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ON THE WAY TO GREAT ST. HELEN'S
THE eastern section of the General Post Office stands on the site of the ancient church and sanctuary of St. Martin's, commemorated in the street of St. Martin's-le-Grand. This sanctuary was the outcome of a very old custom—a place consecrated, where criminals who sought refuge within its precincts were protected from all law. The Sanctuary of St. Martin's was founded in the days of Edward the Confessor, and came to have a most unsavoury reputation, for the rights of sanctuary brought a great gathering of criminals of every sort and people of the lowest degree. Within the shelter of the Sanctuary of St. Martin's, Miles Forest, one of the murderers of the princes in the Tower, took refuge and finally died.
The quiet little garden beside the church of St. Botolph Without Aldersgate, was built over the graveyard that surrounded the church for more than half a century. The church has stood here since 1796, and the garden spot of to-day is called Postman's Park, because of the many employés from the nearby General Post Office who gather here.
A fragment of the wall that surrounded early London is to be seen in the northern boundary wall of the General Post Office, from Aldgate Street to King Edward Street.
The walls that encircled Roman London, built between 360 and 380, enclosed about 375 acres in its three miles of circumference, were twelve feet thick, twenty feet in height, with towers at stated distances twenty feet higher than the walls. It had its start near the spot where the Tower is now, and followed generally the line of the present streets of the Minories, Houndsditch, London Wall, and so on to New-gate, Old Bailey, Ludgate to the Thames. The wall was marked in later days by its chief gates—Ludgate, Aldgate, Cripplegate, Newgate, Bishopsgate and Aldersgate. Fragments of it are still to be seen in the street called London Wall, between Wood Street and Aldermanbury, where a tablet marks it; at St. Giles, Cripplegate, and in the boundary wall of the new Post Office from King William to Aldgate Street.
John Milton moved to the present Maidenhead Court from St. Bride's Lane. It was then called Lamb Alley, and is off Aldersgate Street to the east. This was his pretty garden house of which he often spoke. It was here he had a sort of private school where he educated the two sons of his sister and several children of his personal friends. Here, too, he married Mary Powell, who before long finding married life irksome, left her poet husband who even then was showing signs of the blindness that was soon to be his portion.
In Jewin Street, about the year 1663, Milton lived when he had been blind for ten years, and here he married Elizabeth Minshull, his third wife.
In the street called Barbican, off Aldersgate Street, Milton lived for two years after 1645, during which time he wrote "L'Allegro" and "Comus." He moved here that he might have a large house to accommodate the increasing number of pupils he had been educating in the Lamb's Alley house. Here his wife, who had deserted him, returned, and here his first child was born in 1646. In the narrow and winding roads hereabouts, the great plague of 1665 caused greatest havoc.
Redcross Street came by its name because of a cross that once stood where Beach Street touches Redcross.
In the green and quiet churchyard of St. Giles, Cripplegate, hemmed in by tall warehouses, is a part of the old Roman wall, possibly the most perfect bit that now remains. The church was built in the 14th century, but has been well taken care of and often restored. Cripplegate takes its name from "Crepel geat,"—a covered way or tunnel, which the Roman soldiery used when defending the city wall. It was in this church that Oliver Cromwell in 1620, when he was quite a young man, was married to Elizabeth Bourchier. Milton, who wrote "Paradise Lost" in a house in this parish, was buried here. In front of the chancel is a stone which reads :
Near this spot was buried
Author of 'Paradise Lost.'
Born 1608. Died 1674.
Foxe, who wrote the "Book of Martyrs," is also buried here, together with Speed, the topographer, who died in 1629, and Sir Martin Frobisher, the voyager, who was buried in 1594.
Although the part of town about Milton Street is filled with memories of Milton, this roadway was not named for him, but for a popular builder who lived here. This is the former Grub Street, which Dr. Johnson's dictionary speaks of as "inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called Grub Street." Swift, writing of the street, said :
O Grub Street! how do I bemoan thee,
Whose graceless children scorn to own thee;
Yet thou hast greater cause to be
Ashamed of them than they of thee.
