Skinners’ Hall

Above: Looking at the western side of Dowgate Hill. On the left is part of the Dyers’ Hall. The light coloured building, with its four elegant lamp-posts, is the Skinners’ Hall and the red-brick building (on the right) is the Tallow Chandlers.

The Skinners – as you might expect – was originally an association of those engaged in the trade of skins and furs. Such skins were worn by the wealthy for warmth but also to show their status. There were other guilds that were associated with leather – as in belts and items of clothing. There were also guilds working with leather for shoes. In a world where man-made materials for clothing did not exist, all the natural parts of an animal that were not eaten were eagerly sought after and put to good use.

The property in, Dowgate Hill, appears to have been in the possession of the Skinners since the time of Henry III which would be around 1262. The building was also known as Copped Hall. The name implies that the building had a flat or truncated roof, perhaps damaged by fire or in a storm. In 1325 Copped Hall in Dowgate Hill was owned by Ralph Cobham. The Skinners had lost possession of it and it was described as having ‘a ladies parlour, a kitchen and ‘pastrie’, a butter-house and a storehouse’ as well as five shops. At a later date, Cobham left it to the king who reinstated the Skinners in the property.

Above: The large coat of arms, made of Coade Stone, which is high up on the front of the building.

The Great Fire (1666) destroyed all the City around Dowgate Hill and the hall was another casualty. A new hall was built 1668-69 which is still in use. Over the following centuries, some changes were made. In 1791 a new front was added to the hall and decades later some of the fittings and decorations in the hall were altered 1847-48. According to Weinreb, the coat of arms and supports on the outside of the hall is Coade Stone – a man-made artificial stone, formed in a mould, which would have been made the factory as Lambeth between the years 1770 and 1833.

The hall stands on the west side of Dowgate Hill. See the blog for the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall (posted on 24 November 2017) for a labelled map of Dowgate Hill. The entrance doorway of the hall leads through a passageway into a courtyard, in the typical Tudor style. Of the three halls facing onto Dowgate Hill, the Skinners’ Hall is about two or three times the size of the halls of the Tallow Chandlers or the Dyers. The Skinners’ Hall is on the northern and western side of the Dyers, with part of their hall being beside the north side of College Street. The most westerly rooms are beside the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal.


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Tallow Chandlers’ Hall

Above: Tallow Chandlers’ Hall on the west side of Dowgate Hill, at the corner of Cloak Lane. Its exterior is not particularly old. Behind the entrance gates, a passageway leads to a courtyard and the 17th century hall.

Today’s blog is related to the Tallow Chandlers, one of the City Companies. These Companies have their origins in ancient guilds who, over centuries, have worked in the City and applied to become Chartered Companies. The total number today is over 100 with the later ones being formed without having been guilds. Today, only just over 30 Companies have their own hall – all of them within the boundary of the City of London. It is rather a surprise to find that three of them are side-by-side in Dowgate Hill and a fourth hall is close-by, in College Street.

Google maps are not always as useful as they would have you believe and sometimes the labelling is completely wrong. This is one of those times. For this reason, an aerial view of Dowgate Hill is provided at the bottom of this blog along with arrows showing the position of all four halls.

Above: Over the entrance gates is a beautiful depiction of the Company’s coat of arms.

We will now describe the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall. The Company began from humble roots as a trade organisation in the 1200s. Tallow is animal fat and the Tallow Chandlers melted down the fat to make candles. Their hall is just south of Cannon Street which, in the 1200s, was known as ‘Candlewick Street’ because of the guild. Tallow makes poor quality candles but, for those who could not afford better candles, they provided light in people’s homes. Such candles are sticky to the touch and do not burn very brightly. Better quality candles – especially those used in churches – are made from beeswax. Such candles were sold by the Waxchandlers’ Company (which also have a hall).

The site of the Tallow Chandlers’ first hall, in Dowgate Hill, was purchased in 1476. The hall, with adjacent shops, burnt down in the Great Fire (1666) and a new hall, the second one on the site, was completed in 1672. Apart from alterations, the hall is still standing today. The Company was fortunate not to suffer any major damage from bombing during the Second World War.

Above: Aerial view from Google Maps showing the position of all four Company halls. The map will be useful for today’s blog and for subsequent blogs in the coming days.



