This fascinating 5km (3 mile) circular walk takes you through the historic streets of The City of London. Here you will find the monument to the Great Fire of London, The Guildhall, Royal Exchange, Bank of England, Mansion House, Dick Whittington’s House, the famous Bow Bells and of course the Tower of London! Witness the old and new with the contemporary steel of the new Lloyds Building sitting right next to the grand Leadenhall Market. Discover London’s Livery Halls, find out about London’s great narrator Samuel Pepys and visit old pubs which have existed since before the Great Fire of 1666!
We will start this walk at the back of the Tower of London (though as this walk is circular feel free to start at any point).
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Above: The Tower of London
The Tower of London was founded near the end of 1066 during the Norman Conquest of England. The famous White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and used as a prison from 1100 all the way through until 1952, although it’s main purpose was that of Royal residence and Palace. Some famous prisoners over the years have included Queen Elizabeth 1 and Sir Walter Raleigh. Despite it’s dark reputation in history as a place of torture and death, coining the phrase being “sent to the tower”, it only ever saw 7 executions up to the World Wars in the 20th Century. Today, the Tower of London is an extremely popular tourist attraction, and where you can view the Crown Jewels. For more information please visit https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/
Facing the river, with the Tower of London in front of you and between you and the river, head to your right towards Tower Hill Terrace. Walk down here onto Petty Wales, past Lower Thames Street, and take in the view of the river (Map Point 1).
Above: Tower Bridge from The Tower of London
Walk back up and turn left into Gloucester Court. Walk along here to the main road, also called Lower Thames Street. Cross at the nearby crossing to the other side of Lower Thames St. Down on your left is Custom House. The current building is used, appropriately, by HMRC – Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, but a Custom’s House of some sort has stood on or close to this site since the 14th Century, with a wool custom house being mentioned as early as 1377.
Continue along Great Tower Street and turn left into St Dunstan’s Hill. Follow this down to the entrance on your right into the Churchyard (Map Point 2). Have a look into the church here where some lovely gardens have been made.
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Go across the church gardens to come out on Idol Lane, turn left into Idol Lane then right into St Dunstan’s Lane. At the end turn right into St Mary at Hill and continue up to the main road Eastcheap. Cross over here where safe and continue straight on up Rood Lane. Turn left into the pedestrianised courtyard in front of the “walkie talkie” building at 20 Fenchurch St (Map Point 3).
The Sky Garden at the top of this building is a unique public space that spans three storeys and offers 360 degree uninterrupted views across the City of London. Visitors can wander around the exquisitely landscaped gardens, observation decks and an open air terrace of what is London’s highest public garden. Entry to the Sky Garden is free, but please note space is strictly limited and visits must be booked online in advance at https://skygarden.london/sky-garden.
Continue your walk in front of this building and turn left onto Philpot Lane. Turn left again back onto Eastcheap, crossover where safe, and turn right into Lovat Lane. Walk down here, with some great views of The Shard over the river, to the pub at the end. Turn right onto Monument St and walk up here, crossing over Pudding Lane, until you reach the Monument to the Great Fire of London (Map Point 4).
This monument was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire began on Pudding Lane, in Thomas Farriner’s bakery house, on Sunday 2 September 1666. It went on to destroy thousands of homes, hundreds of streets, public buildings and churches before eventually being put out a few days later on Wednesday 5 September. The Monument is 61 metres (202 feet) high, the same distance between the Monument and where the fire began in Pudding Lane. As well as the source of the Great Fire of London, Pudding Lane has the unusual claim to fame of being one of the World’s first one way streets, being designated as such in 1617!
Above: Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys is famous for the daily, detailed diary he kept of daily life in London between 1660 and 1670, during which time he witnessed the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys was born on Fleet Street, worshipped regularly at St Olave’s Church (see below) and was buried there, next to his wife. On the morning of 2 September 1666, Pepys was woken by his servant informing him of a fire nearby. Pepys didn’t think it was serious so went back to bed. Waking later that morning, his servant informed him that 300 houses had already been destroyed. Pepys took a boat out onto the Thames and observed the fire for an hour or so, writing about it as follows:
“I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs.XXX lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down…”
At the far side of the Monument, turn right up Fish St Hill, turn left onto Eastcheap, and use the pedestrian crossing or subway to cross King William St, then turn left into Martin Lane. Follow this down and take the second alley on your right by the Olde Wine Shades. This ancient listed building pre-dates the Great Fire of 1666 and is the oldest wine house in the City, dating from 1663. Its origins were as a Merchants house and it is believed that smugglers used the old tunnel to the river from the cellars.
Above: Inside an old fashioned London pub
Cross over Laurence Pountney Lane and continue on to Laurence Pountney Hill. Follow this road round to the right (before you get as far as Suffolk Lane) and continue up to Cannon St. Turn left onto Cannon St and walk along until Dowgate Hill.
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Turn left here then take the second right into College St (Map Point 5).
Here you will find some of the historic Livery Companies of London, including the Dyer’s Company, the Skinners’ Company, the Tallow Chandlers’ Company and the Innholders’ Company. The Skinners’ Company is one of the ‘Great Twelve’ livery companies of London. It developed from the medieval trade guild of furriers and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1327. Today it is a major not-for-profit organisation involved in running schools, sheltered housing and grant programmes for individuals, educational institutions, and a wide range of small organisations throughout the UK. The Tallow Chandlers Company was formed in about 1300 to regulate oils, ointments, lubricants and fat-based preservatives and to manage candle making using tallow (animal fats). For a history of tallow, you can read more at https://www.tallowchandlers.org/about-us/the-company/trade-links/tallow – though those of a nervous disposition or vegetarian may want to skip over that! Henry VI granted the Dyers’ Company’s first Royal Charter in 1471 to allow the control of the quality of workmanship of London’s dyers (colouring of cloth). The Innholders’ Company (College Street) traces its origins as far back as the early 1300s, it became the Guild of Innholders in 1473 and still today takes an active role in the development of the hospitality industry.
Continue along College St and turn right into College Hill. Here you will find the plaque for the location of the original Dick Whittington’s House. The legend of Dick Whittington is a popular one in England, and still forms the basis of many Christmas pantomimes. It tells how the impoverished Dick travelled to London from the countryside, as London was meant to be paved with gold. He then found fortune after his cat helped to rid a far land of a rat infestation, and how he then went on to become Mayor of London 3 times, after being foretold it by the bells of Bow Church. It is loosely based on the real life Richard Whittington, who did indeed become Lord Mayor of London, first in 1397, and then a further three times, though it’s not clear he ever owned a cat! But he did finance a number of projects during his life to help others, including drainage systems in the poorest parts of London, a hospital ward for unmarried mothers, and a public toilet seating 128 that was washed by the Thames at high tide!
Continue up College Hill, turn left into Cloak Lane, then right into Queen St. Crossover Cannon St where safe to do so, and continue along Queen St. Crossover Queen Victoria St where safe, and turn left to head along Watling St with it’s interesting collection of shops and bars. Take the first right into Bow Lane, another quirky little alley of shops and bars! At the end of Bow Lane you will find on your left the famous church of St Mary-le-Bow, home to the Bow Bells of London.
As well as being famous in the tale of Dick Whittington, the Bow Bells are also mentioned in the popular medieval nursery rhyme as follows:
“Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me? Say the bells at Old Bailey.
When I grow rich, Say the bells at Shoreditch.
When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know, Says the great bell at Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Chip chop chip chop the last man is dead”
And it is also said that to be a true Londoner or Cockney, you need to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells!
At the end of Bow Lane, turn right onto Cheapside. Cross over to the other side where safe, and turn left into Ironmonger Lane. Continue along to the end, then turn left into Gresham St.
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Cross to the other side of the road and turn right into the courtyard in front of Guildhall to admire this beautiful building (Map Point 6).
Guildhall (never “the” Guildhall!) is Grade 1 listed, used as a townhall for centuries and still the ceremonial centre for the City of London. In Roman times, the largest amphitheatre in Britannia stood on the same site (you can see the outline marked in black in the paving in the courtyard where you are now standing). The first documented mention of London Guildhall dates back to 1128, though the current building was started in 1411. If you are lucky enough to know a member of Guildhall, then accompany them to a drink in the members bar – as drinks are heavily subsidised through a fund originally setup in the 15th Century!
From the courtyard, turn right to go along Guildhall Buildings. Turn left onto Basinghall St and then right to go along the narrow Mason’s Ave. You will pass the Old Doctor Butler’s Head pub. Originally established in 1610, the present building dates back to just after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The pub takes its name from Dr Butler, a 17th century self-proclaimed specialist in nervous disorders. His ‘miracle cures’ included holding consultation on London Bridge, during which the unfortunate client would be dropped through a trapdoor into the torrent below. As a cure for epilepsy, he would fire a brace of pistols near his unsuspecting patient, to “scare the condition out of them”. In cases of the plague, he’d plunge the poor soul into cold water. So highly was he considered, that despite his lack of qualifications he was appointed court physician to King James 1. At a similar time, he developed a medicinal ale for gastric ailments, which was available only from taverns which displayed Dr. Butler’s head on their signs. This led to him acquiring a number of ale houses in the capital – of which The Old Dr. Butler’s Head is the last one standing.
Crossover Coleman St and continue along Great Bell Alley. Crossover Moorgate and continue along Telegraph St. Look for an arch in the wall on your right (opposite Whalebone Court) and go through here into Tokenhouse Yard. Continue along here to the end and turn left into Lothbury. Continue at the corner straight ahead into Throgmorton St. Here you will find the Stock Exchange which originally started life in The Royal Exchange (see below). But when stock brokers were told to leave the Royal Exchange for being too rude, they operated in nearby premises – with Jonathan’s Coffee House being the main focus and where John Casting started producing the occasional “exchange rates” for popular items like coal, paper and salt in 1698.
At the end of Throgmorton St turn right onto Old Broad St then right onto Threadneedle St. Crossover where safe and admire the beautiful Royal Exchange building on this corner (Map Point 7).
The Royal Exchange was founded in the 16th Century to be the commercial centre of the City of London. It has been twice destroyed by fire (first in the Great Fire of London then again in 1838). The current building dates from the 1840s, designed by William Tite. Only the exchange of actual goods took place in the 17th Century, as stockbrokers were considered too rude to be allowed in! Today it is worth popping inside to look at the upmarket shops, restaurants and cafes.
Above: The Bank of England on the left and Royal Exchange in the middle
Walk around to the front of the Royal Exchange, passing the Bank of England on your right. The Bank of England was founded 27 July 1694 as a private bank to the Government, primarily to fund the war against France at that time. It is the second oldest Central Bank in operation today, affectionately known as The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, thanks to a cartoon published in 1797 by James Gillray. Today the Bank is responsible for ensuring monetary stability in the UK.
Above: Royal Exchange building
On the opposite corner you will find Mansion House, home and office of the Lord Mayor of London. Lord Mayors used to use their own houses (or livery halls) for their work as Mayor and heading up the governmental, judicial and civic functions of The City of London. But after the Great Fire in 1666, it was decided to build a House for those Mayors that didn’t have their livery hall from which to work. The current Mansion House was completed in 1758. Today, Mansion House is used primarily for fundraising events, receptions and dinners with high profile events held each year providing a platform for cabinet ministers, visiting Heads of Government, and other prominent public figures.
Turn left into Cornhill, walk past the Royal Exchange building, crossover the road where safe, and turn right just after Birchin Lane into Ball Court.
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Follow this down past Simpson’s Tavern and turn left into Castle Court. Simpson’s Tavern is the oldest “Chophouse” in London, founded by Thomas Simpson in 1757. Traditions and customs were strictly maintained at mealtimes by the Chairman who would preside over each meal. It was they who, for instance, would ensure that lunch would start promptly at one, introduce notable guests and measure the cheese.
Continue along Castle Court past the George & Vulture pub and into St Michael’s Alley where you will find Jamaica Wine House. The George & Vulture was built in 1748, though there has been an inn on this site since 1268. It is mentioned many times in The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, who himself drank in this very pub!
Jamaica Wine House was the first coffee shop in London, opened in 1652, and frequented by Samuel Pepys amongst others. The current building dates from the 19th Century and is now a public house (bar). The remarkably detailed diary entry of Samuel Pepys for Monday 10th December 1660 mentions him visiting the Coffee Shop that evening, extracted as follows:
“Up exceedingly early to go to the Comptroller, but he not being up and it being a very fine, bright, moonshine morning I went and walked all alone twenty turns in Cornhill, from Gracious Street corner to the Stockes and back again, from 6 o’clock till past 7, so long that I was weary, and going to the Comptroller’s thinking to find him ready, I found him gone, at which I was troubled, and being weary went home, and from thence with my wife by water to Westminster, and put her to my father Bowyer’s (they being newly come out of the country), but I could not stay there, but left her there. I to the Hall and there met with Col. Slingsby. So hearing that the Duke of York is gone down this morning, to see the ship sunk yesterday at Woolwich, he and I returned by his coach to the office, and after that to dinner. After dinner he came to me again and sat with me at my house, ands among other discourse he told me that it is expected that the Duke will marry the Lord Chancellor’s daughter at last which is likely to be the ruin of Mr. Davis and my Lord Barkley, who have carried themselves so high against the Chancellor; Sir Chas. Barkley swearing that he and others had lain with her often, which all believe to be a lie.
He and I in the evening to the Coffee House in Cornhill, the first time that ever I was there, and I found much pleasure in it, through the diversity of company and discourse.
Home and found my wife at my Lady Batten’s, and have made a bargain to go see the ship sunk at Woolwich, where both the Sir Williams are still since yesterday, and I do resolve to go along with them. From thence home and up to bed, having first been into my study, and to ease my mind did go to cast up how my cash stands, and I do find as near as I can that I am worth in money clear 240l., for which God be praised.”
Turn right after Jamaica Wine House then left into Bell Inn Yard. Turn left onto Gracechurch St and walk approx 50m up to the entrance to Leadenhall Market on the other side of the road. Crossover where safe and enter into the market area (Map Point 8).
This is one of the oldest markets in London, dating from the 14th Century, and standing where once was the centre of Roman London. It even has connections to the tale of Dick Whittington, as the real Richard Whittington purchased the lease on the site in 1411 and turned it into one of the best places in London to buy meat, poultry, fish and game! The beautifully ornate structure of the current building was designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.
Above: Leadenhall Market at Christmas
Continue through the market to Leadenhall Place where you will find the totally contrasting modern edifice of the Llloyd’s of London Building. Finished in 1986 and already Grade 1 listed, this building was designed by Richard Rogers. It was highly innovative at the time for having services such as stairs, lifts and ducts on the outside, leaving the inside space uncluttered. It took eight years to build, using 33,510 cubic meters of concrete, 30,000 square metres of stainless steel cladding and 12,000 square metres of glass.
Above: Lloyd’s of London building
Turn left onto Lime St, then right onto Fenchurch Avenue, then right into Fen Court. Follow this along to come out onto Fenchurch St.
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Turn left, crossover where safe, then turn right into Star Alley. Follow this round to the left, turn right onto Mark Lane, then left onto London St then right onto New London St. Turn left onto Hart St then right onto Seething Lane.
On this corner you will find St Olave’s Church. A church has been present here since at least the 13th Century, with the current church dating from around 1450. It is named after the patron saint of Norway, King Olav II, who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready against the Danes at the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. It is one of very few medieval churches to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, thanks to Sir William Penn (father of the man of the same name who founded Pennsylvania) and his men from the nearby Naval Yard who destroyed houses around the church to create a fire break across which the fire didn’t spread. The church was a favourite place of worship for the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who is buried here, next to his wife, in the nave.
Continue along Seething Lane, turn left into Muscovy St and along to the Trinity Square Gardens and the Tower Hill underground station and viewing platform where this walk finishes.
Overview of Route:
Information from various sources including wikipedia.org. Map source files copyright openstreetmap.org.
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