The City of London comprises the capital’s historic centre (dating from Roman times) and its financial and business district, and forms part of the wider metropolitan area. Often referred to as the “Square Mile”, the area is administered by the City of London Corporation under the Lord Mayor, an office separate from – and much older than – the Mayor of London. Our tour begins on London Bridge which, of all the bridges over the River Thames, has the longest history.
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Several crossings named London Bridge have spanned the Thames between the City of London to the north and Southwark to the south. The current structure – which opened to traffic in 1974 – is a concrete and steel box girder bridge that replaced a 19th century stone-arched bridge which, in 1967, was dismantled and subsequently relocated to Lake Havasu in Arizona. This had, in turn superseded a 600-year- old medieval crossing which was preceded by a succession of timber bridges, the first built by the Roman founders of London. The traditional ends of the medieval bridge were marked by the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr on the north bank and Southwark Cathedral on the south. From here, we will walk along streets that would have been familiar to Charles Dickens, passing – and perhaps stopping at – the George and Vulture pub which the author was known to visit. Built in 1748, it is mentioned frequently in his book The Pickwick Papers and, when it was threatened with demolition in the 1950s, Cedric Charles Dickens, the author’s great-grandson, campaigned to save it and it became the venue for the Christmas Day Dickens family gathering.
The Tower of London
Built following the invasion of Britain by the French King William the Conqueror in 1066 to keep hostile Londoners at bay, the Tower has borne witness to some of the most dramatic events in the country’s history. It has been a royal palace, a prison, a record office and home to a Royal Menagerie of exotic animals, the Royal Mint and the Royal Armouries. A highlight of your visit is sure to be seeing the Crown Jewels, the world’s most magnificent set of royal regalia, which is still used regularly by HM The Queen at important national ceremonies. Standing guard at the Tower are the Yeomen Warders whose members have formed the Royal bodyguard since 1509. Current “Beefeaters”, as they are popularly known, are required to have served in the armed forces with an honourable record for at least 22 years. The Tower is also home to seven ravens, members of the crow family. Legend states that the kingdom will fall if they ever leave the Tower. Only six are required to keep the country safe but an extra one is kept as a spare! On Tower Green stands the scaffold site where prisoners – among them two of King Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – were executed.
Crossing the Thames close to the Tower and designed to harmonise with it, Tower Bridge was opened in 1894. Spectacular views of the capital are offered from its high level walkways and the inner workings of the world’s most famous bridge are revealed in the Victorian engine rooms which house the coal-fired equipment once used to raise and lower the bascules, the movable roadways crossing the river.
Lloyd's of London
In the 17th century, London’s importance as a centre of international trade led to an increased demand for ship and cargo insurance. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house became recognised as the place to obtain marine insurance and Lloyd’s of London was born. The institution has grown over the centuries to become the world’s leading market for specialist insurance. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, Lloyd’s was the largest single insurer and its syndicates paid out billions of dollars to affected businesses. Today, it is housed in a striking stainless steel and glass building designed by internationally-renowned architect Richard Rogers.
The Royal Exchange
Home to Lloyd’s insurance market for nearly 150 years, the Royal Exchange was founded in the 16th century by the merchant Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the City of London. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth I, who awarded it its royal title and a licence to sell alcohol. Britain’s first specialist commercial building now houses offices, luxury shops and restaurants.
Dating back to the 14 th century, Leadenhall was originally a meat, poultry and game market. Over the years it has survived changes in use, rebuilding (the wrought iron and glass building we see today dates from 1881) and even the Great Fire of London, to become a popular shopping and socialising destination for residents, workers and visitors. Part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the first film in the blockbuster series) was filmed in Leadenhall in 2000/1. The market was used to represent the area of London leading to popular wizarding pub The Leaky Cauldron and magical shopping street Diagon Alley. Built between 1411 and 1440, the spectacular Guildhall is still the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London. The magnificent Great Hall, with its stained glass windows and monuments to national heroes, acts as the grand setting for glittering banquets, receptions and royal occasions. During Roman times, it was the site of an amphitheatre, the remains of which can be seen in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. Beneath Guildhall is the largest medieval crypt in London, its vaulted ceiling resting on stone and marble pillars.
St Paul’s Cathedral
For more than 1400 years, a cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the City. The present building, designed by Britain’s most famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, is at least the fourth to have stood on the site and was built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Its famous dome dominates the London skyline and it was the capital’s tallest building from its completion until 1962. Thirty metres – or 257 steps – up from the cathedral floor is the Whispering Gallery, which runs around the interior of the dome. It gets its name from a quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls audible on the opposite side of the gallery. In the crypt are tombs and memorials to some of Britain’s greatest heroes. St Paul’s has been the spectacular setting for many State and royal events including, in 1981, the wedding of HRH Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.
Museum of London
The Museum tells the story of one of the world’s greatest cities from prehistoric to modern times, through both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Its galleries focus on key events and periods in the capital’s history from the Roman settlement to the 2012 London Olympics, including Civil War, Plague and Fire, the reign of Queen Victoria, the Suffragette movement and the “Swinging Sixties”.