Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: September 2018

A pair of doors in Cornhill

When I started this blog I never thought I would be dedicating an entire issue to a pair of doors, but I hope you will agree that in this case it is appropriate.

32 Cornhill is the old headquarters of the Cornhill Insurance Company (EC3V 3BT) and I am going to write about the mahogany doors you can see on the right …

Here is a closer view …

Walter Gilbert (1871-1946) designed these doors in 1939. He was a designer and craftsman who developed his visual style in the Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the nineteenth century and then applied it to a wide range of architectural commissions in the twentieth century, including the gates of Buckingham Palace, sculpture for the facade of Selfridges and some distinctive war memorials. In this instance, he modelled the reliefs in clay which were then translated into wood carvings by B.P Arnold at H. H. Martyn & Co Ltd of Cheltenham.

They tell of events that took place in the area over the centuries. Below is a picture of each panel along with a description …

‘St Peter’s Cornhill founded by King Lucius 179 A. D. to be an Archbishop’s see and chief church of his kingdom and so it endured the space of 400 years until the coming of Augustine the monk of Canterbury’.

An architect holds up the church plans and a builder holds up a compass.

‘Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, did penance walking barefoot to St Michael’s Church from Queen Hithe, 1441’.

The Duchess, holding a lighted taper, performs public penance having been convicted of sorcery in 1441. Rather unwisely, because it was ‘treasonable necromancy’, she had asked the astrologers Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke to cast the horoscope of the then King Henry VI. Southwell died in the Tower of London, Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, she was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The explanation reads: ‘Cornhill was anciently a soke of the Bishop of London who had the Seigneurial oven in which all tenants were obliged to bake their bread and pay furnage or baking dues.‘ A soke was a right of jurisdiction and the women have just paid the priest and are carrying away their freshly baked bread – they certainly don’t look very happy about the arrangement.

‘Cornhill is the only market allowed to be held after noon in the 14th century’. A stallholder sells apples to two ladies.

 

‘Birchin Lane, Cornhill, place of considerable trade for men’s apparel, 1604‘. A tailor adjusts a gentleman’s hem, an assistant holds a tape measure, the gentleman admires himself in a mirror. Suits you, sir.

Pope’s Head Tavern in existence in 1750 belonged to Merchant Taylor’s Company. The Vintners were prominent in the life of Cornhill Ward.‘ Nearby today is Pope’s Head Alley.

‘Garraway’s Coffee House, a place of great commercial transaction and frequented by people of quality’. Garraway’s was nearby in Change Alley and is commemorated now with this plaque incorporating Sir Thomas Gresham’s grasshopper emblem.

Change Alley EC3V 3ND.

‘Thackeray and the Brontes at the publishing house of Smith Elder & Co. Cowper, the poet, Gray the poet, Guy, the bookseller and founder of Guy’s Hospital, lived in Cornhill.’

The panel depicts Charlotte and Anne Bronte meeting with William Makepeace Thackeray at the premises of Smith Elder.

I hope you found the doors and their stories as fascinating as I did. These pictures were taken at the weekend but the doors open inwards, so you can still see them when the building is open.

 

 

 

 

 

Sculptures with striking poses

I’ll start with a work that caused some controversy, the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9).

In his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson describes the lady as follows:

Despite her casual garb she has a diadem or tiara on her head. With her left arm she enfolds a baby, who she is suckling, whilst with her right she draws to her knee a naked boy, who gazes up at her.

She is outside Royal Exchange Buildings EC3V 3NL.

Nearby is a very relaxed George Peabody who I have written about in an earlier blog

Ward-Jackson tells us that the suckling lady’s very authentic exposed breast produced at least one letter of protest to the editor of The Globe. The correspondent urged that ‘common decency’ should be observed and went on …

Do you not think, Sir, that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of ‘lacteal sustenation’ be concluded … or the young woman and youngsters provided with the requisite clothing.

On a more serious theme, St Thomas à Becket lies in agony in St Paul’s Churchyard on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral (EC4M 8AD) …

‘Becket’ by Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1970-71).

The Ornamental Passions website gives the following description :

(The sculptor) depicts the Archbishop in the agony of death, his right hand extended as if to ward off the blows of his knightly assassins. The plinth is stepped to recall the steps into the choir of Canterbury Cathedral … This memorable image was created in 1970 as part of the commemorations of the saint’s martyrdom.
The material looks like bronze but is in fact resin coloured to look like bronze.

