Dutch Church, Austin Friars

Above: The Dutch Church which stands on the site of the nave of the old Austin Friars Priory church.

The history of the Dutch Church in the City of London goes back to the middle of the 16th century. By 1548 there were about 5,000 Dutch refugees in England. They were Protestants who had escaped from religious persecution by the Catholics on the continent. Through the influence of the Duchess of Suffolk, the Privy Council agreed to give them part of the monastic church of the Austin Friars to use as their own place of worship.

The nave of the church of the Austin Friars was enclosed from the choir and steeple. On 24 July 1550, it was granted by Edward VI to the Dutch nation for their worship in London. It became the centre for the Dutch and German reformers. After Edward VI died, the new sovereign was Mary I who was a Roman Catholic. Mary gave the foreign congregation 24 days’ notice to leave the church and they left England in September 1553. In 1559, under the reign of Elizabeth I, who was herself a Protestant, the congregation was allowed to return to the church and use it for their services.

In 1608 the Dutch merchants subscribed £20,000 to get the church rebuilt but this was forfeited by a decision of the Star Chamber who were against foreign traders being encouraged to live in England. The church was in imminent danger of being destroyed in the Great Fire of London which reached the building on Tuesday 4 September 1666. However, due to diligent action, the church was saved from the flames.

Almost century after the establishment of the Dutch Church for the first wave of protestants from Holland, the arrival of William of Orange brought a second wave of Dutch emigrants to London. It included noblemen, bankers, courtiers, merchants, architects and artists. William III (1650–1702) was the only child of William II, Prince of Orange, who died a week before his birth, and Mary, Princess of Orange, the daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Know also as ‘William of Orange’ he was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from the 1670s and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death.

In 1862 all but the outer walls and columns of the nave of the original priory church were destroyed in a local fire. The church was repaired and restored 1863-65. The Dutch church survived into the 20th century – one of England’s best-preserved friary churches. During the Second World War, during the night of 15–16 October 1940, just a decade before the Dutch Church celebrated its 400th anniversary, the medieval building was completely destroyed by a parachute mine during the early stages of the Blitz. After the War, a new church was built to the design of Arthur Bailey – a concrete box frame, externally clad in Portland stone. It was rebuilt 1950-56, on the same site and can be seen standing on the north side of the narrow street called Austin Friars.

The church was designated a Grade II listed building on 25 September 1998. In 2000, the building celebrated its 450th anniversary. It is the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world. In The Netherlands, it is known as the mother church of all Dutch reformed churches. The church remains active today, with weekly Dutch-language church services.


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The Magazine

This is a link to a new feature of the Know Your London Website – the Magazine.

Its purpose is to make regular readers aware of the new features of the Website. Some of them you may have noticed but others may have passed you by.

Read the whole article by clicking on the link below . . .

The Magazine


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Austin Friars Priory

Above: Archway leading into the thoroughfare called Austin Friars from Old Broad Street.

As we walk around the City of London today, the features that are probably the most noticeable are the tall office blocks. For those who lived in 16th century London, the tallest buildings would have been the numerous large monastic churches – some having large square towers rather like today’s Southwark Cathedral. Within the Roman Wall of the City were at least eight religious houses, each with a church approximating the size of today’s Southwark Cathedral. Although it is not within the City, mention of the Cathedral is made for two reasons. Firstly it was once the church of a religious house and, secondly, because it is about the same size as many of the monastic churches within the City.

The land in the City occupied by the religious houses when combined with the parish churches, the churchyards and various priest’s houses covered about a third of the total area. That gives some idea of the importance of such places in medieval times. Today, money is the driving force in the City and so it is no surprise to find that most of the land is occupied by offices related to financial services.

There are places in the City of London that hardly seem to have changed over the centuries. This is not always because the original building from long ago is still standing. One of those places is definitely to be found in Old Broad Street. In medieval times it was called Broad Street – because it was a ‘main street’ in the city and also because it was an important one. Today, it is probably best known for having  Tower 42 standing beside it which, when it was first built, was then called the Nat West Tower.

For those who walked around the City at the times of the religious houses, the street was known for bordering a very large piece of private land – the Austin Friars Priory. Where Throgmorton Street joins onto Old Broad Street today is a stone archway leading to a narrow street called Austin Friars. Almost nothing remains of the ancient religious house but, for some reason, the site of the old priory gateway leading into the priory land is still a gateway today. The street layout leading from the site of the gateway has not changed in over 500 years, maybe longer. The original gateway into Austin Friars was probably more ornate than the one we see today.

Above: Plan of the Austin Friary Priory superimposed onto a modern street plan.

The Austin Friars – called more correctly the ‘Friars Hermits of the Order of St Augustine of Hippo’ – were founded in 1253 by Humphrey de Bohun on a large site beside Old Broad Street. The name ‘Austin Friars’ was a corruption of Augustine Friars. It was the main English house of their order.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536), it was closed by Henry VIII. The priory and its extensive land remained in use until 1538. The church remained standing for several centuries and the alignment of the street called Austin Friars has been influenced by the original layout of the priory to this day.

The western side of Old Broad Street would have been a stone wall forming part of the boundary of the priory land. Behind that wall – land that no members of the public in 15th century London were allowed to visit – was the priory church. In 1550, the nave of the old priory church was given to Dutch Protestant refugees fleeing from religious persecution on the Continent. They were allowed to live in the City and use the old nave for their own place of worship. They have been using that site ever since. It is known simply as the ‘Dutch Church’.

