Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

City work and public sculpture 2

This week I am looking at sculptures representing work in the City in the 20th Century.

Although I mentioned them in an earlier blog I wanted to show these figures again because they are so unusual …

Old churchyard of St John Zachary, 25 Gresham Street EC2V 7HN.

Wilfred Dudeney’s monument Three Printers (1954) has been here since 2009. Commissioned by the Westminster Press Group, it represents the newspaper process with a newsboy (sales), printer and editor (or proprietor), and used to stand by their offices in New Street Square. When the square was redeveloped the Goldsmiths’ Company, as the freeholders of the square, relocated the sculpture here (they had to rescue it from a demolition yard). Look closely, the printer is grasping a ‘stick’ for holding metal type, and Dudeney’s name is in ‘mirror writing’ just as it would have been when typeset the old-fashioned way.

This sculpture reminded me of words from Auden’s The Waste Land:

 Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

It is entitled Rush Hour by George Segal (1983-7) and is in Broadgate (EC2M 3WA) …

Trudging wearily off home in the rain …

Segal created this sculpture from live models, encasing them in wire mesh and plaster bandages, before cutting each cast open to free the model, rejoining the mould and casting bronze figures from the plaster versions. You will notice that all their eyes are closed …

And now something a bit more cheerful …

Philip Ward-Jackson, in his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, tells us of the Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Committee of the Corporation which was chaired by Frederick Cleary. In his autobiography Cleary recorded that Jonzen’s figure below was intended as a tribute to the efforts of his committee but Ward-Jackson feels that ‘it might have been better described as a symbol of the ‘greening’ of the City in the post-war period’. Most appropriately, Mr Cleary has a garden named after him, and you can read about it in my earlier blog about City gardens generally.

‘The Gardener’ by Karin Jonzen FBS (1971) – Brewers’ Hall Gardens, London Wall EC2V 7HR.

Apparently Jonzen, on being given the subject by the Corporation …

… decided on a kneeling figure of a young man, who, having planted a bulb, was gently stroking over the earth.

Easy to miss but worth seeking out is The Building Worker, a bronze statue of a building worker in a pose based on Michelangelo’s David, but in working clothes and wearing a hard hat and carrying a spirit level. He is on Tower Hill EC3 just across the road from the station outside the Tower of London …

The sculptor was Alan Wilson (2006).

It commemorates the ‘thousands of workers who have lost their lives at work … (and) workers who are today building and rebuilding towns and cities across the United Kingdom.’ Wreaths are laid here each year on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, and a two minute silence is observed at noon in memory of those who have suffered fatal injuries in accidents at work.

The Plumbers’ Hall was compulsorily purchased in 1863 to make way for the expansion of Cannon Street Railway station and this statue on the concourse is a reminder of that connection …

The Plumber’s Apprentice by Mark Jennings (2011).

The inscription reads ‘This statue was erected on the site of its last Livery Hall by The Worshipful Company of Plumbers to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Charter by King James I in 1611 and to recognise the support given by the Company to the training of apprentices.’

To round off my day I went looking for a statue I personally remember being erected on Cannon Street in 1996 – The LIFFE Trader (LIFFE standing for the London International Financial Futures Exchange). But he has been moved and tucked away behind glass at the Guildhall Yard in a corridor that the public cannot access …

Please let him go outside, or at least turn him around.

Here he is in his glory days at Cannon Street – a bit of a character with his loosened tie, no doubt doing a deal on his then fashionable clamshell mobile phone …

Photograph copyright Loïc Brohard.

 

City work and public sculpture

I thought it would be interesting to explore how public sculpture has been used to illustrate some of occupations that have been undertaken in the City over the centuries.

First up is one of my favourite pieces, The Cordwainer. Here on Watling Street (EC4N 1SR) you are in the Ward of Cordwainer which in medieval times was the centre of shoe-making in the City of London. The finest leather from Cordoba in Spain was used which gave rise to the name of the craftsmen and the Ward. In the background is the wall of St Mary Aldermary church …

Sculpted by Alma Boyes (2002). You can visit her website here.

I love the detail in the work, the craftsman’s face and particularly the hands straining with effort. The statue’s shoes are very beautifully represented too – but then they would have to be.

It’s a bit of an over-simplification but, basically, cordwainers made shoes (and were not allowed to repair them) and cobblers repaired shoes (and were not allowed to make them). Cobblers got around this injunction by salvaging old leather and making ‘new’ shoes out of that, but in the end a pragmatic solution evolved and the two professions merged under the Cordwainers Company auspices. But if you want your shoes repaired today you still go to a cobbler.

