Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

The Medieval City Monasteries

It is difficult to grasp nowadays just how much Medieval London was dominated by the Church, but its traces are still very evident today in, for example, the names of streets and surviving districts. Before the Dissolution more than thirty monasteries, convents, priories and hospitals squeezed into the City’s ‘square mile’ or huddled outside against the still-surviving Roman wall. Today I am going to write about two of them, the Dominicans and the Carmelites. I will write about the Franciscans and the Augustines in a subsequent blog.

The friars tended to be teaching orders, and accordingly their churches were built to accommodate a large congregation in a fashion that meant the preacher could be seen and heard by everyone. The buildings and land they owned became extensive and were obviously an incredibly valuable acquisition for Henry VIII when their Dissolution started in 1536 under the diligent management of Thomas Cromwell.

St Dominic 1170-1221

Dominican friars had arrived in England in 1221 and became known as the Black Friars on account of the colour of their robes. They found great favour and patronage under Edward I and construction of their London monastery was completed in 1276. It was here that this king deposited the heart of his beloved queen Eleanor, although her body was placed in Westminster Abbey

So prestigious and important was the monastery that it was chosen as the location for various parliaments and privy councils. Ironically, however, given what was to happen later, it was also the venue of the divorce hearing between Henry and his queen Catharine of Aragon. As you walk around the area now known as Blackfriars imagine the scene on 21 June 1529 when Henry and his first wife Catharine appeared before Cardinal Wolsey and the papal legate Cardinal Campeggio, who were there to hear testimonies as to the validity of the King’s marriage.

Portraits of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon at the National Portrait Gallery

Henry and Catharine – together again at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013. Henry is in his 30s before he became grossly overweight.

Henry, already infatuated with Anne Boleyn and desperate for a male heir, was hoping for annulment on the ground that Catharine was his brother’s widow and that the subsequent marriage to Henry was against biblical teaching. But things did not go according to plan. An incredibly eloquent speech by Catherine brought enormous sympathy from onlookers who had already cheered her entrance (you can read her speech online, it is still very moving). Henry was defeated and the subsequent refusal of an annulment by Pope Clement VII would set the King on the road to the dissolution of the monasteries, priories and convents and the appropriation of their income and lands.

After the priory was dissolved in 1538, the hall where the hearing was held served as the Blackfriars Theatre, hence the present name of Playhouse Yard. Shakespeare’s plays were performed here, and the dramatist himself had property close by in Ireland Yard. There is a deed of conveyance dated 1613, bearing one of the few extant Shakespeare autographs (see below), and the quirky Cockpit Pub claims it stands on the property’s site.

Shakespeare's signature on the deed of sale of a house in Blackfriars, London (1613)

Remains in the former churchyard of St Anne Blackfriars, Ireland Yard

It’s rather sad, isn’t it, that these few bits of stone tucked away in an old churchyard are seemingly all that remain of the great Blackfriars monastery.

However, if you feel bold enough to venture out of the City, do visit St Dominic’s Priory Church in Belsize Park, one of the largest Catholic churches in England. Tucked away in the north west corner of the nave you will find this pillar next to a representation of George and the Dragon …

The notice attached to it tells its story …

Back in the City, you might like to walk just around the corner from the old monastery stones to the little passage known as Church Entry. Here you will be following the approximate line north-south between the monastery church nave and the chancel. After the Dissolution, it was used as a churchyard for the parish of St Ann Blackfriar.

Church Entry

The Carmelite monastery was founded in the 1240s on land just south of Fleet Street. Originally hermits living on the slopes of Mount Carmel, they fled on the Saracen reconquest of the Holy Land and those arriving in London ceased to be hermits and became more visible in the community. They were known as Whitefriars after the colour of the mantle worn over their brown robes.

Image result for carmelite monks pictures

Click on the picture to read more about the Carmelites today

Theirs was a typical group of friary buildings including a church, cloister and chapter house and their library was said to be particularly notable.

