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City of London

The Square Mile

The City of London - The Square Mile.

London itself is the largest town in Britain, the capital  of England. It covers around 700 square miles. However, when we refer to the “City of London” it means only to the area that occupies the site of the original old walled city built by the Romans in the first century. It was the beginning of this great metropolis we know today.

The old city covered an area of roughly one square mile and was surrounded by a six metre high wall and a ditch (or moat). The walls disappeared many years ago but this area, that has for centuries been one of the major financial centres of the world, now full of international banks and businesses, is still referred to as “The Square Mile” or "The City". It even has its own police force, separate from the Metropolitan Police. I only mention this to avoid confusion for anyone who may have thought that the whole of London was being referred to in these pages.

The coat of arms (top left) belongs to the City of London Corporation. This body along with an annually elected Lord Mayor, administrates everything within the square mile and is totally independent of any other national or London authority. It was founded centuries ago, and apart from the Throne of England, is the oldest governing body still in existence anywhere in the land. Their motto is: Domine dirige nos - Lord direct us.

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed almost the whole of The City of London. The tightly packed buildings with their jetties (upper floors jutting out) overhanging the lower floors, almost touching the buildings opposite across the narrow streets ensured that the flames would not be stopped before most were devoured.

Within a week, Sir Christopher Wren had produced a set plans for the complete rebuilding of the City based on a layout similar to the one he had seen on his only trip abroad, to Paris. Six days to design a complete city? Did he have a part time job at Farryners, the bakers where it all started!

Wren's weren't the only plans submitted but by the time the discussions had gone on and finances debated, people had got impatient and started building homes and businesses using their own initiative on the plots of land they occupied before the fire. This is why (apart from a few relatively new developments) the City still follows the street plan that existed long before the 17th. century fire.

It was annoying for the planners, but at least the City was beginning to rise again from the ashes and trade could once more thrive.

To settle any disputes about boundaries a panel of 22 judges was set up. These dealt only with matters arising from the rebuilding and they became known as the "Fire Judges". Sir Christopher Wren's office was given the tasWar galleryk of rebuilding 51 of the 88 churches destroyed in the fire, along with St. Pauls Cathedral, which incidentally, was totally destroyed when the wooden scaffolding, being used at the time for renovation work, caught fire. Wren was the man doing the repairs at the time.

The City of London gradually rose from its own ashes and returned to being the most important financial centre of the world.

Then, almost three centuries later during the air raids of the Second World War (1939-45) the City was almost totally destroyed again. 2,000 years of its history wiped out by two events. Once again, the building work was started and the City rose from its own ashes for the second time (the third if you count the Iceni revolt of 60 A.D.). This is why the Square Mile now consists mainly of metal and glass constructions, which I personally deplored until I realized the extent of the bomb damage. At the beginning of the 21st. century I now realise that architects like Sir Terry Farrel, The Gilbert Scotts, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and others are the modern day equivalent to the offices of Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and the George Dances, elder and younger.

When famous architects of the distant past such as Inigo Jones and the aforementioned group created a new style of design they were often frowned upon until people realized that this was progress, and that their buildings were indeed works of art.

Modernisation of the City - The Phoenix rising from its own ashes

Modern architecture

Fresh air and peaceful parks

It was only after passing the exams for the City of London Guide Course that I started to look at the modern architecture in a different light. I began to realise that we have to move on. The old buildings that still remain, such as the medieval Great Hall of the Guildhall complex, ancient churches and of course Saint Pauls Cathedral are still magnificent, but as the City was left looking like nothing more than a large bomb site after the war, something had to take the place of the buildings that were beyond restoration  or repair and it had to be done quickly.

Yes, mistakes were made, and some of the post war constructions were hurriedly done to get the City back on its feet and working again, but in the main today’s developments are well thought out and planned to help our ecology as well as aesthetics. Buildings such as the "Gherkin" that I once thought of as monstrosities now seem more acceptable and indeed works of genius to me now.

It is amazing how much trouble is taken when a new development is planned for the modern Square Mile to protect existing views as far as possible, and even to improve them.

Public open spaces are also now included as a condition of any new build within the Square Mile. The developer has to provide one at their expense, and the City maintains it thereafter. These are in addition to over 150 existing  parks and open spaces in this relatively small area. All are maintained to a high standard by the City of London Corporation Open Spaces Department and are known as “the green lungs of the City”.

Building plans sometimes have had to be altered simply to protect a London Plane tree or the view to St. Pauls from certain locations. This is how much the City Corporation tries to preserve what is left of its unique history. I'll try to show you as many examples as I can on this web site and hopefully entice you into forming a group to take a guided walk, either by me personally, or by one of my fellow guides, and see some of the sites, both old and new, for real. You can obtain more information about my City of London walks from this link:

In the meantime I hope you will enjoy this section of my site and maybe learn a little more about the City of London and its origins.

City trivia spot

City of London tour guides

In an interview, Oscar Wilde once said:

To me the life of the businessman who eats his breakfast early in the morning, catches a train for the city, stays there in the dingy, dusty atmosphere of the commercial world, and goes back to his house in the evening, and after supper to sleep, is worse than the life of the galley slave. His chains are golden instead of iron.”

Not so dusty and dingy today, but those commuter trains must be hard work in themselves!

All Official City of London Tour Guides have completed a training course run by the City of London Corporation. On completion of this course they have to pass a written examination  on all aspects of the City as well as practical walk examinations both interior and exterior. Only if they meet the required criteria will they be issued with the official guides badge.

Make sure your tour guide is in possession of this badge.


A qualified City of London tour guide.

Click for details