Fore Street, EC2Y
There are two major catastrophic events which have made their mark on the City of London over the last 500 hundred years – the Great Fire of 1666 and the German bombing raids during the Second World War. I’m not sure why but I had the sense that so sustained was the rain of bombs that it would be impossible to determine where the first bomb fell but I was wrong.
I was wandering along Fore Street which runs from Wood Street to the north and parallel with London Wall which it joins at its eastern end via Fore Street Avenue. At the western corner with Wood Street my attention was drawn to a stone tablet on the wall of a rather ugly, concrete modern building called Roman House. The inscription which is below the window on the ground floor required me to stoop to read it but the information it contained was fascinating. It read, “on this site at 12.15 am on the 25th August 1940 fell the first bomb on the City of London in the Second World War”. So there we have it. This was probably a practice run as the blitz as we know it didn’t start until 7th September 1940 and ran for 56 of the next 57 days.
Cripplegate, the ward of the City of London in which Fore Street is situated, was so extensively bombed that hardly any buildings were left standing. In the post war reconstruction Fore Street was rather shortened, having originally run from Redcross Street to Finsbury Pavement. The principal building on the street, the wonderful church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate, rather overshadowed now by the monstrous Barbican building, was showered with so many incendiary bombs in December 1940 that even the cement caught alight. That the shell, the arcade in the chancel, the tower and the outside walls survived the onslaught is testament to the quality of mediaeval builders.
Although Fore Street escaped the ravages of the Great Fire, it hosted a fire underwriter’s worst nightmare, the London rag trade, with its rickety warehouses crammed together into what became known as Fire Island. The worst fire broke out at lunchtime on November 19th 1897 in an ostrich feather warehouse. By the time the fire was brought under control – it took 45 steam fire engines to tame the flames – 56 buildings were totally destroyed, 15 burnt out and 20, including St Giles, damaged by fire.
The street got its name because at the time it was just outside or before (shortened to Fore) the city walls. Its fortunes took an upswing in 1654 when a postern gate was built in the wall at the northern end of Aldermanbury. Fore street became a popular shopping venue, its popularity only waning during the 19th century. On the corner with Milton Street – this has now been built over to accommodate the Barbican – was to be found in the 1880s Bianchi’s which advertised milk, ices and sherry for sale.
In the mid 17th century a prosperous tallow chandler, James Foe, lived in the street. His son, who was born there around 1660, is better known to us as the writer, Daniel Defoe. In 1850 a confectioner on the street became the father of Ebenezer Howard, who led the garden city movement. And before we leave the street we should note the rather hideous Salter’s Hall, designed by Basil Spence, home to the Worshipful Company of Salters. The street has not been well served by post Second World War architecture, methinks.