Book 2, Ch. 29: Walbrook Ward

Pages 673-677

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


Wallbrook ward.


This ward is denominated from its principal street, which leads from the south west corner of the Mansion-house toward the Thames. The street now called Wallbrook was originally the channel of a rivulet of that name, which entered the city through the wall between Bishopsgate and Moorgate, and after many turnings flowed through this street and emptied itself into the the river at Dowgate. This water course has been vaulted over for a great number of years and built upon, so that its subterranean course is very little known. This ward is bounded on the east by Langbourn ward; on the north by Cheap ward; on the west by Cordwainers ward; and on the south by Dowgate ward. Its principal streets and lanes are Wallbrook, Cannon-street on both sides the way from Green Lettice court to Abchurch-lane; the east end of Bucklersbury; St. Swithin's lane, almost as far as Bearbinder-lane; a small part of Lombardstreet, and almost all Bearbinder-lane: all which are divided into seven precincts.

Mansion house.

The most considerable building in this ward is the Mansion-house of the lordmayor of London, which stands in that square where Stocks market was formerly held.

When the workmen were digging a foundation for this edifice, the ground was found so full of springs, that it became necessary to drive a vast number of piles close together, upon which the building was raised, like the Stadthouse at Amsterdam. The first stone was laid in 1739, as has been related under that year; it was finished in 1753, and Sir Crisp Gascoyne was the first mayor that resided in it.

This edifice is very substantially built of Portland stone, and has a portico of six lofty fluted columns of the Corinthian order in the front; the same order being continued in pilasters both under the pediment, and on each side. The basement story is very massy and built in rustic. In the center of this story is the door which leads to the kitchens, cellars, and other offices; and on each side rises a flight of steps of very considerable extent, leading up to the portico, in the middle of which is the door opening to the apartments and offices where business is transacted. The stone balustrade of the stairs is continued along the front of the portico, and the columns, which are wrought in the proportions of Palladio, support a large angular pediment, adorned with a very noble piece in bas relief, representing the dignity and opulence of the city of London, by Mr. Taylor.

In the center stands a very graceful woman crowned with turrets, representing the city, her left foot placed upon the figure of Envy, who lies on her back, and seems endeavouring to rise. Her left arm rests upon a large shield, which has the city arms, and in her right hand she holds a wand. This, being the principal figure, is done in alto relievo: she seems ready to step forward, her head and right arm, which are completely finished, project forward from the back ground, and her wand extends beyond the cornice of the pediment. Near her, on her right side, stands a Cupid holding the cap of Liberty over his shoulder at the end of a short staff, in the manner of a mace; and little farther, a river God, representing the Thames, lies reclined, pouring a stream of water from a large vase; and near him is an anchor fastened to its cable, with shells lying on the shore. On the left hand of London is Plenty, kneeling and holding out her hand in a supplicating posture, as if beseeching her to accept of the fruit she is pouring from her cornucopia; and behind her are two naked boys with bales of goods, as emblems of commerce. It is however obvious, that the principal figures in this pediment are two large, which obliges London to stand, and Plenty to kneel, in a less graceful manner than they might otherwise do; and, beside their extraordinary size, renders them too crouded. Beneath this portico are two series of windows, which extend along the whole front, and above these is an Attic story with square windows crowned with a balustrade.

The building is much deeper than it is wide; it has an area in the middle, and the farthest end is an Egyptian hall, which is the length of the front, very high and designed for public entertainments. To make it regular inflank, the architect has raised a similar building on the front, which is the upper part of a dancing gallery. This rather hurts than adorns the face of the building. Near the ends at each side is a window of extraordinary height, placed between coupled Corinthian pilasters, and extending to the top of the Attic story.

The apartments are extremely noble; but this edifice, like the generality of buildings in London, has the misfortune to be so crouded with houses, especially on the sides, that the rooms are dark, and even in the front there is not a sufficient area to enlighten the building: nor can it ever be viewed to advantage, unless in some future time the heavy loads at the top should be taken off, and a broad street, as wide as the edifice itself, be opened before it (fn. 1).

The whole expence of building the Mansion-house, (including the sum of 3900l. paid for purchasing houses to be pulled down) amounted to 42,638l. 18s. 8d.

It has been the fashion ever since the Mansion-house was erected to condemn and abuse it as a miserable performance (fn. 2); but it by no means deserves such treatment: the truth is, that the architect has given the city an elegant design in the stile of that great master Palladio; and it is as true, that the circumscribed area upon which he was obliged to build it, is the cause why it makes no better an appearance. The necessity imposed on him of putting an Egyptian hall in an English house, is the reason why those heavy loads of stone appear upon the roof; which, co-operating with the hole it stands in, seems to have pressed the whole building into the earth (fn. 3).


Behind St. Swithin's church, at the north west corner, is Salters-hall, which has its chief entrance out of Swithin's-lane. It is but a plain brick building; but capacious and commodious for the business to be done in it. The hall room is let out for a dissenting meeting.

