Get us in your inbox


Five historical things to look out for in... Bank

Katie Wignall

Bank has been the beating financial heart of London since the Middle Ages, with Jewish money lenders eventually replaced by twelfth-century Italian merchants from Lombardy (hence Lombard Street). So whether you tend to avoid it like the plague or you're one of the 400,000 plus employees that travel into the area each day, Bank has far more history to offer than just being the most hated tube station in London. Keep a look out for these gems.

Photo by Look Up London

1. London's first Coffeeshop, St Michael's Alley

Originally, this was the Jamaica Coffee House and a nearby plaque confirms it as the oldest of its kind in London, opened in 1652 by the Armenian Pasqua Rosée. Needless to say, coffee proved a hit and by 1739 there were over 550 shops across London serving up the 'Muhammedan Gruel' which, by today's taste standards, would've seemed bitter, thick and gritty. Lovely. 

Photo by Look Up London

2. Garraway's Plaque, Change Alley

Each coffee shop attracted clientele from specific industries and in one of Bank's hidden alleyways you'll spot a reminder of Garraway's, popular with shipmen, underwriters and merchants. Lloyd's of London was born from this establishment and it became a popular spot for gambling, buying and selling. They hosted auctions where ships were sold 'by the candle', meaning they lasted the time it takes for a candle to melt (the auctions, not the ships). The final sale was confirmed when a pin (stuck into the candle wax before melting) dropped in front of the eager crowd.

Photo by Look Up London

3. The Gresham Grasshopper, Lombard Street

Looking up, you'll probably spot a fair few grasshoppers around the City – it's the heraldic symbol of Thomas Gresham (founder of the Royal Exchange). The best example is this hung sign, which was common during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They served as a nifty self-promotion tool, but were predominantly used for way-finding as formal house numbers didn't come into effect until around the 1860s. 'See you at the Grasshopper on Lombard Street'. 

Photo by Look Up London

4. Pope's Head Alley, EC1

One of the more evocative street names is Pope's Head Alley, named after a thirteenth-century inn, Pope's Head Tavern. Apologies if you were hoping for a less gory story, but it was the scene of a murder in 1717. Two begrudged actors, James Quin and William Bowen, had a duel after an ill-fated pub crawl with the latter being stabbed with a sword by the former. Despite Quin admitting to the brawl, it was acknowledged that the fight had been initiated by Bowen, resulting in Quin being found innocent. 

Photo by Look Up London

5. The Smith, Elder & Co. Panels, 32 Cornhill

The publishers Smith, Elder & Co. (founded 1839) were expecting a visit from their clients Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell in 1848. What they soon realised was that those were pseudonyms and it was Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë they'd been dealing with. The sisters thought that by adopting male names they would be taken more seriously and during that visit they had to show their correspondence with the publishers in order to be accepted as the true authors. A wooden panel remembers this as well as other scenes from local history.

Check out five historical things to look out for in Spitalfields.

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news

      Read next