The Lived Experience of Work and City Rhythms
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The Lived Experience of Work and City Rhythms

A Rhythmanalysis of London's Square Mile

Louise Nash

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eBook - ePub

The Lived Experience of Work and City Rhythms

A Rhythmanalysis of London's Square Mile

Louise Nash

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About This Book

The Lived Experience of Work and City Rhythms looks at the working environment, with a focus on the geographical workplace and how this affects the experience of our working lives. It raises key questions such as: Does where we work affect our experience of work? What is the relationship between place and work? What is it like to work in a place dominated by a particular industry or sector?

The book draws on empirical research carried out in the City of London - the heart of the UK's financial services sector. The 'Square Mile', as it is also known, is widely perceived to be a distinctive place because of its architecture, history, traditions, and culture. Exploring how the City is experienced as a workplace, this book also presents a method of researching such places through an attention to, and analysis of, their spatial and temporal rhythms.

By illuminating how we experience the places where we work, this book explores what makes us feel that we fit in - or don't fit in - to certain places, how a sense of place endures, and how the relationship between people, place, and work can be researched.

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Year
2022
ISBN
9781839827600

Chapter One

Myths, Money and Masculinities

The City has such an unusual intensity of purpose … there is just something in the air here. (Claire, research participant)
The ‘Square Mile’ remains the visible heart of London’s financial landscape. Notwithstanding recent expansion into Canary Wharf and elsewhere (e.g. the establishment of hedge fund headquarters in Mayfair), the City of London is still considered to be the heart of the UK’s financial service industry, and a leading global player, vying with Wall Street for global dominance. In order to define the area that this book focuses upon, the historical boundary markers of the City of London were used. Although the City is a geographical setting dominated by financial services, it does not encompass the entire financial services industry, clusters of which can also be found in nearby Canary Wharf, and, increasingly where hedge funds are concerned, in Mayfair, as well as within other UK cities. My concern was not uniquely with the financial sector, however, but with people engaged in a variety of occupations but who all work within the same geographically bounded, historically recognised, space, which has a concentration of distinctive architecture, making it instantly recognisable to many. The ancient boundaries are today marked by ‘dragon’ statues – although I used the river Thames as the southern boundary and did not cross over into what was, when the original boundaries of the City were established, the separate city of Southwark, although the modern-day Corporation of London, which manages the City, does extend its boundaries across the river.
Taking the view that the social meanings of a particular place can be expressed via its landscapes, the importance of finance capital in leading global cities is materialised here. As Allen and Pryke (1994, p. 455) point out, such places of power are entwined with practices of power:
The ability to endow a site with meaning is an expression of power in the spatial practices of the City, their repetition (or rhythm as Lefebvre, 1991 emphasises) and variety, which signifies what may and may not take place in and around the various institutions that make up the City and who is ‘out of place’ and, indeed, time.
This chapter will orient this book towards the setting, by exploring how its particular history has shaped behavioural norms. The aim is to explore the history of the City as a way of apprehending some of the mythology and narratives which have constructed many of the layers of meaning which have accumulated.

