Cannon Street in 1891

“London in 1891”

William John Loftie was quite a prolific writer of books on London. Some of them carried illustrations drawn by William Luker (Junior). One of Luker’s drawings is shown here – taken from a book called ‘London City’ published in 1891. The viewpoint is from the pavement outside the old forecourt of Cannon Street Station and looks west along Cannon Street with St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance.

Today the entrance to Cannon Street Station is one part of the ground floor entrance to large offices built on top of the station concourse. Both entrances lead directly from the side of the pavement. In the 1890s view, we can see driveways crossing the pavement from the roadway and leading into a forecourt beside the station concourse. The forecourt of Cannon Street Station in those days was very similar to that of today’s Charing Cross Station but not as extensive. A large ornamental lamp enclosure can be seen above the pavement (far left) which was obviously one of the station lamps. To the right of that lamp is another lamp in the street, mounted on a tall post. These days, lamps in the City are mounted on the walls of buildings in an attempt to reduce street clutter. Notice that high above Cannon Street are telephone wires. In 1891 they must have seemed quite strange because the telephone was then a new device – less than 25 years old.

On the pavement is a diminutive figure of either a boy or a short man, presumably selling matches from a tray suspended from a band around his neck. Behind him, a tall, well-dressed man is wearing a top hat and carrying a rolled umbrella. He is ambling away from our view. Beside the kerb is a brougham either waiting for a ‘fare’ or about to deliver someone at the station. Further in the distance is a horse-drawn cart, usually referred to as a ‘van’, in the middle of the road. On the far side of the road is a man pushing a barrow with a large box or case on it. He appears to be a railway porter.

Some of the buildings in Cannon Street are still Victorian and look rather like those on the far right. However, all the buildings that we can see have all either been bombed and replaced with new buildings or been demolished in order to rebuild. Because today’s offices are now much higher than those seen in this view, it is not possible to see so much of St Paul’s Cathedral when standing at this particular spot. Nevertheless, it is still possible to see the cathedral from the station and it is to be hoped that this will continue to be the case.


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Walbrook Ward Marker

Above: Looking rather dusty, this City Ward marker is behind a large metal grill on the north side of Cloak Lane. It was presumably placed there in 1892.

The City of London not only contains a ‘treasure trove’ of buildings and unusual objects but it also has many anachronistic markers on the walls of both old and new structures. Firstly, there are many parish markers – once used to indicate exactly where the boundary of a parish was. Secondly, there are property marks – often on buildings that are owned by the wealthy Companies (that started as guilds) like the Mercers and the Goldsmiths. They often place metal property marks, usually in the form of the company’s coat of arms, at the corners of building they still own. Thirdly, and rarer still, are ward markers – once used, like parish markers, to indicate the boundary of a City Ward. The City still has a policy of placing at least one or two modern ward plaques, oval in shape and enamelled, around the City and they are renewed from time to time.

The older ward markers, probably placed in position in Georgian or Victorian times, are usually made of cast-iron and today they are extremely rare. There are probably not more than a dozen still in their original position around the City of London. We will be considering one particular marker in this article.

The Victorians were responsible for what today would be regarded as considerable architectural vandalism. If they wanted to lay out a new road in the City they were not averse to demolishing even a Wren church if it happened to be in the way. The City also had to endure the building of ‘cut and cover’ underground lines. These were constructed by digging an enormous trench, deep enough for a train to run at a sub-surface level, and then build offices or roads on top of the trench causing it to become a sort of tunnel. Some ‘cut and cover’ routes required the removal of ancient graveyards because the trench was far deeper than any coffin buried in a City churchyard.

One particular example was that of the little churchyard of St John the Baptist, Walbrook. The church had been destroyed in the Great Fire (1666) and not rebuilt but the churchyard remained and was still there in the 19th century. Its site was on the north side of Cloak Lane, near the junction with Dowgate Hill. That site lay on the proposed route for the District Line of the underground railway and the churchyard was duly removed. If you walk along Cloak Lane today, from the Dowgate Hill end, you will see an ornamental grill on the north side of the lane. If you stand beside it, you will hear the rumble of underground trains as they travel on the lines below your feet because there is a ventilation shaft for the railway. There is a piece of Victorian stonework to be seen, explaining that the churchyard was removed when the line was built.

If it is a sunny day, you can look through the iron grill and there is sufficient daylight see a Victorian plaque which is a City Ward marker relating to the Ward of Walbrook. As has been mentioned, ward markers of this type are very rare and very few are now still in their original position. Presumably, this marker was on the side of the little churchyard wall or on a building nearby. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that the marker is still in existence. Of course, it is in a very safe place and it is very unlikely to be removed. Nobody can reach it because of the grill beside the pavement and because the site is now a ventilator for the underground. It will remain in position for as long as the underground railway continues in use.