Beside the slope in Aldersgate Street that leads up to the Barbican Estate is this frieze (EC2Y 8AF). It used to be above the premises of W. Bryer & Sons who were gold refiners and assayers at numbers 53 and 54 Barbican. Having survived the Blitz the building was demolished in 1962 and the frieze re-erected here.

‘Gold Smelters’ – Made in Portland stone by J Daymond & Son (1901).

The photographs are mine but I am indebted to The Victorian Web for the descriptions of what is happening.

The left side of the frieze depicts the arrival, weighing, recording the results (by man with the quill pen), and melting the ore. The man with the quill pen, a superviser rather than a workman, is the only one in this part of the scene whose clothes obviously date to the seventeenth century or earlier …

The middle portion of the frieze depicts men working at the smelter: the man at left, whom we have already seen in the previous detail, holds a vessel with tongs while the man to his right stirs the fire, shielding his face from the heat with his right arm. The next man either rests or supervises the work, and the young man kneeling behind him most likely feeds the furnace …

The right side of the frieze shows a worker pouring the refined gold into a mould, and the man behind him examines a small ingot. Outside the workshop, which a curtain divides from the smelting operation, a seated man presents the refined gold to a customer. Here the figures all wear clothing from earlier periods …

What a shame that the friendly shop cat rubbing himself up against the table leg has been damaged.

James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

Designed by James Butler (1994) – Cornhill EC3V 3NR.

The Shield enabled the London Underground to be constructed at greater depths through the London clay. The miners doing the tunneling, using pneumatic spades and hand shovels, would create a cavity in the earth where the Shield would be inserted to hold back the walls whilst the miners installed cast-iron segments to create a ring. The process would be repeated until a tunnel had formed in the shape of a ‘tube’, which is where we get the nickname for the network today. A plaque on the side of the plinth shows the men at work …

Would you like to see a Greathead Shield? It’s easier than you might think since Shields were often abandoned when work was completed. Take the Northern Line to Bank and (without leaving the station) follow the signs for the Waterloo and City Line. This is what you will come across …

Here is some detail …

The plaque underneath explains all …

In next week’s blog I will be looking at some 20th century occupations and the way they have been celebrated in sculpture.

 

 

 

Postman’s Park and the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Postman’s Park was once the churchyard to the adjacent church, St Botolph Aldersgate, but between 1858 and 1860 it was cleared of human remains and re-landscaped as a public space. A number of gravestones remain and you can see some of them now stacked neatly against the northern churchyard wall …

Nearby, in 1829, the General Post Office had moved in to a vast new building on St Martin Le Grand and, when the new park opened, it quickly became a popular leisure area for the post office workers and, as a result, the park soon became known as Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT).

It contains now what is, in my view, one of the most interesting, poignant and rather melancholy memorials in the City – The G F Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This plaque nearby contains a useful mini-history …

In the late 1890s the idea was mooted that the park would be an ideal location for a memorial to ‘ordinary’ and ‘humble’ folk who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others. Two of its most enthusiastic supporters were the artists George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife Mary (1849 – 1938). There are some nice images of both him and his wife on the National Portrait Gallery website. Here he is  and here his wife Mary.

After much debate about its positioning and design, the memorial was finally declared finished and open on 30 July 1900, the building looking very much as it does today …

The memorial consists of 54 ceramic tablets which were gradually added over the years, each describing a particular act of selfless heroism. I have chosen to write about four of them using as my source the splendid book by the historian John Price: Heroes of Postman’s Park (ISBN 9780750956437). You can also, like me, become a Friend of the Watts Memorial, and more details can be found here.

The first of my four heroes is Alice Ayres …

The picture above shows Alice Ayres as portrayed by the Illustrated London News in 1885 (Copyright the British Library Board). Her commemorative plaque reads as follows and was the first to be installed …

It was Alice’s brave act that prompted Watts to write to the Times newspaper and suggest the creation of a memorial

That would celebrate the sacrifices made by ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ by collecting ‘…a complete record of the stories of heroism in every-day life’.

Alice threw down a mattress from a burning building and successfully used it to rescue three children …

From The Illustrated Police News 2nd May 1885 Copyright, The British Library Board.

Alice eventually jumped herself but received terrible injuries and died two days later. Incidentally, if her name rings a bell with you it could be because, in the 2004 film Closer, one of the characters, Jane Jones, sees Alice’s memorial and decides to adopt her name.

