Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: October 2018

War Memorials in the City

The aftermath of the First World War saw tens of thousands of memorials erected across the country. This reflected not only the huge impact on individual communities but also the official policy of not repatriating the dead: the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at the loss of three quarters of a million British lives.

As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at some of the many City memorials that commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving King and Country. I am particularly fascinated by the different approaches taken by sculptors and the allegories they chose to use.

Firstly, I revisited St Michael Cornhill and this sculpture by Richard Reginald Goulden. The memorial commemorates 2,130 men from three parishes  who served in the War of whom about 170 died ‘for the freedom of the world’ …

Allegorical figures surround the base as St Michael with his flaming sword stands steadfastly above …

On the left, the quarreling beasts typify war, but are ‘sliding slowly but surely from their previously paramount position. Life, in the shape of young children, rises with increasing confidence under the protection of the champion of right’.

And now to Holborn and this work by Albert Toft. Unveiled by the Lord Mayor in 1922, the inscriptions read …

To the glorious memory of the 22,000 Royal Fusiliers who fell in the Great War 1914-1919 (and added later) To the Royal Fusiliers who fell in the World war 1939-1945 and those fusiliers killed in subsequent campaigns.

 

Toft’s soldier stands confidently as he surveys the terrain, his foot resting on a rock, his rifle bayoneted, his left hand clenched in determination. At the boundary of the City, he looks defiantly towards Westminster. The general consensus on the internet is that the model for the sculpture was a Sergeant Cox, who served throughout the First World War.

Behind him is the magnificent, red terracotta, Gothic-style building by J.W. Waterhouse, which once housed the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company. Walk through the entrance arch to the courtyard and you will see the work of a sculptor who has chosen to illustrate war in a very different fashion. The memorial carries the names of the 786 Prudential employees who lost their lives …

The sculptor was F.V. Blundstone and the work was inaugurated on 2 March 1922. All Prudential employees had been offered ‘the opportunity of taking a personal share in the tribute by subscribing to the cost of the memorial’ (suggested donations were between one and five shillings).

The main group represents a soldier sustained in his death agony by two angels. He is lying amidst war detritus with his right arm resting on the wheel of some wrecked artillery piece. His careworn face contrasts with that of the sombre, beautiful girls with their uplifted wings. I find it incredibly moving.

I have written about angels in the City before and they are usually asexual, but these are clearly female.

At the four corners of the pedestal stand four more female figures.

One holds a field gun and represents the army …

One holds a boat representing the navy …

At the back is a figure holding a shell representing National Service …

The fourth lady holds a bi-plane representing the air force …

The work is tucked away in the building’s courtyard, Waterhouse Square (EC1N 2SW), and I am sure that most of the thousands of people who walk along Holborn every day have no idea it is there.

And finally, I looked again at the War Memorial to London Troops outside the Royal Exchange …

At the bottom of the list of battalions, two in particular caught my eye …

I am going to do further research on the Artists Rifles and the London Cyclists and hopefully include the results in a later blog.

As luck would have it, I visited the Imperial War Museum last week and came across a postcard of this splendid recruitment poster from 1912. It is poignant to look at this picture with its pretty village setting and then think of the industrial age war and slaughter that was soon to follow …

I will continue writing about war memorials for the next few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Exchange

Last week I wrote about the talented Sir Thomas Gresham, the part he played in founding the Royal Exchange and how his generosity is still commemorated on the building itself.

This week I am taking a look at other aspects of the structure starting with the magnificent Portland stone pediment which you can’t miss if you look up as you cross the road at Bank junction. As is often the case, I am indebted to Dr Philip Ward-Jackson and his book Public Sculpture of the City of London for some of the descriptions …

The Exchange itself was designed by William Tite. The pediment sculpture is by Richard Westmacott Junior and deploys seventeen figures.

The inscription on the base on which the figure of commerce stands is from Psalm 24.1., a text chosen by Prince Albert. He laid the foundation stone in 1842.

Commerce holds in her left hand a ‘charter of exchange’ and in her right a rudder. There is also a ship’s prow, a beehive and a cornucopia.

Looking to the left …

… there are three City merchants in the civic robes of Lord Mayor, Alderman and Common Councilman. Beyond these are a Hindu and a Muslim. A young Greek carrying a vase strides towards them whilst looking over his shoulder towards the outermost group. These are an Armenian (occupied with a scroll) and a Turk (‘busy with his daily accounts’). The extreme angle is filled with an anchor and other nautical instruments.

