Sunday, 29 September 2013

London’s water supply and the “New River”

September 29th – Today marks the 400th anniversary of the opening of the “New River”.

London’s water supply
In the late twelfth century (the time of the chronicler FitzStephen), water drawn from the City’s rivers, or from springs or wells,  was pure and clean and sweet and wholesome.  Later, though,  “the tide from the sea prevailed to such a degree that the water of the Thames was salt; so much so that many folks complained of the ale tasting like salt” (and  obviously they couldn’t have that).  And, by the beginning of the thirteenth century, the supply had become so contaminated by waste as to be not only unpalatable but unsafe to drink, for fear of contracting a potentially lethal water-borne disease such as typhus.  So, a supply had to be brought in from outside.  A so-called Great Conduit was built, by public subscription, in 1236, to bring water from a spring at Tyburn, roughly opposite where Bond Street tube station now stands,  to Cheapside, about three miles away, by way of  a system of  lead (!) pipes.  Sections  have  recently been discovered 2m below Medieval street level in Paternoster Row and in  Poultry.   The Great Conduit   was extended at either end in the fifteenth century so as to run from Oxlese, near where Paddington station now stands,  to Cheapside and Cornhill, about six miles away (water was then either piped directly from the conduit to homes and businesses that could afford the expense of the installation of “quills”, or collected from stand-pipes, and carried there by property owners, or, in buckets suspended from shoulder-yokes, by “cobs”, of whom there were 4000 by 1600).  The so-called  Devil’s Conduit under Queen’s Square probably dated to around the same time, a photograph taken in 1910, shortly before its demolition in 1911-13,  showing it to contain graffiti from  1411.  By the sixteenth century, the system had become inadequate  to meet the demands of the rising population (it had also become subject to much abuse and over-use by individuals and by commercial and industrial concerns).   A short-term solution to this problem  was provided  by the construction by the Dutchman Pieter Maritz in 1580 of a – rather rickety – apparatus under one of the arches of London Bridge that  allowed water to be pumped from the Thames  into the heart of the City, or, in the case of the original demonstration to City officials, over the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr!  The apparatus was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but thereafter replaced by Maritz’s grandson, and  continued in use, after a fashion, until the early nineteenth century.   

The “New River”
A longer-term solution was provided by the construction by the Welshman and wealthy merchant, goldsmith, banker and Member of Parliament Sir Hugh Myddelton in 1609-13 of a  10’ wide and 4’ deep canal, or “New River”, all the way from springs at Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire into the City, an incredible 37 miles away, which is still in use to this day (parts of it can be seen along the “New River” walk in Islington, for example in Canonbury Grove).    Myddelton had to overcome any number of technological  obstacles, and much land-owner and political opposition, to see this major civil engineering project through to completion, doing  so with a mixture of drive and determination, the financial support of 29 investors or “adventurers”, and the tacit backing of the king.  His financial backers had to wait some time until they   profited from the enterprise (actually, until 1633, although by 1695 the New River Company ranked behind only the East India Company and Bank of England in terms of its capital value).  The public  health benefits of Myddelton’s project were immediate, though,  and immeasurable,  and indeed it has been described as “An immortal work – since men cannot more nearly imitate the Deity than in bestowing health”.

Myddelton statue, Holborn Viaduct

Myddelton statue, Islington

Section of New River, Canonbury

White Conduit

Notes.  Myddelton died in 1631, and was buried in the church of  St Matthew Friday Street, where he had served as a warden.  Concerted  attempts to locate his coffin and monument following the church’s demolition in 1886 were unfortunately ultimately  unsuccessful. 

Remarkably, some of the fittings from the New River Company’s offices, including Grinling Gibbons’s “oak room”, still survive, in the  London Metropolitan Water Board building in Islington.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Blitz Requiem

26th September 2013 - I’ve just got back from the premiere of David Goode’s Blitz Requiem, performed by the  Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under David Hill, in St Paul’s (it’s interior lit by a thousand candles). 

A moving evocation of those darkest of days, when the building itself was a beacon of hope.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Coffee, tea of insurance?

September 25th –  On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys “did send for a cup of tee, a China drink, of which I had never drunk before”. 

Coffee- and tea- houses began to spring up all over fashionable London after the introduction to England of the said mild stimulants in the mid seventeenth century.  They became places where respectable gentlemen, who wouldn’t be seen dead in ale-houses, congregated and transacted business.  One eventually evolved into an entirely separate  enterprise – Lloyd’s.


