Originally installed to shield buildings and pedestrians from horse-drawn wagons, bollards are a familiar sight in cities all over the world. It is believed that the metallic stakes made their debut in London during the 17th century.
It is no coincidence that these metal columns resemble cannons. The very first bollards were a mixture of surplus, outdated & captured matériel and were initially found around harbours and military ports where they protected warehouses and acted as mooring posts.
Predominantly buried muzzle-up in residential and commercial districts, the opening would have been sealed - often with an oversized cannonball. In towns, some bollards additionally served as boundary markers.
The vast majority of bollards in London today are replicas and distinguishing the early ones from the clones is not always easy (even aficionados can disagree on what is genuine). One of the best authentic examples can be found in the City outside St Helen's Bishopsgate.
Buried breech-up, this 18th century French cannon nestles nicely between the medieval church and the nearby 'Cheesegrater' and 'Gherkin' towers.
It would be fair to say that checking out the street furniture is not going to be a priority for most visitors to London! If however, you are looking for something a bit quirky, surveying bollards can be a fun way to complement your sightseeing.