The City of London is both a city and a county within London, colloquially known as The Square Mile. More than 400,000 accountants, bankers, lawyers and financial support employees pour in each day to its six mainline stations and 12 Tube and DLR stops to work in the gleaming towers of commerce.
The City is a leading driver of the London economy with an annual output of £45 billion — equivalent to 14 per cent of the capital’s GDP and three per cent of the nation’s.
Londinium was first established by merchants as a trading port on the tidal Thames in around 47AD during the early years of the Roman occupation, and despite being badly bombed during the war has continued as a trading base up to this day.
Its street names tell its history: goldsmiths, mercers, grocers, fishmongers and their trades are still celebrated in their livery halls. It has more than 600 listed buildings and every year welcomes 10.5 million visitors.
This year it has been remembering the Great Fire of London that swept through the city 350 years ago, destroying 70,000 out of the City’s 80,000 homes.
Today 8,000 people live in the City, a small but growing number since a review of the residential policy.
There are another 1,400 second homes among the permanent residents in the Barbican, who enjoy spacious apartments in an iconic brutalist estate and cultural centre designed in the late 1960s by architect Chamberlin, Powell and Bon that combines jagged concrete high-rise blocks with medium-rise blocks overlooking a tranquil water garden.
Brexit has done nothing to dent the City’s confidence in its long-term future and it is currently consulting on how it will provide office space for 50,000 extra workers over the next 20 years.
Providing new homes in the City is not its top priority. The City is exempt from government regulations that allow developers to convert office buildings into homes without planning permission but over the next 10 years it has agreed to build 141 new homes a year within its borders.
Estate agent Alex Antzoulatos from the Aldgate office of Knight Frank says buyers are split between UK and overseas students; young professionals who like to walk to work; older professionals who live in the City during the week but retreat to country homes at the weekend and buy-to-let investors.
Most residents live in the Barbican, a well-maintained City of London estate where most of the flats and maisonettes are now owner-occupied.
The Golden Lane Estate, with its curved roof line, lies to the west of the Barbican. Another City of London estate, it is often called “the poor man’s Barbican”; it was designed by the same architect, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.
There are historic streets of former weavers’ houses in Spitalfields and a few period houses and converted warehouses in the streets around Farringdon station, St John Street and St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
The City’s largest single recent development The Heron, next to the Barbican, opened three years ago and provides 285 new homes in a 36-storey tower with new accommodation for the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama, including a concert hall, theatre and studio in the first eight storeys.
Two apartments remain in The Penthouse Collection at The Heron (020 7409 8756), which is one of London’s tallest residential blocks. Prices start at £3.25 million and the penthouses are ready to move into now.
The City’s largest single recent development, Milton Court next to the Barbican, opened three years ago and provided 284 new homes in The Heron, a 36-storey tower block, and new accommodation for the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama including a concert hall, theatre and studio in a new eight-storey block.
Barratt London is selling off-plan 165 studios, one-, two- and three- bedroom flats at Landmark Place (020 7048 0344) in Water Lane overlooking the river. There is a swimming pool and spa and prices range from £765,000 to £4 million for one of the penthouses; the development will be ready to move into in 2018.
Developer Helical describes Barts Square (020 7726 8995) as a new urban quarter. In Little Britain and Bartholomew Close close to St Bartholomew’s Hospital a series of new infill buildings and conversions is providing a total of 145 new one, two- and three-bedroom flats.
Some 38 flats remain in the first phase, which is due for completion in the second half of next year; demolition of the site in Old Bartholomew Close has started. Prices range from £790,000 to £4.5 million.
Developer Redrow is converting Blake Tower (020 3733 2867), a former YMCA hostel in the Barbican in Fann Street opposite Barbican station and a short walk from Crossrail at Farringdon.
This iconic, 17-storey brutalist concrete tower will have 74 studios, one-, two- and three- bedroom flats varying in size from 450sq ft to 2,000sq ft. One-bedroom flats start at £699,000, two-bedroom flats at £935,000 and three-bedroom flats at £1.7 million.
There are no affordable homes in the City itself; however, last summer the City said it intended building 3,700 new homes by 2025 on land outside the City and on the estates that it owns in the nearby boroughs of Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth and that a proportion will be affordable.
Thom Atkins, lettings manager at the Aldgate branch of Knight Frank, says many young professionals find it makes financial sense to pay more in rent and less on commuting with most City renters able to walk to work.
Wealthy UK and overseas students favour the modern flats that are going up in and around the City. “Safety is a big factor for the parents of students who particularly like modern flats with a concierge service.”
Alex Antzoulatos from Knight Frank’s Aldgate office says young professional buyers stay for around five years and many hang on to their flats as rental investments.
