The Watts Church Crawl (Part the Nineteenth) Aldgate

Continuing round we come to Aldgate: the only station which is passed through solely by the Circle line (it is also the terminus of the Metropolitan line). Of itself, it is a somewhat unremarkable station. It was heavily effected during the London bombings, in 2005 but was the first to re-open afterwards. Aldgate also features in a Sherlock Holmes Story (The Adventure of the Bruce-Patrington Plans). A clerk; Cadogan West (which sounds like a tube station name in its own right), is found dead at Aldgate, with highly important plans about his person. But why isn’t there a ticket about his person? I won’t spoil it for you.

There are also some spooky links with Aldgate. Make of which what you will.


Great St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate

In the shadow of the Gherkin lies the ancient foundation of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate; one of the few churches to have survived the great fire of London.

Dedicated to St. Helen, mother of Constantine, finder of the True Cross, it is a rare example of a double nave, the second nave being what is left of the nuns’ church (the two were divided by screens until the reformation). A goldsmith by the name of William Fitzwilliam founded the monastery of Benedictine nuns here, dedicated to St. Helen & the Holy Cross, and the church was expanded to accommodate them. This was in about 1210. The monastery remained until the dissolution of the monasteries, and once closed, the proceeds and appurtenances went to a relative of Thomas Cromwell (funny that).


The wind must have been in the right direction for St. Helen’s, as it altogether escaped damage in the Great Fire in 1666. It did receive bomb damage during the blitz however, and was also damaged by an IRA bomb which exploded about 60 yards from the east end of the church. All the windows shattered, and the east end window of the nuns’ church is blown in completely. There is damage to the organ and to one of the very fine tombs in the place. All is then restored. After a fashion.

The church has seen a couple of well-known architects over the centuries: Inigo Jones did some work, putting in some classical fittings. Most of which were inevitably removed by Pearson, who brought many original features back to light, and is also responsible for the fine gilded reredos (whose Altar appears to have vanished under a mountain of stackable chairs). In the 90s, after the IRA bombings which did so much damage to the place, Quinlan Terry got involved. Form your own opinions from the pictures, but there does appear to be a distinct lack of an Altar, no permanent seating, and a worrying number of amplifiers.


Brick Lane

A fascinating microcosm of London’s shifting population and culture. Of particular interest are two buildings: what is now the Great Central Mosque, and the Ten Bells public house. The Mosque was built in 1743, first as a chapel for the Huguenot  community then in that area, before becoming a Methodist chapel, with a special emphasis on spreading Christianity among the large Jewish community of that time. Ironically this last about 10 years before it became a Synagogue. In 1976 the building become a Mosque, reflecting yet another dramatic population shift in the area.

The Ten Bells tells a very different story. Brick Lane was not a nice place. The Ten Bells was one of its most notorious pubs: it has been around since around the mid 1700s, and has gone by several names. The bells that the name refers to are the bells of Christchurch Spitalfields: the name would change dependent on the number of bells in the tower, until the peal reached ten, and the name stuck.

What makes the place so sinister is its link with Jack the Ripper. The pub was known as the Jack the Ripper for several years, until pressure groups insisted it be changed back. Two of his victims were regular habitués of the Ten Bells. One of them used to ply her trade in front of the building (Mary Kelly) and the other (Annie Chapman) most likely drank in there shortly before her violent death. The pub has been restored in recent years, bringing to light some very fine original features, including some fine Victorian tiling.

It is perfectly possible to go in there now and not get brutally stabbed. In much the same way, one can now walk down Brick Lane without being mugged.



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