Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: August 2017

Three Queens and a King

I have chosen these four statues because I love the background stories behind them and hope you find them interesting too.

First up is the one of Henry VIII over the main entrance to St Bartholomew’s hospital, the only outdoor statue of the king in London. If you have seen and admired the famous Holbein portrait, the king’s pose here is very familiar. He stands firmly and sternly with his legs apart, one hand on his dagger, the other holding a sceptre. He also sports an impressive codpiece.

The hospital was founded in 1123 in the reign of Henry I and, during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1331, Wat Tyler died there of a stab wound in what we would now call the A&E department.  Bart’s, as it became known affectionately, was put seriously at risk seven Henrys later in 1534, when Henry VIII commenced the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The nearby priory of St Bartholomew was suppressed in 1539 and the hospital would have followed had not the City fathers petitioned the king and asked for it to be granted back to the City. Their motives were not entirely altruistic. The hospital, they said, was needed to help:

the myserable people lyeing in the streete, offendyng every clene person passyng by the way with theyre fylthye and nastye savors.

Henry finally agreed in December 1546 on condition that the refounded hospital was renamed ‘House of the poore on West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London, of King Henry’s foundation’. I suspect people still tended to call it Bart’s. Henry finally got full public recognition when the gatehouse was rebuilt in 1702 and his statue was placed where we still see it today. The work was undertaken and overseen by the mason John Strong, who was at the same time working for Sir Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral. Such were the masons’ talents, no architectural plans were needed to complete the work.

Fleet Street boasts two queens – one responsible for the execution of the other.

Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542, daughter of King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Briefly Queen of France, in 1559, Mary ruled Scotland from 1542-1567. Following an uprising she fled to England putting herself under the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I. Mary’s fervent Catholicism, and claim to the English throne, made her a target for plots and Elizabeth ordered her beheading for treason in 1587.

Mary Queen of Scots House was built in 1905 for a Scottish insurance company but I have been unable to discover which one. The developer, Sir Tollemache Sinclair, was a big fan of the Queen and his architect, R. M. Roe, created an extravagant, theatrical building with a special niche for her statue. Head slightly bowed, she peers down at us wearing an elegant headpiece and a wide prominent ruff. Unfortunately the sculptor’s name is unknown. Do glance up at her if you pop in to Pret’s on the ground floor for a lunchtime sandwich.

 

143-144 Fleet Street

And now her nemesis.

She looks young, doesn’t she?

This statue of Queen Elizabeth I is nearby in a niche at St Dunstan-in-the-West and its history is rather complex. Some current thinking is that the Queen dates from 1670-99 despite a date on the base of 1586, which would have made it the only statue carved in her lifetime. It is now thought that, rather than the date of sculpture, this date was inscribed on it when the statue was placed on a restored Lud Gate in 1670 after the Great Fire and is merely making reference to the original gate. When the gate was demolished in 1760 she was moved to a previous St Dunstan’s but this was torn down in 1829-33 to be replaced by the current building. Meanwhile it seems that the statue spent the time in the basement of a nearby pub. It was only when that too was demolished in 1839 that the statue was rediscovered and put in its current niche on St Dunstan’s. Millicent Fawcett, the prominent suffragist, left £700 in her will for the statue’s upkeep and the funds are managed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

And finally Queen Anne.

Brandy Nan, left in the lurch, her face to the gin shop, her back to the church

One has to feel sorry for Anne – and not just because of the scurrilous rhyme referring to her alleged fondness for alcohol. Of her 18 pregnancies, none of her children survived infancy except for one boy who reached 11, and this sadness may have contributed to her tendency to overindulge in both food and drink.

Here she stands outside the west entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral – an 1884-6 sculpture which replaced an earlier weather-beaten version of 1712. She looks imperiously upwards, holding a sceptre and orb and wearing the Order of St George around her neck.

She is surrounded by allegorical figures, the picture below being that of America.

‘America’ with a not very accurate alligator

America wears a feathered head-dress, holds a metal bow and has a quiver of arrows on her back. Her foot rests on what looks like the severed head of a European. The strange lizard like creature was described in the original statue as ‘…an allegator creeping from beneath her feet; being an animal very common in some parts of America, and which lives on land and in the water’.

 

Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee here in 1897. She sat outside in her carriage for the service, being then too infirm to climb the Cathedral steps. It was suggested that Anne’s statue should be moved for the occasion, but Victoria would have none of it, apparently commenting

‘Certainly not, someone in future might want to move a statue of me, and I should not like that at all’.

 

 

 

 

Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church’

 

Samuel Pepys is one of my heroes. Clever, witty, curious, hard-working and, some would say, licentious, we owe him a lot. His diary gives us a wonderful insight into his times, and his work on the Navy Board and with the Admiralty played a major role in rebuilding England’s naval strength at a critical time in history. Not only that, his personal intervention with King Charles II probably helped curb the spread of the catastrophic Great Fire of 1666.

There are many, many books written about Pepys and a short little blog like this can’t really do him justice. So instead, in this and in future blogs, I will write  briefly about some of the places and events Pepys wrote about in his diary and see what remains of them today.

