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London Strolling: A Walk in the Square Mile 

The historic heart of London - the Square Mile - is a cluster of historical gems, picnic-perfect patches and more.

Stretching from the Tower of London to Temple along the north side of the River Thames to Chancery Lane in the west and Liverpool Street in the east, London’s oldest quarter is actually about two square miles in size despite being known as ‘The Square Mile’. Nominal quibbles aside, it can still easily be explored on foot and makes the ideal setting for a city adventure. 

 

With centuries old architecture, Roman remains, glittering skyscrapers, medieval walls and 47 churches as well as alleyways, yards, nooks and crannies, there is ample reason to explore this historic commercial hub – before, of course, winding up at our outpost inside The Royal Exchange, by Bank station.   

 

Our advice? Take wrong turns. Not in a sinister, skulking-at-nighttime sort of way - Sweeney Todd used to work around here, you know - but a bit of aimless wandering is just the ticket.   

PICNIC SPOTS IN THE CITY

 

Unfurl a rug and enjoy some tea and fresh food in Postman’s Park, one of the biggest in the City and so named for the postmen and women who used to work at the General Post Office next door. Just north of a little known landmark called St Paul’s Cathedral, it is also home to the Watts memorial, commissioned to the painter and philanthropist GF Watts. The monument is covered in plaques detailing acts of bravery, largely involving the dramatic rescue of children. And what did you do today?   

 

Only a scone’s throw away from Postman’s Park - sorry, stone’s throw away (we had Afternoon Tea on our mind) - is Christchurch Greyfriars Church Rose Garden. During the Middle Ages, this was the site of a Francisian monastery but was turned into a parish church under the dissolution of the monasteries courtesy of Henry VIII. However, that was then destroyed and replaced by a new church built by Sir Christopher Wren, a man whose handiwork has played a large part in the makeup of the City. The church then got another makeover in 1940 - makeover here meaning blown to smithereens during the London Blitz - before blossoming into a rose garden inspired by the floor plan of the original church, with box-edged beds representing the original position of the pews, all overseen by the church’s tower which miraculously survived the bombing. 

 

Reaching back even further into history is Cleary Garden, a tranquil retreat from the bustle of the City and once the home of Roman baths. Today, it is a haven for workers, visitors to the city and people writing guides to the City’s best spots, where it has two terraces that lead to an intimate lawn. The Roman bath house sadly only survives through a few remains, so we’re sorry to those who were hoping to soak in a Roman tub.

 

Roman remains are not uncommon in the Square Mile. In the days when London was known as Londinium, the City was fortified by a wall that was called the London Wall. Its name derives from the fact that it was a wall that was in London. Do read on for more incredible historical facts. Over the years, the Wall has decreased in size, where it survives in fragments. You can find these remains all over the City, but a notable example sits by the Museum of London near the Barbican Centre. 

 

 

Just beneath the Walkie-Talkie building - whose death laser is thankfully defunct - lies the remains of Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden, a parish that was bombed during the Blitz and is now a secluded garden filled with unusual plants. This former church-turned-city-oasis is named after Saint Dunstan, who is said to have survived brushes with leprosy, black magic and even the Devil himself to become the Archbishop of Canterbury - a very tough interview process if you ask us. The shell of the old church is still the centrepiece of the garden, and trees have woven their way through its ancient windows and doorways, along with palm trees that add an unexpectedly tropical touch.

 

 

HISTORICAL GEMS OF THE CITY

 

The Square Mile has been subject to various assaults over the centuries, one of the most famous being the Great Fire of London. No, this is not the name for the flambéing of our Lobster spaghetti dish in our restaurant at the Royal Exchange. The Great Fire was a conflagration that engulfed many parts of central London in 1666, and few buildings escaped its fiery onslaught. However, north of Postman’s Park you will find two survivors: 41 and 42 Cloth Fair, two houses that just so happen to be the oldest houses in the City.

 

Stood directly opposite these two historic homes is the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, which has a patch of green outside that’s ideal for picnics, lunch breaks or as a moment of respite for weary tourists. However, if you were looking for something not quite as great, you’ll find Great St Bart's less self-assured counterpart St Bartholomew-the-Less only two minutes away on foot. 

Now, we don’t want to give you the impression that anything worth visiting in the City is in ruins. Clustered into the Square Mile is a host of perfectly preserved historical wonders. 

 

For example, heading north from Saint Dunstan will lead you to St Katharine’s Cree, a church with a history dating back to the 13th century that has a churchyard garden where City workers can relax and socialise. Plays used to be performed there in the 15th century by travelling actors, and they have even had jazz bands perform during summer events. However, during your amble to St Katharine’s, keep an eye out for London’s smallest public statue The Two Mice Eating Cheese, depicting a mouse on either side of a delicious block of cheese. We’re not sure where they got the cheese from, but it doesn’t look too dissimilar to our own Somerset Reserve cheddar

 

If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a real ale, the City is home to a vast number of taverns and pubs. West of St Katharine’s is the cobblestoned Leadenhall Market, which the eagle-eyed - or perhaps in this case owl-eyed - amongst you may recognise from the Harry Potter films. Here you can find the Lamb Tavern, a historic pub that dates back to 1780, which is nearly as impressive as dating back to 1707. However, there’s another pub that has us beat over in Cornhill - Jamaica Wine House. Known locally as “the Jampot”, it was originally a coffee house. In fact, it was the first ever coffee house in London and was visited by Samuel Peypps in 1660. Pepys was a prolific writer of the 17th century, who has come to be known as the most famous London diarist despite tough competition from the likes of Bridget Jones. But be warned, this old tavern is believed to be haunted.

 

If ghosts, ghouls and the paranormal are your cup of tea, however, you’ve wandered into the right square mile, as the City is teeming with otherworldly activity. Perhaps you’ve heard of the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, a nickname for the Bank of England? In the early 1800s, there was another old lady of Threadneedle Street called Sarah Whitehead. The story goes that her brother who worked at the bank was found guilty of murder and hanged without her knowledge, and when she discovered her brother’s terrible fate she lost her mind and returned everyday to the bank to ask for her brother until the day she died. It is believed that, even to this day, if you find yourself in Threadneedle Street, you’ll encounter Sarah herself enquiring ‘Have you seen my brother?’. 

 

Another church untouched by the numerous assaults waged on the City over the years is St Bride’s, which is tucked away in an alley over on Fleet Street. This 17th century church was designed by Wren and boasts his second highest pinnacle after St Paul’s Cathedral. 

 

Fleet Street is the home to a number of other historical gems. The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a grade II listed tavern that has entertained an impressive roster of famous punters from the past. Charles Dickens - best remembered to the world for his love of Fortnum’s (and a few novels apparently) - regularly drank at this tavern, as did other writers such as G.K. Chesterton and Mark Twain.

 

From literary figures to literary creations, Fleet Street was also the supposed haunt of the demon barber Sweeny Todd whose barbershop was reputed to be next door to the Old Bank of England and the Hen and Chicken Court alleyway (ingredients Mr Todd was not putting into his pies).

 

 

MEMORIALS OF THE CITY

 

The small street of Pudding Lane, whose name derives from the fact that butchers used to transport offal down here to the river, is an unassuming cobblestoned strip that was actually where the Great Fire of London began, when baker Thomas Farriner caused possibly one of the worst cooking mishaps in history. Thankfully the fire has been extinguished for quite some time now, and the Monument to the Great Fire of London by Wren has been erected to commemorate the tragedy on Fish Street. So if your own culinary creations aren’t quite coming out perfectly, do remember that your cooking hasn't left a city in ruin. 

Memorials adorn the Square Mile, honouring those in the arts, sciences and those who have demonstrated awe-inspiring bravery. The National Firefighters Memorial, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral on the Jubilee Walkway, is a tribute to the firefighters who battled the carnage of the Blitz. Their heroism is immortalised by this bronze statue, and they watch over passersby going to and from Millennium Bridge. On the eastern outskirts of the City by Liverpool Street station is the Kindertransport - The Arrival memorial. Wrought and sculpted from bronze, it commemorates the 10,000 Jewish children who escaped Nazi persecution and arrived at the nearby station. Four child sculptures stand with all their wares, while its base features bronze blocks listing the cities from which the children fled.

 

William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the Shakespeare of his day, is depicted in bust form in the tranquil gardens of St Mary Aldermanbury church, commemorating Henry Condell and John Heminges who served as key figures in the production of his First Folio of plays as well as co-partners with him in the Globe Theatre. Dr Johnson, another acclaimed writer from the past, is frequently cited as the most distinguished man of letters in English history thanks to his works such as A Dictionary of the English Language, which has been hailed as one of the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language, so it’s only fitting that his cat be commemorated with a memorial. Yes, sat outside Johnson’s former home in Gough Square is a statue dedicated to his puss Hodge. Almost nothing is known about Hodge’s contributions to the English language, but we do know that Johnson was incredibly fond of him.

 

 

THE NAMES OF THE CITY

 

On the edges of the Square Mile is Bleeding Heart Yard which, despite its gory epithet, actually has a heartwarming backstory. Of course, we’re completely joking. It is purportedly named after the grisly death of one Lady Hatton, a 17th century noblewoman who was murdered by the Spanish ambassador after a Winter Ball. We must stress purportedly, as Mrs Hatton is actually recorded to have died 20 years later from natural causes...


In fact, while we’re on the topic of interesting names, the Square Mile is home to some of the most unusual street names in London, and it is worth having a wander around for a giggle and a gawp at some of its signs. In Limehouse to the East of the Square Mile is Shoulder of Mutton Alley, which would later be the dwelling of the puppeteers Peter Fluck and Roger Law who created the puppets for Spitting Image. Another alley with a name you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else is Hanging Sword Alley, which was populated by several fencing schools and is cited in the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Fortnum’s enthusiast (and occasional writer) Charles Dickens.

 

DINING IN THE CITY

 

If you’re still fleeing from the ghosts over at the Jampot, why not take a detour to The Royal Exchange? Flanked by Cornhill and Threadneedle, this Neoclassical building sits right at the heart of the city and is a hub for the area. It has twice been destroyed by fire; it was first destroyed during the Great Fire of London, so a in order to avoid it ever burning down again a tall wooden tower was built on top of it. In 1838, that caught fire.

However, if you saw it today, you may spot some Eau de Nil panels gently flapping in the breeze. Yes, arguably the most important edifice in the Square Mile’s two millennia of history is this Fortnum’s restaurant, the perfect conclusion to any trek in the City. Take a seat in our sun-drenched (or sometimes simply drenched) heated outdoor terrace, or step inside our spectacular central courtyard and enjoy our seasonal menu under the elegant canopy that crowns our bar.

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