Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Architecture Page 2 of 4

Terminal Tales 3 – Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street is the UK’s third busiest station after Victoria and Waterloo. This will no doubt come as no surprise to those of you who battle your way through here every day in the rush hours. However, maybe I can persuade you to spend a little time exploring the station and its surroundings since it does have some really fascinating aspects to it.

Next to the station eastern entrance is a Wetherspoons in a building called Hamilton Hall. It is named after Lord Claud Hamilton, chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company (1893–1923), and is the former ballroom of the old Great Eastern Hotel. Pop in for a drink and cast your eyes upwards …

The bar area.

Yes, the original ballroom decorations are still there, and you can get an even closer look if you go upstairs …

At least one source states that the design was copied directly from the Palais Soubise in Paris in 1901. Opulent is the word that springs to mind.

Named after the British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, Liverpool Street was the Great Eastern Railway’s London Terminus with the first suburban trains departing in 1874.The Great Eastern, and its successor the London & North Eastern Railway, concentrated on developing and increasing its suburban steam services, a business model that continued until steam was withdrawn in the 1960s. Under its modernisation plan, British Railways electrified all suburban services running form Liverpool Street station, and all steam had been replaced by diesel locomotives by the end of 1962.

The days of steam.

Someone once described it as a ‘Dark Cathedral’.

A plan to demolish the station, and its neighbour Broad Street, was put forward in 1975 but fierce opposition meant a compromise had to be reached. Eventually, only Broad Street was demolished (in 1986) and Liverpool Street developed more sympathetically.

Nicely preserved are traces of a time when astonishing care was taken with what people would see on starting and finishing their journey.

What about these lovely reliefs sculpted in brick against the back wall of the Great Eastern Hotel …

A steam train …

One of the Great Eastern Railway’s own ships …

And a fireman, or stoker …

The western entrance towers hold a clock and the old railway emblems …

Just outside the entrance is the Kindertransport commemorative statue …

Photograph: Robin Coupland. Statue by Frank Meisler (2006).

In 1938 and 1939, nearly ten thousand unaccompanied Jewish children were transported to Britain to escape persecution in their hometowns in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. These children arrived at Liverpool Street station to be taken in by British families and foster homes. Often they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

The station contains a number of other poignant memorials. The inscription above the largest one reads:

To the glory of God and in grateful memory of the Great Eastern Railway staff who in response to the call of their King and Country, sacrificed their lives during the Great War.

There are over 1,100 names.

There are two plaques below the main memorial …

You can read more about the Field Marshal and his murder in my blog from 15 February, Some Interesting Faces.

The Master of the Great Eastern Railway ship SS Brussels, Fryatt was court martialled for attempting to ram an attacking German submarine and being a franc-tireur (a civilian engaged in hostile military action). Having been found guilty, he was executed almost immediately by firing squad, after a show trial lasting barely two hours, during which he was afforded no proper defence. As happened following the execution of Edith Cavell in 1915, the event caused international outrage, and led to Fryatt’s body being repatriated after the war and given a ceremonial funeral. If you have the chance, read about him online – the story is absolutely fascinating.

This memorial was unveiled in 1920 by the Lord Mayor …

I have been unable to find out anything about The London Society of East Anglians.

The station was built on the site of the old Bethlehem asylum for the mentally ill commonly known as Bedlam. So when trains are totally disrupted and people say ‘it’s Bedlam here’ – once upon a time it really was.





Fish tales – a walk along the river

I started my westward walk at the old Billingsgate Market on Lower Thames Street. Once the centre of London’s fish trade, it has been comprehensively smartened up and no trace remains of its pulsating, pongy past, its interior now a soulless ‘event space’.

The market in its 20th century heyday.

Billingsgate was originally a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish and miscellaneous goods and does not seem to have become associated exclusively with the fish trade until the sixteenth century.

In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed making it ‘a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever’. The only exception to this was the sale of eels which was restricted to Dutch fishermen whose boats were moored in the Thames. This was because they had helped feed the people of London during the Great Fire.

The present 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 weathervanes …

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

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

As you walk westwards you will see on your right a view of both the tower of St Magnus-the-Martyr and Wren’s monument to the Great Fire of 1666 …

The fishy environment is enhanced by the lamps that illuminate the path at night …

And, amazingly, I think the cloud formation behind is the beginning of what is known as a ‘mackerel sky’.

‘Hello, there!’ : Face-to-face with a fish at eye level.

Further along Adelaide House looms above you …

Built in 1925, it was then the City’s tallest block and is now Grade II listed. The building was named in honour of King William IV’s wife Adelaide who, in 1831, had performed the opening ceremony of London Bridge. Office workers there could once access an 18-hole mini-golf course on the roof. When I discovered this an image came to mind of an errant golf ball flying over the parapet and bonking a London Bridge commuter on the head.

Glance across the river for an interesting contrast of old and new …

On the right, the 16th century tower of Southwark Cathedral peeps over London Bridge. In the distance the Strata tower block at Elephant & Castle, with its three wind turbines, stares back at you. The turbines were supposed to generate electricity but I have never seen them move. I am told that locals have nicknamed the building Mordor.

The Fishmongers’ Livery Company is one of the most ancient of the City Guilds and you encounter the river frontage of their hall as you continue to walk westwards. You will also spot more fish motifs both on the lamps and on the railings …

The south side of Fishmongers’ Hall.

Glance across the river and there, perched in a dry dock, is a replica of a very famous Elizabethan vessel …

The Golden Hinde, under the captaincy of Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580. It is open to visitors at St Mary Overie Dock SE1.

And now some bollards …

After the Battle of Trafalgar, it was discovered that the captured French cannons could not be retrofitted to British ships, and many of them were taken to London and erected as bollards. A cannon ball too large for the barrel was welded into the muzzle to give a distinctive shape. Most have disappeared, or are actually modern replicas, but I do think these fat black and white ones have an authentic look.

Further on, another fish lamp …

This one dates from 1998 when this part of the Thames Path was opened.

You will now pass under Cannon Street Station through the atmospheric Steelyard Passage which I wrote about in last week’s blog about Cannon Street Station.

One feature I didn’t mention was these blue lights built into the path …

The lights illustrate the edge of the River Thames at high tide before the Embankment was built in the 19th century. Shame about the skip.

At the end of the path turn left and you can look down onto the River …

You are standing above the old Walbrook River which entered the Thames at approximately this point. Now totally covered over, it was once quite a torrent. The historian John Stow wrote that it had …

Such a swift course that in the year 1564 a lad of eighteen years, minding to have leapt over the channel, was borne down that narrow stream towards the Thames with such violent swiftness as no man could rescue or stay him.

If you turn round now and walk up Cousin Lane you follow the course of the old Walbrook. On the north side of  Cannon Street it is commemorated in this sculpture entitled Forgotten Streams by the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias …

Terminus tales 2 – Cannon Street Station

In medieval times you could buy wood in Wood Street, bread in Bread Street and you knew what you were after if you headed for Ropemaker Street. You couldn’t get hold of a cannon in Cannon Street, however, because then it was known as Candlewick Street and Cannon Street is a later derivation.

Nonetheless, I applaud the Nuffield Health club for brightening up the area with two terrific cannons, the metalwork of which looks very authentic …

4 Cousin Lane EC4R 3XJ on the south side of Cannon Street. More impressive than a candlestick.

Cannon Street Station opened on 1st September 1866 and inside a year was fronted by the Cannon Street Hotel which housed much of the station’s facilities…

The Cannon Street Hotel in 1867 – Picture: Illustrated London News.

If you think it looks like the hotel at today’s Charing Cross Station it is no coincidence. They were both designed by Edward Middleton Barry, the son of Charles Barry of Houses of Parliament fame.

Barry’s Italianate style masterpiece was demolished in 1960 and the station, having been redeveloped several times, now looks like this …

Some of you may remember when it looked like this …

The Station in 1965 just after the office block was completed.

Researching this blog reminded me of a scandal. This hit the newspapers when it was revealed that the office designer, John Poulson, had a dodgy friendship with a British Rail surveyor to whom he was ‘bunging’ £25 a week in return for contracts. The Cannon Street job was apparently worth a £200 bonus plus a new £80 suit. Both were found guilty of corruption (Poulson got seven years). His extensive corrupt activities were revealed to have stretched so far that the Home Secretary at the time, Reginald Maudling, felt obliged to resign at the height of the scandal in 1972.

The original station was characterised by its two Wren-style towers, 23 ft square and 135 ft high, which faced on to the River Thames and are still there …

Picture from ‘A Cabbie’s London’.

The towers supported a 700 ft  long iron train shed crowned by a high single arch, almost semicircular, of glass and iron.

This postcard from around 1910 is a great image looking north …

The glass roof was removed during the war to protect it but, in a terrible irony, the factory it was moved to was itself bombed and the station roof destroyed.

A walk down Cousin Lane will give a good idea of the scale of the station and a glimpse of the western tower …

Just past the Nuffield cannons you will see the entrance to Steelyard Passage which runs underneath the station …

The very atmospheric Steelyard Passage …

Rather spookily there is a sound installation of the noise made in a steelworking environment.

This steelyard was the London headquarters the Hanseatic League, or Hansa. This was a northern European trading confederation, founded in the middle of the 13th century, which continued for some 600 years. Its network of alliances grew to 170 cities and it protected its interests from interfering rulers and rival traders using a powerful fleet financed by its members. Amazingly, this part of the City was a self-governing enclave of Germany and still owned by the cities of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg in 1852 when they sold their interest to the South Eastern Railway for the construction of the station.

There is a commemorative plaque nearby …

The inscription in German at the end translates as ‘The old falls, the times are changing and new life blooms from the ruins.’ A quote from William Tell – a drama written by Friedrich Schiller in 1804.

The original 1670 Hanseatic League plaque from their headquarters showing the League’s Arms (a double-headed eagle) can now be found in the Museum of London …

And the connection is also commemorated in the naming of part of the Thames River Walk …



Hidden Gems

I have written before about the history of the little greetings card shop on the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside but didn’t mention the fascinating feature tucked away inside.

