Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Some of my favourite City Art

If you haven’t yet visited the Guildhall Art Gallery I do strongly recommend it (EC2V 5AE). Established in 1886 it contains works dating from 1670 to the present. A visitor described it as ‘free and fabulous’ and I wholeheartedly agree.

Here is one of my favourite pictures, William Logsdail’s painting entitled The Ninth of November 1888

It is, of course, the Lord Mayor’s procession, but in this picture he is nowhere to be seen and the artist has concentrated on the liveried beadles (who he actually painted in his studio)…

… and the people in the crowd …

There is a minstrel in blackface with his banjo and, although I have studied this picture dozens of times, I have only just noticed the little boy next to him nicking an orange from the old lady’s basket. On the right of the picture the man in the brown hat, next to the soldier with the very pale face, is Logsdail’s friend the painter Sir James Whitehead. It’s a sobering thought that, not far away in the East End that afternoon, police were discovering the body of Mary Kelly, believed to be the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

Up the stairs at the far end of the gallery, in a space specially designed for it, you look down on the action-packed painting by John Singleton Copley: Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar 1782

A Spanish attack on Gibraltar was foiled when the Spanish battering ships, also known as floating batteries, were attacked by the British using shot heated up to red hot temperatures (sailors nicknamed them ‘hot potatoes’). Fire spread among the Spanish vessels and, as the battle turned in Britain’s favour, an officer called Roger Curtis set out with gunboats on a brave rescue mission which saved almost 350 people.

Look at the painstaking detail in the faces of the officers and Governor General Augustus Eliot, who is portrayed riding to the edge of the battlements to direct the rescue …

The officers were dispersed after the Gibraltar action and poor Copley had to travel all over Europe to track them down and paint them – a task that took him seven years at considerable expense. He recouped some of his cash in 1791 by exhibiting the picture in a tent in Green Park and charging people a shilling to see it (about £10 in today’s value).

Here is a facsimile of an admission ticket …

And now some more contemporary pieces of art.

In the entrance hall to the London Mithraeum at 12 Walbrook (EC4N 8AA) your eyes are drawn immediately to this stunning tapestry by Isabel Nolan: Another View from Nowhen

You can just pop in to look at the tapestry but I hope you will also book a time slot to go downstairs and visit the beautifully restored and exhibited Temple of Mithras. You can read all about it and see some pictures in my blog The Romans in London: Mithras, Walbrook and the Games.

In September 2017 Banksy paid a clandestine visit to the City to coincide with a retrospective of the work of American graffiti artist-turned-painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The first work, a Ferris wheel with people queuing for tickets, is captioned as follows on Banksy’s website:

Major new Basquiat opens at the Barbican – a place that is normally very keen to clean any graffiti from its walls …

The three-pointed crown is a symbol often used in the artist’s own work.

The painting on the other side of the road references a Basquiat picture showing a New Yorker being searched by the police …

Steps have been taken to protect both paintings and you can see them at the junction of Beech Street and Golden Lane (EC1Y 0QT).

And finally, I often smile as I walk along Whitecross Street and see this jolly illustration of the street’s shops portrayed on street furniture …

… along with this cheerful picture inviting you to nip around the corner and dine at the lovely, friendly Baracca Restaurant, highly recommended …

 

 

The Bank of England, the Lothbury Ladies and more doors

I really like the exterior of the bank of England, Soane’s curtain wall speaking as it does of security and confidence.

Before I write about the doors, however, there are the four ladies to admire. Carved by Sir Charles Wheeler between 1932 and 1937, and nicknamed the Lothbury Ladies, they are located against the ends of the upper pavilion blocks.

The eastern pair stand in front of cornucopias and piles of money …

According to the splendid Ornamental Passions website, from which these pictures are taken, Wheeler was slightly queasy about these images of prosperity given that this was a time of financial crisis (Britain having just been forced off the gold standard). He thought sheaves of corn might be more suitable and wrote to the architect Sir Herbert Baker suggesting this. Baker ‘clearly told him not to be silly’.

The ladies on the western side are each hold a standing naked child between their legs, one male …

… and one female …

They ‘represent the hope of the future of the renewed Bank and its ideals’.

I wrote about the main Threadneedle Street doors in an earlier blog but you will encounter more as you walk around the building. These are the Goods Yard Doors in Lothbury which contain symbols of work – in the tympanum between the two lions rampant are a hammer and anvil, a monkey wrench and a rivet.