Although all the monastic land is now open for public access, there is still a feeling as you walk along the narrow street called Austin Friars that you are within the ancient religious precinct. Seeing the stone statue of the monk on the corner of the street and finding the Dutch church nearby both help to create the illusion that the monks might still be there today.


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Bank of England and Royal Exchange in 1891

“London in 1891”

Although the picture shows a scene near the Bank of England in 1891 – almost 130 years ago – anyone who knows this busy junction will have no problem recognising it. Apart from people’s clothes and the modes of transport, most of the buildings remain almost unaltered.

The Bank of England is seen on the far left with only the smallest part of Princes Street on the very left-hand edge of the view. It is presumably the start of the working day because there are many people to be seen walking on the pavement outside the Bank of England and two horse-drawn carts towards the left appear to be making deliveries. The street is, of course, Threadneedle Street. Just right of centre is shown the Royal Exchange with its ornate pediment supported by eight pillars. To the right of the Royal Exchange can be seen Cornhill with two churches on the far right of the view. The square stone tower rises above the church of St Michael, Cornhill and behind it is the spire on the church of St Peter, Cornhill (which stands at the crossroads with Leadenhall Street, Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate.

One feature that has not changed very much is the traffic which is as busy in the picture as it is today. On the left is shown a large cart whose contents are rather unclear. There is a second one in front of it. They are following a Hansom Cab which would have been pulled by a single horse. Ahead of that is an open-top horse-drawn bus known as a ‘knife-board’ on account of the bench seats on the top deck. Obscuring part of the view of the Royal Exchange is another horse-drawn bus in the middle distance. In the foreground is another similar bus with a cover over the driver’s feet with the words ‘London Omnibus’. It was probably cold weather on the day the scene was painted because most of the people shown in any detail are wearing large coats.

The painting was made by the artist William Luker (Junior) (1867-1951) who, among other things, illustrated several books about the history of London by the Irish writer William Loftie (1838-1911).


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Bank of England

Above: View from near Mansion House, looking across the road intersection at the Bank of England. Princes Street is on the far left.

The Bank of England, familiarly known as ‘the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, stands in the City of London but its function affects all our lives and relates to the whole of Britain. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. It was founded on 27 July 1694 by Royal Charter. It was begun by a Scotsman, William Paterson, to provide funds for the war with England against Louis XIV of France.

The Bank acts as the English Government’s banker and is still one of the bankers for the Government of the United Kingdom. It is the world’s eighth-oldest bank. After private ownership of 252 years, the Bank of England was placed under government ownership, being nationalised on 1 March 1946 by the Atlee Government – the treasury holding capital stock, operating under the charters of 1694 and 1946. In 1998 the Bank became an independent public organisation, wholly owned by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the government. Since that time it has also had the independence for setting monetary policy.

The original building was erected 1732-34, designed by George Sampson. It occupied part of the present site. The Bank of England took possession of its new premises on 5 June 1734 and business was transferred from the Grocers’ Hall which is on the western side of Princes Street.

The first governor was Sir John Houblon (1632 –712), who is depicted in the £50 note issued in 1994 (since 1994 the £50 note shows Matthew Boulton and James Watt). Houblon was a London merchant. The Houblon family were Huguenots from Lille. He later became an elder in the Huguenot Church in Threadneedle Street. He and his wife and family lived in a magnificent house just off Threadneedle Street on the site later occupied by the extended Bank of England. He became Sheriff of the City of London in 1689, an Alderman from 1689 to 1712, and Master of the Grocers’ Company from 1690 to 1691. He was Lord Mayor in 1695.

Between 1765 and 1788 wings were added to the original building. The western extension involved the demolition of the church of St Christopher le Stocks in 1781. Garden Court – within the building – occupies the site of the church. The splendid Court Room was erected in 1767 by Robert Taylor, decorated in Adam style. It remains unaltered to this present day. Since the Gordon riots of 1780, a nightly watch has been provided by the Brigade of Guards.

The original building was extended 1824-27 to its present size of 3.5 acres (1.4 hectares) by John Soane. The Court Room of 1786 has remained unaltered. The surrounding wall, known as ‘Soane’s Wall’ and the Great Hall are all that remain of his building today. At the NW corner of the Bank of England is a decorative feature in stone known as Tivoli Corner. It is beside the junction of Princes Street and Lothbury. The little arcade by John Soane, is a copy of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, outside Rome.

In 1939, the architect Sir Herbert Baker enlarged the building by adding more floors, bringing the total to eight above and three below ground. The building stands opposite the Royal Exchange with its entrance in Threadneedle Street. The Bank of England has become the ‘banker’s bank’ and is the banker to the Government. The Great Hall, which was the original banking room from Soane’s bank, is still in existence within the building.

At the foot of a staircase near the main entrance to the Bank, is a Roman tessellated pavement on show. It is four floors below ground level – in the same position that it was originally discovered in 1805. Because it is inside the premises of the Bank, it is not possible for it to viewed by the public.


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Broad Street and Coleman Street Overview

Above: The two wards of Broad Street and Coleman Street that make up the ‘Broad Street’ area of study. They are plotted onto the modern street map with part of the City boundary shown by a thin red line.

