diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Random City of London ward (2): Bishopsgate

My second random ward is one of the largest and a jarring hybrid of old and new. Essentially it's the area around Liverpool Street station. It was named after one of the gates in the City's walls, the portal through which Ermine Street once headed northwards. For centuries it was two wards - Bishopsgate Within and Bishopsgate Without - but changes in 2003 saw most of Within gifted to other wards so the remainder is almost all Without. It took a lot longer to walk around than Candlewick, and generated some very different sights. [9 photos]

Bishopsgate is the new name for Ermine Street hereabouts and remains a major thoroughfare. Only the northern half now falls within Bishopsgate ward, the section from St Helen's Place to Norton Folgate, not that those bustling past would ever notice. The original site of the Bishop's Gate was just to the north of the junction with Wormwood Street, and is marked on one side of the road by a stone mitre in the wall above Boots the chemist. You won't find anything historic on the other side because that's the foot of the City's second tallest building, Heron Tower, or as brandingwhores would prefer us to call it 'Salesforce Tower, 110 Bishopsgate'. It'd only be the third tallest if you lopped its mast off.

Another whopper stands opposite at 100 Bishopsgate, completed last year to provide office space for little known banks and brokers. At its foot is one of the most soulless areas of public space I've ever wandered through, a blank piazza sprung from an architect's out-tray surrounded by a cliff-face of pillars and windows. This small area is the only scrap of Bishopsgate Within to have been retained in the administrative restructure of 2003, mainly because it also contains the HQ of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers and a rare medieval church. St Ethelburga's survived the Great Fire, then mostly survived the Blitz, but in 1993 took the full force of an IRA bomb parked outside in a truck. It's since been rebuilt not as a place of worship but as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, "building community resilience for times of ecological and social emergency", so I'd expect them to be rather busy at present.

Bishopsgate's chief church is St Botolph's, another rebuilt Fire survivor and once the first building beyond the city wall. Its churchyard has since been repurposed as a cut-through/garden dotted with chunks of modern sculpture, and very pleasantly at that. Buildings to look out for on the way through include a classical redbrick church hall (once home to the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers), an overdecorated Victorian Turkish bath (now a subterranean events venue) and the City Garden outpost of restaurant The Ivy (ideal for any provincial dining party keen to spend £14.50 on egg and chips while straining their necks to spot non-existent celebrities). The lesser alleyway to the north of St Botolph's is Alderman's Walk, which I'm indebted to Ian Visits for writing about on Monday because it means I don't have to today.

Which brings us to Liverpool Street (yes, there is one) and to Liverpool Street station. This was built on a site previously occupied by Bethlem Royal Hospital, or 'Bedlam', who scarpered to Lambeth when the new terminus arrived. Its ornate Gothic trainshed has thankfully been retained and restored, but more modern development now encroaches on every side. The very latest addition is an upper storey to the Octagon Arcade, above Smiths and Boots, where several brands targeting bankers' disposable income will shortly be installed. Posh watches, designer clothes and spur-of-the-moment fragrances are on their way, Westfield-style, should their inbound Essex clientele ever return. The Victorian arcade across the street lingers on in hollowed-out gloom.

Purple update: Crossrail's new 'glass wedge' entrance is almost ready at the western end of Liverpool Street. Crossrail's offices in the building opposite, however, have served their time and are being boarded up.

But the biggest development hereabouts is Broadgate, a Thatcherite business neighbourhood built between 1985 and 1991 across the footprint of the former Broad Street station. This brash maze of office blocks and oddly-shaped piazzas is the City's largest pedestrianised neighbourhood and is still very much privately overseen (as security notices at every entrance affirm). At its heart is Broadgate Circle, in summer an alfresco refreshment deck and in winter an ice rink, except in 2020. Contractors are taking advantage of social tumbleweed in Exchange Square by cutting down all the trees to make way for a water feature, amphitheatre seating and additional retail space. The best view across Liverpool Street's platforms is from back here (although it was even better before an intermediate plastic screen was deemed necessary).

A fun game to play around Broadgate is to follow a passageway and see where it ends up. Sun Street Passage starts off outside the bus station but ends up beneath an office block beside the station's goods lift. Exchange Arcade crosses a delivery ramp - please look both ways. Exchange Place drops you on the edge of Hackney. The oddest is probably Great Eastern Walkway whose hidden escalators deliver you to a service corridor above the full length of platform 11 with a real "are you sure I'm allowed to be here?" vibe. Or duck beneath Exchange House to reach a glass atrium crossed by thick steel beams supporting the weight of the Bishopsgate Tower - the third skyscraper within Broadgate ward to make the City's Top 10.

For contrast the ward additionally includes a slice of older buildings on the eastern side of Bishopsgate (if you know the area it's between Spitalfields Market and Houndsditch). Follow a narrow passageway here and it's likely to lead somewhere very different, for example to a row of police cars or the back entrance to Dirty Dick's. The bleakest path is the double dogleg of Catherine Wheel Alley, named after a former coaching inn, which emerges into a pissy dead end at the top of Cock Hill. But I still prefer that to Devonshire Square, a sprawling business campus based around former warehouses which might feel more "vibrant" were its anchor tenant not failed real-estate hoarders WeWork.

It's broadly varied is Bishopsgate, within and without.

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