Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Journals | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

No.3 The City: Tower Hill to Blackfriars

In 1980 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by Robert Vickers and David Perrett.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.

This walk relates to London's river and its many associated trades. It runs through the City of London following the north bank of the Thames from the Tower of London to Blackfriars. The character of this area is changing continually at an ever increasing pace. There is little left of the Thames-side wharves and warehouses which were once a major feature of the City's riverfront; now modern offices dominate the riverscape. It is too late to observe this industrial scene, but many relics of these past activities can be found by the keen eye.

The walk is about two miles long and is likely to take about 1½ hours. A longer and/or circular walk is obtained by continuing with IA Walks 2 or 4.

No.3 The City: Tower Hill to Blackfriars

From Tower Hill station (Circle and District lines) turn right and walk anticlockwise round Trinity House Square.

The Square is named after Trinity House, the lighthouse and pilotage body. Trinity House itself has a façade dating from 1792-4. This was designed by Samuel Wyatt, but the main part was reconstructed after war damage. The building's associations are indicated by the ship weather vane, and lighthouses in plaster on the façade. No 10 Trinity House Square (GTL00352) is the ex-Port of London Authority headquarters building, 1912-1922, built by Mowlem to designs by Sir T Edwin Cooper. The lamp standards have the initials PLA on them. The PLA left in c1970.

Trinity House Port of London Authority (PLA)

Cross the road onto Tower Hill and walk down the slope.

Most of the bollards here are real cannon barrels, indicated by the pivots at the base. The site now used as a car park appears to be the remains of a storehouse within the Tower's precincts. Its ground floor and basement in Gloucester Court are used by Bowring & Co. The manual wall crane on the ground floor is worth closer inspection since most others are high above the ground.

① The round brick building with London Hydraulic Power Company Tower Subway Constructed 1868 written around the top is the entrance to a tunnel under the Thames (GTL00007). This, the world's first tube tunnel, was built in 1869-70, (not as shown) by James Henry Greathead, 1844-96, and Peter William Barlow, 1809-85. The tunnel, 7ft in diameter and 1,340ft long, was constructed using Greathead's tunnelling shield and compressed air. Although intended for railway use, this lasted less than a year before changing to pedestrian use only. Following the opening of Tower Bridge, this too stopped and in 1896 the tunnel was sold to London Hydraulic Power Co. to use for carrying their hydraulic mains. The circular entrance structure was built in 1926.

London Hydraulic Power Company Tower Subway Constructed 1868

Bear right into Lower Thames Street, follow the lower footpath and turn left down Sugar Quay.

② At the end of Sugar Quay are steps down to the Thames: a plaque on the river wall indicates These stairs were repaired by the Honourable the Commissioners of Sewers, July 1886. From the steps can be seen the warehousing complex of Hays Wharf on the opposite bank. The Customs House, built in 1814-17 by D Laing has a river frontage of 488 feet which was rebuilt by Smirke in 1825, following the collapse of the foundations.

Hay's Wharf Co head office, St Olaf's House

Return to Lower Thames Street, turn left, pass the north front of the Customs House and follow your nose to Billingsgate Fish Market (GTL00056).

③ This is the oldest market in London, dating from the 9th century. The present market was opened in 1875, and was designed by the City Corporation architect, Sir Horace Jones (of Tower Bridge fame) and built by Mowlem. Fish are much in evidence in the external decoration: on the weather vane, on the roof corners, in the statue of Britannia, and in the ironwork over the entrances. The market will shortly move to a new Docklands site and the future of the building is at present uncertain. Opposite the market is Billingsgate Christian Mission, opened in 1889 with reading room and library. It is still partly in use.

Billingsgate Fish Market Billingsgate Fish Market

Continue walking westwards.

The granite setts here are probably the last remaining on a main road in London. The building site in the middle of the road is that of the Coal Exchange (GTL03083), built 1847-49 by J B Bunning. It was a magnificent glass and cast iron structure, but was demolished in 1962 for 'road widening' a classic example of municipal vandalism. The Church of St Magnus the Martyr on the left was built by Wren, 1671-6. The churchyard was the entrance to old London Bridge from about 1176-1831, when Rennie's bridge was opened. Stones from both these bridges are preserved in the churchyard.

Under the new London Bridge turn left up the stairs and continue up onto London Bridge (East side).

On the opposite side of the road is Fishmonger's Hall, which was built at the same time as Rennie's bridge was being constructed, 1831-4. Henry Roberts, the architect, used a neo-Greek style. Note the two working gas lamps.

Pass the front of Adelaide House, designed in Egyptian style by Burnet & Tait, 1924-5.

Immediately turn left and go down the steps to the riverside terrace.

④ From this terrace beneath the bridge the view towards HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge is particularly impressive. Note the resited Victorian lamp standards. Pass the river entrance to Fishmonger's Hall, complete with statues of fisherman and wife. Moored in the Thames is the paddlesteamer Princess Elizabeth, 371 tons powered by a twin cylinder compound steam engine 23" x 48" x 51". It was built in 1924 at Southampton by Day, Summers & Co as an Isle of Wight ferry, but also served as a minesweeper during the Second World War, before being withdrawn in 1959. It is now a floating restaurant.

