Cannon Street

Above: Looking along almost the entire length of Cannon Street from near the eastern end. In the foreground is the dip in the street where the River Walbrook once flowed above ground. In the distance is part of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The history of Cannon Street is quite unusual. It is nothing to do with machines of war and, in fact, it is not even known where its present name came from. All that is known is that today’s name has been in use for about 300 years.

Understanding the Street Plan

If you do not know the City streets well, it might be an idea to have a good look a street map, choosing to view a ‘chunk’ of the map around Cannon Street – extending north from the Thames to the site of the Mansion House. You will immediately notice that Cannon Street runs almost E-W, being parallel to and north of Upper Thames Street. All the little lanes run off Cannon Street at right-angles. We also need to consider two other streets – King William Street and Queen Victoria Street. Relative to the grid plan we have been looking at, these two streets run at a diagonal to Cannon Street. In medieval times the two streets did not exist and the grid pattern was in a purer form. King William Street was ‘cut across’ the street pattern as a through-route from the Bank of England intersection to a new London Bridge. The street was named after William IV who opened the new bridge in 1831. Similarly, Queen Victoria Street was laid out to lead SW from the Bank of England intersection, with work commencing in 1861, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

If you have never thought about it before, understanding the medieval street plan around Cannon Street is important. The alignment of the streets and lanes are due in part to the Romans – Cannon Street, for example, is certainly on the line of a Roman thoroughfare in Londinium. In later times, when Alfred the Great drove the Danes from the Saxon settlement, in AD 886, it is generally believed that the lines of the lanes we have today were established soon afterwards – particularly the lanes that extend from Cannon Street to the Thames. Notice, too, the others that run north from Cannon Street – like Abchurch Lane, Nicholas Lane and Clement’s Lane – which have each been affected by the later formation of King William Street.

Cannon Street through the Ages

From what has been said, Cannon Street can trace its alignment back to Roman times when the Governor’s House – a palatial mansion with its own swimming pool – stood on land now occupied by Cannon Street Station. Some of the Roman remains are still in existence – but not open for public access – deep down in the foundations of the station. The street called Walbrook is a turning off Cannon Street. Its line is very close to the ancient course of the River Walbrook which was an open stream in Roman times with the Temple of Mithras standing on its eastern bank.

The establishment of a Saxon settlement within the City – in AD 886 – was almost certainly responsible for the laying out of today’s street pattern. From those times right down to the Tudor and Stuart periods, the layout of London around Cannon Street changed very little. It should be mentioned that Cannon Street did not extend further west than the junction with Walbrook until the western extension was constructed during 1853-54. This saw the street extended to join with St Paul’s Churchyard.

Now that we clear about the ancient street plan around Cannon Street, we can start to think about the function of this part of the City. On the southern side of Cannon Street, the lanes ran down to the riverfront where commodities were being unloaded from small ships and barges. The area must have resembled a ‘mini-port’. Whereas today Cannon Street is lined with large office blocks, this was very much the working part of the City where goods were imported, stored in nearby warehouses and used by guild workers to produce other products for sale in the City markets.

It is now time to start explaining the name of the street. According to Harben, in his ‘Dictionary of London’, the earliest mention found in records was as ‘Candelwrichstrete’ in 1180-87. It was the street in which candle-making took place. In a world where the only form of light on dark evenings was candlelight and the light from oil-lamps, candles were made in large numbers. Churches also used candles but they could afford the best – candles made from beeswax. Poorer folk bought tallow candles, made from animal fat, which burned poorly. Such candles were also rather sticky to the touch. As it happens the Tallowchandlers’ Hall is very near Cannon Street, standing in Dowgate Hill. The street name gradually corrupted to ‘Candlewick Street’ which probably lasted until Tudor times. Cannon Street was also famous for its cloth so late as the time of Henry VI (the 1450s) and was at one time the centre of the cloth trade, as well as furs and skins used to make clothing.

From Tudor times the street was known as ‘Canning Street’ but there is no explanation as to why that spelling came about. Samuel Pepys, in his diary written between 1660 and 1669, also called the street by this name. From ‘Canning Street’ it is only a short step to ‘Cannon Street’ but, once again, nobody knows why the present-day name arose. Anyway, Cannon Street it is.

