Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: March 2019

Tales from City Bridges

Next time you are walking across the Millennium Bridge (aka the Wobbly Bridge) slow your pace and look down whilst trying to avoid being trampled by the crowds. You will soon be rewarded by seeing some tiny pictures …

There are literally hundreds of them, painted on discarded chewing gum by the artist Ben Wilson …

The artist at work – picture copyright the Look up London blog

‘When a person throws chewing gum, it’s a thoughtless action. I’m turning that around. People think they don’t have an effect. But all the people that chew gum and throw it on the street, they created that. Once painted, it suddenly takes on new meaning and has been given the kind of worth that would otherwise be unthinkable’

Ben Wilson talking to Human Nature magazine

You can read the interview here and see many more pictures here. He’s never been arrested because he’s painting chewing gum not the Bridge. Smart!

Whilst on the subject of quirky bridge features, have a look at this picture I took as I walked across Tower Bridge last weekend …

Is that a lamp post without a lamp? Here’s a view from the other side …

It’s a cast iron chimney that used to be connected to a coal fire in the Royal Fusiliers room under the Bridge, helping them to keep warm whilst on guard duty.

The room has now been enveloped by a restaurant, appropriately named The Sergeant’s Mess

Now to one of my favourite churches, St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street (EC3R 6DN).

It’s believed that the Roman’s first built a crossing over the Thames around here in AD 50. Eventually there were wharves nearby and the churchyard holds a piece of one …

This is not, however, the best feature of the yard.

Take a look at this picture of the ‘old’ Medieval London Bridge where St Magnus can be seen in the top left hand corner …

A plaque as you enter from the street explains why this area is so unique …

For a treat go inside the church where there is a model of the Bridge on display …

It’s enhanced by dozens of little figures going about their business as well as what looks like a visit by the King on horseback …

These pictures are from the London Walking Tours blog.

From 1763 until the old bridge was demolished in 1831, this archway was the main pedestrian entrance onto the bridge. As I walk through it I can’t help thinking about the thousands and thousands who preceded me. Were they heading into the City to make their fortune perhaps? Or maybe leaving in bitter disappointment …

As a further surprise, some of the stones from the old Medieval bridge’s northernmost arch remain in the courtyard …

And finally, here are a few things to look out for as you cross Blackfriars Bridge.

There are these columns rising out of the river …

In 1862-64 a bridge was built to accommodate four trains at one time. John Wolfe-Barry and H M Brunel built a second bridge to increase the number of trains coming into St Paul’s. The columns are the remains of the original bridge, which was removed in 1985 as it was deemed too weak for modern trains.

Note the pulpit-shaped tops of the bridge pillars. They reference the original monastery of the Black Friars or Dominican monks, evicted by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. I have written about the Medieval monasteries in an earlier blog which you can find here.

On the south side is the beautifully painted coat of arms of the London Chatham & Dover Railway …

Note the white horse rampant, symbol of Kent, and the county motto ‘Invicta’ meaning ‘undefeated’ or ‘unconquered’.

And now some features not everyone notices. Peer over the parapet and on either side you will see some birds on the capitals of the bridge supports, meticulously carved in Portland stone by J.B.Philip.

The birds on the west side are fresh water birds and plants to be found on the upper reaches of the river …

And on the east side, sea birds and seaweeds to be found at the mouth of the Thames …

On the north side of the bridge you will see one of my favourite water fountains, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored …

The pretty lady represents ‘Temperance’ and she originally stood outside the Royal Exchange.

The fountain was inaugurated by Samuel Gurney, MP, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association, on 27 July 1861 and you can read more about him, and the Association, in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains.

Underground history at Moorgate station

I love old photographs, and there is a selection of them on display alongside the platforms at Mooorgate Station. For those of you who don’t board or alight there I have reproduced them here. For those of you that do, I have added a little more history.

