Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: April 2019

Weather vanes – cooked martyrs and valuable rodents

The longbow was a crucial English weapon of war and King Edward III’s second Archery law of 1363 made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their archery skills every Sunday. Stray arrows proved to be extremely dangerous and the wind played a part in diverting arrows away from their intended targets. The answer they came up with was the weather vane, the word vane coming from the Old English word fana meaning flag. They were originally fabric pennants and lots of high buildings were fitted with them, not just churches. Compass points were added later.

The vanes developed into the more permanent metal structures we still see today, and I used one of the recent lovely sunny days to venture into the City and photograph a selection of them.

My first stop was the beautifully restored St Lawrence Jewry which took its name from a Jewish community that lived nearby during the early medieval period (EC2V 5AA). The Jews came to London at the time of the Norman Conquest and were expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. In the medieval period there were several churches dedicated to St Lawrence in London, and this one was named St Lawrence Jewry to distinguish it from other churches dedicated to the same saint. The nearby street called Old Jewry recalls the medieval Jewish presence here.

St Lawrence was martyred in San Lorenzo on 10 August 258 AD in a particularly gruesome fashion, being roasted to death on a gridiron. At one point, the legend tells us, he remarked ‘you can turn me over now, this side is done’. Appropriately, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians and the church weathervane consists of a gridiron …

If you were born within the sound of Bow Bells you were considered a true Cockney and the Wren church on Cheapside has a weathervane that consists of a copper dragon (symbol of the City) nearly nine feet long (EC2V 6AU). You can see the cross of St George under its wing (the cross was originally painted red but the weather has worn this away) …

The dragon is very old and dates back to the rebuilding of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1679 after the Great Fire. Records show that a sum of £4 was paid to Edward Pearce, Mason, for carving the wooden model on which the dragon was based; and that a further £38 was paid to Robert Bird, the coppersmith who made the dragon itself. It is said that when the dragon was raised to its pinnacle it was accompanied by the famous Jacob Hall, a noted trapeze artist of the time, who performed a high wire act to the astonishment of the watching crowd.

When the dragon was repaired and restored after the Second World War it was lowered into place by helicopter!

There is a fascinating story about the consequences of allowing the dragon to meet the grasshopper from the Royal Exchange and you can read it, and much more, here in the splendid History London blog.

The Royal Exchange grasshopper may be even older, dating back to the original Exchange built in 1567. You can read a fascinating story about its restoration here.

The grasshopper is the symbol of Thomas Gresham, the founder of the original Royal Exchange. 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’.

I have written an entire blog about Gresham and you can view it here and my blog about the Royal Exchange can be accessed through this link.

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was founded by a Royal Charter in 1670 and had its headquarters nearby. The Charter granted a group of investors a monopoly on trade in the Hudson Bay region of North America, known as Rubert’s Land, and for centuries was dominant in the fur trade. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

We are so lucky to still be able to admire the pre-Great Fire church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (EC3A 6AT) …

And I just managed to get a picture of its pennant weathervane with the beaver in the background …

Pennants are common on weathervanes, flat metal equivalents of the original fabric versions. This one is on the tower of St Giles’ Cripplegate and dates from 1682 (EC2Y 8DA) …

It is difficult to imagine churches built by Sir Christopher Wren being demolished, but that was what was happening in the 19th century as congregations declined and City land could be sold for substantial sums. One of the victims was St Michael Queenhithe, but its charming elaborate weathervane found a home atop St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street (EC4V 4BJ). Very appropriate as St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) is the patron saint of sailors …

This close-up 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.

The old Billingsgate Market building dates from 1876 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones, an architect perhaps best known for creating Tower Bridge but who also designed Leadenhall and Smithfield markets. Business boomed until 1982, when the fish market moved to the Isle of Dogs.

The south side of the old market today.

I love the original weathervanes at each end…

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

Similar weathervanes adorn the new market buildings in Docklands but they are fibreglass copies.

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

A plaque gives more information …

And finally, a weathercock.

The Church of St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall Street, one of the few to almost totally survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, has a rooster on its weathervane.

The St Katherine Cree weathercock with The Gherkin in the background

The Bible tells the story of St Peter denying Christ three times ‘before the cock crowed’. In the late 6th Century Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem of St Peter and also of Christianity generally. Later, in the 9th Century, Pope Nicholas decreed that all churches should display it and, although the practice gradually faded away, the tradition of rooster weathervanes survived in many places.

If you can avoid colliding with someone intent on reading their smartphone, looking up as you walk through the City can be very rewarding.

Harry Potter meets the Children of the Damned

Every now and then at the weekend I see film crews going about their business and using the City as a location. This prompted me to see what I could find regarding films that have already been released, and whether I could include some excerpts in my blog. I was not disappointed and hope you enjoy watching the results of my research.

First up is Children of the Damned. Released in 1964, it tells the story of six mysterious children, apparently born without fathers, who possess extraordinary telekinetic powers. They come to be seen as a threat to humanity and are hunted down. They take refuge in a derelict church which is eventually destroyed by the army.

