01 May 2008
At 9am the doors are opened letting in a wonderful London spring morning and the muffled bustle of the day begins. The Classical and Retro music softly filters upwards into the 90 foot high interior, this Edifice of Victorian Pride & Piety , "Standing Four Square, East to West”… a hop skip and a jump from where stood the original gated City walls of Medieval London, The Square Mile… within a stones throw from the White Portland stone Oranges & Lemons Church of St. Leonard..." When I grow rich , said The Bells of Shoreditch "…. Rebuilt by George Dance in 1740 on the original 12th century site , within the churchyard where many Tudor actors including William Shakespeare’s friend and builder of the Curtain Theatre , Richard Burbage are buried . Nearby Curtain Road marks the site of “The Curtain” which was the second purpose built theatre after “The Theatre" and predated the original “Globe" theatre on the Southbank.
“ Pop goes the weasel ” commemorates a Pawn Shop in the City Road and the hostelry The Eagle…in once bucolic Shepherdess Walk . This stretch of the City Road leading from the Moore-gate up to the great Angel Inn , mentioned in Oliver Twist and previously the Great North Road…. was infested with footpads and highwaymen until the early 19th century, who preyed on travellers and were duly tried by visiting Assize Circuit judges, and hung on a permanent Gibbet in the courtyard of the great Coaching Inn at the top of Pentonville Hill .
Just round the corner The Wesleyan Chapel of the 18th century Methodist Religious reformer, John Wesley (1703 – 1791 ) nestles quietly behind its garden on the City Road facing Bunhill Fields … the burial ground , outside the city walls… of many religious Non-Conformists like Daniel Defoe , author of Robinson Crusoe , John Bunyan……. Pilgrims Progress , and William Blake, artist, sculptor and write of the hymn Jerusalem. Further down is the castellated “ fortress" of The Honourable Artillery Company formed by Henry VIII in 1530, with their vast grass parade ground behind and which housed German and Italian prisoners of war in the early 1940’s..
This part of London was pretty much “ hammered" during that war by the German bombers following the Thames…Even in the late 1940's it was possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the City Road over the flattened landscape. As in diarist Samuel Pepy’s account of The Great Fire of 1666, “….the Conflagration was universal"…..every night.
One realises how tiny and “local” London was ..way back then…. But now it’s the World that has shrunk.