The two wards in this overview extend over a part of the City of London that is probably least known to many people. Common tourist activities in the City are to visit St Paul’s Cathedral; visit the Guildhall; visit the Museum of London; take the Thames path and walk beside the river anywhere between Blackfriars Bridge and the Tower of London. None of those activities will take you to the two wards under consideration here. In simple terms, these two wards lie to the west of Bishopsgate (Street) and extend inside and outside the line of the old Roman Wall of the City.

Probably the most obvious feature of this part of the City – so obvious that few people ever notice it – is how few streets there are when compared with other parts of the City. Working west from Old Broad Street), there was no N-S street in medieval times until you reached Colemen Street. Princes Street is not mentioned in any historical documents until 1666 and was not laid out in a straight line from the eastern end of Poultry (as it is today) until 1824 when the Bank of England was enlarged. While on the subject of streets, the thoroughfare called Moorgate only came into existence in 1840, taking its name from the old medieval gate. Until that date, northbound traffic travelling through the gate reached Moorgate (Gate) via Coleman Street.

Please note that when describing the Wards in the City of London, this Website continues to follow the original boundaries (before they were changed in 2003).

See also: City of London Wards

Broad Street Ward

Broad Street Ward takes its name from Broad Street (now called Old Broad Street) and lies within the line of the old Roman Wall. The Stock Exchange was established within the ward and remained one of its main features of the ward until recent times. It was not until 2004 that the Stock Exchange moved from near the Bank of England to new premises on the north side of Paternoster Square. Of course, the ward can still boast being the home of the Bank of England.

In medieval times there were several parish churches within the ward. Today, only one is left – All Hallows, London Wall – but it is no longer in use as a church. An unusual place of worship in the ward was the French Church which, after occupying a site in Threadneedle Street for a couple of centuries, its successor is to be found much further west, in Soho Square. Another fine and historic building is the Dutch Church which was established in Austin Friars and remains there today.

For City Companies the count has reached seven – (1) The Worshipful Company of Carpenters at Carpenters’ Hall, in Throgmorton Avenue, who became the 26th Livery Company in 1477. Within that hall are also (2) The Worshipful Company of Plumbers who became the 31st Livery Company in 1365 and (3) The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers who became the 61st Livery Company in 1631. (4) The Worshipful Company of Drapers, stand on the north side of Throgmorton Avenue. They are one of the 12 Great Livery Companies – at Number 3. (5) The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors’ Hall stands on the south side of Threadneedle Street. They are also one of the 12 Great Livery Companies. Their number is either sixth or seventh – alternated each year with the Skinners’ Company. (6) The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers is to be found at Furniture Makers’ Hall, at Austin Friars. They became the 83rd Livery Company in 1963. (6) The Worshipful Company of International Bankers share the same building and became the 106th Livery Company in 2004.

Moving into more modern times, one of the City’s earliest tower blocks actually stands on the site of Gresham House. It is, of course, the Nat West Tower which was later renamed Tower 42. It has always been one of the City’s most recognisable tower blocks. Its main entrance is on the east side of Old Broad Street.

The information above is only a small fraction of the vast history that relates to the Broad Street Ward. At one time there was a large religious house – Austin Friars Priory. Thomas Gresham lived in the ward and built an enormous house in which Gresham College was established – the first institution of higher learning in London.

Coleman Street Ward

Coleman Street Ward takes its name from Coleman Street – running almost N-S near the east side of Guildhall. This ward extends north of the original line of the Roman Wall. Within the modern boundary of the ward is a railway terminus. Not to be confused with Liverpool Street Station, this one is deep under the ground – it is Moorgate Station. As well as being an underground station, it is also a railway station, albeit much smaller than Liverpool Street Station. If it ever happens, it will also be an interchange with the ill-fated Crossrail project (or Elizabeth Line).

The ward had three parish churches at one time. It now has one – St Margaret, Lothbury – a fine Wren structure, still in use as a church, standing just north of the Bank of England.

The Chartered Accountants’ Hall stands at 1 Moorgate Place. Not far away is the Armourers’ and Braziers’ Hall, standing at 81 Coleman Street. The company became the 83rd Livery Company in 1322 and have occupied the same site for just short of 700 years. Established to make metal armour for the knights of old, their craft is still very much needed today in the form of body armour for the police, the army and many other services.

City Point, the highest building in the ward, was originally called Britannic House. It had a makeover from 2001 onwards and is now a more graceful shape on the outside as well as a more modern one. However, its internal concrete and steel structure remains from the original build.

One final building to mention is a pub – Ye Olde Dr Butler’s Head – to be found in Mason’s Avenue. It is one of the more unusual City hostelries.


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City of London (Year 4)

The above outline map of the City shows the ward boundaries that many people who study its history grew up with. The City boundary and the smaller Ward boundaries were in use throughout the 20th century, they were the boundaries that the Georgians and Victorians used and they were the boundaries that were familiar to John Stow – the man who wrote the first history of the City – which was last published by him in 1605. In fact, apart from very minor alterations, the boundaries date in the main from Norman times. Some of them may go back to the days of the Saxons.

After all those centuries of remaining unaltered, in 2003 the City of London Corporation decided to have a major reorganisation of ward boundaries and even changed the boundary of the City of London in some places. The changes are, no doubt, necessary for the administration of the City but, for historic purposes, the old boundaries are far more useful and so they are reproduced in these blogs.

