Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: August 2018

Postman’s Park and the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Postman’s Park was once the churchyard to the adjacent church, St Botolph Aldersgate, but between 1858 and 1860 it was cleared of human remains and re-landscaped as a public space. A number of gravestones remain and you can see some of them now stacked neatly against the northern churchyard wall …

Nearby, in 1829, the General Post Office had moved in to a vast new building on St Martin Le Grand and, when the new park opened, it quickly became a popular leisure area for the post office workers and, as a result, the park soon became known as Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT).

It contains now what is, in my view, one of the most interesting, poignant and rather melancholy memorials in the City – The G F Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This plaque nearby contains a useful mini-history …

In the late 1890s the idea was mooted that the park would be an ideal location for a memorial to ‘ordinary’ and ‘humble’ folk who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others. Two of its most enthusiastic supporters were the artists George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife Mary (1849 – 1938). There are some nice images of both him and his wife on the National Portrait Gallery website. Here he is  and here his wife Mary.

After much debate about its positioning and design, the memorial was finally declared finished and open on 30 July 1900, the building looking very much as it does today …

The memorial consists of 54 ceramic tablets which were gradually added over the years, each describing a particular act of selfless heroism. I have chosen to write about four of them using as my source the splendid book by the historian John Price: Heroes of Postman’s Park (ISBN 9780750956437). You can also, like me, become a Friend of the Watts Memorial, and more details can be found here.

The first of my four heroes is Alice Ayres …

The picture above shows Alice Ayres as portrayed by the Illustrated London News in 1885 (Copyright the British Library Board). Her commemorative plaque reads as follows and was the first to be installed …

It was Alice’s brave act that prompted Watts to write to the Times newspaper and suggest the creation of a memorial

That would celebrate the sacrifices made by ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ by collecting ‘…a complete record of the stories of heroism in every-day life’.

Alice threw down a mattress from a burning building and successfully used it to rescue three children …

From The Illustrated Police News 2nd May 1885 Copyright, The British Library Board.

Alice eventually jumped herself but received terrible injuries and died two days later. Incidentally, if her name rings a bell with you it could be because, in the 2004 film Closer, one of the characters, Jane Jones, sees Alice’s memorial and decides to adopt her name.

John Clinton was only 10 when he dived into the Thames to save another little boy’s life. Unfortunately, after the rescue, John himself slipped back into the water and drowned. According to his father this wasn’t his first brave act, having saved a baby from a fire and tearing down burning curtains that were threatening the house. Both acts were commemorated in this illustration …

From The Illustrated Police News, 28th July 1894. Copyright, The British Library Board.

His funeral was widely reported …

I am indebted to the editor of the London Walking Tours website for this photograph of John Clinton’s image on his tombstone in Manor Park cemetery …

His Postman’s Park plaque …

And now another brave lady,

Many of these memorials give us glimpses of the nature of society at the time these events took place, and Mary’s story is a typical example. It is most unlikely that she would ever have found herself serving at sea had it not been for the fact that her husband, Richard, was drowned when the cross channel steamer SS Honfleur sank in the English Channel on 21 October 1880.

The steamer was operated by the London & South Western Railway Company (LSWR) and so Richard was one of their employees. It was common practice at the time for railway companies to offer employment to the widows or children of deceased employees so as to avoid having to pay compensation or provide a pension. Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary Rogers – 1855-1899

The story of the sinking of the SS Stella is a gripping one and rather too complicated to relate in detail here. If you want all the details either get hold of a copy of John Price’s book and/or have a look at this website run by Jake Simpkin, a Blue Badge holder and south of England historian.

From The Illustrated Police News – 8th April 1899. Copyright, The British Library Board

The Times reported that Rogers …

Helped ‘her ladies’ from the cabin into the lifeboats. Next she gave up her own lifejacket, and then when urged to get into the lifeboat refused for fear of capsizing it. She was told it was her only chance, but she persisted that she could not save her own life at the cost of a fellow creature’s. She waved the lifeboat ‘farewell’ and bid the survivors to be of ‘good cheer’.

In 1908, the committee of the new Anglican Liverpool Cathedral chose 21 ‘noble women’ for commemoration in stained glass windows. Mary was included, and is depicted in her window alongside Grace Darling and Elizabeth Fry …

Walking down Central Street one day I noticed this green plaque on the other side of the road …

On crossing over to take a look this is what I saw …

I took a picture, resolving to do further research and then discovered that the brave Alfred Smith is commemorated on the Watts Memorial …

PC Smith, 37 years old, was on duty in Central Street when the noise was heard of an approaching group of fourteen German bombers. One press report reads as follows …

In the case of PC Alfred Smith, a popular member of the Metropolitan Force, who leaves a widow and three children, the deceased was on point duty near a warehouse. When the bombs began to fall the girls from the warehouse ran down into the street. Smith got them back, and stood in the porch to prevent them returning. In doing his duty he thus sacrificed his own life.

