The City of London was long associated with a bowler-hatted banker hurrying to work, briefcase in one hand, furled umbrella in the other. Times have changed, but it remains a place apart from the rest of London.
The City, the financial heart of London, is a place like no other, it even feels a little different. “There is a lack of children, elderly and infirm,” says City worker Patrick Johns. “That creates a sense of detachment. Even the commute helps to create the feel of ‘somewhere else’. One disappears into the Underground in one world, the suburbs, and emerges to a look and feel that exists nowhere else.”
I too enter the City from below, via the busy Underground station at Bank. Getting into the City is easy now, but for centuries the only way in was through the gates in a high city wall. That wall no longer stands, although you can see remnants, but a pair of silver dragons still mark every place where a gate once stood. The City is still run by a Corporation, with its own Lord Mayor (not to be confused with the Mayor of London), of whom even the Queen has to ask permission to enter, although it is never refused.
“To the outsider, the City is busy, brusque and anonymous,” says Johns. “To the time-serving city professional, it is much more layered. At times it feels more like a village. The longer you work in the City, the more it becomes a small and intimate place.” Wander the City’s alleyways and you stumble on quiet corners that seem more like a small town than a major world city. Then eat in lunchtime City haunts such as Leadenhall Market or take a drink in one of the many pubs during the working week and you can see this bonhomie as office workers gather to socialize.
“The City has a pulse of its own,” says Johns. “Constant, determined and focused. Many who leave yearn to return. Yet who would be fooled by their place in this buzzing hive of financial activity? No one who leaves causes even one missed beat.”
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