The Square Mile

The Dragon is the Symbol of
                    the City of London and can be seen on Buildings all
                    over the Square MileThe Dragon is the Symbol of the City of London
                    and can be seen on Buildings all over the Square

London was once the capital of the civilised world - its powerhouse was the square mile of the City - which also provided the motive: trade. It is still the world's trading capital with over 500 financial institutions, more, it is said Japanese banks than Tokyo, and more American ones than New York. Sadly, it suffered much bombing during the war and much destructive development since: only two modern buildings are worthy of attention: the Broadgate, north of Liverpool Street, and Lloyd's sumptuous ultra-modern edifice. The much-vaunted Peckham Library fails at the first hurdle, it's impressive to the eye, but hardly functional - which sums up a lot of the modern 'Cool Britannia' school.

It's often remarked by visitors to the West End that there seems to be a lack of churches in London: this is because they are crammed into the City, far too many to serve today's atheistic populace (Mammon is better served with banks -Panorama of the City of London at the latest survey fewer than one million believers attend church on a regular basis in the whole of England) and some are relegated to monuments or the private chapels of the guilds.

The city is also well supplied with restaurants and watering holes, but the presence of so many rich merchants has driven up the cost of dining there, and the working hours have made the place a desert after 19:00. The sights of the city can therefore be split up into three categories: Churches, Mercantile institutions and historic remains of the old city. A good guide to events happening in the city is theCity Events List which also lists church services as well as recitals, concerts and lectures.

The best way to explore the city is on foot - on one of our City walks.

We recently read This fascinating article about the abolition of Britain's slave trade and how it was organised from humble premises at 2, George Yard, near Bank - something we weren't aware of. So the city does have some 19th century heroes along with the villains...!

City Churches

For maps of where to find these churches follow the links at the bottom of this section

St Helen's Interior ST HELEN'S BISHOPGATE Old church where Shakespeare used to worship - exquisitely reconstructed after bomb damage, it has more monuments than any other city church. It was built on the site of a pagan temple, and dates its inception to the 4th century conversion of Constantine - and is dedicated to his mother Helena. The choir stalls are 15thC and the font, pulpit and doors, 17thC. Generally open 10- 6 weekdays. more

ST STEPHEN'S WALBROOK famed in the early 1700s for its exquisite architecture (the Italians admired it as the model for a new school of architecture), it's more famous today for being the founding place of The Samaritans charity, by the pastor, Chad Varah. Has the best acoustics of any church in the country, thanks to the positioning of the dome - it was used by Wren as a rehearsal for St Pauls. The occasional choir concerts and rehearsals are worth lingering for - such is the acoustic. Most of the church furniture is 17thC, and Sir John Vanburgh is buried here. Has strong links with the Grocers' company. Mon to Fri 10am to 4pm (3pm on Fri) more

ST MARY ABCHURCH One of Wren's prettiest churches and has scarcely altered since it was built. Wren got his most talented friends to do the interiors, which still survive, especially the reredos, by Grinling Gibbons. It's now a guild church and only open in the mornings. Mon to Thurs 10am to 2pm more

ST LEONARDS SHOREDITCH The site has been occupied by a church since the 1100s, but the present building, by George Dance, dates from 1740: the village stocks and whipping post are in the gardens.

                      Spitalfields Looks splendid as you approach it from Brushfield Street, alongside Spitalfield market. One of Hawksmoor's masterpieces, Bow Bellsit has an octagonal tower and magnificent columns on the front, but the interior is spartan and the crypt used to treat alcoholics. 

city walk pages for details. Opening Times Mon to Fri 6:30am to 6pm (4pm on Friday) more

ST BARTHOLOMEWS See our city walk pages for details. Opening Times Mon-Fri 08:30 to 17:00 Sat 10:30 to 13:30 Sun 08:00 to 20:00 more

ST MARY WOOLNOTH Strangely fronted, on the corner of King William Street and Lombard street. The Woolnoth refers to its founder, Wulfnoth a Saxon prince, on the site of the Roman temple of Concordia. Seems to have existed in its present form since 1273, and the Great Fire damage was repaired by Wren, and rebuilt later by Hawksmoor. The interior is inspired by the craze for things Egyptian which was prevalent at the time. Bank tube station is excavated directly beneath. Edward Lloyd, who founded Lloyd's coffee house, which became Lloyds of London is buried here. It is now a guild church. Mon to Fri 7:45am to 5pm more

ST BOLTOPHS BISHOPSGATE See our city walk pages for details.Mon to Fri 8am to 5:30pm

ST KATHERINE KREE , Leadenhall St. Mon to Fri 10:30am to 4pm Survived the Great Fire. Although built in 1630, is a Renaissance-Style building. The outside walls appear Tudor, but with a classic porch and trimmings. The interior is similarly hybrid with classical columns supporting Renaissance arches but with Tudor clerestory. The ceiling bears the arms of 17 Livery companies. The organ was played on by Handel, Wesley and Purcell  more

ST ANDREWS UNDERSHAFT Also in Leadenhall Street. Derives its name from the unusually tall maypole which was erected next to the church - the maypole was denounced as heathen and burnt in 1549. Not damaged in the Great fire, has traces of various buildings and rebuildings in 1520, 1627, 1684, 1830 and 1875. The organ dates from 1696. Hans Holbein is buried here. more

HOLY SEPULCHURE WITHOUT NEWGATE Another church founded by Henry I's jester, Rahere after he gave up the cap and bells for the Prior's cowl in the early 12th century. It was here that the Knights of the Crusade set out for their disastrous and bloody campaigns in the east. It provided (little) succour to prisoners in Newgate Jail, destined for execution. Has strong associations with musicians and a strong reputation for the quality of its music - Henry Wood, founder of the Promenade concerts was christened and buried here. It's the headquarters of the Royal School of Church music. Wed: Noon to 3pm more

ST BENET'S PAULS WHARF Charming Wren church, sadly for most of the past 20 years it was virtually always closed and when open, had services in Welsh - to about 7 people. It has stopped Welsh services and is looking for something else to do.. is opposite the college of Arms and as such can be seen on our City Walk. Uncharacteristic for Wren the inside sis almost a square and the walls co-incide at the same angles. Inigo Jones was buried here and his monument is inside. 

ST BOLTOPH'S ALDGATE. Originally a guild church, then a priory, then crown property, this historic church has been much altered since it was founded in about 1000 AD. The present building, by Dance, dates from 1744 but was altered by Bentley, who did much work on Westminster Abbey. The organ of 1676 still exists and the bells date back to 1744. There are several monuments inside, especially one to two knights, reunited with their maker on Tower Hill's execution block for being catholics. St Boltophs The author Daniel Defoe (buried in Bunhill fields -see our city walks) was married here, and gives a vivid description of the plague pits in the yard in his account of the great plague that preceded the great fire of 1666. Opening Times Mon to Fri 11am to 3pm

ST BOLTOPHS ALDERSGATE One of the four St Boltoph's built near the old gates of the city for the relief of travelers, named after the 7th century Saxon Abbot Boltoph who was a precursor to St Christopher (an entirely fictitious saint, now exposed and decanonised). Only slightly damaged in the Great fire, but was rebuilt in 1788 anyway. Much nicer inside than its outside would give hint to - the nearby Postman's Park abuts the yard, laid out as a park itself. Underneath the shelter in the yard are over a hundred plaques to brave citizens who risked their lives saving others. The Museum of London is nearby. Mon to Fri 10:30am to 3pm 

ST CLEMENTS, EASTCHEAP Form whence 'Oranges and Lemons, say the bells of St Clements'. One of Wren's -plainest churches, though the parishoners were well pleased with it at the time. more

ST DUNSTANS IN THE EAST Idol lane, ruins of this old church are remarkable for the very beautiful secluded gardens which have grown up around them - a real oasis of calm in the city. more

ST DUNSTAN IN THE WEST Dates from 1185. Has a bust to William Tyndale who preached here. John Donne was also rector here. And Izaac Walton (of fishing fame) worshiped here. Samuel Pepys used the church as a place to pick up pretty serving-girls - but had little luck as his diary laments. The clock has two figures, of Gog and Magog who mark the time. Just inside the doorway are old statues of King Lud and his two sons. Also used by the Romanian Orthodox Church, and has a fine 19thC icon screen from Budapest. Opening Times Tues 11am - 3 pm   Website.

ST ETHELBURGA'S BISHOPSGATE - currently being restored, and not visible behind the hoardings. 

ST ETHELREDA See our city walk pages for details. Opening Times Mon-Fri 07:30-19:00

ST JAMES GARLICKHYTHE - see our city walk pages for details. Mon to Fri 10am to 4pm

ST MAGNUS MARTYR Lower Thames street - the end place of our City walk, this church dates back prior to the Norman Invasion of 1066. Rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, it stood at the foot of the old London Bridge and as such the frontage has been much altered. TS Eliot admired the church, and described it in 'The Waste Land'. Has a remarkable organ from 1712 and plenty of statues, monuments and gilded sword rests. Tues to Fri 10am to 4pm / Sun 10am to 1pm

ST MARGARET'S LOTHBURY founded in 1197, but burned down in 1440 and 1666. Rebuilt by Wren in 1690 - has exceptional wood carvings within, garnered from other Wren churches damaged, burned or decommissioned.

ST OLAVES, HART STREET, named after the Norwegian King Olaf, an ally of Ethelred the Undready who fought the Danes in the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. Has Pepys' monument to his wife Elizabeth (who seemingly died of grief after finding him in flagrente with their serving maid) Pepys himself is buried in the nave. MotherSt Paul's Goose is also buried here as well as the 17th C's 'Patient Zero': Mary Ramsey who brought the great plague to London. Mon to Fri 10am to 5pm 

ST PAULS See our attractions page for details

ST MARY ALDERMARY See our city walk pages for details. Thurs and Fri 11am to 3pm

Note: As these churches are staffed often by volunteers, the opening times can suddenly change without warning - especially if the vicar is called away on parish duties. 

Excellent site on City Churches
Another excellent site - with colour photographs

Guild and other mercantile buildings

The GuildhallThe history of London is evenly divided between Arts, Politics and Trade, and to understand how it evolved into its current system, the guild system, and City Livery societies are the key. The crafts guilds originated in the 12th century as a way of restricting entry into various crafts - they also functioned as 'friendly societies' linked with religious fraternities, guaranteeing the costs of a funeral and sufficient prayers to guarantee heavenly admission.

These guilds or misteries (from the Italian word mestiere, meaning a trade) functioned like trades unions, but also set prices and controlled quality. They were, however monopolies, and the consumer was not always better off for their existence. Full Guild members (ie employers) were entitled to wear the uniform or Livery of their guild, but their workers also were members, in a lower order.

The guilds still choose the Lord Mayor, and administer the city, and are not remotely democratic, membership being by apprentiship, payment or inheritance. However, on the plus side, the companies do much charitable and educational work, and endow universities and research centres, and enjoy sumptuous dinners in palatial surroundings in their Guildhalls. They also maintain many of the city's historic churches.

Most famous Londoners were members of the Guilds, Caxton was a Mercer, and the two Pitts were Grocers - membership does not restrict one's choice of profession. Nor does it limit their philanthropy: the Fishmongers run an art college, the professor of English at Oxford is paid by the Goldsmiths. Their history and traditions are fascinating and the Guildhall, on Gresham Street, is the best place to find out about it. 

Guildhall - see our City walks pages for more details or see their website.

Apothecaries Hall : on Blackfriars Lane, just south of St Paul's, well preserved building dating from 1688, in a pleasant courtyard that is open shop hours, but closed at weekends.

Drapers Hall, Throgmorton St - former residence of Oliver Cromwell, and used by General Monck, who lead the restoration. Most of the building dates from 1667 and 1772, following two fires. Pleasant walled garden.

Goldsmiths, Foster Lane, EC2, renaissance-style building dating from the early 19th C, the interior incorporates much of the old 1669 hall.

Merchant Taylors Hall, Threadneedle Street - although bombed during the war, much remains, and the rest has been reconstructed, of the hall that stood on the site since 1347. The kitchens have been used continuously since 1425. The building incorporates elements from the 14th and 17th centuries.

Skinners Hall, Dowgate Hill, EC4. The hall has stood on the present site since the late 14thC, though the old hall was burned down in the Great Fire, rebuilt soon after, but bombed in the war, it's been extensively restored and retains much of the original interior. 

Stationers Hall. In a small court just north of St Paul's (go up the allyway opposite Ludgate Circus). Dates from 1673, though refronted in 1800. Restored after bombing in the war. It used to control the publication of books until 1911. Just round the corner is Amen Court and Amen corner - the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's.

Vinters Hall, Upper Thames St, largely dates from 1671, following rebuilding of the old hall (1351) following the Great Fire. Largely survived the war intact, has splendid court rooms and an impressive dining hall. The Vinters share ownership of the Swans on the Thames with the Dyers' Company and the Crown.

Watermen's Palladian hall is in St Mary-at-Hill, near Billingsgate, and dates from the late 18th C

Historic remains

These are all covered in our City Walks section with a route that will take you to all the major sights, and many beautiful minor ones too. 
Guidebook to what to see
                      and do in London

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