Our second day in the verdant London spring was spent walking around various areas of the capital, visiting long-running markets and ancient churches interspersed amongst futuristic skyscrapers and office buildings. One of my favourite things about London is that it combines so many eras and so much history in every single city block; the Gothic Revival Houses of Parliament lie right across the Thames from the Millennium-built London Eye, and nearly brand new edifices such as the Shard, the Gherkin, and the Cheese-grater buildings are within sight of St. Paul’s and the Tower of London. It is this staggering variance and amazing hodgepodge of architecture and history that makes London so endlessly fascinating, as was evident to me on my trip in May 2012.
The day began in the City of London, when we went to Leadenhall Market. Built in Victorian times and boasting a very distinctive colour scheme and architectural style, Leadenhall is a charming market with many shops and much to see. While we were there, there was live music as well as a number of stalls selling all sorts of food and other items. The Market was also done up in a beautifully patriotic manner, with St. George’s Cross bunting strung along the shops and flags hanging from the roof.
Our first view of Leadenhall Market
Charming strings of bunting decorating the already beautiful market
Leadenhall Market certainly occupies an interesting area of London. It is somewhat at odds with its surroundings, or the other way round- the market sits in the shadow of the otherworldly, industrial, metallic façade of the Lloyd’s building. When I first saw Lloyd’s, I was shocked by its peculiarity. It looks more like a futuristic multi-storey carpark than the headquarters of a 300-year old insurance institution!
Rear of the Lloyd’s building, completed in 1986 and Grade I listed only twenty-five years later
Close-up of Lloyd’s- admire it or hate it, one must admit that the building is distinctive
Only a few moments from Lloyd’s and Leadenhall, one finds the equally unique building that locals call ‘the Gherkin’. Situated at 30 St. Mary Axe, this unmistakeable building is filled with offices and is one of London’s most recognizable contemporary landmarks.
The Gherkin, with the steeple of St. Andrew Undershaft church in the foreground
The base of the Gherkin
Our next destinations were also in the City- Smithfield Market, and the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great. Smithfield Market has historically sold meat and livestock, and is still home to many butchers today. However, the market was unfortunately closed while we were there, so we were only able to see the market building rather than the bustle of the market itself.
The classical exterior of Smithfield Market
St. Bartholomew-the-Great is a beautiful Anglican church mere streets away from Smithfield Market. It was built in the 1100s, making it one of the oldest buildings in all of London. Amazingly, it survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombing of World War II unscathed. Although we did not go inside the church- there is an entrance fee for tourists- the exterior is impressive enough, featuring medieval carving and contrasting checkerboard patterns.
View of the ancient Great St. Bart’s church
Example of the fascinating exterior details of St. Bartholomew-the-Great
Another incredibly old feature of the Smithfield area is St. Bartholomew’s gatehouse. Built as a gatehouse for the Norman church of Great St. Bart’s beyond, this picturesque building features a 13th century stonework base and a timber-framed upper section from Elizabethan times. It is so fortunate and wonderful that such a thing exists today, due to the lack of similar buildings after the destructive Great Fire and the Blitz of WWII.
The gatehouse of St. Bartholomew-the-Great
Later that evening, the view from our Victoria hotel reminded me of the ever-busy nature of London- I could see cranes building yet more new structures, silhouetted against the grey cloudy sky.
Construction visible in the Victoria area
London is fantastic because it keeps giving me reasons to return. It never stands still for a second, and I doubt there will ever be a time when I’ve seen everything it has to offer. How exciting to think that it will continue to evolve, endlessly adding new landmarks and features to the well-known and well-loved sights that presently exist. London is a city that has both history and promise, and that makes it the most intriguing metropolis on earth.