I couldn't work out what this extraordinarily beautiful gate was. I knew it wasn't there when I lived in London and yet it is so old. When I asked, I discovered it was Temple Bar, the last surviving gate to the once walled City of London, which until Victorian road-widening stood in Fleet St. After a very long absence from London it has returned and was placed close to St. Paul's in 2004. How out of touch I am.
I remembered that traitors' heads once adorned it, if adorned is the right word.
And then it all came back to me. I remembered reading often as a schoolboy in the Peterborough column in the Telegraph about Temple Bar resting in a field in Hertfordshire. The full story is here.
I remember one Victorian memoirist - I was an insatiable but very unselective reader in my early 20s - said Somerset House is the most beautiful building in London. Norman Collins thought St. James's Palace was the building most typical of LONDON and I fully understand what he meant. I have enjoyed shocking people by saying the Lloyd's Building was my favourite and in fact it for a long time was. I love Westminster Cathedral too even if it does, like the man said, resemble the bathroom department at Harrod's. But Temple Bar is now I think the loveliest building in central London. It is by Wren and is second only to his sublime Royal Maritime College, Greenwich, which is nowadays in London but once was not.
Almost equally wonderful is the demolition of the horrible 1960s buildings which I remember standing north of St. Paul's. Almost too good to be true. Let's pull down Centre Point next, even if it is listed.