After the priory was dissolved in November 1538  the land was sold to individuals who subdivided their plots and built tenements on them. However, this precinct had long possessed the privileges of Sanctuary, which were confirmed by a charter of James I in 1608. From about this time the area was known as ‘Alsatia’ (after the disputed continental territory of Alsace), and its entrance was in Ram Alley, now known as Hare place.

The old Ram Alley, one time gateway to Alsatia

It became the ‘asylum of characterless debtors, cheats and gamblers here protected from arrest’. One Edwardian historian spoke of …

Its reeking dens, its bawds and its occupants’ disgusting habits. Every house was a resort of ill-fame, and therein harboured women, and still worse, men, lost to every instinct of humanity

The privilege of Sanctuary was finally abolished in 1687.

I am really pleased to say that you can still see the crypt of the old Carmelite Priory.

Walk down Bouverie Street and turn left into Magpie Alley where tiles illustrate the historical connection between this area and the print industry.

At the end of the alley you can descend a short flight of stairs and gaze at the remains of the crypt. They were discovered in 1895 and were moved here on a concrete raft from the west side of the road during building development in the 1980s.

The old Whitefriars crypt

 

Coming soon – The Augustines of Austin Friars …

 

 

 

Stones and bones – a walk through Bunhill Burial Ground

When I read that over 120,000 people had been interred in the Bunhill burial ground over the years it immediately made me think of Thomas Hardy’s 1882 poem The Levelled Churchyard

O passenger, pray list and catch

Our sighs and piteous groans,

Half stifled in this jumbled patch

Of wrenched memorial stones!

We late-lamented, resting here,
 are mixed to human jam,

And each to each exclaims in fear, 
‘I know not which I am!’

About 2,500 monuments survive in Bunhill and it is possible to go on an accompanied walk through the stones, which are mostly now fenced off.  In this short blog I am restricting myself to commenting on what can be seen from the public paths.

The history of the land is fascinating. Owned by the Dean & Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral between 1514 and 1867, it was continuously leased to the City Corporation who themselves sub-leased it to others. The name Bunhill seems to have been a corruption of the word Bonehill.  Theories range from people being interred there during Saxon times to the suggestion that various types of refuse, including animal bones from Smithfield, were disposed of there. However, an extraordinary event in 1549 made the name literally true.

Since the 13th century corpses had been buried in St Paul’s churchyard just long enough for the flesh to rot away, after which the bones were placed in a nearby Charnel House ‘to await the resurrection of the dead’. After the Reformation this was seen as an unacceptable Popish practice, the Charnel House was demolished, and 1,000, yes 1,000, cartloads of bones were dumped at Bunhill. A City Golgotha, it is said the the resulting hill was high enough to accommodate three windmills.

In 1665 it was designated a possible ‘plague pit’ but there is no evidence that it was used as such. At the same time, however, a crisis arose concerning St Paul’s, the ‘noisome stench arising from the great number of dead’ buried there. Many other parishes had the same problem and the Mayor and Aldermen were forced to act quickly as a terrible smell of putrefaction was permeating the City. After negotiations with the existing tenants, the ‘new burial place in Bunhill Fields’ was created and had been walled in by the 19th October that year with gates being added in 1666.

The Act of Uniformity of 1663 had established the Church of England as the national church and at the same time established a distinct category of Christian believers who wished to remain outside the national church. These became known as the nonconformists or dissenters and Bunhill became for many of them the burial ground of choice due to its location outside the City boundary and its independence from any Established place of worship.

The last burial took place in January 1854 and the area was designated as a public park with some memorials being removed and some restored or relocated. Heavy bombing during the war resulted in major landscaping work and the northern part was cleared of memorials and laid out much as it is now with grassy areas and benches.

I have chosen a few memorials for you to look at as you walk through Bunhill from City Road in the East to Bunhill Row in the west.

