diamond geezer

 Monday, December 07, 2020

Random City of London ward (5): Bridge

My fifth random ward is named after London Bridge, a key Thames crossing since Roman times, and encompasses the entire span as far as the south bank. The City's jurisdiction once stretched as far as Southwark to keep unruly locals in check, but Bridge Without was handed back in 1899 so I'm only interested in Bridge Within. [pdf map]

In common with many city wards a social club exists for the benefit of those who live or work here, mainly the latter, namely the Bridge Ward Club. Its website is well versed in the history of the ward and the main sights within, thus far more detailed than I intend to be here. Better still one of its former chairmen devised A walk in and around Bridge Ward, complete with map, so rather than wander round willy-nilly I followed that. Thanks Paul.

The circular tour begins at St Magnus the Martyr, a Wren church adrift alongside the Lower Thames Street dual carriageway. But it once watched over the most important entrance to the City, at the northern end of London Bridge, indeed an arch had to be cut through the bottom of its tower to improve pedestrian flow. This all changed when London Bridge was moved 30m upstream in 1831 so the churchyard's now a dead end, but it does contain chunks of stone from the 12th and 19th century bridges as well as a preserved timber from the first Roman wharf hereabouts. The interior is reputedly glorious, but alas I have an unerring habit of turning up while High Mass is taking place. [previous blogpost]

Time to wend up through a tiled stairwell - very 70s - to the latest London Bridge. A plaque outside Adelaide House commemorates the start of construction in November 1967 and another in the centre was unveiled by the Queen in March 1973. Views from the bridge are more iconic than the arched span itself, particularly downstream towards Tower Bridge, with the Shard totally dominating the skyline to the south. And whereas the City generally only extends to the middle of the river here it genuinely crosses to the far side, the point of transition marked by a plinth topped by a dragon. Administrative geography is a peculiar thing.

The broad span is still divided by hostile vehicle mitigation barriers introduced following the terrorist attack in 2017, while it was only last December that a knife attacker escaping from Fishmongers' Hall was disabled by a narwhal tusk. It's a lot quieter in 2020. The Hall remains an impressive building whether you pass it up top or at waterfront level, so our ward tour does both. Continue down the nearby steps to catch the statues in the courtyard and ogle the slabbed underside of the bridge deck before heading away from the river up essence-of-bland Swan Lane. Don't bother with the stumpy leftover pedway on the corner - the staircase ends at a triangular dead-end and is littered with roll-ups and excrement. [previous blogpost]

Fish Street Hill used to be the main thoroughfare leading from the end of London Bridge up into the City, but these days it's a sidelined semi-pedestrianised stub. But what it does contain, halfway up, is the City's famous memorial to the Great Fire of London. The Monument is still the tallest isolated stone column in the world, even 350 years later. It's also currently closed to visitors, the central spiral staircase being about as undistanceable as it gets. What Paul's tour of Bridge ward then inexplicably fails to do is visit Pudding Lane, 202 feet to the east, where the conflagration began. I'm amused that the Worshipful Company of Bakers put up a commemorative plaque at ground zero in 1986 despite it being the most calamitous disaster caused by any of their membership. [previous blogpost]

The northernmost slice of Bridge ward consists of two blocks sandwiched between Fenchurch Street and Eastcheap. To locate points of interest the tour resorts to disappearing up alleyways and dead-end cobbles. This brings us to a pub on the site of an old coaching inn (The Ship, reopening 2021), a gated ex-churchyard (now sole access to Fitness First) and a lone Georgian townhouse (4 Brabant Court, lovely). But the tour was devised in spring 2010 so never mentions the elephant in the room, the whopping curves of the 38-storey Walkie Talkie, which first thrust above street level in autumn 2011. The skyline looks much better if you imagine it isn't there.

I'm indebted to Paul's tour for leading me down Lovat Lane for the first time. The upper end is incongruous, even ugly, slipping downhill past the Dirty Martini nightclub. But then it morphs into a narrow crooked lane with lamps to light the way, granite setts underfoot and even a Wren church halfway down. Were this Lincoln or Salisbury you might expect gift shops and tea rooms on the descent, but instead there are small offices, doors to apartments and OK, yes, a single Venetian restaurant. Look out for the Walrus and Carpenter pub if entering at the foot of the hill.

Our circuit of Bridge ward ends with a hike across the City's most substantial section of pedway. A telltale twist of steps leads up from the end of Monument Street before following a gloomy veranda where the homeless feel able to leave their possessions during the day. Look out for the information panel confirming that this used to be the waterfront in Roman times. A slender footbridge then strikes out across Lower Thames Street to an extensive first floor terrace around (and through) St Magnus House. Elevated walking was thought to be the future in 1978, but these days tourists on the Thames Path need to be cajoled up to the windswept deck for fine views across the Pool of London.

Paul reckons an hour. I did it a bit quicker than that, un-a-Bridged.

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