The Homeland Guide to London

[The Homeland Guide to London]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
The Homeland Guide to London
Post-War London Fully Described

Tour No. III

West of the Bank

Poultry, Cheapside, The Guildhall, Smithjield, Charterhouse, Ely Place, Holborn and Gray's Inn.

Running west from the Bank is Poultry (nearest stations: Bank and Mansion House), part of the market-place of London in the Middle Ages; its name is a definite indication of the trade in which it was then engaged. Now given over to offices and business premises, it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries noted for its taverns; the literature of the period has many references to these. Later its bookshops were well known; two famous books were first published in the Poultry: Boswell's Life of Johnson and the title page of the first edition of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress states that it was published by "Nathaniel Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultry." Old Jewry was the medieval ghetto of the city.

The road continues as Cheapside, which suffered badly during two heavy air-raids; vacant spaces and fire-gutted shops tell of the severity of the bombing. It is not the first time that fire has swept over the area, for in the Great Fire of 1666 it was in the centre of the blaze and was completely burned out. The street has a long and rich history. It held the same position on medieval London as do the market places in our country towns at the present day. The name is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning to buy or bargain and here were to be found the shops and booths of the tradesmen and chief merchants of the city. The streets on either side perpetuate in their name the business in which they specialised -- Ironmonger and Honey Lanes, Milk, Bread, Wood and Friday (fish) Streets.

Mercers' Hall (Plan 1, No. 41) One of the fine buildings destroyed during the war. It stood on the corner of Ironmonger Lane on ground once occupied by the house of Gilbert Beckett. Beckett settled here after he had escaped from a Saracen prison through the assistance of an Eastern maid. She followed him to England and discovered him in Cheapside although her knowledge of English consisted of the two words, "London" and "Gilbert." In this house their son Thomas was born and after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral a hospital was erected here by his sister. In the reign of Henry VIII this was passed over to the Mercers Guild. Thomas Guy, founder of the hospital bearing his name, was apprenticed to a bookseller "in the porch of the Mercers' Chapel."

King Street leads to The Guildhall (Plan 1, No. 42) Nearest station: Bank and Mansion House Open on weekdays, 10 a.m.--5 p.m.

Fortunately the fury of the blitz did not entirely destroy the Guildhall, which ranks next to the Tower as the City's most historic building. Although irreplaceable damage has been done, it has once again emerged from the flames, as it did in 1666. The date of the first Guildhall on this site is unknown, but as early as the reign of Henry IV a new and larger building was erected ; the porch and crypt of that building still remain. The present Hall was built between 1411 and 1426 and the frontage, designed by George Dance, was added in 1789.

Throughout the centuries this has been the core of the civic life of the City and its venerable walls have been the background of many a scene of pageantry and civic magnificence. The Lord Mayor is elected in the Guildhall and from here on November 9th each year starts the Lord Mayor's Show, followed by the famous banquet. In the Guildhall the receptions are held of visitors of importance and it is here that the Freedom of the City is conferred upon the distinguished men whom the City confers this high honour.

The roof of the Great Hall is gone, as are the famous effigies of Gog and Magog. The Council Chamber and Aldermen's Room, both of which were richly decorated, were totally destroyed. The Library suffered badly: thousands of its volumes were burned, fortunately most of its valuable rarities were preserved. In the Museum is a most interesting collection of exhibits associated with the City, including badges and staves of City officials, household utensils and jewelry. Noteworthy is the collection of beautiful sixteenth-century jewels found during excavations in Cheapside in 1912. The Art Gallery contains many paintings of civic interest; a recent acquisition is Frank Salisbury's painting of Winston Churchill receiving the Freedom of the City.

By the approach to Guildhall are the ruins of

St. Lawrence Jewry (Plan 1, No. 43)

Rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, it was the most costly of his City churches. It is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and was rich in furnishings and appointments, all of which went up in flames on the night of December 29th, 1940, when thousands of incendiary bombs rained on this area. St. Lawrence Jewry is one of the City churches scheduled for rebuilding.

Acres of devastated ground to the west and north testify to the intensity of the bombardment. Many buildings of architectural and historic interest were gutted or razed to the ground. The Halls of the Saddlers, the Haberdashers, the Butchers and the Barber-Surgeons were among those ravaged and some of the churches which suffered are St. Vedast, where the poet Merrick was christened, St. Mary Aldermanbury, where Milton was married, St. Alban's and St. Stephen's.


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