I’d like to start just outside the east entrance on City Road and a few yards to the north. Look through the railings and you will see an obelisk memorial to this handsome gentleman. The inscription is in Welsh and marks the tomb of the Calvinistic Methodist minister, poet and Bible commentator James Hughes. Also inscribed is his Bardic name Iago Trichrug.

As you enter Bunhill you’ll notice that much of the path you are walking on consists of old grave stones, with some lettering still visible. I will point out a few along the way.

After passing through the east gate, look out on the left for this skull on the corner of one of the gravestones. Many of the stones are seriously eroded now but this one gives us an intimation of what the graves must have looked like originally.

This stone probably dates from the late 18th century judging by the others nearby

A little bit further on to the left is the memorial to Thomas Rosewell. The inscription reads

Thomas Rosewell

Nonconformist Minister

                                                       Rotherhithe

Died 1692

Tried for High Treason under the infamous Jeffries

See state trials 1681

 

The stone was renewed by a descendant in 1867

A Presbyterian minister in Rotherhithe, allegations (almost certainly fabricated) were made that he had uttered seditious sentiments during a sermon in September 1684. This led to his being arraigned for high treason at a trial presided over by the notoriously ruthless Lord Chief Justice, George Jeffreys, aka ‘The Hanging Judge’. He was initially found guilty and sentenced to death, but a tremendous public outcry led to a royal pardon in January 1685. Charles II had been told by an adviser that ‘If your majesty suffers this man to die, we are none of us safe in our houses’.

A little further on is John Bunyan’s tomb of 1689. It is not quite what it seems since the effigy of the great man and the bas-reliefs (inspired by Pilgrim’s Progress) were only added in 1862 when the tomb was restored. A preacher who spent over a decade in jail for his beliefs, he holds the bible in his left hand. He started the Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress whilst imprisoned and it became one of the most published works in the English language.

 

The Christian weighed down by his heavy burden of sin

Standing upright, free of sin, and clinging to the cross

Bunhill is a nice place for a quiet spot of lunch …

I was photobombed by a squirrel!

Old stones used as paving beside Bunyan’s memorial.

Turn your back on Bunyan’s tomb and you will be facing the obelisk erected in 1870 to commemorate the 1731 burial of Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. The monument was funded by an appeal to boys and girls by the weekly newspaper Christian World who were invited to give ‘not less than sixpence’. Defoe got into serious trouble in 1702 by publishing a satirical work entitled The Shortest Way with Dissenters which was taken seriously by some and resulted in him being prosecuted for seditious libel. He spent time in jail and  was also sentenced to three sessions in the pillory – supporters threw flowers instead of stones and garbage and he emerged unscathed to write a pamphlet entitled Hymn to the Pillory.

Defoe’s memorial

Paving nearby

Next to Defoe’s obelisk is the stone pictured below commemorating William Blake and his wife. The memorial was originally placed over his actual grave by The Blake Society on the centenary of Blake’s death (1927) but it was moved in 1965 when the area was cleared to create a more public open space. Candles, flowers and other offerings are frequently left here by modern day Blake admirers. Considered mad by many of his contemporaries, he is now regarded as one of Britain’s greatest artists and poets, his most famous work probably being the short poem And did those feet in ancient time. It is now best known as the anthem Jerusalem and includes the words that  are often cited when people refer to the Industrial Revolution.

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Blake’s memorial with some offerings from modern day Blake pilgrims

If you return to the east/west path and carry on walking you will shortly see down a path on your right the extraordinary tomb of Dame Mary Page.

It appears that Mary Page suffered from what is now known as Meigs’ Syndrome and her body had to be ‘tap’d’ to relieve the pressure. She had to undergo this treatment for over five years and was so justifiably proud of her bravery and endurance she left instructions in her will that her tombstone should tell her story. And it does …

Return to the path going west and this family grave is on the left.