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St Swithin, London Stone

Above: The original churchyard of St Swithin is situated at the northern end of Salter’s Hall Court.

St Swithin – that’s an unusual dedication to find for a London church. In fact its the only one by that name in the City of London. Swithin (often also spelt Swithun) lived in Saxon times and died in or around AD 862. He became Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He is better known for the tradition that the weather on his feast day (15 July) will continue for 40 days.

A parish church bearing his name used to stand on the north side of Cannon Street – at the junction with St Swithin’s Lane – between St Swithin’s Lane and Salters’ Hall Court. The is believed to have been in existence by 1000 but its earliest recorded mention was in 1236. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire (1666) and later rebuilt 1677-85 by Christopher Wren. That church was to remain standing until the Second World War when it was badly damaged by bombing. The remains were eventually taken down and the site was cleared in 1962. Nothing remains to be seen of the church today, not even a City Plaque. At the northern end of Salters’ Hall Court is the churchyard, now in use as a garden.

Above: A small part of one of the Copper Plates. St Swithin’s church is clear to see with ‘London Stonne’ in the middle of Cannon Street.

So, what about the additional name of ‘London Stone’? How did that come about? The London Stone was a large piece of Clipsham Limestone, a good-quality stone from Rutland often brought to London for building purposes in both the Roman and medieval periods. Quite what the chunk of stone was originally used for is not known for certain. It is believed that it was used in Roman times as a sort of milestone from which distances to other Roman towns were measured. A blog has already been written about London Stone (see 1 June 2016) and many more details can be found there.

Above: Part of Horwood’s map (1799) showing the church of St Swithin at the centre of the map, beside St Swithin’s Lane. The little churchyard (labelled ‘Ch Yd’) is just above and to the left.

The first reference to the ‘London Stone’ was made about 1100 when it was near the middle of the roadway in Cannon Street (then called Candlewick Street). It is shown on one of the Copper Plate map sections (made about 1550) and it is also to be seen on the so-called Agas map (made about 1561). By 1720 what was left of the stone was protected by a small stone cupola built over it. In 1742 it had become a traffic hazard and it was moved, still within its protective cupola, to the north side of the street against the wall of the new Wren church of St Swithin. Two further moves, in 1798 and in the 1820s, placed it eventually where it was to remain for more than 100 years – built into the middle of the church’s south wall.

Above: A print by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in the 1850s showing the north side of Cannon Street with the church of St Swithin and its large overhanging clock. Notice the London Stone (between the two doors of the church). 

The Wren church was gutted by bombing in the Second World War, but the walls were left standing and London Stone remained in place until 1960, when it was moved to the then Guildhall Museum (at that time housed in the Royal Exchange) for safekeeping. After the demolition of the church ruins and the completion of a new building a few yards to the east – originally called the Bank of China – in October 1962, the Stone was placed in a specially constructed grilled and glazed alcove in the wall. It occupied that position until about 2015. Because the 1960s building was being demolished ahead of new offices on the same site, the stone was carefully removed to the Museum of London where it is currently on show until the new offices are completed. The stone can be moved back to its rightful position in Cannon Street once more.


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Mithras, Temple of

Above: Footings of the walls of the Temple of Mithras discovered in the ground in 1954, seen in their original position.

Although today the City of London stands on land that was once the Roman township (called Londinium) comparatively little evidence for the Roman buildings that stood on that land was discovered until after the Second World War. For example, the foundations of the Roman Fort, at the NW extremity of the Roman Wall, were not found until a few years after the War. The site of the Roman Amphitheatre was not discovered until as late as the 1990s. Although the position of the Basilica (or Roman town hall) with its Forum (or market-place) were known in Victorian times, the whole plan was not completely mapped out until new offices were built on the site also in the 1990s.

Another building – the Temple of Mithras – was not discovered until 1954, when archaeologists carried out a rescue dig 20 feet below modern ground level. The large site was nothing more than rubble, left over from the bombing in the Second World War. It was to become a very large office block, erected for the insurance company Legal and General, called Bucklersbury House. The building was named after a nearby narrow medieval thoroughfare by that name.

