Since the station (re-opened in 2012, after some years of closure and renovation is almost uniformly ghastly, we shall pass through it as quickly as possible and move on to our church for this part of the tour. Step lively please.
St Bride’s stands in Fleet Street, with its very distinctive Wren spire. It is, as far as we know, the only church in the country dedicated to the Abbess of Kildare.
The church you see today is a restoration of the Wren church, having received fire damage during the Blitz (I must confess, it is very entertaining reading the likes of Hermitage Day on London churches, writing in 1911, and then seeing the churches as they are now. What would the dear Doctor have made of the melted camembert in St. Stephen Walbrook?). The restoration is not unsuccessful though. It is different, but sane, and the collegiate arrangement works well. Wren’s church is number seven on its site, and the spire, added some years after the completion of the church itself is one of the very distinctive sights on the London skyline.
There is a legend that the spire of St. Bride gives the wedding cake its tiered shape. It’s first appearance is recorded in 1703 when a baker’s apprentice drew on the shape for a particularly elaborate cake for his own wedding.
There is yet another legend attached to the church, which is concerning its foundation. There was a church on this site from the sixth century, which legend has it, was founded by St. Bridget of Kildare. Spurious in the extreme you may think, but excavations have shown that the original church does bear an astonishing similarity to her church in Kildare. Stranger things have happened.
The station is called Blackfriars. Reason being there was once a Dominican convent (legend has it (there are a lot of legends at this stop) that Blackfriars bridge has pulpits as an homage to the Black Friars, the Order of Preachers, who were once here). On part of the supposed site of the Priory is a public house called The Black Friar.
The building in shape is tall, wedge shaped and not very exciting. It is 1870s, or thereabouts; it was however very, very extensively decorated, inside and out, prior to the First World War, giving us a delicious Art Nouveau/ Arts & Crafts pastiche, The text is quintessentially Mackintosh-inspired work. And it has the most beautiful marbles and copper bas-reliefs of friars engaged in various activities, as well as improving sayings such as “Haste is Slow” and “Industry is All”. There are a great many pictures around the place, and well worth seeing. It still functions as a public house too. Well worth a visit; fine pies.
The place was threatened with demolition during the City of London’s enthusiasms, but was saved by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman (how did he find the time?)
Another place a great import nearby is that of the Royal College of Arms. The current building was built just after the Great Fire, in the 1670s, the former having been destroyed.
Founded by Richard III (who can’t have been all bad), the college hosts such remarkably named denizens as Clarenceux King of Arms and Rouge Dragon Pursuivant and is ruled by the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, a family so important that they were able to remain Roman Catholic throughout the era of persecution.
It’s purpose, as I’m sure all of you know, is to regulate, in England, the granting, use and retention of coats of arms. Their role originates from the time when they were heralds at tourneys, and as they were required to announce each contestant, they needed to be able to identify, very quickly, each of them by their arms. So their expertise grew, and as the tourneys died away, they became interested in the regulation of heraldry and the granting of arms.
The building was once upon a time a quadrangle. However, in a less architecturally sensitive time, one said of it was bulldozed to allow for the building of Queen Victoria Street. I think the heralds still get quite upset if you mention it, so we will move on to our next station: Temple.