The City of London: Background

The City is at the apex of a globalised economic space. Despite the fact that this space is in some ways interchangeable with others (in particular the financial districts of New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo), since much of the daily work is undertaken by an international elite who frequently travel between global cities, most professionals, however, do still spend the bulk of their daily lives in a geographically small place. This space has its own history outside of the greater city of which it forms part, as well as its own cultural norms (Thrift, 1996; McDowell, 1997). These spaces have become partially detached from other cities in their nation states and have become truly ‘global’ in that they are spatially dispersed yet globally integrated (King, 1990). London (along with Tokyo and New York) is pre-eminent among them (Zukin, 1991; Coakley, 1992; Corbridge et al., 1994), with elite workers typifying the individualist attitudes and lifestyles celebrated since the 1980s (until the global financial crisis of 2008), yet it can be argued that the City is still in many ways a territorially bounded culture with a local ‘flavour’ which makes it simultaneously both like and unlike other financial centres.
In this way, the City is in fact a ‘global/local jigsaw’ (McDowell, 1997, p. 5), and can therefore be considered as a ‘glocalised’ space, rather than a dis-embedded space, as some theorists (Salt, 1992; Beaverstock, 2002) have characterised financial centres. As the core work became more and more global following deregulation in the 1980s, a view was espoused that the local would become less important as the global took over, and that place itself would lose any significance in relation to organisational materiality. The local flavour of the City is, however, still very much alive and present and helps to create a very distinctive sense of place.
Glocalisation first emerged as a term used by marketers in Japan, by which they meant that products of Japanese origin should be localised, that is, suited to local tastes and interests, although the products themselves are global in application and reach. Sociologists (e.g. Robertson, 1995) began to notice that many social practices assume a local character despite the origin of the products. This terminology is typical of a proliferation of tropes describing space in analytic terms: ‘Binary couplets like core/periphery, inside/outside, Self/Other, First World/Third World, North/South have given way to tropes such as hybridity, diaspora, creolisation, transculturation’ (Jacobs, 1996, p. 13), providing the conceptual frames for interpreting a range of new phenomena. The ‘local flavour’ of the City is most clearly expressed, however, via its history, rather than its products, that is, its material setting, whose power was represented by the material signifiers of stone and brick.

A Brief History of the City

‘History’ shares its etymological roots with ‘story’; both are from the Greek historia, learning or knowing by enquiry, via histos, a web, historien, ‘inquire’, and from histor, a wise man or judge, and, ultimately, from a PIE root wied – to see. It is related to Greek eidani, to know well. In middle English ‘history’ and ‘story’ were interchangeable. (Gabriel, 2000, p. 1)
Storytelling, according to Gabriel is therefore ‘an art of weaving, of constructing, the product of intimate knowledge’ (Gabriel, 2000). The history of power, so omnipresent in the City, influences the way financial institutions frame and assemble narratives and images in order to tell their own stories. Not only does the City present its own story as a coherent history of overcoming crises (the Great Fire, the Blitz bombing in the Second World War and various financial crises), as narrated by tour guides and in published histories (e.g. Kenyon, 2012), but the institutions themselves (e.g. the Bank of England and the Museum of London) recount a linear history of the City as being dominated by the imposition of order upon chaos.
Historically, the City was London; until the area around the palace of Westminster merged with the borders of the old City and eventually surrounded it (a process which did not really gather pace until the first stirrings of the industrial revolution during the eighteenth century), all references to London referred to what we now consider the small, defined space of the Square Mile (Kenyon, 2012). Authors as historically far apart as Chaucer, writing in the fourteenth century, Blake in the eighteenth and Dickens in the nineteenth, represented London as cramped, full of squalor and noise, where the mansions and palaces of the rich were located directly alongside the hovels of the poor. In both, however, there is a pervading (and prescient) sense of threatened borders; of a creeping chaos that is just outside the City walls and threatening to erupt – for example, Chaucer’s merchant in the Canterbury Tales (2012 [1478]) is much concerned with threats of war and piracy to his beloved profits, and in Bleak House (1959 [1853]), written in the mid-nineteenth century when the City was ceasing to be a residential district, Dickens uses the exterior city setting to represent displacement in contrast to the settled order and domesticity of the interior home. The limits and borders of the old City, in particular, are often places of shadow and danger in modern literature, where violence lurks (e.g. Nancy’s steps by London Bridge, from the scene of the murder in Oliver Twist (Dickens, 2012 [1838]), and this sense of unease is exemplified by the continuing fascination with the real life murders of Jack the Ripper, just beyond the borders of mercantile (and civilised) life. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, London, including the City, became represented as a theatre of corruption, fraud and scandal and at the same time as a place of unbridled success and power for the ambitious elite (e.g. in the writings of Sheridan, 1848 and Charles Lamb, 1935).