The building used to portray the outside of the church is St Dunstan in the East on St Dunstan’s Hill (EC2R 5DD). Here is a recent picture with the Walkie Talkie lurking in the background …

And here is a screen shot of two of the protagonists entering the church where the children are hiding. Little do they know what fate awaits them …

I found this great four and a half minute sequence of scenes from the film accompanied by appropriate music by Iron Maiden (you may want to adjust the sound accordingly!). Click here for the link – I love it.

Also arriving in UK cinemas in 1964 was Mary Poppins featuring the lovely Julie Andrews. The film was also notorious for Dick Van Dyke’s appalling Cockney accent.

The two stars

A scene from the film includes the song Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag, where an old lady is doing just that whilst sitting on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Click here to watch the sequence and hear the song.

It is, sadly, partly trick photography and the sweet old lady was filmed in a studio in California. The song was said to be Walt Disney’s favourite and the old lady was the Academy Award winning actress Jane Darwell who made her first of hundreds of movies in 1913. She was specifically chosen for the part by Disney himself and it was her last role.

More recently, fans of the Harry Potter movies have been prowling the City spotting familiar locations. Leadenhall Market is popular …


Apparently the cobbled, covered market stood in for Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter film.

In a later film, however, Hagrid and Harry enter the Alley through the blue door of the Leaky Cauldron pub …

And here it is at 42 Bull’s Head Passage (EC3V 1LU), still part of Leadenhall Market …

The Millennium Bridge features in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There is a really scary sequence as the Muggle World is attacked by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, with the bridge a particular target. You can view it if you click here.

Again back in time, looking at a TV series called The Professionals which was broadcast from 1977 to 1983. Inside the secure corridors of Criminal Intelligence 5, a high-level British anti-crime unit, George Cowley hands out tough assignments to his two top agents: thuggish William Andrew Philip Bodie, who favours a ‘hit first, ask questions later’ style, and the more cerebral Raymond Doyle, a former Docklands police constable …

Martin Shaw ((Doyle), Gordon Jackson (Cowley) and Lewis Collins (Bodie)

The opening sequence of the second series closes with the trio leaving the CI5 headquarters (aka the old Port of London Authority building in Trinity Square, EC3N 4AJ) .

You can view it here – it’s the first 45 seconds. It’s followed by half an hour of extracts from individual episodes. Ideal viewing if you are interested how cultural and popular fashion trends have changed over the last 30 plus years!

Now it’s a hotel

The building also featured in the James Bond film Skyfall. Here is Dame Judi Dench as M arriving for a meeting with the Chairman of the Security & Intelligence Committee …

That’s all for now.

I am going to carry on researching and hopefully will have some more stories and film clips to put in a future blog.

The Cracksman

Spring has sprung!

I was wondering what to write about this week when, as I walked past St Paul’s Underground Station, the answer came to me when I saw this magnificent display of tulips …

So this week’s blog is a tribute to all the hard work that people put in to keep the City looking beautiful – especially the in-house City Gardens Team. You can read more about them here and their terrific record number of awards here. Sign up to their Newsletter to hear more about their ongoing projects and other work.

Just across the road alongside Cheapside is this display of Polyanthus, Hyacinths and soon-to-bloom tulips …

The beds at Postman’s Park have come alive (EC1A 7BT) …

More Polyanthus
Brunnera
Camellia

To get to the St John Zachary garden in Gresham Street (EC2V 7HN) you walk under the leopard’s head symbol of the Goldsmith’s Company …

Inside I spotted Dicentra, or Bleeding Heart …

As well as these pretty little tulips …

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And this Arum lily – Zantedeschia

I have written about this garden in another blog where I discuss the interesting sculpture there. You can access it via this link.

Across the road, the Wax Chandlers’ Hall team have worked on their window boxes …

Onward to London Wall. St Olave Silver Street was totally destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but it’s little churchyard lives on. A much weathered 17th century stone plaque records the terrible event …

This was the Parish Church of St Olave Silver street, destroyed by the dreadful fire in the year 1666.

Silver Street itself was annihilated in the Blitz and erased completely by post-war development and traffic planning.

More Camellia

Across the road, the old horse trough in has been planted up with pansies. You can see some more modern planters in the background containing Polyanthus …

P

The combined horse trough and drinking fountain has quite a history. You can read more about it in another of my blogs, Philanthropic Fountains.

On the the Barbican Estate, alongside St Giles Cripplegate Church (EC2Y 8DA), two varieties of magnolia are in bloom …

Goblet shaped Magnolia
Star Magnolia

I spotted some more little tulips on the Barbican’s Beech gardens (EC2Y 8DE) …

My final destination was Bunhill Fields Burial Ground (EC1Y 2BG). I have written about it before in much greater detail and you can see the blog here

Daffodils and Grape Hyacinths

It is wonderful that, after years of research, the final Bunhill resting place of William Blake was discovered last year and marked with this beautiful stone carved by Lida Cardozo …

I give you the end of a golden string/Only wind it into a ball/It will lead you in at Heavens gate/Built in Jerusalems wall

City Clocks

One day in the 1660s a young apprentice lad was due to meet his Master on London Bridge. Unfortunately, because he had no way of telling the time, he was late and severely castigated for his tardiness. Some fifty years later the young man, Charles Duncombe, had become immensely wealthy and, along with being knighted, had been elected Lord Mayor of London. The story goes that, the day he got into trouble, he promised himself that one day he would erect a public clock, so that all in the vicinity would know the time.