These days, the owners of any new building site in Central London are required by law to provide time for archaeologists to explore the land, before any building work takes place. A dig is carried out to establish if it contains any interesting historic remains. No such laws existed in the 1950s and developers would often refuse access to archaeologists on the grounds that it was holding up building work by the contractors.

Above: Public visitors were allowed a close-up view of the temple for a few days before work on Bucklersbury House commenced.

Once evidence had been found on the Bucklersbury site – in the form of the foundations of a large stone temple – news soon appeared in the newspapers and long queues formed when the public waited patiently to obtain a view of the archaeological dig in progress. Few members of the public had taken much interest in an archaeological dig before and it certainly stirred up concerns for preserving the City’s past. All this enthusiasm was not shared by the developers and it is said that Winston Churchill became involved, asking for more time to allow a thorough excavation the site. When permission was sought to keep the remains of the temple and put it on show permanently, the answer came back with a very definite ‘No’. Had all that happened today, legal provisions would have forced the developers to allow the building to remain and the very unsatisfactory compromise that followed would not have been permitted.

Above: Historians holding the marble head of Mithras for press reporters.

If you visit the Museum of London, you will find many of the important finds from the excavation on display, including the large head of the statue of Mithras. That head was not found until the last hours of the last day of the archaeological dig and the find was only made by chance. Tantalisingly, only a few pieces of what must have been a really large statue were still on the site. The developers insisted that the dig was ended and work began to erect the new offices. The stonework from the temple walls was lifted, stone by stone, and reconstructed on a piece of empty land beside Queen Victoria Street, to the north of the new office block. The final insult was that the ground between the stones was laid out with crazy-paving, without conceding any sensitivity to what the original historic site had looked like. Of course, the damage had been done and the original stones, once lifted, were laid out to show the original size and shape of the temple but they were no longer of any archaeological value.

All that was a long time ago – over 60 years ago to be precise. Techniques for archaeological digs have certainly moved on and legal requirements on developers have thankfully been tightened up. In 2010 the site of the large offices was levelled, in preparation for new offices to be built. This time the archaeologists were given time to explore the whole site and make their assessment of the ground. The dig was really rewarding. Although the 1950s offices had been constructed on the site, the archaeologists were surprised by how much evidence for Roman London still remained to be found. The site is crossed by the ancient River Walbrook and, because the ground was so wet, many artefacts that might have rotted if the ground had been dry were still able to be recovered and eventually put on display.

Above: The remains of the Temple of Mithras when they were laid out beside Queen Victoria Street. Notice the addition of crazy-paving between the walls of the temple.

The new offices are the London headquarters of Bloomberg. It is the only office building anywhere in the world that the company actually owns. Not only was time provided for a detailed archaeological dig on the large site but a designated exhibition area was provided within the plans so that some of the items found could be displayed. It took seven years before the Bloomberg Building was completed. The original stonework of the temple has been moved back to its original position and rebuilt to look – as far as is possible – like it was when it was first found. Of course, the intrinsic value of the original stonework has been lost for all time but at least the stones have been placed to resemble the photographs taken of the original site. The whole concept presents a visual impression of the Roman temple remains. As the publicity for the exhibition puts it, ‘the cultural hub showcases the ancient temple, a selection of the remarkable Roman artefacts found during the recent excavation and a series of contemporary art commissions responding to one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites’. The exhibition area is free for the public to visit but advance booking online is required for a timed tour. All details are on the Web – just search for ‘Mithraeum’. Of course, it should be explained that the exhibits of the Temple of Mithras, that have been on display in the Museum of London for many years, will remain at the museum. However, there are many artefacts that have not been exhibited before and they can be seen at the new Mithraeum, whose entrance is on the west side of the street called Walbrook.

For all the aspects of the Temple of Mithras site that went wrong in the 1950s, the end result was that the Temple was at least able to be seen by passers-by. Those exploring the City during the weekends are able to wander around its streets and discover unusual features of its history – including the remaining parts of the Roman Wall, the occasional monastic remains and lone towers from long-demolished City churches. It is all part of the joy of seeing features of London that are a surprise as you come across them. The remains of the Temple of Mithras are once more ‘locked away’ so that they can only be viewed at set times and they are no longer able to be seen by pedestrians passing by. London is for everybody and the more that ancient remains are on permanent display – even if it is behind a plate glass window – the better it is for everybody.


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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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