Alderman’s Walk is one of those names that tend to spark off thoughts of summery strolls along well-kept tree-lined avenues. Indeed, if we were contemplating our walk in a suburban village or almost any place other than the City of London that is what we may very well expect to find.
However, the City of London is where we are and Alderman’s Walk is not remotely like that.
ON THE DOORSTEP is Liverpool Street Station, the modernised gateway to eastern England; only yards away and visible from all angles of the City, the Natwest Tower reaches skyward; a mere stone’s throw away is the Bank, the ‘old lady’ who has her thumb on the hub of financial London.
This has been a busy section of the City for centuries; carts and trucks have been rumbling around here ever since the Romans built the Bishops Gate and opened up a main thoroughfare into the City. Despite all this turmoil Frances Dashwood, an 18th-century Member of the Common Council of the City, liked it so much that he built his house here, on the south side of the Walk near to Old Broad Street. When Dashwood received a Knighthood the place became known as Dashwood’s Court until he was elected to the Court of Aldermen of the City of London and from that time the name changed to Alderman’s Walk.
Adjoining the Walk, on the south side, is the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate, one of three surviving churches dedicated to the seventh-century patron saint of travellers. The first church on this site was built about the beginning of the 13th century and was probably twice replaced before the 17th century. On Tuesday the 4th September 1666 St Botolph’s was shaking in its foundation as the Great Fire swept across the lower reaches of Bishopsgate, moving round to Throgmorton Street where it took the Drapers’ Hall. Although there was a sigh of relief when the danger was past, St Botolph’s was not in the best of repair and sixty years after the fire (1725) the church was demolished and rebuilt by James Gold. The unusual interior has two aisles separated from the nave by enormous Corinthian columns supporting a gallery running around the north, south and west sides. Strangely, the square tower is at the east end and therefore above the chancel and sanctuary, an arrangement only occasionally encountered. The marble fluted font is a relic of the 18th century, doubly celebrated because John Keates, poet, was baptised in it in 1795. In the graveyard of the old church, Ben Jonson and his family gathered to mourn the passing of his young son, a tragic victim of the plague.
The church once controlled a charity school for fifty poor boys and girls. In 1861 the classrooms were transformed into the parish hall and it can be seen to the west of the church with two charming statues of the charity children; a boy and a girl each wearing a badge and holding a book.
Featured image: Bishopsgate Churchyard, London, EC2 by David Hallam-Jones (CC BY_SA 2.0)
With the footpath that passes through St Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate churchyard behind them, pedestrians heading in the direction of New Broad Street find themselves passing the entrance of this former underground Turkish Bath establishment. Apparently, there had been baths of one kind or another on this site since 1817. These “new” (replacement) baths were opened as “The New Broad Street Turkish Baths” on 5 February 1895. They were situated partly underneath the original New Broad Street House (since demolished) and partly beneath Alderman’s Walk (now called Bishopsgate Churchyard). Potential bathers entered the kiosk topped by an onion-shaped cupola and decorated with a star and crescent and went down a faïence-lined (earthenware tiled) winding staircase to a vestibule where s/he bought his ticket. Although protected, it seems that they have been adapted into a restaurant.
Much of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.