Monday, 30 September 2013

Observations from the City of London

London is two cities in one; the City of Westminster, and to the east of it, the City of London. The latter is a very peculiar institution ruled over by a Corporation, and an annually-appointed Lord Mayor*, and its own police force. Just over one square mile (2.9km²) in area, home to a mere 7,375 people, but it is where 300,000 people work, generating 2.5% of the UK's GDP. If each of the remaining 94,059 square miles of the UK were to generate this amount of GDP, the country would be well over two thousand times wealthier than it currently is.

Below: St Paul's cathedral, seen at the top of Ludgate Hill. To count as a city in Britain, a town needs a diocesan cathedral. Westminster Abbey was given cathedral status by Henry VIII, sparing it from dissolution and turning Westminster into a city. (This is why small towns, such as Wells and Truro are Cities, despite having populations of only 10,000 and 20,000 respectively.) Today, the City of London and the City of Westminster function as two of the 32 boroughs of Greater London.

Street signs in the City (below) sport the coat of arms. If the typeface looks familiar, it's because it's Albertus, beloved of The Prisoner TV series fans. The names are interesting - Pageantmaster Court - the pageantry, ceremony and heritage beloved of the City. Old Fish Street Hill demonstrates the dangers of trying to translate street names into foreign languages (Górka Starej Ulicy Rybnej), and resonates with history. And a finally, a double-take: Greed Lane (apposite) or Creed Lane (historic)?

Left: the College of Arms, which has been in existence since 1484 and present on this spot since 1555, is the authority that grants permissions to use coats of arms, heraldic devices, flags, and other national symbols.

The College of Arms is one of those institutions that maintains Britain's strong traditions as a sovereign monarchy, it dwells on the minutiae of genealogy and aristocratic pedigree, letters patent and precedence at court.

A part of the Royal Household, heralds from the College of Arms take part in royal ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament. The College's location reinforces the link between the Monarch and the City of London. (Scotland has its own equivalent of the College of Arms, the Court of the Lord Lyon).

Below: you need to see the sign to know it's not a joke. The church of Saint Andrew by-the-Wardrobe (Świętego Andrzeja przy garderobie). The wardrobe in question belonged to Edward III, who moved his fine clothes and armour to this part of the City in 1361. William Shakespeare was a member of this parish for 15 years. The original church burnt down in the Great Fire of London (1666), the current building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, destroyed by the Luftwaffe and rebuilt after the war.

Left: a traditional City pub - the Cockpit on St. Andrew's Hill. I was intrigued to see the Courage Brewery logo on this Victorian pub - I'd thought it had long gone for a Burton. But no, the gold cockerell on red background is still proudly there, now owned by the Wells and Youngs Brewery after having been part of Imperial Tobacco, Hanson Trust, Foster's Brewing Group, Grand Metropolitan and Scottish & Newcastle. After all those travails, its good to see the brand has survived, having supped back a bottle of Courage Director's ale in Opole the other week.
Below: one hundred years ago, the underground passages linking Cannon Street and Queen Victoria Street were opened. It is worth noting that the Corporation of the City of London is quite different to any local authority in the UK, with ancient privileges and a unique relationship with the Crown.

The City is steeped in tradition, power and wealth, something reflected in its architecture. I'd like to delve deeper down the passageways and thoroughfares of the Square Mile, to dig up more architectural gems and historical treasures. It is a most fascinating part of London.

* It is important not to confuse the Lord Mayor of the City of London with Boris Johnson, who is the Mayor of London. The Lord Mayor is essentially an unpaid ambassador for the City's financial services industry, who travels the world, delivering hundreds of speeches during his (or indeed her) year-long term of office.

This time last year:
Civilising Jeziorki's wetlands

This time two years ago:
Warsaw's Aleje Jerozolimskie

This time three years ago:
Melancholy autumn mood in Łazienki

This time five years ago:
Autumn gold, Zamienie

This time six years ago:
Flamenco Sketches - Seville

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