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Ludgate Hill is a hill in the City of London, near the old Ludgate, a gate to the City that was taken down, with its attached gaol, in 1760. It is the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral, traditionally said to have been the site of a Roman temple of the goddess Diana. It is one of the three ancient hills of London, the others being Tower Hill and Cornhill. The highest point is just north of St. Paul’s, at 17.6 metres (58 ft) above sea level. Ludgate Hill is also the name of a street which runs between St. Paul’s Churchyard and Ludgate Circus (built in 1864), from where it becomes Fleet Street. It was formerly a much narrower street called Ludgate Street.
Many small alleys on Ludgate Hill were swept away in the late 1860s to build Ludgate Hill railway station between Water Lane and New Bridge Street, a station of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. It was closed in 1923 and the railway bridge and viaduct between Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars stations was demolished in 1990 to enable the construction of the City Thameslink railway station in a tunnel. This also involved the regrading of the slope of Ludgate Hill at the junction.
Of all the eyesores of modern London, surely the most hideous is the Ludgate Hill Viaduct— that enormous flat iron that lies across the chest of Ludgate Hill like a bar of metal on the breast of a wretch in a torture-chamber. Let us hope that a time will come when all designs for City improvements will be compelled to endure the scrutiny and win the approval of a committee of taste. The useful and the beautiful must not for ever be divorced. The railway bridge lies flat across the street, only eighteen feet above the roadway, and is a miracle of clumsy and stubborn ugliness, entirely spoiling the approach to one of the finest buildings in London. The five girders of wrought iron cross the street, here only forty-two feet wide, and the span is sixty feet, in order to allow of future enlargement of the street. Absurd lattice-work, decorative brackets, bronze armorial medallions, and gas lanterns and standards, form a combination that only the unsettled and imitative art of the ruthless nineteenth century could have put together.
Think of what the Egyptians in the times of the Pharaohs did with granite! and observe what we Englishmen of the present day do with iron. Observe this vulgar daubing of brown paint and barbaric gilding, and think of what the Moors did with colour in the courts of the Alhambra! A viaduct was necessary, we allow, but such a viaduct even the architect of the National Gallery would have shuddered at. The difficulties, we however allow, were great. The London, Chatham, and Dover, eager for dividends, was bent on wedding the Metropolitan Railway near Smithfield; but how could the hands of the affianced couple be joined? If there was no viaduct, there must be a tunnel. Now, the bank of the river being a very short distance from Smithfield, a very steep and dangerous gradient would have been required to effect the junction. Moreover, had the line been carried under Ludgate Hill, there must have been a slight detour to ease the ascent, the cost of which detour would have been enormous. The tunnel proposed would have involved the destruction of a few trifles —such, for instance, as Apothecaries’ Hall, the churchyard adjoining, the Times printing office— besides doing injury to the foundations of St. Martin’s Church, the Old Bailey Sessions House, and Newgate. Moreover, no station would have been possible between the Thames and Smithfield. The puzzled inhabitants, therefore, ended in despair by giving evidence in favour of the viaduct. The stolid hammermen went to work, and the iron nightmare was set up in all its Babylonian hideousness.
Old and New London: Volume 1. (1878)
Ludgate Hill— The appearance of this, the western approach to St. Paul’s, has been completely marred by the railway bridge of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, which crosses it at its lower end, and destroys the view from Farringdon-circus at its foot. Ludgate-hill is steep, and in slippery weather horses with heavy waggons have serious difficulty in getting up it, though the difficulty and danger have been much lessened by the laying down of the new wood pavement. Some houses recently built near the foot of the hill, on the south side have been thrown back some feet: and it is hoped that eventually the improvement will be carried out throughout the whole length of the street. From Ludgate-hill only can a good view be obtained of the grand western façade of St. Paul’s cathedral, a view that has been greatly improved by the clearing away of the iron railings, so leaving the west front open to Ludgate-hill. Few improvements in a small way have been as valuable and effective as this.
Victorian London (Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens’s Dictionary of London, 1879)