Here’s an image to savour when stuck in the traffic choked City shoulder to shoulder with pin-striped city boys scuttling between the towers of glass and steel:
"There was a time just after the great fire of December 1940 when all the land between St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside and St Paul’s Cathedral was wasteland. On sunny days office girls in summer frocks sat talking or reading in the long grass, which was criss-crossed by paths bearing such famous names as Old Change, Friday Street, Bread Street, and Watling Street. Traffic continued to run, of course, along Cheapside and Cannon Street, but everywhere between these two thoroughfares grew long grass and wild flowers. Occasionally one would come across a mason chipping stone as peacefully as if he were in the middle of a Yorkshire moor, and he would have made a very pretty subject for a seventeenth-century print. The only landmark to remain standing was the tower of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, which nestles up against the gardens of St Paul’s Churchyard."
This is from ‘The Virgin of Aldermanbury’ by Mrs Robert Henrey (1958). The book opens with this description of the City of London during the second world war:
"From the bastion of the Roman Wall at Cripplegate, to Moorgate, are patches of bracken as tough stalked and as delicately leafed as you will find in Richmond Park…Take a deep breath, for ragwort scents the air, and from the walled and suspended gardens come breezes laden with the perfume of white and mauve lilac in full bloom."
I was out on Sunday with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee to protest at the proposed digging up of a corner of this Marsh Lane Fields to make way for the Hackey allotments being concreted over for the London Olympics. The logistics of the move would see the shady Marsh Lane widened to make way for earth-movers and tipper trucks, and the fencing off of land that has been held in common since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the 9th Century. By the time of the Olympics in 2012 the wild flower haven where horses graze beneath the pylons would seem as exotic as Mrs Henrey’s description of the City.