On one side of the church of St. Alphage, which was at first a leper hospital, there is yet to be seen a barred window through which the afflicted could look and could hear the service, though they were not permitted to enter the church. Across the road is a fragment of the old Roman wall, railed off and preserved, and with it a bit of the greensward that once formed part of the churchyard of St. Alphage.
Ruin and neglect mark what was once a green and beautiful spot—Bunhill Fields—long the chief burial place for Nonconformists, its aged and grime-covered stones now tottering in decay, and at war with the noise of factory life coming from every side. Its original name was Bone-hill Fields, because it was a principal place of burial at the time of the great plague. John Bunyan was buried here in 1688, and his tomb is still to be seen. His memory recalls chiefly his great book "Pilgrim's Progress," although he wrote many others—sixty in all. The "Pilgrim's Progress" was written while he was in Bedford Jail, where he was confined for twelve years for being a Dissenter. During this time he supported his family by making lace. Here, too, is the tomb of Daniel DeFoe, who was the son of a butcher of St. Giles, Cripplegate, and whose fame also rests upon a single book, "Robinson Crusoe," although he too wrote many others. Near by are the tombs of Isaac Watts and Susannah, the mother of John Wesley.
In a house in Bunhill Row, whose site is covered now by the offices of a company of well-diggers, John Milton died in 1674. Over the doorway there is a tablet marking the spot, Milton moved here in 1664, the street then being called Artillery Walk, from the nearby Artillery Grounds. Here he wrote the last part of "Paradise Lost," and made arrangements for its publication, by which he was to receive five pounds down, with the further promise of an additional five pounds if an edition of 1300 was sold, and still another five pounds if still another edition of 1300 was sold. Here, too, he wrote "Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes."
Facing the eastern entrance to Bunhill Fields, in City Road, is the chapel built in 1778 for John Wesley, the founder and preacher of the Methodist Church; and behind the chapel is the tombstone showing where Wesley was buried in 1791, He died in the house No. 47, next the chapel.
A commemorative window in the church of St. James in Curtain Road close by Holywells Street, marks the location of the Curtain Theatre of Shakespeare's time, which stood on the church site. Here, so the tale goes, the première of "Hamlet" was given, and Shakespeare, standing at the door, held the horses of those who attended the performances. But that he did this is not at all certain. Like most of the theatres of that time, this house was so arranged that the roof extended only over the stage and galleries, leaving the central space, or pit, open to the sky. A curtain of silk, running on an iron rod and opening both ways from the middle, hid the stage before the performance began.
All the district about Finsbury Square was once the marshy ground of Moorfields, a promenade of the 18th century. The name Finsbury happened in an old ballad, which tells of a Knight who went to the crusades and who forbade his two daughters to marry until his return. The Knight never came back alive, but his head was sent to the daughters when they had grown old and were still unmarried. This gruesome relic they buried near by their home, and gave their father's name to his resting place, as told in the ballad:
Old Sir John Fines he had the name
Being buried in that place,
Now, since then, called Finsbury,
To his renown and grace;
Which time to come shall not outwear
Nor yet the same deface.
Finsbury Pavement was the promenade of Moorfields, and was for a very long time the one solid roadway in that marshy part of town.
The church of All Hallows-on-the-Wall Was built in 1765 on a bastion of the old Roman wall that enclosed old London. Close to the church door at the back of the ancient burying ground, a bit of the wall is still to be seen.
Bishopsgate is one of the few very old streets that escaped the Great Fire. It is strangely narrow, and its hurrying throngs add to the general picturesqueness of the high-roofed structures and the quaint many-angled windows that line its sides.