First up is this distinguished looking gentleman …

Lord Ashfield posed with his daughter at Moorgate Station in 1924

Ashfield was then Chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. He had joined the organisation as General Manager in 1907 when it was in such poor financial shape that he reserved the right to leave after a year and return to America where he was running the New Jersey transport system. A charming but tough character, on arrival he demanded and got resignation letters from all the UERL senior management, post-dated by six months.

An extraordinarily competent businessman, he turned the operation into a success and went on to hold numerous senior positions with the Underground railway as well as becoming President of the Board of Trade in 1916.

Here is a copy of the first Underground Map of 1908 showing the UERL’s lines and those of the other Tube lines including the Metropolitan Railway …

I still find it quite amazing that the Metropolitan opened for business over 150 years ago in 1863 as a possible solution to London’s desperately overcrowded streets. It was a great success, carrying over 30,000 passengers on its first day, despite the foul and disgusting atmosphere created by the steam trains that pulled the carriages. The Metropolitan’s owners claimed the ‘invigorating’ atmosphere ‘provided a sort of health resort for people who suffered from asthma’, but they also allowed drivers to grow beards in a futile bid to filter out the worst of the fumes. An attempt to ban smoking was thwarted by Parliament and a total ban didn’t take place until 1987 as a result of the King’s Cross fire.

This drawing of circa 1865 shows early morning commuters arriving having taken advantage of cheap fares on ‘workmen’s trains’ …

Available if you travelled before 6:00 am, the cheap workmen’s tickets were incredibly popular. Interviewed by the journalist Henry Mayhew, the labourers he spoke to all voiced their enthusiasm for a service that allowed poorer Londoners to live further out, sparing them a six-mile walk to work and allowing their families to live in two rooms rather than one.

Commuting from the suburbs was portrayed in this poster as a very civilised experience …

Stamp issued in 2013 the celebrate 150 years of the Underground

Isn’t this poster from 1911 by Alfred France splendid, look at the silhouettes …

The Underground really was for everyone

There was also a horse-drawn omnibus available at Moorgate for onward journeys. In fact, the very last journey of this nature in London was between Moorgate and London Bridge on October 25th 1911 …

The last journey

The station was busy enough to require a signal box …

1933 – Signallers operated their levers in a cabin by the Station

By 1955 a signaller controlled Moorgate’s section of track from a new push-button signalling cabin …

I think this is a great picture from 1965 of Underground workers stopping for a tea break during a shift realigning the Metropolitan line tracks …

‘I’ll be mother’. That’s a proper workers’ teapot!

An entrance to the station survived the Second World War bombing that destroyed other parts of the building …

Picture taken in 1955

I found these pictures during my research and hope you find them interesting …

A heritage Metropolitan steam train at Moorgate in 2014 – Picture by Christian NX

There is a Greathead tunneling shield which was left in place below the station in 1904 when the Lothbury extension to the Great Northern & City Line was abandoned …

You can find this picture and read more fascinating facts on the Subterranea Britannica website. I have also written about Greathead and where you can actually walk through one of his shields in an earlier blog. You can find a link here.

Resurrection! More tales from City Lanes, Courts and Alleys

Lovat Lane, which runs between Eastcheap and Lower Thames Street, reminds one of the old City with its cobbled surface and narrow winding shape …

St Mary-At-Hill EC3R 8EE

If you pop into St Mary-At-Hill church you will immediately encounter on your left this extraordinary representation of Resurrection on the Day of Judgment …

Christ holding a banner stands amidst clouds. Satan, a figure with large claws, is being trampled under his feet

It’s a very unusual example of late 17th century English religious carving and most likely dates from the 1670s. Its carver is unknown, but it is known that the prominent City mason Joshua Marshall was responsible for the rebuilding of the church in 1670-74 and his workshop may have produced the relief.  Exactly where it was originally positioned is uncertain; most likely it stood over the entrance to the parish burial ground and was brought inside in more recent times.

