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Most streets in the City of London are named after someone, something or an activity that took place there in the past. Many names were there before the population started to expand after the Roman invasion, having made references to certain landmarks that have long since disappeared. Many more were named after historical figures from hundreds of years ago. As time passed some of the oldest names became corrupted, the meanings becoming more obscure with the passing of time. Many streets were named after the business that was carried out there. For instance, if you walk down Cheapside you will come to Milk Street, Bread Street, Ironmonger Lane, and so on. These names tell you where the cows were kept, and the bread was made etc. Incidentally, Cheapside was the market place. Its name comes from an old Anglo Saxon word “Ceape”, which meant “to barter”.
A sign of the times. Around the middle of 2006 I noticed that there were new modern looking flat rectangular street signs popping up all over the Square Mile like giant headstones. All the old pointers and signposts were being taken down and replaced, if not with the headstones, then with new black signposts. The new black monoliths with their coloured street map on either side now stand on all the main street corners, and apparently were designed to provide another service besides giving directions.
In 2007 the City of London became a total wireless network area, and it seems that the new style signposts act as Wi-fi network aerials for Internet and phones.
His murder, by poisoning, in 1571 was said to have been caused by a jealous member of court who wished to gain favour with the Queen. It is generally agreed that the Earl of Leicester was, more than likely, the culprit.
The most famous building in this street until 2005 was the London Stock Exchange. This tall building, which still stands at the bottom end of this narrow, cobbled street was vacated in 2005 when the Exchange moved to Paternoster Square near Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The building’s lower level was totally demolished and major conversion work on the old tower block took place (2007 onwards) This totally transformed the building. The Draper's Hall, with it’s ornate entrance which for some reason gives me a sinister feeling when I look at it, is situated opposite.
Named after Sir Thomas Gresham, (1517-1579). A ruthless but clever businessman who made his fortune manipulating government money by way of the exchange rate. While making the government a profit, he also made a fortune for himself, and was reputed to be the richest commoner in England. He was born a Londoner, the son of a Lord Mayor, Richard Gresham, and member of the Mercers company. He spent a great deal of time in Amsterdam, a great financial centre at the time .A vast amount of his fortune was spent founding Gresham College, and building the Exchange (later to become the Royal Exchange) in 1566. He had a house in Bishopsgate on the site of Gresham House. On the morning of November 29th he was leaving his house to walk to the Royal Exchange and dropped dead as he closed the door. He is buried in Saint Helen’s, Bishopsgate.
He left only one descendant, a daughter, his only son died as an infant. The Gresham family crest is a golden Grasshopper and a few examples of this can be seen by the keen eyed observer as you walk round the City of London Streets.
Up until the year 1290 the Jews were the main bankers and moneylenders of England. The Great London Synagogue stood until then in what is now called Old Jewry. They were banished by King Edward I for excessive interest rates in their dealings and usury. The Italian Lombardis were allowed to take their place and this street was named after them. They set up benches to trade and when the money was gone they broke the bench, hence the phrase “breaking the bank”. Pawnbrokers first started here, and the three brass balls which were used as a sign represent the odds of someone ever redeeming their goods.
The last church to be demolished for the land in the city stood in Lombard Street. This was All Hallows, here until 1938
In 1549 Thomas Gresham and his wife took a house at number 68 Lombard Street, 'at the sign of the Grass- barrer', which was the emblem of the Gresham family. The golden grasshopper can still be seen there today.
The East India Company had offices in Leadenhall Street as early as 1600. There is also the church of Saint Katherine Cree, the oldest surviving church in the City. Saint Katherine was tortured on a barbed wheel before being beheaded, and is remembered on bonfire night when we light up ‘Catherine wheels’, which were named after her.
Leadenhall Market, designed by Sir Horace Jones, is also close by. A beautifully maintained set of buildings covered by a metal and glass roof. The shops and other places of business are all painted in the same colour scheme and the street remains cobbled.
Walk down Leadenhall Street, from the Bank end and you will see two of the City’s most famous buildings; the Lloyds building on the right and the Gherkin on the left.
Threadneedle Street was originally called Three Needle Street. This came from the three needles on the emblem for the Merchant Taylors Guild. It is the home of the Bank of England, known as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’. It was also home to the Bank of Scotland until 2007 when it vacated the grand old building next to the Gibson Hall, and moved to Old Broad Street. In 2005 the scaffolding which had been hiding the buildings at the Bishopsgate end came down after a few years, and revealed the exterior renovations. They are being occupied by retailers rather than bankers, but the grand old buildings have not been demolished to make way for glass and steel, but brought back to their former glory. They now house a large bar/restaurant and health club among others.
St. Mary Axe joins Leadenhall Street and Houndsditch. The street passes over the site of a former church, Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint Ursula. The story is that Saint Ursula was beheaded along with 11,000 other virgins in Cologne. One of the axes used for this task was kept in the church until 1600. By kneeling the women side by side in threes it was said that the axe had taken 3,666 heads with only 1,222 swings on this mass execution by the Huns. Number 30 St. Mary Axe is what used to be the Swiss Re building before being sold for £600 million. It took the place of the old Baltic Exchange which was destroyed by an IRA terrorist bomb in 1993. The tall circular glass structure is known as “The Erotic Gherkin”, and was completed in 2004.
It’s design, by Norman Foster, allows for maximum natural light to be spread over the greatest area inside.
As the name implies, this was once a medieval centre for the trade of grain. It was one of the two hills that the Romans decided to build the City around (the other being Ludgate Hill) and was the site of the Roman Basilica.
There was a pillory, stocks and a prison known as the Tun, mainly for night walkers. The author Daniel Defoe was once put in the pillory for a day here when he issued a paper called “The Shortest Way with Dissenters” in 1703. He had a hosiery shop nearby.
Cornhill became the centre of the lottery trade. Just as today, there were people in the City who would speculate on anything in the hope of making a killing. One such punter was a Spanish refugee going by the name of Thomas Isturitz. He entered the Cornhill offices of Martin & Company with twenty pounds, and asked for ticket number 261, the number of days since his escape from Spain. He waited while other lottery offices in the City were contacted in hope that they still had number 261, and finally managed to buy a half share in one. At five o’clock that day, the largest win ever in England till then, £40,000, was paid to number 261. He walked away £20,000 better off. Cornhill also contains the site of the oldest church in Britain, Saint Peters. It is said that the original church was built there by King Lucius in AD. 179.
Cornhill is also the home of a water pump and horse trough erected in 1799.
The only thing making Pudding Lane famous is that at number 25 the great fire that destroyed almost the whole of London began in 1666. It was Farryner’s, bakers to the King. Pudding Lane had nothing to do with with puddings. It was so called because the meat traders from Eastcheap had the habit of dumping cart loads of steaming animal offal onto the cobbles there! I read somewhere that in 1986 the Bakers Company issued an apology for the fire! The lane has been filled with modern buildings now but can still be seen from the base of the Monument to the Great Fire.
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