Where Bishopsgate Within ends and Bishops-gate Without begins a gate was cut through the wall of old London. One part was within the wall and one part without the wall, hence the name of the street. At this gateway were four churches. St. Botolph, Without Bishopsgate, dedicated to the popular English saint, stands on the site of one of those early churches. In this church John Keats, who afterwards wrote so delicately of the Eve of St. Agnes and the Grecian Urn, was baptised.
Old White Hart Tavern stood a few yards north of St. Botolph, Without Bishopsgate. It was much the same in arrangement as the other old inns that existed when people travelled entirely by coach. Three sides of the cobbled stone interior yard were lined with guests' rooms, and in front of these extended a heavy Wooden balcony. The inn yard was customarily the resort of showmen and musicians. Sometimes a temporary stage was set up, backing the entrance to the inn and fronting the gallery, so the occupants of the rooms could witness the performances. The White Hart Tavern has survived in name chiefly because Hobson, a famous Cambridge carrier, always stopped here when he came to London. When at home Hobson rented horses and had an unbreakable rule Of letting them only in their regular turn. This created the saying: "Hobson's choice: that or none." When Hobson died his elegy was written by Milton.
The street called Houndsditch was a moat beyond the wall of the city in very long ago times and was used often as a burying ground for dead dogs. Into this ditch the headless body of Edric, the murderer of Edmund Ironsides, was flung, after his crime had placed Canute on the throne. He claimed as his promised reward the highest place in the city, and the Danish king cried out: "The treason I like, but the traitor hate; behead the fellow, and as he claims my promise, place his head on the highest pinnacle of the Tower." And this was done.
Readers of Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop," and who is there has not read it, will recall Bevis Marks where Miss Sally Brass lived with her brother Sampson; where the Marchioness, the tiny domestic, and Dick Swiveller, the law clerk, did their visiting. Bevis Marks is close by Houndsditch, and started existence as a garden plot of the Abbots of St. Edmunds, but it is a very commonplace spot indeed in these times.
At the point where Bishopsgate Street Within ends and Bishopsgate Street Without begins, the City wall crossed. On a house just where Camomile Street touches Bishopsgate is a tablet affixed telling of the gate that was once in the old wall just here.
Very timid in appearance is the church of St. Ethelburga, and said to be the smallest church in London. It huddles away, in Bishopsgate Street Within, just to the north of St. Helen's Place, between houses which cover its old burying ground, and its tiny entrance way flanked by shop windows. It has stood here since 1366, having been spared by the Great Fire.
Until quite recently, Crosby Hall, a building of the early 15th century, stood on the east side of Bishopsgate Street Within. In its last days it was said to be the only example of a mediæval London house in the Gothic style. Originally set up by a former grocer who with the passing years came to be Sir John Crosby, Alderman, it came into the possession of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. Owning many masters (among them Sir Thomas More who here wrote his life of Richard III.), it was converted at various times into a prison, a meetinghouse, a storehouse, a concert hall, and in its last days a restaurant.
Turning from Great St. Helen's, you come suddenly upon the curious 13th century church of St. Helen's, in a square of ancient houses, often alluded to as the Westminster Abbey of the City. Originally it was a church of the Priory of the Nuns of St. Helen's, founded about 1145, by "William, son of William the Goldsmith," and it contains many interesting memorials. Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, lies buried here, and Shakespeare was a parishoner here in 1598.
At the junction of Throgmorton Street and Old Broad, on the north side of the road is an open space leading into the courtway of Austin Friars. Here is the Dutch Church; all that remains of the renowned Augustinian Monastery founded in the 13th century. In this church was buried the Earl of Arundel, son of the Black Prince and the Fair Maid of Kent; and many another famous nobleman; and here are buried all those of noble birth who were killed at the Battle of Barnet.
Threadneedle Street is a very old road, stretching in early days far to the south and west. It got its name from the three needles appearing on the arms of the Needlemakers' Company. Some of its old outlines are covered by the Bank of England, which has been irreverently nicknamed the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.