The Coffee Houses of London: Making One Fit for Business1

The twenty-first-century City is filled with cafes and coffee shops, yet this is nothing new for this part of London. The coffee revolution occurred here much earlier than the twenty-first century; by the 1660s, there were more than 80 coffee houses in London (Green, 2017). Although the first coffee house in England opened in Oxford in 1652, the first London establishment was set up in St Michaels’s alley, off Cornhill, later the same year. Its popularity soon spread, arising from the ashes of the Great Fire, until coffee shops became synonymous with the City of London and its burgeoning trades and professions, in particular finance. Even the popular ‘floating’ restaurants on boats on the Thames had their origins in the coffee houses; the Folly of the Thames, moored outside Somerset House, was famous and included dancers to entertain you as part of the entrance fee (Pendergrast, 2010). Coffee houses were soon set up for every trade and profession, mimicking the ancient tradition of particular quarters for particular trades, which is still seen today in the City, with particular districts being still associated with Banking, Insurance, Securities or Law, for example. What is interesting is that it was the coffee houses which seemed to distinguish London from all the other great European cities and which were remarked upon by foreign visitors as being peculiar to the British capital (Ackroyd, 2000, p. 271). In contrast to the taverns, which were viewed as rowdy, crowded and generally unproductive places in which to do business, coffee was marketed as the perfect accompaniment to business transactions, in that it prevented drowsiness and was the preferred drink of serious men.
Particular houses began to attract a distinct clientele. Perhaps the most famous example is Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street, established in 1688, which quickly earned a reputation as the place to go for marine insurance. It later evolved into Lloyd’s of London. Chapter’s in St Paul’s alley was the rendezvous for publishers and booksellers, especially of legal tomes. The coffee houses began to be known as ‘penny universities’ (the entrance fee was a penny), allowing anyone who could afford this relatively cheap sum the opportunity to discuss politics, scholarships and current affairs with like-minded men. They were not always popular with women, however, who were not permitted entry (although some women worked in the coffee houses), and the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was launched in 1674, by a group of wives critical of the amount of time their husbands spent ‘idling’ in the coffee houses (Green, 2017). The atmosphere in the coffee houses was both febrile and judgemental; plays, politician’s speeches and novels were all given verdicts by the patrons. A jury of coffee drinkers even sat in judgement on local lunatics, who were brought in to be assessed, the verdict related to whether or not they would be sent to one of the local madhouses (Green, 2017). Ideas, fashions and discoveries were shared and debated; stocks and shares were traded at table tops. The coffee houses encouraged a market in ideas, and in the trading of risks and guesses, as well as of materials; in this sense, they gave birth to modern finance capitalism, still the beating heart of today’s City.
Although the coffee house culture began to decline during the eighteenth century as the nation’s tastes turned towards tea, as a result of the Indian imperial adventure, the coffee houses lingered well into nineteenth-century London. Some became specialised exchanges (e.g. the Royal Exchange), others became private Gentleman’s clubs or members-only dining houses, preserving the tradition of male only establishments, and linking the exchange of ideas and news, drinking and entertainment, to the idea of membership and insider status (White, 2018).

