My Kinda Town – part two

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Who’s Hodge? I know you know, Archaeologist; it’s for everyone else. Read on.

Sometimes I felt like Hodge. Stalking Fleet Street, in the shoes of a clever man (or in my case the clever men and women I worked with). Today I want to tell you about Fleet Street, but this is not about the well known bits; more the unexplored elements you miss if you don’t concentrate. Go slowly: look up and down; explore.

So how did I arrive in Fleet Street? Hmm. I sort of promised, mostly myself, that I would avoid posts about my legal career. Mostly it is because posting on interminable meetings, the daily horrors of office coffee, the embarrassment of trying to pee while someone is droning on at you about a legal problem – women might complain at the queuing to use a cubicle but this watching thing they avoid – this is the stuff of DULL. There were many funny, nay hilarious moments during my legal career, but they deserve to be nurtured and told in a book. One day.

Today, however, we must start with my legal beginnings. As a qualified solicitor anyway. In June 1981, I joined this extraordinary institution, whose principle claim to fame was (and is) as solicitor to the Bank of England. It was a pretty big boast, up there with Sir Chris Hoy’s thighs and JLO’s glutes. I was blown away that they wanted me. Little me from the New Forest. No public school, no Oxbridge degree. I thought them open minded and warm hearted. It was only later I realised they were desperate.

My first day, I arrived at their offices. This comprised what seemed like a golden tower in Gresham Street, behind St Paul’s Cathedral. It was part of the Paternoster Square development and to a bumpkin like me the height of cool. I had an office on the tenth floor. A view!  Other tenants on the estate included the CEGB and a firm of estate agents. Grand company, indeed.  I had arrived. This was the business, the bees knees, the canines cojones.  It had a lift,  toilets on every floor and this strange beguiling space called the ‘word processing centre’. Wow! There was a ticker tape machine spewing out the news headlines, stock market prices and, best of all, the cricket scores. Could it get any better?

How long did it take me to realise the building was SHIT? Two years of increasing disillusionment. I mean it was the pits. The lifts smelt of cabbage; the toilets above the third floor blocked with the evacuation of every medium sized stool; the rooms were cold and hot in the wrong seasons; you could open the windows but to do so was to risk turning every single document (and there are lots in a lawyer’s office) into wallpaper. The reception was pokey and funereal. Prince Charles, who is to 50s architecture what Tywin Lannister is to forgiveness, famously said of the development of Paternoster Square in the years after the war: ‘You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings it didn’t leave anything more offensive than rubble.’ This was my home for the first eight years of my legal life.

Today it has gone. The new development, still backing onto St Paul’s, pisses off His Royal Whinge as well but hey, it’s better than its predecessor. Anyway we moved to Fleet Street, to another anonymous office block. I went from Paternoster, where this post will end, and turned up in Fleet Street, in an office, whose front door faces a passage next to McDonalds; down it sits Hodge, cat to Dr Samuel Johnson whose house we will see later. So that’s me, from 1981 to 2013 when I hung up my spurs. The building in Fleet Street was meah; it served its purpose. But the area around it, and Fleet Street in particular? Well this was a slow burning love story.

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Royal Courts

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You know what…

Fleet Street. It is not a grand street and you’ll miss so much if you don’t slow down and pay attention. It’s not a boulevard and it’s not easy on the eye. A complete mishmash, in truth. Part of the problem is it is bookended by, at the Aldwych end, the Royal Courts of Justice and at the Ludgate Circus end, the slope up to St Paul’s. People want to get from one monumental slab to the other, missing out the middle. It’s like eating a Victoria Sponge cake and ignoring the filler in the middle. These buildings are exceptional, I grant you but, please, yawn, they are so last century (actually a ways before that). Up on the left is the back of the courts. Done. And to the right St Paul’s in the distance. Tick. Move on!

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Imposing beast!

Let’s start with some shots of the Griffin (a dragon really but everyone calls it a Griffin) where Temple Bar once stood, the point at which you enter the City of London from the City of Westminster. The City boundary is now marked with a slightly less scary dragons but this statue remains to warn off visitors. When you enter the City, the so called Square Mile that isn’t, you used to pass through a gate. But it became too narrow and was dismantled and taken to Theobalds Park where it stayed until brought back and reincorporated into the new Paternoster development. For some history, try here. We will come to a picture of the gate, insitu, at the end of the post.

 

In the meantime, here are more pictures of the Griffin statue whose background is here.

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Prince of Wales

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the last Royals to enter the City Through the Temple Bar gate

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Queen Victoria – not yet Empress!

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Just so you know where it is.