If you are wondering why a large railway so near the ground surface requires a ventilator, it should be explained that, when the trains first ran on the tracks, in December 1868, the trains were hauled by steam engines. Pedestrians walking along Cloak Lane probably saw plumes of smoke from the engines billowing through the grill when trains passed by underneath. Thankfully, underground trains are now all electrically powered.


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Walbrook and Dowgate Overview

This overview relates to two City Wards – Dowgate and Walbrook. Their original outlines are shown with red dotted lines on the Google map, with which most people are familiar these days. The boundary of the City of London is shown with a red solid line.

Dowgate Ward

Dowgate is the name of a riverside ward which is close to the mouth of the tiny River Walbrook – near the point where it joins with the Thames. The ward’s name consists of two syllables. The first syllable comes from an ancient word ‘dwr’ meaning ‘water’ and the second syllable implies a gate in the ancient riverside length of Roman Wall. This gate probably guarded the entrance to the City via the River Walbrook. The name, therefore, means ‘water-gate’.

At one time the ward had two parish churches – All Hallows the Great and All Hallows the Less – but neither parish church exists today.

The ward has more than its fair share of company halls, considering that it was quite a small area. There were the Dyers’ Hall, the Innholders’ Hall, the Skinners’ Hall and the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall and they are all still standing today. At one time the Joiners’ Hall also stood within the ward.

The ward is sliced in half by Upper Thames Street which is now a dual-carriageway and is choked daily by the busy traffic travelling along it. All around the ward are large office blocks and very little green space. One of the largest ‘footprints’ in the ward is that of Cannon Street Station which has two large offices built above the platforms – Cannon Bridge House (with its large roof garden) and the more recent Cannon Place.

Walbrook Ward

This ward lies to the north of Dowgate Ward, with a City street known simply as ‘Walbrook’ within its boundary. Both ward and street take their name from the stream of the same name. The River Walbrook has its source at Shoreditch and it once flowed above ground, crossing the line of today’s Shoreditch High Street and then flowing near the west side of the street called Bishopsgate, crossing land now covered by Finsbury Circus. The course followed a route via Lothbury and Poultry before finally flowing on the western side of the street that bears its name. The river now flows underground and there is no point today where it can be seen.

In 1954 the Roman Temple of Mithras was discovered deep in the ground at a point which was on the east bank of the River Walbrook. In the 1950s, the statutory provision for archaeology was almost non-existent and the remains of the temple were not conserved. The stones were removed and poorly assembled in a new position. Since the recent completion of the large Bloomberg Building, the original masonry of the temple is being displayed in the original position.

This ward once had four parish churches – St John, Walbrook; St Mary Bothaw; St Stephen, Walbrook; and St Swithin, London Stone. Only St Stephen remains standing today.

The only company hall in the ward was that of the Salters’ Company. It was bombed in the Second World War and the Company then had a long period without a hall. A new hall was eventually built on a new site to the north of London Wall (Street), near the northern boundary of the City.

Within the ward is the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (the title of the Lord Mayor for the City of London). The grand premises were built 1739-53. Before it was built, each Lord Mayor had to find his own suitable premises in which to live for the year of office. By the 18th century, that was becoming more and more difficult and so a permanent official residence was built. The ward is also the ‘home’ to the famous Rothchild’s Bank – in New Court, St Swithin’s Lane. Although steeped in tradition, they have rebuilt their bank recently in an ultra-modern style.

Part of Cannon Street – originally known as Candlewick Street – crosses the southern part of the ward. The two streets near the northern end – Queen Victoria Street and King William Street – were both cut through the ancient street plan in the 19th century. Much of the old medieval street plan is still to be seen, within the ward, although it has to be said that much of the land is being overdeveloped as ever taller offices tower over the narrow streets and lanes.


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St Mary at Hill (Church)

Above: Looking north at the western end of the church in Lovat Lane, which includes its tower.

The title says ‘St Mary at Hill (Church)’ because there is also a street with exactly the same name that we will call ‘St Mary at Hill (Street)’ to save confusion. Several other streets in the City of London are also named directly after a church standing in the street. It is a curious situation that several streets in the City simply took on the name of the church and, although the church sometimes longer exists, the name has never been changed. The church under consideration is a good example, with the church of St Mary at Hill standing in the street which is also called St Mary at Hill. Notice that the street name is not ‘St Mary at Hill Street’ but just ‘St Mary at Hill’, making it necessary to qualify whether we are talking about the church or the street by that name.

In the same way, the church of St Clement, Eastcheap, stands in Clement’s Lane. Similarly, there was a St Martin church in Martin Lane, a St Nicholas church in Nicholas Lane and St Mary Abchurch still stands in Abchurch Lane. St Dunstan’s Hill still has the ruins of the church of St Dunstan in the East beside it. The street called St Mary Axe once had a church by that name standing in it. St Helen’s Place still has its church called St Helen. There are other examples that could be mentioned.