This academic year there are five wards under consideration which form two areas of study – (1) The first area of study – called ‘/City-Broad Street’ – is formed from Broad Street Ward and Colemen Street Ward. The outer ward of the two is Coleman Street which forms part of the City boundary. That has been changed since 2003. (2) The second area of study – called ‘/City-Cripplegate’ – is formed from Cheap Ward, Bassishaw Ward and Cripplegate Ward. Cripplegate Ward is by far the largest of the three and also forms part of the City boundary. This too has been altered since 2003.

If the ward names mean little to you, it might be worth mentioning that the Broad Street area of study has Tower 42 within its boundary. Built as the Nat West Tower, it was for many years the tallest office block in the City. For the Cripplegate area of study, the ‘key feature’ is the Guildhall, not because of its size but because it is the ’seat of power’ in the City and also because if its great age. The Guildhall has survived the Great Fire and bombing during the Second World War.

We cannot possibly include all the places of historic interest during the two months that have been allocated to looking at the two areas of study. However, 12 items from each have been selected for which there will be blogs during October and November.


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City of London Wards

Above: The historic ward boundaries of the City of London (as defined before alterations in 1994 and also in 2003). Note that each ward boundary beside the Thames extends into the centre of the river.

A quick look at the old ward boundaries in the City of London (shown above) reveals that they are a fairly wacky bunch. This article seeks to give some background into how the wards came about. It is not intended to present the wards of the City as a series of maps. Most of those maps are copyright and can easily be found on the Website of the City of London if you would like to see them. What we will explore here is how the wards of the City and also the boundary of the City of London came into existence in the first place. We also need to gain some insight into defining the City in terms of its ward boundaries.

Wards are not only found in the City of London. All the London Boroughs are divided into wards with democratically elected councillors. In the City of London, things are slightly different because each of the wards also has an elected Alderman. The City of London is divided into 25 wards. Each ward elects one Alderman and two or more Common Councilmen (collectively referred to as Members, equivalent to councillors), dependent on its population.

The earliest wards in the City seem to have been named after the Alderman who presided over them. For example, in 1279 the Ward of Aldgate was called the ‘Ward of John de Northampton’. A City ward being named after an actual person clearly proved to be impractical because every time the ward appointed a new Alderman, the name of the ward also had to be changed. This led to some wards being named after well-known geographical features – for example, the Ward of Adgate was named after one the gates in the old Roman Wall; the Ward of Queenhithe was named after the dock; similarly with Billingsgate which was named after its dock; Broad Street Ward took its name the main street running through it; similarly with Bread Street; and Castle Baynard Ward took its name from the ancient Norman castle.

A few examples will be given to show what kind of dates we are talking about. The Ward of Aldgate was first mentioned in 1130; Portsoken was first mentioned in 1180 as the ‘Ward of Port’; the Ward of Cripplegate was first mentioned by that name in 1285; the earliest mention of Cheap Ward by that name was in 1125;  the earliest mention of Bishopsgate Ward by that name was 1285 although in 1130 it had been called ‘Warda Edwardi Parole’. These examples illustrate that the names of many of the wards go back to the days of the Normans. Remarkably, the City was organised into a ward structure in early times. It could be that the ward boundaries had already been established before 1066 – and all that! The simple answer is that we just do not know for certain. There are no known early documents which can provide an answer to the obvious question – ‘When were all the boundaries drawn up and by whom?’.

The other problem is that there were no meaningful maps at such early times. The earliest maps of the City of London date from the mid-16th century and they do not show any boundaries of wards or, indeed, a boundary line for the City of London. Apart from the ward boundaries that do not touch the boundary of the City, the boundaries that do form part of the City boundary would have been altered every time the City boundary was changed. These alterations were relatively minor and hardly affected those ward boundaries over the centuries.

So, how did the ward boundaries come about? In the main, a ward boundary enclosed a parish or a collection of parishes. Many parish boundaries were often of greater antiquity than the wards. That is not really an answer to the question because it leads to asking how the parish boundaries came about. To try to understand these detailed ward and parish boundaries, we will consider the case of two fictitious neighbours living side-by-side in the City. We will call then Fred and Charlie. Whatever the date may have been, there must have come a time when a ward-official or a church-official decided to ‘mark the territory’. It was usually done by driving a wooden post into the ground at the point where a boundary line changed direction – for example, it may have turned through 90 degrees. With time passing, the post would have rotted and a new post would have been inserted.

Those in authority became quite canny about installing a new post because, if the boundary line affected land owned by Fred and Charlie, Fred would say to the official ‘I am sure that post was further to the east’ so that Fred gained more land. Similarly, Charlie would then get involved and claim that the post was further to the west. Very often, the person who installed the original post dug the hole deeper than was necessary and buried a stone under the base of the post. When the post eventually fell over or rotted away, the new official installing the new post would dig into the old hole left by the post and find if a stone had been buried below it. It was a simple way of keeping markers on the same spot.

Above: A small sample of the 1960s Ordnance Survey map for Birchin Lane in the City of London. The yellow arrows show the many turning points of part of a ward boundary.

If we could delve into how the original boundary lines were defined, we might well find that the line between two parishes was decided by drawing the line around the tiny properties of the residents. Take, for example, the very small piece of the Ordnance Survey map shown above. It shows a few buildings on the east side of Birchin Lane, which is a small side street running between Cornhill and Lombard Street. Look carefully at the ward boundary. Arrows in yellow have been added to clarify the many turns of the line. It is more than likely that the right-angle bends went around Fred and Charlie’s garden at some early date, now ‘lost in the mists of time’. Each right-angle turn was duly recorded by adding a boundary post which became the parish boundary and/or the ward boundary maybe even before early maps were drawn.