The shop dates from 1687 and so was among the first buildings to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’.

At the back of the store is this spiral staircase …

According to at least one source the staircase was in a previous house on the site which was built by Christopher Wren for an alderman, William Turner, who subsequently became Lord Mayor in 1668.

On the corner of Mitre Street and Leadenhall Street is this rather austere office building currently undergoing renovation …

Previously the Towergate Building.

Holy Trinity Priory was the first religious house to be established within the walls of London after the Norman Conquest, being founded by Matilda, the wife of Henry I, in 1108. It was also one of the first Augustinian houses established in England as well as being the first to be dissolved in 1532, voluntarily surrendered to Henry VIII after running up large debts.

It is quite remarkable, therefore, that some of the old priory buildings have survived and even more remarkable that they have been encased in a 20th century office building. If you go up close and peer through the building’s windows on Leadenhall Street this is what you will see …

There is a whole section of wall and an archway.

When the refurbishment is complete I will return and see if I am allowed in to take a better photograph.

A jolly friar looks down on you as you approach the masterpiece of Art Nouveau that is the Black Friar pub on Queen Victoria Street opposite Blackfriars Station …

174 Queen Victoria St, London EC4V 4EG.

The Black Friar’s interior is so amazing that I am going to write about it in more detail in a later blog dedicated to pubs. In the meantime, here are a few pictures to give you some idea of what to expect …

Some pretty stained glass.

Some good advice …

‘Don’t advertise, tell a gossip’.

Part of the interior …

When you have enjoyed a glass of something refreshing at the Black Friar you can visit another interesting hostelry not far away – walk east along Queen Victoria Street and you will see St Andrew’s Hill on your left. Walk up the hill and on your right you will see Shaw’s Booksellers …

31-34 St Andrew’s Hill, London EC4V 5DE.

It is a gastropub rather than a booksellers and when I had a flat nearby I was told an interesting story about its history which I have been unable to verify but which sounds authentic. Apparently it was a bar for a long time but was renamed Shaw’s Booksellers for the making of a film and it was decided to keep the name. This story is backed up by the existence in the bar of this staircase …

Pictures courtesy of the Shaw’s Booksellers website.

When you look at it close up you will see that it actually goes nowhere and was allegedly installed as part of the alterations made by the filmmakers. It’s a great story and I hope it’s true.


Unusual memorials

I am sure there are very few dishonest solicitors nowadays, but there seems to have been a time when an honest one was rather unusual, and this virtue was so exceptional that his clients paid for a memorial plaque saying so. It reads ‘Hobson Judkin, late of Clifford’s Inn, THE HONEST SOLICITOR who departed this life June 30th 1812’.

The plaque can be seen in St Dunstan-in-the West on Fleet Street.

‘Go reader’ we are told ‘and imitate Hobson Judkin’.

Also in the church is this figure of a young man, apparently asleep …

In fact, Edward James Auriol died tragically at the age of 17 when he drowned whilst swimming in the Rhône river in Geneva one bright morning on 19th August 1847. A student at Kings College London, he was the ‘tenderly beloved and only child’ of the Rector of St Dunstan’s Edward Auriol and his wife Georgiana.

St Bride’s Fleet Street was badly damaged in the War but has now been sympathetically restored. In it there is a memorial to a lady who has a special connection with the United States…

Virginia Dare by Clare Waterhouse (1999).

At some time in the early 1580s the wedding took place at St Bride’s between Eleanor White and the tiler and bricklayer Ananias Dare. Their daughter Virginia was to be the first English child born in North America on Roanoake Island on 18 August 1587 after being brought there in an expedition led by her father, John. Because ‘this childe was the first Christian borne in Virginia, she was named Virginia.’

Roanoake turned out to be a bad choice. Previous settlers had fled in 1585 after little more than a year due to dwindling supplies and deteriorating relationships with the natives (they hitched a ride with Francis Drake, who fortunately happened to be passing). Similarly with the 1587 settlement, it soon became obvious that more supplies (and men) were needed and White set off again for England. He was unable to return speedily but eventually arrived back on Virginia’s third birthday. No trace remained of his daughter or of the other 114 men, women and children he had left behind – what happened to them has remained a mystery ever since. Virginia lives on though – in the name Dare County and the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge.

The Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge – over 5 miles long and opened in 2002.

In All Hallows-by-the-Tower, a maritime accident is commemorated.

Jesus summons drowned Sea Scouts out of the water …

The inscription reads …

It is I, be not afraid.
Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the waters.
And He said, ‘Come.’ St Matt. 14-27

Sea Scouting was a relatively new movement and in July 1912 the Daily Mirror newspaper presented them with a 50-ton Ketch, named the Mirror, equipped with the latest wireless equipment.

The evening of Saturday, October 25th, was a fine clear night and most of the Scouts turned in. The Mirror was tacking across the Thames between Gravesend and Tilbury having passed two steamers when a third, the Hogarth, loomed up, close to. Hogarth appeared to be making a turn to pass behind the Mirror, but crashed into her amidships sinking her.

For some time the yacht hung on the stem of the steamer and some boys managed to get up onto her. Ropes were thrown and four or five more were saved. Hogarth’s boat was promptly lowered and picked up three more boys from the water but four perished.

I found it difficult not to be reminded of the Marchioness disaster in 1989 – the commemorative plaque for those victims is in Southwark Cathedral …

Finally, in Postman’s Park, behind St Botolph’s Aldersgate, can be found the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. The ceramic tablets (and there are 54 of them) were the idea of the Victorian artist Georg Frederic Watts and I shall be writing more about him and this memorial in a future blog.

In the meantime, it is interesting to see the tablets illustrate some of the dangerous features of the times.

These were days before consumer protection legislation when it came to product safety …


The dangers associated with a horse transport era are apparent …

Industrial accidents were commonplace …

The highly contagious nature of diptheria put doctors’ lives in danger during treatment …

The historian John Price has researched the lives of the people commemorated on the memorial and in a future blog I will be drawing on his work. He has published an excellent book on the subject which I recommend highly if you want to read more – Heroes of Postman’s Park by John Price – ISBN 978-0-7509-5643-7.


The Roman Wall revisited

One of the great things about writing this blog is that I keep coming across surprises.

Let’s take as an example the Roman Wall. I have only recently discovered that, if you go down into the public car park in (appropriately named) London Wall, you will encounter a part of the wall that was revealed when the car park space was being excavated.

Here it is, next to parking bay 52 …

It’s a long walk from the entrance and probably a good idea to mention to the security guard what you are up to.

When you finish in the car park you can access the Highwalk and stroll round to enter the Museum of London. A short way into the exhibition space on the right they have placed a useful viewing point where you can look down upon part of the Roman wall known as Bastion 14.  The medieval masonry construction lies on top of Roman foundations but by the 19th century it was entirely incorporated into the surrounding buildings. World War II bombing, however, revealed much of the structure you see now…

The view from the Museum.

And from the Highwalk …

Another view from Bastion Highwalk. You can see the 19th century brickwork.

There has been a lot of construction and redevelopment work going on around London Wall and Fore Street for years now but at last it is coming to an end. St Alphage Gardens are still inaccessible but a view of the Wall has now emerged behind the Salters’ Hall gardens …

And here is a closer view …

 There is a new public space overlooking the garden which also accommodates the Minotaur who used to be a little isolated on the Highwalk …

The Minotaur by Michael Ayrton (1968-9)

The Minotaur was originally sited in Postman’s Park and apparently there is a picture somewhere of it when it was unveiled in 1973 with Frederick Cleary standing beside it. Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of the photo but you will have read more about the estimable Mr Cleary in last week’s blog, City Gardens, since a garden was named after him.

Whilst walking along the Wallside Highwalk, I was lucky to catch the wall being used as a vantage point by the heron, a frequent Barbican visitor. He positions himself by the lake for hours at a time but I have never seen him catch a fish …

I think his Barbican nickname is Harry.

And finally, I am indebted to the Spitalfields Life blogger, the Gentle Author, for the following London Wall sighting.

In Gracechurch Street, at the entrance to Leadenhall market, stands the premises of Nicholson and Griffin, Hairdresser and Barber

The Gentle Author visited the shop along with the Inspector of Ancient Monuments and the basement, where the wall can be accessed, is not open to the public. He describes the scene as follows …

At the far corner of this chamber, there is a discreet glass door which leads to another space entirely. Upon first sight, there is undefined darkness on the other side of the door, as if it opened upon the infinite universe of space and time. At the centre, sits an ancient structure of stone and brick. You are standing at ground level of Roman London …

Here are a few of his pictures …

The entrance in the basement.

Part of the wall itself.

And he leaves us with this interesting thought …

Once upon a time, countless people walked from the forum into the basilica and noticed this layer of bricks at the base of the wall which eventually became so familiar as to be invisible. They did not expect anyone in future to gaze in awe at this fragment from the deep recess of the past, any more than we might imagine a random section of the city of our own time being scrutinised by those yet to come, when we have long departed and London has been erased.

If you would like to read more about this site and see more pictures, search for Spitalfields Life – the Roman ruins at the hairdressers.


City Churchyards then and now

‘I have emptied a cesspool, and the smell of it was rose-water compared with the smell of these graves.’ So declared a gravedigger during an 1842 enquiry into the state of London’s graveyards, a problem acknowledged even in Shakespeare’s day …

‘Tis now the very witching time of night

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world.

(Hamlet’s soliloquy Act 3 Scene 2)

Fear of the ‘miasma’ and cholera eventually led to legislation being passed to prohibit new interments and allow graveyard clearance.

Despite the fact that widespread use of City churchyards as burial grounds ceased over 150 years ago, the remaining sites often still carry an atmosphere of serenity and a link with Londoners long deceased. These folk lived, worked and died here and played their part in the City we see today. Despite fires, war and redevelopment, some still rest here, although bones and stones may have long been separated.

