diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 15, 2021

With my final visit to a random City of London ward, that's my latest psychogeographical task complete. Phew, and hurrah.

I've completed a handful of larger projects before, namely picking London boroughs out of jamjars, walking London's lost rivers and visiting boroughs just outside London, but this task had the advantage of being fully lockdown-friendly.



These are the 25 wards of the City of London - administrative districts of medieval origin with an electoral function. They vary greatly in size and shape, the largest being those once outside the city walls. Each elects one alderman and a number of councilmen commensurate with their resident and working population. Many have cracking names. Here's a full list, with links for future reference purposes.
Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bassishaw, Billingsgate, Bishopsgate, Bread Street, Bridge, Broad Street, Candlewick, Castle Baynard, Cheap, Coleman Street, Cordwainer, Cornhill, Cripplegate, Dowgate, Farringdon Within, Farringdon Without, Langbourn, Lime Street, Portsoken, Queenhithe, Tower, Vintry, Walbrook
Ward boundaries had been mostly unchanged for centuries until 2003 when administrators with perverse objectives set about redefining most of them, severing historic links and in several cases splitting off the features that originally named them. My explorations have therefore felt a little artificial in places, taking in one building but not the next, or inexplicably zigzagging down half a backalley. But several groups of wards retain quite distinct characters, for example the ones along the Thames, the pair now dominated by the Barbican, the large ones west of the Fleet and the compact crowd between Bank and the Tower. I'd happily direct a tourist to Bassishaw, Bridge or Walbrook. I wouldn't rush back to Broad Street, Dowgate or Portsoken.

For the last year I've visited one ward every fortnight, always on a Sunday morning, and attempted to walk down all the streets within its perimeter. I took thousands of photos, because they're usually the best way of remembering what you've seen, and stuck 200 of the best on Flickr. And I wrote up each ward visit in approximately 1000-1200 words, which meant glossing over the finer detail in favour of a broad overview, but it still took absolutely ages.

A typical City ward has an area of just 20 acres, but also centuries of history so I was never lost for content. I can't think of a better location for concentrated heritage-focused blogging anywhere else in the UK. On the bright side I've now been absolutely everywhere in the City, restrictions permitting, and know my way round a heck of a lot better. On the downside I've now blogged about absolutely everywhere in the Square Mile so there's nowhere left to surprise you with, although I only skimmed the surface and the City is always changing so I'm sure I'll manage.

My compartmentalised exploration confirmed that two events - the Great Fire and the Blitz - shaped the City's future above all others. Very little survived 1666 so medieval and Tudor buildings are very rare, while 1940 took out a significant random selection of what followed. Several corners of the City have therefore become bland commercial warrens, but it's been precisely this ability to knock down and start again that's delivered such staggering financial benefits since. Footprints are getting larger. Towers are getting higher. Churches are increasingly redundant. It never ever feels like home. But there is still absolutely nowhere else like it.


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