A bust of Samuel Pepys by Karin Jonzen, 1983, in the St Olave churchyard

In July 1660 the Pepys household moved to a house in the Navy Office building on Seething Lane and his famous diary dates from that year to 1669, when he stopped writing it because he feared losing his sight. This location meant that his local Church (‘our own church’ as he described it) became St Olave Hart Street, which is still there for us to explore today and is the subject of this blog. It has a really gruesome but stunning churchyard entrance incorporating impaled skulls and crossed bones dated 11th April 1658. The Latin inscription, roughly translated, reads ‘Christ is life, death is my reward‘ and the central skull wears a victory wreath.

Charles Dickens called it ‘St Ghastly Grim’

Fortunately for us, Pepys was around to give us an intimate personal account of two of the most awful events that struck London in the seventeenth century – the ‘Black Death’ plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

When in 1665 it became apparent that a major pestilence was striking London, Charles II and the entire Court moved to Oxford. The Privy Council was endowed with wide-reaching powers to try to control its spread, appointing ‘Searchers’ to seize dying victims and to quarantine both them and their households.

Pepys wrote on 7th June 1665 about a terrible sign he encountered on his way to Covent Garden:

‘I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, ’Lord have mercy upon us’ writ there – which was a sad sight to me’.

Despite such efforts, the plague spread slowly and remorselessly. According to the official records, the ‘Bills of Mortality’, 68,596 people died of it in London in 1665 but the true figure was probably more like 100,000. Even the lower figure represents a very high percentage of the population at the time, which was about 460,000.

It had eventually subsided by January the following year and on January 30th 1666 he visited St Olave, but found the experience deeply shocking:

‘It frighted me indeed to go through the church… To see so many graves lie so high upon the churchyard, where many people have been buried of the plague.’

And five days later, on February 4th he wrote:

‘It was a frost and had snowed last night, which had covered the graves in the churchyard, so I was less afraid of going through’.

The churchyard survives, its banked-up top surface a reminder that it is still bloated with the bodies of plague victims, and gardeners still turn up bone fragments. Three hundred and sixty five were buried there including Mary Ramsay, who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to London. We know the number because their names were marked with a ‘p’ in the parish register.

Note how much higher the graveyard is than the floor at the church door

In 1655 when he was 22 he had married Elizabeth Michel shortly before her fifteenth birthday. Although he had many affairs (scrupulously recorded in his coded diary) he was left distraught by her death from typhoid fever at the age of 29 in November 1669.

Do go into the church and find the lovely marble monument Pepys commissioned in her memory. High up on the North wall, she gazes (perhaps a little sternly!), directly at Pepys’ memorial portrait bust, their eyes meeting eternally across the nave where they are both buried. When he died in 1703, despite other long-term relationships, his express wish was to be buried next to her.

Memorial to Samuel Pepys

 

Memorial to Elisabeth Pepys by John Bushnell – ‘her virtues were only equalled by the beauty of her person and the accomplishments of her mind.’

 

 

 

 

Charming Cherubs

They are everywhere in the City, watching over us from their lofty perches for literally hundreds of years. I always associated them with church buildings but they have now taken on many secular duties.

They are, of course, Cherubs. Called putti in Italian, they were originally little winged infants deployed in Christian art and architecture but over the centuries came to be used in a wider decorative fashion. Recently I have been walking around the City admiring their antics.

These two are enjoying chatting to one another on early 20th Century telephones. Now known as 2 Temple Place, the house was built in 1892 for William Waldorf Astor and was one of the first London residences to have a telephone installed. Astor’s incredibly generous philanthropy earned him a peerage and later, in 1917, he was elevated (somewhat controversially) to the rank of Viscount.

‘Can you hear me?’

 

‘Yes, I’m listening …’

There are some nice recently spruced-up cherubs at 110-111 Fleet Street. They are supporting a globe since this building was originally the London headquarters of the Thomas Cook travel agency. Built in 1865, the first floor was a temperance hotel in accordance with Cook’s beliefs.

‘This is where we are going for our holidays’

If you find yourself walking down Cheapside, do stop and admire the more traditional eight cherubs over the portico at Christopher Wren’s St Mary-le-Bow. There is a line of little winged cherub heads which, if you look closely, you will see are not identical. The two full-figured cherubs are extremely plump – one is playing a musical instrument and the other reading a book, presumably the bible.

St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside

In Cannon Street look up towards the roof of number 123 . Here are numerous terracotta cherubs who look like they are running an import/export business

Industrious cherubs running a business

 

Resting against a lamppost outside 10 Trinity Square. When this was the headquarters of the Port of London Authority, hundreds of people would have walked past him every day to pay their dues on goods landed in the port. It’s now a hotel.

The former Port of London Authority building built 1912-22

 

Supporting a cartouche is hard work, especially if there is a ship on top of it.

In Tooley Street opposite London Bridge Underground Station

And finally these two painted on a wall in Whitecross Street – is that a bazooka they are assembling? Best not to upset these little chaps.

