The City At Christmas

For fifty one weeks of the year, the City of London is busy. During the working week, the City is full of office workers, the pubs and restaurants are busy in the day and evening, and building sites are covered by workers in hi-vis jackets. During the weekend the City still does not sleep. Roads will be closed for roadworks, or to allow cranes to block the road as they lift equipment into construction sites. Hi-vis jackets continue to be a common site across the weekend as building work does not stop.

There is one week in the year when all this stops. Between Christmas and the New Year the City turns into a rather magical place. The number of office workers is considerably reduced and almost all the construction sites are closed for the week. The City takes on a very different appearance, much quieter, less traffic, the cranes are still and there are very few walkers along the City streets.

At the end of 2017, between Christmas and New Year I took a walk through the City. I waited until late afternoon as the City looked better after dark than on a grey December day.

I took the underground to Tower Hill and then followed a random route to Blackfriars. Along this route I found streets where on a late afternoon / early evening I could stand for twenty minutes and not see another person (this could also have been longer but after twenty minutes I was getting bored and cold).

Leaving Tower Hill station, I walked up Coopers Row and passed one of the entrances to Fenchurch Street Station with only a solitary passenger making their way up to the platforms:

Christmas in the City

In Crutched Friars, underneath the rail tracks leading into Fenchurch Street Station is the Cheshire Cheese. A warm, welcoming glow coming from the pub, but few customers at this time of year:

Christmas in the City

I walked up Lloyd’s Avenue, along Fenchurch Street to the junction with Leadenhall Street. The Aldgate Pump is on the corner and along Leadenhall Street is the Leadenhall Building (perhaps better known as the Cheesegrater):

Christmas in the City

There is a common scene in the entrance foyers to many of the office buildings. A solitary security guard sits behind the reception desk and decorated Christmas Trees celebrate the season, but with very few people around to admire them – they will probably have been removed by the time the City returns to life after New Year’s Day.

Christmas in the City

Just off Leadenhall Street is Creechurch Lane. The church of St. Katherine Cree is on the corner, and part of the church is on the right of the photo below looking down Creechurch Lane. Despite the City’s 2,000 year history, the noise, traffic, construction work and numbers of people often make it hard to reconcile the City streets with that long period of time, however at this time of year, and along such a street, it is possible to feel the history of the City.

Christmas in the City

At the base of the Leadenhall Building. All the escalators were running, but at this time of year there were no passengers for them to take up into the building.

Christmas in the City

The Gherkin, or officially, 30 St. Mary Axe:

Christmas in the City

At the base of The Scalpel – work having ceased on the construction of one of the City’s latest towers until the new year:

Christmas in the City

From Leadenhall Street, I walked up St. Mary Axe:

Christmas in the City

Among the increasing number of glass and steel towers, there are still historic buildings to be found. This is the church of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate.

Christmas in the City

Opposite the church is the base of the Gherkin:

Christmas in the City

And here it is possible to appreciate the multi-dimensional nature of the City. An entrance to a recently built underground car park is next to a church which was originally established here in the 13th century, whilst the City’s original tall tower, the NatWest Tower, now Tower 42 stands in the background with the frame of a new building to the left.

Christmas in the City

There are so many take away food outlets across the City, but at this time of the year, many are closed, or close early:

Christmas in the City

Leaving St. Mary Axe I turned into Camomile Street to find more building sites, although they were quiet and empty. Only a few security staff taking an occasional walk around the site:

Christmas in the City

Leaving Camomile Street I turned into Bishopsgate. One of the narrow streets leading off from Bishopsgate is Alderman’s Walk, silent on a December evening with no footsteps echoing off the walls.

Christmas in the City

My next stop was Liverpool Street Station. Outside the station was the busiest street that I would see during the evening with plenty of taxis waiting for passengers:

Christmas in the City

The concourse of the station was the quietest I have seen for many years. A reduced service during the Christmas / New Year period was serving a reduced number of passengers.

Christmas in the City

Outside Liverpool Street Station, the construction site for the Elizabeth Line / Crossrail was closed, also part of the construction break between Christmas and the New Year.

