diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Random City of London ward (22): Farringdon Within

My 22nd random ward is the last of the big three out west. I haven't coloured it in wrong on the map, it really is in two parts (technically linked by a short stretch of road passing St Bartholomew's Hospital). Councilmen refer to them as Northside and Southside. The ward's size means I can't do it justice in a single post, but I can offer you John Betjeman's flat, the Old Bailey and the site of the notorious Fleet Prison. [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 Within into two smaller segments, neither of which aligns with the old City wall. None of this is especially satisfying, sorry.

The northernmost bulge of Farringdon Within faces - but doesn't include - Smithfield Market, Charterhouse Square and the Barbican. What it does include is Barbican station, which if you walk round to Hayne Street and peer over the parapet you can see in all its cut and cover glory. This would not have been possible before 1955 when the bomb-damaged glass roof was removed. On the other side of the street is a shiny new entrance to the station, with all gates and signage in place but mothballed and waiting for Crossrail to open. It's also particularly well defended thanks to a ring of 44 freshly-planted bollards wrapped in a protective ring around the ticket hall. The City has been getting really bollardy of late.

St Bartholomew The Great claims to be London's oldest parish church, established as a priory by a courtier of Henry I. It had the good fortune to be undamaged by the Great Fire and the Blitz so boasts a fair wodge of Norman interior and an impressive Tudor gatehouse. Visitors are welcome (and no longer charged for the privilege), except on Sundays when you might instead bump into two cassocked celebrants on a bench in the garden waiting for their parishioners to turn up. John Betjeman so loved the church that he rented a tiny flat opposite in Cloth Fair between 1954 and 1973, and so loved Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting that he regularly entertained her here. If you fancy a few nights away in a Laureate's lovenest, it's available to hire as a holiday home through The Landmark Trust.

Cloth Fair and some of the adjacent alleyways still have a feel of ye olde London. But although Bartholomew Close starts out cobbled it quickly morphs into a very modern district of office blocks, brick apartments and plant-based superfood restaurants. The latest interloper is Barts Square, three acres of dense luxury livingspace creating "a new urban quarter" across what used to be redundant parts of Barts Hospital. It's impeccably done, so long as you like gold railings, but most of the million and a half you'll be paying for your two bed bolthole is for the location rather than the facilities. Look out too for the livery halls of the Worshipful Company of Butchers and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, two charitable organisations bookending a millennium of City commerce.

Switching to Southside, the first street corner features a ruined church reimagined as a rose garden. This was Christchurch Greyfriars, a Wren rebuild that didn't survive the Blitz, firebombed the very night neighbouring St Paul's was miraculously reprieved. Greyfriars was originally a Franciscan monastery, and in the 13th century its lofty steeple made it the second tallest building in London. Wren's tower survives as a private home, fitted out circa 2006, while the adjacent Vestry House is now a dental practice. The graveyard is less of a draw, more a large lawn with benches down the centre where employees of Merrill Lynch can go to escape their financial fortress.

Newgate was one of the Roman city's six entrances and later, after cells above the arch developed into a fully-fledged prison, a site of public execution. Hangings were hidden away inside the walls in 1868. In 1902 the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales opened instead, better known as the Old Bailey, this being the name of the road running alongside. Lady Justice holds her scales aloft at the top of the dome. If you fancy seeing who's up in front of the beak today you can check the list of cases posted outside the public entrance, which is part of the less ostentatious 1970s extension.

Apologies for the jogging dog, but my visit at the weekend coincided with the London Landmarks Half Marathon, a charity-focused event triply postponed since Easter 2020. Ten thousand runners thronged the streets, including unfortunates dressed as Big Ben, the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater who seemed to be suffering more than most. What with the cheering supporters and numerous pumped-up music performers it was easily the biggest crowd I've mingled in for absolutely ages. The course looped round most of the City so I was fortunate that Farringdon Within was generally untouched, and that where it did intrude the split-level Fleet Valley made it easy to cross the endless stream.

Three-quarters of Holborn Viaduct lies within Farringdon Within (and the rest within Farringdon Without). The construction of London's first flyover transformed cross-valley travel, ending the need to cart your horse up (or down) Snow Hill. The staircases at each corner would only start to reek of urine at a much later date. Farringdon Road passes underneath following the course of the Fleet, a lost waterway I blogged forensically in 2005 so won't revisit here. Today one side of the road is mostly chunky office blocks and the other is dotted with lanes that once reached the top of the slope but are now severed dead ends.

The interloper on the eastern side is City Thameslink station, a cut and cover job opened in 1990 when north-south rail travel restarted, practically little more than a pair of very long platforms with escalators at each end. It's no architectural triumph, and neither are the bevy of generic office blocks that have muscled in since. Follow the station 'lid' down Fleet Place and you pass a pair of nude 11 ton granite torsos, a sign warning you that images are being taken "for advertising purposes" and a wine bar disguised as a chalet. The notorious Fleet Prison lingered here until 1846, and I like the fact that Sky Business News now broadcasts from offices on this site.

South of Ludgate Hill a labyrinthine street pattern has survived. Carter Lane has restaurants and a family-owned pub whose chalkboard invites you to Come Upstairs for a Good Roast & a Good Stuffing. Ireland Yard is thought to be where William Shakespeare lived when he was a successful playwright, close to the site of his theatre in Playhouse Yard. Halfway along the delightfully-named Church Entry is the last remaining chunk of the original Blackfriars monastery (its monks being Dominican in black cloaks, whereas the aforementioned Franciscans at Greyfriars wore grey). And Apothecaries' Hall is the oldest surviving livery hall in the City, blessed with significant 13th century elements, confirming there's always been a lot of money in peddling drugs.

The railway continues to form a barrier as it rises up from City Thameslink towards Blackfriars station. In the middle of Waithman Street you can only cross it by climbing two flights of steps on one side and descending four on the other (via a glum trainspotting vantage point up top). Waithman Street also boasts what may be the City's most inappropriately patronising notice - "This wall has artistic importance. Please do not park your motorcycles in this area". For proper art step back and admire the elegant wedge of The Black Friar pub, whose facade includes mosaic infill and wooden panels depicting drinking and devilry. Farringdon Within extends no further.

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