ROYAL 101:  THE TOWER OF LONDON AND THE BEEFEATERS

One of the oldest buildings in London, the Tower of London is staffed by Yeoman Warders who are known colloquially as “Beefeaters.”  The two go together like beans on toast and have been since the Tudor Period.  Today, the Tower of London is more a tourist attraction than a fortress, and the Beefeaters serve more as tour guides and caretakers than guards.  To understand more about the history and qualities of both, we’re going to do a brief dive into the relationship between them and how it has evolved over the centuries.

The Tower of London was one of the first buildings constructed after King William I’s conquest in 1066.  He began on it shortly after being crowned in order to hold the City of London in his control and quickly send military aid to surrounding counties in case of rebellion.  The White Tower was completed in 1093 under William’s son, King William II.  The Innermost Ward and the Inner Wards were begun under King Richard I and completed under King Henry III, bringing the Tower of London into a more fashionable royal residence for the 13th Century.  The final Outer Ward was then built during the reign of King Edward I.  Over time; the tower became less of a residence for the Sovereign and more likely to have “permanent” guests who were prisoners of the Crown.  The most famous of these prior to the Tudor Era were the “Princes in the Tower,” King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, who were imprisoned by their uncle King Richard III and then mysteriously disappeared.

It was under the reign of King Henry VII that the Tower of London began to serve more as a prison and a royal armory than a home.  It was also during his reign that Henry formed the Yeoman Warders in 1485 as his personal bodyguards.  The Warders got the nickname “Beefeaters” as they were the only ones permitted to eat beef from the King’s table, though another account by Cosimo III de Medici in 1669 is suggested to be the origin of the name for his account of how the Yeomen were permitted a ration of beef a day.  These elite bodyguards traveled with Henry everywhere, but Henry felt that a contingent of them should also guard the Tower of London, beginning their long association with the fortress.  Yeoman Warders were eventually granted their “undress” uniform which features a dark blue color with red accents and the Royal Cypher at its center.

The Yeoman Warders eventually became the permanent garrison of the Tower of London with the ability to draw recruits from nearby Tower Hamlets if needed for the Tower’s defense.  Over the centuries, their duties trended less toward guarding the Sovereign (a job that was turned over to the Yeomen of the Guard), and they guarded the Tower, including the prisoners, armory, and the Crown Jewels.  Today, the Beefeaters serve primarily as greeters and tour guides at the Tower of London.  One Yeoman Warder also serves as the Tower’s Ravenmaster, looking after the famous birds that inhabit the grounds, a position currently held by retired Staff Sergeant Christopher Skaife.  Perhaps the most important responsibility of the Yeoman Warders is the Ceremony of the Keys, in which the keys for the Tower are presented every night before the Tower of London is closed to visitors. 

All Yeoman Warders are retired military and live with their families in accommodations within the Tower, though many also have homes away from the Tower and are required to have an outside home when they retire.  The Beefeaters also have their own private pub within the Tower, the Yeoman Warders Club, for their members and invited guests.  For centuries Yeoman Warders could only be members of the British Army, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force, and sailors of the Royal Navy were excluded because they pledged their loyalty to the Admiralty rather than the monarch.  This changed due to a petition from the Governor of the Tower to Queen Elizabeth II in 2009.  The Beefeaters had also been all men until they were joined by Moira Cameron in 2007.  Even though the Beefeaters no longer serve their original purpose, their importance to, and history with, the Tower of London means that the two will be tied together for a very long time.

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KING AND QUEEN CONSORT CHOOSE HIGHLAND GATHERING PHOTO FOR CHRISTMAS CARD

The King and Queen Consort have chosen a photograph taken at a Highland Gathering for their Christmas card this year.

Buckingham Palace on Sunday released the picture selected for the couple’s first Christmas card since Charles became King.

The image, taken by award-winning photographer Sam Hussein, shows Charles and Camilla smiling at the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering in September.