And we can still see today the clock he paid for and donated …

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The clock was made by Langley Bradley of Fenchurch Street who frequently worked for Christopher Wren. Bradley made the first clock that was installed in St Paul’s Cathedral.

It’s at the side of the tower of St Magnus-the-Martyr, which once stood alongside the entrance to London Bridge until 1832, and so was highly visible both to people crossing the bridge and many in the City. Nowadays it is very hemmed in by office development …

But its situation was quite different in the early 19th century …

You can see the clock and its proximity to the bridge in this etching by Edward William Cooke entitled Part of Old London-Bridge, St Magnus and the Monument, taken at Low-water, August 15th, 1831.

Now I have to say that, although Duncombe definitely donated the clock, there are some doubts about whether it was linked to a ‘promise’ he made as an apprentice. Nonetheless, it’s a nice story and so I thought it was appropriate to include it here.

I have always liked this clock at the corner of Fleet Street and Ludgate Circus …

I read somewhere that, during the Blitz, an incendiary device became entangled in the ball at the top and dangled there for hours until it was deactivated. I often have this image in my head of gently swaying ordnance when I walk up Fleet Street.

And Fleet Street has a lot to offer when it comes to clock spotting.

How about this masterpiece …

St Dunstan-in-the-West EC4A 2HR

Installed just after the Great Fire of London in 1671, it was the first clock in London to have a minute hand, with two figures (perhaps representing Gog and Magog) striking the hours and quarters with clubs, turning their heads whilst doing so.

The present version of the clock was installed in 1738 before, in 1828, being moved to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford’s house in Regent’s Park. The Great War saw the Regent’s Park residence housing soldiers blinded from combat. The charity which undertook this went on to name itself after where the clock in the house came from: St Dunstan’s. It was returned to the Church in 1935 by Lord Rothermere to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

If you like the occasional burst of colour, look up at this Art Deco beauty outside the old Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph (EC4A 2BB) …

Do any of you remember the original Number 1 Poultry, the 1870 Mappin & Webb building which, despite being listed, was demolished in 1994? Here is a picture taken a few years before demolition …

I was very familiar with the clock that faced the junction since, when I started work nearby and got off the Tube, it would indicate whether I was going to be late or not.

This is the new building that replaced it. I don’t dislike it, I’m just sad they felt they had to destroy the old one …

The building (by James Stirling and Michael Wilford & Partners) is now Grade II* listed. Photo copyright Adrian Welch

A small plus, I suppose, is that the old Mappin & Webb clock has been preserved in the public atrium …

And a wonderful frieze from the old building illustrating royal processions has also been preserved and relocated facing Poultry. Here is a small section …

King Charles II rides past accompanied by his pet spaniels

I am really pleased to report that the refurbishment of Bracken House is now complete and we can see again the extraordinary Zodiacal clock on the side of the building that faces Cannon Street (EC3M 9JA).

Here it is in all its glory …

If you look more closely at the centre this is what you will see …

On the gilt bronze sunburst at the centre you can clearly see the features of Winston Churchill. The building used to be the headquarters of the Financial Times and is named after Brendan Bracken, its chief editor after the war.

During the War Bracken served in Churchill’s wartime cabinet as Minister of Information. George Orwell worked under Bracken on the BBC’s Indian Service and deeply resented wartime censorship and the need to manipulate information. If you like slightly wacky theories, there is one that the sinister ‘Leader’ in Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, was inspired by Bracken, who was customarily referred to as ‘BB’ by his Ministry employees.

The oddly-shaped Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street sports a pretty clock just above the jolly friar’s head …

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked for long time.

The Royal Courts of Justice have a magnificent clock (WC2A 2LL). It was ‘set in motion’ when ‘the surveyor severed the cord holding the pendulum’. Here’s the event as recorded in the Illustrated London News of December 1883 …

Designed by George Edmund Street, it has been described as ‘exuberant’ …

When doing research for this blog I discovered a tragic event relating to the clock. On 5th November 1954 a clock mechanic, Thomas Manners, was killed when his clothes were caught up in the machinery as he wound up the mechanism. He had been carrying out this task every week since 1937, as well as looking after the 800 or so other clocks in the law court buildings. You can read the press cutting I came across here.

The Royal Exchange has two ‘twin’ clocks, both exactly the same, one facing Threadneedle Street and one facing Cornhill …

Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that contains an image of Gresham’s original Royal Exchange whilst above Atlas lifts a globe. I have seen it described as a Valentine’s Day clock because of the two red hearts. Ahhhh, sweet!

Clocks have featured regularly in my blogs and you can read more about some of them here and here.

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