Rebecca Lloyd and Michelle Mannion get a taste of art, money and booze in the Square Mile.
1 - Guildhall
Start your tour of the City of London at its ceremonial heart, a few minutes’ walk from Bank station. The Grade I Listed Guildhall on Gresham Street has acted as the City’s civic hall since it was built in 1411, and is a stunning piece of history amid the high-tech offices of the Square Mile. Its Great Hall, open for public view, has played host to the trials of figures such as Lady Jane Grey in 1553, and with its rows of chairs set up facing the stage, it’s easy to imagine the dramas that unfolded under the 27-metre-high oak-panelled ceiling. There is so much rich detailing to linger over, but make sure you take in the banners of the 12 Great Livery Companies that hang around the room, the monuments to Nelson, Wellington and Churchill, and the wooden statues of the giants Gog and Magog, traditional guardians of the City.
Open 10am-4.30pm (Sun May-Sept only). Entry is free. Visit guildhall.cityoflondon.gov.uk
2 - No 1 Poultry
Don’t leave Guildhall Yard without popping into the Grade I Listed St Lawrence Jewry church. Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1687 after the original 12th-century one was destroyed by the Great Fire, it was then extensively damaged in the Blitz before being attractively restored in 1957 to his design. Turn left out of the yard and head back to Bank station via Old Jewry – once the heart of London’s medieval Jewish ghetto, it’s now an unremarkable street of offices, though a blue plaque has been placed close to where the Great Synagogue stood until 1272. At the end of the street you’ll see No 1 Poultry. A postmodern landmark or one of the capital’s ugliest buildings, depending on whom you talk to, James Stirling’s pink and yellow limestone building was completed in the 1990s and is home to offices and a few shops. Head up to the top floor and you’ll find Coq d’Argent, an upmarket French restaurant and bar. Tables decked out in white cloths are waited by smart, efficient staff. Grab a drink on the leafy roof terrace, from where you can glimpse landmarks such as the Gherkin and Shard, and watch City types chatter.
3 - Guildhall Art Gallery
Adjoining the building is the Guildhall Art Gallery, added in 1999 to showcase the City’s collection of more than 4,500 works from the 1600s to the present. Only a selection is displayed at any time, though the others can be viewed by appointment. Many depict the capital’s landmarks through the years – compare Marlow’s stately Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral (1788) with Anthony Lowe’s cartoonish painting by the same name (1995). Sculptures include Neil Simmons’ 2001 marble rendering of Lady Thatcher, handbag over arm. The centrepiece is John Singleton Copley’s dramatic The Defeat of Floating Batteries at Gibraltar (1782), a huge canvas spanning two floors. But there are more glories downstairs. When the gallery was being built, the remains of Londinium’s Roman amphitheatre were discovered underneath, and these are now on show in an atmospheric dark space with green holographic fighters and spectators showing how the arena was once used.
Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-4pm. Entry is free. Visit guildhallartgallery.cityoflondon.gov.uk
4 - Bank of England Museum
Walk across the busy crossroads ahead to the Bank of England Museum on Threadneedle Street (the entrance is on Bartholomew Lane), which chronicles the institution’s 300-year history. The banknote gallery and coin collections are like walks through time, displaying items such as an 18th-century £1 note and the old sovereign coin introduced during Henry VII’s reign. You can also learn how local scoundrels made forgeries – a capital offence during the Restriction Period of 1797-1821, when the bank was unable to pay out gold and consequently issued £1 and £2 notes. By the time the law changed, more than 600 people had been convicted and half of them hanged for their crimes. Through its interactive modern economy exhibition, the museum demonstrates the perils of inflation and how it is managed in the present day, and letters of correspondence from the bank’s most famous patrons, such as George Washington and Horatio Nelson, are on show.
Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. Entry is free. Visit bankofengland.co.uk/education/museum
5 - Royal Exchange
Opposite the Bank of England, you’ll see the Royal Exchange (theroyalexchange.com). This impressive building, with its eight-pillared Corinthian portico, was founded by St Thomas Gresham in 1565 as “a comely bourse for merchants to assemble upon”. These days the money men still pile in, though now it’s to splash the cash as well as make it – the former trading floor in the covered inner courtyard is now a Grand Café buzzing with bankers and surrounded by shops such as Tiffany and Co, Boodles and Bulgari. Stores on the Cornhill side of the building include Agent Provocateur, Hermès and Gucci. Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm (café 8am-11pm). Flex your credit card if you wish, then ask for forgiveness in another Wren church, St Michael’s Cornhill, one minute’s walk up the street. Rebuilt by Wren in 1672 following the Great Fire, and restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1860, it has beautiful oak-panelled pews, a duck-egg blue vaulted ceiling and a sculpture of St Michael and Satan.
6 - Leadenhall Market
A quick turn down Bishopsgate takes you to Leadenhall market, where you will be immersed in a melting pot of sights, sounds and smells. Be prepared for some bustle, particularly if it’s around lunchtime, as you manoeuvre your way down the charming cobbled streets. Note the watering hole New Moon on your right, and the old-fashioned cheese shops and bakeries to your left. Also in your eyeline will be a butcher, chocolatier and hairdresser. The quirkiness of the market is further compounded by the shoe-shiners crouched on the cobbles, heckling for business and marking a throwback to Dickensian London.
Stalls operate Mon-Fri 11am-4pm. Visit leadenhallmarket.co.uk