With time, those minor details in the boundary line were duly recorded on early ward or parish maps and eventually were recorded with even greater precision on the Ordnance Survey map. We shall never know how those details came about or what they actually represent but it is more than likely that Fred and Charlie had something to do with it centuries ago! If that interpretation is correct and the lines once ran around small pieces of land owned by private individuals, there is a certain charm to those minor details when viewed ‘up close’ as on the enlarged map shown above.

Even if we do not know how the ward boundaries came into being, they were known to John Stow when he wrote the ‘Survey of London’ which was last published in 1603. Those same boundary lines were known to Ogilby and Morgan who produced his famous large-scale map of the City of London after the Great Fire of London (1666). They were also known to John Strype whose ward maps are one of the best-known records of the City wards, published in 1720.

In the 20th century, Ordnance Survey maps (like the detail shown above) were still being drawn by hand. Skilled draughtsmen who were responsible for drawing the entire map and thousands of additional large sheets covering the whole of the British Isles. Today we find that cumbersome process to be almost unbelievable. We have become so used to looking at the output from the computer-aided design that we have almost forgotten that in the 1960s you could walk into Stanfords – the map shop in Covent Garden – and buy large sheets with all the detail shown above that had been entirely hand-drawn. Such sheets can no longer be purchased. The routine now is to walk into the shop, tell the assistant the map coordinates of the location for which you want the map. The next step is for the assistant to operate a sophisticated printer, driven on-line from the main computer at the Ordnance Survey headquarters. About a minute later, hey presto! You have your own computer-generated map which is entirely up-to-date – correct at the moment the map was printed.

So, what do we learn from these thoughts on the origins of the wards? It is clear that, whatever the reason for the detailed boundary lines, they have an incredible pedigree going back to well before Elizabethan times and, more likely, dating from the days of the Normans, possibly even the Saxons. These maps have one thing in common, the early ones have all been used by the famous historians of London throughout the centuries and have finally been encoded into all the versions of the Ordnance Survey – dating from the very first one which was published in 1862. All these historians have worked from the same ward boundaries in the City of London and also been familiar with the historic boundary of the City of London – where it touches other administrations, like Westminster, Stepney and Hackney.

These ward boundaries have been of great value because they enclosed parishes without division – that is to say that one City parish always lay entirely within the ward boundary without straddling the border into another ward. In passing it should be pointed out that this Website always adheres to the historic ward boundaries for the simple reason that any history book on the City over the last 400 years has also worked to the same principles.

We now encounter a serious problem. In 2003, the City fathers decided that the ward boundaries should be ‘modernised’. To any administrator, if a boundary line crosses a street (instead of running along the middle of it) or passes through a building at an odd angle (instead of either enclosing or excluding it) that seems to present a problem. All ward boundaries were, therefore, redrawn to make the lines conform to a rigid set of very simple rules without any consideration for the fact that they might have been in use by others for many centuries. The result is a neat set of new ward maps which appeared in 2003. To an administrator, they are presumably sheer bliss – because they drew them. To any historian, they are worse than useless because they do not relate in any way to the wards in a historic context that was built up over many centuries.

Finally, what would Fred and Charlie make of all this change? As they might well say ‘Nobody cares about us any more’. You cannot but agree with that sentiment! At least you have been made familiar with the case for working with the original ward maps. These old maps are essential if you are going to understand the history of the City of London. The City always claims to be proud of its history. In the matter of working with the wards, all the ‘history bit’ seems to have been cast aside in the interest of easy administration – possibly making it simpler to repair the roads or keep track of the Corporation lamp-posts and important details like that.

One of the other reasons for changing the ward boundaries is related to the number of residents living within the City. Even before Victorian times, the population of the City was declining as more and more land was taken up by large warehouses and factories being erected within the square mile. This decline accelerated in the 20th century as the trend for larger and larger offices gained momentum. The end of the 20th century then saw a swing back to an increasing population in the City which is continuing at the time of writing. Ward boundaries have sometimes been changed to modify or ‘even out’ the voting populations of the City wards to take account of these trends. While this might be seen as a valid reason for altering the boundaries of the wards, it is not one that Stow and historians in earlier centuries would recognise. Such measures have never been taken before the 1990s in the City itself.

Not only have boundaries been moved so that the shape of each ward no longer relates to how the original parishes were laid out but the boundary of the City of London has been altered in some places by a considerable amount. This is particularly true on the northern boundary of the City and along its east-facing boundary. In the east, the City boundary relates to a common line with part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. A good example of the problems of boundary change can be found on the eastern boundary of the City. At one time there was a religious house called the Abbey of St Clare – whose site gave us street names like Minories and St Clare Street. There were boundary changes in 1994 which were not entirely driven by the administration of the City of London. Borough boundary changes are taking place across England all the time and sometimes they also affect the City’s boundaries. From at least the days when John Stow walked around the City until the 1990s, the position of the medieval abbey site was shown on maps as being outside the City boundary – in the Parish of Stepney, in the County of Middlesex. In 1900, this land became the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney and, in 1965, it became the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Although administration of the land changed over the centuries, the abbey site was always clearly outside the jurisdiction of the City of London. Due to boundary changes in 1994, the site of the abbey now lies within the Ward of Portsoken which means, of course, that the history of the Abbey of St Clare is now part of the City. What would John Stow and John Strype make of that piece of information?