Other Places of Interest

In medieval times, there was a parish church in Cannon Street, called St Swithin. It stood on the north side of the street with the Salters’ Hall just to the north. The church was destroyed in the bombing during the Second World War and not rebuilt. Opposite the church, in the middle of the roadway, was London Stone. This famous piece of stone was a meeting point for medieval Londoners but its origins are actually unknown. The stone was eventually removed to the north side of Cannon Street and mounted in a place of safety in a niche of St Swithin’s church. It now has a separate stone mounting for it to be seen by the public.

The lanes around Cannon Street mostly derive their names from a church that stood in each one. Examples are – St Martin Orgar in Martin Lane; St Lawrence Pountney once stood in Laurence Pountney Lane (yes, there are two different spellings, one for the church and another for the lane); St Swithin in St Swithin’s Lane; St Mary Abchurch in Abchurch Lane; St Nicholas in Nicholas Lane; and St Clement in Clement’s Lane. Before the Great Fire of London, there was no shortage of churches in the vicinity.

The site of Cannon Street Station occupies land beside the Thames where the Hanse merchants had their enclave. They traded all over Northern Europe and also into Russia. The Hanseatic League was founded in 1358 and the site in London was the ‘headquarters’ in England. Trade for the Hanse merchants declined in the 19th century and, once they had vacated their site in the City, Cannon Street Station was built, opening in 1866.

Cannon Street Today

The street is now lined by large overbearing office blocks. Above the Cannon Street Station are large offices known as Cannon Place, designed by Foggo Associates. Almost opposite, on the north side of Cannon Street and running along much of Walbrook is the rather menacing office block called The Walbrook, designed by Foster and Partners. On the west side of Walbrook is another enormous office block, also designed by Foster and Partners known as the Bloomberg Building – the London headquarters of the international company that delivers business and markets news, data, analysis, and video to the world.


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Lombard Street

Above: Looking west along Lombard Street. It is just possible to make out four hanging signs – two on each side of the road. The overhanging clock is on the front of the church of St Edmund the Martyr.

If your knowledge of City streets is a little ‘shaky’ then it might be useful to explain that Lombard Street runs west from Gracechurch Street at the crossroads formed with Fenchurch Street. Lombard Street extends west from that crossroads to the complex junction at the Bank of England. The unusual street takes its name from the Lombards who came to England from Italy.

The reason why the Lombards came to England – and London in particular – can only be explained if we start with the Normans coming to England in 1066. When William the Conqueror came to England and claimed victory at the Battle of Hastings, he brought with him many of his French noblemen to help him govern. In addition, he brought many Jews who settled in England and acted as money lenders. By 1200 there were about 3,000 Jews living in England. Many Jews were employed as money lenders, taking these jobs because the Christian Church traditionally ruled that usury (money lending for interest) was illegal for Christians, but not for Jews. The Jews were taxed heavily, so the wealth earned in the usury trade benefited the Crown directly.

The 13th century in England was a time of many forms of antisemitism. By the late 1200s, a series of laws had been created restricting the rights of the Jewish people. In 1275 King Edward I passed a law forbidding the Jews from usury. Finally, fearing an uprising by the people against Jews, in 1290, Edward I banished all Jews from England. They did not return until the 17th century. With the Jews no longer acting as money lenders, Lombards came from Italy to provide a similar service.

After the expulsion of the Jews, the Lombards – who were merchants of Genoa, Lucca, Florence, and Venice – succeeded them as the money-lenders and bankers of England. About the middle of the 13th century, these Italians established themselves in Lombard Street, remitting money to Italy by bills of exchange, and transmitting to the Pope and Italian prelates their fees, and the incomes of their English benefices.

From the second or third decades of the 13th century, the street we know today as Lombard Street became the centre for Lombards. They carried on a thriving business as bankers and money-lenders. According to Harben, the earliest mention of the name of the street was in 1319.

It should be noted that the Royal Exchange is only a very short distance from the western end of Lombard Street. The building was first erected between 1566 and 1570. According to Stow the Lombards moved from Lombard Street and met at the Royal Exchange once it had been opened. In a world where many people could neither read nor write, banker’s shops in Lombard Street hung large signs outside their premises to attract customers. That tradition was maintained in the street until the 20th century and some of the signs are still to be seen. In ‘Old and New London’ we read that about 1559 when Gresham was honoured by being sent as English ambassador to the court of the Duchess of Parma, he resided in Lombard Street. His shop – situated at about the present No 18 – was distinguished by his father’s crest, in the form of a large grasshopper. Apparently, the splendid Tudor sign was stolen about 1795. The sign that is there today, therefore, is a replica of the original. It is, none the less, a grand sign.