Outside 124 Whitecross Street

 

 

 

 

 

Lady Justice

I had often looked up at Lady Justice gracing the roof of the Old Bailey and admired her poise and balance holding, as she does, the scales of justice and her sword, signifying that with her justice would be swift and final. She stands on a globe, for justice straddles the world.

And of course she was blindfolded, symbolising impartiality … or at least I always thought so. One day I went to a meeting high in a building opposite and looking out the window noticed, to my amazement, that she wasn’t blindfolded at all. This is hard to confirm from street level, and many people I have told about this have frankly disbelieved me, since the concept of her eyes being covered is so embedded. However, according to the Court’s brochure, merely her ‘maidenly form’ is supposed to guarantee her impartiality. She was sculpted by Frederick William Pomeroy – surely it’s no coincidence that Rumpole’s favourite watering hole was a Fleet Street wine bar called ‘Pomeroy’s’?

Lady Justice at The Old Bailey – the Central Criminal Court

Every now and then I have been lucky enough to glimpse an unusual view and actually have my camera with me at the time. Walking past Holborn Circus one day I noticed that Prince Albert on his horse seemed to be saluting a glorious sun-drenched Lady Justice.

Prince Albert salutes Lady justice

If you want to seek out a blindfolded Lady Justice there are a few to be found in the City.

Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues identified by Plato and later taught by Aristotle. They represent the foundation of natural morality and, as well as Justice, comprise Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. It is no coincidence that Justice has Prudence at her right hand in the Moorgate representation below. She is the mother of all the virtues, helping us to distinguish between right and wrong using reason. Here she is carrying a lamp to light her way and a staff to test the ground in front of her. Often she holds a mirror, illustrating the importance of self-awareness when making judgments about others, but here it is held by Truth.

Prudence, Justice, Truth and Thrift at 13-15 Moorgate

The building was completed in 1893 as the London headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society. It’s coat of arms (granted in 1885) are also incorporated, showing a lady holding a skull (mortality) in her left hand with a serpent (signifying wisdom) entwined on her right.

The coat of arms of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society on 13/15 Moorgate

This lady adorns the Institute of Chartered Accountants. It looks like she has stepped out of her niche in order to upstage the accountants number-crunching away behind her.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants, 11 Copthall Avenue

And finally a sadly rather dusty lady in Fleet Street. These were the former offices of the Norwich Union Insurance Company and Justice is probably there because the entrance arch is shared with Serjeants’ Inn.

49-50 Fleet Street

City Animals

Once I decided to look for animals in the City I started to find them everywhere and here are just a few.

A boar pokes its head out from behind some foliage, sheep stroll past St Paul’s Cathedral and King Charles II’s spaniels are immortalised on one of the City’s most  modern buildings.

The Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap was where Shakespeare set the meetings of Sir John Falstaff and Prince Hal in his Henry IV plays. The present building (at numbers 33-35) dates from 1868 and references the Boar’s Head in its design by including a boar peeping out of bushes along with portrait heads of Henry IV and Henry V. The building exterior is extraordinary and I shall write about it in more detail in a future blog. Ian Nairn, the architectural critic, called it ‘the scream you wake on at the end of a nightmare’.

 

Sheep wander past St Paul’s

In Paternoster Square is a 1975 bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink which I particularly like – a ‘naked’ shepherd with a crook in his left hand walks behind a small flock of five sheep. Dame Elisabeth was, anecdotally, very fond of putting large testicles on her sculptures of both men and animals. In fact, her Catalogue Raisonné informs us that she ‘drew testicles on man and beast better than anyone’ and saw them with ‘a fresh, matter-of-fact delight’. It was reported in 1975, however, that the nude figure had been emasculated ‘to avoid any embarrassment in an ecclesiastical setting’. The sculpture is called called ‘Paternoster’. In pre-Reformation times there was a market there for rosary beads (known as Paternosters, after the first words of the Lord’s prayer).  The sculpture also references the connection between the area and the Newgate livestock market.

Like many others, I was really sad to witness the demolition of what was usually called the Mappin & Webb building at Bank junction and see it replaced in 1997 by ‘1 Poultry’ by James Stirling. Nonetheless, if you look up at the North side of the building you will see a fascinating survivor of the original building of 1875. In red terracotta it portrays royal progresses and shows visits to the City of (from left to right) Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Charles II and Queen Victoria. Look closely and you will see Charles is accompanied by his faithful spaniels. The incorporation of the panels was part of the listed building consent and we have the planning officer at the time, Tony Tugnutt, to thank for them being placed on Cheapside (where they used to be) rather than over the service entrance as originally suggested. I think they blend in with the new building extremely well.

King Charles II with two of his spaniels – Sculptor Joseph Kremer

 

When I started work in Queen Victoria Street I always glanced at the Mappin & Webb clock as I left Bank station to see if I had to run to ‘sign in’ on time. Even though the building has disappeared, the clock has been re-sited inside the new building’s rotunda.

The old Mappin & Webb clock

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