I mention it because it poignantly illustrates the high degree of infant mortality in the early 19th century.

Days of life are sometimes included as well as years and months

And finally, as you approach the west gate, take a look at the wall on the left and you will see the elegant iron row numbers that the Victorians placed there to make finding a particular grave easier.

 

 

 

Dragons and Maidens

Mythical dragons do seem to keep finding themselves guarding pretty, captive maidens who are then rescued by brave heroes who slay the poor old dragon. So I thought I would combine dragons and maidens for this blog, especially since the dragon is a well-known symbol of the City of London.

The first thing I must be clear about is that the City symbol is a dragon not a griffin!

I always used to call them griffins and that is how they are described constantly in guides to London but there are differences between the two.

A griffin (or gryphon) is a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. I have only been able to find one in the City and here it is …

Entrance to Dunster Court, Mincing Lane

He proudly supports the arms of the Clothworkers Company.

Dragons, on the other hand, have a serpent’s tail, tend to be scaly all over and breathe fire and smoke. Here is the City of London version …

Tower Hill Dragon, EC3

It is made of cast iron and painted in silver with details picked out in red. It holds a shield with the City emblem of the red cross of St George and the short sword of St Paul and nine of them serve as boundary marks around the City. In addition, there are many other dragons all over the City in a variety of poses.

Their original version once graced the 1849 Coal Exchange on Lower Thames Street which was demolished in 1963. The two dragons, however, were relocated to Victoria Embankment in November of that year where they remain to this day and are much bigger than subsequent versions which are about half their size.

 

From the Illustrated London News 1879 – you can just make out the dragons on the parapet over the entrance

Here is an original dragon in his new home on Victoria Embankment…

That’s the ‘OXO’ building behind him across the Thames

He looks very sinister in silhouette …

Original dragon viewed looking south

Guarding the boundary between the City of London and Westminster, the Temple Bar Dragon is in a league of its own. It is taller, fiercer, very gothic and is black rather than silver. It would be quite at home in a Harry Potter story and is quite scary – maybe that’s why the Corporation Committee Chairman, having considered the Temple Bar version, chose the less flamboyant Coal Exchange dragons as boundary markers instead.

Atop the Temple Bar Memorial

Another dragon at Temple Bar looks towards Westminster …

This Billingsgate beast looks like he is just about to swoop down – perhaps for a meaty lunch …

Billingsgate Market

And these two work hard supporting the roof of Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

And so to maidens – Mercer Maidens to be precise.

The Mercer Company is the first in precedence of the ‘Great Twelve’ livery companies of the City of London and I shall be writing in more detail about the companies in a later blog.

The Mercers’ Maiden symbol is part of the coat of arms of the Company and according to their website she first appears on a seal in 1425. Her precise origins are unknown, and there is no written evidence as to why she was chosen as the Company’s emblem. She is often depicted wearing the fashions of her time since the coat of arms was not granted until 1911 so her appearance often varied.

She was often used to mark buildings belonging to the Company and I have been strolling around the City looking for her.

The inconsistency of design is apparent here with these two maidens only a few feet apart on the same building in Old Jewry.

‘Shall I wake up?’

‘No, I think I’ll go back to sleep’

Here is the Mercer Hall Maiden

Ironmonger Lane, off Poultry

And one in Queen Street

Regina House, Queen Street EC4

And another in Gresham Street, incorporating cornucopia signifying wealth and plenty …

93-95 Gresham Street EC2

And finally the oldest surviving …

The earliest surviving maiden, Corbet Court off St Michael’s Alley EC3

As you can see, she is dated 1669 and was reinstated here after development work in 2004. Serene and beautiful, she must have witnessed much of the rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire of 1666.

 

Jurassic City

Over the years much of the City has been built with, and embellished by, many different types of stone. One of the wonderful features of some of these varieties is their tendency to contain evidence of creatures that lived literally eons ago.