Return to Upper Thames Street via Angel Passage, and continue under the Cannon Street rail bridge.

At the corner of Cousin Lane is a disused drinking fountain and dog trough. The arches below Cannon Street Station (GTL00373), now being converted into sports facilities, were used for storing goods, and the cranes and lifts were hydraulically operated from the station's own supply.

Cross into Dowgate Hill.

⑤ Here are the halls of three London guilds: Dyers Hall, 1839-40, designed by Charles Dyer; Skinners Hall, c1790, with Coade Stone pediment; Tallow Chandlers Hall, remodelled 1871, with Doulton coat of arms and surround.

Turn left into Cloak Lane and at the end turn left into Queen Street. Cross the road and turn right to continue along the south side of Upper Thames Street.

Pass Thames House (1911), Vintry House (1927) and Vintners' (Wine Merchants) Hall. The Hall was built in 1672 but altered in 1867, 1906-10, and 1948. On its Vintners' Place wall is a Coade Stone statue of a Vintry Ward schoolboy in tail-coat uniform. Note the arms of the Vintners' Co.

Vintners' Place

Off Upper Thames Street, the narrow lanes are typical of 19th-century London. The Worcester Place warehouses have wall cranes, and Kennet Wharf Lane recalls the up-river traffic to the River Kennet. Bull Wharf Lane has warehouses still used by fur traders who have traditionally occupied the area around St James Garlickhithe.

⑥ Queenhithe provides an interesting contrast — fur warehouses on the east, modern flats on the west. No 20/21, possibly late 19th century, has the City shield. From the end of Queenhithe can be seen Bankside Power Station. The Samuel Pepys pub in Brooks Wharf (GTL00089) is a converted riverside tea warehouse: this area was a centre of the tea trade — n.b. Sir John Lyon House.

Bankside Power Station Brooks Wharf - Samuel Pepys pub-cum-restaurant

Cross Upper Thames Street via the steps and walkway near Brooks Wharf and continue to Queen Victoria Street.

The large red brick building opposite is Bracken House, offices of the Financial Times, built 1956-9 to designs by Sir Albert Richardson.

Turn left along Queen Victoria Street then cross and go up the steps in Peters Hill, passing on the corner the College of Arms, with 18th-century wrought iron gates from Goodrich Court in Herefordshire.

Walk towards St Paul's and turn left into Carter Lane.

The circular building in the garden is the City Information Office, a useful source of further information.

From the junction with Godliman Street can be seen the railings around St Paul's churchyard, made of Wealden iron in 1714 at Lamberhurst, Kent (GTL01011).

Railings around St Paul's churchyard

In Carter Lane, a number of office buildings have been restored. Pass Faraday House, built for the GPO in 1932, with a later extension towards Carter Lane. On the right the AA restaurant with its pure 1930s Art Deco decoration and lettering, sells excellent jam roly poly pudding. It probably draws many of its customers from the strangely decorated YHA next door, the former St Pauls Choir School (1875). Wardrobe Place is the site of the King's Wardrobe, the King's private treasury, destroyed by the fire of 1666.

The lanes and courts here give Carter Lane a traditional city appearance; note the varying designs of bollards. Nos 68-74, dated 1880, have the badge (remember?) of the Vintner's Co who own the site, and impressive cast-iron columns. From 1879 to 1959 it was the warehouse of the publishers Routledge & Kegan Paul. Across from the end of Carter Lane, the multichrome brickwork is all that remains of Ludgate Hill Station (GTL03378). Opened on 1 June 1865 by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, it closed on 3 March 1929, when the line was electrified.

Turn left into Ludgate Broadway and continue into Blackfriars Lane.

⑦ Apothecaries Hall is the only guildhall to survive the Second World War still largely as rebuilt in 1669. Strangely, this hall holds a key place in the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Here from 1715-1733, was the home of The Committee appointed and authorised by the Proprietors of the invention for raising water by the impellent force of fire, which controlled the application of the Newcomen engine, the world's first practicable steam engine. n.b. bell pull by entrance.

⑧ In the railway arches between Blackfriars and Ludgate Hill Stations was the HQ of Spiers and Pond (GTL00824), the earliest railway caterers. They opened their first restaurant in 1866 and became the official caterers to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The name Spiers and Pond can still be seen on the parapet; note the sculptures of victuals, eg pig's head, pineapple etc, on the keystones.

At Queen Victoria Street turn right under the railway bridge.

⑨ The Blackfriar public house was rebuilt in 1905. The architect, H Fuller Clark, and sculptor, Henry Poole, produced the finest Art Nouveau design in London. The exterior has intricate mosaic work, wrought iron hanging signs and copper panels of friars pointing to the saloon bar. A visit to the interior with its marbles, bronze tableaux, and sayings, (eg don't advertise it, tell it to a gossip) and real ale makes a suitable end to this walk.

Blackfriars Station (District, Circle, and BR) is just outside.

© GLIAS, 1980