A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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The principal street in this ward having been originally the corn market for the city, obtained the name of Cornhill, and communicated the same name to the ward. It is bounded on the east by Bishopsgate-ward; on the north by Broad-street ward; on the west by Cheap-ward, and on the south by Langbourn: and is divided into four precincts. This is a ward of small extent, though rendered of importance by its situation and the condition of the inhabitants. It begins on the north east, at the south-east corner of St. Martin Outwich's church in Bishopsgate-street, and runs by several windings south-west as far as the west end of Cornhill. Then beginning again on the north, about fifty feet from the south-west corner of Bishopsgate-street, it runs south to St. Peter's alley in Gracechurch-street, and from thence, by divers windings, it proceeds to the south-west corner of Cornhill. So that it contains Cornhill entirely on both sides. On the north side of this street are several courts, &c. as Star court, Weigh-house yard, Newman's yard, Finch lane, Freeman's court, Swithin's alley, Castle alley, and the opening to the Bank. On the south side there are Peter's alley, Michael's alley, Birchin lane, Change alley, and Pope's head alley.
The only capital street in this ward is Cornhill, a fine open street, and the centre of Commerce, by having the front of the Royal Exchange in it, where all the merchants assemble every day to negociate their affairs; as the brokers and gamblers in the national funds do in the coffee houses in Exchange alley directly opposite. Three unhappy fires, which severally laid waste great part of this street (fn. 1), gave opportunity to restore it with better buildings and with greater uniformity; and the rebuilding all the houses on the west side of the Exchange, between this street and Threadneedle-street, to open a new street (fn. 2) from the front of the Bank, have all together filled three fourths of this street with new buildings.
On the north side of Cornhill stands the Royal Exchange, so well known to all the commercial world; with which transactions are daily carried on in it. The first erection of an Exchange here by Sir Thomas Gresham, in 1566, has already been related in the order of time (fn. 3); to repeat it would therefore be unnecessary: that building being destroyed by the great fire in 1666, the present noble structure was raised at the joint expence of the city and the company of mercers, and cost 80,000l.
The ground plot of the Royal Exchange is a parallelogram 203 feet long, and 171 feet broad; on which is built a substantial uniform stone building, inclo sing an area in the middle of 61 square perches, with a spacious piazza round it: the altitude of the building is 56 feet. Under each of the principal fronts, which are north and south, there are also piazzas, with losty noble arched entrances in the centres to the inner court.
The proper front is that in Cornhill; on each side the grand entrance are Corinthian demi-columns, supporting a compass pediment; and in the intercolumniation on each side, in the front next the street, is a niche, with the figures of king Charles I. and king Charles II. in Roman habits, well executed. Over the aperture, on the cornice between the two pediments, are the king's arms in relievo: on each side of this entrance, over the piazza, is a range of windows between demi-columns and pilasters of the composite order; and above them the building is decorated with a balustrade. From the centre rises a square tower 178 feet high, diminishing by three stages; but notwithstanding the windows on each side are calculated to lighten the appearance, the whole is heavy and confused to the eye. The uppermost turret or lanthorn that crowns the whole supports a fane of polished brass, made in the shape of a grasshopper, the crest of Sir Thomas Gresham's arms. In this tower is a good clock, and twelve musical bells, which chime at the hours of nine, twelve, three, and six, every day.
The inner court, as has been before observed, is surrounded with a wide losty piazza, serving to shelter the merchants who meet there, from the inclemencies of the weather. Over the arches of this quadrangular piazza is an entablature standing round, and a compass pediment in the middle of the cornice of each of the four sides. Under the pediment, on the north side, are the king's arms; on the south the city arms; on the east Sir Thomas Gresham's arms; and on the west the mercers arms, with their respective enrichments. There are twentyfour niches in the inter columns, twenty of which are filled with statues of the kings and queens of England, in their royal robes, and with the regalia, except three, who are dressed like Roman Cæsars. The most aukward, clumsy, and worst designed of all these figures, is that last erected of his present majesty king George III.
Within this area, under the piazzas, are twenty-eight niches, which are all vacant but that in which Sir Thomas Gresham's statue is placed in the north west angle; and that in the south west, where the statue of Sir John Barnard was placed in his life-time by his fellow citizens, to express the true sense of his merit, as a merchant, a magistrate, and faithful representative of the city of London. In the center of the area is erected, on a marble pedestal, about eight feet high, another statue of king Charles II. in a Roman habit, executed by Mr. Gibbon, and encompassed with iron rails. Of this statue no more need be said than was expressed at the time when it was mentioned as being set up by the company of Merchant Adventurers (fn. 4). In this court and under the surrounding piazza, all persons engaged in mercantile connections meet every day at noon; and for mutual conveniency those engaged in the same branches of trade assemble in distinct parts or walks as expressed in the annexed plate.
Under the north and south fronts are spacious stair-cases which lead to a kind of gallery that extends round the four sides of the building, and in which were formerly about two hundred shops, occupied by milliners, haberdashers, &c. but those shops have been long deserted; and the galleries are now let out to the Royal Exchange Assurance office; the Merchants Seamens office; the Marine Society; and to auctioneers, &c. Under the whole are vaults occupied by the East India company as pepper magazines.
The Royal Exchange Assurance office, which is kept over the Change, is one of the surviving schemes started in the memorable South-sea year. This corporation with that of the London Assurance were established by act of parliament (fn. 5), for assuring buildings, goods, wares, and merchandize from fire; ships and merchandize at sea; and for lending money upon bottomry. For which charter they agreed to pay 300,000l. into his majesty's exchequer, for discharging the debts of the civil list. But the scheme not answering at first, the crown remitted most part of that money, and granted them a new charter impowering them to insure lives.
