diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Random City of London ward (16): Langbourn



My 16th random ward is an odd'un, being long and thin and mostly unnoteworthy. Langbourn fits into a narrow slot between Bank and Aldgate, somewhat irregularly, and touches more City wards than any other - eight in total. Other than containing half of Leadenhall Market it's not especially blessed with points of interest, but it does have more than its fair share of back alleys to explore. [pdf map][10 photos]

Historically Langbourn followed both sides of Lombard Street and Fenchurch Street, but after several administrative rejigs now only the northern flank remains. The sole southern exception is St Mary Woolnoth which was deemed to have historic connections and so remains inside a tiny arrowhead protruding at the ward's west end. It's the City's sole example of a Hawksmoor church, reimagined 300 years ago because Wren's repairs to the medieval church proved inadequate. Look out for its Baroque tower topped by two turrets facing the Bank road junction, but set back a bit. St Mary's was nearly demolished in 1897 to make way for the City and South London Railway but engineers were persuaded to build their entrance in the crypt instead (which now houses a bank of lifts down to the Northern line platforms).



The ward's only other surviving church is St Edmunds on Lombard Street, with its poky-out clock, although it's now used as the London Centre for Spiritual Direction rather than as a place of worship. It's also where the Bishop of Islington is based should you ever need to see him. Lombard Street was once known for its many hanging pictorial signs, introduced identify businesses before addresses were numbered. The most striking of the four that remain is the golden grasshopper signifying the home of Tudor financier Sir Thomas Gresham, although the current danglers are merely Edwardian replicas.



St Gilbert Fenchurch was never rebuilt after the Great Fire but its churchyard lives on as a small garden off Fen Court. Its benches are a little glum, but tucked behind one tomb is a decent-sized stone labyrinth based on a design found on St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly. More striking is a sculpture called the Gilt of Cain, installed in 2008 to commemorate the preaching of anti-slavery sermons nearby. This consists of a granite podium facing a cluster of sugar-cane-like pillars, each engraved with a bit of poem, and I recommend climbing up to the 'lectern' for a different perspective.



Alongside is One Fen Court, Langbourn's only recent tall building. The City's largest public roof garden perches above its 15th floor, in normal times freely accessible by lift and an unexpectedly nice recreational hideaway. I had to make do with accessing the public realm underneath the building, a black-walled cavern that's usually brightened by dynamic art on the ceiling, but when that's switched off it becomes an oppressive inactive void that undoubtedly sounded nicer in the planning application. An abomination twice the height is due to replace Marks & Spencer on Gracechurch Street, its trio of linked towers rising unapologetically above the site of the old Roman Forum.



Leadenhall Market dominates the centre of the ward. Half of it's officially in Lime Street, but everything south of the central arcade lies in Langbourn instead including several smaller offshoot passageways. All the shopfronts are brightly and uniformly painted, concealing whether it's a sandwich shop, a boutique or a Pizza Express until you look closer. Shoppers should be aware that very few businesses have reawoken as yet, but this is excellent news for photographers because it's still uncannily easy to get absolutely nobody in shot.



In Bull's Head Passage I found a holy icon of Harry Potter pilgrimage, the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, as used in the first movie before expensive backlot sets became available. Hagrid leads Harry through the market to a curved doorway whose blank sign magically reveals the name of the pub before they step inside. In reality this is the rear entrance to the Glass House opticians and the sign outside says London Migraine Clinic, which must be a bit of a letdown when the guided tours deposit their Potterphiles outside.



South of Leadenhall the web of streets becomes more mundane, a mix of mostly gents outfitters and unfancy eateries. On Lime Street you can window shop for brogues and dress shirts and ogle cricket memorabilia. In Cullum Street Temple Food offers exceptionally traditional sandwiches and cooked breakfasts immediately opposite the oatmilk macchiatos of the Curators Coffeestudio. Giorgio Italian Menswear closed for refurbishment in the summer of 2018, supposedly for three weeks, but never reopened. Bolton's restaurant has a box of reassuringly retro paper menus outside in the hope that patrons will convert their normal calamari fritti and tiramisu into a boxed takeaway.



Explore the alleyways further and there are proper pubs, the kind tourists never find but are instead frequented by office workers without expense accounts. The entire menu at the Bunch of Grapes consists of rolls, pies and chips, £4.50 max. The Swan Tavern lurks up its own Passage and boasts Edwardian marble bars. Charles Dickens drank regularly in the George & Vulture in Castle Court and mentions it numerous times in Pickwick Papers. It's less a pub and more a restaurant these days. but with a traditional cuisine that peaks at roast beef and breaded veal. Alas I can't yet mention the Jamaica Wine House across the alleyway because local boundaries are seriously counter-intuitive and that's in Cornhill ward.



Langbourn's back alleys are fascinating to explore if less historic than you'd hope. I tried to walk them all, including the wood-panelled squeeze through Bengal Court round the back of the G&V. But I was thwarted by a film crew who'd spotted the benefits of an atmospheric secluded backdrop and had turned up with a fleet of vans, bright lights and security. At every potential entrance off Cornhill and Lombard Street they told me I couldn't pass, until eventually I stumbled upon one unguarded portal. Here a runner asked me ever so politely to wait while a smart-suited youth strode purposefully out of Change Alley... and cut!... and I shall be watching out for that scene in every upcoming drama series for the next eighteen months.


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