1 August 2010

LIKE 16 - City of London Walk

Instead of taking a Summer break, LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) took the inspired decision to run special events on the usual meeting nights.

The first of these was a guided walk of the City of London that pleasingly mixed history, architecture, memories and exercise.

A large part of the evening was spent walking along alleyways like this one.

To the untrained eye they looked like private routes leading to nothing more interesting than a corporate back door but our guide knew better, and that is why you need a guide. I have worked in the city a few times over the years and had done a fair share of exploring but not along these routes or to these places.


St Dunstan in the East was the biggest and best surprise of the evening.

Like many of Wren's churches, it was a victim of the German bombardment during WWII but while the inside was destroyed the outer walls and tower remain.

The church now plays host to a congregation of plants arranged around a central fountain with seating so that the city workers can leave their sterile terminals and go there to reconnect with the sights and smells of the real world.

The city buzzes outside of the walls and tries to break in to the courtyard but inside tranquillity reigns supreme.


One of the places that I've worked at in the City is the Natwest Tower. It was called that when I was there and I refuse to use the bland Tower 42 that is its new label.

Sadly, the 42 comes not from the answer to life, the universe and everything but, mundanely, to the number of floors that it has. In the Natwest days these were called levels and the top one was, unsurprisingly, Level 42.

One of the distinguishing features of the tower is that it has floor to ceiling windows throughout and the office space extends right up to the glass. I am not brilliant at heights and working on Level 32 took some getting used to!

I have many memories of my few months there including the day we had a fire alarm test. I'll leave you to imagine what it is like to walk down 32 deep flights of concrete stairs and how long this takes!

The cranes in the foreground remind you that the City is a permanent construction site as former grand buildings are demolished to make way for even grander ones. Sadly missed in this scramble for growth is the former Barclays head office in Leadenhall Street where a magnificent banking hall has been lost to make way for modern shops and offices in Barclays' flight to Canary Wharf.


A building I would like to work in but have not yet had the opportunity to do so is the City's most iconic modern building, Lloyd's of London.

The building is over twenty years old now but still retains the ability to shock, delight and disgust. It's a love-it-or-hate-it building in a Marmite sort of way but while I cannot stand Marmite I absolutely love the Lloyd's building.

I know that the building was carefully and deliberately architected but what appeals to me is the way that it looks as though it has been thrown together in a haphazard way with pipes and lifts added as afterthoughts.

The uniform greyness gives no favour to any one part of the construction and so allows the various shapes to fight for attention on equal grounds.

I took many photos of the building on the night (and on other days before) and it was a real challenge to find the one that best encapsulates what I like about the building and, in the end, I've gone for the vertical repetition as it climbs high, like a new flower, to peak above its neighbours and announce its presence to the whole city.


Almost just across the road from Lloyd's is another well knonw symbol of the City, the Gherkin.

The Gherkin stands a little away from its neighbours which makes it a more obvious landmark. It's simple shape can be seen from across London, I used to be able to see it from my office in Brixton, whereas Lloyd's can only be seen properly when you are standing next to it.

In front of the Gherkin is one of the oldest churches in the City, one that pre-dates Wren's rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1666.

This contrast not only flatters the Gherkin but also sums up the whole of the City where a Medieval street pattern has set the blueprint for generations of buildings to grow and die to meet the evolving needs of merchants and bankers.

After two hours of exhilarating history we decamped to the Jamaica Wine House for food, drink and conversations. There we reflected on the wonderful experience we had just shared.

The London walk was an inspired choice and I am deeply grateful to the person who had that inspiration.

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