You can see open coffins among the chaos
The winged Archangel Michael helps people rise again

If you visit the little churchyard you will see evidence of another form of resurrection …

A plaque on the wall informs us that ‘the burial ground of the parish church of St. Mary-At-Hill has been closed by order of the respective vestries of the united parishes of St. Mary-At-Hill and Saint Andrew Hubbard with the consent of the rector and that no further interments are allowed therein – Dated this 21st day of June 1846’. Following closure, all human remains from the churchyard, vaults and crypts were removed and reburied in West Norwood cemetery. You can read more on the excellent London Inheritance blog.

I spotted this splendid winged lion outside number 31 – placed their by the owners of the Salotti 31 restaurant …

The St Mark Lion is the symbol of Venice, where the restaurant owners come from

And there are some nice ghost signs …

Walking along Old Jewry last week I noticed this little courtyard …

26 Old Jewry EC2R 8DQ

Tucked away behind locked gates is what was once the City of London Police Headquarters (the Old Jewry address gave the force its former radio call sign of ‘OJ’). They originally moved there in 1842 but this building, in neo-Georgian style, was constructed between 1926 and 1930. The police moved out, to Wood Street, in 2001.

There are two alleys off Bishopsgate that are quite easy to miss but reward investigation. The first I explored was Swedeland Court (EC2M 4NR) …

I can’t find out why it’s called Swedeland Court (or why it’s a ‘court’ and not an ‘alley’). At the end is the interesting Boisdale Restaurant. It’s worth walking to the end and looking back towards the street as there are some charming old lamps and it’s very atmospheric …

Nearby is the rather uninviting looking Catherine Wheel Alley which will eventually lead you to Middlesex Street …

I entered with some trepidation

Looking back you get the true canyon effect …

The Catherine Wheel pub stood here for 300 years until it burned down in 1895. It’s said that the name was changed at one point to the Cat and Wheel in order to placate the Puritans who objected to its association with the 9th century saint. It’s also claimed that the highwayman Dick Turpin drank here, but if he drank in every pub that has since claimed a connection he would never have been sober enough to ride a horse.

When I worked near here in the 1970s it was always a pleasure to walk through this covered passage since the enclosed area was redolent with the aroma of spices, once stored here in the heyday of London Docks. It had the nickname ‘Spice Alley’ …

The pathway from Fenchurch Street (just beside the East India Arms EC3M 4BR) leads to Crutched Friars and by the time of Rocque’s map of 1746 it had acquired the name French Ordinary Court …

John Rocque’s map of 1746

The lane itself dates from the 15th century and perhaps even earlier. It was further enclosed in the 19th century as Fenchurch Street railway station was constructed above, transforming it into a cavernous passage.

Looking towards Crutched Friars

When you emerge, cross the road and look back …

The Court was named for the fact that, in the 17th century, Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence at number 42 next door, to sell coffee and pastries there. They also served fixed price meals and in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’.

Star Alley (EC3M 4AJ) links Mark Lane with Fenchurch Street and you can also find it on Rocque’s map …

The view from Mark Lane

On the left is the tower of All Hallows Staining …

First mentioned in the late 12th century, ‘staining’ meant it was made of stone unlike other City churches which were made of wood. It was rebuilt in 1674 after collapsing four years earlier (possibly because of too many burials near the building). You can read more about it here in the London Inheritance blog.

I found a few odd things here. These mysterious tiles, which look quite modern, have what I think are construction workers in the foreground and a tower crane in the background …

They are nowhere near number 48 or 43


And this spooky little alien character …

There is one grave left in the graveyard …

The marker for the grave of John Barker (d 179?), his wife (d 1831) and their son Robert (date of death illegible)

Unfortunately I have not been able to find out more about the family.

As you look towards Fenchurch Street, you can see the date of the post-war building inscribed above the entrance …

The wooden facade of the restaurant makes it look much older

Finally, there is also an edition of Spitalfields Life dealing with City Alleys – you can access it here. This is my favourite picture from it …

‘Hello, hello, hello …’

St Mary Woolnoth – a lucky survivor

The church of St Mary Woolnoth has been lucky twice.

A masterpiece by Wren’s brilliant protégé Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was built between 1716 and 1727 in the English Baroque style. Amazingly, it was scheduled for demolition in 1898 in order to facilitate the construction of Bank Underground Station. A public outcry put a stop to that and a compromise was reached. The crypt was cleared and the extended area under the church became the Underground ticket office – the church authorities collected a whopping £170,000 in compensation.

