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The City of London is synonymous with investment bankers, insurance brokers and lawyers toiling away in gleaming glass and steel office buildings. According to the City of London Corporation, the local authority, 414,000 people work in the Square Mile, but most are not employed in financial services.
There is a world outside the law firms and banks even within the Square Mile: the butchers, the beadles and the bartenders. Independent retailers have survived the recession, some only just; they have also struggled against rising rents, the stranglehold of the chain stores and online shopping.
They serve tourists and builders, as well as office workers more varied than the “spiv-in-suits” stereotype: secretaries, cleaners and caterers. Emma Jacobs and FT photographer Charlie Bibby track them down.
There are about 270 children at Sir John Cass’s Foundation primary school, in the shadow of the Gherkin. “When people think of the City they think of bankers and skyscrapers. When you are in a school you think of it in different ways: the Roman walls, the Lord Mayor’s show and St Paul’s.”
There is a social mix at the school, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, but she feels frustrated that so few children go on to work in the City.
The head of the Guildhall Art Gallery oversees 6,000 works, primarily Victorian painters including Rossetti and Millais, as well as scenes of London. She also looks after the Roman amphitheatre in the basement. The challenge is to get people in. “We’re outside the main drag of art collections. Professionals are cash-rich, time-poor. So we try to get tourists into the City.”
The 58-year-old has been a butcher in the City for more than 30 years. “We’ve gone through lots of good times and bad times.” Among the bad, he cites the BSE scare in the 1990s, which raised fears about eating beef, as well as the IRA terrorist attack of 1993. The financial crisis, however, did not really dent profits, though cheaper cuts of meat became more popular. “A few years ago we would have sold no more than one ox cheek a week. Now it’s 10 kilos.” In the past few years, Thanksgiving has become “bigger and bigger”.
It is hard to attract young people into the profession, he says. The early starts do not help: he is up at 4.15am to be in by 6am.
The shop opened 11 years ago, after her husband moved from manufacturing in nearby Hatton Garden. There is a steady stream of customers ranging from PAs to chairmen although numbers are somewhat reduced since the arrival of the shopping centre, One New Change, the rise of internet shopping and diamond merchants who go around the City dealing directly with clients.
Bonus time and Christmas are the highlights of the year. However, she is used to people coming in and saying their entire department has been wiped out as their company makes cutbacks. Discretion is important: there have been calls from wives after finding a necklace receipt intended for a mistress.
Rajeshree Amin, Jayant Amin
Rajeshree Amin and her husband, Jayant, moved to the City from a village sub-post office 14 years ago. Their two sons work in the City: one as an accountant, the other as a management consultant. “They work five minutes away and don’t come in the shop unless they want a lift,” she says. Originally from east Africa (Ms Amin: Kenya; Mr Amin: Uganda), they say the business has changed significantly. Today, fewer newspapers and magazines are sold, so they have increased the shelf space devoted to alcohol and ecigarettes.
They are proud of their shop. Ms Amin says: “I shouldn’t brag but we get compliments on the shop.”
The 44-year-old came to London from Turkey 21 years ago. He has managed barbers (above) in the shop for almost 10 years; the barbers rent chairs from him. Rents are getting expensive, he says, and competition from the chains is tough. “There is a high turnover [of clients] in the City. Customers come and go.”
Originally from Kent, south-east England, Jeffrey Miah has swept the City’s streets for the past 21 years. He works seven days a week; on the side he runs a small property company. The most valuable lost property find was a Cartier watch, but he has also picked up company documents from time to time.
“Some people do try to tip you; £10 is the most someone gave me. They said, ‘I see you every day and think you do a good job’.” It was appreciated but mainly he likes to be left to get on with his job. “Many City workers say ‘thanks’. There’s no reason for them to talk to me. I get paid, that’s the reward.”
THE COURT MANAGER
Charles Henty, 52, is the Under-Sheriff and Secondary of London, though he is effectively the managing director of the Old Bailey, the most famous criminal court in the UK. Mr Henty, who was formerly in the Coldstream Guards, oversees 100 employees and 18 courts. About 2,500 people come through the doors every day, including the public, relatives, witness support workers, the City of London and Metropolitan Police, lawyers, judges and defendants. “It’s about pulling people together,” he says.
He has been in the job for 11 years, after previously working at the Lord Mayor’s office. There is a flat in the building where he lives in the week, though he is glad to escape to his family home in Gloucestershire at the weekends. “I like working in the City. It’s clean, you feel safe. Nobody dawdles, everyone has a purpose.”
After 23 years in the Royal Artillery, Tony Gilardi spotted the beadle vacancy on the army’s recruitment website in 2008. He is employed by the Worshipful Company of Barbers, one of 110 livery companies — trade associations and guilds — in the City. It is one of the oldest, with a history of more than 700 years though today its functions are largely charitable rather than dealing with trade issues. “It is not a gentlemen’s club,” insists Mr Gilardi.
The 47-year-old lives in a flat in the hall in the heart of the City. Before his partner moved in, it could feel like “tumbleweed” at the weekends. The main focus of the work is to run events and the facilities, which often host external events. He also acts as the Master of Ceremonies, overseeing dinners, making toasts and announcements. Ninety per cent of beadles in the City are from a military background, he says.
Originally from Holborn just up the road, she says that when she was growing up the area was dead after 8pm. “That’s a thing of the past now.” She has worked in Ye Olde Watling for seven years. The recession made little difference to takings, she says. However, at bonus time people tend to drink more and better quality wine.
Customers are a mix, she says: bankers, post room workers and electricians. The next month will be hectic. “We have 700 bookings ahead of Christmas. Come Christmas Day I can’t look at any more turkey.”
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