Between school on London’s Essex fringes and Birmingham University – in what I suppose must have been a parentally-guided bid to broaden my experience of life, I spent six months clerking for a Japanese investment bank in the City.
In those days – we’re talking more than 30 years ago – I had a daily allowance of 75p in Luncheon Vouchers, and as often as not would set off across the Square Mile in search of a shady bench or leafy churchyard where I could enjoy my prawn and mayonnaise sandwich whilst reading a book. I was, even then, delighted to discover a maze of narrow alleyways and secret places that had somehow survived centuries of change, and soon acquired the habit of spending my lunch hours walking what was essentially still the geography of a vibrant and successful medieval city.
Years later, having moved to the London for a writing job on a magazine, my impression was that these ancient thoroughfares were being systematically destroyed, or at least modified beyond recognition as the demands of international finance gained precedence over any sense of London’s past or its cultural importance. In fact I was only partly correct, which is perhaps the best discovery I made whilst researching my latest book, Hidden City: The Secret Alleys, Courts and Yards of London’s Square Mile. Continue reading