C THE CITY – Isobel hits a couple of high Cs in the City

…cathedral, cat, colony, cloak, controversy, conflagration, cherub, Christmas, candlemakers, Cornhill, cordwainers, camembert, cockney, cheese grater…. The City is a cornucopia

Isobel’s the guide, her C the City is the walk.


I am going to talk about a walk I devised in the square mile where all the stops are in someway connected with the letter C. 

I’m going to tell you about some of the places we go to on that walk and stories associated with those. This is a taste of the walk, a window into some of the things you’ll see and hear about if you come on it.

So where to begin. Well, there’s C for cathedral, St Paul’s at the top of Ludgate Hill, often called Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. The previous gothic cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and this one was built in just thirty-five years. Wren was in his 40s when he began the project, in his 70s by the time it was completed. 

Winston Churchill recognised the importance of St Paul’s in the Blitz during the Second World War, how the survival of the cathedral during night after night of bombing gave people hope and strength. He said at all costs the cathedral must be saved.

C is also for Cornhill is where the cornmarket stood. It’s one of the three ancient hills of London, the other two being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill. Cornhill was famous as a the home of Smith and Elder, the publishers. They published works by George Eliot and the Bronte sisters. In a panel on the door of what was the Cornhill Insurance company you can see two of the Bronte sisters visiting the publishers. 

Another panel shows a scene in a coffee house. Coffee houses proliferated at the end of the seventeenth century. Charles II tried to repress them because he believed people spread scandalous rumours about him and his ministers. 

Many of our financial institutions originated in these coffee houses.

OK, so far so obvious, but how about C for communists? for colonies? for cats?

The British Communist Party was founded in a hotel next to Cannon Street railway station – yes that’s another C – on 31st July 1920. 

The Cannon Street Hotel was designed by EM Barry, son of Charles Barry, who name is most famously associated with the rebuilt Palace of Westminster, aka the Houses of Parliament.

The hotel also gets a mention in TS Eliot’s poem the Wasteland:

 To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel

It’s line 213 if you want to look it up.

There’s a memorial to Arthur Philip, first governor of New South Wales close to where the British Admiral was born on Bread Street. 

His convict settlement was the first permanent European colony on the Australian continent. The memorial has a wealth of detail, including one panel showing the founding of Sydney – on a Saturday! 

The most famous cat in the City’s history is undoubtedly Tommy, who, at least in the pantomime version of his life, belonged to Dick Whittington, the boy from Gloucestershire who went on to be Lord Mayor of the City of London four times.

The City church where Whittington worshipped and was buried, was destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt to a new design by Christopher Wren. Bombed in the Second World War, it was restored. During the restoration work the mummified body of a cat was discovered in the church’s foundations. 

Tommy features alongside his master in a modern stained glass window in the south aisle.

Cloak Lane conjures up romantic images of gentlemen in fine clothes, feathers in their hats, strolling through the City’s streets. The reality is rather more prosaic, Cloak being a corruption of cloaca, the Latin for a sewer to take away rainwater.

Controversy, conflagration, cherubs, Christmas, cockneys, candlemakers, camembert and even a cheese grater – the City is a cornucopia of Cs.  

Keep well.


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