Above: View looking west from near Moorgate in 2011. The footbridge and the high-walk (on the right) was demolished in 2014. The unusual office development, built above the junction of London Wall with Wood Street and known as ‘125 London Wall’ is seen above the roadway.
The name ‘London Wall’ can have two meanings. One is the Roman Wall around the City, built by the Romans, also known as the Roman Wall or City Wall. The other is the street in the City of London by the same name. In this case, we are looking at the street.
One section of the street runs east from the junction with Moorgate to join onto Wormwood Street (which ends at Bishopsgate). That section has changed very little over several centuries. It has remained unchanged from its original alignment and width since the Second World War.
After the Second World War, most of the land in the City around the western section of London Wall (west of Moorgate) was completely laid waste. It was, therefore, the ideal opportunity (as the planners saw it) to realign the western part and make it much wider. We are talking about the 1950s and planners had a dream that motor cars would be the ‘saviour of mankind’. We now know that they were very seriously wrong. In their warped little minds, planners saw everyone in London living in high-rise blocks of flats and everyone working in thin, narrow office blocks that soon became christened ‘pencil boxes’ by the general public.
The new western part of London Wall was no exception. The planners laid out a new road, twice as wide as before the Second World War on a slightly different alignment. It was a dual-carriageway, lined with three or four slim tower-block offices on each side. Instead of each tower block facing the new roadway, it was at an odd angle to the line of the carriageway.
All of that was completed by 1960, if not before. The general idea had been to extend London Wall further west but, of course, that would have required the demolition of St Bartholomew’s Hospital to continue its line. The planners, not thinking of the consequences, had intended that London Wall would be linked up with Westway and it would bring all that traffic right into the centre of the City. As we all know now, the more you build roads, the more traffic will fill them.
So the dual-carriageway stood in splendid isolation – as it still does. One other piece of madness was that planners were also concerned about pedestrians stepping off the kerb and being hit by the traffic. To prevent this happening, so-called pedestrian ‘high-walks’ were laid out on either side of London Wall, with pedestrians having to climb long staircases to reach the high-walks and then needing foot-bridges to enable them to cross the dual-carriageway.
Above: View looking west in the early 1970s from the same footbridge that is to be seen in the view at the top of this article. This view shows more clearly the wide high walk on the north side of London Wall (on the right). Notice that the office block now over the junction with Wood Street is not to be seen. Where the footbridge in the distance is sited became the large block containing the Museum of London which had not been started when this picture was taken.
A decade or so after London Wall was completed as a road, the high-walks had still not been completed at the western end (near Aldersgate Street). The new Museum of London had also been planned in the 1960s but it was not completed until the mid-1970s, finally opening in 1976. The plans for the new building included the main entrance about 40 feet up the side of the south facing wall (where, in fact, it still is). This would have been perfectly reasonable if the western end of the high-walk had been completed – but it wasn’t. So, when the museum opened, the only way for the public to gain access was via a narrow concrete set of staircases, on the east side of the new building, actually constructed to act as an emergency fire exit! Since it was hard to find the staircase, many members of the public, keen to see the new museum showing the history of Greater London, came to the building, could not easily find any way of getting in and often left frustrated and returned home.
Another year went by before the high-walk between Wood Street and the Museum of London was finally completed – around 1977 or 1978.
It was not long after this that the planners began to have serious doubts concerning the ugly ‘pencil-box’ offices lining London Wall and they were gradually taken down over a period of time between 1980 and 2012. An unusual office development, designed by Terry Farrow, was constructed over London Wall at the junction with Wood Street. Initially called ‘Alban Gate’, its name is now ‘125 London Wall’. Another new large office was constructed just west of the Moorgate junction, designed by Norman Foster and built about 2003, called Moor House. That saw the last of the ‘pencil boxes’ removed completely.
Above: View, also in the early 1970s, looks east (towards Moorgate). The curved kerb (bottom right-hand corner) is the north end of Noble Street. Notice the long staircases that pedestrians were expected to climb to reach the high walk. The staircases seen in the picture led to the Podium pub (mentioned in the text). All the office blocks, the concrete footbridge and the high-walk seen in this picture have all been demolished.
In 2014 it was decided to redevelop the land between Moor House and Wood Street (which is on the north side of London Wall). During the summer the high-walk was demolished. On that particular part of the high-walk, it was wider than at any other part, with hexagonal-shaped shops and even a pub, also in concrete, called ‘The Podium’. It is worth pointing out that, due to lack of passers-by, those shops were in some cases never let over the entire time that they stood there. By November 2014 everything was removed and we await the next stage of the new development. Putting it another way – apart from the dual-carriageway, all the evidence of the 1950s plans was finally swept away by November 2014. Nobody has mentioned how much money was wasted over those intervening 60 years!