The roundels in the door are surrounded by rope motifs, the upper ones containing half-length nude male figures also symbolising work. The one on the left is carrying a load on his back …

… the one on the right is bent over a vice

The lower roundels contain curled up lions …

People have obviously been stroking his head.

These are the daunting, even menacing, Lothbury Court or Bullion Doors …

 

Loops of chains hang from a ring in the lion’s mouth and the doors themselves are decorated with huge double-warded keys, the handle of each containing a caduceus. These are the only sliding doors at the bank and Herbert Baker sent a Wheeler a sketch with the rather rude comment …

We already have too many prancing lions and a bullion door must be a more forbidding thing, simple in expression and to a big scale.

And finally, here are the doors on Princes Street with, yes, more ‘prancing lions’ …

I love their curly tails, and above them a smiling male sun and lady moon.

Incidentally, the main doors are magnificent and this is a link to the blog where I write about them in more detail …

 

 

Some of my favourite City sculptures

In a grim courtyard outside the gruesome Baynard House on Queen Victoria Street (EC4V 4BQ) is the quite extraordinary sculpture The Seven Ages of Man by Richard Kindersley (1980) …

At first the infant – mewing and puking in the nurse’s arms …then the whining schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school … then the lover … then a soldier full of strange oaths …

… and then the justice full of wise saws … then the sixth age …the big manly voice turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound … then second childishness and mere oblivion, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It Act II Scene vii)

In my local church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate (EC2Y 8DA), there are a set of busts that I have always admired that are on loan from the Cripplegate Foundation. They were presented by J Passmore Edwards (1823-1911), the journalist and lifelong champion of the working classes. His bequests can still be seen today throughout the country and included 24 libraries and numerous schools and convalescence homes.

Oliver Cromwell married Elizabeth Bourchier here in 1620. His bust portrays him ‘warts and all’ just as he preferred …

John Milton, the poet and polemicist, was buried here in 1674. By 1652 he had gone completely blind, probably from glaucoma, as is obvious from this representation …

All the Passmore-Edwards busts in the church are by George Frampton (1860-1928).

Miraculously, the church tower survived World War II bombing. It dates from the 1394 rebuilding of the church and at the base there is some of the original stone from 1090. The unusual upper part of the tower dates from the 17th century and overall provides an interesting contrast with the soaring 20th century Barbican development …

What could be more fun than this chap frantically hailing a taxi …

Taxi! by the American Sculptor J Seward Johnson is cast bronze and dates from 1983. You can find it on the Embankment at the south end of John Carpenter Street (EC4Y 0JP).

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 under Henry VIII more than thirty monasteries, convents, priories and hospitals squeezed into the City’s ‘square mile’ or huddled outside against the still-surviving Roman wall.

This statue of a friar writing in a book with a quill pen is a reminder that the house of the Augustinian Friars stood in what is now Austin Friars (EC2N 2HA) …

Sculptor: T Metcalfe (1989).

These two beautifully carved characters recall the presence here of the Friars of the Holy Cross, also known as the Crutched Friars, after which this street is named (EC3N 2AE) …

Sculptor: Michael Black   Architects: Chapman Taylor Partners (1984-85).

The materials are Swedish red granite with heads, hands and feet in off-white Bardiglio marble. They stand on steps, the friar holding the staff and bag representing the active life with his companion holding a scroll representing the contemplative life. Both staff and scroll are made of bronze.

And finally to this great architect, his statue in a niche on the wall of the Bank of England facing Lothbury (EC2R 7HG) …

Sir John Soane  Sculptor: William Reid Dick (1930-37).

Sir John wears a long cloak and holds in his left hand a roll of drawings and a set square with the back of the niche discretely decorated with the motifs he habitually used in his buildings. He built his reputation on the work he did as architect of the Bank from 1788 to 1833. Much was lost in later reconstruction, but you can get an idea of what his work was like if you visit the fascinating Bank of England Museum (I have written about it here).

The house where Sir John once lived in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is now a museum and I tell visitors to London it’s a must-see experience. Click here to view the website.

 

Adding life stories to names

Often when I look at war memorials I think about the life stories behind the names, some of which will obviously have been lost forever as memories fade and family members die. Sometimes, however, very detailed personal records have been accurately preserved for reasons other than just family history.