The City has five postcodes: EC1, which also includes Clerkenwell, Hatton Garden and Finsbury; EC2, which also includes Shoreditch; EC3, which also nudges into Tower Hamlets; EC4, which also includes Temple, Fetter Lane and Fleet Street; and E1, which also includes Whitechapel and Stepney.
The weavers’ houses in Spitalfields are the most historic. The Barbican’s large penthouse flats now sell for as much as £4 million.
Up and coming
Alex Antzoulatos tips the Aldgate area and into Whitechapel, where there has been a lot of regeneration along Commercial Street.
Right-to-buy flats in Petticoat Tower, on the Corporation of the City of London’s Middlesex Street Estate, occasionally come up for sale and are a much cheaper alternative to the Barbican or the Golden Lane Estate.
The City is London’s best connected place with six mainline stations - Liverpool Street, Cannon Street, Fenchurch Street, Moorgate, London Bridge and Blackfriars – in or near the City and with Waterloo connected to Bank station by the Waterloo & City line, known affectionately as “The Drain”.
With the exception of the Piccadilly and Victoria lines, all Underground lines are served by stations in or near the City.
Crossrail will stop at Liverpool Street and Farringdon. The City is in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard costs £1,296.
The City of London has a unique governance with its business community as well as its residents entitled to vote for its aldermen and councillors; Band D council tax in 2016/2017 is £931.20.
Shops and restaurants
Cheapside is the City’s high street; it is bookended by two shopping centres, the exclusive Royal Exchange, with branches of Agent Provocateur, Boodles, Lulu Guinness, Paul Smith, Smythson and Tiffany and the Grand Café set in the courtyard, and at the far end, by St Paul’s Cathedral, One New Change has branches of Banana Republic, Cos, Gap, H&M, Hobbs, Topshop and Reiss and restaurants Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, Wahaca and Zizzi.
There are rooftop bars and restaurants in Tower 42, including chef Jason Atherton’s City Social on the 24th floor, and the Heron Tower, where Duck & Waffle is on the 40th floor and Sushisamba two floors below.
Hawksmoor Guildhall is the City’s top steak restaurant, and as well as running the Grand Café and Sauterelle in the Royal Exchange restaurant group D&D has Angler, Coq d’Argent, Fish Market, Madson, New Street Grill, Paternoster Chop House and South Place Chop House.
However, much of the fun and excitement is at the City’s edges. Whitecross Street, which runs between Old Street and Chiswell Street, is full of street food stalls, and the maze of streets east of Bishopsgate is teeming with interesting independent shops and cafés and coffee shops such as Taylor Street Baristas and Nude Espresso, which also roasts its own coffee, wine bars Enoteca Super Tuscan and Grapeshots, restaurant Canto Corvino and branches of The Breakfast Club, Honest Burger, Ottolenghi and Wahaca. Angela Flanders is a top perfumer.
Green space is in short supply in the City, although there are tranquil places to sit around many of the City’s ancient churches, and penetrating the Barbican is worth the effort for the water garden and giant conservatory.
Postman’s Park in St Martin’s Le Grand is home to the Watts Memorial, a series of glazed Doulton tablets commemorating acts of working-class bravery.
Leisure and the arts
The Barbican Centre is one of London’s major art centres with a theatre, concert hall, cinema and exhibition spaces.
The Museum of London on London Wall on the edge of the Barbican is currently commemorating the Great Fire of London. The museum is planning to move to new, larger premises in Smithfield general market building.
The City of London may not have many schools within its boundaries but it sponsors two primary academies and three secondary academies in the adjoining boroughs of Southwark, Islington and Hackney and plans to open four more — one primary and three secondary — over the next three years.
There are only five schools in the City of London. One is a state primary school: Sir John Cass’s CofE in St James’s Passage, which is judged to be “outstanding” by the Government’s education watchdog Ofsted. Most of the nearby state primary schools in the adjoining boroughs are judged to be “good” and Virginia in Virginia Road in Shoreditch is “outstanding”.
The following nearby comprehensive schools are also judged to be “outstanding”: Central Foundation (boys, ages 11 to 18) in Cowper Street and Bethnal Green Academy (co-ed, ages 11 to 18) in Gosset Street.
There is a private primary school, Charterhouse Square (co-ed, ages three to 11) in Charterhouse Square; a private preparatory school, St Paul’s Cathedral (co-ed, ages four to 13) in New Change, which is also the cathedral choir school, and two top-performing private schools: City of London (boys, ages 10 to 18) in Queen Victoria Street and City of London Girls’ in St Giles’ Terrace in the Barbican.