It captures the King from a side profile, dressed in a tweed suit with a red, green, and beige tie.

Meanwhile, Camilla is wearing a green suit and matching hat with a pheasant motif, and pearl earrings.

The photo was taken on September 3 – just days before the Queen’s death on September 8, when Charles was still the Prince of Wales.

During the event, Charles officially opened a new structure celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee as he joined spectators at The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park for the annual Highland Games event.

Charles opened the Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee Archway at the event

His mother was not in attendance due to her declining health.

Charles cut a heather rope to mark the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee Archway.

Crowds from across the globe joined him and the then Duchess of Cornwall to watch competitors take part in events such as the caber toss, hammer throw, and tug-of-war, as well as to celebrate some longstanding Scottish traditions, dance, and music.

The Princess Royal (left) and Camilla were presented with heather posies

Camilla and the Princess Royal were presented with heather posies by 10-year-old Chloe Guy and 12-year-old Cassie Stewart, who are both members of the Braemar Royal Highland Society’s dancing class, before the Games got underway.

Camilla appeared to take a sprig of flowers and put it in her buttonhole, which can be seen in the Christmas card photograph.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND RINGO STARR LEAD STARS AT PREMIERE OF ABBEY ROAD DOCUMENTARY

Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr were joined by a host of famous faces as they celebrated the UK premiere of a new documentary on Abbey Road Studios.

Directed by Sir Paul’s daughter Mary, If These Walls Could Sing is billed as the “first feature-length documentary” on the world-famous London venue.

The Beatles recorded most of their music at Abbey Road, with their 11th studio album released in 1969 named after the venue.

Stella McCartney, Sir Paul McCartney and Mary McCartney were among those attending the UK premiere of If These Walls Could Sing

The Disney original documentary will explore the “breadth, diversity and ingenuity” of the studios across its nine decades.

It will also feature “intimate interviews” revealing how “artists, producers, composers and the dedicated engineers and staff of Abbey Road all found their musical language and community, while vivid archive footage and session tapes give exclusive access to these famously private studios”.

Among the special appearances will be Sir Paul, Sir Ringo, Sir Elton John, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Liam Gallagher and more.

Sir Paul was joined by his daughter Stella McCartney at the documentary’s premiere on Monday evening as they supported Mary’s project.

Sir Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach

Filmmaker and photographer Mary wore a simple black dress with silver beading around the neckline while her fashion designer sister Stella opted for a calf-length tan coat and boots.

Sir Paul, who wore a black long coat over a navy shirt and trousers, was also accompanied by his wife Nancy Shevell, who dressed in a black silk top and shirt paired with jeans.

Sir Ringo, donning a black pinstriped jacket and plain trousers, was also in attendance with his wife Barbara Bach, who wore a red turtle neck jumper and black fitted jacket.

Melanie Chisholm was also among the star-studded guests attending the premiere at the studios in London

Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm, known as Mel C, singer Sharleen Spiteri and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason were also among the star-studded guests attending the premiere at the studios in London.

Abbey Road Studios in London has been a recording studio since Sir Edward Elgar conducted a performance there in 1931, and has since welcomed the likes of Radiohead, Amy Winehouse and Adele.

The building, followed by the zebra crossing outside, was given Grade II-listed status in 2010.

If These Walls Could Sing will be available to stream on Disney+ in the UK on January 6 2023.

KING CHARLES WATCHES ON AS COLLEGE STUDENTS PLAY BLIND FOOTBALL

The King was impressed by a demonstration of “fantastic” blind football when he visited a unique college preparing students for the world of work.

Charles visited the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) to mark its 150th anniversary and was shown the training given to those enrolled – from learning braille and business skills to massage techniques.

He watched as staff and students played football using a ball that made a noise as it rolled, with instructions shouted out to a defender to help them close down the attacker taking shots at goal.

At the end of the demonstration at the further education college in Hereford, the King said, “it’s fantastic” before adding: “Hearing the ball – it’s amazing.”