Hopefully, the reader can now start to appreciate some of the problems faced by today’s historians of Inner London as they try to write modern histories in the 21st century of land both inside and close to the City of London. What was quite a complicated story – as readers of this Website will already realise – is now becoming even more difficult to unravel due to the modern ward boundaries.


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City of London, The

Above: One of two symbolic dragons marking the boundary of the City of London at the southern end of London Bridge.

This article presents a few thoughts on how the City came into existence and how it became what it is today. It is not intended to be an outline history – which is a very long story. The City of London is often called ‘The Square Mile’ because it is a relatively small area when compared with other cities in England and, indeed, in other countries. In fact, the City is only 0.61 square miles (1,572 square km) in area.

The City owes its origins to the Romans who founded a township on the north side of the Thames at an estimated date of AD 43. There were three good reasons for choosing the location – (1) It was one of the only places beside the Thames that had well-drained land. It was situated on two very small hills (now known as Ludgate Hill and Cornhill) each being only 63 feet (19.2 m). (2) Between the two hills ran a small stream – known today as the River Walbrook. That stream would have provided a source of fresh water. (3) The southern bank of the Thames was made up of a series of gravel banks which meant that a wooden bridge could be built linking the two banks. It gave access to stable land on the s southern bank from the Roman township on the north bank. The Romans called the township Londinium. We know this because the name was found on a stone inscription. After occupying the township for nearly two centuries, those who lived there then decided to build an enclosing wall – known today as the Roman Wall. Some of it still remains to be seen. Because the wall was so massive, it was to define the street plan for the next 1,500 years. Most of the wall was not taken down until 1760. The Roman occupation of Britain ended about AD 410 when the legions were recalled to Rome.

In the 5th century, the Saxons – started to settle in England. They came from what is now called North Germany. Being farmers, they were looking for more land – to tend animals and grow some produce. Until the 20th century, it was assumed that some Saxons would have settled inside the boundary of the Roman Wall. It is possible that some of them did because we know that in AD 604 St Paul’s Cathedral was founded within that wall. However, in the 1980s a breakthrough in London’s archaeology came when a group of archaeologists found evidence for Saxon houses in the Aldwych and Convent Garden area. It is now nearly 40 years since that discovery was made and a name has been given the Saxon occupation of that part of London – Lundenwic. Most of Saxons living in what is now Central London were living beside the Thames in the area of today’s street called the Strand.

So what happened in the City? As has already been mentioned, St Paul’s Cathedral was founded in AD 604 which means there must have been some people living within the Roman Wall. Because the depth of water further upriver from the City is shallower, it is also likely that trading ships from other countries in what is now France and Germany would have brought goods to be landed at the quays were situated beside the City from Roman times. One fact that is known is that the Vikings took over the land within the Roman Wall and occupied it. One simple piece of evidence is that there have been three churches dedicated to St Olave (or ‘St Olaf”) in the City. One of them remains to this day.

In AD 886 Alfred the Great re-established English control of the City. It is also believed that it was at this time new streets were laid out, giving the alignment to some of today’s streets around Cheapside and Eastcheap. A few years later, in AD 899, a harbour was established at ‘Ethelred’s Hythe’ – which we now call Queenhithe. It is recorded in contemporary charters as a trading shore by the Thames, where goods were sold directly from beached boats. A second harbour or dock was established at the same time at Billingsgate. The time when the City was re-established under English control has also been given a name – Lundenburg. It was the time of the City under Anglo-Saxon control.

What happened next is known to every schoolboy and schoolgirl – it was 1066 – And All That! Before we talk about the Normans, one other fact in history should be mentioned. There is no royal palace in the City of London and Parliament is not situated in the City of London either. Although the City if financially powerful, it is not the ‘seat of power’. This all goes back to the days before the Norman Conquest. For reasons that have never been fully explained, in 1050 Edward the Confessor founded a new church that has become Westminster Abbey. It took fifteen years to build before it was ready for consecration. In the same year, Edward also had a new palace started – known as the Palace of Westminster. It was used as a palace by all the Kings of England until Henry VIII. In addition, it was in that palace that the Kings of England presided over the early parliament. Sadly, Edward the Confessor died in 1065 before either the new abbey church or the new palace had been completed.

Returning to the story of the City, William the Conqueror had proclaimed himself King of England after victory at the Battle of Hastings. He was crowned king in Edward the Confessor’s new abbey. William decided to make Edward’s new palace the main place where he lived. This then set a precedent for a palace in London and also for the seat of government. During Norman times, various kings realised that although the power lay at Westminster, the money was in the City. Trade with the City and other ports in Europe meant that the City became incredibly rich. The City also gained revenue from the export of wood from customs duty being paid – hence the need for the Customs House. All wool exported went via the City. When various Norman kings needed money – to fight a war ‘in foreign parts’ they went to the City to ask for that money. The City was not about to hand over the money without something in exchange. What could the king give them in return as payment? There were several things, actually. The City did not like the idea that the king appointed their Lord Mayor. The king appointed a Frenchman because he did not trust an English Lord Mayor. When the king needed money, the City insisted that he sign a charter giving the City the right to appoint their own Lord Mayor. To this, the king agreed, along with other rights and privileges. One of the reasons that the City is so powerful today is that it has bought the right to those powers and wisely kept the charters signed by various kings to prove it!