The office for sick and wounded seamen in the merchants service, kept over the Royal Exchange, is a corporation instituted for the relief of such seamen and their widows who have no right to Greenwich hospital by servitude aboard his majesty's navy, and are reduced to distress in the merchants service. It consists of a number of merchants, who were incorporated in 1747 (fn. 6), and are governed by a president and a council of twenty-one.
The Marine society, the office for which is also kept over the Exchange, began at the commencement of the late war with France (fn. 7); and was an extreamly well judged scheme for rescuing destitute boys from the bad consequences of a vagabond life, and fitting them out with all proper necessaries for the sea service. The government so far co-operated in this laudable institution as to order the men of war to receive each of them a certain number of these boys (fn. 8); and the society, after subsisting for several years as a voluntary association, obtained a charter of incorporation June 24, 1772.
At the south east angle of Cornhill, behind some houses which cover it in front, stands the church of St. Peter Cornhill. This church is said to have been founded by king Lucius, the first Christian king in this island, about the year of our Lord 179, who dedicated it to St. Peter the Apostle, erected in it an archbishop's see; and that this was and continued to be the metropolitan and chief church in this nation for 400 years, when Augustine the monk removed the archiepiscopal chair to Canterbury. To confirm this account, which is handed down to posterity by a table hung up in the church (fn. 9), it is further said, that Thean, the first archbishop of London, built this church of St. Peter, by the help of one Cyran, chief butler to king Lucius; and that Elvanus, his immediate successor in this see, built a library near the same church, and converted many of the Druids to Christianity. Whatever credit may be given to this legend, it is certain that the church, known in ancient records by the name of St. Peter super Cornhill, i. e. above or at the top of Cornhill, is of a very ancient foundation; and the earliest anecdote relating to it that can be relied on, independent of the recited monkish record, is, that William Kingston, before the year 1298, gave to it his tenement in Grass-street, called the Horse Mill; and that there anciently belonged to the church a public library well furnished with books; which being disposed of in a private manner, the building was converted into a school; this school was probably one of the four mentioned to be erected by authority of parliament in 1447 (fn. 10); one of those schools being appointed for this parish.
The patronage of this rectory appears to have been anciently in a family of the Nevils: for the Lady Alice, relict of Sir Hugh Nevil, in the year 1362, made a feoffment thereof to Richard Earl of Arundel and Surrey; and passing through divers hands since, it was in the year 1411 conveyed by Richard Whittington and others, to the lord-mayor and commonalty of this city, in whom the right of advowson still remains.
The present edifice was built since the fire of London, which totally consumed the old church. It is a substantial structure, 80 feet long, 47 feet broad, 40 feet high to the roof, and 140 feet to the top of the steeple. The body is plain, with a single series of windows. The tower is likewise plain, with one window in each stage, and the dome, which supports the spire, is of the lanthorn kind. The spire is crowned with a ball, on which is a fane in form of a key, alluding to the key of St. Peter; but this conceit of Romish origin ought to be dropped, now we deny the pretensions of the person who claims the inheritance of this key.
On the same side of Cornhill, between the church of St. Peter and Birchin lane, stands the parochial church of St. Michael Cornhill; which is a rectory founded and dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel before the year 1133, and then in the patronage of the abbot and convent of Covesham, alias Evesham: but they, in the year 1503, transferred the advowson to the Drapers company, who, in consideration, settled a perpetual annuity of five pounds, six shillings and eight-pence upon the said abbot and canons, and their successors; beside an ancient pension of six shillings and eight-pence annually paid them out of the said church. By virtue of which contract, the company of Drapers have been patrons ever since.
The old church, excepting the tower, being destroyed by the fire of London in 1666, the present gothic structure arose in its stead; the body of which is 70 feet long, 60 broad, 35 in height. The tower was rebuilt in 1722 (fn. 11), and is a very celebrated piece of gothic architecture, 130 feet in height. The body of the church has three isles, and is raised to a considerable height above the level of the street. The west front is very decent. The lower part of the tower occupies the centre; and on each side there is a regular extent of building, a centre and two wings. The principal door opens in the lower stage of the tower; and there is at some distance above this a port-hole window. In each of the wings there is also a door; and over these are low windows. In the space between the wings and the tower is also on each side a window, and the four angulated corners of the tower, which rise from the ground, with a kind of base, terminate at the height of the side-building, in a cornice. These parts, though regular in form, are altogether unconnected in style and manner; and we cannot see so much approach to order, without wondering that it was not entire. This terminates the first or lowest stage of the tower. The second is a very tall one, and is truly of the plain, as the third is of the ornamented gothic order. In this stage are two windows, both large, tall, and properly shaped for the style of the building. They stand at some distance above one another; and over the upper one there is an ornament. The turret-work is continued in the same manner as below upon this stage; and it terminates with a truly gothic cornice, and battlement-work. The third stage is in the exact form of the two others, only as they are plain, this is covered with ornament. The corners in this upper stage are flutings, terminated by angels heads under a cornice. The flutings, cornice, and every other part, are truly gothic. The plain face between has four windows in two series, all gothic; the upper ones being crowned with a proper ornament.
From this cornice rises a battlement, with half pinnacles upon the plain faces of the tower; and from the corners are carried up four fine turrets. These are fluted, cased a part of their height, with doric turrets, and terminate in pinnacle heads, inclosing each a spire, with its fane.
The architect will see here a very high degree of gothic decoration; though improperly connected with the plain stile of the lower parts of the tower (fn. 12).