On a related note, the site of the first coffee house in London is visited on our Thursday  morning walk “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and beyond – Priories and Playhouses”.

Please note that any of our walks can also be booked at any other time, subject to prior agreement (e-mail or phone 020-8998-3051).

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Open House II ...and a nod to Kilburn's finest

Open House II … and a nod to Kilburn’s finest
Today (22nd September) I went to the Apothecaries’ Hall, St Bartholomew’s Hospital Great Hall (and Hogarth Staircase) and Middle Temple Hall. 

I especially enjoyed Middle Temple Hall, which was completely wonderful in almost every way.  It was, though, way too crowded for comfort – it felt as if everyone in London who wasn’t egging Wiggo on in the Tour of Britain was there!

I have posted a small selection of my photographs below (and separately on my Facebook page, in an album entitled “Open House II”).

Hogarth's staircase, St Barts

The Apothecaries' Hall

List of Benefactors, St Bartholomew's Hospital Great Hall

Middle Temple

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Open House London

This is Open House London weekend (21st-22nd September 2013), meaning that many buildings or parts of buildings of architectural or historical merit that aren’t ordinarily  open to the public are, and for free.

Today I went on tours  of the triforium gallery in St Paul’s cathedral, and of the church of St Helen Bishopsgate.

I had to queue up for an hour-and-a-half to book a place on the tour of the triforium gallery in St Paul’s, and then wait another three hours until it started.

Some salvaged  bits of old St Paul's
But it  was totally worth it, and utterly magnificent.

The Geometric Staircase (this is as close to the edge as I could go with my acrophobia)

The Wren Library  there is now officially  one of my very favourite places of all.  The atmosphere inside is as rich, dark and deep as a cup of coffee from the “Giddy Up” stall in Guildhall Yard - the best anywhere, by the way!

The Wren Library

Friday, 20 September 2013

A Beautiful Mind

Continuing yesterday’s Second  World War theme, today I took time out to go to the “Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s life and legacy” exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington (which runs until October 21st 2013). 

Turing was a brilliant but eccentric, and troubled, mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, philosopher and pioneer computer scientist, now widely regarded by those in the know as one of the more important and influential figures of the twentieth century.  To the general public, he is perhaps best  known not so much for his work on artificial intelligence and information technology as for that on military intelligence and code-breaking   during the war, at  Bletchley Park.  

He and his  equally oddball fellow academics at Bletchley Park (“Station X”) enjoyed the unlikely but more-or-less unqualified support of Churchill,  who clearly understood more than most the vital significance of the intelligence they generated  (“Ultra”).  (At the same time, though, remarking, rather archly, that although he knew he had asked for no stone to be left unturned in putting together the team, he had not expected to be taken quite so literally).  It has been estimated that the work of the team at “Station X” may have cut short the war by up to two to three years, and saved countless thousands of lives.  Perhaps the team’s most notable successes were the breaking  of the German navy’s “Enigma” code, using  a prototype computer called a “Bombe”, which was a decisive factor in the victory in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941; and the breaking of the “Lorenz” code, using the first fully programmable computer “Colossus” (actually designed by the essentially entirely  unsung Bill  Tutte and Tommy Flowers). 

Statue of Turing at Bletchley Park
Sadly, after the war, Turing was persecuted over his homosexuality to such an extent that he eventually took his own life, eating a poisoned apple, in 1954.  This is  ironic in that  Turing’s  research  on “artificial intelligence” almost certainly came  about, by way of his musings on “the nature of spirit”, as a  result of his  reaction to the tragic  death of the fellow schoolboy he  loved.

Note.  On a related note, readers may be interested to know that there are memorial plaques to Turing in Maida Vale, on the house in which he was born in 1912, and in Richmond, on the house in which he lived from 1945-47.   

Also that much of the hardware used at Bletchley Park was manufactured at the former Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill.  

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bentley Priory and the Battle of Britain

September 19thWith  Battle of Britain Day being marked this week, I thought that readers might be interested in learning a little about the history of Bentley Priory in Stanmore, which now houses the recently-opened RAF Battle of Britain Museum.

The – Augustinian - Priory was founded by Ranulf de Glanville in 1170, and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1546, thereafter passing into private ownership. 

The original building was taken down, and the present one, designed by Sir John Soane,  put up in 1777.  

Bentley Priory
The present building was variously owned and occupied by the Marquis of Abercorn, the Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen, the dowager Queen Adelaide (widow of William IV) and Sir John Kelk in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, before being converted to a hotel in the late nineteenth and a girls' school in the early twentieth, and finally being bought by the RAF in 1926. 

In 1940, it served  as the head-quarters from which the Battle of Britain was directed, by Air Chief Marshall Sir (later Lord) Hugh “Stuffy” Dowding, the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command (memorably portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”).

Dowding's office
As intimated above, it now houses the RAF Battle of Britain Museum, officially opened on 12th September 2013.  It  is currently open only for pre-booked group tours, although it will open for general visitors in the new year 2014.  Further information is available on the web-site:

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Wrong kind of Tornado

September 17th  - On this day in 1091, a 200mph tornado hit London, destroying 600 houses and damaging the church of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. 

The church went on to be substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, with only the crypt surviving, and to be subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren. 

It is passed on our Friday afternoon “Tower to Temple – The Heart of the City” walk.
View of St Mary-le-Bow from coffee shop opposite

Dragon weather vane a-top St Mary-le-Bow

Please note that any of our walks can also be booked at any other time, subject to prior agreement (e-mail or phone 020-8998-3051).

Citizen Smith
There is a statue of Citizen and Cordwainer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) in Bow Churchyard, adjoining St Mary’s.  Smith sailed on the “Susan Constant” from Blackwall to found the first permanent English settlement in America, in  Jamestown, Virginia, in 1606, “from which began the overseas expansion of the English-speaking peoples” (a plaque on what is now Virginia Quay in Blackwall commemorates the event).    He is buried in the church of St Sepulchre, Newgate Street. 

Incidentally, the  Algonquin  princess Pocahontas, who famously saved Smith’s life in America in 1607, visited London in  1616-17, with her by-then husband the tobacco planter John Rolfe, staying at the Bell Savage Inn off Ludgate Hill.  She died in Gravesend in 1617.
Statue of John Smith at Bow churchyard ajoining St Mary's

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Shakespeare and London

12th September 2013 - I’ve just got back from a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of the London Metropolitan Archives (, organised by the London Historians (

The highlight was the “Shakespeare and London” exhibition, which features not only “The Shakespeare Deed”, a property deed signed by Shakespeare (one of only six surviving examples of his signature), but also other documents from his lifetime, along with maps, photographs, prints and models which explore his relationship with London.  The exhibition runs until 26th September.

The site of the property to which the deed pertains, in Blackfriars, is visited on our Wednesday afternoon “St Paul’s to Westminster – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” and Friday morning “London Wall – A Story of Survival” walks.

Please note that any of our walks can also be booked at any other time, subject to prior agreement (e-mail or phone 020-8998-3051).

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Battle of Flodden Field … and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head

September 9th –  Today (9th September 2013) is the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots.

According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598” (*), sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside.

The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897.

Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by the “Red Herring” public house.

St Michael's Wood Street - the Wren version rebuilt after the Great Fire

The site is visited on our special “Lost Wren Churches of London” walk.

Please note that this walk, and indeed any of our others, can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows: “There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … “.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

My City of Ruins

September 7th  - On this day in 1666, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Up by five o’clock; and, blessed be God! find all well; and by water to [Paul’s] Wharfe.  Walked thence, and saw all the towne burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth’s; Paul’s school also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street. My father’s house, and the church, and a good part of the Temple the like.”

And went on to write, equally if not more fretfully:

“I home late to Sir W. Pen’s, who did give me a bed … ; … but still both sleeping and waking had a fear of fire in my heart, that I took little rest.  People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in … this business of the fire, laying it all upon him.  A proclamation is come out for markets to be kept at Leadenhall and … several other places about the town; and Tower Hill, and all churches to be set open to receive poor people”.

The area around St Paul’s described by Pepys  in the first of these two extracts is visited on our Wednesday morning walk “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong”, Wednesday afternoon walk  “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” and Friday afternoon walk “Tower to Temple – The Heart of the City”. 

Please note that these walks, or indeed any of our others, can also be booked at any other time, subject to prior agreement (e-mail or phone 020-8998-3051).

Note. The church of St Faith, also known as St Faith under St Paul’s, was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt afterwards.  The only surviving evidence of its former existence, at least at its former site, is in the form of a parish boundary marker on New Change, and a pump “erected by St Faith’s parish” in 1819 in St Paul’s Alley (which alley, incidentally, was widened so as to be almost as wide as it is long following legislation passed in 1667 that required passage-ways to be at least 9’ wide “for the common benefit of accommodation”).  

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hatches, Matches and Despatches

5th September - On this day in 1538, Henry VIII’s Vicar-General Thomas Cromwell mandated the keeping by parish clerks of records of births, deaths and marriages - to which we owe much of what we now know of everyday past life in London.

The Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the Plague Year of 1665 are examined at  All Hallows Staining on our Friday morning walk “London Wall”. 

According to these records, 68596  people died of the plague in London in  1665, including 112 in the parish of All Hallows Staining (the church collapsed in 1671, it is said  on account of undermining of its foundations by plague  burials).  A  further 4808 people died of “consumption and tiffick”, which might actually have been the pneumonic strain of the plague.  And 5 died of being “distracted”!

Keeping records of deaths at this time was  in itself a dangerous undertaking.  There is a story in my family that my twelve times great-aunt’s first husband, Robert  Mickell, contracted the plague while going about his business a  part-time? parish clerk,  and died on 17th September, 1665  (he was evidently only too aware of his mortality as he wrote in his will, only weeks earlier, “I Robert Mickell … being well in body … praised bee God for the same but considering the frailty of man’s life and not knowing how soon it may please Almighty God my creator to call me out of this transitory world doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament … ”).  He died as the epidemic reached it’s peak, killing around a thousand people a day.  At this point, probably to conceal the scale of what was unfolding, the  authorities ordered that burials should take place at night, and without the tolling of bells.  And it grew  so deathly quiet that throughout the City the River Thames could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of Old London Bridge.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Great Fire of London and its Aftermath

September 2nd  - On this day in 1666, the Great Fire of London broke out in the bakery of Thomas Faryner in Pudding Lane.

The associated Monument is visited on our Thursday morning walk “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and beyond – Priories and Playhouses” and on our Friday afternoon walk “Tower to Temple – The Heart  of the City".

Map showing the area destroyed by the Great Fire (shaded), and the surviving structures (numbered)

The Great Fire of London 
(extract taken from “The Lost City of London” - see our website for further details )

On the evening of Saturday 1st September, 1666, the king’s baker Thomas Farriner or Faryner or Farynor, whose premises were on Pudding Lane, went to bed leaving the fire that heated his oven still burning, in contravention of the curfew law passed six hundred  years previously  by William I, “the Conqueror”  (the word curfew deriving from the Norman French “cover-feu”, meaning, literally, “cover fire”).  In the early hours of the following morning, a spark from the fire settled on a pile of firewood stacked nearby for use on the following working day, and set it  alight. Flames soon engulfed  the house,  and although  Farriner  and his family were able to  escape by climbing through an upstairs window and along the outside of the building to a neighbouring one, his unfortunate maid-servant  stayed put, and burned to death, becoming the first of reportedly mercifully few to die in what was still yet to become the Great Fire.  Her name was Rose.

The fire soon spread from Farriner’s bakery to nearby Fish Street Hill, burning down the “Star Inn”, where flammable faggots and straw were stacked up in the yard, and the church of St Margaret Fish Street Hill,  the first to be destroyed; and thence on to Thames Street, where wood, cloth sails, rope, tar, coal and other flammable materials were stacked up on the river-front.  It  went on to take a firm hold of the City, largely built of wooden houses, weatherproofed with pitch, and separated by only a few feet at ground level, and even less at roof level (on account of the construction of successive storeys further and further out into the street, affording more space, a practice known as jettying), allowing flames to  leap from one to another with ease.    The  spread of the fire was further facilitated by the weather, with the strong easterly wind that had been creaking and rattling shop signs on their hinges now fanning it and carrying it towards the heart of the City;  and everything in its path tinder dry from the preceding exceptionally long, hot, dry summer (which also meant that the supply of water with which to fight it was short).  Fortunately,  its  spread across the river to Southwark was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak  - ironically,  the result of another fire some thirty years previously.  Nonetheless, Pepys (*1) wrote that he “did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire”, and “rode down to the waterside, ... and there saw a lamentable fire. ... Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another”.  On seeing this, he travelled to Westminster to advise the King that the situation was getting out of hand, later recalling “Having stayed, and in an hours time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it, ... to Whitehall and there up to the King’s closet in the Chapel, where I did give them an account that dismayed them all, and the word was carried to the King.  So I was called for, and did tell the King ... what I saw; and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire.  They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him spare no houses”.  And at the King’s behest, he returned to the scene, and “At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning Streete ... with a hankercher about his neck.  To the King’s message, he cried like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do?  I am spent!  People will not obey me.  I have been pull[ing] down houses.  But fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’”.  Pulling down or even blowing up buildings to create further firebreaks did indeed prove a partially successful strategy in fighting the fire, saving the churches of All Hallows Barking and St Olave Hart Street, but unfortunately it was also one that was implemented too late to make much of a difference to the eventual outcome (possibly for fear of law-suits from property owners).  The fire eventually essentially halted in its own tracks, spent, after the wind dropped, on the fourth day.

