous sommes Paris.


I recently went on a walk lead by David Charnick  (http://charnowalks.co.uk) called Death and the City.  David is a registered City of London tour guide, so I knew that this was going to be a good one, full of blood and gore – it was about some gruesome deaths that had some relationship with the City: deaths that occurred in the City or bodies buried here.

I’m not going to try to replicate David’s tour in this post.  For a start, I couldn’t do it justice, and for a second, I really think, if you can, that you you would enjoy going on these tours.  There is nothing like being there in person, you meet some nice people and get a bit of exercise as well as learning a lot.

We started our tour at St Paul’s underground station, right in the heart of the City.  We were a small but select bunch, which I always prefer (although I understand that it’s better for the tour guide to have a bigger crew!)

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Our first stop was Chris Church Greyfriars, close to St Paul’s.  The original Gothic church was established as part of the monastery in the thirteenth century. It was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Wren at a cost of £11,778 9s. shillings 7¼d, some of which was raised by the local parishioners.  I believe this was one of Wren’s more expensive rebuilds even though it was smaller than the original church. It went on to become a parish church after the Reformation.  Sadly, not much remains.  The church was subject to severe bomb damage during the Blitz in World War II and was never rebuilt.  The remains are open to the public as garden space, but there are a number of notable people buried in the grounds.

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For me, the most notable of all is Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur, but the Mad Maid of Kent aka Elizabeth Barton and, amongst others, the star of this part of the tour Agnes Hungerford, alleged murderess, are also buried there.  The Mad Maid of Kent was a Catholic nun who was executed because she prophesied that if Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn he would die soon after.  She was executed at Tyburn and buried here but her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, apparently the only woman in history to whom that happened.

Next stop, St Paul’s Churchyard.  Nowadays, this is a largely a fairly large paved area but back in the day it was a bit more of a meeting place.  Regular readers will know that I wrote about Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters a couple of weeks ago.  What I didn’t say then was that four of his colleagues, instead of being executed at Tyburn, the usual execution ground, Everard Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were all hanged, drawn and quartered in here.  I’m not sure why, it was unusual, I suppose it was about making an example of them.

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We moved on from here to the Old Bailey, which stands on the site where Newgate Prison once stood.  The clue is in the title here – Newgate was one of the old City gates, and the original gaol was situated within the gatehouse, presumably to stop the miscreants from entering the City.  The first prison was built here in 1188 under instruction from Henry II.  It underwent a couple of renovations and was then destroyed in the Great Fire.  It will come as no surprise for you to learn that it was enlarged when it was rebuilt.

Newgate Prison was a pretty grim place all round.  As a cost saving exercise, when it had been rebuilt, the authorities started to hold the executions here, rather than going to the expense of transporting the prisoners to Tyburn. (Nothing changes, does it?)  The cells were small and let in very little light; and there was none of this single or two to a cell business, it was cram as many as you could in.  No doubt there were rats and other things that seem to like dark, dank places that I’d really rather not think about…

In the early nineteenth century, the social reformer, Elizabeth Fry, became interested in the conditions there, particularly because of the female prisoners and their children.  In those days, unless the woman had someone who could look after her bairns for her, they went with her to prison.  They didn’t have social services and fostering.  Imagine that: your Mum goes to prison so you do too.  Grim.  Very grim.  Elizabeth’s pleas did not fall on stoney ground.  Improvements were made, but I still rather think it wouldn’t have passed muster in today’s world.

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From here we moved onto Cock Lane for the tale of the Cock Lane Ghost.  The alleged haunting took place at 33 Cock Lane, which is now a very plain looking red brick building, so instead of taking photographs of that, I took the photo above instead: John Royle was the inventor of the world’s first self-pouring teapot in 1886.

Back in mediaeval times, Cock Lane was known as Cokkes Lane, probably because it was full of legal brothels (running a brothel did not become illegal until the Disorderly Houses Act became law in 1751).  Number 25 Cock Lane is said to be the place where the author John Bunyan died in 1688.

Next we moved on a little further to Hosier Lane.  There is nothing particularly remarkable to look at here, but it was interesting in that David told us about the dissections carried out her on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons.  They rented a house here because rising rents had forced them to move from two other addresses.

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Further along is Smithfield, just by St Bartholomew’s Hospital.  There is a big plaque on the outside of the hospital that marks the site of the execution of William Wallace (aka Mel Gibson.)  The real Wallace was a Scottish knight who was one of the leaders in the Scottish War of Independence.  Amongst others, he defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Although he escaped, he was later defeated at the Battle of Falkirk.  He managed to evade capture until 5 August 1305, when he was turned over the English by another Scottish Knight.  He was taken to London, tried for treason and found guilty.  He was taken from Westminster to the Tower.  He was stripped naked and was tied to a horse and dragged through the City to Smithfield, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Smithfield Market was on the way to our next stop, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.  It’s possible to take a tour of the market, starting at 7am, so you need to be up early!  I have a contact there is anyone is interested in getting really good meat.

