The Great Fire of London in 1666 consumed about four-fifths of the City. Some buildings escaped, but most have since been demolished or destroyed in the Blitz.
Yet, here and there, one can still find traces of the pre-fire city. Here we look at the survivors within the Square Mile or just beyond. Our Tudor tube map reveals pre-fire buildings further afield.
London's ancient livestock market largely escaped the blaze. Look out for the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, who marks the extent of the conflagration on Giltspur Street. The streets north of this boundary contain one of the richest collections of pre-fire buildings.
41/42 Cloth Fair: The oldest house in the Square Mile, this multi-storey dwelling was completed in 1614. After a long period in the doldrums, it is once again in use as a private residence.
St Bartholomew-the-Great: One of London's most atmospheric churches, St Bart's looks like no other building in central London. That's because it's very old. Parts of the church, like these Romanesque arches, date back to Norman times. Look out, too, for the Tudor gatehouse which faces onto Smithfield. Nearby St Bartholomew-the-Less, within the grounds of Bart's hospital, is also from the 16th century.
Charterhouse: A former priory, then school, Charterhouse has long contained almshouses for the elderly. Parts of the complex date back to the 16th century. Soak in the history and perhaps meet some of the 'Brothers' who live there, on a tour.
Few sites in the City are so entangled in history as the Guildhall. The complex contains architecture from many periods, from the remains of a Roman amphitheatre to the late 20th century art gallery. Although damaged by the Great Fire and the Blitz, plenty of medieval stone can still be seen. The grand front shown above is a Georgian pastiche, but the main hall behind, and crypt below, are proper old.
Churches were the most prominent buildings of the pre-fire city. 87 churches and St Paul's Cathedral succumbed to the flames. Not everything perished, though.
St Olave Hart Street: The parish church of fire chronicler Samuel Pepys avoided a fiery fate by a whisker. The flames halted just a block to the west. Much of the building dates from 1450, though it's heavily restored after damage in the Blitz.
St Mary Bishopsgate: Shakespeare's parish church also had a lucky escape in the Great Fire. The flames stopped just a little to the south-west. The church also got through the Blitz largely unscathed. Sadly, St Helen's took a hit from two IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993, which caused extensive damage.
St Andrew Undershaft: Another church in the shadow of the Gherkin, St Andrew also survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz. It dates from 1532.
St Katharine Cree: Nearby, this Tudor church also fell outside the fire zone. The tower dates from 1504, while the nave is from 1630.
St Giles-Without-Cripplegate: Outside the city walls, St Giles was spared the ravages of the fire. Sadly, it took a right old hammering in the second world war. Nevertheless, parts of the church remain from the 14th century.
All Hallows by the Tower: The church was saved after surrounding buildings were demolished as a firebreak. Alas, All Hallows was gutted in the Blitz, but the stonework remains from 1658 (a rare church building from the Commonwealth era). Pop inside to see an even older survivor — a Saxon arch from an earlier incarnation of the church.
St Etheldreda's: The famous enclave of Ely Place off Holborn contains one of the City's oldest buildings — St Etheldreda's dates back to at least 1290. It is also one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in England. Nearby St Andrew's Holborn also survived the fire but was already in a dilapidated state. It was rebuilt by Christopher Wren.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street might feel like one of the City's most venerable pubs, but its present form dates from just after the fire. At least three other venues can claim a longer pedigree.
Hoop and Grapes: This Aldgate mainstay was built in 1593. Its sagging facade is a welcome bit of humanity in an area now dominated by glass tower blocks. The interior has perhaps been restored a little too much and doesn't look particularly old, but this is still a fine pub. Our review. Spitalfields Life's visit.
Olde Wine Shades: Although it's just 100 metres from the source of the Great Fire, this wine bar somehow survived the disaster. The building dates from 1662 and is now part of the El Vino chain. A more convivial, atmospheric bar you're unlikely to find.
Seven Stars: Just outside the Square Mile, the Seven Stars deserves a place in this list for its character and charm. The tiny boozer is thought to date back to 1602.
The historic legal enclaves of Inner Temple and Middle Temple contain many old buildings. The most noted is the drum-shaped Temple Church (above), which found worldwide fame thanks to the Da Vinci Code book and film. The church goes back to the late 12th century, but was heavily rejigged by Christopher Wren. As you can see from the map up top, the church had a very narrow escape from the fire. Many other buildings of the Temple were not so lucky.
Still more impressive is Middle Temple Hall, which harks back to 1573. The building was already several decades old when it hosted the first performance of Twelfth Night in 1602.
The Hall at Lincoln's Inn is still older (1490), but a little further from the fire boundary.
Along Fleet Street
Prince Henry's Room: Number 17 Fleet Street, a gateway into Inner Temple, has been much altered over the centuries, but still retains much of the timber frame from 1610. It's often called Prince Henry's Room, recalling a pub on the site named after the son of James I. The Great Fire was stopped just a few doors east of here.
229-230 Strand: 'The only Strand building to survive the Great Fire of London,' claims a plaque above the door. It's not true. Every building on Strand survived the Great Fire — the flames never troubled this road. It should probably read 'to survive the Great Fire and everything since'. Still, its a remarkable longevity, even if the property is today home to a chain restaurant.
Staple Inn and Barnard's Inn
One of London's more famous Tudor buildings, Staple Inn squats above Chancery Lane tube station, overseen by distinctly non-Tudor traffic cameras. The timber-framed confection is ostensibly from 1585, but is heavily restored. The row was a good distance from the western-most reach of the fire.
Nearby Barnard's Inn is also well known thanks to its use as a venue for the popular Gresham College lectures. Much of the hall dates from the 15th century, but has been heavily restored on several occasions. The roof is said to contain the only crown post in Greater London.
Tower of London
It goes without saying that London's oldest substantial building — begun in the 1080s — is a Great Fire survivor. The Tower is not technically in the City of London, but is such an important building that we include it for completeness.
The flames, in fact, came very close to the fortress. The Tower's guard saved their own skins by blowing up nearby buildings, creating a firebreak. It's just as well they did. The Tower contained an estimated 500 tonnes of gunpowder. Had it gone up, tourists would today be visiting the Vast Crater of London.
All photos by the author.