Corn markets, Charlotte Bronte, and an architect’s revenge

EAS_4118Continuing our magical mystery Moonwalk London tour, let’s look at Cornhill, not very far from the eastern end of the proposed route and the highest point in the City of London. It was so called, according to Stow, “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”.

Given that Stow was writing in the 16th century, time out of mind for him was indeed a long time ago and, in fact, the name can be traced as far back as 1100. The name was, as is the case in so many London street names, a simple statement of what went on there.

The poet Thomas Gray, who penned one of the most widely quoted poems in the English language: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, was born in Cornhill. One of the famous lines from this poem gave Thomas Hardy the title of one of his books: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”.

Daniel Defoe had a hosiers shop there, and it was also where he was pilloried in 1703 for his unappreciated pamphlet, ‘The Shortest Way with the Dissenters’.

The publishers Smith and Elder had an office in Cornhill in the 19th century; many authors crossed their doorstep, including two sisters who had to appear in person to prove that they were Anne and Charlotte Bronte rather than Acton and Currer Bell. Today marks the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Bronte.

Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte

In the 15th century Cornhill had the dubious distinction of being a fence’s paradise, and a drinker’s haven: there were many taverns where wine could be bought by the pint for a penny and bread came free with it.

St Peter’s Cornhill was, for a time, considered to be the oldest church in England and has the only chancel-screen known to have been designed by Christopher Wren. It also possesses 19th-century gargoyles, on the street side of the church, which are an architect’s revenge on an obstreperous rector.

Building plans, which the rector said encroached on church land, were forced back to the drawing board. As a result, one of the three gargoyles, known as the Cornhill Devils, was given the face of the determined man of the cloth.

Don’t forget: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

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