diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Random City of London ward (25): Broad Street

My final random ward slots inbetween the Bank of England and Liverpool Street station. It's named after a broad street that technically no longer exists (there's only an Old Broad Street and a New Broad Street). It's mostly a warren of dead ends and undriveable alleyways. It doesn't contain the site of the former Broad Street station. It's not a classic to end the series on, nor exactly brimming with interest, but best try to remain Broad-minded. [pdf map]

New Broad Street is the shorter of the two roads, and the better looking, with a red phone box at one end and Portland stone facades to either side. Were it not for the excess of bollards it might make a decent filming location for something administratively Victorian. Running parallel is Broad Street Avenue which is a dump leading to the back of a TfL substation, a surfeit of motorbike parking spaces and some bins. Somewhere below are the platforms of Liverpool Street tube station, this gap being the patch of sky you can see while waiting for a Met line train. The adjacent office block, recently emptied of Crossrail administrators, is due to be rebuilt as a ten-storey office block called One Liverpool Street and will morph around a large ventilation tower. Let's not hang around.

The remainder of the ward once lay inside the City walls, including All Hallows-on-the-Wall which was squashed right up against it. It no longer has a parish, but an urban youth charity operates inside on weekdays and an evangelical charismatic congregation turn up every Sunday morning. St Margaret Lothbury is the ward's last remaining C of E outpost, although technically it's only half a church because it's shared with Coleman Street and the ward boundary divides the nave in two. Drop by on a Thursday lunchtime to enjoy a free organ recital with commentary, most usually featuring Richard Townend playing a a lot of Baroque, but this week Benedict Lewis-Smith is playing instead.

Lothbury is the only road on the ward's perimeter with a wealth of architecture worth studying. Alongside St Margaret's is a Gothic edifice that'd look at more at home in Venice, originally built as a banking HQ but now (of course) 11 luxury flats. Across the street is 41 Lothbury, for over a century the head office of the Nat West Bank and its predecessors, which faces the Bank of England and is grand enough to hold its own. Its former banking hall has a dazzling checkerboard marble floor, and is now (of course) the atrium for a deluxe office facility offering "exceptional workspace with a refined aesthetic". The photo above merely shows the side entrance.

All of which leaves 12 acres of City it's hard to drive into and impossible to drive through unless someone from one of the livery companies has unlocked the gates. The Worshipful Company of Carpenters diligently guard one end of Throgmorton Avenue and the Worshipful Company of Drapers the other. The Drapers are an extremely rich lot, thanks to centuries when clothes were made of wool followed by decades of compound interest. The interior of their building is sumptuously ornamental, especially the Livery Hall with its marble pillars, ceiling frescos and ring of golden arches. The Carpenters were a lot less fortunate with German bombs so their interior decoration is all postwar wood. I looked round both during Open House ten years ago, but on a normal weekend one simply does not get close, let alone inside.

For those on foot a mismatched selection of alleyways provide access.

» There's Angel Court, which doesn't live up to its name unless you like jarring juxtapositions of old and new, or restaurants that've tried much too hard to surround their outdoor tables with flowers. That slanty glass tower is only here because the developers retrofitted an old core because they weren't permitted to build a new one.
» There's Tokenhouse Yard, a Georgian cul-de-sac which suddenly funnels through a narrow brick passageway at the northern end. The Tokenhouse used to be a bank and is now (of course) used as offices, because that's how things roll within the Bank of England Conservation Area.
» There's Pinners Passage, an exceptionally modern envelope that bends beneath an office block, the only decoration being cocktail recipes on sale in the bar nextdoor. It's named after the Worshipful Company of Pinmakers whose livery hall used to be adjacent, except needles aren't as big a moneyspinner as wool so they folded 200 years ago.
» And there's Austin Friars Passage, the sole northern slipway, which only perks up when it squeezes through a narrow glazed arch. Features to look out for are a painted sign pointing towards Pater & Co Stockbrokers (2nd door on right) and a parish marker dated 1853 pinned to a leftover slice of brick wall.

All paths lead to Austin Friars, once the largest Augustinian friary within the City of London. It was founded in the 13th century and grew to the point where it supported 60 friars and an extensive veg'n'herb garden. Its most important private resident turned out to be Thomas Cromwell, whose machinations with Henry VIII ultimately led to the friary being dissolved (and his own execution). The church was later gifted to non-conformists from the Low Countries and soon became known as the Dutch Church, which it still is today, although the current building is a postwar rebuild. Princess Irene sailed over in 1950 to lay the foundation stone. Having turned up at 11am on Sunday I can confirm that the congregation still meets, the bell tolls several times before the service and the nave is seven steps up from the front door.

Austin Friars today is a pedestrianised labyrinth with the Dutch Church at its heart, and a most rewarding wander. One arm is lamped and gated and would look Georgian were it not for the red phone box. One arm is a split level dead end. The main spine is a double dogleg, Victorian-style, with a backdoor to Drapers Hall on one bend opposite a marble monk in an alcove. Many addresses have particularly attractive numbers outside, be they painted, carved or chiselled. Austin Friars is precisely the kind of place you could have walked past, or near, countless times without ever knowing it was there, and that makes it an ideal place to end this year-long ward-by-ward exploration of the City. We're less than five minutes' walk from Candlewick if you want to go round again.

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