The City has its own administration – the Corporation of London. It is now officially and legally called the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London which is the municipal governing body of the City of London. In 2006 the name was changed from Corporation of London as the corporate body needed to be distinguished from the geographical area thus avoiding confusion with the wider London local government, the Greater London Authority (GLA). While on the subject, the City of London appoints a Lord Mayor for a period of a year. The ‘Lord Mayor of London’ should not be confused with the ‘Mayor of London’ who is appointed every four years and presides over the GLA from offices in City Hall, near Tower Bridge.

The Corporation’s structure includes the Lord Mayor, the Court of Aldermen, the Court of Common Council, and the Freemen and Livery of the City. The ‘Liberties and Customs’ of the City of London are guaranteed in Magna Carta’s clause 9, which remains in the statute. In addition, The Common Council is the police authority for the City of London – a police area that covers the City including the Inner Temple & Middle Temple. The City has its own police force – the City of London Police – separate from the Metropolitan Police, often called ‘The Met’. The Met polices the remainder of Greater London, consisting of its 32 London Boroughs.

The City of London holds a unique place in the administration of England. The City is not part of a county. If you go to Norwich, they will tell you that Norwich is the county city of Norfolk. It is in the County of Norfolk. Similarly, Canterbury is the county city of Kent. In the case of the City of London, it was once surrounded by the County of Middlesex but it was not part of Middlesex.

The City of London has its own Coat of Arms consisting of the shield of St George (a Red Cross on a white background) who is the patron saint of England. In the top left-hand quarter is the sword of St Paul, the patron saint of the City who is said to have been martyred by the sword. Either side is a ‘supporter’ in the form of a silver dragon, probably suggested by the legend of St George and the Dragon.

Today, some would argue that the City is too powerful because it continues without ever having been reformed. This is probably because those who govern are the same people who also control the way in which the City operates. This brief look at the City is only concerned with its history. We will leave others to decide whether the City’s power is good or bad. One thing cannot be disputed – it is very successful.

Comment – New Academic Year

For those who are on the email list for Know Your London, welcome back to another year of following a set schedule which extends over six years. In that time we look at topics related to every part of Inner London.

If you have recently joined – or even if you have been with us for some time – it might be worth mentioning that you can get far more out of this Website if you read the blogs on the Website. To do this, click on the BLUE heading in your email and it will take you to an exact copy of the page on the Website. The advantage is that down the right-hand side are a list of Categories. They can help you locate groups of blogs by a geographical area and also by subject.

All the Inner London boroughs are listed by the first three letters of the name and beside it are the old Metropolitan Boroughs. For example, if you were looking for articles on Deptford, you will find them under ‘Lew-Deptford’ because Deptford is now part of the London Borough of Lewisham. A few articles are written about Outer London boroughs, like Croydon. Their names are written in full. The Website is really set up to tell the history of places in Inner London but occasionally an interesting place is just over the border, in an Outer London borough. Such places are therefore included on the Website but there are only a few of them.

Another advantage of reading blogs on the Website is that you can also comment on a blog that you are reading. It also allows you to share additional information about the blog – if you would like to do so. Several readers have written something like ‘I used to live in that road and I had no idea of all its interesting history’. Other readers are trying to track down pictures related to an area and they need help in knowing which authorities to contact. It’s great to hear from all of you out there – whatever the reason.

Two final thoughts . . .

Towards the end of the Categories list – under ‘Lon’ (abbreviation for London) – you will find ‘Lon-Overview’ this shows the overviews for areas of study on this Website that have already been written. It is by no means complete and more overviews need to be added. An ‘Overview’ gives you a short synopsis with the main features of an area of study.

Also under ‘Lon’ in the Categories list, you will find ‘Lon-Quick Look Around’. This is similar to an ‘Overview’ but a ‘Quick Look Around’ applies to a small part of an area of study. For example, there is an ‘Overview’ for ‘/Wes-Piccadilly’. There is also a ‘Quick Look Around’ for ‘/Soho’ and for ‘/Mayfair’ which are two parts of that large area of study.


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Categories and how they Work


This Website concentrates on the history of Inner London which is made up of The City of London and 12 Inner London Boroughs. Each Webpage describes an Item in a separate blog. A small number of Items relate to Outer London Boroughs but only when they are close to the border of Inner London.

Items – Every Webpage describes what is called an Item which could be a place (like Tower Bridge) or something which extends over a larger area (like the Regent’s Canal).

Area of Study – All the Items described in the City of London are grouped under an area of study which is either a City ward or part of a City ward. Any Item described in the rest of Inner London is grouped under an area of study which is either a Metropolitan Borough or part of a Metropolitan Borough.

Sub-section – Some of the areas of study have smaller areas or buildings which are listed below them. For example, ‘/Sou-Bermondsey’ has ‘/London Bridge Station’, ‘/Rotherhithe’ and ‘/Tooley Street’ listed below it.

Overview – To help readers understand each Area of Study there is an Overview which is a separate Webpage giving a brief history of that Area of Study.


Finding the List of Categories

The Categories (down the right-hand side of every Webpage) allow the reader to move around the Website easily and find related blogs. Ideally, the long list under Categories would be more useful if it showed the list as small groups but that is not possible because the Categories list is built into the system. The result is that all the names are in the form of a long list. So, how does it all work?