So this is a short journey showing a few of these places before and after the Second World War and what remains of memorials to previous ‘residents’.

First up is my local church, St Giles Cripplegate, which has many connections with the famous. Oliver Cromwell was married here, it is the final resting place of John Milton and two of Shakespeare’s nephews were christened here. Sadly the church was badly damaged in the war and the graveyard almost completely destroyed.

Here is how it looked in 1815 …

Painting by George Shepherd.

And how it looks now …

In the shadow of the Barbican Estate – tombstones are incorporated into the seating on the right.

Some memorials can still be read … …

The Williams Family gravestone.

The deaths in the Williams family, recorded over the years 1802 to 1840, give typical examples of the high incidence of child mortality.

Some other memorials have traces of their original decoration …

Virtually all the other stones are badly eroded and the inscriptions illegible.

The magnolia trees in the grounds look lovely at the moment – there are some very old barrel tombs laid out in the background.

Nearby in Smithfield, St Bartholomew the Great, the oldest church in the City, survived the Great Fire of 1666 and two World Wars and would be on my must-see list for anyone interested in church architecture.

The graveyard was in constant use until the 1840s …

St Bartholomew the Great 1737 – British History Online

The graveyard space has been tidied up. This memorial rests against the wall …

Memorial stone for George Hastings who died in 1816 aged thirty years. The dark marks are stains on the stone, not the shadows of two scotch terriers!

The site now looking towards the church …

Designed by Wren and completed in 1704, Christ Church Greyfriars, on the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward Street, looked like this in the 1830s …

Christ Church Greyfriars, as depicted in London and its environs in the nineteenth century by James Elmes (1831) (image via Wikimedia Commons). Source : Flickering Lamps website.

On the night of 29 December 1941, incendiary bombs created the ‘Second Great Fire of London’, and Christ Church was one of its victims …

Firefighters in the smouldering ruins (image from the Citizens’ Memorial).

These walls and the tower are all that remain but are laid out as a very attractive garden …

The wooden towers within the planting replicate the original church towers and host a variety of climbing plants.

You can read more about this and other churches in my 28 December 2017 blog The City’s lone church towers and the Blitz.

When graveyards were cleared it became common practice over the years to line up old memorials against the wall …

Stones in Postman’s Park, the churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate.

As always, St Vedast alias Foster in Foster Lane EC2 is worth a visit …

The tranquil Fountain Courtyard and Cloister.

Overlooking the little garden is this memorial …

As far as I can discover, ‘Petro’, as his friends called him, was a White Russian who had taken French nationality. He became a member of the Special Operations Executive and, being a supporter of the Free French, he joined the Volunteers in December 1941 and was subsequently wounded in action.

I have been unable to find out any more, which is a shame since he obviously led an extraordinary life. I have managed to find a picture of him though …

The Courtyard also displays a nice boundary marker …

Boundary marker for St Vedast alias Foster.

And finally, the church that rose again …

St Mary Aldermanbury in the 19th century.

The church was almost completely destroyed in the Blitz, but in 1966 its surviving remains were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, and rebuilt in the grounds of Westminster College. The reconstructed church stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill who made his Sinews of Peace speech in the College Gymnasium in 1946. It became famous for the phrase ‘From Stetin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent’.

St Mary Aldermanbury in its new home …

There is now a garden in the footprint of the old church at the junction of Aldermanbury and Love Lane. It contains a memorial to the actors Henry Condell and John Heminge who preserved Shakespeare’s works in the First Folio and who themselves were buried in the church. There is also a majestic bust of the Bard himself …

The sculptor was Charles John Allen and the work created in 1895.

The garden on the original site of St Mary Aldermanbury.

St Stephen Walbrook: the Samaritans, Henry Moore and a brave doctor.

One day in 1936 a young priest officiated at his first funeral – a 14 year old girl who had killed herself because, when her periods started, she thought it was a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. That there seemed to have been no one she could talk to had a profound effect on him, but it was not until 18 years later that, as he put it,

I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker … ? What sort of a someone might they want?

He looked at his phone, ‘DIAL 999 for Fire, Police or Ambulance’ it said …

There ought to be an emergency number for suicidal people, I thought. Then I said to God, be reasonable! Don’t look at me… I’m possibly the busiest person in the Church of England.

When the priest, Chad Varah, was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a ‘999 for the suicidal’. He was, in his own words, ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. The first call to the new service was made on 2nd November 1953 and this date is recognised as Samaritans’ official birthday.

The Reverend Dr Chad Varah at his telephone – you just had to dial MAN 9000.

It soon became obvious that the volunteers, who used to keep people company whilst they were waiting to speak to Chad, were also capable of helping in their own right and in February 1954 he officially handed over the task of supporting the callers to them.

If you visit the church you can see the phone itself …

St Stephen Walbrook (rebuilt 1672-80) was one of Wren’s largest and earliest churches and the meticulous care taken with it might, some suggest, be because Sir Christopher lived next door. Incidentally, Mr Pollixifen, who lived on the other side, bitterly complained about the building taking his light. Maybe he was mollified when the the church’s internal beauty was revealed.

Views towards St Stephen’s have opened up since completion of the new development on Walbrook, which also houses a meticulously restored Temple of Mithras (see my 25th January blog: The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and the Games).

Looking at the exterior one can see the lovely green Byzantine style dome …

The interior is bright, intimate and stunning, old Victorian stained glass having been removed …

Wren’s dome and Sir Henry Moore’s altar

The dome was the first of its kind in any English church and a forerunner of Wren’s work on St Paul’s Cathedral. After being damaged in the Blitz the church was restored by Godfrey Allen in 1951-52. Controversy broke out when, between 1978 and 1987, the church was re-ordered under the sponsorship of churchwarden Peter (later Lord) Palumbo and a striking ten tonne altar by Sir Henry Moore was placed at its centre.

Sometimes I look at church memorial plaques and, if they are entirely in Latin, just rather lazily move on. In this case it was a big mistake since I was ignoring a tribute to a very brave man …

Dr Nathaniel Hodges’ memorial on the north wall. Photograph: Bob Speel.

Unlike many physicians, Dr Hodges stayed in London throughout the time of the terrible plague of 1665.

First thing every morning before breakfast he spent two or three hours with his patients. He wrote later …

Some (had) ulcers yet uncured and others … under the first symptoms of seizure all of which I endeavoured to dispatch with all possible care …

hardly any children escaped; and it was not uncommon to see an Inheritance pass successively to three or four Heirs in as many Days.

After hours of visiting victims where they lived he walked home and, after dinner, saw more patients until nine at night and sometimes later.

He survived the epidemic and wrote two learned works on the plague. The first, in 1666, he called An Account of the first Rise, Progress, Symptoms and Cure of the Plague being a Letter from Dr Hodges to a Person of Quality. The second was Loimologia, published six years later …

A later edition of Dr Hodges’ work, translated from the original Latin and published when the plague had broken out in France.

It seems particularly sad to report that his life ended in personal tragedy when, in his early fifties, his practice dwindled and fell away. Finally he was arrested as a debtor, committed to Ludgate Prison, and died there, a broken man, in 1688.



Bench Marks and other ‘ghosts’

With global warming and rising sea levels just how safe are you as you walk along Cheapside? Read on to find out.

The City contains many examples of signs that were once important but have now ceased to have the relevance they once did. In the last blog I looked at parish boundary markers and this week I will be looking at other examples.

If you know Wood Street then you will be familiar with the tower of the old church of St Alban, left stranded in the middle of the street as a result of wartime bombing and subsequent redevelopment …

St Alban, Wood Street EC2

Whilst walking past it one day, I noticed this mark chiselled into the base of the west side of the tower …

Then, on a later date walking past St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, I saw another one …

It isn’t so clear but if you want to see it look just below the notice boards on the Cheapside entrance to the church …

The mark is below the notice board on the left.

At first I thought they might be old War Department markers (see below) but didn’t think they were likely to be carved into churches.

I have subsequently discovered, to my personal surprise, that they are what is known as Bench Marks, and there are thousands around the UK indicating where the height above sea level has been calculated. Actually I have often wondered what was taken as ‘sea level’ since the sea tended to, well, go up and down. The decision was taken back in 1918 that the single reference point would be mean sea level at Newlyn in Cornwall. In its favour was that it was situated in an area of stable granite rock and the gauge was perched on the end of a stone pier at the harbour entrance where it was exposed to the open Atlantic. This meant it wasn’t liable to be influenced by the silting up of the estuary or river tide delays.

So now you know – Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN) is the national height system for mainland Great Britain and forms the reference frame for all heights above mean sea level. Bench Marks were made on buildings which surveyors believed were unlikely to be redeveloped or demolished – they would be the ‘bench mark’ for the surrounding area. Nowadays, however, satellites can measure this distance to the nearest few millimetres and Bench Marks are no longer inspected for accuracy.

The St Alban tower survived the Blitz as did the tower of St Mary-le-Bow …

The St Mary-le-Bow tower shortly after the war. Photo : ‘A London Inheritance’.

So you can feel relatively safe from drowning as you walk down Cheapside – by the ODN measurement the church Bench Mark is 56.269ft above sea level!

On the right below is an example of the sign I confused the benchmarks with …

Outside Trinity House, Trinity Square.

The ‘broad arrow’ mark is used to identify property owned by the War Department (which became the Ministry of Defence in 1964) and here it appears on a boundary marker. There are half a dozen WD marks in the vicinity of the Tower of London, all numbered like No 11 above (in ascending order they are numbers 8, 12, 13, 21, 28 and 29).

And finally, I always take a picture of ghost signs because you never know how long they are likely to last. Here is a selection …


A bit of history from the ‘old days’ before Big Bang. There is still a second door on the right but opening it no longer reveals dapper gents with pinstriped trousers perusing the Financial Times.

At the top of Lovat Lane EC3 are these old survivors …

A bonded warehouse held taxable goods ‘in bond’ until an importer redeemed them by paying the appropriate level of excise duty.

And to finish, these printers, stationers and account book manufacturers …

Old sign in Wardrobe Place EC4



The City Parishes and their boundaries

Since I wrote last week’s blog I became a bit obsessed with old boundary markers and started recording the ones I hoped my readers might find interesting. The City contains over 120 parishes, known primarily by the name of a church rather than a location, and although some may consist of only a few streets, up until the end of the 19th century they played an important part in the City’s governance. Although small, they were often densely populated, and most rectors and vicars would have known the majority of their brethren.

Church attendance was sometimes more of a duty than a pleasure.

As historian Mike Horne has pointed out, the parish already had a version of ‘management’ in the form of its vestry and a mechanism for getting local people together, either in the church or in a nearby vestry hall. It was to the parish that local administrative responsibility was gradually given by Parliament. Even when new statutory bodies were set up to deal with lighting, policing, paving, sewerage and so on, the parish remained as the local unit capable of raising its local rate or tax. It was therefore important that people knew what parish they lived in and where the boundaries were. From this emerged the need for distinctive markers. Horne has attempted to survey and record them all and his incredibly detailed research findings can be found on the Metadyne website which I found invaluable when composing this blog.

I like these old markers for two reasons. Firstly, they are a tangible link with the past, sometimes recording churches that have long since vanished and clerks, vergers and church wardens long since deceased. Secondly, they are remarkable survivors since most are not listed for conservation and their continued existence depends on rigorous planning enforcement and the compliance and support of developers.

Here are some of my favourites.

If you are travelling on the Underground and your train stops at Barbican station, look out of the window and you may see this stone marker on the station wall …

Barbican Station, Eastbound platform – Parish marker for St Botolph Without Aldersgate dated 1865.

The station, then called Aldersgate Street, opened on 23 December 1865 and was subsequently renamed several times before finally becoming Barbican in 1968. St Botolph’s church is still there in Aldersgate Street. ‘Without’ means it was located outside the City wall.

Parish markers are not always placed high up on walls, sometimes they can be found beneath your feet or just above street level. For example, as you walk down Fann Street EC1 you will come across this marker outside the Welsh Church …

St Luke Middlesex and the City of London (the boundary passes through the church).

And there is this very unusual metal pavement marker outside No1 Fleet Street, opposite the Law Courts and Temple Bar …

And in close up …

St Clement Danes with City of London (St Dunstan’s in the West).

If you are walking near Smithfield Market do take a look at street level on the east side of the main building (to the south of the central doorway). This is what you will see …

On the left, the marker for St Sepulchre London (City of London) and on the right St Sepulchre Middlesex. There are two more marker stones – congratulations if you can find them.

Many have been transferred to more modern buildings. For example, as commuters rush off to work from Cannon Street station there are two links with the distant past just above their heads …

In close up …

Markers for St Swithen London Stone and St Mary Bothaw.

St Swithen and St Mary Bothaw were both destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but only St Swithen was rebuilt (by Christopher Wren) in 1678 and the two parishes merged. Badly damaged in the Blitz, St Swithen was finally totally demolished in 1962.

And finally a few more markers that also record the names of Churchwardens and Vestry Clerks, stressing the importance of these gentlemen.

On 41 Carthusian Street, EC1, opposite Charterhouse Square …

St Sepulchre (Middlesex) with the City Parish of St Botolph Without Aldersgate.

In Charterhouse Street, EC1 …

St Sepulchre (London) with the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.

There are many, many more examples of markers that I have come across but I will leave the subject for now and maybe return at a later date when I have done some more research. I hope very much you have enjoyed the journey so far.





Bombs and Boundaries

In today’s blog I have pulled together two subjects that I have found really interesting in my City wanderings. They are not linked thematically at all, but I hope you will still enjoy reading about them.

When we think of ‘London at War’ we tend to think of the Blitz, but Londoners were also at considerable risk during the First World War.

The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 30 May 1915. At 10:50 that night Zeppelin LZ38 looped around London and, from a high altitude and barely heard, it dropped eighty-nine incendiary bombs and thirty ‘man killing’ grenades. The historian Jerry White tells us, in his splendid book Zeppelin Nights, that there were seven fatalities that night, including four children. Two of the children and two of the adults were burnt to death as a result of fires started by the incendiaries. He goes on to say …

Londoners met the raids with that unpredictable mixture of sangfroid and blind terror that characterised their response to aerial warfare throughout the First World War.

The last attack on Britain did not take place until 5 August 1918, when four Zeppelins bombed targets in the Midlands and the North of England.

There is still some evidence to be seen of the destruction, and the terrible danger you were exposed to if you were on the street during a bombing raid …

Damage at St Bartholomew’s Hospital from Zeppelin raids on 8th September 1915 and on 7th July 1917. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Another picture of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital outer wall. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

And damage from the Second World War …

Shrapnel scars at the junction of Mansell St & Chambers St. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Once I saw the pictures in Spitalfields Life I kept an eye open for other evidence and, sure enough, on the wall of the Bank of England in Princes Street …

Wall of the Bank of England.

And more of the same …

Beside the entrance to Bank Underground.

Above the Princes Street sign is a notice that will allow me to segue into ‘Boundaries’ …

The signatory, Aretas Akers-Douglas was First Commissioner of Works from 1895-1902, so the notice is a remarkable survivor.

Parish boundary markers will probably be a familiar sight to anyone who has worked in the City.

Long before the advent of the London borough, the parish already existed for spiritual purposes and had a form of management.  This was the ‘vestry’ and so a mechanism was in place for getting local people together, either in the church or in a nearby vestry hall. It was to the parish that local administrative responsibility was gradually given by Parliament. Even when new statutory bodies were set up to deal with lighting, policing, paving, sewerage and so on, the parish remained as the local unit capable of raising its local rate or tax. It was therefore important that people knew what parish they lived in and where the boundaries were. From this emerged the need for distinctive markers.

Here are some example I have found …

Love Lane EC2V : On the left, St Alban, Wood Street, on the right the marker for St Mary Aldermanbury.


A St Martin-in-the Fields parish marker, on a lamp post in Fleet Street

At Frederick’s Place EC2R, clockwise from top left are markers for: St Olave Old Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy and Cheap Ward. I am still researching the last one.

St Botolph Without Aldersgate – a stone marker on a wall in a bomb site in Noble Street EC2V

Honey Lane EC2V : a marker for the parish of St Mary-le-Bow

And finally …

The most famous boundary marker of all – the City of London Dragon. See my earlier blog from October last year: ‘Dragons and Maidens’.

I will be returning to the subject of Parish Markers later in the year – lots more research still to do.
















A shop, a tree and a poem

Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside is a little historical treasure trove. Here it is today, a card shop, a tree and a bit of open space – and all offer a fascinating sense of continuity with the City’s past.

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

Cheapside had originally been known as West Chepe to distinguish it from East Chepe at the other end of the City and the name comes from the Saxon Ceap, meaning market. For centuries it was a scene of medieval pageantry, being wide enough for horse racing and jousts. It was also a place of grisly executions and the punishment of the likes of errant tradesmen and apprentices, usually utilising the permanent pillory and stocks. Facing Wood Street was the Eleanor Cross, one of a dozen lavish monuments erected by Edward I between 1291 and 1294, in memory of where the coffin of his wife Eleanor of Castile rested overnight as her body was transported to London.

The Cheapside Cross, with the Great Conduit to the right of it. Illustration: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty

Before its demolition in 1643, the Cross was adjacent to a conduit, one of three providing fresh water piped from the River Tyburn, giving the citizens of London an alternative to the foul water from the wells and the Thames. It was the custom, on days of celebration, for the conduits to run with claret. The historian Bernard Ash observed that it was …

‘Claret undoubtedly as coarse and bloody as the mob which drank it’.

By the beginning of 1666 the street was dominated by traders: mercers, drapers, haberdashers, furriers and also Cheapside’s ‘greatest treasure’, the goldsmiths. Most of the messy, smelly trades had migrated to London’s rim.

As the Great Fire fire spread, people dug desperately into the earth to puncture the conduit’s water supply, hoping the water might quench the flames – in vain – and the Great Conduit itself was razed to the ground along with Cheapside on Tuesday 4 September 1666. A post-fire visitor declared in amazement …

‘You may stand in Cheapside and see the Thames!’

I would like to start my story with the little shop on the corner, which I have been tracking through time …

An anonymous drawing from the 1860s.

The 1920s – From ‘Spitalfields Life’ – pictures selected from the three volumes of ‘Wonderful London’ edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

As I remember it in the 1970s through to the late 1990s. Sadly the lovely glass door engraved with the words ‘L R Woderson under the Tree’ has disappeared and been replaced with plain glass and a security grille.

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below. According to Peter Ackroyd, in his London, the Biography, many trades have operated there since the stores were built in 1687. These included silver-sellers, wig-makers, law stationers, pickle- and sauce-sellers, fruiterers, florists and, as can be seen above, shirt-makers. The shop now sells greetings cards.

The little garden at the back of the shop used to be the churchyard of St Peter Westcheap (also known as St Peter Cheap) which was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. Three gravestones survive as do the railings which date from 1712.

The railings and the names of the Churchwardens who probably raised the money for them.

The railings incorporate an image of St Peter. In his lap and above his head are the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

And finally to the magnificent London Plane tree that you can see in most of the pictures. It stands 70 feet high and is protected by a City ordinance which also limits the height of the shops.

No one knows precisely how old it is but what we do know is that it was there in 1797 when its presence inspired the poet Wordsworth to compose a poem ‘where the natural world breaks through Cheapside in visionary splendour’. The poem, The Reverie of Poor Susan, records the awakened childhood memories of a country girl now working in London, possibly as a servant. I think it is rather sad. An excerpt is displayed in the churchyard, but here is the complete version:

At the corner of Wood-Street, when day-light appears,
There’s a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years.
Poor Susan has pass’d by the spot and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripp’d with her pail,
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The only one dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in Heaven, but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade;
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all pass’d away from her eyes.

As Ackroyd declares, in his unique, poetic style …

Everything about this corner of Wood Street suggests continuity … on every level, human, social, natural and communal.

I thought this picture was worth including. Sir Robert Peel looks east down Cheapside around the turn of the 20th century (and a uniformed ‘Peeler’ stands beneath the lamp post). The shops gradually disappeared for a while as commerce took over but now they are back in abundance, especially with the new development at New Change.

Sir Robert was moved in 1933 to reduce traffic congestion. He is now outside the Peel Centre in Barnet (more familiarly known as Hendon Police College).









The Mysterious Panyer Boy – and other curiosities

Here he sits in Panyer Alley, just beside an entrance to St Paul’s Underground Station, a naked little boy astride what looks like a basket, and a strange inscription precisely dated ‘August the 27 1688’. What is going on?

Sadly the little chap has become very eroded and damaged over the years, and it is pretty surprising that he has survived at all. After a bit of searching I have found a drawing of him, possibly from the 18th or 19th century, which may give us a better idea of what he used to look like …

The pedestal and scrollwork have now disappeared.

I have also found this old photograph, probably early 20th century …

For this picture and other really interesting photos, visit the ‘Spitalfields Life’ website and search for ‘Signs of Old London’.

As with all mysteries, there are many theories, but all are agreed that the sign really does date from the 17th century since this is acknowledged in trusted sources such as Thomas Pennant’s Of London (1790). What the boy is doing and what he represents are the areas where there is much dispute, for example:

‘Is he: sitting on a pannier (basket), or a coil of rope, or a woolsack, or a barrel?’

‘Is he holding: a bunch of grapes, or a loaf of bread, or his foot (perhaps pulling out a thorn – apparently the carving was once known locally as ‘pick my toe’)?’

‘Does he represent: the bread market that was here in medieval times, and at nearby St Martin’s Le Grand, or the sign of a brewhouse (brewery)? There was a Panyer brewhouse recorded nearby as long ago as 1426.’

‘Does he have any connection whatsoever to the claim to the highest ground?’.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but one thing that is certain is that this is not the ‘highest ground’ in the City, that description nowadays belongs to Cornhill.

Nearby on the north west corner of Warwick Lane is a small bas-relief of Guy, Earl of Warwick. It is believed that the lane was so named since it was the location of the Warwick Inn owned, not surprisingly, by the Earls of Warwick.

The knight represented is the 10th Earl (c.1272-1315) and the British Museum archives hold a picture of the carving as it was illustrated in Antiquities of London (1791) …

Copyright : British Museum

And here is how it looks now …

You can see that the top and bottom sections of the present-day relief were added later, most likely at the time of a restoration in 1817 by John Deykes (an architect and surveyor). Pennants London is a book published in 1805 and its 5th edition (1815) gets a mention on the relief, right down to the page number where  the carving is discussed (492). Maybe the publisher paid for the restoration in return for this smart piece of advertising?

Incidentally, whilst researching the Warwicks I came across this reference to the Warwick Inn. Neville, the 16th Earl …

At a meeting of the great estates of the realm in 1547 … lodged himself  (there) with 600 men where, says Stowe, ‘there were oftentimes six oxen eaten at … breakfast, and every tavern was full of his meat; for he that had any acquaintance in that house, might have there so much of sodden [boiled] and roast meat, as he could prick and carry upon a long dagger.’

Now that’s what I call a buffet.

On the north west side of nearby Ludgate Circus is this memorial plaque. Wallace sold newspapers on this corner when he was eleven years old …

The memorial is by F.W. Doyle-Jones (1934)

Born out of wedlock in Greenwich in 1875, and with both of his parents itinerant actors, he was adopted by a kindly Billingsgate fish porter and his wife. Asked by a journalist years later to contribute to a celebrity feature entitled ‘What I Owe My Parents’, Wallace replied on a postcard:

‘Sorry, cock, I’m a bastard’.

Despite such a challenging start to life (or perhaps because of it) his story is extraordinary. As well as journalism, Wallace wrote screen plays, poetry, historical non-fiction, 18 stage plays, 957 short stories, and over 170 novels, By 1926, he was knocking out 18 novels a year and by 1929, he was up to 34, and it was claimed that a quarter of all books read in English were by him.

When he turned to writing fiction in 1905 he told his wife he would give his readers :

 ‘Crime and blood and three murders to the chapter; such is the insanity of the age that I do not doubt for one moment the success of my venture.’

More than 160 films have been made of Wallace’s work and he sold over 50 million copies of his combined works in various editions, The Economist describing him as ‘one of the most prolific thriller writers of [the 20th] century’.

So why is he hardly known at all now compared to his overlapping contemporaries Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie? His biographer, Neil Clark, sees him as a victim of literary snobbery, being one of the first crime writer to come from a working-class background. Another factor may be that the characters of his investigators, JG Reeder and the gloomy Inspector Elk, were not as seductive as Holmes, Poirot or Maigret. For example, Elk was introduced in The Fellowship of the Frog as ‘tall and thin, a slight stoop accentuated his weediness.’

Wallace’s last piece of work was on one of the most famous movies of all time …

In 1931 RKO invited him to Hollywood to work on an idea that Wallace would generously credit to the director, Merian C. Cooper. However, as Neil Clark makes clear in his biography, the Bodleian’s existing script shows that Wallace conceived the ‘beauty and the beast’ motif himself, the climb up the Empire State building and the aeroplane attack.

He also created the final scene …


‘Kong opens his eyes, picks the girl up, holds her to his breast like a doll, closes his eyes and drops his head,’

Wallace died in Hollywood on 10th February 1932 after falling into a diabetic coma, compounded by double pneumonia, from which he never recovered.

And finally, would you like a close look at a piece of work by the pioneering modern sculptor Jacob Epstein?

Once again, as in previous blogs, I invite you to pass through the blue doors in Foster Lane to the lovely tranquil garden of St Vedast-alias-Foster  …

In the corner you will find Epstein’s Head and Shoulders of Canon Mortlock (1936)…

Mortlock was a personal friend of Epstein’s and also of Max Mallowan (Agatha Christie’s husband) who gave him the cuneiform marked tablet also displayed in the churchyard – see my blog City Churches and Churchyards – more Tales of the Unexpected.


Some interesting faces – from a handsome poet to the ‘ugliest man in England’

Over the last few weeks I have been exploring the City looking at how people have been portrayed in busts, statues and other varieties of portraits. There are a remarkable number of them, particularly if you venture into the churches, so I have just picked some of the ones that I found most interesting.

I will start on a rather sombre note.

This is the beautiful marble war memorial above the concourse at Liverpool Street Station. It contains 1,108 names in alphabetical order and the panel at the top reads as follows:

To the glory of God and in grateful memory of those members of the Great Eastern Railway staff who, in response to the call of their King and Country, sacrificed their lives during the Great War.

If you look beneath it, you will see two individual memorials containing bronze portraits.

This is the one on the right …

Wilson was assassinated outside his house in Eaton Place at about 2:20 pm. Still in full uniform, he was shot six times, two bullets in the chest proving fatal. The two perpetrators, IRA volunteers Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, shot two police officers and a chauffeur as they attempted to escape but were surrounded by a hostile crowd and arrested after a struggle. Interestingly both were former British army officers and O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, his subsequent disability hindering their escape. After a trial lasting just three hours they were convicted of murder and hanged at Wandsworth gaol on 10 August that year – justice was certainly delivered swiftly in those days. No organisation claimed responsibility for Wilson’s murder.

This magnificent bust of William Shakespeare is in St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Love Lane EC2 …

Designed by Charles Clement Walker and sculpted in 1896 by Charles John Allen.

A Wren church gutted in the Blitz, the remains of St Mary Aldermanbury were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA in 1966. The restored church now is now a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946.

The Shakespeare bust in the garden stands as a memorial to his fellow actors Henry Condell and John Heminge who were key figures in the printing of the playwright’s First Folio of works seven years after his death. There are almost twenty plays by Shakespeare, including The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, which we would not have at all if it were not for their efforts. Both of them were buried at St Mary’s.

Outside the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral is this rather handsome bearded gentleman …

John Donne 1572-1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012).

In 1617, two years after his ordination, Donne’s wife died at age 33 after giving birth to a stillborn child, their twelfth. Grief-stricken at having lost his emotional anchor, Donne vowed never to marry again, even though he was left with the task of raising his ten surviving children in modest financial circumstances. His bereavement turned him fully to his vocation as an Anglican divine and, on November 22, 1621, Donne was installed as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The power and eloquence of his sermons soon secured for him a reputation as the foremost preacher in the England of his day, and he became a favourite of both Kings James I and Charles I.

His bust points almost due west but shows him turning to the east towards his birthplace on Bread Street. The directions of the compass were important to Donne in his metaphysical work: east is the Rising Sun, the Holy Land and Christ, while west is the place of decline and death. Underneath the bust are inscribed words from his poem Good Friday – Riding Westward :

Hence is’t that I am carried towards the west, This day when my soul’s form bends to the east

The most familiar quotation from Donne comes from his Meditation XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

Donne is also famous for the fact that his effigy in St Paul’s Cathedral was the only one to survive the Great Fire of 1666 almost intact (you can still see scorch marks on the urn).  You have to enter the cathedral to see it.

The effigy by Nicholas Stone

Dr Philip Cottrell of University College Dublin describes it as follows:

Donne is shown standing, perched on a funerary urn, and enveloped in a body-hugging burial shroud which has been gathered into two decorative ruffs at the head and feet … The clean, moist appearance of the drapery and the softly-nuanced modelling of the features testify to Stone’s position as the finest sculptor of the English Baroque.

The inscription on this statue of John Wilkes in Fetter Lane EC4 reads as follows:

A champion of English freedom, John Wilkes 1727-1797, Member of Parliament, Lord Mayor.

The inscription on the back of the document he is holding reads ‘A bill for a just and equal representation of the people of England in Parliament’.

English History Online writes of him:

In 1774 that clever rascal, John Wilkes, ascended the civic throne … Young Wilkes grew up a man of pleasure, squandered his wife’s fortune in gambling and other fashionable vices, and became a notorious member of the Hell Fire Club

Wilkes’ career is so extraordinary that I gave up trying to devise edited highlights – please forgive me for cheating and quoting this summary from The Geograph website …

The remarkable Mr Wilkes was a radical, politician, wit, rake, journalist, Lord Mayor of London, prankster and member of The Hellfire Club.

He was repeatedly expelled from The House of Commons and even once declared an outlaw. He is described on the plinth as a “Champion of English freedom” though he was disparagingly known as “the ugliest man in England” by some …. ‘he could woo any woman in competition with any man, provided he was given a month’s start on account of his ugliness.’

Reputedly, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich said to Wilkes “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

Wilkes’ famous squint has been honestly represented by the sculptor, James Butler RA

Although hated by some, Wilkes has also been described as …

The father of the political system we have today and a major influence on that adopted by America: he established freedom of the press as we know it, argued for yearly elections and the abolition of rotten boroughs, and was the first MP to propose universal suffrage in the Commons.

And finally, in my local church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate, there is this touching memorial to Sir William Staines …

And here is the man himself …

Staines had extremely humble beginnings working as a bricklayer’s labourer, but eventually accumulated a large fortune which he generously used for philanthropic purposes. He seemed to recall his own earlier penury when he ensured that the houses he built for ‘aged and indigent’ folk would have ‘nothing to distinguish them from the other dwelling-houses … to denote the poverty of the inhabitant’.

British History Online records an encounter he had with the notorious Wilkes who referred rather rudely to Staines’ original occupation …

The alderman was an illiterate man, and was a sort of butt amongst his brethren. At one of the Old Bailey dinners, after a sumptuous repast of turtle and venison, Sir William was eating a great quantity of butter with his cheese. “Why, brother,” said Wilkes, “you lay it on with a trowel!”


Dick Whittington, Hipster! City stained glass, I hope you will be pleasantly surprised …

To me, one of the greatest pleasures in visiting any church is to look at the stained glass windows and, in some cases where the church is very old, imagine the awe they must have inspired in congregations for whom even crude plain glass was an unimaginable luxury. Sadly, the City churches suffered terrible damage in the Blitz and much glass was lost through blast as well as direct bomb damage. However, this destruction had two positive outcomes. Firstly, if plain glass replaced the coloured, the churches’ interiors were bathed in light and in some cases appeared more like Christopher Wren and his associates intended. Secondly, of course, they gave the opportunity to a whole new generation of artists and glass makers to display their skills, and this is where I hope you will be pleasantly surprised and perhaps inspired to visit their work.

I want to start with the great man himself, and here he is, portrayed in very lifelike manner in a window at St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard. This was his most expensive parish church project and it reopened for worship in 1677…

Wren enjoyed a close relationship of mutual respect with his craftsmen and it was typical of him to arrange for the foundation stones of St Paul’s Cathedral to be laid, not by himself, but by Master Mason Thomas Strong and Master Carpenter John Langland. Another Strong, Edward, pictured below, set the final stone in place at the top of the lantern on 26th October 1708, thirty three years after building commenced. Edward had succeeded his brother Thomas as Master Mason on the latter’s death in 1681.

Wren’s Master Mason, Edward Strong. What a perfect name for a man who created beauty and order out of stone.

Gibbons was the greatest of decorative woodcarvers and a favourite of Wren, who also employed him on some of his country house commissions …

Gibbons was born in Rotterdam in 1648, arriving in England in 1670 or 1671 and evolving a distinct style that was all his own. Working mostly in limewood, Gibbons’ trademark was the cascade of fruit, leaves, flowers, foliage, fish, and birds. He was obviously also a dab hand at cherubs.

The window incorporating the three men is known as ‘The Wren Window’ …

The Wren Window by Christopher Webb (1957)

Below the three major figures the window shows various craftsmen at work – bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, stonemasons and two of his own stained glass artists.

And below them are two more modern figures …

Cecil Brown and Reverend Frank Trimingham study the church plan, with the outline of the footprint of the church in front of them. On each side are the beautifully etched towers of many of the Churches Wren built, along with two different views of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The flames remind us of two terrible years of destruction …

After the fire bomb raid of 29 December 1940 nothing but the tower and part of the walls remained. The present church was built in 1954-57 to the design of Cecil Brown who worked closely with Christopher Webb on the designs of the windows.

St Paul is represented here because the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s were joint patrons from 1677 to 1954.

Note the angel at the base of the window …

The angel is holding the shell of the destroyed church, roof and windows gone and what is left of the building filled with rubble. St Paul’s in the background is silhouetted by fire and the buildings on the right are ablaze as searchlights pierce the sky.

St Catharine is the patron saint of Baliol College Oxford which has had a close connection with the church since the 13th century

She is pictured with the spiked wheel on which she was tortured.

But look at the angel, again at the base of the window …

The angel is holding the restored church.

Naturally, there is a window commemorating the church’s patron saint, St Lawrence, who suffered martyrdom in 258 AD …

For refusing to give up the treasures of the church, represented by the purse he is carrying, he was flayed and roasted alive on a gridiron.

The gridiron became his symbol and appears throughout the church and on the steeple weathervane

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am very fond of St Vedast-alias-Foster in Foster Lane – I love its secluded fountain courtyard and cloister. Today, however, I am commenting on the interior, which also had to be rebuilt after the same raid that destroyed St Lawrence.

Looking towards the east end of the church

Above the reredos is the ‘Vedast Window’, with stained glass depicting scenes from the life of the saint …

Look for the saint chasing a bear from its cave (er, no, I don’t know why either).

The glass below, in the east window of the chapel, was the only window saved after the 1940 bombing. It gives us some idea of the terrible losses incurred on that night …

The glass is by the firm of Clayton & Bell which was founded in 1855 and continued until as recently as 1993.

When I visited the church last Friday (February 2nd) there was a magnificent display of church silver …

The church’s collection of silver plate dating back to the 16th century.

St Vedast is unusual among City churches in that it is open seven days a week, so you can pop in between 8:00 am and 5:30 pm on weekdays. Full details are on the website.

And now some examples of the stunning widows designed by the artist and glass maker John David Hayward, the first being in St Michael Paternoster Royal on College Hill EC4, where Dick Whittington was buried in 1423.

I’m sure everyone knows the Whittington legend. He had given up on making his fortune in London but, as he headed home with his faithful cat, he heard the bells of St Mary-le-Bow ring out the words:

Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London

Well, the bit about him being Lord Mayor is true, and it was four times rather than three, but two of the terms were consecutive.

Here Hayward shows that critical moment on Highgate Hill …

The church bells of St Mary-le-Bow ring out behind him

I think he rather resembles a flat-capped Hoxton Hipster – maybe there is an iPad in that bag.

I love the expression on the cat’s face. Perhaps he has seen a mouse.

You can read more about the legend at the wonderful Purr ‘n’ Fur website, ‘Fabled Felines. Cats in Fables, Fairytales and Festivals’.

In another window St Michael slaughters the serpent …

… but too late, Eve has already presented Adam with the apple.

And so now to the church whose bells summoned Whittington back to the City, St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, Hayward’s first major commission. Look out for livery company coats of arms …

The salamanders of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers – reputedly able to survive fire

In the window pictured below St Paul, patron of the City, is surrounded by the Wren churches that survived World War II with St Paul’s Cathedral in the top right hand corner …

Here the Virgin Mary cradles the church named after her as if it were a child, also surrounded by church spires that survived the Blitz …

She is standing on the bow-shaped arches on which are based the church’s suffix ‘le Bow’.

Christopher Webb died in 1966 and John David Hayward in 2007, both leaving a beautiful legacy. I hope you will at some point enjoy visiting their work as much as I have.

I shall end today’s blog with a quote by Marc Chagall …

For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world


City Churches and Churchyards – more tales of the unexpected

City churches and their churchyards have so much to offer, and after all these years I am still discovering new quirky items and treasures to write about in my blog. Two church interiors and two churchyards will feature today. I know many of my readers are immensely knowledgeable in this area but I hope there will be something new here even for them.

Once again I suggest you pass through the blue doors at 4 Foster Lane …

Entrance to St Vedast Fountain Courtyard and Cloister

Near the piece of Roman pavement I discussed in an earlier blog (The Romans in London and Two Roman Ladies) you will see displayed in a niche a tablet with cuneiform writing.

It comes from a 9 BC Iraqi Ziggurat and was given to the Rector, Canon Mortlock, by Agatha Christie’s husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. He discovered the brick during a 1950-65 dig and apparently it includes the name of Shalmaneser who ruled from 858 to 834 BC.

Just down the road from Pudding Lane, the source of the Great Fire, St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street was the second church to be destroyed in 1666. It was rebuilt by Wren circa 1671-84 and, despite being damaged in the Blitz, it has a great atmosphere – especially on a Sunday when lots of incense has been deployed.

It is worthy of an entire blog all to itself, but for today I will be writing about just a few of its fascinating features. First of all there is the portico you walk through to enter the church …

The view towards Lower Thames Street

Between 1176 and 1831 the churchyard formed part of the roadway approach to Old London Bridge. I found it easy to imagine the tens of thousands who passed through here, since it was the only bridge across the Thames until Westminster Bridge was opened in 1750. Despite the heavy passing traffic, and the lavatorial white tiles on the nearby buildings, this is an atmospheric place and I paused there thinking of all those forgotten souls who had walked these flagstones before me.

The clock (top left in the picture) was presented in 1709 by Sir Charles Duncombe when he was Lord Mayor. One legend tells us that, as a poor saddler’s apprentice living south of the river, he was often severely reprimanded by his master for being late because he had no way of telling the time. Now immensely wealthy, he gifted the clock for the benefit of other folk who could not afford a timepiece.