Looking to the right …

… two British merchants are being shown fabric by a Persian. The next group consists of a Chinese merchant, a kneeling African and a Levantine sailor. Beyond these is a British sailor cording a bale of merchandise. The outermost figure, kneeling amongst jars, packages etc, is a supercargo, or shipboard sales manager.

Interestingly, the Exchange was built at the time of the Chinese ‘Opium Wars’, a period which saw the collapse of the Chinese economy. In China today the period 1839 to 1939 is referred to as The Century of Humiliation (which some commentators believe still has an important influence on Chinese attitudes to the West in the 21st century).

In the foreground stands London Troops War Memorial. Above you can see part of the Latin inscription stating that the Exchange was founded in the thirteenth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and restored in the eighth of Queen Victoria (1844) …

The memorial architect was Sir Aston Webb, the bronzes are by Alfred Drury and the stone carver was William Frith.

On the column is listed all the London regiments that served in the First and Second World Wars and on either side two soldiers stand at ease, one representing the Royal Fusiliers and the other the Royal Field Artillery.

On the south side of the Exchange in Cornhill is this elegant clock …

Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that contains an image of Gresham’s original Royal Exchange. In the distance, peeping up below, is the latest addition to the City skyline, ‘The Scalpel’ in Lime Street.

The inside of the Exchange is now a much used open space where today’s City folk meet once more to gossip, dine, drink coffee and do deals just as Gresham originally intended almost 450 years ago …

 Image: ‘Say I do’ Islington

When visiting the Exchange I usually use the main West door but, whilst researching this blog, I went into the East foyer and was really surprised to come across this remarkable, formidable bust of Abraham Lincoln …

Carver: Andrew O’Connor (1928).

The bust is carved from stone quarried in the vicinity of Lincoln’s birthplace. It was presented to the City by the Lincoln Presentation Committee and was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on 12 February 1930.

Finally, behind the posh retail outlets that nestle near the walls of the Exchange, lie an extraordinary set of murals. This one commemorates the loss of the second Royal exchange to fire in 1838 …

Painting by Stanhope Forbes (1899).

 

To view them you have to climb to the mezzanine floor and look over the balcony. They date from 1892 and are by artists including Sir Frederick Leighton, Sir Frank Brangwyn and Stanhope Forbes.

Amazingly, plans for the building in 2016 would have meant bisecting them in order to extend the retail space. Fierce criticism meant the plans were shelved but you can see what they would have meant if you look at the Spitalfields Life website from August 2016. The site also has some great pictures of all the murals – they are stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Thomas Gresham and The Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange will forever be associated with Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579). Here he is, portrayed as a confident young man in his mid-twenties:

Portrait – Gresham College.

Apprenticed for seven years in the Mercer trade, he spent much of his time on the continent, learning French and Flemish in the process. His astuteness with finance came to the attention of Thomas Cromwell who started putting royal work his way, and Gresham’s connection with royalty continued under Elizabeth I. As well as managing his family’s trading interests (primarily clothing, guns and ammunition) as a royal agent he was charged with reducing the royal debt held by Antwerp merchants. When he took over this task the debt stood at £250,000 but by 1565, applying a combination of shrewd trading and interest rate speculation, he had reduced it to only £20,000 (earning himself a knighthood). These skills increased his own wealth considerably as well, and this was further enhanced on the death of his father.

By the late 1560s he was reputed to be the richest commoner in the country. Having no heir (his only son died in 1564), in his later years he used some of his vast wealth to produce two lasting legacies – Gresham College and the first Royal Exchange. The College was established at his house in Bishopsgate where lectures were given on a wide range of subjects including astronomy, geography, medicine and music. The College still offers lectures today at its Holborn premises. The Royal Exchange, based on the Antwerp model, was his gift to the City’s merchant negotiators who up to that time ‘had done their business in the wind and weather of the public street’.

Queen Elizabeth formally opened the Exchange on 23 January 1571, giving the building its Royal title along with a licence to sell alcohol. The building was lost in the Great Fire of 1666 and its successor also burned down in 1838. The third building which stands today was opened in 1844 with much ceremony by Queen Victoria herself, Prince Albert having laid the foundation stone two years earlier.

In this blog I will be looking at some of the features of the present building that perpetuate Gresham’s memory and I will deal with other aspects in a later blog.