St. Stephen's Wallbrook.

Behind the north east corner of the Mansion-house stands the celebrated church of St. Stephen's Wallbrook. We read of a church near the same spot dedicated to the same patron so early as the year 1135; but it then stood on the other side of the street. However about the year 1428, Robert Chichely, mayor of London, purchased the ground of the present church and cemetry, of the Grocers company; and the new structure was finished in the year 1439. The present church was built by Sir Christoper Wren, after the fire of London, which destroyed the old church: and it is not only said to be Sir Christopher's master-piece; but that Italy cannot produce a modern edifice equal to this in taste, proportion, and beauty.

Figure 29:

Interior of the church of St Stephen, Walbrook

The steeple rises square to a considerable height, and is then surrounded with a balustrade; within which rises a very light and elegant tower in two stages, the first adorned with Corinthian, and the second with Composite columns, and covered with a dome; from which rises the vane. The outside of this church is plain and void of ornament; but in the center of the roof is a large dome, which cannot however be seen to advantage, as it is hid by the Mansion-house.

The encomiums bestowed on this church are for its interior beauties; where the dome is finely proportioned to the church, and divided into small compartments, decorated with great elegance, and crowned with a lanthorn: the roof, also divided into compartments, is supported by very noble Corinthian columns, raised on their pedestals.

This church has three isles and a cross isle; is 75 feet long, 36 feet broad, 34 feet high to the roof, and 58 feet to the lanthorn. On the sides under the lower roofs are only circular windows: but those which enlighten the upper roof are small arched ones: and at the east end are three very noble arched windows.

This is a rectory, dedicated to St. Stephen the martyr, in the gift of the Grocer's company, and is united with St. Bennet Sherehog, the gift of which is in the crown. The old adjunct to the name of this saint is thus accounted for; it is said to have been originally dedicated to a St. Osythe, but being either rebuilt, or endowed by Benedict Shorne, a stock fish-monger, in the reign of Edward II. the real patron took place of the nominal one; Benedict was converted to Bennet, and Shorne first became Shrog, and was afterward still more corrupted into Shere-hog.

St. Swithin's church.

At the south west angle of St. Swithin's-lane in Cannon-street stands the parish church dedicated to St. Swithin, who was bishop of Winchester, chancellor to king Egbert, and who died in the year 806. We read of a church in the same place dedicated to the above saint before the year 1331, but how long it was standing before that time is uncertain: however the old structure was destroyed by the fire of London, and the present edifice arose in its stead.

It is a plain, solid, and strong building of stone, 61 feet long, and 42 broad; the roof is 40 feet, and the steeple 150 feet high. The body is well enlightened, the windows are arched and well proportioned.

The advowson of this church appears anciently to have been in the prior and convent of Tortington, in the diocese of Chichester, in whom it continued till the dissolution of their monastery; when coming to the crown, Henry VIII. in the year 1540, granted it, together with a stately mansion on the north side, to John earl of Oxford. It afterward passed through several hands, and was at length purchased by the company of Salters, in whom the advowson still remains.

To this parish is united that of St. Mary Bothaw, whose church, before the fire of London, stood on the east side, and about the middle of Turnwheel-lane, between London-stone and Wallbrook corner near Dowgate-hill, and took its additional name from its vicinity to a Boat-Haw, or boat builder's-yard, in that neighbourhood.

London stone.

Close under the wall of St. Swithin's church is placed a stone, more remarkable by its name of London stone, than by its appearance. In Stowe's time this stone was, as he informs us, fixed upright in the ground on the south side of the street near the channel; and was so well fastened with bars of iron as to secure it effectually from being damaged by carriages.

This stone, like those of Stone henge on Salisbury plain, is of unknown antiquity; and it is worthy of admiration that more care has been taken to preserve the stone itself, than the history of it. The most reasonable conjectures have given this stone a Roman origin; for as the antient Roman colony extended from the river no higher than Cheapside (fn. 4), and Watling street was the principal street, or Prætorian way; it has been supposed with great probability that this stone was the center from which they began to compute their distances, to their several stations throughout England. Another supposition framed upon this, is, that from this stone public proclamations and notices might have been antiently given to the citizens: for in 1450 when Jack Cade, the Kentish rebel, came through Southwark into London, he marched to this stone a midst a great confluence of people, and the lord-mayor among the rest; and striking his sword upon it, said, Now is Mortimer lord of this city.


  • 1. A scheme for this purpose by Mr. Dingley has been mentioned, p. 425.
  • 2. We are told of a gentleman in one of the northern counties, who every year took a journey to London with no other view but to enjoy the pleasure of pissing upon this building. Grosley's Tour to London, vol. II. p. 94.
  • 3. Gwynn's London and Westmin. Improved, p. 101.
  • 4. Vid. p. 6, ante.