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Standing near to St Paul’s Cathedral, mostly ignored by visitors is an arch that has a remarkable history. The arch is known as the Temple Bar and was commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Constructed from Portland Stone between 1669 and 1672 it occupied one of the most important locations in London, separating the City of London and the City of Westminster.
This location was the point where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, a site now near the Royal Courts of Justice, it was at this spot that a Temple Bar stood from the 13th century. Originally just a wooden structure with a chain, it possessed considerable symbolic importance. Temple Bar was the scene of a large number of historical pageants celebrating coronations and paying homage to dead Kings and Queens, through the Temple Bar passed Henry V, Anne Boleyn, Edward VI and Mary Tudor. Before Queen Elizabeth the first’s coronation, Gogmagog the Albion, and Corineus the Briton, the two Guildhall giants, stood next to the Bar.
In the late Middle Ages a wooden archway stood on the spot and although it escaped damage in the Great Fire of London , it was decided by the City to rebuild the structure.
The Wren designed Temple Bar is constructed in two stories with one wide central arch for the road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians.
During the 18th century, the heads of traitors were mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof and upper story room was leased to the neighbouring banking-house of Child and Co for records storage.
Temple Bar, London, 1878 by A & J Bool
In 1878 the City of London Corporation decided that the arch was becoming a bottleneck for traffic and decided to dismantle the structure. It dismantled it piece-by-piece over an 11-day period and the Corporation stored the 2,700 stones. In 1880, at the instigation of his wife, Valerie Meux, the brewer Henry Meux bought the stones and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. Lady Meux used it to entertain friends but after she died, it became derelict and abandoned until 2003.
Temple bar at Theobolds Park (Photo M Newnham 1968)
In 1984, it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1. It was carefully dismantled and returned on 500 pallets to the City of London, where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. It opened to the public on the 10 November 2004.
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Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Location – 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU
Just off Fleet Street.
If there was a competition for the most famous pub in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese would be one of the prime candidates. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it has become associated with most of the great literary figures of London. Its greatest association is with Doctor Johnson who lived in nearby Gough square, but it also been frequented by Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton amongst others.
It was the location of the Rhymers Club in the 1890s which included Yeats and Oscar Wilde amongst its members.
In 1907, a visiting Mark Twain was appalled at his fellow Americans flocking to the pub as a shrine to Dr Johnson.As he sat in the Doctor Johnson room at the Cheshire Cheese he remarked.
“Look at those fools going to pieces over old Doc Johnson call themselves Americans and lick-spittle the toady who grabbed a pension from the German King of England that hated Americans, tried to flog us into obedience and called George Washington traitor and scoundrel.”
His friend Bram Stoker of Dracula fame gently mocked the American by saying “Read Johnson plentifully, I suppose,” knowing that he had never read any of his works.
The pub’s fame has seen it regularly visited by a wide number of famous people of the decades, and is a tourist attraction in its own right.
In the 1920s one of its most famous patrons a grey parrot called Polly died, this event was reported in hundreds of newspapers of the time. Polly’s fame was such that the bird was stuffed and put on display at the pub.
More recently the pub is the location for the American children’s book The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright and Barry Moser.
A more adult themed history was revealed in the 1960s when a number of sexually explicit tiles were found in an upstairs room, dating from the mid- eighteenth century it suggests that the room may have been used as a brothel. The tiles were donated to the Museum of London.
The pub looks uninspiring from the outside but is a maze of small rooms and alcoves whose dark wooden panelling and smoky atmosphere from open fires transport you back in time. It was also made for visitors of a smaller stature, so beware banging heads on low beams on stairs and doors if you are above average height. If the pub is old, it has been suggested that some of the vaults underneath the pub are part of 13th-century Carmelite monastery.
Famous for being a Chop House over the centuries, food is still served and the Beer is relatively cheap by London standards brewed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.
The Old Bank of England
Location – 194 Fleet St, London EC4A 2LT
The Old Bank of England only became a pub in 1994 but is on the site of two old Taverns, the Haunch of Venison and the more famous Cock Tavern. The present building was built in the late 19th century as part of the Law Courts complex, it was the premises of Law Courts branch of the Bank of England. It traded as a branch the Bank of England until 1975 when it was taken over by a Building Society.
In the 1990s the Fuller’s Brewery took over the building and set about restoring it into one of their flagship pubs.
Although its history is interesting, this is not this pubs main selling point, the interior is stunning and provides a airy spacious space around a central wooden mahogany bar. The massive chandeliers add to the natural light through the large windows to illuminate the rich decor and ornamental ceiling.
There is a gallery where you can drink or eat overlooking the bar. There is a good selection of beers on tap and the perhaps better than average pub food available.
The pub mentions the disputed claims that it lies Sweeney Todd Barbers shop and Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop, although this might add a bit of local colour it does not encourage you to try the pies on the menu!