This 7km (4 mile) circular route takes you through some of the most historic part of London, dating back many centuries. You will see the historic Inns of Court, the legendary Temple Church, Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop, The Old Bailey, St Paul's Cathedral, hidden ancient courtyards and much more!
Please note the Inns of Court are closed to the public at weekends so you may need to divert if this is the case. They are usually open during working hours Monday to Friday.
We will start this walk by Temple Underground station, on Temple Place.
Just to your West is Somerset House. From its 18th-century origins, Somerset House has been a centre for debate and discussion including the first home of the Royal Academy of Arts and other learned societies – an intellectual powerhouse for the nation. For over 200 years the building housed various government departments including births, marriages and deaths and the Inland Revenue until Somerset House Trust was established in July 1997 to conserve and develop Somerset House as an arts centre.
Above: Somerset House ice rink in Winter
Head East along Temple place towards the Eastern part of Victoria Embankment Gardens. This vibrant public park is part of the chain of open spaces along Victoria Embankment, designed by Sir Joseph Bazelgette and opened in 1865. The historical Watergate is in one corner of the park, built in 1626 as an entrance to the Thames for the Duke of Buckingham. The gate is still in its original position, but since its creation the Thames water line has moved and the gate is some 100 metres from the water.
Above: Victoria Embankment Gardens
At the end of the gardens, turn left onto Milford Lane. Climb up the steps ahead of you to walk up Essex Street at Map Point 1 (or follow Milford Lane round to the left, then right along Little Essex Street to avoid these steps and join Essex St further along). Turn right opposite Little Essex St into Devereux Court and follow this round to the left, left again, then right until you come out onto The Strand A4 main road. Cross over The Strand – you will see a church on your left that splits The Strand in two. This is St Clement Danes Church.
St Clement Danes Church is the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. Re-consecrated in 1958 as a perpetual shrine of remembrance to those who have died in service in the RAF it is a living church prayed in and visited throughout the year by thousands of people seeking solace and reflection. Located right in the middle of London, St Clement Danes one of the best church organs in London and a beautifully maintained set of working bells. It is famous as the “Oranges and Lemons church” from the traditional nursery rhyme and the bells ring the tune throughout the day.
Also ahead of you on the Strand are The Royal Courts of Justice. Commonly called the Law Courts, this building houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Designed by George Edmund Street, who died before it was completed, it was built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. It is one of the largest courts in Europe. The courts within the building are generally open to the public with some access restrictions depending upon the nature of the cases being heard. The Central Criminal Court, widely known as the Old Bailey after the street it stands on, is about 1⁄2 mile to the east and appears later on in this walk. That is a Crown Court with no direct connection with the Royal Courts of Justice.
Turn left onto the Strand and walk in a West direction and turn right along Aldwych, Map Point 2.
Continue around Aldwych and turn right into Kingsway. Turn right again into Portugal St, then left into St Clements Lane, follow this round to Portsmouth St. This area is home to the London School of Economics & Political Science, or LSE.
LSE first opened its doors in 1895 in three rooms in 9 John Adam Street, close to the Strand, London. LSE was the brain child of Sidney Webb (1859-1947) supported by his wife, the social investigator Beatrice Webb (1858-1943), the political scientist Graham Wallas (1858-1932) and the writer G Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). All four were members of the Fabian Society. “The special aim of the School will be, from the first, the study and investigation of the concrete facts of industrial life and the actual working of economic and political relations as they exist or have existed, in the United Kingdom and in foreign countries.” LSE Prospectus, 1895. From the start, the School was open to men and women and welcomed students from overseas.
Turn left into Portsmouth St. On the corner opposite you is The Old Curiosity Shop (Map Point 3). This stands in the historic Clare Market area of London. It was named after the food market which had been established in Clement's Inn Fields, by John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare. Much of the area and its landmarks, such as the Old Curiosity Shop, were immortalized by the famous author Charles Dickens. Parts of the London School of Economics now occupy the iconic site.
Turn left into Portsmouth St, and follow it to Lincoln's Inn Fields, the green park area you will see across the road on your right.
Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest square in London and the oldest in Camden. There has been public open space here since at least the 12th century. Famously it was laid out by Indigo Jones in the 17th century. At one time it was popular for duellists but is more noted for the minor speaker's corner to which aspiring advocates used to practice for their future careers. In the years of Inigo Jones the square was the most fashionable in London.
To the north of the square, at number 13, is Sir John Soane's Museum. This is the extraordinary house of Sir John Soane, one of the greatest English architects, who built and lived in it more than a century and a half ago. The Museum has been kept as it was at the time of his death nearly 180 years ago. It displays his collection of antiquities, furniture, sculptures, architectural models, paintings – including work by Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto – and over 30,000 architectural drawings. It’s a vast, extraordinary collection, full of curiosities and surprises. Today, the Museum continues to offer free access to visitors, just as Soane intended.
Cross through Lincoln's Inn Fields to the North East corner and turn left onto Newman's Row. Follow Newman's Row until you come out onto the main road of High Holborn (Map Point 4).
This seems a good point in the walk to talk about the Inns of Court. In the earliest centuries of their existence, beginning in the 14th century, the Inns were any of a large number of buildings where lawyers traditionally lodged, trained and carried on their profession. Over the centuries, the four Inns of Court became where barristers were trained, while the more numerous Inns of Chancery – which were affiliated to the Inns of Court – became where solicitors were trained. The four Inns of Court are:
The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn
The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn
There have been lawyers in the Temple since 1320. In 1337 the premises were divided into Inner Temple, where the lawyers resided, and Middle Temple, which was also occupied by lawyers by 1346. Lincoln's Inn, the largest, is able to trace its official records to 1422. The records of Gray's Inn begin in 1569, but teaching is thought to have begun there in the late fourteenth century. In 1620 it was decided at a meeting of senior judges that all four inns would be equal in order of precedence.
In the 16th century and earlier, students or apprentices learned their craft primarily by attending court and sharing both accommodations and education during the legal terms. Prior to the English Civil War in 1642, this training lasted at least seven years; subsequently, the Inns focused their residency requirements on dining together in the company of experienced barristers, to enable learning through contact and networking with experts. In the mid-18th century, the common law was first recognized as a subject for study in the universities, and by 1872, bar examinations became compulsory for entry into the profession of law.
After exiting Newman's Row, turn right onto High Holborn, and when safe to do so cross to the other side. Turn left into a small passageway called Hand Court and continue along here until you come to the road at Sandland Street. Turn right and walk straight ahead onto Bedford Row, and when open, through the gate in the wall ahead of you into Gray's Inn Walks Gardens (Map Point 5). If the gate is closed then retrace back to High Holborn and continue along here to rejoin the walk route before map point 6.
Gray's Inn’s gardens are known as ‘the Walks’ and are one of the largest privately owned gardens in London, with a history almost as old as the Inn itself. The current layout dates back to the early 17th century when Sir Francis Bacon was Treasurer of the Inn. Today the Walks offer an open parkland feel, teeming with wildlife and various species of trees and plants across its 5.8 acres. They provide a popular lunch time retreat for members of the public, local workers and tenants of the Inn and are open to the public from 12:00pm to 2:30pm on weekdays (public holidays excluded). At the main entrance at Field Court there is an elegant wrought iron gate with griffins keeping guard on its pillars. The gate dates back to 1723 and includes the initials of the Treasurer at that time, William Gylby. There are also smaller garden areas within South Square and Gray’s Inn Square consisting of lawns, rose beds with lavender hedging and areas of seasonal bedding displays.
Follow the path around the edge of the gardens and through the tunnel marked “To Grays Inn Square”. Turn right after the tunnel and follow the path past South Square (on your left), through another tunnel, and back out onto the main road High Holborn. Turn left onto High Holborn and when safe to do so cross over to the other side. Turn right into the small alley called Staple Inn Buildings and walk along here and through the metal gateway called “Staple Inn”.
