Walking to work on the 26 April 1993

Walking to work on the 26 April 1993

My walk to work on the 26 April 1993 was like no other – the historic Square Mile had been attacked! 

A walk from Liverpool Street to Fenchurch Street this week brought back some very memories from early in my career.

A career in London’s Square Mile

A huge proportion of my payments career has been based in The City – also known as the ‘Square Mile’.

London’s Square Mile

Commonly used as an alternative for the City of London, the term ‘Square Mile’ comes from the amount of land in the heart of the city which is under the jurisdiction of the City of London Corporation.

During my five decades in payments, it is not surprising to have experienced a number of significant payment related events that happened in London’s ‘Square Mile’ – you may have already watched my ‘City Payments Trip’ video:

My time in The City covered Nick Leeson’s role in the downfall of Barings (1995), the Bearer Bond robbery in Nicholas Lane (1990), Big Bang (1986), Black Monday (1987), the introduction of the Euro (1999), Black Wednesday (1992), the end of the Town Clearing (1995), the first year of CHAPS (1984).

Given the activities conducted in The City these events might not be considered to be a surprise when thinking about a career covering five decades. 

However, an event that occurred in 1993 was, perhaps, the most unexpected and out of place both in a financial district and my career.

It was these events of 1993 that I recalled this week as I walked from Liverpool Street station to Fenchurch Street – retracing my walk to work on Monday the 26 April 1993.

A bomb on Bishopsgate

A month after being stolen from Newcastle-under-Lyme a freshly painted dark blue Iveco tipper truck was driven at 9am on Saturday the 24 April, 1993 into the ‘Square Mile’. 

The truck’s destination was the road just outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation at 99 Bishopsgate (by the junction to Wormwood Street) right in the heart of The City.

Concealed under a layer of tarmac was a one tonne ammonium nitrate–fuel oil bomb which had been smuggled onto the GB mainland by the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade. 

With the two people in the lorry escaping in an accomplice’s car, a call using a recognised codeword was made from a phone box in County Armagh, Northern Ireland stating that “(there’s) a massive bomb … clear the area”.

At 10:27am, amidst the area being evacuated, the bomb exploded causing extensive damage to multiple buildings in the Bishopsgate area. Despite The City being a lot quieter on a Saturday a newspaper photographer was killed and 44 people were injured.

The NatWest Tower (now Tower 42) was badly damaged with many windows on the east side of the tower were blown out and in total it is estimated that 1,500,000 sq ft (140,000 m²) of office space being affected and over 500 tonnes of glass broken.

London’s Square Mile was devastated:

Wormword Street, The City, April 1993

Black gaps punched its fifty-two floors like a mouth full of bad teeth. 

Daily Mail

For comparison this is what 99 Bishopsgate looks like today.

The building behind the red bus is the building in the right of the 1993 picture and Wormwood Street (the aerial 1993 picture centres on) looks like the picture on the left today.

Built in 1411 and destroyed in 1993

Across the road, the blast also destroyed St Ethelburga’s church. This church was one of the few surviving medieval City churches in London, although the foundation date of the church is unknown it was first recorded in 1250 as the church of St Adelburga the Virgin.

The church was rebuilt around 1411 and was severely damaged by the Bishopsgate bomb. Following the bomb it was rebuilt and restoration and subsequently re-opened as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.

Walking to work on the 26 April 1993

The devastation stretched up Bishopsgate towards Gracechurch Street and it was along the middle of this street I walked on Monday the 26th April 1993 to access my bank and fulfil my CHAPS payment duties.

You could see the smoke coming up from the vicinity of Bishopsgate and the first thing that struck you was the taller buildings. The damage to, what was then, Natwest Tower, and places like that. It was total devastation. 

PC Richard Fullbrook, City of London Police

Credit: City of London Police (Bishopsgate towards Gracechurch Street)

A pathway was cleared along the middle of the street to allow City bankers to get to their offices. My recollection is a quiet, eerie street scene with blown out windows, window blinds flapping in the wind and glass, masonry and other debris littered across the floor.

It was through this devastation that I picked my path in the middle of The City’s main thoroughfare fare amongst the debris sent crashing to the floor by a terrorist bomb.

Credit: City of London Police (Bishopsgate towards Liverpool Street station)

In 2018 the BBC published a video of never seen before images of the destruction at Bishopsgate providing more insight into the extent of the damage that occurred:

The Bishopsgate bomb wasn’t my first experience of The City being attacked as I also had to walk from Liverpool Street Station to Fenchurch Street in the days after the Baltic Exchange bombing a year earlier.

Ring of steel

After this second bombing the City of London planned a new security cordon for The City and in July 1993 introduced an armed police checkpoint based ‘ring of steel’ around the Square Mile.

Much has happened since this event in 1993 and my hope is that The City (nor any part of the UK) experiences events such as these again.

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