Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: July 2018

A walk around the Barbican

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the photographer Anthony Palmer as he conducted a walk around the Barbican. For those of you who have never visited the estate, or who have only come to attend a performance, I hope my pictures will encourage you to come for the first time, or linger longer and explore.

First of all, I want to show you some views that may not look like they are from the Barbican at all.

First up is Frobisher Crescent …

Frobisher Crescent shutters as seen from the Sculpture Court.

One of the lakes contain what are affectionately known as the ‘igloos’ …

View looking down from the Andrewes Highwalk.

Beech Gardens (on the highwalk over the Beech Street ‘tunnel’) were designed by Nigel Dunnett and on his website there is a terrific description of how he achieved the transformation of the area.

Here is a picture I took looking towards Bryer Court …

A water feature gives the opportunity to photograph some reflections …

Nearby in Ben Jonson Place, two small dolphins stand on their tails and twist in opposite directions …

The sculpture is by John Ravera and dates from 1990.

The estate contains two gardens for the use of residents only. This is the Thomas More Garden as seen from the Thomas More highwalk …

The second biggest conservatory in London after Kew is one of the Barbican’s best kept secrets. It is usually open on Sundays, but is sometimes shut for private events, so if you are thinking of visiting it is best to consult the website first. Here are a few of the pictures I took last week …

A long time conservatory resident …

This is just a tiny part of the cactus garden …

Gilbert Bridge gives you a good view of one of the lakes and the terrace, which is open to the public …

The water lilies are doing well this year …

Standing on the Wallside highwalk you can see how the 17th century tower of St Giles-without-Cripplegate contrasts with two of the three Barbican residential blocks. Shakespeare Tower is on the left and Cromwell Tower on the right and they were until recently the highest residential towers in Europe …

To the left of the church you can see a line of very old barrel tombs. They formed part of the St Giles cemetery before its destruction in the Second World war. I have written before about this churchyard, and others, in an earlier blog which can be found here.

I took this picture of the magnolia tree earlier this year when it was in flower …

The Barbican also encloses parts of the old Roman/Medieval wall, occasionally used as a perch by a visiting Heron …

Alongside the Wallside highwalk.

People visit from all over the world to explore the iconic Barbican architecture by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.

In this picture Shakespeare tower looms over Frobisher crescent …

As you walk through the estate interesting shapes and shadows emerge …

This view along Seddon Highwalk made me think of the slits used by medieval archers …

A little further on, an elegant column at the base of Lauderdale Tower illustrates the Barbican’s distinctive tooled-concrete finish. It was incredibly labour intensive. After the concrete had dried for at least 21 days, workers used handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate …

The column is next to the entrance to the ThaoV hair salon. The previous salon was called Scissors Palace which I though was a splendid name and was sorry to see it disappear.

New highwalks have just opened with their support structure itself looking like a piece of sculpture …

The entrance to the St Alphage Highwalk.

Around 4,000 people live on the Barbican estate and every now and then you get a glimpse of their decor. These little green creatures live in one of the houses on the estate and always make me smile when I see them peeping out the window …

I hope you have enjoyed this short tour and that it will inspire you to visit and explore. Ending the day with a cocktail at the Martini Bar is highly recommended.

 

City Churches – more unusual discoveries

Last week I thought it was time to take another stroll around the City churches to see what I would discover. After researching last week’s blog, I was particularly interested in artifacts that had been moved from one church to another and why.

I was very lucky in the first church I visited, St Martin within Ludgate, on Ludgate Hill (EC4M 7DE) inside which I found both a fascinating chandelier and a very unusual font. There is a large entrance lobby (designed to reduce traffic noise inside the church) and you then enter one of Sir Christopher Wren’s least altered interiors (1677-1686) with fine dark woodwork which largely escaped the Blitz.

Look up and you will see this beautiful chandelier or candelabrum …

It’s still lit by candles.

As one commentator has noticed, it looks more like something you would find in a country house or a ballroom. The candles were not lit when I visited but I am sure that when they are, on a dark morning or evening, one must get a real feel for what it was like to worship here in earlier centuries. It came to the church via St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies, probably in 1777: a reminder of the links between the City’s trading economy and the British Empire overseas.

And now to the very unusual font …

The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding.

It contains a Greek palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople:

Niyon anomhma mh oyin

(Cleanse my sin and not my face only)

No church blog of mine would be complete if it didn’t contain a reference one of my favourite churches, St Vedast Foster Lane (EC2V 6HH) …

The interior looking east.

Here there are a few features that have come from other churches.

The font and its cover both date from the late 17th century. The font itself was designed by Christopher Wren and the cover is by the most celebrated woodcarver of the 17th century, Grinling Gibbons. Both were rescued from St Anne & St Agnes in Gresham Street after the Blitz.