Staple Inn is a Tudor building on the south side of High Holborn street. It is used as the London venue for meetings of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, and is the last surviving Inn of Chancery. It was designated a grade I listed building in 1974. It was originally attached to Gray's Inn, which is one of the four Inns of Court. The Inns of Chancery fell into decay in the 19th century. All of them were dissolved, and most were demolished.
Continue along past the gardens on your left and turn right at the end through another metal gateway onto the road called Southampton Buildings (Map Point 6). Continue along here until you reach Chancery Lane, passing The London Silver Vaults on your right. Originally opened in 1876 as the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, this was where Londoners could rent strong rooms to safeguard their household silver, jewellery and personal documents. In time, businesses also came to use the strongrooms. Central London silver dealers and shops that required secure premises for their valuable stock started to rent the Vaults. Indeed, a number of the current shop owners can recall visiting their grandparents storage Vaults many decades ago! As knowledge of the Vaults’ shops began to spread, they became a “must” for both British and international visitors who came to buy quality antique English silver at competitive prices. In the 1950s many American servicemen stationed in the UK came here to buy silver to take home to their wives and mothers. English diplomats were required to buy their ‘silver service’ from the Vaults prior to an overseas posting. Film stars, rock stars and royalty have all shopped at The London Silver Vaults.
Turn right onto Chancery Lane then first left past the building through the metal gates into a courtyard area (if the gates are closed and/or you are visiting on a day when there is no public access to the Inns, then continue down Chancery Lane until you see the entrance road to Bream's Buildings on your right where this walk continues).
Once through the metal gate, follow through the courtyard area and out the other side onto Stone Buildings road. Turn left towards the beautiful Old Square. At the end of Old Square, follow the road around the right hand edge of the building straight ahead of you towards New Square. Turn right then left to walk South along one side of New Square with Lincoln's Inn Chapel on your left hand side (Map Point 7).
The first mention of a Chapel in the records of the Inn is in 1428. In the early seventeenth century it became too small and required repair. In 1608 is the first mention of building a new Chapel. At one point it was going to be built with 3 sets of double chambers underneath, but this was abandoned in favour of an open crypt where burials could take place. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was not unusual for girls to leave their newborn babies here. When this happened the Inn would "adopt" the baby and care for it until it was grown up. The children were often given the name Lincoln.
Continue straight ahead at the end of New Square, through the passageway and out onto Carey Street. You will pass the legal booksellers Wildy & Son's, that has been selling books since 1830.
Turn left onto Carey Street, and walk along to Chancery Lane, turn left again, cross over when safe, and turn right into Bream's Buildings.
At the end of Bream's Buildings turn left into New Fetter Lane (Map Point 8). Cross over when safe to do so and continue up to Holborn A40 and turn right along here.
Continue along Holborn Viaduct, crossing over the ornate iron bridge with Farringdon St beneath you. Turn right into the pedestrianised Fleet Place (Map Point 9), then left into Bishop's Court, then left onto the road Old Bailey, which has the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court building directly ahead of you.
The Old Bailey is located about 200 yards northwest of St Paul's Cathedral, just outside the former western wall of the City of London. It is named after the street on which it is located, which itself follows the line of the original fortified wall, or "bailey", of the City. The initial location of the courthouse close to Newgate Prison allowed prisoners to be conveniently brought to the courtroom for their trials. Although the Old Bailey courthouse was rebuilt several times between 1674 and 1913, the basic design of the courtrooms remained the same. They were arranged so as to emphasise the contest between the accused and the rest of the court. The accused stood at “the bar” (or in “the dock”), directly facing the witness box (where prosecution and defence witnesses testified) and the judges seated on the other side of the room. Before the introduction of gas lighting in the early nineteenth century a mirrored reflector was placed above the bar, in order to reflect light from the windows onto the faces of the accused. This allowed the court to examine their facial expressions assess the validity of their testimony. In addition, a sounding board was placed over their heads in order to amplify their voices. Early in the period the jurors sat on the sides of the courtroom to both the left and the right of the accused, but from 1737 they were brought together in stalls on the defendant's right, sufficiently close together to be able to consult each other and arrive at verdicts without leaving the room. Seated at a table below where the judges sat were clerks, lawyers, and the writers who took the shorthand notes which formed the basis of the Proceedings.