It was lucky a second time around during the Second World War which it survived unscathed …

Bank Underground Station, January 11th 1941 – a near miss for the church

First recorded in 1191, it has an unusual name. The founder may have been a Saxon noble, Wulfnoth, or alternatively, the name may be connected with the wool trade. Certainly this was true of the nearby church of St Mary Woolchurch Haw, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 (its parish then united with that of St Mary Woolnoth).

The most celebrated priest associated with the church was John Newton (1725-1807)…

Born the son of a master mariner in Wapping, he spent the early part of his career as a slave trader. From 1745-1754 he worked on slave ships, serving as captain on three voyages. He was involved in every aspect of the slaver’s trade, and his log books record the torture of rebellious slaves. Following his conversion to devout Christianity in 1748 he eventually became rector here in 1780. In the church is his memorial tablet, which he wrote himself beginning …

John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa …

In 1785, he became a friend and counsellor to William Wilberforce and was very influential himself in the abolition of slavery. He lived just long enough to see the Abolition Act passed into law. Think of him also when you hear the hymn Amazing Grace, which he co-wrote with the poet William Cowper in 1773.

The outside of the church is very unusual and it has a fine position on the corner of King William Street and Lombard Street, just off the major Bank road junction (EC3V 9AN). The clock is mentioned in a famous poem which I shall refer to later …

The gate to the church bears the coat of arms of the Diocese of London …

These cherubs once used to gaze at me as, when I worked nearby, I went down the steps to the station on my way home …

The small, square, tranquil interior was regarded by Simon Jenkins as the ‘most remarkable in the City, the majesty it conjures from a limited space’ ..

At each corner are a group of three great Corinthian columns …

Monuments other than the one to Newton include this one to William Kentish …

The plaque, in the shape of the end of a chest tomb, incorporates a bright coat of arms with the motto ‘Survive and thrive’. William’s grandson was buried in Highgate Cemetery and the plaque describes where to find his resting place. Beneath is a note of the will of Thomas Kentish of St Albans (died 1712) which arranges for the education etc. of four boys, ideally named Kentish.

This panel was erected in memory of Thomas Lloyd, the man who started the famous coffee house, which eventually led to the Corporation of Lloyd’s …

The miniature coat of arms at the top is held by two tiny lions and, although it was placed here only in 1931, to me it does look appropriately 18th century.

The stunning, bulging pulpit dates from Hawksmoor’s time and Newton delivered his sermons from it. It was made by Thomas Darby and Gervaise Smith …

The inlaid sunburst marquetry by Appleby is sublime …

In the corner sits this clock mechanism surrounded by a cover on which is etched an extract from T.S. Elliott’s poem The Wasteland

Elliott worked nearby and, having watched the commuters trudge over London Bridge, wrote …

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.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

No doubt if you were not at the office by the ‘final stroke of nine’ you were going to be late.

And finally, have you noticed these figures around the corner from the church in King William Street?

I used to think they were connected to the church but I was mistaken. They were, in fact, created in 1899 to enhance the entrance to the Underground Station. Bank was the terminus of the City and South London Railway – the first deep level ‘tube’ in London and, indeed, the world and the first to use electric locomotives.

Appropriately, the lady on the left represents electricity …

She wears a spiked crown, is surrounded by thunder clouds and shoots lightning bolts from her extended finger.

Mercury reclines on the right …

He represents Speed. He is wearing his winged hat and sandals and holding a caduceus. The architect was Sydney Smith who designed the Tate Gallery at Millbank and the sculptor Oliver Wheatley.

By the way, if you travel to the church by Underground, as you climb the stairs to the street take a moment to admire these fearsome dragons by Gerald Laing …

… and if you think the Tube is claustrophobic now, the original City & South London railway carriages had no windows because ‘there was nothing to see’. Here is a drawing from an 1890 edition of the Illustrated London News …


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