A Walking Tour of Thomas Prince’s London – Christopher Trigg

Harvard graduate Thomas Prince (1687-1758) visited London twice between 1709 and 1711. In his travel journal (now in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society) the future minister of Boston’s Old South Church wrote of his excitement at arriving in “the Greatest and most Flourishing City of the Universe.”1 My article in the Fall 2023 issue of Early American Studies discusses the numerous poetic transcriptions that Prince made in that travel journal. I show how Prince advocated for a tolerant and cosmopolitan Britishness when he copied works by a politically and religiously diverse range of authors. But his travel diary also provides compelling insights into a young American colonist’s impressions of London in the reign of Queen Anne. This short walking tour (1.6 miles) follows in Prince’s footsteps, visiting several of the sights that interested him.

Link to Google Maps directions


Tower of London

Figure 1. Tower of London. Photo by Rosalind Beiler.

Our tour begins at the Tower of London (Tower Hill tube station). Prince visited the Tower on Christmas Eve, 1709, to see “the curiosities” there. These included a menagerie of exotic animals (including lions), the Spanish Armoury (a collection of weapons supposedly seized from the Spanish Armada), the Crown Jewels, and, most intriguingly, a series of sculptures depicting “mermaids, serpents, … waterfalls” and “Saul and the Witch of Endor” constructed from swords, guns, and armor.2 


Monument to the Great Fire of London

Figure 2. Monument to the Great Fire of London. Photo by Michael Rowe. Wikimedia Commons.

From the Tower, head down Lower Thames Street, take a right onto Monument Street, then follow it to Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London. Prince climbed the 345 stairs to the top of this Doric column on November 24th, 1709. Twenty-eight years earlier, two inscriptions (one in English and one in Latin) had been added to the Monument, falsely blaming Roman Catholics for starting the Great Fire (the inscriptions would be removed in 1831).3 It’s unclear whether Prince subscribed to this conspiracy theory. On his second visit to London, however, he would lodge with a “very civil” Roman Catholic shoemaker in Bell Alley, only half a mile from the Monument.


Leadenhall Market

Figure 3. Leadenhall Market. Photo by Mrs. Ellacot. Wikimedia Commons.

Cross Eastcheap, continue north up Gracechurch Street for 300 meters, and enter Leadenhall Market on your right. When Prince toured the market on November 19th, 1709, he declared it more impressive than “any in the World.” Today, the market is home to restaurants, bars, and pubs, as well as a variety of stores. In the early eighteenth century it specialized in meat and poultry. London’s Roman Forum and Basilica once stood on this site.4


Royal Exchange

Figure 4. The Royal Exchange. Photo by Diego Delso. Wikimedia Commons.

Leave the market by the Gracechurch Street entrance (the way you came in). Turn right, then left onto Cornhill. Head west, passing the Royal Exchange on your right. The current structure (now a shopping mall) was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. Prince viewed its predecessor (the second Exchange building) on November 18th, 1709, his second day in London. 


Guildhall Complex

Figure 5. Guildhall Complex. Photo by the Wub. Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of Cornhill, cross Threadneedle Street and walk up Princes Street, past the Bank of England (which moved to this location in 1734). Turn left at the next junction, then take the second right up Basinghall Street. One hundred meters up the left-hand side of the street, you’ll find the Guildhall complex, the headquarters of the Corporation of the City of London since the Middle Ages. The art gallery on the site houses the Corporation’s impressive collection of paintings, including works by the Pre-Raphaelites John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The ruins of London’s Roman Amphitheatre can be viewed in the gallery’s basement. Prince also visited the Guildhall on November 18, 1709.


Cheapside

Figure 6. Cheapside. Photo by Ian Taylor. Wikimedia Commons.

Retrace your steps down Basinghall Street, cross Gresham Street, and proceed down Ironmonger Lane to Cheapside. From a balcony here on October 30th, 1710, Prince watched a procession honoring the inauguration of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, the new Lord Mayor of London. The partisan politics of Anne’s divided realm spoiled the occasion. Prince noted in his journal that Heathcote, a Whig, was pursued by “a continual Hissing” from Tory partisans in the crowd. Others disrupted the parade “With squibs & trumpets.” But Prince was most struck by the speed with which “the multitude … vanished” when the procession had moved on. As if in preparation for the preaching career that lay ahead of him, he concluded his journal entry with the popular Latin motto “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.” 


St. Paul’s Cathedral

Figure 7. St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo by Rosalind Beiler.

Continue west along Cheapside for 300 meters until you reach the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral and this walk’s conclusion. Prince climbed the dome of Wren’s masterpiece on the same day he saw the Exchange and the Guildhall, just over a year after the topping out ceremony was performed by Wren’s son, Christopher Jr. One of the poems Prince transcribed in his journal deplored the gilded cross that crowns the lantern above the dome as an idolatrous enticement to “Image-Worship.” As a Congregationalist, Prince may well have agreed. Yet as he reflected on his first trip to the imperial metropolis, he was more disturbed by the religious and political discord that “sullied” the “glories” of what ought to be “the happiest Region on Earth.”


Christopher Trigg is Assistant Professor of American Literature at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His work on colonial and modern American religion has appeared in American LiteratureEarly American Literature, and Political Theology. His first book, To Walk the Earth Again: The Politics of Resurrection in Early America was published in 2023 by Oxford University Press. He is currently at work on a second book project, a study of seventeenth-century Rhode Island radical Samuel Gorton.

Read Trigg’s article “Thomas Prince’s Travels and the Invention of Britain” in EAS’s Fall 2023 issue.

  1. </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Thomas Prince, “Thomas Prince Journal, 1709-1711,” MS N-749, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
  2. Charles ffoulkes, “The Tower of London—A Military Store-House,” <i>Army Historical Research</i> 11, no. 41 (1932), 35.
  3. </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">John E. Moore, “The Monument, or, Christopher Wren’s Roman Accent,” </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Art Bulletin</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> 80, no. 3 (1998), 516.
  4. T. Brigham, “A Reassessment of the Second Basilica in London, A.D. 100-400: Excavations at Leadenhall Court, 1984-86,” <i>Britannia</i>, 21 (1990), 53.