Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

City of London – Then and Now

In some respects, parts of the City of today look remarkably like they did decades ago whilst others are changed almost beyond recognition.

I shall start with the entrance to the Guildhall as painted in 1905 and attributed to William Luker Junior (1867-1947). I like the intimate family group with the little girl glancing back at the authentic flapping pigeons …

I felt I just had to write a few words about the painter.

The son of a famous artist who fell on hard times, young William (‘Willie’ to his doting mother) caused consternation when, in 1888 at the age of 21, he made a family servant pregnant. He did the honourable thing and married her, albeit secretly, which caused even more anguish to his poor mum. Records of the period show his new wife to be Margaret Stadowicka, a Polish immigrant eight years his senior. The greater responsibility seems to have prompted him to mature quickly as an artist and he became a very successful painter of animals.

This is the Guildhall entrance today …

The view from Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral was slightly improved by the removal in 1990 of the London Chatham & Dover Railway bridge that used to span Ludgate Hill. Here is the view at the turn of the last century …

This view (from Gillian Tindall’s book A Tunnel Through Time) shows the railway bridge in more detail …

And here is a more recent image. The bridge may have gone but modern buildings do intrude …

This is a photograph of the Wren church of St Alban Wood Street circa 1875 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is the view today. Only the church tower remains as the area was devastated by Second World War bombing …

The name Cheapside comes from the old English term for a market (ceapan – ‘to buy’) and the a street with this name was here long before the Great Fire of 1666. Here is a picture taken around 1890 looking east when there were about 11,000 hansom cabs and 500 horse-drawn buses in London. By 1910 they had all virtually disappeared to be replaced by taxis and motor buses …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is a view from about the same point taken in May 2019 …

Apart from the tower of St Mary-le-Bow, the south side of Cheapside has changed dramatically with the construction of the office and retail space One New Change. On the north side at the junction with Wood Street, however, stands a little treasure …

The shop on the corner in an anonymous drawing from the 1860s

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

This is how the corner looks today …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

You can read lots more about the little shop and its fascinating immediate surroundings in my earlier blog: A Shop, a Tree and a Poem. And even more here: Hidden Gems.

Some of Fleet Street has hardly changed at all. Here is a view of St Dunstan-in -the-West around 1910 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and held at the Bishopsgate Institute

And here is a picture taken in May this year. Some of the Journals changed their names – the Dundee Advertiser becoming the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Hours becoming the Sunday Post. The Post has now become famous as the last newspaper to leave Fleet Street. They turned off the lights for the final time on 5th August 2016.

I came across this fascinating picture whilst doing my research. It was published in 1975 in the book The City at War by Ian Grant and Nicholas Maddren. Looking west along Fleet Street towards the Strand, it was taken in 1944 and shows the smoke arising in the distance from a recent hit by a V2 rocket …

The caption in the book reads: ‘Passengers getting off the bus hardly break their stride’.

And finally, I am publishing again this painting by Harold Workman now on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery and entitled Chaos on London Bridge. It was probably painted some time in the 1930s or 1940s …

And here is a picture I found of London Bridge circa 1870 …

Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

I think London Bridge and its history might be worth a blog on its own and I shall explore this idea.

You can find more great ‘Then and Now’ pictures (including some of the above) here on the Spitalfields Life blog.

Pictures of London at the Guildhall Gallery

The Guildhall Art Gallery in Guildhall Yard (EC2V 5AE) is one of my favourite places in the City. The reason for this is that the Gallery’s collection of London paintings opens a window onto unusual, memorable and colourful scenes from the City’s history. Dating from the 17th century onwards, they provide a vivid record of civic events along with street, market and crowd scenes which capture the look and feel of city life. What adds to the enjoyment of a visit is the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre which were discovered during redevelopment in 1987 and are now incorporated into the lower levels of the building.

Here is a selection from the pictures I like best.

And we think congestion is bad now …

‘Chaos on London Bridge’ by Harold Workman (1897-1975)

It has, apparently, not been possible to date this picture. The buses look a bit like the once very familiar ‘RT’ that was introduced to London in 1939/40. Here is a picture of one (note the white roof) …

I can’t really be certain though. If you want to research more about London’s buses this is a great website to start with.

London had become the most important City in the world when Niels Moeller Lund (1863-1916) painted this view from the roof of the Royal Exchange in 1904 …

Entitled The Heart of the Empire, the artist looks down on Bank junction which seethes with the commercial life of a City that felt very secure at the Empire’s focal point. With the Mansion House on the left, the sunlit Victorian buildings draw our eye towards St Paul’s Cathedral and the Empire beyond. I like the flock of pigeons rising in the foreground.

