The Watts Church Crawl (Part the 22nd) Cannon Street

If we are very lucky, and are travelling through the circle line during the working week, we will not hear the dread words “Cannon Street Station is closed and trains will not be stopping here”, which would be a pity, because Cannon Street is a station with a very interesting history. Firstly, it is built on the site of the Steelyard, home of the Hanseatic League, a most fascinating and interesting historic organisation, whose Wikipedia page well repays inspection.
If you are stood on the opposite side of the river, Cannon Street is difficult to miss, due to its very distinctive two towers, designed to mimic those of St. Paul’s, with a rather more modern building between them. The original above-ground national railway station, of which those two towers are all that remain, was designed by Hawkshaw & Barry in the 1860s. The whole set up was not dissimilar to Charing Cross. It was badly bombed during the blitz, and so ended up being drastically re-built in the 60s (it always is the 60s). There are grand plans for restoration however, which hopefully will come to fruition and not be ghastly.
Our church is really a Wren gem: St. Stephen, Walbrook.
It is one of his earliest, being finished at about 1680. It’s exterior has little to recommend it (when the church was built, the area was somewhat built up and would never have dominated its surroundings in that way) however, like the king’s daughter, it is “all glorious within”.
I say is.
I think I mean was.
There was a re-ordering, which resulted in what is affectionately known as the Melted Camembert, one of Henry Moore’s last commissions being moved in under the great dome, and the whole thing being reoriented centrally, and what was the Altar and reredos at the east end looking somewhat neglected at the east end. Not, it must be said, that the Altar was ever the central focus. Before there was the Melted Camembert, there was the pulpit. Its sounding board must be one of the most interestingly scaled, in comparison to the pulpit, ever devised.
The church itself is a curious design: one enters via a stepped porch, and arrives in a rectangular church, set about with Corinthian pillars in a grid, and then the dome of the church is set off centre, as we may see from the plan. This all leads to wonderfully strange and baroque aspects, depending on where you are standing in the place. The great Italian classical sculptor Antonio Canova was overcome with it, and said “we have nothing to touch it in Rome”. It is arguably the most beautiful church interior in England.
The church has a new apostolate, which is being home to the London Internet Church.
Our other site of interest is the Bank of England; affectionately known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. The name, it is said, comes from a ghost who is said to haunt the area: Sarah Whitehead, whose brother was hanged for forgery in 1811. The shock unhinged her, and so every day for 25 years, she went to the bank to enquire about her brother. When she died she was buried nearby, and her ghost has allegedly been sighted many times. This is the old lady of Threadneedle St.
The Bank of England is the second oldest central bank in existence, and the 8th oldest bank in the world. It came into existence after the battle of Beachy Head in 1690, out of a need to raise funds to build a British Navy, in order to defend Britain against the world. It was privately owned until its Nationalisation in 1946, and is currently owned by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the Government. It sets national interest rates, and genuinely has a licence to print money. Its vaults contain an awful lot of gold bars, which are a thing of beauty when seen en masse.
The building itself has been expanded and re-structured several times; the first building was by George Sampson, between 1732-4, which was then altered by Sir Robert Taylor, in 1765-88. Immediately after this however, came the building’s golden hour, when Sir John Soane took it on and between 1788-1827 gave us one of the finest corporate buildings London ever saw. However, between 1921 & 1939, most of this was destroyed by Sir Herbert Baker in another expansion, in what Pevsner described as  “the greatest architectural crime, in the city of London, in the Twentieth century”. It is also said that the difference in the work is not “a matter of taste, but of the gulf between talented professionalism and imaginative genius”. Nasty.
Soane’s work (as Baker’s) was a massive expansion, to cope with the bank’s increase in size and stature, and included the famous banking halls. The museum gives us an idea of what it would have looked like, though the scale and proportion have been corrupted somewhat. The plans give us an idea just how massive a change the whole thing was.
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