Right inside the door is a lovely surprise – a 17th century fire engine …

It once belonged to St Michael Crooked Lane. It has only recently been displayed in the narthex having been in store with the Museum of London since 1945.

And if the fire engine wasn’t enough to prompt a visit, what about this extraordinary model of the Old London Bridge …

My picture really does not do it justice – it is four metres long and portrays the bridge at the start of the 15th century

It was created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. The detail is superb, from the individual tiles on the lead roofing, to the countless  individuals crushing into the roadway or hanging out of windows. Over nine hundred tiny people are crammed onto the bridge, amongst them a miniature King Henry V, who can be seen processing towards the City of London from the Southwark side of the bridge. No wonder it is estimated that the bridge usually took more than an hour to cross.

This window on the south side remembers the St Thomas a Becket chapel which was situated near the centre of the bridge …

See if you can find the Chapel on the model

The chapel paid a levy to St Magnus from the fees received from travellers crossing the river.

I paid another visit to St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the junction of Holborn Viaduct and Snow Hill. Housed there, in a glass case, is a macabre relic – the Newgate Execution Bell

Photo by Lonpicman

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the clerk of St Sepulchre’s was responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned person’s cell in Newgate Prison, just across the road where the Old Bailey court is now. A tunnel linked the church to the prison and at midnight, on the night before their execution, the bell would be rung twelve times and the following ‘wholesome advice’ delivered …

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die.
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before Almighty God will appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you not to eternal flames be sent,
And when St Sepulcher’s bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but £50 was insufficient to cover the extra cost.

On the day of execution, the condemned were ‘carted away’ and ‘went west’ from Newgate to the Tyburn gallows (near today’s Marble Arch), the death cart pausing outside St Sepulchre’s for the prisoners to be presented with a nosegay. The distance between Newgate and Tyburn was approximately three miles, but due to streets often being crowded with onlookers, the journey could last up to three hours. A usual stop of the cart was at the Bowl Inn in St Giles where the condemned were allowed to drink ‘strong liquors or wine’.

The tremendous disruption caused by the thousands who came to watch eventually became too much for the authorities and the last execution at Tyburn took place on Friday the 7th of November 1783 when John Austin was hanged for highway robbery. Public executions continued outside Newgate Gaol until 1868 and still attracted vast crowds, the last person dispatched being the Fenian Michael Barrett on the 28th May that year.

Looking down from St Sepulchre’s is this sundial. Dating from 1681 it will have witnessed many of the sad events associated with the old prison. You can read more about it, and other dials, in my blog We are but shadows – City Sundials.

The dial is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and dots marking the half hours.










City animals 4

I have found that there is something about City animals – after you first start looking for them you see them everywhere and they become a bit of an obsession (or they have for me!).  So here is this week’s collection – I hope you like them and find them interesting. First up are two dolphins in very contrasting environments.

More than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives in the two World Wars and the Mercantile Marine Memorial (on Tower Green, alongside Tower Hill Underground station) commemorates the almost 36,000 of them who have no known grave. The boy riding the dolphin, accompanied by fishes and seahorses, is one of seven sculptures representing the seven seas by Sir Charles Wheeler. The sculpture is surrounded by plaques showing the names of the dead arranged alphabetically under their ship’s name and the name of the Master or Skipper.

The Mercantile Marine Memorial – boy riding a dolphin

I will be writing a special blog on the subject of memorials later this year, and will include some more detailed photographs and commentary on the Mercantile Marine Memorial then.

This dolphin looks decidedly uncomfortable balanced on the facade of The Ship pub in Hart Street (built 1887) …

He needn’t look so worried – both he and the pub are Grade II listed

What about this splendid animal standing outside Spitalfields Market with Hawksmoor’s 1714 masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the background …

This goat would have got my vote

Wonderfully entitled I Goat, it was hand sculpted by Kenny Hunter and won the Spitalfields Sculpture Prize in 2010.

The artist commented …

Goats are associated with non-conformity and being independently-minded. That is also true of London, its people and never more so than in Spitalfields

Is it possible to look up and see these floppy-eared dogs and smiling boar’s heads without smiling yourself?

Corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane

The boars’ heads reference the Boar’s Head Inn, Eastcheap, which Shakespeare has Sir John Falstaff visit in Henry IV. Presumably the dogs were used for boar hunting, but they are obviously pals here.

I have always been curious about these ram’s heads on the corner of St Swithen’s Lane and Cannon Street …

I consulted a great source of City knowledge, The City’s Lanes and Alleys by Desmond Fitzpatrick. He writes that …

For well into the second half of the last century, the building was a branch of a bank dealing with services to the wool trade, a business connection pleasantly expressed … by the rams’ heads crowned with green-painted leaves, as if Bacchus and Pan had met!

Copies of this excellent book are available by sending a cheque to the author at Holly Tree Cottage, Angel Street, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 OBG. It costs £15 plus £2 postage. Great value – 350 pages packed with knowledge.

This honey bee is, appropriately, a keystone over the entrance to Honey Lane which connects Cheapside with Trump Street.

107 Cheapside – a busy bee buzzes up to some fruit and flowers

It is part of the old headquarters of The Sun Life Assurance Society whose Zodiac covered entrance I wrote about in my earlier blog Looking at the Stars. Although the connection to Honey Lane is obvious, it’s possible the insurance company also liked the reputation bees have for industriousness and providing for the future.

The name of the lane comes from the bee-keepers who used to live there and it also once led to All Hallows Honey Lane, a medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire. The area then became a small meat market which was itself replaced by City of London School in 1835. The area was significantly damaged by Second World War bombing and nothing now remains of the original buildings after post-war redevelopment. In fact, the lane itself has moved about 140 feet to the east.

The Black Eagle sign in Brick Lane reminds passers by of the Black Eagle Brewery. Founded in 1666, under the 18th century management of Sir Benjamin Truman it started its expansion to eventually become, as Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, one of the biggest brewers in the world. The brewery itself closed in 1989 and the site is now a small business hub and entertainment area.

And finally, as most City folk know, the old Whitbread Brewery on Chiswell Street is now a hotel and conference centre.

However, not many know that the old horse stables still exist in Garrett Street EC1, just off Golden Lane. The mighty shire horses could still be seen delivering ale throughout London well into the 1970s until Whitbread moved out of brewing and into budget hotels and coffee shops.

The Garrett Street Stables

It’s sad in a way to note that in 1699 there were almost 200 substantial brewers in London, and in 1952 there were still 25 operating in the capital. Now only Fuller’s of Chiswick are left as the capital’s last remaining major brewer.

Tales of the unexpected – in City churches

Last Saturday I headed off to St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, my intention being to take a photograph of the founder Rahere’s tomb for a future blog I am planning. I hadn’t been there for at least five years and was very happy to pay the entry fee and enjoy the church as virtually the only visitor. When I entered the south transept, however, what I saw literally stopped me in my tracks. Here is a picture …

A naked St Bartholomew holds out his flayed skin

Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin St Bartholomew also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. The second surprise, to me anyway, was that this work was by Damien Hirst, the modern artist known particularly for his spot paintings and the shark swimming in formaldehyde. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of Doctors and Surgeons and Hirst has said that this 2006 work ‘acts as a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development and that depictions of Saint Bartholomew were often used by medics to aid in anatomy studies’. He went on to say that the scissors were inspired by Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) to imply that ‘his exposure and pain is seemingly self- inflicted. It’s kind of beautiful yet tragic’. The work is on long-term loan from the artist. Incidentally, just behind it in the photograph you will see the rare pre-Reformation font (1406) in which William Hogarth was baptised on 28 November 1697.

The quite extraordinary anatomical detail

I did eventually take a picture of Rahere’s tomb, here it is …

Rahere died in 1143 and his tomb dates from 1405

It still contains his remains and I shall write more about it in a future blog.

Under the oriel window there is a nice example of a rebus, in this case a representation of a person’s name using a picture. Here Prior Bolton’s name is neatly implied by a crossbow bolt piercing a tun (a type of cask). Bolton was Prior of St Bartholomew the Great between 1505 and 1532 and carried out repair and construction work across the church.

Prior Bolton’s rebus

St Bride’s Fleet Street was gutted in the Blitz but was very sympathetically restored and reopened in 1957. It is famous for its wedding cake steeple and journalistic connections going back to the origins of the printing press itself. Today, however, I am going to talk about my visit to the small museum in the Crypt which is open when the church is and free to enter (and in a way there is a continuing theme of anatomical studies).

Until well into the 18th century the only source of corpses for medical research was the public hangman and supply was never enough to satisfy demand. As a result, a market arose to satisfy the needs of medical students and doctors and this was filled by the activities of the so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘body snatchers’. Some churches built watchtowers for guards to protect the churchyard, but these were by no means always effective – earning between £8 and £14 a body, the snatchers had plenty of cash available for bribery purposes.

One answer was a coffin that would be extremely difficult to open and such an invention was patented by one Edward Bridgman of Goswell Road in 1818. It was made of iron with spring clips on the lid and the coffin below fulfils the patent …

Iron coffin on display in the Crypt

The coffins were expensive, price depending upon the size required and the corresponding weight. An advertisement from the time is on display …

Contemporary advertisement

As a nearby information panel points out, the idea was not popular with the clergy and in 1820 the churchwardens at St Andrew’s Holborn refused churchyard burial to an iron coffin. The body was taken out and buried, which led to a law suit. The judgment was that such coffins could not be refused but, since they took so much longer than wooden ones to disintegrate, much higher fees could be charged. This no doubt contributed to the relatively short time iron coffining was used.

St Dunstan-in-the-West is the custodian of a very famous character after whom Ludgate itself is said to be named – but he is tucked away around the corner in the churchyard and you have to seek him out. It is, of course, the great King Lud himself …

The pre-Roman English King Lud (in the centre) and his sons Androgeus and Theomantius

Probably dating from 1586 when the old Ludgate entrance to the City was rebuilt, the statues from the gate are remarkable, but very battered, survivors. Ludgate was demolished in 1760 and the statues were initially placed in the St Dunstan’s charnel house and then alongside the cemetery. Being pagan figures, the church didn’t care much for them and in 1839 they were sold to the Marquess of Hertford who incorporated them into a house in Regent’s Park. Viscount Rothermere brought them back to the church in 1935 along with the clock.