This painting, showing an event on 9th November 1789, captures the pageantry of the City at the time and also the way St Paul’s dominated the skyline …

‘Lord Mayor’s procession by water to Westminster 9 November 1789 ‘ by Richard Paton (1717-1791) and Francis Wheatley (1747-1801)

Paton’s story is interesting since he was brought up in poverty. According to one account, while Paton was begging on Tower Hill, he attracted the attention of Admiral Sir Charles Knowles (died 1777), who happened to be passing that way, and who, taking a fancy to the boy, offered to take him to sea. He was assistant to the ship’s painter on Knowles’ ship, gaining knowledge in both painting and seamanship. The second artist, Francis Wheatley, led an ‘irregular and dissipated’ early life and ended up fleeing to Ireland to escape his creditors. He eventually regained respectability and ended his life a Royal Academician.

Here is a more intimate picture of City pageantry and its participants (with some splendid beards on display) …

‘A civic procession descending Ludgate Hill, London 1879 ‘ by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

Born in France, Tissot was originally called Jean-Jacques, but he took the name James as an expression of his Anglophilia. Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris Commune (1871) he moved to London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882. He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris and lived in some style in fashionable St John’s Wood: in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing and shining the shrubbery leaves’.

And finally, from pomp and pageantry to everyday hard work in the markets …

Billingsgate Market in 1962 by Ken Howard (born 1932)

Billingsgate Market relocated to Docklands in 1982.

There has been a livestock market at Smithfield for over 800 years …

Smithfield Market in 1968 by Jacqueline Stanley (born 1928)

The London Evening Standard has just reported that Smithfield meat market could now be leaving London. A former oil refinery site in Thurrock, Essex, is on a shortlist of four locations for a vast, new mega-market which could also house Billingsgate fish market and New Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market. The other three potential sites are at Barking power station in Dagenham, Silvertown near City airport in Docklands, and Fairlop in Redbridge.  The City of London Corporation wants to amalgamate the three historic markets in a purpose-built facility to free up land for housing.

If you visit the Gallery don’t forget to go downstairs to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre …


You can get a sense of the scale of the building even before you enter the Gallery. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area it covered …

In the Gallery there is also an artist’s impression of what the amphitheatre may have looked like …



London Law – A walk around The Temple

The west end of Fleet Street belongs to the lawyers. You can leave the noise and bustle of the main roads and enjoy the tranquility of the Inns of Court, where you can still glimpse through the windows book-stuffed rooms and ribbon-bound briefs. I am going to write about The Temple, the area in the vicinity of Temple Church which consists of two of the four Inns of Court – the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. There is map at the end of the blog to help you navigate.

I entered the Middle Temple from Fleet Street through the archway beneath Prince Henry’s Room at number 17, one of the few buildings still around today that survived the Great Fire of 1666 …

Prince Henry’s room above the entrance to the Middle Temple (the doors are closed in this photograph)

Once called the Fountain Tavern, Samuel Pepys visited it on 28 November 1661 and wrote in his diary …


To the Fountain tavern and there stayed till 12 at night, drinking and singing, Mr. Symons and one Mr. Agar singing very well. Then Mr. Gauden, being almost drunk, had the wit to be gone; and so I took leave too.

Sadly you can’t drink or sing there now since it is not open to the public.

As you walk down Middle Temple Lane, look back and you can see the posts that support the 17th century buildings above. I read somewhere that Dr Johnson used to enjoy swinging around these when in an exuberant mood …

On your right as you walk down the Lane is Fountain Court where there is a Mulberry tree planted in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee …

Nearby is the 16th Century Middle Temple Hall where Shakespeare’s company first performed Twelfth Night in February 1602.

Go down the steps to the left of the fountain and you can walk alongside Middle Temple Gardens. The giant Triffid-like plant on the right is an Echium

The Middle Temple has kept a garden, in various forms, for centuries – indeed Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I, refers to the ‘Temple Garden’ as the location for an argument between York and Lancaster, complete with the plucking of red and white roses, which led to the War of the Roses. There doesn’t seem to be any contemporary evidence for this, however.

The gardens spread out as you walk towards the River Thames and once stretched all the way to the water’s edge before the building of the Embankment in 1870

Retrace your steps and walk through Pump Court to Church Court pausing in Essex Court to admire this old gas lamp …

Not surprisingly, in Church Court you will find the Temple Church after which the area is named. Originally built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters, it was consecrated on 10th February 1185 by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was built in the round to remind worshippers of the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre …

Outside the door of each Chambers is a list of the barristers who practise there or are ‘door tenants’ who do not but who have a connection with the Chambers …

Some have accommodation in Chambers – the author John Mortimer practised as a barrister and had rooms here in Dr Johnson’s Buildings.