The reredos behind the altar came from the ‘lost’ church of St Christopher le Stocks …

The original St Christopher le Stocks was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt by Wren in 1671 and situated in Threadneedle Street. During the 18th century, the Bank of England gradually bought up adjoining properties, extending its site into the parish. In 1781 it came to an agreement with the rector of St Christopher’s, and its patron, the Bishop of London, allowing it to demolish the church itself. This was not only motivated by a desire to build on the land, but also by a fear that rioters might use the church as a platform to attack the bank, a concern sparked by the Gordon Riots of 1780.

The richly carved pulpit came from All Hallows Bread Street, demolished in 1878 under the Union of Benefices Act 1860 which I also mentioned in last week’s blog

For my last visit of the day I thought I would take a look at St Anne & St Agnes (mentioned above) and see what I could find there (Gresham Street EC2V 7BX).

The Royal Arms of Charles II on the west wall is one of the best examples in England …

In 1649 the vicar was beheaded for protesting against the execution of King Charles I.

The central dome is supported by four handsome Corinthian columns two of which contain heraldic representations, one being this unicorn …

High up on the south wall are busts of Sir James Drax (died 1662) and his son John (died 1682). They come from the ‘lost’ church of St John Zachary which was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt …

The Drax family were pioneers of the sugar industry (and slavery) in Barbados and apparently Drax Hall Plantation in St George, Barbados is the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the western hemisphere.

St John Zachary may be no more but there is now very attractive and quiet garden where the church used to stand …

You can read more about it here.

 

 

 

 

City of London Ships (and a few boats)

Last year London was voted ‘the world’s leading financial maritime city’. The City, the judges said, ‘is home to world leading institutions such as Lloyd’s for insurance, and English law is the most widely applied in shipping disputes.’ The maritime connection does, of course, go back centuries and I have found some of the ways it has been represented for this week’s blog.

What better place to start than the Lloyd’s Register building at 71 Fenchurch Street EC3M 4BS.

It became apparent as the 17th century progressed that a central register of ships was needed to record their size, condition and other qualities. As Lloyd’s of London flourished this information would be valuable not only for underwriters but also merchants. Original regularly published ‘ship lists’ eventually became Lloyd’s Register of Ships in 1760 and, when a ship owners list merged with it, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping was formed in 1834 (and still exists today). The building, by acclaimed architect Thomas Colcutt (1840-1924), was completed in December 1901 and has been described as an ‘impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th Century Italian manner’.

The building boasts not one but two ship weathervanes.

Galleon under sail.

Around the building elegant ladies protectively support various vessels …

 

The interior was also designed to impress. I love this picture of the General Committee meeting in what was then their brand new building …

The great and the good of Lloyd’s Register.

The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was considered a necessary piece of legislation to reduce the number of parishes in the City of London as the residential population declined. Between 1872 and 1926 twenty churches (some by Sir Christopher Wren) were demolished and the land sold for construction projects.

Artifacts from some of these churches were moved elsewhere and the pretty galleon weathervane from St Michael Queenhithe (demolished in 1875) can now be seen on St Nicholas Cole Abbey …

114 Queen Victoria Street EC4V 4BJ .

This 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.

This square rigged ship once sailed above St Mildred’s Poultry (demolished in 1872) and can now be seen atop St Olave’s Old Jewry, now inhabited by a firm of lawyers …

St Olave’s Court EC2V 8EX. Photo again by Hornak.

The Corporation of Trinity House was founded in 1514 and is now responsible for navigational aids (such as lighthouses), deep sea pilotage and a seafarers charity. The building was seriously damaged in the war but was beautifully restored in the 1950s and in the process acquired this elegant weathervane …

Trinity House, Trinity Square EC3N 4DH.

What about these jolly ships bouncing around in choppy seas on the front of The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

The facade includes a rather grumpy looking blue dolphin …

And now a few boats. If you want to know the difference between a ship and a boat I suggest you access Professor Google since there seem to be a number of definitions.

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

A plaque gives more information …

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was formed in 1555 – watermen carry passengers whilst lightermen carry goods and cargo. Tucked away down St Mary at Hill (EC3R 8EF) is their hall, the only original Georgian Livery Hall in the City. Their coat of arms portrays a skiff (a light rowing boat), crossed oars and two cushions for the comfort of passengers. And more dolphins …

I have written about this ship before. If you go to Holland House in Bury Street (EC3A 5AW), just opposite the Gherkin, just walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively …

It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’. It is very different from Mendes da Costa’s work, isn’t it?

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Finally, let’s not forget the brave souls who protected the City and the country in time of war and the monuments to their memory.

On Tower Hill there are two memorials. The first, the Mercantile Marine War Memorial, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was for the the First World War …

The Lutyens Memorial, opposite Trinity House, EC3N 4DH.

Alongside is the second, the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was for the Second World War. This is a feature from it …

In both wars more than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives  and on Tower Hill are commemorated the more than 35,800 casualties who have no known grave.

The National Submariners’ War Memorial is on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ) and the bas relief shows the claustrophobic interior of a submarine. On the left hand side is a list of 50 submarines lost during the First World War, and on the right a list of 82 submarines lost during the Second World War. A photograph really does not do it justice …

The monument was designed by the architect A H R Tenison and the bronze sculpture is by F B Hitch.