As a footnote to what has been said, the street remained a famous location for banks. Barclay’s Bank Head Offices were established in Lombard Street in 1694. They moved to a new Head Office at Canary Wharf which opened in 2005. Lloyd’s Bank Head Offices also stood in Lombard Street from 1884 until after the turn of the millennium when they relocated to new premises at 25 Gresham Street.

There are buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries in Lombard Street today, some of them are very elegant. They are fully occupied as offices but links with banking are fading rapidly. Most of the buildings are occupied by companies carrying on other types of business.

One final thought – there is almost a modern link today in the City of London with those medieval Lombard bankers. It is not quite a direct link but it is very close. Not far from Lombard Street is Leadenhall Street where the prestigious London premises of the Banca Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena used to stand until 2006. A short time afterwards the site was acquired as part of the Leadenhall Building and the bank moved its offices into Capital House – an office block in King William Street. The Italian bank is one of the oldest in continuous use in the world, being founded in 1472, in Siena, Italy. Today it is one of the largest banks in Italy.

Most of Italy was once part of the Lombard Kingdom. Siena is a city in Tuscany, in northern Italy, which was one of the five great cities of Lombard Italy and became an important rival to Florence during the Renaissance. Banca Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena is probably one of the last links with the story of the Lombards in London because it is descended from its original foundation in Italy at the time of the Lombard Kingdom.


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Reuter, Paul (Statue)

Above: Looking along the pedestrianised Royal Exchange Buildings at the head of the Reuter Statue.

Often described as ‘standing at the back’ of the Royal Exchange, is a statue to a remarkable man – Paul Julius Reuter. The rough-cut granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates the 19th-century pioneer of communications and news delivery. It is a fitting place for the statue because the stone head faces the Royal Exchange which was the reason why Reuter set up his business in the City. He established his offices in 1851 on the opposite side of the walkway to the Royal Exchange – in other words, they were to the east of the Royal Exchange. The stone monument was erected by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation. It was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976.

The man we know as Paul Reuter born Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel, in Germany, on 21 July 1816. His father, Samuel Levi Josaphat, was a rabbi and his mother was Betty Sanders. After early education in Kassel, Josaphat was sent, at the age of 13, to Göttingen to work in an uncle’s bank. It was in that city that he became friends with the eminent mathematician and physicist, Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was experimenting with telegraphy – the transmission of electrical signals by wire – a technology whose potential Josaphat was quick to realise.

In the early 1840s, Josaphat joined a small publishing company in Berlin. After publishing a number of political pamphlets that drew hostility from the authorities, he moved to Paris in 1848, a year of revolution throughout Europe. He began translating extracts from articles and commercial news and sending them to papers in Germany.

Moving to London on 29 October 1845, he called himself Julius Josaphat. Less than a month later, at a ceremony on 16 November 1845 – in St George’s German Lutheran Chapel, in Alie Street, Whitechapel – he converted to Christianity, being baptised, Paul Julius Reuter. He returned to the chapel a week later, on 23 November, for his marriage to Ida Maria Elizabeth Clementine Magnus from Berlin, the daughter of a German banker. Reuter was 29 years old and within a matter of weeks, he had moved from Germany to England, converted from being a Jew to a Christian and also married a German lady.

In 1850 Reuter set up a carrier-pigeon service between Aachen and Brussels, the terminal points of the German and the French-Belgian telegraph lines. He used the service to send stock prices between Brussels and Aachen. This service provided the missing link to connect Berlin and Paris. Carrier pigeons were much faster than the post train, giving Reuter quicker access to financial news from the Paris stock exchange. The service operated for a year until the pigeons were replaced by a direct telegraph link.

A new telegraph line between Britain and Europe was later set up and Paul Reuter moved back to London to take advantage of the new communication link. He rented an office near the Stock Exchange – at No 1 Royal Exchange – and founded the international news organisation that bears his name on 18 October 1851. The office transmitted stock market quotations between London and Paris via the new Calais-Dover cable. A few years later – on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1857 – Reuter became naturalised as a British subject.

