Thursday, 28 May 2009

London Stone (2)

Near to the ancient and legendary London Stone, there is another London Stone. This one is a faux-gothic pub, all plaster gargoyles, bubbling test tubes and screams in the toilet. It's part of the eerie pub co, and does present a wonderfully incongruous scene - London city boys sitting drinking amonst gothic kitsche. They even seem to have found some goths to serve behing the bar, probably the only goths in the City of London.

Originally I was going to give this a raving review, ignoring its shortcomings and cheesiness for the fact it really was something different in the City. Then I went there to properly review it and get a few pictures. With my beer, I ordered a ham sandwich and some chips. The Chips were soggy and lukewarm, obviously been sitting there hours. The ham was a mysterious pink and white slab. And the bread it was between was mouldy. I quickly lost my appetite and left, and forgot to take any pictures, so you'll just have to use your imagination. I however, won't be returning very soon.

London Stone (1)

The London Stone is one of those strange bits of London esoterica which few people know about - but in this case, was in its day a pretty major landmark of London.

This is the mystical heart of London. Possibly a Roman waymarker, possibly just a big stone that early Londoners attached significance to in their pagan way. Like the Ravens at the tower of London, it's safety is linked to the safety of the Kingdom, and indeed it survived having a bomb dropped on the church it was situated in in WW2.

It has been moved however, and seems to have lost somewhere a lot of its size - once it was a tall freestanding obelisk, now its just a large oblong rock with a hole in the top.

Currently its behind a little cage on a bank building on the North side of Cannon street, hard to notice and pretty hard to see even if you do notice it!

The building it's under is now empty and due to be demolished, I don't know what will happen to the Stone. Hopefully it'll be a little bit better looked after in its next home, though I don't know if I want it to be 'discovered' - its quite nice to have it there, the forgotten heart of London lying at the feet of commuters.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Hotels in the City

For decades, the City was a hotel free area - deliberately, for like residential buildings the City Corporation banned them and refused planning permission. I have no idea what this policy was to achieve, but in recent years the Corporation has relaxed this stance, and there are now a rash of interesting proposals.

Just today I read of a new 'six star' hotel being planned for the waterfront at Blackfriars. While I'm not instantly taken by its design, that section of waterfront - like the vast majority of the City waterfront, is utterly dreadful, and that conference centre should not be missed.

Nearby, the Grange hotel St Pauls is almost finished. Architecturally its a bit of a damp squib (I don't recall what was there before, its rather likely it replaced some concrete monstrosity) but I have great hopes that these two hotels will be able to bring some life into the Blackfriars area. Its a lovely little area, a little snapshot of what the City was like before the bombers and the bulldozers.

I was also told - by a corporation guide, no less - that the former Lloyd's bank headquarters on Cornhill at the heart of the City is going to get turned into a luxury hotel by a Russian oligarch. I haven't found any evidence of this online, and the credit crunch seems to have reduced the spending power of the oligarchs, but the building is still being renovated for mysterious purposes.

And at the East end of the City, the redevelopment of Trinity Square into a hotel has been given approval. Besides being a glorious building, its in a great location, just across from the Tower of London.

And up on Bishopsgate, there's a hotel planned in the proposed 'Baby Heron', which will go up next to the currently under construction Heron Tower office block.

Of course, all these hotels will be 'luxury', and far beyond my price range, but it does warm my cockles that soon there will be thousands more people living in the City of London - even if only for a few days at a time.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The centre of London

How you define the centre of London is pretty tricky - many, including my trusty rough guide, would have it as Trafalgar Square. Apparently, Black cabs have it as Charing Cross. Certainly, the centre of the City has moved west, and has been moving west for a long time - such that the City itself is now considered to be in East London!

But I think that it is beginning to shift back again. Not to the city for sure - not yet anyway (More on that later - there's a new change coming to the City) but in the last couple of decades the south bank has exploded, and new bridges have connected it to the North bank and St Pauls. In the East, Spitalfields is hotting up, and Bricklane and Spitalfields market are now attractions in their own right across the whole of London. And of course we have the olympics even further east, establishing east London as the place to be in 2012 - and after?

So what will people think of as the centre in a few years time? There is a void between all those areas - the jammed west end, the busy south bank, the trendy east end. If you go there at the weekend now, bar a few isolated pockets, you'll just find a deserted wasteland, devoid of humanity - what the Corporation of London has spent fifty years trying to create, a business park. I do not however believe it will remain like that for long thogh - like it or not, by sheer geography, by architecture and the City towers rising as waypoints, the City of London is returning to its place as the centre of London.

And I like it. Only one question though - where's the centre of the City? St Pauls? The Guildhall? The London stone?...