You will see frequent representations of the symbol of Middle Temple, the Lamb and Flag or Agnus Dei. These two are in different styles, an older one on Plowden Buildings in the distance and a post war 1954 version in the foreground …

Pegasus, the winged horse, is the emblem of the Middle Temple …

If you leave by the Tudor Street Gate and look back you can admire the gate design and see another winged horse …

At the Charterhouse

Last week I took a tour of the Charterhouse buildings in Charterhouse Square (EC1M 6AN). They are just opposite Florin Court, the flats used as ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ in the Poirot TV series.

A Carthusian monastery had existed on this site since 1371, but catastrophe came in 1535 when the monks were asked to sign an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the supreme head of the Church of England. Many refused, and on 4th May that year the Prior, John Houghton, a monk and a lay brother, were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Houghton’s right arm was chopped off and hung over the Charterhouse entrance gate – a symbol of what happened to those refusing to acknowledge the King’s authority.

One of the many fascinating things to see on a modern-day tour is this engraving …

Probably by Nicolas Beatrizet (1540-1560)

The print was produced in Rome about 20 years later. Five of the scenes show the monks imprisoned, dragged through the streets and then being executed. The final scene shows two Carthusian monks being executed in York.

The gatehouse in the 1930s

Charterhouse has passed through many incarnations over the centuries and evidence of this abounds to this day.

We can still see the entrance to one of the two-up two-down cells the monks occupied …

Food was passed in to the cell through the portal on the left to avoid disturbing the monk’s solitude

Each monk lived as a hermit, spending their time in prayer, contemplation and scholarly work. They seldom spoke, usually only meeting together for Sunday lunch.

Sir Edward North (later Baron North) bought the ransacked property in 1545 and turned it into a mansion. To describe North (1496-1564) as a ‘survivor’ in this tumultuous period would be an understatement – somehow remaining in favour with both Queen Mary and later Queen Elizabeth I. In fact three other owners of Charterhouse (John Dudley, Thomas Howard and Philip Howard) were all executed for treason.

Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk, bought the buildings in 1564. He rebuilt what is now called the Norfolk Cloister, from the ruins of the monks’ original Great Cloister …

The boys from Charterhouse school played football here, its narrow dimensions creating the need for the offside rule

It was in King James’s reign in 1611 that a former ‘Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts’, Thomas Sutton, said to be England’s wealthiest commoner, bought the property and established a founda­tion to maintain a school and almshouses. The school, for 40 boys, was the beginning of Charterhouse School. Later, John Wesley and William Makepeace Thackeray were pupils. In 1872, the school moved to Godalming, taking the young Robert Baden-Powell to complete his schooling in Surrey.

The Great Hall (1571) where the Brothers dine today

In the Hall, Sutton’s coat of arms can be seen above this magnificent Caen stone chimneypiece, the cannon and gunpowder barrels at the sides referencing his connection with The Ordnance …

The arms include the head of a hunting dog, a Talbot, now extinct. It’s a motif that can be found throughout the building …

A carved Talbot dog on the stairs along with the arms of the fourth Duke of Norfolk


In Wash House Court, Tudor bricks meet Monastery stone …

Above the entrance to the passageway to the Court, a tiny monk has found a quiet place to study his Bible …

The buildings were severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the Second World War …

The medieval door to the Chapel damaged in the Blitz

The Chapel contains Thomas Sutton’s spectacular monument …

A relief panel shows the Poor Brothers in their gowns and a body of pious men and boys (perhaps scholars) listening to a sermon …

I love the figure, Vanitas, blowing bubbles and representing the ephemeral quality of worldly pleasure. The figure with the scythe is Time

The man himself …

His body rests in a vault beneath the monument

By way of contrast we can also see, in a darkened room lit by candles, this poor soul. Uncovered during the Crossrail tunneling, archeologists found it belonged to a man in the prime of his life, in his mid-twenties, when he was struck down by the Black Death. It’s believed he died at some point between 1348 and 1349, at the height of the pandemic …

Thomas Sutton’s will provided for up to 80 residents (called Brothers): ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or at land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or other calamity’.

A community of some 40 Brothers (as of 2016, women are not excluded by this term) still live in the Charterhouse today.

This blog only covers a tiny example of what you will discover at the Charterhouse. I highly recommend the tours that are conducted every day except Monday. Some are led by one of the resident Brothers and are given from the perspective of each individual Brother, therefore no two tours are the same. Click here for details.

Weather vanes – cooked martyrs and valuable rodents

The longbow was a crucial English weapon of war and King Edward III’s second Archery law of 1363 made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their archery skills every Sunday. Stray arrows proved to be extremely dangerous and the wind played a part in diverting arrows away from their intended targets. The answer they came up with was the weather vane, the word vane coming from the Old English word fana meaning flag. They were originally fabric pennants and lots of high buildings were fitted with them, not just churches. Compass points were added later.