In a speech marking his visit and a plaque-unveiling ceremony, Charles said: “But can I just say that in everything I have been shown today, it’s been clear to me that the college is fully committed to the values represented in this motto: education, employment, empowerment.”

He added: “And I think all this has been very apparent in the impressive personal confidence and skills demonstrated by the students, particularly the ones I’ve met, and it is hugely encouraging to see how the ethos of the college provides a real preparation for life.”

During his visit, Charles spoke to students learning Braille from a decades-old machine and also saw a modern version that created the raised dot patterns of the tactile reading and writing system on the machine itself.

At one point, the monarch spotted Billy the guide dog lying under a table as its owner, Orla Rafferty, explained the special equipment she uses in maths.

CHRISTMAS COMES TO THE CHARLES DICKENS MUSEUM IN LONDON

Visiting the Charles Dickens Museum at Christmas time is a real treat as the place is transformed with Victorian-style decorations.

This year, the Museum has lots of winter events, including a production of A Christmas Carol streamed from inside Charles Dickens’s only surviving London home. There are also spooky ghost stories and ‘A Search for Father Christmas’ for families to enjoy. And the current Oliver Twist exhibition – More! Oliver Twist, Dickens, and Stories of the City – continues throughout the festive period.

The London Fiver – Five Bookshops to Visit in the City of Westminster

Westminster is one of London’s largest and most important boroughs. A city in its own right, it contains the Houses of Parliament, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, and many more. With all there is to see here, you might not be thinking about finding a good bookshop, but that’s where we come into the picture. We have found five great bookshops that you can visit within the city to find everything from antique tomes to some travel books that will help you explore the city better. If you think we left out a good store that you’ve visited, let us know in the comments.

DAUNT BOOKS MARYLEBONE

Daunt Books was founded over 30 years ago and has become a top destination for travel books in London. The flagship store is located in Marylebone in a building that had been a bookshop since 1912 and, as such, is one of the best-looking bookshops in the entire city. It has just about everything you could ever need to prepare for a trip (book-wise, at least) with phrasebooks, travel guides, and personal accounts all arranged geographically. If they don’t have a book on a certain corner of the globe, you probably don’t want to go to that place anyway.

BOOKMARKS

Advertising itself as “the socialist bookshop”, Bookmarks is a good place to go for books on political, economic, social studies, and current events. Bookmarks has been in business for over 40 years and sells books for any age from children’s literature to philosophical texts and guides on activism. It also has a number of titles designed to help employees in the workplace to educate them on their rights from disability accommodations to union formation. Whether you agree with the shop’s politics or not, it’s worth visiting for an eye-opening and educational experience.

QUINTO BOOKSHOP

Past Quinto’s green exterior you’ll find one of the best varieties of second-hand and rare books in the whole of the City of Westminster. The store is actually two stores in one, as the rare books of Francis Edwards can be found on the ground floor while Quinto’s secondhand books are located in the basement. Francis Edwards is amongst the most respected names in antiquarian books, having been around since 1855, so you can guarantee that it has some very old and very antique tomes in its collection. Additionally, if there’s something you’re looking to get rid of, Quinto will probably be willing to take it off your hands and give you some extra spending cash.

HATCHARDS

While now owned by Waterstones, Hatchards is quite possibly the oldest bookshop in the United Kingdom. John Hatchard founded it in 1797 and today under Waterstones’ management it has all the selection of a big box store while retaining the charm of an age-old booksellers. Hatchards has a more modern location at St. Pancras Station, but it’s the main store in Piccadilly that you’ll want to visit for its lovely historic interior. Additionally, Hatchards has the Windsor seal of approval with its Royal Warrant to provide books to the British Royal Family.

WATERSTONES

Yes, it is a chain bookshop, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at any of our shops mentioned above, there’s a good chance you can get it at Waterstones or have it ordered. Much like Barnes and Nobles in the States, it’s good a friendly, clean atmosphere and unlike any other Waterstones, it has one of the best views out the front doors, from which you can see Westminster Cathedral.