Next stop, Charterhouse Square, site of a Carthusian monastery, built near a 14th century plague pit, the largest mass grave from the Black Death.  The Charterhouse itself was dissolved as a monastery in 1537 and some time later was transformed into a mansion house.  Later still, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, was imprisoned here.  He’d been trying to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.  Later, after his release, he was involved in the Ridolfi plot, an attempt to assassinate Elizabeth I and have Mary take the throne. Elizabeth obviously got fed up with his nonsense because he was executed for treason in 1572.

So that is my whistle-stop tour of the Death and the City.

You can also find David’s tours at Footprints of London  http://footprintsoflondon.com


© Susan Shirley 2015


Footprints of London has done it again! My friend Sheena and I went on the Dark and Hidden London walk, hosted by Paul Surma, on Saturday and had an interesting, informative and thoroughly enjoyable time.

If you take a look at Paul’s profile on the Footprints website, you will see that he has a liking for little alleyways and the history attached to them, and that was pretty much the point of this walk.  I know how expensive it is to become a City of London Tour Guide (which Paul is) and I never cease to marvel at how much these guys know about the City – and other parts of London.  A hard course to study, I think.  Back to the tour.


We started at the Information Centre, near to St Paul’s Cathedral. I had assumed that it was just for convenience, but no, there was a purpose to that being the starting point which was soon to become obvious.  I’m intentionally not putting the reason in here though, some it has to be left for you to find for yourselves.

Paul explained to us that the City of London (Londinium, as the Romans called it) was the old Roman city, and that in their day, the streets were based on a grid system, much like that followed in other major cities of the world nowadays.  The Romans left England in around 410 AD so Londinium was left to its own devices. It wasn’t the weather that drove the Romans away, well, probably not; it was purely and simply that Rome itself was under attack and it was too expensive to keep an army in England. Austerity was alive and kicking in Roman times too, it seems.

Leaving Roman London to its own devices meant leaving it all to nature and anyone with a garden will know exactly what that means; if there was anyone left living there, which would have been only a few, they didn’t have the skills to maintain the Roman infrastructure. I’m not spoiling the tour by saying this, it’s a matter of record.

When the Saxons invaded in around 450AD they stayed well away from the Roman city and settled further west in what is now called Aldwych (taken from an old Saxon word Ealdwic, which meant old trading town or old market place). It wasn’t until around 900AD that the Saxons moved back to Londinium, which, by this time, was dishevelled and overgrown. So much for the Roman legacy. What did the Romans do for us? A story for another time.


The tour moved on. We came to Bow Churchyard, named after the church that stands in Cheapside, St Mary-le-Bow, the one of Cockney fame. (To be a true Cockney, you have to be born within the sound of Bow bells, and it is this Bow church, not the one in Bow E3. Back in the day, before cars and aircraft, you’d have heard the bells about five miles away, but not now. I wonder whether any true Cockneys are born nowadays?)


Cheapside is so named because it used to be a market, cheap being the Old English name for market. The street was much wider years ago; wide enough for jousting tournaments, gallows and other fun features. (Back in the day, it was a tourist attraction to watch a hanging and the like, and with some of the videos available on YouTube these days, I am not convinced that much has changed.)

A church has stood on the site of the church at St Mary-le-Bow before the Norman Conquest, but, like so many other buildings, it was destroyed in the Great Fire in and was subsequently rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. The one that was rebuilt wasn’t the first church on this site to be destroyed though, there was one in 1091 which was destroyed by the London Tornado.  That was reckoned to be a pretty fierce tornado, with speeds up to 250 mph, it’s estimated.

It was an important church for many reasons, not the least being that the bells were used to sound the curfew when it was a walled city – if you didn’t get inside the city gates PDQ, you’d be spending the night in the country, which wasn’t nice back then. I wonder whether that is where all the stuff about Londoners getting a nose bleed if they go too far from home or the wrong side of the river comes from. (I can assure anyone who is not from London that this doesn’t happen.  I even travel around London quite safely without my passport.)  St Mary’s was considered to be the second most important church in the City (St Paul’s being the first) and so it was one of the first to be rebuilt after the Fire.