Just across the road from St Paul’s, on the right as you approach the Millennium Bridge, you will see the National Firefighters Memorial (EC4M 8BX) which depicts a Fire Officer and two Firemen, cast in bronze engaged in firefighting duties. Unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991, it was originally called ‘Blitz’ and was dedicated to the men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II.  In 2000 it was renamed the Firefighters Memorial in order to commemorate all firefighters killed whilst in service and a new raised plinth now records almost 2,300 names.

Two of the men are ‘working a branch’, their legs braced to take the strain …

Churchill memorably called them ‘Heroes with grimy faces’.

The Officer below looking over his shoulder, possibly calling up reinforcements, is Cyril Demarne OBE who provided photographs to help the sculptor (who also happened to be his son-in-law) …

According to Philip Ward-Jackson, Demarne’s initials CTD are scattered among the brickwork on which the men stand but his old colleagues needed no such clues. One stated in an interview …

You can tell it’s Cyril by the way he’s standing … He always waved his arms about like that when he was ordering us about.

Officer Demarne in full flow …

By 1943 over 70,00 women had enrolled in the National Fire Service in the United Kingdom. This memorial commemorates those who lost their lives in the London Blitz …

The lady on the left is an incident recorder and the one on the right a despatch rider.

Finally, would you like to see Zoe, the floating Barbican Muse? If so, make your way to the Barbican Library on the second floor of the Centre, stand with your back to it, and walk through the automatic doors. She’s a few yards ahead on your left …

Sculpted by Matthew Spender in 1993-4, she is made of polyurethane and glass fibre and finished in gold leaf. She holds in her left hand the masks of Comedy and Tragedy whilst her right hand points the way to the entrance to the Centre (hopefully assisting folk lost in the highwalk system). She’s nicknamed Zoe after the Cambridge student who had posed for the sculptor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City work and public sculpture 2

This week I am looking at sculptures representing work in the City in the 20th Century.

Although I mentioned them in an earlier blog I wanted to show these figures again because they are so unusual …

Old churchyard of St John Zachary, 25 Gresham Street EC2V 7HN.

Wilfred Dudeney’s monument Three Printers (1954) has been here since 2009. Commissioned by the Westminster Press Group, it represents the newspaper process with a newsboy (sales), printer and editor (or proprietor), and used to stand by their offices in New Street Square. When the square was redeveloped the Goldsmiths’ Company, as the freeholders of the square, relocated the sculpture here (they had to rescue it from a demolition yard). Look closely, the printer is grasping a ‘stick’ for holding metal type, and Dudeney’s name is in ‘mirror writing’ just as it would have been when typeset the old-fashioned way.

This sculpture reminded me of words from Auden’s The Waste Land:

 Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

It is entitled Rush Hour by George Segal (1983-7) and is in Broadgate (EC2M 3WA) …

Trudging wearily off home in the rain …

Segal created this sculpture from live models, encasing them in wire mesh and plaster bandages, before cutting each cast open to free the model, rejoining the mould and casting bronze figures from the plaster versions. You will notice that all their eyes are closed …

And now something a bit more cheerful …

Philip Ward-Jackson, in his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, tells us of the Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Committee of the Corporation which was chaired by Frederick Cleary. In his autobiography Cleary recorded that Jonzen’s figure below was intended as a tribute to the efforts of his committee but Ward-Jackson feels that ‘it might have been better described as a symbol of the ‘greening’ of the City in the post-war period’. Most appropriately, Mr Cleary has a garden named after him, and you can read about it in my earlier blog about City gardens generally.

‘The Gardener’ by Karin Jonzen FBS (1971) – Brewers’ Hall Gardens, London Wall EC2V 7HR.

Apparently Jonzen, on being given the subject by the Corporation …

… decided on a kneeling figure of a young man, who, having planted a bulb, was gently stroking over the earth.

Easy to miss but worth seeking out is The Building Worker, a bronze statue of a building worker in a pose based on Michelangelo’s David, but in working clothes and wearing a hard hat and carrying a spirit level. He is on Tower Hill EC3 just across the road from the station outside the Tower of London …

The sculptor was Alan Wilson (2006).

It commemorates the ‘thousands of workers who have lost their lives at work … (and) workers who are today building and rebuilding towns and cities across the United Kingdom.’ Wreaths are laid here each year on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, and a two minute silence is observed at noon in memory of those who have suffered fatal injuries in accidents at work.