Smith had no visible injuries but had been killed by the blast from the bombs dropped nearby. He was one of 162 people killed that day in one of the deadliest raids of the war.

His widow was treated much more kindly than Mary Rogers. She received automatically a police pension (£88 1s per annum, with an additional allowance of £6 12s per annum for her son) but also had her MP, Allen Baker, working on her behalf. He approached the directors of Debenhams (whose staff PC Smith had saved) and solicited from them a donation of £100 guineas (£105). A further fund, chaired by Baker, raised almost £472 and some of this was used to pay for the Watts Memorial tablet, which was officially unveiled on the second anniversary of Alfred’s death.

Watts used newspaper reports to decide who should receive the honour of a plaque, but in one case the report was false and the ‘hero’ didn’t exist. Unfortunately, Watts didn’t see the newspaper article correcting the mistake and the plaque went up anyway. If you want to know the identity of the non-existent ‘hero’ I am not going to reveal it here, and you will have to buy John Price’s book to find out.

I wrote about some more of the heroes from the memorial in an earlier blog which you can access here.

 

 

 

 

 

City of London doors and doorways

Last week gates, this week doors and doorways.

I shall start with few modest examples and then move on to the more spectacular.

The facade St Martin’s House at 1 Gresham Street is a delight (EC4V 7BX) …

Dating from 1891 it incorporates a wonderfully happy, smiling Mr Sun …

What also makes it charming is the rogue apostrophe ….

 

Surely it should read St Martin’s House?

St Bartholomew house at 90-94 Fleet Street is an Arts and Crafts block built in 1900 (EC4y 1DH) and it looks like that door may well be the original …

Regarding the putti (cherubs), the blogger Chris Partridge of Ornamental Passions writes …

The one on the left is more or less a standard model putto with feathery wings and a bow, carrying a quiver, but the one on the right is decidedly odd with what look like butterfly wings and flowers in its hair. Is it a boy or a girl?

Unusually, the piece is signed by both the architect and the sculptor …

Cherubs are everywhere in the City and you can find the location of many of them in my earlier blog Charming Cherubs.

And now to the more spectacular, the main entrance to the Bank of England on Threadnedle Street ((EC2R 8AH) …

A closer view of the two main doors. Made of bronze, they were designed between 1928 and 1931 …

The caduceus (winged staff) on the left is surmounted by a sailing ship from the days of the Bank’s foundation.The one on the right has the hand of Zeus grasping the lightning which symbolises electrical force. Above these are the constellations of Ursa Major and the Southern Cross, which stand for both sides of the world, and imply the world-wide extent of the Bank’s operations. The lions symbolise protection and strength.

The door on the left has three lions in bas-relief representing the royal arms …

The round opening also has a caduceus and a pattern of interlocking serpents forming its grille.

This is the right hand door …

You can see the caduceus and interlocking serpents more clearly here, and above two lions guard a mound of gold coins …

What a hoard!

I will be looking again at the Bank of England in a future blog (there are more doors to examine) and also the Royal Exchange across the road.

City of London Gates

As you all know, the Romans constructed a protective wall around their City some time in the 2nd or 3rd century and gateways were incorporated that aligned with the Roman road network. During the medieval period, these defences were further adapted and strengthened, but the City gradually extended beyond its original boundaries and we then start to see places described as ‘within’ and ‘without’. Eventually the wall and gates had become an obstruction and demolition, which started in 1760, continued right into the 19th century.

A short way to the west of the old Lud Gate was Temple Bar. Originally there to regulate trade into the City, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire more as a ceremonial entrance. Believed to have been designed by Christopher Wren, it survived until  1878 when it’s obstruction to traffic became too big a problem and it was carefully demolished and put in storage. It was sold in 1880 to the brewer Sir Henry Meux. It is a fascinating story and I have written about him and his beautiful, eccentric wife Valerie in an earlier blog which you can access here.

After 126 years on Sir Henry’s country estate, the Bar was finally returned to the City in 2004 and was re-erected in Paternoster Square next to st Paul’s Cathedral. I think it looks great …

When I visited it recently I became intrigued by the wooden doors. There are two big doors that close to shut off the main entrance and two smaller doors in the pedestrian archways either side.