The vanes developed into the more permanent metal structures we still see today, and I used one of the recent lovely sunny days to venture into the City and photograph a selection of them.

My first stop was the beautifully restored St Lawrence Jewry which took its name from a Jewish community that lived nearby during the early medieval period (EC2V 5AA). The Jews came to London at the time of the Norman Conquest and were expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. In the medieval period there were several churches dedicated to St Lawrence in London, and this one was named St Lawrence Jewry to distinguish it from other churches dedicated to the same saint. The nearby street called Old Jewry recalls the medieval Jewish presence here.

St Lawrence was martyred in San Lorenzo on 10 August 258 AD in a particularly gruesome fashion, being roasted to death on a gridiron. At one point, the legend tells us, he remarked ‘you can turn me over now, this side is done’. Appropriately, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians and the church weathervane consists of a gridiron …

If you were born within the sound of Bow Bells you were considered a true Cockney and the Wren church on Cheapside has a weathervane that consists of a copper dragon (symbol of the City) nearly nine feet long (EC2V 6AU). You can see the cross of St George under its wing (the cross was originally painted red but the weather has worn this away) …

The dragon is very old and dates back to the rebuilding of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1679 after the Great Fire. Records show that a sum of £4 was paid to Edward Pearce, Mason, for carving the wooden model on which the dragon was based; and that a further £38 was paid to Robert Bird, the coppersmith who made the dragon itself. It is said that when the dragon was raised to its pinnacle it was accompanied by the famous Jacob Hall, a noted trapeze artist of the time, who performed a high wire act to the astonishment of the watching crowd.

When the dragon was repaired and restored after the Second World War it was lowered into place by helicopter!

There is a fascinating story about the consequences of allowing the dragon to meet the grasshopper from the Royal Exchange and you can read it, and much more, here in the splendid History London blog.

The Royal Exchange grasshopper may be even older, dating back to the original Exchange built in 1567. You can read a fascinating story about its restoration here.

The grasshopper is the symbol of Thomas Gresham, the founder of the original Royal Exchange. The story goes that one of Thomas’s ancestors, Roger de Gresham, was abandoned as an infant in the marshlands of Norfolk and would have perished had not a passing woman been attracted to the child by a chirruping grasshopper. Heraldic spoilsports assert that it is more likely a ‘canting heraldic crest’ playing on the sound ‘grassh’ and ‘gresh’.

I have written an entire blog about Gresham and you can view it here and my blog about the Royal Exchange can be accessed through this link.

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was founded by a Royal Charter in 1670 and had its headquarters nearby. The Charter granted a group of investors a monopoly on trade in the Hudson Bay region of North America, known as Rubert’s Land, and for centuries was dominant in the fur trade. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

We are so lucky to still be able to admire the pre-Great Fire church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (EC3A 6AT) …

And I just managed to get a picture of its pennant weathervane with the beaver in the background …

Pennants are common on weathervanes, flat metal equivalents of the original fabric versions. This one is on the tower of St Giles’ Cripplegate and dates from 1682 (EC2Y 8DA) …

It is difficult to imagine churches built by Sir Christopher Wren being demolished, but that was what was happening in the 19th century as congregations declined and City land could be sold for substantial sums. One of the victims was St Michael Queenhithe, but its charming elaborate weathervane found a home atop St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street (EC4V 4BJ). Very appropriate as St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) is the patron saint of sailors …

This close-up picture, along with many others, appears in Hornak’s book After the Fire and more details are available here on the Spitalfield’s Life blog.

The old Billingsgate Market building dates from 1876 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones, an architect perhaps best known for creating Tower Bridge but who also designed Leadenhall and Smithfield markets. Business boomed until 1982, when the fish market moved to the Isle of Dogs.

The south side of the old market today.

I love the original weathervanes at each end…

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

Similar weathervanes adorn the new market buildings in Docklands but they are fibreglass copies.

This Bawley fishing boat  is situated across the road from the old market (EC3R 6DX) and commemorates Gordon V. Young, a well-known Billingsgate trader …

A plaque gives more information …

And finally, a weathercock.

The Church of St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall Street, one of the few to almost totally survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, has a rooster on its weathervane.

The St Katherine Cree weathercock with The Gherkin in the background

The Bible tells the story of St Peter denying Christ three times ‘before the cock crowed’. In the late 6th Century Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem of St Peter and also of Christianity generally. Later, in the 9th Century, Pope Nicholas decreed that all churches should display it and, although the practice gradually faded away, the tradition of rooster weathervanes survived in many places.

If you can avoid colliding with someone intent on reading their smartphone, looking up as you walk through the City can be very rewarding.

Page 1 of 20

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén