diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Random City of London ward (15): Farringdon Without

My 15th random ward is the largest and also the furthest from home, so a bit of a challenge to cover. I haven't coloured it in wrong on the map, it really is in two parts (technically linked by the westbound carriageway of High Holborn outside Sainsbury's Head Office). Farringdon Without contains a lot of the City's historic legal activity, the whole of Smithfield Market and the medical heartland of St Barts. I can't possibly do it justice in a single post so expect considerable skating about. [pdf map]

First a word about the name of the ward. It's named after Sir Nicholas de Faringdon, the ward's alderman in the early 14th century and four-time mayor of London. In 1394 it was split into the part inside the City wall (Farringdon Within) and the much larger part outside (Farringdon Without). Neither ward contains Farringdon station, which was instead named after Farringdon Street, now Farringdon Road. The City's idiosyncratic boundary changes in 2003 recast Farringdon Without into two smaller segments, neither of which aligns with the old City wall. None of this is especially satisfying, sorry.

Let's start on the Victoria Embankment where a dragon guards the southwesternmost entrance to the City. It's also where you'll find the National Submarine War Memorial, an elaborate bronze commemorating 50 craft lost during WW1 and another 82 from WW2. Facing the Thames here is what's colloquially known as the Temple, more precisely two of the City's four Inns of Court called the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. They've been here on this site since medieval times and are officially outside the jurisdiction of the City of London despite being inside their boundary. Entrance is via the steps on Middle Temple Lane... unless it's Sunday in which case the enclave is closed and the iron gates are firmly locked.

I chanced my luck and asked the security guard at the Tudor Street gate whether I could come in "for a look round". He surprisingly agreed so I got to walk round the utterly empty interior of this legal fortress, a veritable labyrinth of courtyards and passages. At its heart is Temple Church, founded in 1185 by the Knights Templar, which boasts a rare circular nave and several chivalrous effigies. I was a tad early for Choral Communion, but the service is up on YouTube if you want to see what I missed. Elsewhere are numerous legal chambers (the names of their barristers neatly listed in the doorway), plus Georgian corners they hire out to film costume dramas, plus extensive splendid gardens (normally open to the public 12.30-3pm on weekdays), and what a treat to be able to wander round in peace. The security guard appeared to be asleep when I walked out.

Administrative normality is restored along Fleet Street, or at least the short stretch from Gino D'Acampo's pasta restaurant to where Temple Bar used to be. Among the buildings of note are Prince Henry's Room (one of the City's handful of Jacobean buildings, no longer open to the public), St Dunstan-in-the-West (an octagonal church whose clock gives off Trumpton vibes) and publisher DC Thompson's offices (a narrow block emblazoned with the names of classic Scottish titles).

Heading north the ward follows Chancery Lane (east side) and Fetter Lane (west side). Sandwiched inbetween is Cliffords Inn, oldest of the Inns of Chancery, or at least its gatehouse because the rest was demolished in 1934. More substantially unmissable is the Maughan Library, Kings College's neo-Gothic research fortress, which was originally the headquarters of the Public Record Office. Don't expect to gain entrance at present without a reader's card and a good reason why you can't study at home. The triple point where Westminster meets Camden meets the City is immediately outside.

It's taken several paragraphs but we've finally reached some bogstandard minor backstreets. Many are lined with anonymous newbuilds, one hosts the drab-but-officious Upper Tribunal Immigration & Asylum Chamber and one has an ex- churchyard sucked dry of heritage and transformed into a public garden. Of genuine interest are the London Silver Vaults, a quirky market consisting of 30 strongrooms off two underground corridors, very much the kind of place that London-based media revel in describing as 'secret'. As for the timber-fronted Tudor building facing High Holborn that's Staple Inn, the last surviving Inn of Chancery, though now crawling with actuaries rather than wool-taxers.

It's time to cross to the other half of the ward via the five-way junction at Holborn Circus. The church here is St Andrew Holborn, founded over 1000 years ago on a small hill above the river Fleet (hence named after the patron saint of fishermen). It survived the Great Fire but was in such a bad state that Wren rebuilt it anyway. Much of its churchyard was swept away by the building of Holborn Viaduct, which you can still duck under if you follow Shoe Lane round the back of the Vicarage.

Smithfield's famous meat market is divided into five buildings in varying states of decay. The General Market faces Farringdon Street, where the dragon is, and links to the smaller (triangular) Fish Market and larger (rectangular) Poultry Market. These three are being transformed into the new Museum of London, as sheaths of scaffolding confirm, although it's a complex job so the completion date (2021) keeps (2022) slipping (2024). Black wooden barriers were recently erected along one side of West Poultry Avenue, shielding decrepit butcheries from view, and it's going to be a long expensive haul prettifying this for the masses.

Business continues in the West and East Market Buildings, as the general whiff of slaughtered animal confirms. Huge refrigerated lorries park up outside, their cargoes trolleyed into the building between dangling plastic strips. The noticeboard in Grand Avenue has vacancies for lamb cutters, experienced butchers and multi-drop delivery drivers. It also reminds wholesalers that the City plans to relocate all its food markets to Dagenham in a few years time, with the vacated market halls subsequently converted into a tourist-magnet food campus. I expect it'll have all the appeal of the upgraded Spitalfields Market, for good and for bad, so get down and admire the genuine Smithfield while you still have a chance.

I've already blogged about the garden inside the market's spiral ramp, the end of the number 56 bus route and the incline of Snow Hill, so I'll skip describing those here. Instead let's turn to the naked cherub hung on the wall at the top, appropriately, of Cock Lane. This is the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, erected outside a pub in the late 17th century to mark the point where the Great Fire of London finally spluttered out. His chubby form represents the sin of gluttony, given that the conflagration started at a bakery on the other side of the city in Pudding Lane, as the inscription underneath confirms.

Across the street is St Barts, the famous 898 year-old hospital. It covers a vast site, part of which is Georgian and surrounds a large leafy quadrangle and part of which is a very modern redevelopment. The museum's just off the former. Hanging around outside you're likely to find patients in wheelchairs and/or dressing gowns, plus various members of staff, all of whom have crept out for a much-needed cigarette. Please don't throw butts in the planters, several signs warn. Inside it's very much a specialist heart hub, mainly thanks to A&E services being relocated in 1995 and the trust needing to do something useful with the building.

And St Barts is also the point where Farringdon Without splits Farringdon Within in two, because neither Farringdon ward is in any way geometrically straightforward. We'll be back here later.

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