After turning left into Old Bailey, turn right onto A40 Newgate Street, then first right into Warwick Lane. On your right hand side along here you will find Cutler's Hall. The Cutlers’ Company is one of the most ancient of the City of London livery companies and received its first Royal Charter from Henry V in 1416. Its origins are to be found among the cutlers working in the medieval City of London in the vicinity of Cheapside. As was the case with the other trade guilds of the day, its function was to protect the interests of its members, to attend to their welfare, and to ensure that high standards of quality were maintained. Their business was producing and trading in knives, swords, and other implements with a cutting edge. Over time the emphasis shifted from implements of war to cutlery and other domestic wares such as razors and scissors. During World War II the Hall was fortunate to survive the great fire bomb raid on December 29th 1940. The following morning only St. Paul’s Cathedral and Cutlers’ Hall stood virtually unscathed amongst the devastation. Unfortunately, on May 10th 1941 a high explosive bomb demolished the adjoining building and took away the entire north wall of the Hall. However, by 1951 all the damage had been repaired and the Hall came back into full use. On the outside of the wall facing Warwick Lane you will see a finely carved terracotta frieze by the Sheffield sculptor Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946). The frieze shows cutlers working at their craft. Creswick was a pupil of John Ruskin and had worked as a grinder in Sheffield. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy, but few examples of his work survive.
Continue down Warwick Lane, passing Amen Court and Amen Corner and onto Ave Maria Lane. Just after Amen Corner turn right through the passageway into Stationer's Court, home to the Worshipful Company of Stationer's and Newspaper Makers (Map Point 10). In 1403 the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London approved the formation of a fraternity or Guild of Stationers (booksellers who copied and sold manuscript books and writing materials and limners who decorated and illustrated them). By the early 16th century printers had joined The Stationers' Company and by the mid century the printers had more or less ousted the manuscript trade. In 1557 the Guild received a Royal Charter of Incorporation and in 1559, the right to wear a distinctive livery and became a livery company. Stationer's Hall itself was completed in 1673.
Turn left in the Courtyard and go through the small passageway out onto the main road Ludgate Hill. Turn left and you will see St Paul's Cathedral straight ahead of you. Head towards this, crossing over the end of Ave Maria Lane, and turn left into the pedestrianised shopping area called Paternoster Row just in front of the Cathedral steps.
For more than 1,400 years, a Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the City. The present Cathedral, the masterpiece of Britain's most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, is at least the fourth to have stood on the site. It was built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and services began in 1697. This was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and the Crown took control of the life of the church. It is well worth a visit.
Take a look at some of the shops and restaurants around Paternoster Square, before continuing around the back of St Paul's Cathedral to Map Point 11.
Continue around the back of the Cathedral, cross over St Paul's Church Yard Road, through Carter Lane Gardens, and turn right onto Carter Lane. At the back of Carter Lane Gardens you will find The Firefighters Memorial. This depicts a Fire Officer and two Firemen, cast in bronze engaged in firefighting duties, and was originally called ‘Blitz’. This was dedicated to the men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II. Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, unveiled this memorial on 4 May 1991.
You will also see a view down to the River Thames and infamous Millennium (or “Wobbly”) Bridge.
Continue along Carter Lane crossing over Godliman Street, New Bell Yard, Adele Hill and St Andrew's Hill before turning left into Burgon Street (Map Point 12). Walk down here and at the end turn right into Ireland Yard.
Continue along Ireland Yard, and at the end continue along as it turns into Playhouse Yard. At the end of Playhouse Yard turn right into Black Friars Lane (to see a beautiful old London pub – The Blackfriar – take a short detour here by turning left into Black Friars Lane, continue to the end then turn right onto Queen Victoria St and the pub will be just a little further along on your right hand side).