Psst! There’s A Secret Doctor Who Museum In East London

Consider yourself a Whovian? Well get yourself over to east London, where The Who Shop not only sells almost every single Doctor Who themed object you could possible think of (hello, Weeping Angel Oyster card holders), it also has a rather exciting secret tucked away through that Tardis in the corner…

The Who Shop is located at 39-41 Barking Road, E6 1PY. The museum within is open from 10am-4.30pm and entry costs £3 for adults and £2 for children.

How Do London’s Buses Get Their Numbers?

The issue of numbering London’s bus routes is a thorny one. The system is not an entirely logical enterprise — being one which has evolved and mutated over many years.

Like our fair metropolis, some of the best bits of the haphazard scheme (like historic precedent) have been preserved, while certain useless elements have been jettisoned (laters, suffixes).

So, when did London first get numbered bus routes?London’s bus routes first started being numbered in 1906.

Before then, in Victorian times, passengers would recognise their bus by its distinctive coloured livery and line name, much like we do today with our tube lines. Buses had the two termini painted on the sides to indicate their route.

Then, a George Samuel Dicks from the London Motor Omnibus Company noticed the line name ‘Vanguard’ was very popular, and decided to name all his lines Vanguard, adding a number for the company’s five routes 1 to 5.

It caught on. Other operators realised numbers were easier for the public to remember, and so the practice spread. For another 18 years, there was no universal system in place; independent operators simply chose the numbers themselves.

Imposing order on London’s buses: the Bassom Scheme

In 1924 the London Traffic Act was introduced; one of its features was a numbering scheme for London’s buses.

The Met was then responsible for allocating route numbers to buses. The system was known as the Bassom Scheme, after the then-Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police responsible, A. E. Bassom. Under the scheme, double-decker bus routes were numbered 1 to 199; single-decker routes from 200; and trolleybuses from 500.

This system was revised in 1934 when London Transport was formed, and the task of numbering routes returned to the people who worked in the transport industry. But historic numbers for routes stuck, even if the buses serving them were changed from single to double-decker, or vice versa.

What does the bus numbering system look like today?

Today, numbers 1 to 599 are for your everyday day routes; school day services are numbered 600 to 699; 700 to 899 are for regional and national coach services.

As this fascinating email explains, TfL tries to work sympathetically with the transport solutions of the past when numbering new bus routes in London. As London has grown and evolved, so more routes have been added; thus there’s not really any chronological — or much geographical — order to the numbers.

Blogger Mark Hadfield asked TfL about the number 55; in his email reply, the anonymous TfL employee explains that the 55 came from tram 55, replaced by trolleybus 55, that had run along Old Street to Hackney, and then evolved into today’s bus route 55, from Oxford Circus to Leyton, along its predecessors route.

Similarly, the 207’s history can be traced back to what was once Tram 7 between Uxbridge and Shepherd’s Bush Green. That tram was replaced by trolleybus 607 in 1936 (the ’60-‘ coming from the Bassom Scheme), and subsequently by ‘motor’ bus 207 in 1960.

Today’s 207 is the fifth busiest route in London, and runs between Southall and White City bus station.

«When we introduce a new route — or make alterations to an existing route by splitting it — the last digit or digits of the historic ‘parent’ route are used wherever possible, so that passengers might associate the incoming route with its predecessor,» says that anonymous TfL worker.

So, when the 53 between Plumstead and Lambeth North was split into two sections in 2003, the new part became 453, between Deptford Bridge and Marylebone.

What about those bus route letter prefixes?

Prefixes first came into use in 1968, under London Transport. Some prefixes have straightforward meanings: C stands for Central; X stands for Express routes; N denotes a Night Bus.

With others, the prefix letter designates the place around which the route clusters. So P for Peckham for routes P4, P5, and P13; E for Ealing in series E1 to E11. Then there’s the now-defunct RV1 — a nod to the river it used to hug along its route; and the G in south London’s G1 is for St George’s Hospital.

