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Travelogue G16

January 6, 2016

Each step carried me deeper into the Brutalist complex around, the name of which I was only to learn when inspecting an online mapping service some time after my return. From where I had entered the court, I advanced by making the round of a church, St. Giles-without-Cripplegate, as a sign suggested. Despite my firm intentions to focus on the Wall rather than churchyards, I could not altogether avoid poking about the interior to see what I might find.

Though I did not linger long, a short visit proved enough to learn that St. Giles held a special place among London churches in that it did not number among the city’s bevy of Wren churches. Of medieval origins, it had survived the Great Fire at the price, as per my specious imaginings, of both an earlier cleansing by fire one grey September morning in 1545 and a later in the heat of an August night. I later read somewhere that, of the first instance, the chronicling brothers of Greyfriars had written that “sent Gylles church at Creppyl gatte burnyd, alle hole save the walles, stepull, belles and alle, and how it came God knoweth”. From what descriptions I might find of the 1940 fire, the second instance had left much the same ruin, though I know not whether this owes to there only being so many ways in which a church may burn or to the brothers having foreseen the second in the ashes of the first.

The church stood before what had once been Cripplegate. While the name had survived to the present day, it no longer attached itself to a barbican in the Wall but, instead, to a ward of the City. As I later read, a small debate raged among historians on whether the gate drew its name from the cripples drawn to St. Giles, their patron, or from an Anglo-Saxon word for covered passage. Whatever its onomastic beginnings, the gate itself was gone, but my quest for the Wall bore further fruit sooner than I had hoped. For I stumbled upon, in what seemed no time at all and just the other side of St. Giles, a remnant of the Wall which had, so I convinced myself, flanked the gate since disappeared.

Not without some irritation, I discovered this fragment from the wrong side of a tract of a water, this time lined with lily pads and tucked into a corner of the surrounding residential estate. Here, although no bastion still loomed, it had left behind a footprint. Its exterior wall had been sheared at the top of a rounded base and the interior filled with gravel and earth, a solitary bench at its center. Behind the bench, a ragged length of wall ran perhaps some twenty meters. Of uneven height and appearance, what remained peeled off in layers and revealed the same brick backing as in the tower. An unseemly door, perhaps an old postern gate now leading nowhere, punctured the far end.

Unable to cross that threshold, I turned back on my steps and sought the way out of the brick estate, as I seemed to have exhausted its treasures. Perhaps other sections of the wall had fared better, however unlikely I deemed that possibility. Regardless, the proof lay elsewhere.

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