John Clinton was only 10 when he dived into the Thames to save another little boy’s life. Unfortunately, after the rescue, John himself slipped back into the water and drowned. According to his father this wasn’t his first brave act, having saved a baby from a fire and tearing down burning curtains that were threatening the house. Both acts were commemorated in this illustration …

From The Illustrated Police News, 28th July 1894. Copyright, The British Library Board.

His funeral was widely reported …

I am indebted to the editor of the London Walking Tours website for this photograph of John Clinton’s image on his tombstone in Manor Park cemetery …

His Postman’s Park plaque …

And now another brave lady,

Many of these memorials give us glimpses of the nature of society at the time these events took place, and Mary’s story is a typical example. It is most unlikely that she would ever have found herself serving at sea had it not been for the fact that her husband, Richard, was drowned when the cross channel steamer SS Honfleur sank in the English Channel on 21 October 1880.

The steamer was operated by the London & South Western Railway Company (LSWR) and so Richard was one of their employees. It was common practice at the time for railway companies to offer employment to the widows or children of deceased employees so as to avoid having to pay compensation or provide a pension. Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary Rogers – 1855-1899

The story of the sinking of the SS Stella is a gripping one and rather too complicated to relate in detail here. If you want all the details either get hold of a copy of John Price’s book and/or have a look at this website run by Jake Simpkin, a Blue Badge holder and south of England historian.

From The Illustrated Police News – 8th April 1899. Copyright, The British Library Board

The Times reported that Rogers …

Helped ‘her ladies’ from the cabin into the lifeboats. Next she gave up her own lifejacket, and then when urged to get into the lifeboat refused for fear of capsizing it. She was told it was her only chance, but she persisted that she could not save her own life at the cost of a fellow creature’s. She waved the lifeboat ‘farewell’ and bid the survivors to be of ‘good cheer’.

In 1908, the committee of the new Anglican Liverpool Cathedral chose 21 ‘noble women’ for commemoration in stained glass windows. Mary was included, and is depicted in her window alongside Grace Darling and Elizabeth Fry …

Walking down Central Street one day I noticed this green plaque on the other side of the road …

On crossing over to take a look this is what I saw …

I took a picture, resolving to do further research and then discovered that the brave Alfred Smith is commemorated on the Watts Memorial …

PC Smith, 37 years old, was on duty in Central Street when the noise was heard of an approaching group of fourteen German bombers. One press report reads as follows …

In the case of PC Alfred Smith, a popular member of the Metropolitan Force, who leaves a widow and three children, the deceased was on point duty near a warehouse. When the bombs began to fall the girls from the warehouse ran down into the street. Smith got them back, and stood in the porch to prevent them returning. In doing his duty he thus sacrificed his own life.

Smith had no visible injuries but had been killed by the blast from the bombs dropped nearby. He was one of 162 people killed that day in one of the deadliest raids of the war.

His widow was treated much more kindly than Mary Rogers. She received automatically a police pension (£88 1s per annum, with an additional allowance of £6 12s per annum for her son) but also had her MP, Allen Baker, working on her behalf. He approached the directors of Debenhams (whose staff PC Smith had saved) and solicited from them a donation of £100 guineas (£105). A further fund, chaired by Baker, raised almost £472 and some of this was used to pay for the Watts Memorial tablet, which was officially unveiled on the second anniversary of Alfred’s death.

Watts used newspaper reports to decide who should receive the honour of a plaque, but in one case the report was false and the ‘hero’ didn’t exist. Unfortunately, Watts didn’t see the newspaper article correcting the mistake and the plaque went up anyway. If you want to know the identity of the non-existent ‘hero’ I am not going to reveal it here, and you will have to buy John Price’s book to find out.

I wrote about some more of the heroes from the memorial in an earlier blog which you can access here.

 

 

 

 

 

City of London doors and doorways

Last week gates, this week doors and doorways.

I shall start with few modest examples and then move on to the more spectacular.

The facade St Martin’s House at 1 Gresham Street is a delight (EC4V 7BX) …

Dating from 1891 it incorporates a wonderfully happy, smiling Mr Sun …

What also makes it charming is the rogue apostrophe ….

 

Surely it should read St Martin’s House?