Reuter was always on the lookout for ways of obtaining news ahead of any competition. In 1863, Reuter privately erected a telegraph link to Crookhaven, County Cork, the farthest SW point in Ireland. When ships from America approached Crookhaven, they threw canisters containing news into the sea. They were retrieved by the Reuters company and telegraphed directly to London, arriving long before the ships reached Cork.

As overland telegraph and undersea cable facilities developed, Reuters expanded beyond Europe – to the Far East in 1872 and South America in 1874. Reuter was created a baron by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (the last reigning Duke) in 1871 and later was given the privileges of this rank in England by Queen Victoria. He retired as managing director of Reuters in 1878, handing control over to his son, Herbert.

Reuter died on 25 February 1899 at Villa Reuter at Nice, in France. His body was later brought back to England and buried in the family vault at West Norwood Cemetery, in SE London. The story of the company after his death was that in 1925 the Press Association took a majority holding in Reuters. In 1927 Reuters introduced the teleprinter to distribute news to London newspapers. In 1939 Reuters moved its corporate headquarters to 85 Fleet Street. In 2008 Reuters became part of the Thomson Reuters conglomerate.

The life of Reuter was most interesting. Having started his career as a humble clerk in a bank, he went on to ‘see the future’ of transmitting the news – regardless of whether it was financial or world news. If the ‘modern’ technology of telegraphy – also known then as Telegrams – was not in place, Reuter used carrier pigeons and even canisters floating in the sea to convey news as fast as possible. Such was his ambition to be the first with the news. Probably the greatest tribute to Reuter today is the fact that his company now spans the world and is still at the forefront of news services in the 21st century.


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Royal Exchange Electric Telegraph

Above: Equipment used at the Royal Exchange, designed by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone.

Related to the world of commerce and trade, one of the most important buildings in the City of London has been the Royal Exchange. It was at the Royal Exchange that the Stock Exchange began before it moved to separate premises. It was there also that Lloyd’s Insurance started, moving to a coffee shop in nearby Lombard Street, run by a proprietor by the name of Edward Lloyd.

The Royal Exchange also played its part in new ways of keeping up to date with the news. Fairly obviously, financial decisions depend on knowing what is going on in the world and if you are the first to hear the news relating to a particular investment, you stand a good chance of making money on a deal ahead of your competitors. It, therefore, follows that the speed at which news can be conveyed has played a large part in investors making financial decisions.

Going right back to medieval times, news travelled very slowly – usually by a private dispatch rider carrying a hand-written document on horseback. The days of the stagecoaches saw a more regular service carrying news but its speed also depended on how fast horses could travel. The speed of transmitting news of any kind did not improve until the Admiralty used semaphore arms, operated by their own personnel. These semaphore stations were based on the tops of hills and cumbersome routes were set between various locations, for example, the Admiralty in London and Deal, in Kent. A semaphore station signalled from the Admiralty to an adjacent station who re-transmitted the signal to the next station along the route. It is estimated that such signals could be transmitted from London to Deal taking only a few minutes. Of course, in foggy weather, the whole system was unable to operate.

The Admiralty Shutter Telegraph – sending signals only for use by the Admiralty – started in 1796. It was replaced by the Semaphore Telegraph in 1816 and continued to be used until 1847. All the effort to send information physically, using one form of telegraph or another, was all well and good but the process was very expensive to maintain and the cost could only be justified by a ‘money no object’ organisation like the Admiralty. While all this was going on, an inventor called Francis Ronalds was building the first electric telegraph in a house in Hammersmith, successfully sending signals along an electric cable that was eight miles long. The mechanical process of conveying news was about to be replaced by electric signals.

In 1837 the first working electric telegraph in England was set up at the Royal Exchange, in the City of London. It was patented that year by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. It made the mechanical means of signalling by mechanical telegraph obsolete. In passing, it should be mentioned that the famous Morse Code was invented by Samuel Morse only a year later – in 1838. It should also be pointed out that, in Germany, Carl Friedrich Gauss was experimenting with the transmission of electrical signals through a wire, building the first electrical telegraph in 1833.

The electric telegraph designed Cooke and Wheatstone, was in the form of five needles, each moved by an electric current. The needles pointed to letters of the alphabet engraved onto a plate. The letters could be written down by an operator as a message while after looking at the pointers. The process required two machines – one each end of the cable – with the person sending the message using the keys at the bottom of the machine and the person receiving the message looking at the five-needle pointers to read off and write down each letter of the alphabet as it was sent. While the electric cable transmitted each character instantaneously, the actual speed of transmission was determined by how fast the person sending the message could press the keys and how fast the person receiving the message could decipher it and write it down.