Such was the case for this vessel that departed Pier 54 in New York on 1st May 1915 bound for Liverpool. Her name is recorded here on the Mercantile Marine Memorial on Tower hill …

Below the name, as is the practice on the memorial, the names of the crew who were lost and whose bodies were never recovered are listed in alphabetical order …

Some of the tablets listing the Lusitania crew.

In total 1,193 people perished when the ship was sunk by a torpedo fired by the German U Boat U 20 on 7th May 1915 off the coast of Ireland. The number of crew lost was 402.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was intrigued by men who chose to serve under names other than the name on their birth certificate and have researched many of them using the invaluable Merseyside Maritime Museum Lusitania database. One of the reasons this exists is that, since the crew were employees of the Cunard Line, insurance, pensions and the balance of their wages had to be distributed to their families, and so research was necessary to ensure the correct beneficiaries were identified.

On the tablet below are inscribed the names of three men in this ‘served as’ category – Kyle, Land and Pardew. Edward Kyle was 44 when he died and we don’t know why he chose to serve under the name of Robins. Similarly, we don’t know why Cann Cooper Land chose the name Jones when he signed up as a ‘Second Butcher’ on 12 April 1915 (although after his death the local paper stated ‘he was always known as Charlie Jones’). We do know he was 27 years old but gave his age as 25. In August 1915 his family was given the balance of his wages.

Much more is known about Charles Pardew who served as Charles John Scott …

Charles had been engaged as a fireman in the engineering department on a wage of six pounds ten shillings a month (£6.50). In July 1915 his widow Sarah swore an affidavit (supported by a lifelong friend called Fennell) that Charles had used the alias Scott since 1894. Apparently he had once sailed from Australia in a ship named the Charles Scott and decided to adopt that as his service name. For some reason he had also claimed he was 60 when in fact he was 57. Sarah received £300 compensation from the company and in August The Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her a monthly pension of one pound six shillings (£1.30).

There is someone on the memorial who shouldn’t be there at all …

We don’t know why Joseph Patrick Huston engaged as an able seaman under the name of Joseph Robb. His body was one of the first to be recovered, but for some reason the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of this, so his body was listed among the missing. He was 24 when he died and was buried in the Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, County Cork on 10th May 1915.

The Lusitania mass burial ceremony. Joseph Huston’s body was among those recovered.

The memorial now …

I will carry on researching the Lusitania crew and will report back on any more interesting facts I come across.

You may remember that in my blog of 25th October I mentioned the London Cyclists Battalion …

A recruitment poster from 1912.

It was therefore quite a coincidence that, on 9th November this year, Theresa May laid wreath at the grave of a cyclist, John Parr, the first UK soldier to be killed in the First World War on 21 August 1914. He was 15 when he signed up in 1912 but claimed to be eighteen years and one month. His comrades nicknamed him ‘Ole Parr’, which suggests that everyone knew he was much younger than he claimed, especially since on joining he was only 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighed just 8.5 stone!

John Henry Parr’s grave at St Symphorium Military Cemetery, Mons, Belgium.

Parr was a reconnaissance cyclist in the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and died on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium. Bicycles were commonly used in the War, not only for troop transport, but also for carrying dispatches. Field telephones were also limited by the need for cables, and ‘wireless’ communications were still unreliable. So cyclists – and runners, motorbike riders, pigeons and dogs – were frequently preferred by both the Allies and the German army. There is an interesting article on the subject by Carlton Reid in Forbes magazine 

I want to end this week’s blog with a story that moved me greatly when I reported it before in my blog about the City’s Little Museums.

These three battlefield crosses can be found in the crypt museum in All Hallows-by-the-Tower and I wrote in detail about the one in the centre …

This marked the grave of 2nd Lt. G.C.S Tennant. His last letter home was found unposted on his body after his death. It reads:

Sept. 2nd 1917.

Dearest Mother,

All well I come out tonight. By the time you get this you will know I am through all right. I got your wire last night, also your three letters. Many thanks for that little book of poems. It is a great joy having it out here. There is nothing much to do all day except sleep now and then. It will soon be English leave, and that will be splendid! I got hit in the face by a small piece of shrapnel this morning, but it was a spent piece, and did not even cut me. One becomes a great fatalist out here.

God bless you, your loving Cruff.

He was killed later that night, at about 4.00 am, and is now buried at Canada Farm Cemetery. He was 19 years old.

