An early, misty start. Along the A12 through endless London suburbs to Bow, thence to Whitechapel Road where we picked up Stephen, our brilliant Blue Badge guide. Through the city to Bishopsgate, developed by the Romans in AD 200. This part of London resembles a building site with constant demolitions and re-erections all round. How long before the Cheese Grater is pulled down?
Stephen led us to Spitalfields, passing the imposing facade of the Jewish soup kitchen (1902); there was a large influx of Jewish immigrants here in the 1880s. Immigration has been a feature of London life - particularly in the East End - for centuries, with a steady ebb-and-flow of different peoples and cultures. Eastern Europeans are the latest wave. In Spitalfields, derived from the fields of St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital, the Hugenots were possibly the most valuable immigrants, bringing their silk-weaving skills in the seventeenth century. We walked down narrow streets lined with their elegant houses, having wooden shutters and large windows on the top floors to let in the light for their looms.
We admired Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields, built 1723-39 as a 'parish church in a growing suburb' (Pevsner); this monumental church found us at the end of one of the vistas down the streets. This area is now 'uber-trendy' (Stephen's phrase) with the likes of Tracy Emin and Gilbert & George living here. However, in the past it had been Jack The Ripper's hunting-ground and the Kray Twins' killing-ground. Along Brick Lane to Spitalfields Old Market - 'Modern since 1887' it says on the engraved stone - built in an attractive redbrick.
At 2 pm, a coach-trip taking in Moorgate, one of the gates in the old London Wall, High Holborn, the Aldwych and back along Fleet Street to the Bank of England ('The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street': Gillray's satirical title to one of his cartoons). The Bank was founded by Royal Charter in 1694. After several redesigns, Sir John Soane redesigned the building in 1788; it was greatly enlarged in 1935 in an 'Empire' style and the columns of the curtain walls are all that remain of Soane's exterior work; inside, the Stock Hall retains his design. This is the world's second oldest bank; 400,000 people work in the City but only 10,000 actually live there; until recently London had more American bankers than New York itself!
Most countries in the world have a bank in London; banking sends millions of pounds to the Treasury in tax every year. Love them or loathe them, banks are of immense importance to the well-being of the country. We had an hour to look round the fascinating exhibition which included coins and notes going back centuries and finally to the Counting House, an old banking hall, for refreshments.
A coachful of members thank Barbara Barker for a truly fascinating outing, the last in this year's excellent series and thanks to Paul, the Soame's driver, for his patience and skill.