And as we all know, a real ship now stands guard over the City. The most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship, HMS Belfast played a key role in the Arctic Convoys, the Battle of North Cape and D-Day …

You get a great view of her from the north bank.

 

 

St Paul’s Cathedral from the outside – 18th century graffiti and posh pineapples.

I decided to start my walk around the cathedral at the Great West Door, a very popular background for many tourist photographs. Maybe some are recalling the sequence in the film Mary Poppins (‘Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!’) or perhaps Princess Diana, emerging wearing her stunning wedding dress with its 25 foot train. Both can be viewed on YouTube.

The Great West Door – only opened on very special occasions.

I have, however, yet to see anyone look more closely at the surrounding stonework. If they did, they would encounter a fascinating collection of 18th century graffiti. They are very hard to see and extremely difficult to photograph so these are my best efforts.

Names in cursive script overlap one another …

Some are clearly dated …

And it wasn’t just men leaving their mark …

Elizabeth Ives was here (1760).

‘JH’ must have taken some time over this …

And what about this bird with a bald human head?

Maybe a pompous, plump supervisor who upset one of his apprentices?

There are many, many inscriptions and they become more visible as your eyes get used to the light.

If you now turn around and walk down the steps you can examine these fossils, embedded in the stone for over 5oo million years …

You can read more about them in my blog Jurassic City.

The first pineapple arrived in Europe courtesy of Christopher Columbus in 1493.  The strange fruit he brought back from Guadaloupe looked like a pine cone but the edible interior had the texture of an apple. Pineapples begin to rot as soon as they are picked, so supplies from overseas were rare, and they proved very difficult to cultivate. The forces of supply and demand drove up the 17th century price to the present day equivalent of £5,000 each – but you could rent one for your dinner party table centrepiece if you wanted to show off. They became associated with wealth, royalty and generous hospitality which, presumably, is why they were chosen as the decorative finials on the St Paul’s western towers. Their shape is aesthetically pleasing too.

The gilded copper pineapples were modelled by Francis Bird (1677-1731), cast by Jean Tijou and completed in July 1708. Tijou was a French Huguenot ironworker about whom little else is known.

You can see them most clearly from outside the tourist information centre across the road. They were cleaned and restored in 2003 and are covered with two layers of gold leaf (as are the numbers and hands of the clock face).

Standing there you can also see the south porch of the cathedral and the centrepiece of the pediment, a phoenix rising from its own ashes above the word ‘RESURGAM’, a fitting symbol of the Cathedral and harking back to an earlier episode in its construction.

The carving is by Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700).

When marking out foundations, Sir Christopher Wren asked a labourer to bring a stone to mark a particular spot. The man came back with a fragment of a broken tombstone on which was carved one word – RESURGAM – I shall rise again – and the architect never forgot this omen.

St Paul’s has an abundance of cherubs …

You can read more about the City’s cherubs in my earlier blog Charming Cherubs.

On the north side is the Dean’s door …

The carver was stonemason and architect Christopher Kempster (1627-1715).

Kempster’s work on the cherub’s heads and foliage was considered so good Wren awarded him an extra £20 for ‘the extraordinary diligence and care used in the said carving and his good performance of the same’. When Kempster died at the age of 88 his son carved a cherub’s head for his memorial.

Much restoration has had to be carried out on St Paul’s in view of both its age and the damage done by London’s polluted air. In the yard beside the cathedral you can see an example close up …

A very eroded statue of St Andrew from the pediment of the south portico.

The churchyard also contains a statue of St Paul …

Over 30,000 Londoners died in the World War II air raids and they are commemorated by this understated monument outside the north transept.

The inscriptions read …

‘In War, Resolution: In Defeat, Defiance: In Victory, Magnanimity: In Peace: Goodwill’

And around the sides

REMEMBER BEFORE GOD, THE PEOPLE OF LONDON 1939-1945

The cathedral itself did not escape World War II bombing unscathed but several bomb hits (and numerous incendiary attacks) miraculously failed to seriously damage the dome. Virtually every other structure in the near vicinity was destroyed or had to be demolished.

One is reminded how close St Paul’s came to destruction by these shrapnel scars still visible on the north wall …

The cathedral’s north wall.

In 1668, when Christopher Wren was commissioned to submit proposals for a new cathedral, he was only in his thirties. From then, until when the government declared the work finished on Christmas day 1711, he not only maintained his vision but also held together an incredibly varied body of people to a common purpose.

He is thought of as a scientific genius and a great architect, but he was also a great man, with an understanding of other men and an ability to get more out of them than they knew they had in them.

Dr Ann Saunders – historian and author

 

Sir Christopher Wren as portrayed in stained glass at the church of St Lawrence Jewry

He is buried in a quiet corner of the cathedral crypt under a plain stone and an inscription which includes the words ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice‘, usually translated as

Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you

 

 

 

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