Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

City Lights

The City was enhanced this Christmas by some spectacular light shows.

Firstly, the Shard produced an even better light show than last year. Here are a few of its sequences …

Tower 42 had a festive look …

And, finally, these London Wall Place displays will be around until the end of January and operational between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm.

This ‘greenhouse’ is on the St Alphage Highwalk …

The Salters’ Hall Garden is amazing …

2 London Wall Place is transformed …

Certainly worth a look if you have a chance before the end of the month.

The City Gent – out on the Tiles

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a nice Christmas and an enjoyable break.

There is an abundance of tiles around the City, many of them old Victorian examples that are functional rather than attractive. There are also, however, some really impressive examples of the tile makers skill and I have chosen a number for this week’s blog.

I shall start with what I consider to be the most spectacular.

Have you ever visited Waithman Street (EC4V 6JA)? I would be surprised if you have, since it’s really just a pavement running between Black Friars Lane and Pilgrim Street. Here you will encounter the back walls of 100 New Bridge Street and 23 stunning tiled panels containing 18,000 tiles. They were created in 1992 by the artist Rupert Spira – known primarily for his pottery, these are one of his few ventures into tile work and the only one in the UK. Three dimensional, they remind me of the work by M.C. Escher and when taking pictures I got quite carried away – there is no repetition …

The start of the display.

A few examples …

So Waithman Street is well worth a visit. It is named after Robert Waithman, a 19th century MP elected Lord Mayor of London in 1823.

As I strolled towards Fleet Street I noticed this pretty tile above the shop at 8 Salisbury Court (EC4Y 8AA) …

Tucked away in Magpie Alley (EC4Y 8DP) off Bouverie Street is a wall of tiles illustrating the history of the area’s long association with printing and print news. They are quite difficult to photograph but I had a few attempts …

They are beautifully detailed …

Wynken de Worde – what a great name for the first printer to set up a site on Fleet Street …

I like the printer’s dog dozing nearby …

Pictures from the 1960s …

Number 53 Fleet Street boasts some fancy tiling …

Incidentally, the building has been converted into five apartments priced from £585,000 to £1,550,000. I think there are still a few unsold if you are interested!

On the east side of the City near Liverpool Street Station is this extraordinary building (Bishopsgate Churchyard EC2M 3TJ) which once housed a Turkish bath. The tiles were manufactured in Egypt in the Turkish style and shipped over …

Designed by Harold Elphick, it was built in 1895 by Henry and James Forder Nevill who already owned more of these establishments in London than anyone else. A bit like the Tardis, the premises are in fact much larger than they look and are spread out underground. Customers went down a winding staircase to enter a ‘cooling room’ and then choose between three ‘hot rooms’ of varying temperatures (in the hottest, the calidarium, temperature reached 270 degrees Fahrenheit). They could then move on to a plunge pool and showers.  Baths like this gradually went out of fashion and this one ceased operating in 1954. You can still chill out there, but only in the cocktail bar.

I’ve walked through the lightwell at Number 1 Poultry dozens of times but only looked up recently. I was quite surprised to see this …

The three lightwell walls are lined with blue faience cladding topped by startlingly coloured window frames.

I’ve always liked this depiction in tiles of Sir Robert Peel above 178 Bishopsgate (EC2M 4NJ) which used to contain the pub named after him …

It’s based on a painting at the National Portrait Gallery.

And finally, in the courtyard behind Exchange House in Primrose Street (EC2A 2EG), I came across this fantastic tiled waterfall …

I enjoyed my time on the tiles and will certainly be visiting and photographing other examples in the future.


Things that made me smile!

One of the great pleasures of writing this blog is that I am constantly coming across things that make me smile. Since I am still in a lighthearted Christmas mood, I thought I would share some of them with you and hope you find them amusing too.

I wrote about the First World War Cyclist battalions in an earlier blog and then came across this recruitment poster for the S. Midland Divisional Cyclist Company.