Recriminations rapidly followed, with  the Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth or Bludworth singled out for criticism over his initial complacency and subsequent indecisiveness (when first informed of the fire, he is reported to have remarked that a woman might have pissed it out, which indeed she might, if she had acted promptly, but he did not, and must soon have come to rue his rash words).  The rudimentary fire brigade was also criticised, for acting in an un-coordinated fashion, and,  in its desperation, digging up roads and cutting pipes to get at the water to fill its  buckets, in so doing cutting off the supply to others.  However, given the chaotic situation they found themselves confronted with, and the tools at their disposal with which to deal with it, including primitive fire engines that looked and likely  handled more like tea trolleys, they would appear to have performed perfectly admirably.   In the  end, everything was essentially ascribed  to an act of God, albeit one that the wit and hand of man would attempt to ensure was never repeated.  (Many, though,  falsely believed the fire to have been deliberately set, by  a fanatical Papist or Dissenter, or by a Dutch or French saboteur; and indeed a Frenchman, Robert Hubert, was executed for having set it, after a confession obtained under duress, and  a “show trial” presided over by members of Farriner’s family - who had their own  reasons to  attach  the blame to  such a convenient scapegoat).

The  stark fact remained that the fire had largely destroyed the City that had witnessed so much history in the making.  As intimated above, loss of life appears to have been comparatively low, although it may have been higher  than reported, given that the fire had evidently been sufficiently hot  as to have  burned bodies to ash within as little as an hour or two (hot enough to melt not only the lead on the rooves of the churches (300degC), but also iron bells (1200degC), glass (1500degC), and even pottery (1700degC)). However, eighty percent of the area within the walls was more or less completely burnt out, and only the extreme north and east had survived substantially  intact (the walls had essentially confined the fire to the City within, although some areas without to the west had also been affected).  Around 13000 private residences and places of business within and immediately without the walls of the City were either essentially or entirely destroyed, alongside 85 parish churches and St Paul’s Cathedral, 45 Livery Company Halls, the Custom House, the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange, the Royal Wardrobe and Castle Baynard.  Damage to property and trade was on an entirely unprecedented scale, as was associated homelessness and loss of livelihood.  Around  100000 persons were made homeless, and had to be temporarily rehoused in camps, like the one on Moorfields, or in those - still substantial - parts of what we might think of as Greater London that were  not affected by the fire.  There would appear to have been a certain amount of profiteering by landlords at this time, and a little later, as rebuilding work began, by builders’ merchants, although the general mood would appear to have been  one of shared hardship and public-spiritedness, somewhat akin to that of the Blitz of the Second World War.

(*1) Aside from Pepys’s  vivid eye-witness account, for which we can perhaps forgive him the infamous “parmazan”  episode, there are a number of  contemporary paintings of the fire at its height, one of which, attributed to Waggoner, survives,  in the Guildhall Art Gallery; and another, by an anonymous artist, in the Museum of London.  A panorama of the aftermath of the fire, by Hollar, survives in the British Museum.  Other  graphic images of the fire and its aftermath also survive, although mainly outside London.  A significant proportion are by Dutch artists, one of whom entitled his work “Sic Punit”, or “Thus He Punishes”  -  remember that England was at war with Holland at the time of the fire.

(extract taken from “The Lost City of London” - see our website for further details)

Would the City ever be rebuilt, or be the same again?     