Dr Philip Ward-Jackson, the eminent public sculpture expert, commented in 2003

While the installation of the clock was accompanied by some celebration, Lud and his sons were afforded the kind of hospitality they had grown to expect from St Dunstan’s. They were placed in a sordid niche in the vestry porch where they have remained ever since, in an increasingly battered and uncared-for state.

And they are still there today.

I think he still looks remarkably dignified

He is recalled here above the doors of the ‘Leon’ restaurant – part of a 19th century building overlooking Ludgate Circus

I am working on a post about Roman London to celebrate the opening of the London Mithraeum. By way of a taster, if you stand under the archway at St Magnus-the-Martyr Church on Lower Thames Street you will see an actual pile from a Roman wharf. It has been found to date from around 75AD.


Label stating its provenance















The City’s lone church towers and the Blitz

William Sanson, a London auxiliary fireman, thought 7th September 1940 ‘one of the fairest days of the century, a day of clean warm air and high blue skies’. At 4:00 pm that afternoon, just across the Channel at Cap Blanc Nez, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring was also enjoying the sunshine. From there he watched as 348 German bombers headed for London accompanied by an escort of 617 fighters. Looking up, Londoners who had not taken shelter could see this vast force some two miles high and 20 miles wide – they seemed to blot out the sun. London was pounded until 6:00 pm. Two hours later, guided by the fires set by the first assault, a second group of raiders commenced another attack that lasted until 4:30 the following morning. The  raids continued for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights. Sanson and his brave colleagues were no longer mocked as ‘army dodgers’ (who restaurants often refused to serve) but were re-christened as ‘heroes with grimy faces’.

Thanks to the efforts of the fire services and volunteers, many City churches survived the Blitz although some, such as St. Mary-le-Bow, had to be substantially rebuilt. Others were effectively lost apart from their towers and today’s blog visits the four of them that were originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren, assisted by  Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In Wood Street, just opposite the police station, stands the tower of St Alban’s. It’s a church designed by Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style and completed in 1685 to replace a previous structure destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire.

St Alban, Wood street

The church was restored in 1858-9 by George Gilbert Scott, who added an apse, and the tower pinnacles were added in the 1890s. It was destroyed on a terrible night, 29 December 1940, when the bombing also claimed another eighteen churches and a number of livery halls. Some of St Alban’s walls survived but they  were demolished in 1954 and now nothing remains apart from the tower – not even a little garden to give it some cover from the traffic passing on both sides. I’ve often been told someone lives there but I have never seen any evidence of it.

This is St Dunstan-in-the-East on St Dunstan’s Hill, just off Great Tower Street.

The body of the church had been rebuilt in 1821 but the Wren tower was retained and it survived the Blitz whereas the church did not. It is said that Wren had such confidence in its construction that, when told the steeples of every City church had been damaged in a hurricane that hit London in 1703, he replied ‘Not St Dunstan’s, I am sure’.

Where the church stood is now a lovely secluded public garden which is well worth a visit. Horror film aficionados will recognise the tower as the setting for the final scenes of the 1965 movie Children of the Damned when it, and the children, are wiped out by the military.

There are some cute cherubs on the west door, one of them fast asleep …


The St Dunstan cherubs

These walls and the tower are all that remain of Christchurch Greyfriars on the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward Street …

Scorch marks are still visible on the walls. The substantial steeple consists of triple-tiered squares.

The site of the Franciscan church of Greyfriars was established in 1225. Those considered to be significant enough to be buried in the medieval church included  four queens: Joan de la Tour, Queen of Scotland and daughter of Edward II; Margaret of France, second wife of Edward I and one of the church’s original benefactors; Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III (her heart is said to have been interred under the altar); and Queen Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France and wife of Edward II (nicknamed ‘the She-Wolf of France’ on account of her plots against her husband). Also buried here, despite having been given a ‘traitor’s death’, was Elizabeth Barton, who was hanged in 1534 for prophesying the death of Henry VIII when he planned to marry Anne Boleyn. The old church was destroyed in the Great Fire and a new church, designed by Wren, was completed in 1704.

Like St Alban Wood street, his church was another victim of the night of 29 December when incendiary bombs created the ‘Second Great Fire of London’ and only the west tower now stands. Incredibly, though, its wooden font is said to have been saved from the flames by a postman and it now stands a few hundred yards away in St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

Where the main body of the church once was is now a very attractive garden consisting of heavily planted herbaceous borders including a variety of modern repeat-flowering shrub roses and climbers. The wooden towers within the planting replicate the original church towers and host a variety of climbing plants.

The pretty garden at Christchurch Greyfriars

Situated slightly to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral is the tower of St Augustine with St Faith, Watling Street …

I like this view very much – the Cathedral and church tower complement one another beautifully

Rebuilt by Wren in 1682-3 the tower and spire were added in 1695 and are probably by Hawksmoor. The church was bombed to destruction on 9th September 1940 but you will no doubt be pleased to learn that Faith, the church cat, survived and became very well known. Days before she was seen moving her kitten, Panda, to a basement area. Despite being brought back several times, Faith insisted on returning Panda to her refuge. On the morning after the air raid the rector searched through the dangerous ruins for the missing animals, and eventually found Faith, surrounded by smouldering rubble and debris but still guarding the kitten in the spot she had selected three days earlier. Her story reached Maria Dickin, the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, and for her courage and devotion Faith was awarded a specially-made silver medal. Her death in 1948 was reported around the world. For the full story of Faith I suggest you visit the wonderfully named purr-n-furr UK website and search for Faith, The London Church Cat. There is even a photograph of the famous moggie.

The surviving tower now forms part of the St Paul’s choir school. The new building was awarded the RIBA Architecture Award for London in 1968, being commended particularly for sensitive and intelligent handling of the context.

The Evening News reports on the bombing …

Over 30,000 Londoners died in the World War II air raids and they are commemorated by this understated monument outside the north transept of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was paid for by public funds raised following an appeal in the Evening Standard newspaper, launched in connection with the 50th anniversary of VE Day. The Queen Mother made a personal donation and carried out the unveiling on 11 May 1999.

It is a single piece of Irish limestone sculpted by Sir Richard Kindersley. The words on top, written in a spiral, are taken from Sir Edmund Marsh writing after the Great War, but quoted again by Winston Churchill in his history of the Second World War.

They read as follows

‘In War, Resolution: In Defeat, Defiance: In Victory, Magnanimity: In Peace: Goodwill’

And around the sides


Before the terrible onslaught of the Blitz, the first bomb actually fell on the City early in the morning of 25th August 1940. The event is commemorated by this engraved stone on Roman House at the corner of Wood Street and Fore Street. I only know about this because I can see it from my window in the Barbican!

That rings a bell …

Just off Whitecross Street is this doorway which makes me smile every time I see it. The story I have conjured up in my mind is that, some time in the early 1970s, the people living there found that visitors knocked on the door rather than ringing the bell. When asked why, callers usually said that they didn’t know there was a bell. As a consequence, the residents (who obviously had artistic talents) got out their paint brushes and added this helpful sign to indicate where the push button bell was. Brilliant!

This got me thinking about doorbells generally and their vanishing use in the City, where people are now ‘buzzed in’ or channeled via security guards or reception desks. So as I walked around looking for other blog subjects I kept an eye out for doorbells that have survived from a previous era – here are those that I have found so far.

Number 103 Cannon Street is a listed building dating from 1866 and is described as being of  ‘Byzantine style with some carved decoration and mouldings with shafts of polished pink granite to ground storey arcade’. It isn’t a house any more but beside its rather formidable doors are two very nice examples of bells from a time when home and office accommodation were in some way combined.


The bells are hidden when the door is open so this picture was taken at the weekend



When living space and workplace were closely located

I knew the Livery Companies wouldn’t let me down when it came to buildings that had been preserved right down to the smallest detail. The splendid blue door of the Wax Chandlers Hall has a complementary bell beautifully mounted.

6 Gresham Street EC2

Bell for the Wax Chandlers Hall

The bell at Stationer’s Hall, below, is rather austere …

Ave Maria Lane, EC4

Not surprisingly, the Goldsmiths are well guarded …

The doorbells in Gresham Street

I’m sure it’s pleasure keeping this one looking smart …

81 Coleman Street EC2

Number 5 Frederick’s Place was constructed in 1776 by the Adams brothers, John and Robert, of Adelphi fame. No wonder the old bell pull looks a bit wobbly now given the usage it must have had over the years. Lawyers, accountants and medical men were its primary residents over the years but at one time it housed a very different business. The London & Oxford Group, who are the current tenants, have researched the building’s previous occupants and in their notes on this subject they comment as follows

One of the more interesting enterprises carried on from here during the Edwardian era was a servants’ registry run by Owen Limms. At this date the supply of domestics still exceeded demand. Consequently, employers could afford to be very selective. It would have fallen to Owen Limms to weed out the fly-by-nights, drunkards and pilferers who represented a significant portion of those who beat a path to his door, and to instill in the remainder the habits of industry and piety.

I can’t help imagining these young folk reaching out and pulling this bell, nervously anticipating their interview with the no doubt formidable, and rather scary, Mr Limms.

Number 5’s imposing front door


‘Mr Limms is expecting you’

The Bank of England had a special arrangement for night time callers …

On the wall of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street

This bell in Great Tower Street obviously gets a regular polish …

Entrance to Williams & Glyn’s Bank, 8 Great Tower Street

And finally, a visit to the secluded Wardrobe Place off Carter Lane. Number 2 has two bells …

Many old City doors seem to be blue

Housekeeper bell at 2 Wardrobe Place

Office bell at 2 Wardrobe Place

You can read more about the curiously named Wardrobe Place in my last blog City Living.
















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