Categories can be a little confusing at first glance. They are listed below and they are in the same order as the Categories list on the right of this and every Webpage. At the time of writing, they match that list exactly but, with time, more Categories will be added and the list will become even longer. However, the layout principles will remain the same.

The Categories list below has been divided into single or multiple groups and each one has accompanying notes (in PURPLE) to show that it is not really a long list but many areas of study.



Part 1 – Inner London Boroughs (and a few Outer London Boroughs)

Notes • The top part of the Categories (which is in alphabetical order) lists all the 12 Inner London Boroughs and explains which of the 28 old Metropolitan Boroughs they were formed from. In the list are also a few of the Outer London Boroughs – but only those that contain blogs appearing on this Website.

/Barking and Dagenham
• When the name appears in full, it indicates an Outer London Borough.

• Outer London Borough.

• Outer London Borough.

/Cam-St Pancras
• London Borough of Camden. It has three areas of study were all the names of the original three Metropolitan Boroughs.

/City of London
–– /Leadenhall Market
/City-Broad Street
/City-Castle Baynard
/City-Fleet Street
• The City of London. Look carefully at the above list. At the top is ‘/City of London’ which lists all the general blogs about the City. Starting on the line below are 13 areas of study, all are made up from the wards. Notice that ‘/City-Bishopsgate’ has sub-section called ‘/Leadenhall Market’. A Sub-section can easily be recognised because they are shown as indented.

• Outer London Borough.

––/Greenwich Wharves
• Royal Borough of Greenwich. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs. Notice that ‘/Gre-Greenwich’ also has a sub-sections.

/Hac-Stoke Newington
• London Borough of Hackney. It has three areas of study which were all Metropolitan Boroughs.

• London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs.

• London Borough of Islington. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs.

• Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs.

–– /St Thomas’s Hospital
–– /Vauxhall
• London Borough of Lambeth. This is slightly unusual because it was formed from only one Metropolitan Borough (Lambeth) with two additional areas added (Clapham and Streatham). Notice that ‘/Lambeth’ also has sub-sections.

–– /Blackheath
–– /Catford
–– /Forest Hill
–– /Lee
–– /Sydenham
• London Borough of Lewisham. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs. Notice that ‘/Lew-Lewisham’ also has sub-sections.

• Outer London Borough.

• Outer London Borough.

–– /London Bridge Station
–– /Rotherhithe
–– /Tooley Street
–– /Bankside
–– /Borough Market
• London Borough of Southwark. It has three areas of study which were all Metropolitan Boroughs. Notice that two of them have their own sub-sections.

• Outer London Borough.

–– /Stairs (Water)
–– /Thames Views
• River Thames is an additional area of study to which any place beside the river – in other areas of study – also appears. There are also two sub-sections.

/Tow-Bethnal Green
–– /Bow
–– /Canary Wharf
–– /Isle of Dogs
––/ Poplar (A)
––/West India Docks
• London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It has three areas of study which were all Metropolitan Boroughs. Notice that ‘/Poplar’ has its own sub-sections.

• London Borough of Wandsworth. It has two areas of study which were both Metropolitan Boroughs.

/Wes-City of
–– /Hyde Park
–– /Knightsbridge
–– /Mayfair
–– /Soho
/Wes-St James
/Wes-St Marylebone
–– /Whitehall Palace
• The City of Westminster. At the top is ‘/Wes-City’ which lists all the general blogs about the City. Starting on the line below are seven areas of study. Notice that two of them have sub-groups. Of the seven areas of study, Paddington was once a Metropolitan Borough and St Marylebone was a Metropolitan Borough. The other five are parts of the old Metropolitan Borough of Westminster.


Part 2 – Other Categories

Notes • At the lower end of the Categories list are five main subjects – Common Items; London; People; Persons; and Subjects. Each one has its own explanation in purple.

Comm_Grand Surrey Canal
Comm_Great North Wood
Comm_London Bridge
Comm_Regent’s Canal
Comm_Roman Wall
Comm_Upper Thames Street
Comm_Victoria Embankment
• Common Items. The top line lists all the Common Items. Starting on the line below are names that apply to more than one area of study. For example ‘London Bridge’ has two ends so it related to two areas of study.
• There are anchor-blogs called ‘Grand Surrey Canal Route’, ‘Great North Wood’, ‘Regent’s Canal Route’, ‘Roman Wall’ and ‘Upper Thames Street Introduction’.

Lon_London in 1891
Lon_Metropolitan London
Lon_Metropolitan London History
Lon_Moment in Time
Lon_Quick Look Around
• London Topics. The top line lists general blogs about London. Starting on the line below are names that are all headings for various aspects of London. The names are self-explanatory.

Peop_Jews in London
Peop_Saxons in London
Peop_Vikings in London
• The People relevant to London’s history. The top line lists all the People (meaning groups of people) relating to London. Starting on the line below are sub-sections.
• There are anchor-blogs called ‘Jews in London’, ‘Saxons in London’ and ‘Vikings in London’

Pers_Baird, John
Pers_Chaucer, Geoffrey
Pers_Wren, Christopher
• The Persons relevant to London’s history. The top line lists all the Persons (meaning individuals) relating to London. Starting on the line below are sub-sections.

Subj_Coaching Days
Subj_Maps of London
Subj_Modern Buildings
Subj_Parish Markers
Subj_Property Marks
Subj_Roman Roads
Subj_Toilet Buildings
• The top line lists Subjects related to London that have been covered in the blogs. Starting on the line below are sub-sections.


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