Well, of course it would, not least because the prosperity of the City was essential not only to that of the country as a whole but also to that of powerful men with vested interests, watching anxiously from the sidelines as “day by day the City’s wealth flowed out of the gate” to other boroughs. 
The Lord Mayor initiated the process essentially straight away, within weeks commissioning a detailed survey of the fire-damaged area of the City to assist with the assessment of compensation claims, and to use as a  template for reconstruction plans.  The survey was undertaken by the Bohemian Wencesla(u)s Hollar (1607-77), who had travelled widely before eventually settling in London, and  earned a reputation as an engraver and print-maker of some skill, specialising in landscape scenes.  Other surveys were undertaken, and maps made, by Doornick, Leake, and Ogilby and Morgan. 

A number of revolutionary reconstruction plans for the City were submitted, by, among others, Christopher Wren (1632-1723), Robert Hooke (1635-1703) and John Evelyn (1620-1706), any one of which, if implemented,  would have given it a radically new look and feel, much more like  that of the great European cities of the day, and indeed of today, with their uniform architecture, broad boulevards and   open piazzas.  (Evelyn wrote that “In the disposure of the streets, due consideration should be had, what are the competent breadths for commerce and intercourse (!), cheerfulness and state”).  But these  plans were over-ambitious, apart from anything else, and were abandoned on the grounds of practicality in favour of  one requiring much less groundwork, and much more like the old one (although allowing of at least one concession to modernity, in the widening, and freeing  from encumbrance to the flow of traffic, of the streets).  The City that might have been never came to be, and  that that had been would come  to be again:  for the most part neither  particularly beautiful nor harmonious; but, rather,   “lived in” and fractious; and yet, familiar and loved.

The man selected to oversee and implement the chosen reconstruction plan was the aforementioned Christopher Wren, an architect and a  member of an aristocratic family who had finally found favour in the Restoration, after years in the wilderness during the Protectorate and Commonwealth: his assistants, the aforementioned brilliant but curmudgeonly Robert Hooke, memorably described by  Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”; and the young and prodigiously gifted Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736).  Incidentally, Wren was an anatomist and astronomer as well as an architect (one wonders whether he, like Sartre’s autodidact, acquired his learning by reading an encyclopaedia, starting with the letter “A”); a follower of the “New Philosophy” of Francis Bacon (1561-1626); and a founder member of the Royal Society.  He was, in short, an archetypal (English)  Renaissance Man, and, most definitely, the right man, in the right place, at the right time - an unusually happy conjunction in the history of the City. 

Wren and his  office set about their reconstruction work as hastily, or rather speedily,  as practicable, so as to provide  the City with the opportunity of re-establishing itself with the minimum of delay and loss.  In all, they rebuilt 51 parish churches within and immediately without the walls, that is, around half of those that had been destroyed in the Great Fire (*2), together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and also rebuilt numerous other public and private buildings, many in the High (English) Renaissance or Early Baroque style - the cost of the entire enterprise being covered by a tax on coal.  The most glorious of Wren’s many glorious achievements was undoubtedly St Paul’s Cathedral.  The cathedral is faced in plain Portland Stone, wonderfully reflective of the City’s light and mood.  It is crowned with a glorious and iconic dome, making it unique among all the cathedrals of England.  Wren’s simple epitaph inside the cathedral reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice”, meaning “Reader, should you seek his memorial, look about you”.   On the pediment above the south door is a stone bearing the image of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, and the inscription of the single word “Resurgam”, meaning “I shall rise again” (the inscription repeating  that on another stone found by one of Wren’s workmen among the debris of the  old, burnt-out cathedral - a positive portent if ever there was one). 

And so, out of the ashes arose  a new London.  And England was re-born. 

(*2) Of  these 51 churches, 30 are still standing, together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and 21 are not.  Of  the 21 that are no longer  standing, 17,   far more than one might have hoped, were demolished by our own over-zealous town planners and engineers in the pell-mell expansion of London following the Industrial Revolution – in some cases, at least marginally justifiably,  to  allow for development, but in many others simply because they were deemed, under the incomprehensibly philistine Union of Benifices Act of 1860, to be surplus to requirements!  Only 4, far fewer than one might have feared, were completely destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War.  However,  a number of others were also damaged to varying extents at this time, some of which were subsequently restored, and  some left as empty shells.   Two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were destroyed,  and 8,   Christ Church, St Alban, St Andrew by the Wardrobe, St Anne and St Agnes, St Augustine, St Bride, St Lawrence Jewry and St Vedast alias Foster, damaged, on a single, fateful night, Sunday 29th December, 1940, when thousands of incendiaries were dropped on an essentially unguarded City.

At  least many of the  original plans of these recently lost churches still survive, as do some later paintings and photographs.