Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Business signs

A pair of doors in Cornhill

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

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

Here is a closer view …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Change Alley EC3V 3ND.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

City Animals 5

It has been quite a while since I sought out animals in the City and so last weekend I took advantage of the sunny weather and went on another safari.

I always like to visit the Tower Hill memorial to the merchant navy and fishing fleet seafarers who lost their lives in both World Wars and have no grave but the sea. It’s a peaceful place on a weekend as virtually all the visitors to London have their eyes focused on the Tower of London across the road.

There are two memorials alongside one another and these pictures come from the one commemorating the almost 24,000 casualties of the Second World War (Trinity Square EC3N 4DH).

Dolphins feature highly in the allegorical sculptures by Sir Charles Wheeler representing the Seven Seas.

Here a boy is seen riding one surrounded by fishes and sea horses, above his head is a thorny snail …

A dolphin leaps through the legs of this figure who is creating the wind …

You can’t miss Neptune with a spider conch above his head and accompanied by another dolphin …

Across the road from Trinity Square is the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower (EC3R 6BJ).

Substantially damaged in the War it was restored and reopened in 1957 with a new cockerel weathervane …

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay company which once dominated the fur trade and was based nearby. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

A golden rodent looks out across Bishopsgate.

Wander down to the end of New Street off Bishopsgate (EC2M 4TP) and you will find this ram over the gateway leading to Cock Hill …

It’s by an unknown sculptor, dates from the 186os and used to stand over the entrance to Cooper’s wool warehouse.

Outside 68 Lombard Street there hangs an astonishing five foot long grasshopper (EC3V 9LJ) the insect being derived from the coat of arms of the Gresham family. Buildings in Lombard Street were not numbered until 1770 and so when the Greshams lived and worked there a similar sign would have been used to mark their residence …

The year 1563 refers to the year Thomas Gresham (TG on the sign) set up his business here.

The present building dates from 1930 when it was destined to become the City office of Martin’s Bank (whose coat of arms included a grasshopper). The original family sign disappeared at the time of Charles II when such advertisements were banned after numerous serious accidents. They had a tendency to become detached in high winds and on one occasion pulled down the entire frontage of a building. This grasshopper dates from 1902 when a host of signs were recreated to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

And finally, the Sculpture in the City event has brought us this extraordinary work by Nancy Rubins. It’s called Crocodylius Philodendrus and you can view it at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX).

See how many animals you can spot …

In there somewhere you will find crocodiles, hogs, deer, tortoises and a zebra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of London pub ghosts

The City has been home to thousands of pubs over the years. Some have continued to flourish for, literally, centuries whereas others have disappeared. I have been exploring to see if I can identify some remnants of those lost hostelries.

At 12 Old Street is the building that once housed The Old Rodney’s Head …

The building is for sale at the moment – offers in excess of £6.5 million – EC1V 9BE.

George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney (1718-1792) was a famous Admiral best known for his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 which ended the French threat to Jamaica. The building dates from 1876 and Rodney still gazes down on Old Street …

Sadly the Hat and Feathers has not reopened after a short time operating as a restaurant …

2 Clerkenwell Road EC1M 5PQ.

British History Online tells us that the building dates from 1860 and the facade – ‘gay without being crude’ – is decorated with classical statues, urns and richly ornate capitals and consoles.

I found this fascinating picture whilst researching …

Laying tramlines outside the pub in 1906 – source UK Pub History.

At the corner of Clerkenwell Road and St John Street is the building which once housed the Criterion Hotel (EC1V 4JS) …

The owners of the Cannon Brewery in St John Street built the Hotel here in 1874–6 as a replacement for the Red Lion and Punchbowl at No. 118 St John Street. This old tavern itself survived as a shop, but was eventually replaced in the 1920s by the present two storey extension to the Criterion, matching the style of the 1876 building. The Criterion closed in the 1960s, becoming a watch-materials shop and then, in the late 1990s, a restaurant.

Look at this lovely ornate brickwork …

I don’t know the significance of the two frogs, or maybe they are toads.

Further down St John Street at number 16 is the previous home of the Cross Keys pub with the pub’s emblem still visible at roof height (EC1M 4NT)

According to British History online the former Cross Keys inn was rebuilt in 1886–7 for Lovell & Christmas, provision merchants. It has been closed as a pub since the Second World War and was occupied during the 1980s as the London headquarters and library of the Communist Party of Great Britain, before being refurbished as offices in the early 1999.

The Lost Pubs Project informs us that the Barley Mow was around as long ago as 1806 although it was rebuilt in the late 19th century. It is now a restaurant but the name lives on at the top of the building’s facade and the adjacent Barley Mow Passage (EC1A 9EJ)

In their 1973 book City of London Pubs the authors Richards and Curl describe the White Hart at 7 Giltspur Street as …

The most lavish pub encountered for some time, with heavily upholstered seats and settees, low coffee-type tables, a Black Watch tartan carpet , soft music and subdued lighting.

Makes one want to visit, doesn’t it, but unfortunately it is now office accommodation …

The building dates from 1907 – EC1A 9DE 

But the stag’s head remains over the entrance, rather spookily scrutinising visitors …

Incidentally, in 2014 the Darkest London blogger tracked down all the pubs in Richards and Curl’s book to see what had happened to them since it was published and you will find more information here.

This building at 28-30 Tudor Street bears further investigation  (EC4Y 0BH)

It was once The White Swan pub, known locally as The Mucky Duck. Swan motifs remain either side of the entrance …

The building dates from 1881 …

And the facade includes the coat of arms of the Clothworkers Guild – perhaps because they owned the freehold …

The excellent London Remembers website has the following to say about the building that was once the Sir Robert Peel pub at 178 Bishopsgate (EC2M 4NJ)

This building has been through interesting times. It looks like it started off in the Georgian period and had a major refacing round about 1930 when the windows were replaced and the tiled front added. And then the ground floor front suffered the standard anonymising sometime 1960-1990, but they left the lovely tiles for us to enjoy.

The building is Art Deco in style – shame about the uPVC windows.

Nowadays always busy, even at weekends, it is amusing to note that a visitor in the early 17th century described the area as ‘airy and fashionable … but a little too much in the country’.

The ceramic panel depicting Robert Peel looks like it was based on his picture in the National Portrait Gallery.

As is often the case when researching, one story leads to another.

This building at 38 Charterhouse Street used to house the Charterhouse Bar which has now closed. However, I came across some more background about the premises which I found fascinating.

I really like the way it is squeezed into the triangular corner plot (EC1M 6JH)

And the decoration – the City of London shield with its bearded supporter …

… and this pretty lady …

What I discovered was that it was once the ‘new additional showrooms’ for scalemakers Herbert & Son and their 250th anniversary commemoration contains this invitation from 1937 …

Their Lion Trademark was granted in 1888 and can still be seen above their old showrooms at 7 and 8 West Smithfield which date from 1889. It seems to typify the pride the organisation felt at the height of the British Empire …

Directly opposite Smithfield Market – what better location for a firm of scalemekers. And they’re still going strong based in Suffolk.

 

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

 

 

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