Dear Readers, I have just completed week three in my new job. The office is based in the heart of the City, round the corner from Bank and Cannon Street stations, and this is my usual lunchtime view. Note the strange skyscraper on the horizon – a friend of mine was once convinced that the country was being taken over by Owl People, and cited this (and the MI6 building at Vauxhall) as proof. Personally, I think that the Owl People might make a much better job of it all.
Anyhow, it’s fair to say that the City is bustling, fast-paced and impersonal. It makes me feel like a very small frog in a very large pond, and so I decide to do what I always do in these circumstances – try and find something alive to ground me. So, this week I explored the little area between Cannon Street and King William Street, and found some very strange things.
Right opposite the office is St Stephen Walbrook church, a most magnificent edifice. But does it have a churchyard? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking.
Like so many spots around here, it is completely hemmed in by office buildings. This is a nice, calm, peaceable place to have a read and a think, though. It is also blessed with vast beds filled with liriope, which seems to be the plant du jour around these parts. They have the alternative name of ‘lily-turf’. Who knew?
There is a rather uninspiring modern concrete pond at the other end of the churchyard, with a dead box moth floating in it. I’m not sure that this bodes well for the hedges next year. What a pretty moth it is! I was most taken with it when I first spotted it at the Barbican, but this year there were clouds of them. The species seems to have taken to the UK with great enthusiasm, and our topiary will never be the same.
You can only exit the churchyard through the front gate – there is a very modern office block at the back of the space, but pedestrians are not allowed to walk through the atrium. There is so much private space in the City these days – I was slightly concerned that wandering about with my camera would attract some unwanted attention from the security guys who are everywhere, but I made sure that I was always taking my photos from public space.
On the way out, I spotted that Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans, was buried in St Stephens. He was also one of the original patrons of the Terence Higgins Trust (which campaigns on issues around HIV and provides services for people with the disease), and was at one point the chair of the Mother’s Union. He was a man of good conscience, and goodness knows that we need more people like him.
On the way out of the churchyard I am alarmed by this sign.
I suspect it relates to this very impressive metal fire-escape which is presumably lowered in the event of fire. I wouldn’t want to be underneath it, for sure.
I wonder if there is any other green space to be found, and the answer is ‘yes, but not for the likes of you’. There are several gardens and green spaces, all of them private.
There is at least some more liriope and some Japanese anemones to offer something for the pollinators though.
And to the left of the sign is a small ornate wrought-iron gate. And it’s open. Well, that’s all I need.
In we go. My first surprise is that there is astroturf instead of a lawn.
And then, what on earth is this?
It appears that most of the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and that what remained was used by French Huguenots until 1820, when the rest of the church was demolished. The only part that still remains is the tower on the corner, to which I paid absolutely no attention, being distracted by the trees and the statuary. But here it is, indeed.
The churchyard is said to have been around since 1250, but I shall have to make the most of my visit, because, as I suspected, it is actually in private use – the very fancy picnic chairs and table should have given me a clue. I am guessing that the gate is left open so that the people who work in the office building behind the churchyard can have access. Still, at least I was able to have a quick look, and any place with astroturf is not going to do my soul good – I can just imagine the earthworms choking underneath.
It feels distinctly as if every non-human creature in the City has been squeezed into the smallest interstices between the glass and steel. Trees peer out, lean over, see themselves reflected in the mirror but can’t see one another. Maybe it’s just my mood, but it feels as if it’s a microcosm of what’s going on everywhere. However, I am determined to find somewhere a bit wilder, with a bit more room for nature. Watch this space for my meanderings.
Photo One by By Chris Downer, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7132872
What an interesting exploration of a very built-up environment. I hope you will be able to sniff out more spots of green – real green – where there is space for natural creatures to get some sustenance in the city. The places you show now are bound to change with the seasons too.
I shall continue the search, Anne! Who knows what I shall find…
Interesting article as always, how do you find the time 🙂
It’s a little sad to see nature being squeezed out at every opportunity and even where there are green spaces they end up as ‘private’ areas for the few.
How sad to see astroturf instead of grass, that stuff should be banned !!
Keep up your good work, love reading on FB.
Thanks very much Neil! I suppose I find the time because I love doing the blog, and it’s kept me sane (ish) at least during the past few years…
I love this! Thank you. I find London fascinating and wonderful and, don’t tell anyone, but I secretly especially love the City. I have no idea why. I love industrial places too. I think sometimes that I must have been a Victorian industrialist or shipping magnate in a previous life. Or a docker! But yes, I agree that nature does feel squeezed in in such places, but all the more precious for that. I hope, and expect, that you will find somewhere truly amazing and wondrous to your soul. I love the lilorope & I had never heard of a box moth, so thank you for that too. And Chad Varah was indeed a wonderful man. Happy new job! xxx
Thank you, Jacqueline! I love exploring the City too, it always has something unexpected just around the corner. There is a lot of new building going on at the moment though, which makes it all feel a bit wan and impersonal in places. However, nature shall win out, and I shall continue to search for her…
Yes astroturf should be banned.
Have a look at the pond outside Guildhall and along the old London Wall
There’s wild on some on the roofs eg Eversheds, Cheapside
Thanks for the tip Gary, I shall venture out and have a look!
Next time I’m in London (I live in the North-east) I will definitely be looking for green – thanks for the inspiration!
Have you ever read any of the Bryant and May crime novels by Christopher Fowler? They concern the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit and are set in London in strange out of the way corners. May give you some ideas.
No I haven’t, Gert, but I shall seek them out now!
My, that really is not much green. Perhaps the turf is artificial because it would not be so easy to get a mower into that space.
I think they’re just lazy :-). The lawn area is a bit bigger than it looks in the photos.
My colleague down south has two different grades of artificial turf in his home garden so that he can show them to clients. It works, but is sort of . . . weird. Even though I know it has a purpose, I still dislike it.
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