Returning to St Mary at Hill (Church), it was first mentioned during the time of King John as ‘St Mary de Hull’ which means the church was in existence from at least 1200. According to John Stow, Thomas a Becket was a parson at the church which, if that is correct, would mean that the church was in existence around the year 1150.

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire, when the flames reached the church on Monday 3 September. The church was not completely destroyed. It was later rebuilt 1670-76 by Christopher Wren. He rebuilt the church’s interior and east end but retained its medieval walls on the other three sides. The tower at the western end was also retained. The church is 96 feet long and 60 feet wide. Stepping inside the church we, therefore, see it the same ground-plan as the medieval one that existed before the Great Fire.

Above: The eastern end of the church, with its large overhanging clock, is on the west side of St Mary at Hill (Street).

Overhanging St Mary at Hill (Street), the eastern end of the church has a large clock, driven by a clockwork in the tower at the other end of the building. The mechanism is linked by a long rod running the length of the church.

Over the next three centuries alterations and remodelling to the church were made at various times, first by George Gwilt and then by James Savage. The church survived the bombing during the Second World War but restoration was carried out in 1967 and a new organ was installed in 1971. During further repairs in 1988, the church was badly damaged by fire on the night of 12 May when the roof collapsed and the bell tower was almost completely destroyed. Much of the interior of the church was also destroyed in the fire. The box-pews survived but they are now in store and have not been re-installed in the church.

The church was designated a Grade I listed in 1950. Beside St Mary at Hill (Street) is an adjacent Grade II brick and stone rectory of 1834, designed by James Savage. The church stands on the west side of the street of the same name and extends west to meet Lovat Lane where its tower rises above the narrow thoroughfare. The church has its main entrance under the tower in Lovat Lane, even though the street to the east bears the name of the church.

Between the two streets is a small secluded churchyard, with the church on one side and other buildings surrounding it on the other three. It is typical of how many medieval churchyards once looked. Space in the City in the 15th and 16th centuries was at a premium. The open space that we see surrounding a large church today is much greater than those in earlier times. Over the eastern entrance to the passageway linking St Mary at Hill (Street) with Lovat Lane is curious stonework depicting a skull.


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Coal Exchange

Above: A picture made of the Coal Exchange in 1849, the year it was opened.

Coal had been imported to London by sea since at least medieval times. As times moved on into the 19th century, it is hard to comprehend just how much coal was required to keep London running. Not only were there coal fires in every grate in every house in London but heavy usage was also being made by factories and the emerging power stations. A coal exchange was first mentioned in 1758 in what is now Lower Thames Street. That building was replaced by a new one in 1847-49, to designs of J B Bunning.

The building suffered some damage in the Second World War and it ceased to be used as a coal exchange after the war when the coal industry was nationalised. It was partly converted for use as general offices. In the 1950s plans were being drawn up to provide a new through-route in the City of London, via Lower Thames Street and Upper Thames Street. The scheme was to involve the demolition of various buildings, including the Coal Exchange. Pleas for its preservation were made by various groups, including John Betjeman, the founding member of the Victorian Society. In 1958 the building was listed Grade II. However, the City was determined to see it demolished with one member being quoted as saying ‘We cannot spend time on the preservation of a Victorian building’. Such was the attitude towards preserving the past in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite all the campaigns and protests, it was demolished in November 1962.

The cleared site was then left empty for 10 years while additional land was acquired for the eventual road widening in the 1970s. The whole scheme – from the Tower of London to Blackfriars – was not completed until the 1980s. If the Coal Exchange had remained standing for another 10 years, there would have been a good chance that attitudes to it and similar buildings would have changed and the demolition might not have taken place.

Above: Enlargement of the picture at the top, showing the two figures of dragons bearing the City coat of arms.

Over the ornate entrance were a pair of cast iron dragons which were taken down and now mark the boundary to the City of London when approached from the Victoria Embankment. They have been used as the pattern for the design of other dragons marking each of entrance to the City of London, including two on London Bridge. The copies are not a large as the two originals but they are all greatly admired and photographed.


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London Bridge in 1891

“London in 1891”

This view of London Bridge looks towards the City of London from a point beside the edge of the pavement on the west side of the bridge. Whether the artist sat at the southern end of the bridge or at a point actually on the bridge is hard to tell. However, what he drew in the evocative picture is not hard to explain.

The date is 1891 which is exactly 60 years after the bridge was opened. This was the bridge that was built on a new site just upriver of the first London Bridge (the one with the houses on it). If you are old enough, this is also the bridge that you will have walked across in your younger days because it was not replaced with the present bridge until the late 1960s. The present replacement was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

A quick look at the surface of the bridge in the picture reveals that the roadway was made of stone sets – made from granite blocks. An endless stream of pedestrians is seen to be walking over the bridge on the left-hand pavement – several in top-hats and some wearing bowlers. The late 19th century was still the days of horse-drawn traffic. A tradesman is pushing his barrow, laden possibly with fruit, to a ‘pitch’ where he would then sell the goods to passing pedestrians. Up ahead of him is a cart laden with empty baskets. Don’t forget that only a short distance from the southern end London Bridge was then (and still is) Borough Market, a fruit and vegetable market.

To the right of the man pushing his barrow, a horse-drawn knife-board omnibus is to be seen, laden with passengers on their way to the City. Passengers inside sat facing the direction of travel. Those sitting upstairs sat in two rows, back-to-back, facing the sides of the vehicle. Some readers may remember that, when the modern bus had a conductor, he would shout ‘Plenty of room outside’ when the seats downstairs were all occupied. The term ‘outside’ referred to the early days – as seen in this picture – when passengers did sit outside on the top of the vehicle.

On the right, travelling towards the observer is a constant stream of Hansom cabs. They were designed and patented in 1834 by Joseph Aloysius Hansom. The cabs in the picture appear to be empty. They were, no doubt, returning to the cab-stand at London Bridge Station after taking their ‘fares’ to their place of work in the City. London Bridge Station is just a short distance from the southern end of London Bridge.

We shall now consider the buildings, starting with the one of the far left which is the front of Fishmongers’ Hall. Above the man with the barrow is an elegant white church tower which is probably St Michael, Cornhill. The offices are too tall for it to be possible to see that church from London Bridge today. Just behind the bus is the unmistakable outline of the top of The Monument. To the right of the bus is part of the original Adelaide House, an office block built beside the 1831 London Bridge. If only that office block were still there, it would be easier to see the landmarks behind it. Today the 1925 replacement is so huge that it is almost impossible to see anything of The Monument from this viewpoint.

Behind Adelaide House, we can also see most of the splendid tower of the church of St Magnus the Martyr. The church is still there but, sadly, the office block obscures the tower from the view of pedestrians walking over London Bridge today.


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Monument in 1891

“London in 1891”

This is an easy location to identify but the view today has also undergone drastic changes. The position of the artist, when he drew the picture was on the east corner of Gracechurch Street where it joins with Eastcheap. The artist is looking south, in line with Fish Street Hill where The Monument can be seen half-way down the hill and the elegant tower of St Magnus the Martyr at the bottom of the hill. Notice that the overhanging clock on the tower of St Magnus is clear to see.

That is the easy part of the description. Following on from that, nearly everything else has changed. The artist has shown a very large sign with the words ‘Metropolitan and District Railway’ at the top and an arrow immediately below saying ‘MONUMENT STATION’.

The station at ‘Monument’ opened with the name ‘Eastcheap on 6 October 1884, named after the nearby street and it was renamed ‘The Monument’ on 1 November 1884. As the large sign explains, trains from two companies served the station on the Inner Circle service. It achieved a separate identity as the ‘Circle Line’ in 1949 although its trains were still provided by the District or Metropolitan lines.

The station that the large sign refers to is still there and one of its entrances is still on the west side of Fish Street Hill, almost opposite The Monument. The station is called ‘Monument’ but it is ‘bundled together’ with ‘Bank’ underground station as if they are both side-by-side. As any user of those underground stations knows, it is a long boring march through pedestrian tunnels to interconnect with the two stations.

It should be mentioned in passing that, at the time of the picture, there was also a station called King William Street which was the northern terminus of the City and South London Railway (C&SLR). That station was beside the top end of Monument Street, near the junction with King William Street. It was the first deep-level underground railway in the world (often called ‘The Tube’) and also the first major railway to use electric traction. It was opened to the public on 18 December 1890. Initially, it had stations at Stockwell (the southern terminus), The Oval (now Oval), Kennington, Elephant & Castle’ Borough, and King William Street (which was then the northern terminus). Eventually, the northern extension of the line opened in 1900, by-passing the old King William Street station with a new station at Bank. The station was never used by the public again and a City Plaque now marks its location.

We now turn to looking at the other buildings. Even if you have known the City well for several decades, none of the other buildings is recognisable in any way. The terrace of houses in line with The Monument was demolished sometime after the 1970s and new office buildings stand in their place. The buildings on the far right look very impressive. There is even a large portico in the distance. They were probably bombed or demolished soon after the Second World War. Their sites today consist of all modern office buildings and shops.

This is a really Victorian view which, apart from the church and The Monument, has been completely lost with the passage of time, particularly after the Second World War and due to frantic redevelopment in the 1990s and later.


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