Were they original or were they fitted by Sir Henry? Photos show them closed when on the estate but I could not find a picture of them closed on Fleet Street. I went looking for graffiti to see if they would give me a clue. There were some from the 20th century …

DH from 1945.

Someone in 1957.

But could this possibly be 1751 …

And maybe this is 1749 …

Neither are very conclusive unfortunately but I am pretty sure the gates predate the Bar’s removal in 1878. I am going to do a bit more research.

*** STOP PRESS ***

Saturday 18 August – Just started my research and I am sure the gates date from before 1880. Here is an extract from Bradshaw’s Illustrated Handbook to London and its Environs 1862:

‘To show the power of the Lord Mayor, the ponderous gates of the civic barrier are shut upon all occasions of royal visits to the city. The herald then sounds a trumpet, and the Mayor and corporation within demand by their marshal to know the monarch’s pleasure , which, being communicated, the City sword is presented , the barrier flies open, and the cavalcade proceeds to its destination’.

This got me interested in gates generally and there are some really attractive ones around the City.

These beautifully restored examples are outside Salters’ Hall in Fore Street (EC2Y 5DE) …

The gates are dated 1887 and were salvaged when the original hall was destroyed in the Blitz. The company’s motto sal sapit omnia (salt savours everything) has been incorporated along with birds and animals.

The Inner Temple has an impressive gated entrance off Tudor Street …

Through the entrance and on the left I noticed these gates leading to the Inner Temple Garden (EC4Y 9AT). They date from circa 1730 and lead to approximately three acres of gardens …

I particularly liked this sign …

Placed quite low down, it is clearly aimed at literate animals who must nonetheless behave themselves.

And finally, this is the western entrance to Liverpool Street Station …

Up the stairs and to the left you will see gates incorporating this emblem …

The Great Eastern Railway Company operated from 1862 until 1923 when it was incorporated into the London & North Eastern Railway. You can read more about the station and its history here.

 

City Animals 5

It has been quite a while since I sought out animals in the City and so last weekend I took advantage of the sunny weather and went on another safari.

I always like to visit the Tower Hill memorial to the merchant navy and fishing fleet seafarers who lost their lives in both World Wars and have no grave but the sea. It’s a peaceful place on a weekend as virtually all the visitors to London have their eyes focused on the Tower of London across the road.

There are two memorials alongside one another and these pictures come from the one commemorating the almost 24,000 casualties of the Second World War (Trinity Square EC3N 4DH).

Dolphins feature highly in the allegorical sculptures by Sir Charles Wheeler representing the Seven Seas.

Here a boy is seen riding one surrounded by fishes and sea horses, above his head is a thorny snail …

A dolphin leaps through the legs of this figure who is creating the wind …

You can’t miss Neptune with a spider conch above his head and accompanied by another dolphin …

Across the road from Trinity Square is the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower (EC3R 6BJ).

Substantially damaged in the War it was restored and reopened in 1957 with a new cockerel weathervane …

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay company which once dominated the fur trade and was based nearby. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

A golden rodent looks out across Bishopsgate.

Wander down to the end of New Street off Bishopsgate (EC2M 4TP) and you will find this ram over the gateway leading to Cock Hill …

It’s by an unknown sculptor, dates from the 186os and used to stand over the entrance to Cooper’s wool warehouse.

Outside 68 Lombard Street there hangs an astonishing five foot long grasshopper (EC3V 9LJ) the insect being derived from the coat of arms of the Gresham family. Buildings in Lombard Street were not numbered until 1770 and so when the Greshams lived and worked there a similar sign would have been used to mark their residence …

The year 1563 refers to the year Thomas Gresham (TG on the sign) set up his business here.

The present building dates from 1930 when it was destined to become the City office of Martin’s Bank (whose coat of arms included a grasshopper). The original family sign disappeared at the time of Charles II when such advertisements were banned after numerous serious accidents. They had a tendency to become detached in high winds and on one occasion pulled down the entire frontage of a building. This grasshopper dates from 1902 when a host of signs were recreated to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

And finally, the Sculpture in the City event has brought us this extraordinary work by Nancy Rubins. It’s called Crocodylius Philodendrus and you can view it at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX).

See how many animals you can spot …

In there somewhere you will find crocodiles, hogs, deer, tortoises and a zebra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of London pub ghosts

The City has been home to thousands of pubs over the years. Some have continued to flourish for, literally, centuries whereas others have disappeared. I have been exploring to see if I can identify some remnants of those lost hostelries.

