On Saturday 11 March, twenty SIM members joined Past Master Martyn Wheatley, and his wife Valerie, for an informative and fascinating London History walk, Following the Walbrook River.
Starting at the wonderful St Leonards Church in Shoreditch, the whole story of the river, its sources, and the history around it, was begun. You would all recognise St Leonards, as it was the church which was used in the excellent TV series REV with Tom Hollander plus Olivia Coleman.
An early right turn, down a steep slope between old buildings, soon illustrated the old riverbank, and at the bottom, were the covers over the Walbrook, which was ten metres below our feet.
Street Art is a major feature of the Shoreditch area and there were some huge works of art all along Martyn’s route – some are murals covering entire buildings, while others are artistic graffiti, on a large scale. We stopped below a railway viaduct, heading towards Liverpool Street Station, for a team photograph.
Back in Shakespeare’s day, during the 1500’s, the river passed two theatres, one called The Curtain and the other, just named, The Theatre. The later, is where The Chamberlain’s Men, which included William Shakespeare, would act out The Bards latest plays. Throughout the 16th Century, theatres were not allowed, inside The City of London, hence their location in Shoreditch. That is, until 1598, due to a dispute, they were dismantled and relocated to Southwark, near to Glaziers Hall. You will find a memorial to Shakespeare and his family in Southwark Cathedral.
As the walk entered the Broadway Business area, we encountered a striking building, called simply Loom, which was completely covered in perforated metal tiles. These tiles represented the Jacquard ‘programme cards’ for looms, used by the very large number of Huguenot emigrants, who all worked in the silk manufacturing industry based here during the 18th Century. Loom, is a museum, an art gallery, as well as in memory of the textile-making heritage, plus a reminder of all those who fled France to London. The word ‘refugee’ was introduced into the English language as a result.
The river below, passed so many buildings of interest and with amazing history, including the Carpenters Hall. Their original grand hall, located at London Wall and Throgmorton, incredibly survived the Fire of London, but then burnt down, shortly afterwards! Rebuilt in style, that hall lasted until 1870 when it burnt down again. From 1880, it had been replaced once more, and that version survived unit 1941 when it was sadly decimated by fire yet again due to incendiary bombs. Reconstruction was complete by 1960 and it remains a wonderful Livery Hall for The Carpenters to this day.
The river passes below nearby Copthall Avenue and there are multiple gratings, where with Martyn’s torch, we all got to see the river flowing below our feet, heading for the Thames.
In our group was Jeremy Crossley, the SIM Chaplin, and also the Reverend Prebendary at St Margaret Lothbury, which is a very fine Wren church. The Walbrook is culverted around the church, and Martyn included its history into the walk. Jeremy went one better though, and let everybody in, not just to see the wonderful interior, complete with an amazing carved screen, but also to use the toilets!
Onward, via Tivoli Corner, The Bank of England, Sir John Soanes, The Grocers Livery, James Henry Greathead, The Tube, The Mansion House and then to Wren’s gem, no not St Paul’s, but St Stephen’s Walbrook. This is a glorious church and rated architecturally as one of the top-ten key buildings in all of Britain.
It is where Wren perfected the concept for the dome and many other techniques before the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral. Sadly, it was closed on the day, but the interiors were illustrated with large photographs by Martyn. Do visit St Stephen’s one day.
St Stephens is also where the Samaritans originated thanks to the work of Dr Chad Varah, who founded that amazing, now international organisation, during 1953 in the crypt. The original telephone, which took the first call on 02/11/1953, remains just inside the door, on the number, MAN 9000 from the Mansion House exchange.
Walking on water, we caried on down the hill to hear about the recently restored and now reopened, Mithras Temple. This was a Roman place of worship from 90AD to 350AD, which was found in 1954, identified as one of the most important archaeological sites in the UK, but then covered over to allow building construction to begin, despite protests by Sir Winston Churchill and many others! When Bloomberg recently re-developed the site, they allowed the archaeological study of the location to re-open and put back the main items found back in the 1950’s to re-create the site as was. Their new HQ stands about it. The Temple of Mithras is free to visit, you just have to book yourself a ticket on line at www.londonmithraeum.com
The river crew had a light lunch and continued down the Walbrook, covering Cannon Street Station, the fur trade, and then ‘Livery Central’, with The Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers, The Skinners, The Management Consultants, The Fanmakers, The Turners, The Fuellers, The Dyers and The Innholders, all of them along Dowgate!
It is hard to imagine that where Dowgate now is, was the Walbrook estuary and an important harbour in Roman times. Finally, a quick stop to talk about LIFFE, cross the road and on to the debouchment of the Walbrook into the Thames, before a fun team shot and a drink in The Banker, which is a pub below Cannon Street Railway Bridge.
It was an enjoyable plus fascinating day out together. Thank you to everyone for supporting this event, organised by Past Master Martyn Wheatley. Do not miss his next SIM History Walk.
Photos courtesy of Hilary Baker