St Bartholomew house at 90-94 Fleet Street is an Arts and Crafts block built in 1900 (EC4y 1DH) and it looks like that door may well be the original …

Regarding the putti (cherubs), the blogger Chris Partridge of Ornamental Passions writes …

The one on the left is more or less a standard model putto with feathery wings and a bow, carrying a quiver, but the one on the right is decidedly odd with what look like butterfly wings and flowers in its hair. Is it a boy or a girl?

Unusually, the piece is signed by both the architect and the sculptor …

Cherubs are everywhere in the City and you can find the location of many of them in my earlier blog Charming Cherubs.

And now to the more spectacular, the main entrance to the Bank of England on Threadnedle Street ((EC2R 8AH) …

A closer view of the two main doors. Made of bronze, they were designed between 1928 and 1931 …

The caduceus (winged staff) on the left is surmounted by a sailing ship from the days of the Bank’s foundation.The one on the right has the hand of Zeus grasping the lightning which symbolises electrical force. Above these are the constellations of Ursa Major and the Southern Cross, which stand for both sides of the world, and imply the world-wide extent of the Bank’s operations. The lions symbolise protection and strength.

The door on the left has three lions in bas-relief representing the royal arms …

The round opening also has a caduceus and a pattern of interlocking serpents forming its grille.

This is the right hand door …

You can see the caduceus and interlocking serpents more clearly here, and above two lions guard a mound of gold coins …

What a hoard!

I will be looking again at the Bank of England in a future blog (there are more doors to examine) and also the Royal Exchange across the road.

City of London Gates

As you all know, the Romans constructed a protective wall around their City some time in the 2nd or 3rd century and gateways were incorporated that aligned with the Roman road network. During the medieval period, these defences were further adapted and strengthened, but the City gradually extended beyond its original boundaries and we then start to see places described as ‘within’ and ‘without’. Eventually the wall and gates had become an obstruction and demolition, which started in 1760, continued right into the 19th century.

A short way to the west of the old Lud Gate was Temple Bar. Originally there to regulate trade into the City, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire more as a ceremonial entrance. Believed to have been designed by Christopher Wren, it survived until  1878 when it’s obstruction to traffic became too big a problem and it was carefully demolished and put in storage. It was sold in 1880 to the brewer Sir Henry Meux. It is a fascinating story and I have written about him and his beautiful, eccentric wife Valerie in an earlier blog which you can access here.

After 126 years on Sir Henry’s country estate, the Bar was finally returned to the City in 2004 and was re-erected in Paternoster Square next to st Paul’s Cathedral. I think it looks great …

When I visited it recently I became intrigued by the wooden doors. There are two big doors that close to shut off the main entrance and two smaller doors in the pedestrian archways either side.

Were they original or were they fitted by Sir Henry? Photos show them closed when on the estate but I could not find a picture of them closed on Fleet Street. I went looking for graffiti to see if they would give me a clue. There were some from the 20th century …

DH from 1945.

Someone in 1957.

But could this possibly be 1751 …

And maybe this is 1749 …

Neither are very conclusive unfortunately but I am pretty sure the gates predate the Bar’s removal in 1878. I am going to do a bit more research.

*** STOP PRESS ***

Saturday 18 August – Just started my research and I am sure the gates date from before 1880. Here is an extract from Bradshaw’s Illustrated Handbook to London and its Environs 1862:

‘To show the power of the Lord Mayor, the ponderous gates of the civic barrier are shut upon all occasions of royal visits to the city. The herald then sounds a trumpet, and the Mayor and corporation within demand by their marshal to know the monarch’s pleasure , which, being communicated, the City sword is presented , the barrier flies open, and the cavalcade proceeds to its destination’.

This got me interested in gates generally and there are some really attractive ones around the City.

These beautifully restored examples are outside Salters’ Hall in Fore Street (EC2Y 5DE) …

The gates are dated 1887 and were salvaged when the original hall was destroyed in the Blitz. The company’s motto sal sapit omnia (salt savours everything) has been incorporated along with birds and animals.

The Inner Temple has an impressive gated entrance off Tudor Street …

Through the entrance and on the left I noticed these gates leading to the Inner Temple Garden (EC4Y 9AT). They date from circa 1730 and lead to approximately three acres of gardens …

I particularly liked this sign …

Placed quite low down, it is clearly aimed at literate animals who must nonetheless behave themselves.

And finally, this is the western entrance to Liverpool Street Station …

Up the stairs and to the left you will see gates incorporating this emblem …

The Great Eastern Railway Company operated from 1862 until 1923 when it was incorporated into the London & North Eastern Railway. You can read more about the station and its history here.

 

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