Dental hygiene was poor at the time and so it was obviously necessary to stress that you didn’t need a perfect set of gnashers to be accepted by the Company.

In Postman’s Park in the City is the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice consisting of 54 plaques commemorating the bravery of ‘humble’ individuals who gave their lives to save others. No disrespect intended to the brave John Cranmer Cambridge, but I did smile when I noticed that his act was apparently more noble since he saved not only a stranger but also a ‘foreigner’.

The plaques were the idea of the painter G.F. Watts and the wording on John Cambridge’s seems to reflect Watts’ firm belief in the superior character of the British. You can read more about Watts and the other heroes he sought to memorialise in John Price’s splendid book Heroes of Postman’s Park (ISBN 9780750956437).

One of these days when I visit this museum I will accept the slice of bread and drink this rather serious nun is offering. In the meantime I just smile and say ‘no thanks’.

You will find her along with some absolutely fascinating artifacts in the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum including a document signed by Henry VIII only a month before he died.

Walking along Gresham Street I was surprised to find myself being stared at by a zebra …

The zebra is part of the brand image of the Investec banking and asset management group whose offices are on Gresham Street. According to their Facebook page, they chose the zebra because it’s ‘a humble and modest creature, yet it surprises, delights and represents the distinctiveness that we strive for’. So now you know.

Men working on St Paul’s Cathedral in the 18th century left a plethora of graffiti around and near the west door. It includes this slightly pompous looking bald individual drawn to look like a pigeon puffing out its breast. Maybe he was a rather unpopular supervisor.

I did laugh when I saw this beady-eyed bird on a wall alongside Brick Lane …

And I like this fish on the Embankment near Billingsgate who looks like he is sticking out his fishy tongue at passers by …

This happy, smiling, chubby Mr Sun always cheers me up …

Especially as he is in Gresham Street above the oddly apostrophised St Martins’ House …

Surely is should be St Martin’s?

Outside the Cheesegrater building on Leadenhall Street, this Godlike figure entitled Navigation holds a passenger ship in his left hand and is flanked by a binnacle and a ship’s wheel. Originally owned by the P&O Banking Corporation, he once looked down from the facade of their building at the junction of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe. I smiled because he seems to be glancing rather suspiciously at the replica maypole that has been installed next to him …

It references the maypole that once stood nearby outside St Andrew Undershaft (so called because the maypole alongside it was taller than the church). The pole was set up opposite the church every year until Mayday 1517 when the tradition was suspended after the City apprentices (always a volatile bunch) rioted against foreigners. Public gatherings on Mayday were therefore to be discouraged and the pole was hung up nearby in the appropriately named Shaft Alley. In 1549 the vicar of St Catharine Cree denounced the maypole as a pagan symbol and got his listeners so agitated they pulled the pole from its moorings, cut it up and burned it.

The Royal Exchange is built on land owned by the Mercer livery company whose ancient symbol is what’s known as a Mercer Maiden and she adorns many City buildings. The emblem appears on one set of Royal Exchange gates and I don’t mean to be rude, but do you think the image’s face looks a bit like Michael Portillo?

Then there is this David Wynne sculpture of Prince Charles in the Guildhall Art Gallery

He just doesn’t look happy, does he? Maybe he wasn’t too keen on the rather spiky modern version of a coronet that he is wearing here at his 1969 Investiture as Prince of Wales. It was designed by a committee chaired by his auntie Princess Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon). The globe and cross at the top was originally intended to be solid gold but the committee concluded that this would be far too heavy. The solution was to use a gold plated ping-pong ball – which is why I always smile at this portrayal of the Prince (and possibly why he doesn’t appear to have ever worn the item again).

And finally …

City pigeons just don’t believe it.


The Christmas Quiz!

Hello, friends,

Wow, doesn’t time fly. It’s time for another Christmas quiz!

There are 20 questions with answers supplied at the end of the blog. All questions relate to subjects I have written about during 2018.