At 12 Old Street is the building that once housed The Old Rodney’s Head …

The building is for sale at the moment – offers in excess of £6.5 million – EC1V 9BE.

George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney (1718-1792) was a famous Admiral best known for his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 which ended the French threat to Jamaica. The building dates from 1876 and Rodney still gazes down on Old Street …

Sadly the Hat and Feathers has not reopened after a short time operating as a restaurant …

2 Clerkenwell Road EC1M 5PQ.

British History Online tells us that the building dates from 1860 and the facade – ‘gay without being crude’ – is decorated with classical statues, urns and richly ornate capitals and consoles.

I found this fascinating picture whilst researching …

Laying tramlines outside the pub in 1906 – source UK Pub History.

At the corner of Clerkenwell Road and St John Street is the building which once housed the Criterion Hotel (EC1V 4JS) …

The owners of the Cannon Brewery in St John Street built the Hotel here in 1874–6 as a replacement for the Red Lion and Punchbowl at No. 118 St John Street. This old tavern itself survived as a shop, but was eventually replaced in the 1920s by the present two storey extension to the Criterion, matching the style of the 1876 building. The Criterion closed in the 1960s, becoming a watch-materials shop and then, in the late 1990s, a restaurant.

Look at this lovely ornate brickwork …

I don’t know the significance of the two frogs, or maybe they are toads.

Further down St John Street at number 16 is the previous home of the Cross Keys pub with the pub’s emblem still visible at roof height (EC1M 4NT)

According to British History online the former Cross Keys inn was rebuilt in 1886–7 for Lovell & Christmas, provision merchants. It has been closed as a pub since the Second World War and was occupied during the 1980s as the London headquarters and library of the Communist Party of Great Britain, before being refurbished as offices in the early 1999.

The Lost Pubs Project informs us that the Barley Mow was around as long ago as 1806 although it was rebuilt in the late 19th century. It is now a restaurant but the name lives on at the top of the building’s facade and the adjacent Barley Mow Passage (EC1A 9EJ)

In their 1973 book City of London Pubs the authors Richards and Curl describe the White Hart at 7 Giltspur Street as …

The most lavish pub encountered for some time, with heavily upholstered seats and settees, low coffee-type tables, a Black Watch tartan carpet , soft music and subdued lighting.

Makes one want to visit, doesn’t it, but unfortunately it is now office accommodation …

The building dates from 1907 – EC1A 9DE 

But the stag’s head remains over the entrance, rather spookily scrutinising visitors …

Incidentally, in 2014 the Darkest London blogger tracked down all the pubs in Richards and Curl’s book to see what had happened to them since it was published and you will find more information here.

This building at 28-30 Tudor Street bears further investigation  (EC4Y 0BH)

It was once The White Swan pub, known locally as The Mucky Duck. Swan motifs remain either side of the entrance …

The building dates from 1881 …

And the facade includes the coat of arms of the Clothworkers Guild – perhaps because they owned the freehold …

The excellent London Remembers website has the following to say about the building that was once the Sir Robert Peel pub at 178 Bishopsgate (EC2M 4NJ)

This building has been through interesting times. It looks like it started off in the Georgian period and had a major refacing round about 1930 when the windows were replaced and the tiled front added. And then the ground floor front suffered the standard anonymising sometime 1960-1990, but they left the lovely tiles for us to enjoy.

The building is Art Deco in style – shame about the uPVC windows.

Nowadays always busy, even at weekends, it is amusing to note that a visitor in the early 17th century described the area as ‘airy and fashionable … but a little too much in the country’.

The ceramic panel depicting Robert Peel looks like it was based on his picture in the National Portrait Gallery.

As is often the case when researching, one story leads to another.

This building at 38 Charterhouse Street used to house the Charterhouse Bar which has now closed. However, I came across some more background about the premises which I found fascinating.

I really like the way it is squeezed into the triangular corner plot (EC1M 6JH)

And the decoration – the City of London shield with its bearded supporter …

… and this pretty lady …

What I discovered was that it was once the ‘new additional showrooms’ for scalemakers Herbert & Son and their 250th anniversary commemoration contains this invitation from 1937 …

Their Lion Trademark was granted in 1888 and can still be seen above their old showrooms at 7 and 8 West Smithfield which date from 1889. It seems to typify the pride the organisation felt at the height of the British Empire …

Directly opposite Smithfield Market – what better location for a firm of scalemekers. And they’re still going strong based in Suffolk.

 

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