Above: Looking along King William Street, towards the Bank of England Junction from near the junction with Cannon Street.
Seven streets now radiate from the busy junction at the Bank of England – Poultry, Princes Street, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill, King William Street, Lombard Street and Queen Victoria Street. It is a complicated junction from every point of view, so complicated, in fact, that the City Corporation has now banned motorised vehicles from using it at specified times of the day because of the number of accidents involving cyclists.
Most of the streets and lanes in the City date from at least medieval times with many of them having Saxon origins. At the Bank junction, four of the streets certainly date from medieval times but there are three ‘newcomers’ – Princes Street (which was created after the Great Fire of London (1666); King William Street (cut through in the 1820s) and Queen Victoria Street (laid out in the 1860s).
Our concern here is with King William Street. Until the 1800s only Lombard Street ran (sort of) SE from the junction. With the formation of King William Street, the western end of Lombard Street was ‘lost’ to the new layout. It was William IV (reigned 1830-37) who officially opened King William Street because it was designed to carry traffic bound for the new stone London Bridge, opened in 1831.
The first stone London Bridge was built between 1176 and 1209 and it acted as a crossing for about 600 years – a remarkable feat of engineering to last so long. This bridge was narrow and was not able to carry the increasing traffic of the early 19th century. That last sentence sounds familiar even today! A proposal was put forward to construct a new bridge. However, the idea that the old one should be closed to allow for the construction of a new one on the same site was considered unthinkable. A solution was found by keeping the old bridge in operation and constructing a new bridge a short distance upstream of the older one.
This new bridge was duly constructed. On the south side of the Thames, Borough High Street had to be realigned at its northern end to meet the new bridge. On the north side, Gracechurch Street now has a curious curve at its southern end to allow the street to bypass Fish Street Hill and meet with the northern end of the new London Bridge. Because of the expected increase in traffic crossing the new, wider bridge, a new ‘relief road’ was cut through the old street pattern from Bank. A look at a street map of the City will show that parts of Abchurch Lane and Nicholas Lane exist on both sides of King William Street.
The new thoroughfare extends from Bank to an interchange with Cannon Street and Gracechurch Street before leading further south to meet the northern end of London Bridge. It was called King William Street after William IV who officially opened the new bridge in 1831. His wife – Queen Adelaide – officially opened a new office block near London Bridge called Adelaide House. To clarify the situation, she opened newly built Georgian offices on the site. The present, larger Adelaide House was completed in 1925.
The construction of King William Street caused the removal of part of the western end of Lombard Street. It also caused the removal of part of the eastern end of Cannon Street which, in medieval times, was known as ‘Great Eastcheap’. Today’s street known as Eastcheap was then called ‘Little Eastcheap’.