Our tour moved on to somewhere I’ve been before but I couldn’t remember the name of the place – the premises in question is now Williamsons’ Tavern in Bow Lane, but it used to be the residence of the Lord Mayor of London. The original building was built back in 1189 when the office of Lord Mayor was established, although the Lord Mayor has now moved to the Mansion House. I must actually go in this pub for a drink one day, just to get an idea of what it would have been like. (It’s been closed whenever I’ve gone since I’ve known of its existence.)

From here we made our way to a road called Watling Street. I always get very excited when I come here because I remember learning about the Roman Roads and Watling Street when I was at school. Sadly, this is not that Watling Street, although it is a Roman Road. Nonetheless, it does have some historical significance, it leads directly to St Paul’s, and there is a pub here called Ye Olde Watling, which dates back to just after the Great Fire.  Wren had a huge workforce setting about rebuilding London and he realised that they would need somewhere to go and let off steam and have a bit of relaxation, so he had this pub built, reputedly from old ships’ timbers.  It is also said that Wren used the rooms upstairs as his drawing office.


Further along Watling Street, in the opposite direction to St Paul’s, is a bronze statue check of a cordwainer. Paul explained that this street was once known as Cordwainer Street because that was the street in which most of the cordwainers were based. It was like that back in the old days – Bread Street = bakers, Silk Street = silk makers, and so on. The term “cordwainer” comes from Cordoba in Spain, and these were the people who made leather shoes. The cordwainers made it big in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, I suppose they must have been the Jimmy Choo of the day.


Another interesting thing that Paul told us (which I think I had known but forgotten) was that the well-to-do used to wear things called “pattens” over their shoes. The streets were pretty rough to walk in those days, no nice paving stones or tarmac on the road, and there was a lot of… well… to put it politely, the streets were used as drains, and I’m leaving the rest to your imagination. So pattens were early platforms and covers to protect the shoes and to ensure that the ladies’ lovely dresses didn’t drag in the dirt.

Onwards to St Pancras’ Church Gardens, which would have been the site of St Pancras Church. It could only have been a little church and was one of 86 destroyed in the Fire. (There were originally about 110  churches and only about 50 were rebuilt.) This was one of those that wasn’t rebuilt but the churchyard continued to be used as a burial ground until 1853.  It’s a lovely little churchyard, off the beaten track, with beautfully carved wooden seats.  These benches are a fairly new addition to the gardens, designed by students from the City and Guilds London Art School.


Then onto St Stephen’s Walbrook, near to Mansion House. This is the last of the three churches that Wren built with domes – it rather seems that he was practising before building St Paul’s, and he got it right with this one. The original church on this site was another that was destroyed by the Fire.

From here to Change Alley, where Garraways Coffee House stood; it was rebuilt in 1874, another Fire casualty, but this was where tea was traded. There was a blue plaque on another building, the site of the King’s Arms Tavern, where the first meeting of the Marine Society was held on 25 June 1756. Marine society

Then we made our way to St Michael’s Alley and the Jamaica Wine House. I wrote a little about this in my post of 29 May, about Mark Rowland’s Walk in the City:



Although what I hadn’t realised previously that as well as trading sugar, and the like from the West Indies, as they would have been called back then, they also traded slaves. Naïve of me not to realise, I suppose.

Moving swiftly on after that charming note, to Leadenhall Market. I love Leadenhall, partly because all of the shops have their signages in the same design, as in the photograph below. So no matter what their trade mark and logo is, they don’t use them in Leadenhall.


Leadenhall Market used to be the cheese and poultry market, but is now a shopping area.

Paul told us the tale of Old Tom, a goose who had been taken to market to be slaughtered but escaped and then went on to become a local celebrity. Apparently, back in the day, around 34,000 geese would have been slaughtered over a two day period! That’s a lot of Christmas dinners!

Then along to Rood Lane, and the church of St Margaret’s Patten; you can guess what that’s about. This is one of the churches that has an exhibition in it, so somewhere I need to return to. Paul took us onto Plantation Lane something here where there are

The tour ended at All Hallows by the Tower, which is one of the oldest churches in London, dating back to the 10th century. It survived the Great Fire (Pepys stood in its tower watching the fire’s progress) but not the Blitz. It was badly damaged but has been rebuilt since. This is another church with an exhibition in the basement. I can see I’m going to have to have a day of visiting churches soon.

From here, Sheena and I made our way back down to Liverpool Street, to pick up some Prosecco in the Tesco there, and then wandered along to Brick Lane, to go to our favourite Aladin restaurant.

It was a good tour and a good meal. Paul was personable and knowledgeable and answered all the questions easily. I thought it was really nice that he thanked us all too, at the end of the walk.

© Susan Shirley 2015