Around 250 million years ago, England was submerged beneath a shallow tropical sea. Punctuated with islands and coral reefs, the scene would have looked something like the Caribbean today – which is not so surprising, given that the land mass was located at a much more southerly point on the globe. As the tiny creatures swimming in the sea died, their shells drifted down to the ocean floor. Over hundreds of thousands of years, this layer of shells built up to many feet deep. In time, about 175million years ago, the land was pushed above sea level, leaving a landscape of river deltas. South-west England was covered in a vast, calm lagoon, super-saturated with the mineral calcium carbonate. Tiny circular deposits of it formed around grains of sand, each of which is termed an oolith. After millions of years, these dots fused together into the limestone we see on our buildings today.

Look closely at the elegant limestone facade of the Guildhall Museum and Art Gallery and you will see a great collection of bivalves – oyster shells from the Jurassic period when dinosaurs really did walk the earth.

There are more bivalves in this contemporary seating at the west end of Cheapside:

As visitors walk up the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral they will rarely look down and see these spectacular fossils in the red limestone. These are orthoceras cephalopods, an ancestor to the squid that lived up to 5oo million years ago. Orthoceras could float by filling the chambers of their shells with air and moved by  squirting jets of sea water. When they died their shells accumulated on the ocean floor which then was covered by sediments and subsequently over the ages transformed into stone.

Steps leading up to the West door of St Paul’s

Image result for Cephalopod

When alive

The rings show its stages of growth

And finally, if you are walking past Pizza Express on the corner of Russia Row and Milk Street, pause for a moment to examine the round dura marble pillars that surround it and you will see a very elegant ammonite cross section.

Pillars containing fossils

Ammonites are probably the most widely known fossil and are another cephalopod. They have an attractive spiral form shell and lived in the sea between 240 and 65 million years ago – becoming extinct along with the dinosaurs.

Ammonite in a pillar outside Pizza Express

If you’d like to read more about limestone, there is a great article by Clive Aslet in the Daily Telegraph online archive from which I have drawn much of the above entitled ‘The Stone that built a country’, 20 March 2007.

We are but shadows – City Sundials

I was browsing the British Sundial Society website (as you do) and it inspired me to look for examples of these elegant devices in the City. My research also took me on a bit of a journey around Spitalfields, which I hope you enjoy reading about.

Sundials measure local solar time, and were the only source of time for business and government before the invention of the clock, and even then were used to check clock accuracy whilst the mechanisms were still being perfected. The coming of the railways in the early 19th century meant that time needed to be consistently measured throughout the country, and this speeded up clock development. Sundials, however, survived in many places, and are still being manufactured today, serving both a practical purpose along with being aesthetically pleasing.

There are some fine examples in the City, measuring out the minutes using the shadow cast by the sun as it appears to move from east to west, reaching its zenith at mid-day.

On the corner of 107 Cheapside

Completed in 1958 for the Sun Life Assurance Society, the two dials incorporate the company’s sunburst logo.The south facing sundial has the letters GMT under the sun face and covers hours from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The west facing sundial also shows the letters GMT in the bottom right corner of the dial and covers the hours 2:00 in the afternoon until 7:00 in the evening.

The building will be familiar to any of you who have had a chance to look at the signs of the Zodiac arranged around its main entrance and described my earlier blog Looking at the Stars.

Sundial Court, Chiswell Street

Once part of the Whitbread Brewery, this dial is now behind locked security gates but is still visible from the road. It is made of wood, with its motto ‘Such is Life’, dating back to 1771. Around the sides it has the interesting inscription Built 1758, burnt 1773, rebuilt 1774.

There is a late 17th Century dial on St Sepulchre’s, Holborn Viaduct.

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, junction of Snow Hill and Holborn Viaduct

The dial is on the parapet above south wall of the nave and is believed to date from 1681. It is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and  dots marking the half hours. It shows Winter time from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm in 15 minute marks. I thought it was curious that the 4:00 pm mark is represented as IIII rather than IV – I have no idea why. Across the road is the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) where once stood the notorious Newgate Prison. I wondered if the Newgate executioner might have taken the time from this dial to help him decide when to start the journey to Tyburn scaffold, along with his unfortunate condemned prisoners.

If you visit the church, do have a look at the corner of the churchyard where you will find London’s first public drinking fountain as described in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains. You also get a good view of another previous blog subject, Lady Justice, atop the Old Bailey across the road.

Whenever I visit the Inns of Court I like to enter by one of the old gates in Fleet Street – it really is like stepping back in time, from the bustle of the City to the leafy, collegiate atmosphere of the Inns.

A Fleet Street entrance designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Lamb and Flag is the emblem of Middle temple.

 

Lane leading from Fleet Street into the Inns

I read somewhere that Dr Johnson used to enjoy swinging round these supporting pillars when he was in an ebullient mood!

There are two fine sundials nearby.

Pump Court, Middle Temple

Reminding the lawyers of their mortality.

And in Fountain Court …

‘Learn justice you who are now being instructed’

The TWT refers to the Middle Temple Treasurer in 1684, William Thursby, a successful lawyer and later MP. He spoke of the study of law as ‘a rough and unpleasant study at the first, but honourable and profitable in the end … as pleasant (and safe and sure) as any profession’.

And now my two favourites.

The Jacobean church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street was built between 1628 and 1630 and survived the Great Fire of 1666. On the south wall is this wonderful dial, circa 1700, which is described as having ‘gilded embellishments including declining lines, Babylonian/Latin hours and Zodiac signs’. Its Latin motto Non Sine Lumine means Nothing without Light.

And finally, this dial in Fournier Street.

Once a Protestant church, then a Methodist Chapel, next a Jewish synagogue and now the Brick Lane Mosque

In the late 17th century some 40-50,000 French Protestants, known as Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France, arrived in England with around half settling in Spitalfields. They started a local silk-weaving industry and, incidentally, gave us a new word ‘refugee’ from the French word réfugié, ‘one who seeks sanctuary’. They flourished and established this church in 1743 naming it La Neuve Eglise (The New Church) and installed the sundial we can see today with the poignant inscription Umbra Sumus – ‘We are shadows’.

Typical weavers’ houses in Fournier Street

Driven out by the decline of the weaving trade and anti-French feeling, the Huguenots slowly dispersed and their church was for a while taken over by ‘The London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews’. Not being very successful, they moved out after ten years and the next tenants were John Wesley’s Methodists, who refurbished the building.

From the 1880s onwards, the East End population underwent another significant upheaval as thousands of Jews arrived fleeing poverty, pogroms, war and revolution. Many settled  in Spitalfields and Whitechapel, close to where they arrived in the docks, setting up numerous businesses.

‘Ghost sign’ for Amelia Gold’s business, 42 Brushfield Street

Built in the 1780s, in the 1880s this shop was once the business premises of a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, a lady called Amelia Gold. Describing herself as a ‘milliner’ indicates that she was a very accomplished, professional maker of ladies’ hats rather than simply a retailer.

The famous entertainer Bud Flanagan was born nearby. His parents Wolf and Yetta (Kitty) Weintrop were Polish Jews who set off for New York in order to flee the pogroms. Sadly for them, a dishonest ticket agent sold them a ticket that only took them as far as London, where they eventually set up a barber shop and tobacconist.

12 Hanbury Street

By the late 19th Century the Methodists had left and the building became the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. However, as the 20th century wore on, many Jews were leaving the East End and the synagogue relocated to Golders Green in 1970. During the 1970s, the area became populated mainly by Bangladeshis who had come to Britain looking for work and often found it in factories and the textile trade. That growing community required a place of worship, and the building was bought and refurbished. In 1976, it reopened as a mosque, the London Jamme Masjid. Today, although it has been renamed, it still serves the Bangladeshi community as a mosque.

A while ago, The Economist ran an article about multicultural London and I would like to end with two quotes from it that I particularly liked since they reference the building.

Because it is a human entrepôt, Spitalfields remains one of London’s poorest and most conservative districts; but now, for the same reason, it is also among the hippest. When old men in traditional dress congregate beneath the mosque’s prophetic sundial, immodestly clad young women weave between them

And …

The mosque is a bricks-and-mortar correction to those Britons who think that immigration is a new and harmful phenomenon

Well said.


 

 

 

City Animals 2

Animals are everywhere in the City and, after some really nice feedback on my previous City Animals blog, I have decided to put together another selection.

First up is this magnificent leaping fox. It appears on the exquisite Grade II listed Art Deco shopfront of the Fox company, who manufactured and repaired umbrellas. Mr Fox opened his first shop in the City in 1868 but this shop dates from 1935. You can still purchase a classy Fox umbrella if you go to their website, but the shop is now a wine bar.

Fox and Company Limited, ‘Recovers’ and ‘Repairs’, 118 London Wall, EC2

It’s easy to understand why lion heads have been chosen to adorn so many late Victorian and early 20th Century buildings. They are fierce, brave, noble, the king of the beasts and, of course, immediately recognisable as a symbol of Great Britain in the heyday of Empire.

Grrrrr …. just look at those teeth and claws. Entrance to Salisbury House, London Wall

Once surrounded by the throbbing printing presses of Fleet Street newspapers, Gough Square is today a quiet haven off the noisy main road. Now known as Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square was built by one Richard Gough, a City wool merchant, at the end of the seventeenth century. It is the only survivor from a larger development and Dr Johnson lived here from 1748 to 1759 whilst compiling his famous disctionary.

17 Gough Square

Nearby, Johnson’s most famous cat, Hodge, is remembered by this attractive bronze by John Bickley which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, no less, in 1997. Hodge sits atop a copy of the dictionary and alongside a pair of empty oyster shells. Oysters were very affordable then and Johnson would buy them for Hodge himself. James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, explained why:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature

People occasionally put coins in the shell for luck and every now and then Hodge is given a smart bow tie of pink lawyers’ ribbon.

‘A very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’, said Johnson

And from a famous cat to mysterious mice. Nibbling a piece of cheese, they add charm to a building in Philpot Lane off Eastcheap and have been described (rather nicely, I think) as London’s smallest sculpture. Even though they have been repainted they are still a bit hard to find – so I am not saying precisely where they are, and hopefully you will enjoy looking for them. One theory is that the builders in 1862 were pestered by mice who persistently ransacked their lunch packs, so they left this little informal tribute. Another is that they commemorate a man who died during the construction of the nearby Monument to the Great Fire. Mice had eaten his lunch, but he accused a fellow worker by mistake, and fell to his death in the fight that followed. As to the true story behind the little rodents, your guess is as good as mine.

The Philpot Lane mice

And now another cat.

Hanging signs were once a major feature of London’s streets and were encouraged by Charles I in order to help people find their way around at a time when many could not read. Needless to say, they became immensely popular with businesses, and proliferated to such an extent that they posed a threat to life and limb in times of storm and windy weather. When, in 1718, one brought about the collapse of an entire building frontage and killed four people it was obvious something had to be done. Nonetheless but it was not until 1762 that businesses were forced to remove them and fix them to shopfronts instead – just as we see today. The Cat and Fiddle sign in Lombard Street harks back to a tavern of that name but was only erected in 1902, along with other replicas, to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

At the sign of the ‘Cat-a-Fiddling’ Lombard Street

And finally, this stunning black horse is part of the 2017 ‘Sculpture in the City’ project. It is at the corner of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street,

‘The Black Horse’ (2015) by Mark Wallinger

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Photography and content © copyright Symbols & Secrets