So we pass the Griffin, standing proud and monstrous and guarding the entrance. You need to walk the half mile or so to Ludgate Circus to where Ludgate sat for the old entrance point to the city through the London Wall. It housed a prison at one time and was demolished in 1760. It was by the River Fleet (Ludgate Hill, up to the front of St Paul’s is only there because the Fleet carved a valley long ago). But don’t do that yet. Come with me on a  little journey.

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peep through the gate…

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or walk round behind here and head for Fountain Court…

The Griffin notes the absence of the Temple bar gate on its top rim.  The Temple refers to the Temple Church, much visited by Dan Brown fans everywhere and now the centre of bookish learning in secluded barristers’ chambers in the Inns of Court. I could give you a picture of it but it is shut to Joe Public and isn’t very interesting to my way of thinking so find it if you want to.

This is a good place to point out that so much of the charm of Fleet Street lies just off the main road. Dart through a gate or down a passage and the quaint old street pattern of the City is instantly revealed in all its glory. No cars, just a seclusion rare to be found in London. Lots of little pedestrian passages and courtyards which are what makes London so unique. Fleet Street is always busy with buses and taxis and bustle but quietude lies within easy grasp. Don’t miss them by thinking you should hurry past.

Some building as are tiny and a number are drinking establishments that reflect the history of Fleet Street as the street of shame, home to the newspaper profession. They’ve gone now (my old firm is housed in a 1980s block that replaced the home of the News of the World and the Sun) and below is a reminder of times past, with some of the drinking dens that now would struggle to survive without thirsty journos, if it wasn’t for the tourist trade…

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when did the Sunday Post end? Look before my time…

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my last alcohol was consumed here – awful!

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narrow and a tourist trap – it is not kept going by the locals anymore…

I would like to point out that, Street of Shame or no, the place is also chock full of churches and two of my all time favourites are in or just off Fleet Street.

First up is St Dunstans in the West, a small church with an unprepossessing tower (though an intriguing octagonal interior) but with a fabulous time piece and two giants to clatter the bell every quarter hour. Try and catch them. Too many people just wander past.

Here’s the church.

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St Dunstans

 

 

 

And then the giants:

When labour and when dullness, club in hand,
Like the two figures at St. Dunstan’s stand,
Beating alternately in measured time
The clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme,
Exact and regular the sounds will be,
But such mere quarter-strokes are not for me (William Cowper, 1872)

And here are the Giants

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The magnificent clock giants at St Dunstans. The earliest clock in London with a minute hand!

Fleet Street is in two parts, nearly severed by Fetter Lane. That has its own interesting history but we pass by as that is for another day. On the east side of Fetter lane, Fleet Street slopes gently down hill. The Inns of Court that have been our southern companion for most of our walk so far, stop at Bouverie Street (This was part of the Folkestone Estate, owned by the Pleydell-Bouverie Family). Next to it, once upon a time, was the Whitefriars monastery – part of the crypt was uncovered as the development of my old office came out of the ground and has its own home and viewing window, south down Whitefriars street and in on the right. Ancient, for sure, if essentially just a  lump of flint and mortar. If you do detour you may catch a glimpse of the Victoria Embankment, built to house Bazalgette’s sewers. But again, no distractions of which there are too many because I want to take you north of Fleet Street to Samuel Johnson’s house.

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The great lexicographer’s house

Samuel Johnson compiled a dictionary. It is the work of a genius, if somewhat dry witted and selective. His chronicler, James Boswell captured a lot of Johnson’s bon mots for our benefit though one wonders if they were all his. Still there is no doubting the man’s brilliance. A few of my favourites:

“A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

“Much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.”
from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

On second marriages: “The triumph of hope over experience.”
from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

“When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

“A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.”
from Boswell’s Life of Johnson

I could go on. Do have a look; there are some great pieces of philosophising, even if he was rude about the Scots and women. And while on the subject of dictionaries, I commend to you the Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester.

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GS are behind us, like any good pantomime villain.

Around hereabouts are these odd little squares, one which always appeals to me is Gunpowder Square. This is overlooked by Goldman Sachs’ Slab of a building where once the Dailies Telegraph and Express were published. GS are a monolithic institution who generate as many passionate likes and dislikes as profits. Personally I cannot forgive them for curtaining off the entrance hall to the old Daily Express building which is magnificent. Small minded sods.

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Valpy’s mark

I also found this (see left) on my wanderings. It means ‘Feed the flames’ and was the logo of a long gone publisher, Abraham Valpy, a man dedicated to learning apparently. Initially I thought it might be one of those fire marks that insurance companies put on buildings so their tenders only put out fires for people who had paid them but I was wrong. Still it’s  neat it is still there having been erected in the early nineteenth century.

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On the Reuters building

We’re nearly done. Back on Fleet Street via Wine Office Court, you’ll see a large building in Portland stone that houses a restaurant on the ground floor, Lutyens named after the building’s architect. This once housed Reuters news agency a much revered newspaper institution. My memory tells me that there was a top hatted gateman there when I first worked in the area.