1. Can you spot the thief in this painting of the Lord Mayor’s procession The Ninth of November 1888?

2. Who designed and created these lovely murals that can be found on the Highwalk between the Barbican Centre and Speed House?

3. People have obviously been stroking the head of this curled up bronze lion. He is portrayed on the door of what famous building?

4. This man is frantically waving his arm at the Embankment traffic. What is he trying to do?

5. The Tower Hill Memorial records that all these men lost their lives when one ship was sunk by a U Boat on 7 May 1915. What was the name of the ship?

6. A handsome, bearded Sir Thomas Gresham looks down from the gates at the entrance to what building?

7. This naughty 18th century fireplace tile showing a lady spanking a man’s bottom is now, along with other even naughtier ones, held ‘securely’ in the Museum of London. In what famous Fleet Street pub was it discovered?

8. In the old churchyard of St John Zachary are these three figures. What profession do they represent?

9. A South African engineer stands atop a ventilation shaft outside Bank Underground Station – an appropriate location bearing in mind his great invention. What is his name and what did he invent?

10. This stained glass window in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral celebrates the actions of a brave lady. She also has a commemorative plaque in a small City of London park along with plaques recognising the heroic self sacrifice of 53 other ‘humble’ folk.

What is the name of the park?

11. Non-resident dogs no doubt read this sign and go elsewhere. Resident dogs are reminded how to behave.

Where are these gardens?

12. This rodent balancing on a weathervane above Bishopsgate is a reminder of an 18th century institution that dominated the fur trade. What was the most popular fur and what was the institution?

13. What’s unusual about this Greek inscription on the font in St Martin within Ludgate: Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin?

14. Sir Henry was murdered shortly after unveiling the war memorial in what City of London Station?

15. I am sure there are very few dishonest solicitors nowadays, but there seems to have been a time when an honest one was rather unusual, and this virtue was so exceptional that his clients paid for a memorial plaque saying so. It reads ‘Hobson Judkin, late of Clifford’s Inn, THE HONEST SOLICITOR who departed this life June 30th 1812’. In what church can it be found?

16. The Reverend Dr Chad Varah takes a call at St Stephen Walbrook in November 1953 – what Charity did he found?

17. What is the connection between this famous movie and the Fleet Street legend and prolific author Edgar Wallace?

18. Who is this handsome chap? His bust stands outside St Paul’s Cathedral and his effigy was the only one that survived when the old cathedral burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.

19. And who is this not so handsome fellow with a distinct squint? The statue’s inscription describes him as a ‘champion of English freedom’.

20. A legendary Lord Mayor, one commentator claimed that this stained glass representation of him in St Lawrence Jewry made him look like a ‘Hoxton hipster’. Who was he?


Here are the answers along with links to the relevant blog:

1. It’s the little boy reaching around to nick an orange from the old lady’s basket. You can view the full picture here.

2. Dorothy Annan, who I wrote about last week.

3. The Bank of England. Fascinating details of other doors (and the ‘Lothbury Ladies’) can be found here.

4. The poor guy has been trying to hail a taxi since 1983.

5. The Lusitania. I have researched some of the men’s stories and you can read about them here.

6. The Royal Exchange. Read more about Sir Thomas and the Royal Exchange here and here.

7. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. Read more about it, and Fleet Street’s lanes and alleys, here.

8. The newsprint profession. Read more about this sculpture and others here.

9. It’s James Henry Greathead. He invented the Greathead Shield which transformed the art of tunneling to the significant advantage of London’s Underground. Go to the blog to see where you can actually find an example.

10. Postman’s Park. See details of other memorials and stories behind them here.

11. They are next to the gates to Inner Temple Gardens.

12. The fur was from the beaver and the institution the Hudson’s Bay Company. Read about more City animals here.

13. It’s a palindrome. Translated it reads ‘Cleanse my sin not only my face’. See more unusual church discoveries here.

14. Liverpool Street Station.  Read more about the Field Marshal here and the station itself here.

15. St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street. Read more about this tribute and other unusual memorials here.

