12th Century · 19th Century · 20th Century · City of London

Temple Church: the hidden church founded by the Knights Templar

The term “hidden gem” gets bandied around a lot in relation to all sorts of places in London – bars and restaurants, museums, galleries and historic buildings.  It’s a bit of an overworn phrase, but the subject of today’s post definitely fits the criteria for a hidden gem: small and off the beaten track, pretty and perfectly formed.

Through a little gateway on Fleet Street lies the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession.  It’s a curious name – one that always intrigued me when I was younger, going through Temple Station whilst on the District Line and wondering if there actually was a temple there.  There is no temple, but amid the chambers of barristers is a little old church that has a history going all the way back to the Knights Templar.

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12th Century · 16th Century · City of London

St Bartholomew the Great: a Romanesque gem in the City

Nestled between pubs, restaurants and the hospital buildings of St Bart’s on West Smithfield is a Tudor gatehouse.  During the week office workers, hospital staff and the traders of nearby Smithfield Market hurry past this structure without giving it a second glance, but groups of people on guided tours usually stop outside this rather incongruous site.  The gatehouse marks the entrance to the City of London’s oldest parish church, St Bartholomew the Great, a rare survivor from the Great Fire, albeit much changed from its early years.

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17th Century · 18th Century · City of London

Pye Corner: Flames, poltergeists and bodysnatchers

Pye Corner, the site where the Great Fire of London famously came to an end in 1666, has a long and grisly history of which the Great Fire is only one chapter.  Accounts of the Great Fire tell us that the Fire began at a bakery in Pudding Lane and ended three days later (having consumed 13,000 houses and 87 churches) at Pye Corner.  Christopher Wren’s towering Monument to the Great Fire of London is close to Pudding Lane, but where is Pye Corner?

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1st-5th Centuries · City of London

A Roman house and baths hidden under the streets of London

Lower Thames Street isn’t exactly a promising-looking place when it comes to searching for relics of Roman-era London.  The wide, busy road cuts through the City, and the buildings that line it are mostly modern, concrete and uninspiring.  Yet underneath one of these buildings something wonderful has been preserved: the ruins of a Roman bath house.

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19th Century · City of London

The Postman’s Park and the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

London’s Square Mile is notoriously short of green space.  A crowded maze of winding streets for many centuries, the City of  London was originally bound by the ancient Roman walls and as the city expanded open spaces became further and further away for those living in the dirty and overcrowded centre of town.  Although the Royal Parks of London have a longer history, it was the Victorians who first advocated a wider movement for open spaces in Britain’s industrialising towns and cities.  Much of the reasoning behind the parks movement came from the belief that the widespread disease in urban areas came from dirty air – or ‘miasma’ – and parks were seen as a way to improve the health of those who could not afford gardens or country retreats of their own.

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20th Century · City of London

The Barbican: rising from the ashes of old Cripplegate

It’s quite easy to get lost in the maze of highwalks in London’s Barbican Estate, and to some it may be disorientating to discover a medieval church in the middle of the Barbican’s brutalist sprawl.  St Giles without Cripplegate is a rare survivor of the Great Fire – even if it didn’t fare too well during the Blitz – and its name is one of the last remaining references to this ancient corner of the Square Mile.

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City of London

Sifting through the stories about the London Stone

Like many of the sites and objects detailed in this blog, it’s quite possible to walk past the London Stone and never realise that it is there.  It’s easy to miss the grate pictured below, which is situated at street level on the front of a nondescript modern building on Cannon Street in the City of London.

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The London Stone has a long and singularly odd history, with its origins shrouded in legends, fairytales and hearsay.  Similar to the superstition surrounding the ravens of the Tower of London, a saying goes that “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so will London flourish.”  However, like the ravens, it is likely that this romantic myth dates from the Victorian period, although both superstitions still persist today.

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