Just beyond Reuters is St Bride’s Passage which gives on to the prettiest church in the whole of London. A wedding cake of a spire. While the inside is rather utilitarian for my tastes it was always the church to which we repaired when the firm had cause to remember. One of my partners, a lovely man whose name I prefer to withhold, died far too young. His memorial service would have been difficult enough but it fell apart emotionally for me when the choir sang High by the Lighthouse family. In my memory it was a cappella but even if accompanied it brought tears I hadn’t expected. It still does whenever I hear it so, pardon the smudges, here it is.

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Bloody magnificent…

And that’s  pretty good place to end. Oh, except I promised you a picture of the Temple Bar gates, now they are back in town. Strictly they aren’t on Fleet Street anymore; you have to potter up Ludgate Hill and go left rather than up the steps to St Paul’s. Do both. They are both worth it.

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They had to go because of the traffic jams they caused, but I’m glad they came back home….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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20 Responses to My Kinda Town – part two

  1. Jan says:

    Enjoying this stuff Geoff! Did walk up that way recently and had lunch in a small pub in one of the alleyways. Dickens was supposed to frequent it although he does seem to have been in rather a lot of pubs in London. Surprised he got anything written! Loving the photographs and the interesting details.

    Like

  2. Archaeologist says:

    A fascinating exploration brother, I can remember stumbling across Temple bar when it was a neglected garden ornament in Essex, it is nice to see it properly restored again.
    As for the griffins, they are not only dragons, but Wels dragons at that, the bloody lizards of our family history.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Cindi says:

    I’m going to enjoy the rest of these posts about Fleet Street. We were there for just a couple hours during our too-brief visit to London in July 2013, starting at The Tipperary and ending at The George (hmmm, does that show our priorities?). I hope to get back and dive a little deeper; your posts will help me get future priorities ironed out! 🙂

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      Ah the Tipp. That’s part of the building where I worked. It is so old it leans like a Pisa taverna. Or a local drunk. Many happy hours spent in that upstairs bar, debriefing the madness of work…

      Like

  4. willowdot21 says:

    I really enjoyed this post and part one so much so that the next time my friend and I make one of regular forays into Town we are going to do the ‘unseen Fleet Street.’ My husband work in and around that area for many years you probably passed him in the street.
    Anyway you brought it to life so I shall be studying both posts again and hubby is giving me the lowdown on the pubs and wine bars. So you have inspired the next ‘Girls Day Out’ don’t you feel proud. 🙂 Thank you. xxx

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      Ah and I avoided the pubs. The Punch Tavern, the Old Bell, the Cock Tavern, The Tipperary, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese The George The Old Bank Of England… No doubt I’ve missed several – which was his favourite watering hole?

      Like

      • willowdot21 says:

        He used to hate drinking but often could not avoid being in the pubs. Honest he has never been a drinker and was often nominated driver. He says they used to to The Witness Box. Mostly because he worked in Harmsworth House which was above the pub. Also the Deveraux in the Inns of court. The White Swan in Tudor Street they called it The Mucky Duck. He also remembers the Cheddar Cheese. Hummm. Not a bad list for someone who didn’t drink.

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      • TanGental says:

        That’s all v familiar. I’ve been teetotal since 1989 but spent an unconscionable amount of time in pubs. The Witness. box was popular as it was close by my office. The White Swan, if memory serves was knocked down in the mid 90s when the old
        Northcliffe House was demolished and a new office built. They preserved a food unit but it is a cafe inevitably not a pub. There’s the Harrow in Whitefriars street and the Hack and Hop which was I think the Coach and Horses back in the day. I know of the Devereuax but I don’t recall going.

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  5. willowdot21 says:

    PS. Meant to say hubby worked… He is retired now, and he is not alcoholic we asked him about the older pubs

    Like

  6. Pingback: IF WE WERE HAVING COFFEE: HOT GOSSIP | willowdot21

  7. restlessjo says:

    Can’t argue with Johnson’s London quote, Geoff. It’s a city that excites my imagination every time I’m back there. I used to know this area well, working at the old Faraday Buildings which I’m sure are long gone.
    I enjoyed my little side trip with the Lighthouse Family too. I love that singer’s voice and was intrigued by the repeated appearance in the video of something looking very much like our Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough. I believe there’s one in Pittsburgh. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Just boats! | restlessjo

  9. Excellent post, Geoff. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a couple of your photos are similar to mine

    Liked by 1 person

  10. arlingwoman says:

    What a nice tour! I didn’t make it to Fleet Street or see the Giants–London’s answer to the Anker Uhr in Vienna. But let me tell you, I’ll be looking for them and Johnson’s house next time.

    Liked by 1 person

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