Christmas in the City

One of the entrances to Liverpool Street underground station on the right and Liverpool Street station in the background.

Christmas in the City

Walking along Old Broad Street, this was the view along New Broad Street:

Christmas in the City

The entrance to Tower 42 in Old Broad Street (although I still think of this building as the NatWest Tower):

Christmas in the City

There has been building work around the base of the tower, however the walkways that lead from Old Broad Street, round the base of the tower to Bishopsgate are now open and a number of businesses targeting the local working population have now taken up residence:

Christmas in the City

Leaving Bishopsgate, i then walked down Threadneedle Street. Normally these streets would be busy, but this was the view down Finch Lane from Threadneedle Street:

Christmas in the City

I then walked round the back of the Royal Exchange towards Cornhill:

Christmas in the City

The Cornhill pump:

Christmas in the City

There are many narrow lanes and alleys running south from Cornhill. These follow an old street plan and were often the location for the City’s original coffee houses. This one is Change Alley:

Christmas in the City

At the Bank junction of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill looking back at the Royal Exchange. The towers of the City form a menacing backdrop to the low-rise buildings around this usually busy junction.

Christmas in the City

A quiet entrance to the Bank underground station:

Christmas in the City

Leaving the Bank junction, I walked up Cheapside. All still relatively quiet, the pavements were getting busier as I left the central area of the City. The church of St. Mary-le-Bow always looks magnificent after dark:

Christmas in the City

The Plane tree that stands at the site of St. Peter Cheap (one of the churches destroyed during the Great Fire, but not rebuilt) has been decorated for Christmas:

Christmas in the City

I turned off Cheapside and walked down Wood Street. Many of the office buildings looked as if everyone had suddenly just got up and left. This office still had football playing on the ceiling mounted screens:

Christmas in the City

From Wood Street I turned into Gresham Street and this is the view looking down to the church of St. Lawrence Jewry:

Christmas in the City

And from Gresham Street I turned up Noble Street to see the remains of Roman and later buildings that run along the side of the street:

Christmas in the City

At the top of Noble Street is London Wall. It was easy to take a casual wander across the road, unlike most days when there is usually plenty of traffic.

Christmas in the City

From London Wall, I walked up Aldersgate Street, then turned into Long Lane to head towards Smithfield. This is East Passage that runs parallel to Long Lane and Middle Street, between the backs of the buildings that face onto these two streets. Another place where I stood for some time without seeing another person.

Christmas in the City

Back into Long Lane and this is the junction with Lindsey Street. The Smithfield market buildings are on the left and one of the new ticket halls for the Crossrail Farringdon Station is on the right:

Christmas in the City

The Crossrail / Elizabeth Line ticket hall for Farringdon Station. This is planned to open in a year’s time in December 2018 and will probably be the catalyst for significant development in the area. For now, all is quiet.

Christmas in the City

from Long Lane I walked up Rising Sun Court into Cloth Fair. The Rising Sun pub was open and looking very inviting on a cold December evening:

Christmas in the City

Into West Smithfield and the view across to the market buildings:

Christmas in the City

From West Smithfield I walked under the gatehouse into the alley leading to the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Again one of the places where the past feels almost tangible (despite one of the towers of the Barbican in the background). Whilst I was here, one person did walk across the graveyard and then along the alley – the noise of their footsteps, echoing of the buildings was surprisingly loud and emphasised the lack of other sounds in the alley.

Christmas in the City

The central square at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital:

Christmas in the City

From West Smithfield, I walked along Giltspur Street, turning left into Newgate Street then down into Paternoster Square. The Temple Bar gateway looks very good after dark.

Christmas in the City

Walking around St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is a view from the south:

Christmas in the City

From St. Paul’s it was then down to Queen Victoria Street to my destination of Blackfriars underground station, although before reaching the station I had a much needed stop off at the Blackfriar.

Christmas in the City

Photographing London over the Christmas to New Year period can be a bit of a cliché, however I really do find that walking the City at this time of year, without the noise, construction work, traffic and crowds does help to bring the history of the City to life – so many of the normal distractions have been removed.