Do you remember suffixes on bus routes?

Bus route numbers with letter suffixes were gradually abolished over the years, but they were in use for many years. The last suffixed route in London was the 77A, between Aldwych and Wandsworth, which became the 87 in June 2006.

13 Of London’s Oddest Buildings

Ever done a double-take at an unexpected or mysterious-looking London building? Here are the stories behind some of the most puzzling examples…

1. Chinese Garage, Beckenham

Once a petrol station and now a car showroom, this pagoda-style garage and its lantern-filled garden first popped up on a suburban roundabout in 1929. Why? Well, why not? Local legend has it that the one-time shipping magnate who owned the land was inspired by his travels in the Far East.

2. Shurgard lighthouse, Norbury

We first encountered this somewhat baffling sight during a particularly tedious bus journey between Croydon and Streatham – but it turns out there are several similar beacons at other Shurgard Self-Storage centres across the capital. The lighthouses are purpose-built into the warehouses to convey security and innovation, apparently. Well, it’s good to have a gimmick…

3. The Victorian Bath House, Bishopsgate

Hold up, we hear you cry: what’s that Turkish bath house doing in a City churchyard? Nowadays, it’s a fancy party venue – but from 1895 until 1954, this exotic little gem operated as a men-only baths. Having survived the Blitz and numerous redevelopments – not to mention an undignified stint as a storehouse – it’s now Grade II-listed and beautifully renovated.

4. Brunel’s Water Tower, Crystal Palace

This curious foliage-smothered ruin on Anerley Hill is all that remains of a 284ft-tall water tower – one of a pair designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that sat at either end of the old Crystal Palace. Their purpose? To feed the many fountains. Both towers survived the huge fire that destroyed the palace in 1936 – but were pulled down at the start of the second world war due to fears they would serve as landmarks for the Luftwaffe.

5. The Treatment Rooms, Chiswick Park

This three-storey house in leafy Chiswick is the home of artist Carrie Reichardt, and the mosaic-covered exterior is a technicolour work-in-progress by Carrie and fellow creatives from around the globe. There’s an equally eye-catching tiled pick-up truck and London taxi parked outside — plus an early work by street artist Stik on the garage doors.

6. 23-24 Leinster Gardens, Bayswater

You’ll need to be fairly eagle-eyed to spot what’s weird about these two upmarket Victorian houses. Give up? It’s the greyed-out windows (and no letterboxes). While there’s plenty going on behind the net curtains on the rest of the terrace, numbers 23 and 24 are false facades. They were built in 1868 to mask the Metropolitan line extension – and accompanying smoke from the steam trains – that cut through the middle of the terrace.

7. The Pagoda, Blackheath

This show-stopping house, with its gabled Chinese-style roof, is thought to be the work of Sir William Chambers, the celebrated architect behind Somerset House and the Kew Gardens pagoda. It was built in around 1775 as a folly for the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, who lived nearby in now-long-gone Montague House – and later became home to Caroline of Brunswick, after the break-up of her marriage to the future King George IV. The Pagoda was used as a London County Council children’s home during the last century, but is now privately owned again.

8. Severndroog Castle, Shooter’s Hill

A small-but-perfectly-formed folly in the middle of Oxleas Wood, this ‘castle’ was built in 1784 to commemorate Sir William James, a politician and commander of the East India Company. The building has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the years, but is now fully restored and open to the public, offering top-of-the-turret views across London and seven surrounding counties.

9. Thin house, South Kensington

Breathe in… this end-of-terrace house on Thurloe Square is barely 7ft wide at the thinnest edge of the wedge – although it does widen out to a whopping 34ft. The reason for its odd shape? To accommodate the District and Circle line that runs directly behind the building. A one-room studio flat inside the house was recently on the market for £895,000.