The Plumbers’ Hall was compulsorily purchased in 1863 to make way for the expansion of Cannon Street Railway station and this statue on the concourse is a reminder of that connection …

The Plumber’s Apprentice by Mark Jennings (2011).

The inscription reads ‘This statue was erected on the site of its last Livery Hall by The Worshipful Company of Plumbers to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Charter by King James I in 1611 and to recognise the support given by the Company to the training of apprentices.’

To round off my day I went looking for a statue I personally remember being erected on Cannon Street in 1996 – The LIFFE Trader (LIFFE standing for the London International Financial Futures Exchange). But he has been moved and tucked away behind glass at the Guildhall Yard in a corridor that the public cannot access …

Please let him go outside, or at least turn him around.

Here he is in his glory days at Cannon Street – a bit of a character with his loosened tie, no doubt doing a deal on his then fashionable clamshell mobile phone …

Photograph copyright Loïc Brohard.

 

City work and public sculpture

I thought it would be interesting to explore how public sculpture has been used to illustrate some of occupations that have been undertaken in the City over the centuries.

First up is one of my favourite pieces, The Cordwainer. Here on Watling Street (EC4N 1SR) you are in the Ward of Cordwainer which in medieval times was the centre of shoe-making in the City of London. The finest leather from Cordoba in Spain was used which gave rise to the name of the craftsmen and the Ward. In the background is the wall of St Mary Aldermary church …

Sculpted by Alma Boyes (2002). You can visit her website here.

I love the detail in the work, the craftsman’s face and particularly the hands straining with effort. The statue’s shoes are very beautifully represented too – but then they would have to be.

It’s a bit of an over-simplification but, basically, cordwainers made shoes (and were not allowed to repair them) and cobblers repaired shoes (and were not allowed to make them). Cobblers got around this injunction by salvaging old leather and making ‘new’ shoes out of that, but in the end a pragmatic solution evolved and the two professions merged under the Cordwainers Company auspices. But if you want your shoes repaired today you still go to a cobbler.

Beside the slope in Aldersgate Street that leads up to the Barbican Estate is this frieze (EC2Y 8AF). It used to be above the premises of W. Bryer & Sons who were gold refiners and assayers at numbers 53 and 54 Barbican. Having survived the Blitz the building was demolished in 1962 and the frieze re-erected here.

‘Gold Smelters’ – Made in Portland stone by J Daymond & Son (1901).

The photographs are mine but I am indebted to The Victorian Web for the descriptions of what is happening.

The left side of the frieze depicts the arrival, weighing, recording the results (by man with the quill pen), and melting the ore. The man with the quill pen, a superviser rather than a workman, is the only one in this part of the scene whose clothes obviously date to the seventeenth century or earlier …

The middle portion of the frieze depicts men working at the smelter: the man at left, whom we have already seen in the previous detail, holds a vessel with tongs while the man to his right stirs the fire, shielding his face from the heat with his right arm. The next man either rests or supervises the work, and the young man kneeling behind him most likely feeds the furnace …

The right side of the frieze shows a worker pouring the refined gold into a mould, and the man behind him examines a small ingot. Outside the workshop, which a curtain divides from the smelting operation, a seated man presents the refined gold to a customer. Here the figures all wear clothing from earlier periods …

What a shame that the friendly shop cat rubbing himself up against the table leg has been damaged.

James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

Designed by James Butler (1994) – Cornhill EC3V 3NR.

The Shield enabled the London Underground to be constructed at greater depths through the London clay. The miners doing the tunneling, using pneumatic spades and hand shovels, would create a cavity in the earth where the Shield would be inserted to hold back the walls whilst the miners installed cast-iron segments to create a ring. The process would be repeated until a tunnel had formed in the shape of a ‘tube’, which is where we get the nickname for the network today. A plaque on the side of the plinth shows the men at work …

Would you like to see a Greathead Shield? It’s easier than you might think since Shields were often abandoned when work was completed. Take the Northern Line to Bank and (without leaving the station) follow the signs for the Waterloo and City Line. This is what you will come across …

Here is some detail …

The plaque underneath explains all …

In next week’s blog I will be looking at some 20th century occupations and the way they have been celebrated in sculpture.

 

 

 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén