As the Covid-19 lockdowns come to an end, I wanted to write something different from the usual and so today I will look back at how I spent some of my free time. Many of us took on new activities and projects; one of mine was to walk every single street in the City of London.
Just to be clear, in London we were always allowed out once per day for exercise, so no rules were broken in doing this project.
Now Strava will be familiar to all you cyclists out there but was new to me, while Statshunters collects all the activities from Strava and puts them onto a single map.
The red lines showing the streets I walked, so I can now state with a 99% confidence level that I walked every street, lane, alley, square, circus, court and yard in the City of London, of which there are more than a hundred. (Note there are no Roads in the City of London).
Each of my walks started and returned to the same location; Monkwell Square, next to the Barbican and close to the northern edge of the Roman Wall, the ruins of which are still visible, see here and here.
It took 22 separate walks between the 8th of May and the 3rd of June, totaling 132 km (82 miles) and 25 elapsed hours, to complete my goal of walking every single street.
As the City is also known as the Square Mile, it is very walkable, just with such a dense street layout that it takes a lot of time.
The details and routes are on my Statshunters page.
To see these, please click here and once on the site, click Close and then Zoom into the Map.
You can also select each activity (walk) from the top left menu and see it’s route and the photos I took.
City of London History
The fact that the City of London was settled in AD 50 by invading Romans is well known, what is less well known is that some of streets that exist today are on the same location as gravel streets that existed in AD 50.
Namely Cannon Street, Eastcheap and Lombard Street. Next time you walk along one of these, just think back that these sames routes existed almost two thousand years ago and people walked them going about their business.
The first bridge over the Thames also dates from this time and was close to today’s London Bridge.
The clear boundary of the City of London is the Thames on one side and then starting from the Tower of London in the east, extends all the way to Middle Temple on the Embankment. Then up Chancery Lane as far as Holborn and back east along Charterhouse Street to Smithfield, down to Moorgate, up towards Spitalfields and then down to Aldgate and back to Tower Hill.
The old Roman wall which encircled the City as it was then, still has visible sections with medieval fortifications in places such as Tower Hill and just south of the Barbican.
The seven City Gates no longer exist, but their names are well known localities; Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate, Newgate and Ludgate.
For reading, research and pleasure, I recommend:
- Peter Ackroyd’s, “London, The Biography” for an engaging an detailed account of London’s history.
- The blog, A London Inheritance, has fascinating details and photos from the post-war period.
- The Museum of London, when it opens, is the place to see and learn more.
On starting out, the emptiness of the streets in broad daylight was the strangest experience.
Standing in Bank and looking down any of the six major streets that lead away, there were no people in sight.
A huge bustling metropolis turned into a deserted movie set.
Which naturally brings out the desire to snap pictures to capture the moment.
On my first walks, I would pass a building and recollect a meeting I had in there, recently or years ago, but that soon gave way to the strangeness of seeing every office deserted except for a few with a security guard in a silent reception.
And what else stood out?
- First the empty streets themselves, cleared of traffic and people, allowed my mind to concentrate and see some of these streets for the first time
- Lothbury and Throgmorton Street, Birchin Lane and Lombard Street, EastCheap and Great Tower Street, one of my frequent routes, became a new experience to be savoured.
- Then the Churches, of which at one time there were 126 in the City of London.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral the most spectacular and still dominating the skyline from across the Thames, but many other gems from St. Bartholomew the Great founded in 1123 to the ruins of St. Dunstan in the East.
- Then the sheer number and variety of business names listed in receptions, from obscure names to global multi-nationals, all with an outpost or an HQ in a building, now deserted with swathes of empty desks and blank monitors, the staff all working from their homes
- Spectacular buildings with stunning architecture, the glass and steel towers around Bishopsgate, serving as a back drop to the Royal Exchange in Bank
- The history of trade, represented by the Livery Companies, medieval trade guilds, many retaining buildings (Barbers, Brewers, Carpenters, Drapers, Goldsmiths and Mercers to name a few), hugely important to the governance of the City of London Corporation, the local authority dating from a Royal Charter granted by William the Conqueror in 1067.
- Street names that evoked their trades, Bread Street, Milk Street, Wood Street, Ironmonger Lane.
- Lawyers and Inns of Court to the west, Fleet Street synonymous with News, Ludgate Hill with Friaries and Religion up to St. Paul’s, then Cheapside a historic thriving market street, Bow Church with it’s famous bells, Threadneedle Street with the Bank of England, Bishopsgate with its skyscrapers, Fenchurch Street the heart of Insurance, continuing onto Aldgate and then down to the Tower of London
- The sheer number of Pubs, London known for an excessive drinking culture from at least the thirteenth century onward, many with memorable names such as The Hung, Drawn & Quartered, The Walrus and the Carpenter, the Jamaica Inn and the Old Doctor Butler’s Head.
- The Coffee Houses of the eighteen century are long gone, but the modern Coffee chains still serve a similar purpose to this day, a place to meet, conduct business and exchange news
And there was and is a lot more.
Enough of words, time for a few pictures I took along the way.
To end, let’s look back to look forward.
From the Great Fire of 1666, when most of the City was destroyed.
To recurring plagues from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries.
London has re-emerged and continued to thrive.
The recent Covid pandemic, pales alongside that history.
No doubt a changed city will emerge after lockdown.
Probably with more walking and cycling and less cars.
Certainly we will see empty buildings fill up again.
As the great metropolis, resumes the noise of activity.
Information exchanged, money being made, life being lived.