10. Tower Subway, Tower Hill

Tucked away next to the Tower of London ticket office, this innocuous-looking round building stands on the site of the original northern entrance to the Tower Subway – a 19th-century pedestrian walkway beneath the Thames. The 7ft-wide tunnel unsurprisingly plunged in popularity when Tower Bridge opened in 1894, and is now used to carry telecommunications cables.

11. Shell huts, Victoria

Lower Grosvenor Gardens has been home to two much-admired shell-covered huts since 1952. That’s when the gardens were given a Gallic makeover by Jean Moreux, architect-in-chief of the National Monuments and Palaces of France. Designed in the style of 18th-century fabriques – the French term for ‘follies’ – the huts showcase shells from the beaches of England and France. Now as then, they’re used to store gardening equipment.

12. Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Gunnersbury

Many a car or coach passenger on the A4 has been momentarily distracted by the unexpected sight of a glorious blue and gold dome peeping out between the more common-or-garden West London rooftops. This – to use its not-so-snappy full name – is the London Russian Orthodox Church Abroad’s Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the Royal Martyrs. It’s been open for worship since 1999, and guided tours are available on request.

13. Croydon Water Works

This Grade II-listed water tower and pumping station in Exchange Square were completed in 1866. The building has been empty for a good long while, but Historic England and Croydon Council are reportedly considering various ideas for its future use. In the meantime, local street artist Rich Simmons has decorated the tower with a much-admired mural of the paparazzi taking snaps of Princess Diana.

EXPLORING THE FASCINATING HISTORY OF ST BRIDE’S CHURCH ON FLEET STREET – THE JOURNALISTS’ CHURCH

St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street is a Christopher Wren church built after the Great Fire of London. It’s the journalists’ church, and the spire is the original inspiration for tiered wedding cakes. It is a City of London working parish church and welcomes visitors as a heritage attraction too.

NOT THE FIRST

This wasn’t the first church at this location or even the second. It’s the eighth!

ROMAN

The history goes back 2000 years as there may have been a Roman villa here that was used as a place of Christian Worship which could be why St Brigid, or her followers, founded a church here in the fifth century.

The crypt has a small museum, but you also see the remains of a Roman pavement dating back to around AD 180 and a range of Roman artifacts that were discovered on this site.

MEDIEVAL

The first stone church was built here in the sixth century and survived for three centuries. The next building lasted until 1135 and was followed by its twelfth-century successor which had an impressive tower from which rang one of London’s four curfew bells.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the population of London increased significantly, from less than 15,000 to over 80,000. By the year 1200, the capital city was, in effect, Westminster, a small town upriver from the City of London, where the Royal Treasury was located, and financial records were stored.

St Bride’s was a significant building between the City of London and Westminster. In 1205, the Curia Regis, a council of landowners and ecclesiastics (in effect, a predecessor of today’s Parliament, charged with providing legislative advice to King John), was held in St Bride’s. And in 1207, King John held his Parliament at the church.

The wealthy bequeathed money to pay priests to pray for their souls. The less wealthy joined parish guilds which provided similar benefits. The Guild of St Bride was confirmed by Edward III in 1375, and 100 of its members still serve the church.

The crypt has on display the remains of the churches that stood on this site between the 11th and 15th centuries and examples of medieval floor tiles, roof tiles, stonework, glass, and other artifacts from the period. The Eagle Lectern that is still in use was rescued from the medieval church.

PRINTING

In 1476, William Caxton, a merchant, businessman, and diplomat, brought to this country for the first time a printing press that used moveable type. He set it up on a site adjacent to Westminster Abbey. It is said that modern advertising began when Caxton wanted to sell a service book and produced a memorable poster.

After Caxton’s death around the year 1492, his press was acquired by his apprentice, the printer Wynkyn de Worde, who was dependent upon printing for his livelihood and needed to ensure its commercial viability.

At the time, the area around St Bride’s had become a haven for clergy, who were unable to afford the high cost of living in the very heart of the medieval city. Since the clergy possessed almost a monopoly of literacy in those days, alongside the lawyers who were also based in the area, they were the printers’ best customers. So Wynkyn de Worde followed the best commercial principles and moved his business to the customer base, setting up his printing press in the churchyard of St Bride’s in 1500.