16. The Samaritans. Here’s the full story.

17. He wrote the original screenplay. Read about his extraordinarily productive life here.

18. John Donne, poet and Dean of St Paul’s. Read more about him here.

19. John Wilkes. Read more about him here.

20. It’s Dick Whittington accompanied by his loyal cat. There is much more beautiful stained glass in the City and I write about it here.

Finally, if you are interested, here is a link to last year’s quiz.

Thank you so much for following the blog – my sincere best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!














The Barbican Highwalk – dancers, gladiators and more

The Barbican Highwalk is the last significant remnant of the post War City ‘pedway’ dream – the ambitious plan to separate pedestrians from traffic using elevated ‘pavements in the sky’. The Highwalk, at first floor or Podium level, threads its way through the Estate, also embracing entrances to the Arts Centre, library and restaurants. City planners for a long time insisted that new developments had to include potential pedway access, which also explains why the main entrance to the Museum of London is at first floor level. The grand plan was gradually abandoned but exploring the Highwalk will give you a glimpse of the original vision, especially if you seek out the extension over London Wall Place.

Today, however, I am going to concentrate on some of the items that have found a home on the walkways since their construction, starting at the Museum of London.

Outside the Museum entrance is Union – Horse with Two Discs by Christopher Le Brun (2001) …

In a note nearby the artist explains that to him it is important that horses and riders are ‘not seen as real (but) an entrance or key to the place that I want to enter. It’s as if “the horse” enables the journey rather than providing the final subject’.

At the other side of the entrance is The Aldersgate Flame …

Placed here in 1981, it commemorates the approximate location at street level of John Wesley’s conversion on 24 May 1738 and consists of facsimile extracts from his Journal. From that day onward the founder of Methodism set out on a mission covering thousands of miles and delivering over 40,000 sermons -‘The world is my parish’. The monument, which is in bronze, has recently been restored and there is an interesting article about that work and its challenges here.

Crossing the Bastion Highwalk towards the bar and restaurant on Alban Gate you will encounter two naked writhing dancers. Quite often I have seen people pose for photographs whilst trying to mimic the figures’ movements – they have not found it easy …

The work, called Unity, is by the Croatian Sculptor Ivan Klapez. It was commissioned by the building developers MEPC in 1992 and marked a turning point is his career.

Follow the infamous yellow line on the pavement and you will be guided into the Barbican Centre itself where Zoe the Barbican Muse indicates the way in …

A little further ahead on the left is the Osteria restaurant and opposite, in a space that is rather poorly lit, is this figure …

Entitled Gladiator, it was presented by Lady Sarah Cohen in memory of her late husband Sir John Edward Cohen, the founder of Tesco. The work was created in 1973 by Canadian born Israeli sculptor Eli Elan (1928-1982).

I have saved my favourite installation to last – Dorothy Annan’s magnificent murals on the Highwalk between the Centre and Speed House …

Commissioned by the Ministry of Works in 1960, they originally graced the largest telephone exchange in London, the Fleet Building on Farringdon Street. The panels feature stylistic images of telecommunications equipment and are a striking example of 1960s mural art. When the demolition of the building was planned the murals were granted Listed status and moved in 2013 to their present location.

Annan visited the Hathernware pottery in Loughborough and hand-scored her designs onto each wet clay tile. There are nine panels in all and here are three of them with their titles …

Radio Communications and Television.

Cable Chamber with Cables Entering from Street.

Impressions Derived from the Patterns Produced in Cathode Ray Oscilligraphs used in testing.

I love the creamy texture of the ceramic surfaces, their look much enhanced by carefully designed lighting …

Part of Cables and Communication in Buildings.

And here is the lady herself …

The murals’ original location photographed in 2011 …

By the way, as you retrace your steps having looked at Gladiator, take a look at the wall on your left. Here are kept the various locking mechanisms for the Centre and, when I first glimpsed them, I honestly thought they were a Modern Art installation …

Well they could be, couldn’t they!


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