Standing in places such as Creechurch Lane, East Passage and the entrance alley to St. Bartholomew the Great feel like standing in places unchanged for hundreds of years.

The City pubs are also much quieter in the evenings at this time of year and there is nothing better than walking into a warm, inviting pub from a cold street – which is exactly where I finished.

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29 thoughts on “The City At Christmas

  1. Katharine

    A lovely post – can picture your route. I too enjoyed the change in atmosphere with a solitary wander in this area between Christmas and New Year. A great opportunity to see the story of the city through its buildings.

    Reply
  2. Jane Smith

    Wonderful photographs showing the delectable solitude which is unique at that time of year. I love your site and wish you all the best for 2018 and beyond.

    Reply
  3. Anne Powers

    A terrific, evocative set of images. Thank you. It always amazes me how busy London now is on Sundays (Sunday trading mainly causing the change I suppose) as I can remember it being almost deserted on a Sunday in the 1960s. They were able to film the TV version of Day of the Triffids in empty streets around Senate House even in 1981 – not possible now I think.

    Reply
  4. Roy Tindle

    I lived on Tower Hill, during the late 70s. There were less City residents, then, and it “belonged” to those few of us living there at weekends and especially Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The only signs of life were the messengers and security staff, sitting at their foyer desks, usually behind portable TVs. For most of this period, I lived in a flat overlooking Fenchurch Street station. The Christmas train absence made sleeping difficult. It was too quiet!

    Reply
  5. Annie G

    Magical. This year I decided that we would spend time in London for Christmas, from Boxing Day to the 28th December. Despite the cold, the rain and some exciting but brief snow flurries, we had a fabulous time. Like you, we walked the practically empty streets of the city, wondering at the lone security men in the offices and the complete peace and quiet. Our only problem was finding an open pub on Boxing Day evening. Eventually we came across The Cockpit in Blackfriars, built on the site of the gatehouse where Shakespeare had a house. It wasn’t glamorous but it was friendly, warm and comfortable. All six of us customers took shelter and had a pleasant evening. Shakespeare himself would have been delighted. Waking up to look out on St Mary Abchurch from the hotel window…A Christmas Carol in Middle Temple Hall…walking from Docklands to Fleet Street…the river at sunset. Best present ever. And a happy new year to you. Cannot wait for another year of excellent posts.

    Reply
  6. Colin L

    Wonderful post – I often walk the area covered in the latter section, from Liverpool Street to Blackfriars and have done for many years. Your article brought back memories of the 70’s when you could walk this area at weekends and see very few people and almost no building sites. I bet your stop at The Blackfriar was very welcome; great pub.

    Reply
  7. Joss Mullinger

    Thank you so much for undertaking this walk and recording it for us. I worked in the City for 25 years and loved exploring the lesser known ways, but at night time it becomes very evocative. To be able to stand and take photos without being jostled by the crowds is a boon!

    Reply
  8. Darren Slinn

    Some wonderful photos of a great city, and particularly of interest as I recently discovered ancestors of mine lived in the area of Wood street around the 18th century.

    Reply
  9. Linda

    For 15 years we visited London from
    the States, arriving on Boxing Day and departing New Years Eve. Each visit was magical! Thank you for these pictures.

    Reply
  10. David Barnard

    Many thanks for a very interesting post and very best wishes for the New Year.
    Your streets are very familiar to me because I used to live in the Barbican in an ‘igloo’ (the flats with arched ceilings. In those days the flats were only for rent and quite affordable to a young lawyer.
    I have another view of the City from here in Gray’s Inn because at night I look across at the City buildings which seem to have made a special effort for the Holiday to which are added the red lights on the cranes – really spectacular.
    Very Best
    David

    Reply
  11. Georgina Southall

    This account of our beloved City is absolutely wonderful, so interesting and the photographs so atmospheric.
    Thank you so much.

    Reply
  12. Miss Rayne

    I did a very similar walk the last time I wsa in London in 2015 to look at all the new buildings going up, except I took a wrong turning somehere on London Wall and ended up in Finsbury Circus by accident.
    My favourite building is tucked away behind the Gherkin – Holland House a masterpiece of Art Deco but completely overshadowed now.
    Looking forward to your next 52 posts….

    Reply
  13. Geraldine Moyle

    What a wonderful ramble, David.
    Walking alongside you conjured up my teenage memories of trekking round the City on Sundays in the 60s, when the streets were virtually empty, the traffic negligible, &, as you say, the past would feel “almost tangible.” And so it occurs to me that another dimension of London life that I took for granted at the time has slipped away, since now similar City wanderings are to be had only in a sliver of the calendar.
    I’m reminded of the Gentle Author’s elegiac commentary: “Everyone loves the London they first knew, whether as the place they grew up or the city they arrived in, and everyone loses it. As the years pass, the city bound up with your formative experience changes, bearing less and less resemblance to the place you discovered. Your London is taken from you.”
    But rather than sigh, I shake my head & remind myself that change is London’s DNA.
    Looking forward to a new year of your excellent, thought-provoking posts!!!

    Reply
  14. Bill

    Thank you for this wonderful post, and for this site, which has enriched me for more than a year since I discovered it. An American, I lived in London for three years in the ’90s and then didn’t return until early 2015. I’ve been back on business and holiday a dozen times since. This walk is similar to one I took in early November around 5-7 on a Friday after dark. With or without the bustle of City workers, I never tire of strolling around the City. I particularly enjoy the juxtapositions of architecture spanning the centuries, as you noted in that scene including St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate and the NatWest Tower. And that view down Finch Lane from Threadneedle is among my favourites. I often look directly onto it from a conference room in the building (entered on Old Broad Street) that overlooks the junction. Such a quiet place, even at midday. It reminds me, as do the Cornhill alleys, of an exquisite classic Dutch painting of an interior courtyard.

    Happy New Year.

    Reply
  15. Brockman Seawell

    Dear Sir,
    I just want to say how very much I enjoy your postings and look forward to them.
    You also helped me solve a problem that was vexing me. Years ago I walked
    down some steps on Birdcage Walk but could not remember the name and my
    A-Z did not list them. I found Cockpit Steps in one of your postings! Thank you
    and Happy New Year.
    Brock

    Reply
  16. Ros

    Thank you for taking us on this magical walk, for the excellent photographs, and for the careful and thorough research you do to make all your posts so worth reading . Here’s to another year!

    Reply
  17. Brigitte

    A few of the previous comments have echoed my thoughts too when reading your article. It brought back memories of going up town in the 70s on weekends, especially Sunday mornings, when it felt deserted and we had the place to ourselves – happy days!

    Reply
  18. George

    I started work as a messenger boy on December 5th. 1960
    It was shipping company located at 4 Lloyds Avenue, one of my first errands was to bring back a five foot Christmas tree from Leadenhall Market to the office and feeling embarrassed walking down Fenchurch Street.
    Often a drink at the Cheshire Cheese, a wander down Seething Lane past St Olave’s (well worth a visit) with skulls and cross bones carved over the gate, a meal at the Toc H and to Tower Hill to watch a man escape from a sack tied with chains.
    Geraldine Moyle’s comment about the DNA of London does sum up the city area for me.
    I will always feel nostalgic about the times I walked the streets of the City.

    PERTH Western Australia

    Reply
  19. David Cooper

    I too remember walking these empty streets as a boy in the 70s and can remember how quiet it was at the weekend’s, I also remember walking down Downing Street and up to the front door of number 10 where there was a lone Bobby who would talk to you.

    Thanks for this great post, it really shows how much London has changed and it brought back many memories.

    Naples Florida

    Reply
  20. MikeH

    During the 1960’s and 70’s I regularly drove through the City on Sundays and it was fairly traffic free (what a joy). Although I generally took the same route, sometimes I would divert to explore other streets and it was no problem to stop now and again without holding up traffic.
    Thanks for your excellent posts and Happy 2018.

    Reply

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