Let’s start with the main gates that face Bank junction …

Best observed when closed, they incorporate an image of the great man himself. Above his head are the arms of Gresham College with the sword and mace representing the City …

The gates were supplied by the firm of H. and M.D. Grissell whose foundry also produced the railings for Buckingham Palace and the British Museum. Henry Grissell (nicknamed ‘Iron Henry’) was famous not only for the quality of his work but also his attention to detail, evident here in the entrance to the Exchange in Threadneedle Street …

If you look closely you will see that the ironwork incorporates Gresham’s initials:

Along with a Mercer Maiden …

I have written about the Maidens in more detail in an earlier blog and their use as a symbol denoting property owned by the Worshipful Company of Mercers of which Gresham was a member. They still own the land on which the Exchange stands.

Look up at the Exchange and you will see several grasshoppers, the symbol of the Gresham family …

Facing Threadneedle Street.

And the weathervane on the roof, which was saved from the fire that destroyed the second Exchange in 1838 …

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’.

There is, course, also a statue of Gresham himself on the building but it is so high up you can only view it from practically underneath …

The Ornamental Passions’ website tells us the following about the sculptor William Behnes. He was, apparently …

… a half-English Irish-educated artist whose financial profligacy had reduced him to penury. He was declared bankrupt half way through the commission but he successfully completed it and was paid £550 (roughly £50,000 today).

Incidentally, the Exchange was lucky to survive the wartime bombing especially when, on 11 January 1941, a direct hit on Bank Station killed 111 people. These pictures show the aftermath then and the view today …

 

The view at Bank on a quiet Sunday.

 

Fleet Street’s courts, lanes and alleys

A quiet suburb before the Great Fire of 1666, but a key route between the City and Westminster, Fleet Street subsequently developed quickly. As a result, it has a range of associations, from the Knights Templar to the newspaper industry, along with literary folk such as Dr Johnson. What are particularly evocative of the past are its intimate courts, lanes and alleys, particularly to the north.

I have been exploring a selection of them.

I have chosen Wine Office Court to begin with because it is home to the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, Ye Olde being an accurate description in this case since the pub dates from 1667. It also lives up to expectations inside, being spread over four floors with numerous nooks and crannies.

Looking north.

Looking south towards Fleet Street.

The pub cellar bars were once part of the Carmelite monastery, and look it …

Licenses to sell wine were issued from a building there, hence the ‘Wine Office’ name. Oliver Goldsmith, the Irish novelist, playwright and poet, lived at number 6 and enjoyed a drink at ‘The Cheese’ along with Johnson, Dickens, Carlyle, Teddy Roosevelt and me.

A fire at the pub in 1962 revealed some very naughty 18th century fireplace tiles. The are now in safe keeping at the Museum of London and are so naughty that I can only find a picture of one of them – a lady spanking a man’s bottom with a bunch of twigs. I wonder what the rest are like …

The plaque on the pavement at the Fleet Street entrance references the periodical All the Year Round which was founded by Dickens and published between 1859 and 1895 …

Here is the plaque for Crane Court …

The plaque here is arguably the most significant because it commemorates the Daily Courant and its edition of 11 March 1702 made it the first daily paper in Britain. Here is the first edition – one page with news on the front and advertisements on the reverse …

 On 14 April 1785 it ran a story about a man murdered after a visit to the barber. Some claim that this was the inspiration behind Victorian penny dreadful Sweeney Todd (allegedly a resident of 183 Fleet St) and the spawning of lots of movies …

It’s worth taking a walk through Crane Court and seeing how it opens up into an area full of character where development has been careful and restrained …

For slightly sinister atmosphere it is hard to beat Clifford’s Inn Passage with this door at the end …

Here is some history, courtesy of the blog Alleys and Courtyards of London

In 1307 Robert Clifford was granted the lease on a substantial house and a plot of land towards the northern end of the passage. At that time lawyers had not settled into any particular area of London and it was completely by chance that when Clifford died in 1343 his widow leased the house to a number of law students. Clifford’s Inn, or Clifford’s House as it was called, was the first established Inn of Chancery and from this beginning the long history of legal London started. Clifford’s Inn ceased to function as a legal establishment in 1802 and one by one the buildings were demolished.

There are some interesting boundary marks to the left of the door …

Also in Clifford’s Inn Passage, near the door and also at the entrance, are some rare examples of ‘deflectors’ …

Before public toilets were readily available, men would often slip away down alleys like this to urinate (unfortunately some still do). Building owners fitted these devices so that the stream would be deflected back onto the perpetrators’ feet and act as a deterrent.

There is another one outside the Bank of England in Lothbury …


You’ll be relieved to hear that these are the only ones I have found.

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