The new electric telegraph was invented by the English inventor William Fothergill Cooke and the English scientist Charles Wheatstone. Perhaps you came across the name of Wheatstone if you were taught physics at school. Well, that is the same man. Although many inventors have a hard time getting their devices accepted, it was only necessary to tell City businessmen that you had a faster method of transmitting news than anybody else and they were only too pleased to sponsor the invention. When a business depends on a fast supply of news, an investor will be clamouring for the latest invention.

From what has been said, it will be seen that City investors at the Royal Exchange played their part in the start of the electric telegraph. It was ‘one small step’ along the route that led eventually to the transmission of voice (by telephone), pictures (by television) and finally to today’s world-wide communication systems (using the Internet).


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Royal Exchange

Above: The Royal Exchange against a particularly dramatic sky. Part of the Bank of England can be seen on the far right.

Anyone with an interest in London knows what the Bank of England building is and what it does. Similarly, with the Mansion House. There is a third building – the Royal Exchange – facing onto the other two but few people can tell you why the Royal Exchange was built or what it has been used for. In many ways, the Royal Exchange is one of the most important buildings in the City of London. It was in existence long before the Bank of England was founded and centuries before the Mansion House came into existence.

It is necessary to go back in time to the days of the Tudors to understand why the Royal Exchange came into existence. For centuries before Tudor times, London had been a centre for trade with most of the countries across Europe – as well as others much further away. Captains of ships carried cargoes to London from many ports outside England and sold those cargoes to wealthy merchants. The goods were, in turn, bought by those who made a living selling them in smaller quantities – a process we know today as wholesale and retail selling. However, communications between those owning the ships and those who wished to buy the goods were mainly by word of mouth. It was certainly not centralised or organised in an effective way.

For London’s trade to grow, what was needed was some form of trading centre. The idea for that started in Bruges but transferred to Antwerp where a building called a‘Bourse’ was established in 1531. A Bourse is a French word (also Börse in German) which came to mean a place where financial dealings were carried out. The name has worked its way into the English language with words like ‘purse’, ‘bursar’ and ‘bursary’. At first, the word ‘Bourse’ began to be used in England but the word ‘Exchange’ came to mean the same idea. The word ‘Exchange’ related to those with things to sell having an exchange of words (forming a contract) with those wanting to buy.

The rich merchants in London realised the financial advantage of a Bourse being set up in London. In 1562 Thomas Gresham, a Mercer and wealthy merchant contributed funds for and organised the building of what was later called the Exchange on land between Cornhill and Threadneedle Street. The site was provided by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who still jointly own the freehold. The building was erected between 1566 and 1570. It was a large almost rectangular building built around an open courtyard. Queen Elizabeth I visited it on 23 January 1571, dined with Thomas Gresham in his house before officially opening the Exchange. Being so impressed by the building, the Queen commanded that a herald proclaim it the ‘Royal Exchange’ which it has remained ever since. It has been one of the locations where royal proclamations have traditionally been made, in this case on its steps.

As time went by, there were traders from Germany, Holland and France doing business in the Royal Exchange. In addition, there were traders from Portugal, Italy, Turkey and even Jamaica and Barbados. Eventually, there were traders from Virginia, New England and Carolina – each with their allotted position around the large courtyard of the building. It will be realised that it was becoming an international centre.

Above: The original stone courtyard was still able to be seen until the 1970s.

During the Great Fire of London (1666) the building was almost totally destroyed. A new building, almost the same size and shape, designed by Edward Jarman, was erected and opened in 1669. The central courtyard if the Royal Exchange was left unaltered and is still in position today. Due to the fact that the courtyard was rather uneven, a new false-floor has been laid above it which is patterned in the same way as the original.

The Royal Exchange has been home to important City institutions. In 1770, the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation and Lloyd’s Insurance made the Exchange their headquarters. Lloyd’s moved into the NW side of the building. The early dealings of the Stock Exchange also took place in the Royal Exchange until 1773 when separate premises were sought.

The second Royal Exchange was destroyed by a local fire in Cornhill on 10 January 1838. It was later rebuilt to essentially the same design and officially opened by Queen Victoria on 28 October 1844. The architect was Sir William Tite. The third building also had an open quadrangle, but in 1853 a glass cover was erected over it. The building ceased to be used as an exchange in 1921. In 1928 the building became the sole possession of the Royal Exchange Assurance Group when Lloyd’s Insurance moved to new premises in Whittington Avenue.

The building suffered only minor damage during the Second World War although the glass roof was in need of repair. The building stood empty due to all its tenants having moved away. For several years – during the 1960s and 1970s – the building was used by what was then called the Guildhall Museum. It was a very informal setting, with people strolling into the courtyard, some interested in looking at the City’s museum exhibits and others just curious to look around the building. At lunchtime, the public sat on the numerous stone benches under the arches and ate their sandwiches! In the 1970s, modern premises were found for the Guildhall Museum on London Wall (Street) and the Royal Exchange closed to the public, only being used for the occasional art exhibition.

In 1982 the Royal Exchange was repaired and the newly-formed London International Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE) became the main tenant, using the courtyard for the trading floor. The modern trading facilities were installed without affecting the fabric of the Victorian building.

Above: Members of the public gaze about them at the modernised interior when it was first opened as a shopping centre about 2001.

More building work was undertaken when LIFFE left the building. In 1991 the coverings, which had completely enveloped the structure for about three years, were removed. Extensive modernisation had taken place with the construction of another level in the roof that is carefully concealed from view from the surrounding streets. The fabric of the 1844 building was retained but there were extensive additions made to the interior in order that it could be used as an up-market shopping centre. It was opened about 2001, with a large coffee bar being added at the centre of the courtyard a few years later.

The building is 300 feet (91 m) long with a width of 175 feet (53 m) narrowing to 118 feet (36 m) at the western end. The motto across the entrance reads ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’ – taken from Psalm 24 in the Bible. At the eastern end is a tower containing a carillon which plays tunes at 9.00 am, 12.00 noon, 3.00 pm and 6.00 pm daily. The grasshopper weather-vanes are one of the most well-known features of the building  – deriving from a symbol of the Gresham family, the original founders.

The Royal Exchange has certainly played its part in the City’s financial development. Having started as an early form of a trade centre, it played its part in the development of insurance as well as the early days of the stock market. Such institutions are now the bedrock of today’s financial services. In the early days, all traders had to meet in one place in order to communicate. Due to the development of the telephone and eventually the Internet, trading carries on in many offices around the world without the need for any of those people even needing to meet centrally.


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Cornhill Pump

Above: The pump looking resplendent beside the street. Behind it are small shops built into the exterior of the Royal Exchange. Its a pity about the bags of sand on the far left!

The story of how London gradually acquired its water supply is a long and interesting one. Flowing through the middle of London is the River Thames. In Tudor times its water was still drinkable. However, only those living near the Thames would have used it for drinking. Even less would have used it for washing! Residents living further from the Thames probably found the journey to collect water in a large leather jug was too onerous. Fortunately, by digging down 10 or twenty feet, it was usually possible to find water at the bottom of a well. Most wells were situated in the street – sometimes in the middle of a street and sometimes at the junction of two streets.

It is always surprising how many people still throw their rubbish into the street. That is true today and has been true in London for the past two thousand years. Very often people threw their rubbish into the well. Archaeologists have found ‘rich pickings’ in an ancient well found on a site they have been excavating. Several artefacts on show in the Museum of London were found in that way.

Many wells were still in use in the streets of London in Tudor London. We know this because they are carefully drawn on some of London’s earliest maps of the 1550s and 1560s – usually known as Bird’s Eye Views. People were throwing their rubbish down the well even in those times. How do we know that? History books often mention that a pump was installed over a well so that rubbish could no longer be thrown down the shaft.

That brings us to pumps and, in particular, the matter of the Cornhill Pump. In early times there had been a spring of water which later became a well in the middle of the roadway in Cornhill. In 1405 it is recorded being planked over when the Cornhill Tun was made into a conduit. The name conduit – in the City of London and also in Westminster – arose because, instead of using water in the ground by digging a well, water from a spring was conveyed by pipes (often two or three miles away) to a particular site where many people could benefit from the clean water. Because the pipes were used to ‘lead’ the water, the word ‘conduit’ was used to describe them. A conduit being a channel for conveying water or other fluid.

In 1548 the well was first turned into a pump. The present pump was erected in 1799, sited then in the middle of Cornhill. It was moved on 6 December 1848 from the middle of the road to its present position beside the north side of Cornhill. There it stands today – but, sadly, it is no longer operational. The large handle remains attached at the side and the water-spout faces onto the roadway. For several decades the pump was painted pale blue. The colour never seemed to be right for a City pump and gradually the paint peeled off, leaving it looking rather neglected for a ‘smart part of town’. Because none of us walks around the City as much as we might, the pump was suddenly seen to be painted a pale cream or beige colour which, somehow, seems to suit it better.

Various inscriptions on the pump explain that today’s 19th-century version was financed by several City institutions, including, the Bank of England and the East India Company, with additional financial assistance from the neighbouring fire offices around Cornhill. Before the pump’s recent face-lift, there was a stone trough beside it, at the side of the road. That trough was not part of the original installation and it was presumably removed at the time of the repainting. The spout was intended for people to use to fill buckets or large jugs, not to scoop water from the trough.


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Above: Looking along Cornhill from the western end. The huge ‘Cheesegrater’ building is seen in the distance – standing in Leadenhall Street.

Cornhill has always been one of the principal streets in the City of London. In medieval times, the name applied to this street and also appears to have been used for part of the eastern continuation which is today called Leadenhall Street. While nobody knows the actual reason for this, it may be because the name ‘Cornhill’ not only applies to the name of the street but also to the name of one of two small hills in the City. In fact, the crossroads formed by Cornhill, Leadenhall Street, Bishopsgate and Bishopsgate (Street) is one of the highest points in the City. The hill only rises to about 60 feet (18 m) but it is sufficient to notice when there were no large buildings – as when the Romans first arrived. Today, the most noticeable indication of the hill is the approach from Fish Street Hill and Gracechurch Street – which is a gentle slope upwards all the way from the southern end. There are two hills in the City – Cornhill and Ludgate Hill – with Ludgate Hill being very slightly lower than the other. The church of St Peter stands on Cornhill and the cathedral of St Paul’s stands on Ludgate Hill. Much has been made in the history books of the names of the two saints – Peter and Paul – being associated with the two hills in the City of London.

It is believed that Cornhill derived its name from a corn market being held in the street. Some sources claim that, in very early times, there were fields of corn beside the street but we shall never know for certain.

The western end of Cornhill is one of the most unusual street junctions in the City and also within Inner London. In medieval times, three streets met at the busy junction – Poultry, Threadneedle Street and Cornhill. In the 17th century, Princes Street became the fourth street. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria Street and King William Street were added, making a total of six streets meeting at one point.

It was in the time of Elizabeth I that the Royal Exchange was built, acting as a venue where those with money – the bankers – could meet and exchange in conversation with those having something to sell – the ships’ captains who were bringing valuable cargoes to England from distant parts of the globe. As time went by, people saw the need for their ships and goods to be insured which led to the formation of Lloyd’s Insurance and all other forms of insurance. It also led to the Stock Exchange, dealing in stocks and shares. The Royal Exchange has, therefore, been the catalyst for many forms of commercial trading. Because of its position – next to the Royal Exchange – Cornhill has been an important address of many financial companies.

Throughout Victorian times and up to the 1950s and 1960s, Cornhill was at the centre of ‘Discount Houses’. During those times, if a private individual or a business needed to borrow money they often paid a visit to their local bank and asked the bank manager for a loan. Very often the bank did not have sufficient funds to lend money to all those who needed it. It was then necessary for local bank managers to borrow from Discount Houses which acted like ‘Super Banks’, lending to other banks. If the Discount Houses ever needed additional funds, which happened quite frequently, the manager had to visit the Governor of the Bank of England, asking for a short-term loan on a very large scale. Due to changes in the way finance was structured in the second half of the 20th century, Discount Houses became a ‘thing of the past’. Many of the Discount Houses had their plush offices in Cornhill. The offices are still there but are used for other purposes today.

Standing beside the street are two ancient parish churches – St Peter, at the eastern end. and St Michael. Although the street today is lined with offices, some of the architecture is still Victorian which lends some character to the area. On the southern side of Cornhill are a ‘maze’ of tiny alleyways remaining from a bygone age. Sadly, few of the City’s alleyways remain across other parts of the City. One feature, which is a sign of the times, is that several buildings that were once banks have now become bars and coffee shops. Even the City of London is seeing a reduction of physical bank premises as more and more people carry out banking transactions online.


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