The Square Mile

Capital P | 30/03/17

The City of London, also known as The City, or The Square Mile (after its approximate size), is the area of London that originally lay within the ancient city walls. It doesn’t always feature highly for tourists, but I find the history of this tiny part of London incredibly fascinating, particularly given that the centuries old local governance of The City continues to this day. Did you know, for example, that The City of London is not a London borough? Its ancient and unusual local governance comes with rights and privileges greater than those of anywhere else in UK. The local authority is the City of London Corporation and the chief position is the Lord Mayor. Unlike the rest of London that relies on the Metropolitan Police, the City of London even has its own police force.

It was the Romans who created London’s city walls in about 200AD to protect the city and prevent further invasion. Today those walls have nearly all disappeared (although several vestiges still remain, one of the largest of which can be seen outside the Museum of London, another just near the Tower of London) but various place names and streets hint at their prior existence. Locations such as Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Ludgate and Moorgate mark the position of the main gates in the city walls.

The boundary of the City is marked with small dragon statues (sometimes described as Griffins), that can’t help but make me smile when I cross them. I also like to see the evidence of the many trades and shops that were established back in Medieval times still remaining. Pudding Lane, Bread Street and Milk Street are obvious examples! It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to conjure up images of the tailors’ shops that were based in Threadneedle Street, or the types of business that was carried out in Ropemakers Square, Silk Street, and Poultry! And it is the tiny, narrow streets, passages and courtyards between the main thoroughfares that remind me that the medieval street pattern, despite wars and fire, is preserved much as it always was.

Of course today The City is synonymous with finance, and as one of the world’s leading centres of international finance, it is home to more than 250 foreign banks as well as the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange. Despite the fact that more than 300,000 people work in the area every day, the resident population is less than 10,000. However there is now more to do in the evenings and at weekends, and what used to be a bit of a ghost town comes alive when the FTSE shuts down. The London Museum, The Barbican Centre, St Pauls, shopping in New Change, clubbing in Smithfield and eating and drinking at an increasing number of great restaurants and bars are just a few examples. Crossing the Thames via the Millenium Bridge to visit the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe, Butlers Wharf, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and then back along the river’s edge to the South Bank, makes a great walk for those who enjoy a step back in time and a glimpse of London’s historical past.

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