Friday 13 May 2011

A Search for Grub Street

Dear Reader, 

I recently went to see one of my favourite bands, Misty’s Big Adventure ( who were performing in a club in Brick Lane. Unusually, I actually got out of work on time and instead of hanging around the venue waiting for my friends to turn up; I decided to get off a few stops early and wander around the City in search of Grub Street. 

The boundaries of the City of London are guarded by dragons.
Now, the City of London is not the larger metropolis we know today but the small, one mile square area of the old city of London. It has existed since Roman times. The different periods of its history bleed through into each other, which makes it very difficult to navigate. The street layout and names date to the organic, messy, mediaeval city but due to fire and the thousands of tons of bombs dropped on it during WWII - most of the buildings are modern concrete and glass affairs. This leads to a surreal mish-mash of times, styles and tone. 

The City of London is a bit this -n- that.
The City is also a strange place because it is an incredibly busy place during the week, being the home of most of Britain’s main financial thingummybobs but there are very few places to live which make it so empty of the weekends that even the pubs shut.

The replica fat boy of Pye Corner

The first stop on our wander is Pye Corner. Where a chubby, golden cherub is ready to meet you. The original fat boy stood outside the Fortune of War pub and was placed there after the Great Fire of London in 1666 where it was a warning against gluttony - which was the sin that the great fire was punishment for. The Fortune of War was famous for being a meeting place of resurrectionists, body snatchers. There was a top room filled with bodies and doctors would come and choose the body they wished to dissect. The pub is also notable because in 1761, the landlord was convicted of sodomy and pardoned by George III.

More than that, Pye Corner is the entrance to Cock Lane. Cock Lane is famous for Scratching Fanny, the Cock Lane Ghost. Fanny and her husband had lodged in Cock Lane before falling out with each other and the landlord. Fanny died and the landlord started to claim her ghost was keeping their family awake and that she was claiming that she had been killed by her husband. The fervour grew and people started to call on hanging the husband on the evidence of a ghost.

Experts went to check out claims that the ghost was true, even Samuel Johnson. Oliver Goldsmith later wrote the definitive account on the story. Was it a hoax? Find out for yourselves.

A coin from Newgate Jail

Not far from there is the Palace of Justice, site of Newgate Jail. A dank, mank and killer jail, which were also some of the most expensive lodgings in London. Newgate was a constant present in London lives and literature and the amount of stories that could be told about Newgate could fill several hundred blogs. The only person I would wish to mention is Jack Sheppard, the prison escapee extraordinaire who's definitive contemporary account is attributed to Daniel Defoe, himself an ex-Newgate Resident.

Brewers’ Hall has a typical history for the area.

The next thing on our journey is Brewers' Hall, one of many livery company headquarters we pass on our wander. The Livery Companies date to early mediaeval London, where they held a vital administrative role for the city and the trade associated with it. Some of the companies are now charities, others still have a role in their trade and they all vote for the Lord Mayor of London (not to be confused with the Mayor of London). There is a parade every year when the new mayor is elected, it's pretty pageantry and he gets to ride in a golden coach.

A ride which needs no pimping.

Milton (Nee Grub) Street

Finally, we get to a non-descript little street called Milton Street. It's no more than an alleyway with the back of a conference hall running along the left side of the street and the back of a shining company headquarters on the right. This pointless and nondescript street was yet another flattened during the war when it was twice as long, before then it had another name - Grub Street. 

I found it and it's gone. The buildings have gone, the character has gone, even the name has gone but the legend remains and so does the memory, because history is not ever completely forgotten. History is built into the fabric of the present and wandering around London is the perfect way of realising that. 

- Oh, and the gig was fantastic.

All yours

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