Heart of Empire

The history of London as a financial centre is bound up with Britain’s imperial past. The physical development of the City as a financial centre dates from the mid-seventeenth century when the Bank of England was established. By 1750, there were 40 banks in London, and almost twice as many again by the end of the century (McDowell, 1997, p. 45), during the prime of Britain’s imperial dominance into and including the nineteenth century. Although during the twentieth century, the First World War caused a hiatus in growth as German investment banks left London, with the international depression continuing this slump and the Second World War causing another withdrawal of some German, Italian and Japanese banks, there was a resurgence from the late 1950s onwards which cemented London as one of the small number of global cities ‘which are at the nodes of a complex interlocking network of markets, each the key player in a different time zone’ (McDowell, 1997, p. 46). Its importance to the country is not only as the pre-eminent European financial centre but is also due to its historic importance at the heart of the modern city; the nucleus from which the radius grew, as outlined below.
The City has gone from being the centre of a large Empire to one of the few urban centres given the designation of ‘global’ (King, 1990). Not only is the City itself the oldest part of London (established as a trading port, Londinium, in AD 50 by Roman merchants on the River Thames), the ‘Square Mile’ is the original radius of the capital, the place from which modern London grew. The original city was destroyed by Boudicca’s revolt against the Roman occupying army in AD 60 but was rebuilt from AD 70 to include public spaces such as a forum and basilica, a palace and amphitheatre (Kenyon, 2012, p. 12). Geographically, the City is located on the northern side of the Thames. Its current boundaries are slightly extended from the original city walls built by the Romans. The remaining concession to this ancient perimeter is the busy road, London Wall; the original wall was built around AD 200 and ran for two miles, with six-m-high gateways at road intersections (Kenyon, 2012).
Although this potted history places the City firmly within the heart of empire – a Roman imperial outpost, the heart of the British Empire some 1800 years later – and binds it to notions of trade and money, Welsh/British legend tells a different story. Prehistoric London was peopled by legendary kings, among them King Lud, who, it is claimed, named the embryonic city Caer Ludein (from which London is derived), and who is apparently buried at Ludgate. Statues of King Lud and his sons, which formerly stood right on top of the gate, now stand in the porch in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street (Ackroyd, 2000, pp. 11–15). This mythological history is of interest partly because of the importance granted to the city in myth; for example, legend foretells that if King Lud’s head is unearthed from its resting place, then the great city of London will fall (evoking the later myths of the ravens at the Tower of London) but also because alongside the symbolism of the City as a place of mercantile and rational power sits another mythological history, one connected with crisis and danger. Ludgate circus, where Lud’s head is supposedly buried, is where St Paul’s Cathedral stands.
St Paul’s occupies a significant place in the national identity of the English. ‘Old’ St Paul’s (actually the fourth incarnation of the Cathedral, built by the Normans after 1087 and completed with a Palladian front by Inigo Jones) was gutted during the Great Fire of 1666. The new Wren cathedral soon became one of the most famous and recognisable sights in London and further cemented its mythological importance when it survived aerial bombing during the London Blitz of 1940/1941. During particularly heavy bombing on the night of 29 December 1940, Winston Churchill apparently insisted that all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul’s. The cathedral must be saved, he said, since the alternative would damage the morale of the country. Thus, the cathedral became a symbol of heroic British endurance and survival (Daniels, 1993, cited in Jacobs, 1996).
Architecturally, the biggest influence on the modern City was the rebuilding that took place after the Great Fire of 1666. This gave the City much of its present form and introduced many of its greatest monuments. Unlike the previous random sprawl, which had grown up organically over centuries, the rebuilding was carried out along more orderly and rational lines. Yet esoteric, Masonic and mythological imagery still abounds in the City; dragons mark the major entrances to the City, for example, Temple Bar and Blackfriars bridge, Aldgate and Bishopgate, Faringdon and Holborn. Christopher Wren’s assistant, Hawksmoor, built churches based on a layout of intersecting axes and rectangles, which he described as being based on the ‘rules of the ancients’. His work borrows from Egyptian, Greek and Roman architecture, all revered by the Freemasons to which he and Wren are rumoured to have belonged. But it is the alignment of his churches as much as their architecture that has provoked speculation, with some claiming that the churches form triangles and pentacles, and that they guard, mark or rest upon the City’s apparent sources of occult power, a theme taken up in Sinclair’s fiction (1998 [1975]). This contrast between the orderly, rational and modern, and the mythological, sacred and hidden, occurs again and again in the mythology and history of the City.
In t...

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