George Christopher Serocold Tennant (1897-1917).

After his death one of his men attested:

‘He was specially loved by us men because he wasn’t like some officers who go into their dug-outs and stay there, leaving the men outside. He had us all in all day long … The men would have done more for him than for many another officer because he was so friendly with them and he knew his job. He was a fine soldier, and they knew it.’

Incidentally, there is also a lovely tribute to the 83 men commemorated on the memorial outside Christ Church Spitalfields. It includes biographical details and a map of where they lived and surrounding areas. It was published in the Spitalfields Life blog and can be accessed here.

 

A moving discovery at Tower Hill – and two more City war memorials

I was walking through the Tower Hill memorial garden last Sunday when I noticed a small cross resting on one of the allegorical figures, just above the dolphin’s head …

Here it is in close up …

How wonderful. Arthur Myers remembered by a grandchild and two great, great grandchildren. His ship, the Empire Lakeland, was sunk by a U Boat on 11 March 1943.

I also noticed when I was there that, with Remembrance Sunday approaching, wreaths and other little crosses are beginning to appear.

Many are from institutions …

… and some in respect of just one vessel …

HMT stands for His Majesty’s Transport. The Rohna was requisitioned as a troop ship in 1940 and sunk in the Mediterranean in November 1943. Most of those killed were American troops.

And so on to my next two memorials, the first being the National Submarine War Memorial on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ). Although able to hide when submerged, once struck the vessels were often unable to rise to the surface and became effectively underwater coffins. In the First World War fifty four boats were lost and with them the lives of 138 officers and 1,225 men. At the inauguration in 1922 Rear Admiral Sinclair, the Chief of the Submarine Service, reminded those present that, during the Great War …

The number of those killed in the Submarine Service was greater in proportion to its size than any other branch of His Majesty’s fighting forces … one third of the total personnel.

In November 1959 new panels commemorating Second World war losses were unveiled by Rear Admiral B W Taylor.

Wright and Moore, writing for the 20th Century Architecture website, describe the memorial as a complex mixture of narrative and symbolism …

Sculptor: F B Hitch Architect: A H R Tenison Founder: E J Parlanti

The central figures recreate the scene set inside the submarine exaggerating it into a small, claustrophobic tunnel. The crew use charts and follow dials, the captain is braced at the centre with the periscope behind his head. Around the vessel a shallow relief depicts an array of sea creatures or mermen appearing to trap and haul the submarine in fishing nets, reminding us that the submarines were as much prey to the tempestuous elements as they were to the enemy.

On both corners are allegorical figures. Next to the list of vessels lost between 1914 and 1918, Truth holds up her mirror. Just further to the left in the picture are two of the 40 bronze wreath hooks in the form of anchors …

On the right, next to the vessels lost in the Second World War, Justice wears a blindfold and as usual holds a sword and scales …

I have written about Justice and other representations in the City of the cardinal virtues in an earlier blog which you can find here.

And now to the Grand Avenue, Central Markets, Smithfield (EC1A 9PS) and this monument commemorating men, women and children who perished both overseas and nearby …

The original memorial (above the red granite plinth) is by G Hawkings & Son and was unveiled on 22  July 1921. 212 names are listed.

Between Fame and Victory holding laurel wreaths, the cartouche at the top reads …

1914-1918 Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men who in these years of war went forth from this place for God and the right. The names of those who returned not again are here inscribed to be honoured evermore.

At 11:30 in the morning on 8th March 1945 the market was extremely busy, with long queues formed to buy from a consignment of rabbits that had just been delivered. Many in the queue were women and children. With an explosion that was heard all over London, a V2 rocket landed in a direct hit which also cast victims into railway tunnels beneath – 110 people died and many more were seriously injured.

The aftermath.

The monument was refurbished in 2004/5 and unveiled on 15 June 2005 by the Princess Royal and Lord Mayor Savory. The red granite plinth had been added and refers to lives lost in ‘conflict since the Great War’. On it mention is made of the women and children although the V2 event is not specifically referred to.

‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all Sheep and Oxen’.

At the base is the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Butchers who helped to fund the refurbishment, along with the Corporation of London and the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

Incidentally, the market was also hit by bombs dropped from a Zeppelin in the First World War – you can still see the shrapnel marks nearby on the walls of St Bartholomew’s Hospital …

I have written about these and other scars of war that can be found around the City in an earlier blog: Bombs and Boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

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