Wynkyn de Worde was buried at St Bride’s in 1535, and a plaque commemorating his life can be seen in the church. St Bride’s is also proud to possess an original example of Wynkyn de Worde’s printing, dating from 1495.

GREAT PLAGUE

During the Great Plague of 1665, the Court of Charles II plus lawyers, merchants, doctors, and many clergy fled the city in fear. But the poor had to stay, and 2,111 people died in St Bride’s parish (100,000 Londoners lost their lives – 20% of its population). The vicar of St Bride’s, Richard Peirson, chose to remain. At the height of the plague in September 1665, Peirson buried 636 people within a month – 43 of them on a single day. The dead included two of his Churchwardens.

Remarkably, Peirson survived the plague, and he was succeeded as vicar in August 1666 by Paul Boston. Literally, two weeks later, another landmark disaster occurred.

GREAT FIRE OF LONDON

On 2 September 1666, fire broke out in the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane. Fanned by strong winds from the east, the fire spread rapidly. On 4 September 1666, the fire crossed the Fleet River (which today runs underground) and engulfed St Bride’s. All that could be saved from the fire was some fused bell metal – some of which can be seen in the crypt.

Vicar Paul Boston left £50 in his Will to the church, which purchased new communion vessels that are still in use today.

SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN

The Great Fire of London destroyed 87 churches. Despite Wren’s conviction that only 39 were necessary to serve such a small area, St Bride’s was among the 51 to be rebuilt.

The £500 required as a deposit by Guildhall to launch the project was raised in a single month: a remarkable effort, given that most of the parishioners had lost homes and businesses in the disaster.

Joshua Marshall, the King’s Mason, was the main contractor. He was a parishioner and also worked with Wren on the Temple Bar and the Monument. One of his assistants was the young Nicholas Hawksmoor, who was to become a renowned architect himself.

Construction started in 1671 and progressed quickly as Wren had built a hostel for the workmen nearby on Fleet Street. The Old Bell Tavern is still there.

Built from Portland stone, the church cost, apart from the steeple, £11,430, making it the third most expensive of all of Wren’s churches. Wren built over the remains of the previous six churches, thus forming extensive crypts.

By 1674 the main structural work was complete, and a year later, the church finally reopened for worship on Sunday 19 December 1675. St Bride’s was one of the first post-fire churches ready for worship. And Fleet Street was one of the first main roads to be substantially restored.

Shortly after opening, galleries were added along the sides of the west walls.

WEDDING CAKE SPIRE

A model of Wren’s original plan for the steeple can be seen on the font inside the church. (The font is from St Helen’s, Bishopsgate.) It was a much shorter cupola design without the additional tiers. In the end, the 234 ft steeple – Wren’s tallest – was completed in 1703.

It was struck by lightning in 1764 and lost 8 feet of height, bringing it down to 226 ft. George III was upset about this, and one of the people he called upon to advise him was Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, Franklin and the monarch did not agree. The king insisted the new lightning conductor should have blunt ends, while Franklin thought pointed ends were more effective. This led to political pamphleteering about ‘good blunt, honest King George’ and ‘those sharp-witted colonists.’ It can’t have helped having two leading figures showing public political tempers so close to American Independence.

Illustration for ‘An Account of the Effects of Lightning in St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, on 18 June 1764’

William Rich was an apprentice to a baker near Ludgate Circus. He fell in love with his master’s daughter. When he set up his own business at the end of his apprenticeship, he won her father’s approval for her hand in marriage. Rich wanted to create a spectacular cake for the wedding feast and took inspiration from the spire of St Bride’s church. He created a cake in layers and began the tradition of the tiered wedding cake. Until his death in 1811, he made a small fortune peddling cakes under its design. Both William and Susannah are buried at St Bride’s.