Follow Black Friars Lane up past the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London and turn left onto Pilgrim Street. The Society of Apothecaries’ archives, housed at Apothecaries’ Hall on Black Friars Lane, constitute a unique and fascinating record of national significance. They chart the history of its development and its changing roles and activities as a City Livery Company, incorporated by royal charter in 1617. The Hall was a major centre for the manufacture and sale of drugs from 1671-1922. It was also the founder (in 1673) and manager (until 1899) of Chelsea Physic Garden, and a medical examining and licensing body from 1815 to the present day.
At the end of Pilgrim Street turn left into New Bridge Street, cross over when safe to do so, then turn right into Bride Lane. Follow this round to the right and you will come to St Bride's Church. The story of St Bride's is inextricably woven into the history of the City of London. By the time the Great Fire of 1666 left the church in ruins, a succession of churches had existed on the site for about a thousand years, and the area had already assumed its unique role in the emergence of English printing. It took nine years for St Bride's to re-appear from the ashes under the inspired direction of Sir Christopher Wren, but for the next two-and-a-half centuries it was in the shadow of the church's unmistakeable wedding-cake spire that the rise of the British newspaper industry into the immensely-powerful Fourth Estate took place. Then, in 1940, St Bride's fell victim once again to flames as German incendiary bombs reduced Wren's architectural jewel to a roofless shell. This time 17 years elapsed before rebuilding was completed, although a series of important excavations in 1953 amid the skeletal ruins, led by the medieval archaeologist Professor W. F. Grimes, came up with extraordinary results, uncovering the foundations of all six previous churches on the site.
Turn left into St Bride's Avenue (steps here which you can bypass by continuing up onto Fleet Street and turning left), right at the end, then left onto the main road Fleet Street (Map Point 13).
Cross over Fleet Street when safe to do so, and continue along past several small passageways on your right hand side until you come to Hind Court. Turn right into the passageway and continue straight ahead until you come out into Gough Square, where you will find, at the far end on your left, Dr Johnson's House (Map Point 14).
Dr Johnson's House is a charming 300-year-old townhouse, nestled amongst a maze of courts and alleys in the historic City of London. Samuel Johnson, the writer and wit, lived and worked here in the middle of the eighteenth century, compiling his great Dictionary of the English Language in the Garret. Often described by visitors as a hidden gem, 17 Gough Square is a tranquil spot in the midst of the bustling City. In the courtyard outside, you can see a statue in honour of Dr Johnson’s favourite cat, Hodge!
Turn left in front of Dr Johnson's House into the passageways of Johnson's Court and follow this back out onto Fleet Street. Turn right onto Fleet St. Continue along Fleet St, crossing over Fetter Lane.
Cross to the other side of Fleet St when safe to do so, and continue along towards the Strand. Before you get to the Strand, turn left through the stone archway under a beautiful timber framed building just before Wildy & Sons the booksellers. The archway is signposted to Temple Church. Follow the passage down until you come to Temple Church (Map Point 15).
The Temple Church is one of the most historic and beautiful churches in London. The Church was built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders’ world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Walk past the Church and turn right into Pump Court, going past Elm Court gardens, and through to Middle Temple Lane. Cross over this road when safe to do so, and continue ahead into the courtyard area with Middle Temple Hall on your left. One of the four ancient Inns of Court, Middle Temple was built between 1562 and 1573. The main buildings have remained virtually unchanged to this day, with many original features such as the beautiful heraldic stained glass memorial windows and the double hammer beam roof of the Hall surviving the Great Fire of London and both World Wars. The historic backdrop of Middle Temple with it’s ancient buildings, gas-lit cobbled streets, and elegant, sophisticated rooms makes for a fantastic photo spot. Regularly used by film crews, there's every possibility that you've seen this area in many a film, such as Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason, The Good Shepherd, The Da Vinci Code, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, The Wolfman, Poirot, and the BBC productions of Cambridge Spies, Chambers, Crime and Punishment and The Gentleman Thief!
Follow Fountain Court round to the left behind the back of Middle Temple Hall, then round to the right to come out at the steps by the end of Essex Street. Turn left onto Milford Lane, then right onto Temple Place to come back to where this walk started.
Hope you enjoyed the walk!
Mark from Walk Run Cycle
Overview of Route: