Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Commerce

The Bank of England, the Lothbury Ladies and more doors

I really like the exterior of the bank of England, Soane’s curtain wall speaking as it does of security and confidence.

Before I write about the doors, however, there are the four ladies to admire. Carved by Sir Charles Wheeler between 1932 and 1937, and nicknamed the Lothbury Ladies, they are located against the ends of the upper pavilion blocks.

The eastern pair stand in front of cornucopias and piles of money …

According to the splendid Ornamental Passions website, from which these pictures are taken, Wheeler was slightly queasy about these images of prosperity given that this was a time of financial crisis (Britain having just been forced off the gold standard). He thought sheaves of corn might be more suitable and wrote to the architect Sir Herbert Baker suggesting this. Baker ‘clearly told him not to be silly’.

The ladies on the western side are each hold a standing naked child between their legs, one male …

… and one female …

They ‘represent the hope of the future of the renewed Bank and its ideals’.

I wrote about the main Threadneedle Street doors in an earlier blog but you will encounter more as you walk around the building. These are the Goods Yard Doors in Lothbury which contain symbols of work – in the tympanum between the two lions rampant are a hammer and anvil, a monkey wrench and a rivet.

The roundels in the door are surrounded by rope motifs, the upper ones containing half-length nude male figures also symbolising work. The one on the left is carrying a load on his back …

… the one on the right is bent over a vice

The lower roundels contain curled up lions …

People have obviously been stroking his head.

These are the daunting, even menacing, Lothbury Court or Bullion Doors …


Loops of chains hang from a ring in the lion’s mouth and the doors themselves are decorated with huge double-warded keys, the handle of each containing a caduceus. These are the only sliding doors at the bank and Herbert Baker sent a Wheeler a sketch with the rather rude comment …

We already have too many prancing lions and a bullion door must be a more forbidding thing, simple in expression and to a big scale.

And finally, here are the doors on Princes Street with, yes, more ‘prancing lions’ …

I love their curly tails, and above them a smiling male sun and lady moon.

Incidentally, the main doors are magnificent and this is a link to the blog where I write about them in more detail …



The Royal Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to the left …

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

Looking to the right …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Image: ‘Say I do’ Islington

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

Carver: Andrew O’Connor (1928).

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

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

Painting by Stanhope Forbes (1899).


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

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








Sir Thomas Gresham and The Royal Exchange

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

Portrait – Gresham College.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Along with a Mercer Maiden …

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

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

Facing Threadneedle Street.

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

The story goes that one of Thomas’s ancestors, Roger de Gresham, was abandoned as an infant in the marshlands of Norfolk and would have perished had not a passing woman been attracted to the child by a chirruping grasshopper. Heraldic spoilsports assert that it is more likely a ‘canting heraldic crest’ playing on the sound ‘grassh’ and ‘gresh’.

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

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

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

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


The view at Bank on a quiet Sunday.


Fleet Street’s courts, lanes and alleys

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

I have been exploring a selection of them.

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

Looking north.

Looking south towards Fleet Street.

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

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

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

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

Here is the plaque for Crane Court …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 work and public sculpture

I thought it would be interesting to explore how public sculpture has been used to illustrate some of occupations that have been undertaken in the City over the centuries.

First up is one of my favourite pieces, The Cordwainer. Here on Watling Street (EC4N 1SR) you are in the Ward of Cordwainer which in medieval times was the centre of shoe-making in the City of London. The finest leather from Cordoba in Spain was used which gave rise to the name of the craftsmen and the Ward. In the background is the wall of St Mary Aldermary church …

Sculpted by Alma Boyes (2002). You can visit her website here.

I love the detail in the work, the craftsman’s face and particularly the hands straining with effort. The statue’s shoes are very beautifully represented too – but then they would have to be.

It’s a bit of an over-simplification but, basically, cordwainers made shoes (and were not allowed to repair them) and cobblers repaired shoes (and were not allowed to make them). Cobblers got around this injunction by salvaging old leather and making ‘new’ shoes out of that, but in the end a pragmatic solution evolved and the two professions merged under the Cordwainers Company auspices. But if you want your shoes repaired today you still go to a cobbler.

Beside the slope in Aldersgate Street that leads up to the Barbican Estate is this frieze (EC2Y 8AF). It used to be above the premises of W. Bryer & Sons who were gold refiners and assayers at numbers 53 and 54 Barbican. Having survived the Blitz the building was demolished in 1962 and the frieze re-erected here.

‘Gold Smelters’ – Made in Portland stone by J Daymond & Son (1901).

The photographs are mine but I am indebted to The Victorian Web for the descriptions of what is happening.

The left side of the frieze depicts the arrival, weighing, recording the results (by man with the quill pen), and melting the ore. The man with the quill pen, a superviser rather than a workman, is the only one in this part of the scene whose clothes obviously date to the seventeenth century or earlier …

The middle portion of the frieze depicts men working at the smelter: the man at left, whom we have already seen in the previous detail, holds a vessel with tongs while the man to his right stirs the fire, shielding his face from the heat with his right arm. The next man either rests or supervises the work, and the young man kneeling behind him most likely feeds the furnace …

The right side of the frieze shows a worker pouring the refined gold into a mould, and the man behind him examines a small ingot. Outside the workshop, which a curtain divides from the smelting operation, a seated man presents the refined gold to a customer. Here the figures all wear clothing from earlier periods …

What a shame that the friendly shop cat rubbing himself up against the table leg has been damaged.

James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

Designed by James Butler (1994) – Cornhill EC3V 3NR.

The Shield enabled the London Underground to be constructed at greater depths through the London clay. The miners doing the tunneling, using pneumatic spades and hand shovels, would create a cavity in the earth where the Shield would be inserted to hold back the walls whilst the miners installed cast-iron segments to create a ring. The process would be repeated until a tunnel had formed in the shape of a ‘tube’, which is where we get the nickname for the network today. A plaque on the side of the plinth shows the men at work …

Would you like to see a Greathead Shield? It’s easier than you might think since Shields were often abandoned when work was completed. Take the Northern Line to Bank and (without leaving the station) follow the signs for the Waterloo and City Line. This is what you will come across …

Here is some detail …

The plaque underneath explains all …

In next week’s blog I will be looking at some 20th century occupations and the way they have been celebrated in sculpture.




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.


City of London Ships (and a few boats)

Last year London was voted ‘the world’s leading financial maritime city’. The City, the judges said, ‘is home to world leading institutions such as Lloyd’s for insurance, and English law is the most widely applied in shipping disputes.’ The maritime connection does, of course, go back centuries and I have found some of the ways it has been represented for this week’s blog.

What better place to start than the Lloyd’s Register building at 71 Fenchurch Street EC3M 4BS.

It became apparent as the 17th century progressed that a central register of ships was needed to record their size, condition and other qualities. As Lloyd’s of London flourished this information would be valuable not only for underwriters but also merchants. Original regularly published ‘ship lists’ eventually became Lloyd’s Register of Ships in 1760 and, when a ship owners list merged with it, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping was formed in 1834 (and still exists today). The building, by acclaimed architect Thomas Colcutt (1840-1924), was completed in December 1901 and has been described as an ‘impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th Century Italian manner’.

The building boasts not one but two ship weathervanes.

Galleon under sail.

Around the building elegant ladies protectively support various vessels …


The interior was also designed to impress. I love this picture of the General Committee meeting in what was then their brand new building …

The great and the good of Lloyd’s Register.

The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was considered a necessary piece of legislation to reduce the number of parishes in the City of London as the residential population declined. Between 1872 and 1926 twenty churches (some by Sir Christopher Wren) were demolished and the land sold for construction projects.

Artifacts from some of these churches were moved elsewhere and the pretty galleon weathervane from St Michael Queenhithe (demolished in 1875) can now be seen on St Nicholas Cole Abbey …

114 Queen Victoria Street EC4V 4BJ .

This picture, along with many others, appears in Hornak’s book After the Fire and more details are available here on the Spitalfield’s Life blog.

This square rigged ship once sailed above St Mildred’s Poultry (demolished in 1872) and can now be seen atop St Olave’s Old Jewry, now inhabited by a firm of lawyers …

St Olave’s Court EC2V 8EX. Photo again by Hornak.

The Corporation of Trinity House was founded in 1514 and is now responsible for navigational aids (such as lighthouses), deep sea pilotage and a seafarers charity. The building was seriously damaged in the war but was beautifully restored in the 1950s and in the process acquired this elegant weathervane …

Trinity House, Trinity Square EC3N 4DH.

What about these jolly ships bouncing around in choppy seas on the front of The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

The facade includes a rather grumpy looking blue dolphin …

And now a few boats. If you want to know the difference between a ship and a boat I suggest you access Professor Google since there seem to be a number of definitions.

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

A plaque gives more information …

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was formed in 1555 – watermen carry passengers whilst lightermen carry goods and cargo. Tucked away down St Mary at Hill (EC3R 8EF) is their hall, the only original Georgian Livery Hall in the City. Their coat of arms portrays a skiff (a light rowing boat), crossed oars and two cushions for the comfort of passengers. And more dolphins …

I have written about this ship before. If you go to Holland House in Bury Street (EC3A 5AW), just opposite the Gherkin, just walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively …

It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’. It is very different from Mendes da Costa’s work, isn’t it?

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Finally, let’s not forget the brave souls who protected the City and the country in time of war and the monuments to their memory.

On Tower Hill there are two memorials. The first, the Mercantile Marine War Memorial, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was for the the First World War …

The Lutyens Memorial, opposite Trinity House, EC3N 4DH.

Alongside is the second, the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was for the Second World War. This is a feature from it …

In both wars more than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives  and on Tower Hill are commemorated the more than 35,800 casualties who have no known grave.

The National Submariners’ War Memorial is on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ) and the bas relief shows the claustrophobic interior of a submarine. On the left hand side is a list of 50 submarines lost during the First World War, and on the right a list of 82 submarines lost during the Second World War. A photograph really does not do it justice …

The monument was designed by the architect A H R Tenison and the bronze sculpture is by F B Hitch.

And as we all know, a real ship now stands guard over the City. The most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship, HMS Belfast played a key role in the Arctic Convoys, the Battle of North Cape and D-Day …

You get a great view of her from the north bank.



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 …



Terminus tales – Blackfriars Station

Nowadays, if you want to travel by rail to Continental Europe, you head for St Pancras International and Eurostar. Once upon a time though, your gateway to the Continent was Blackfriars Station in the City.

The station was badly damaged during the Second World War but the wall displaying a selection of the locations you could catch a train to survived and you can see it today in the ticket hall. It was part of the original façade of the 1886  station (originally known as St Paul’s) and features the names of 54 destinations – each painstakingly carved into separate sandstone blocks.

The destinations are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf …

‘Where shall we buy a ticket to today? Crystal Palace or Marseilles? Westgate-on-Sea or St Petersburg? Tough choices!’

The new station gave the London Chatham & Dover Railway an important foothold in the City of London.

If you leave the station and turn left you can walk across Blackfriars Bridge and take in a few more interesting sights.

There are these columns rising out of the river …

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

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

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

And now features not everyone notices. They are not related to the station but if you have ventured onto the bridge they are worth looking out for.

Peer over the parapet and on either side you will see some birds on the capitals of the bridge supports, beautifully carved in Portland stone by J.B.Philip.

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

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

Just after you turn left outside the station you will see one of my favourite water fountains, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored.

Sculptor Wills Bros.

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

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

Insurance Company Ghosts

I started my career in the City working for the Legal & General Assurance Society in the much criticised Temple Court headquarters in Queen Victoria Street. Although the company had plonked a ‘restored’ part of the Roman Temple of Mithras (discovered during construction) on the forecourt, the building was seen as an example of poor, unimaginative 1950s design. It has now been demolished and a new facility has been created in Wallbrook for people to view the Temple and some of the fascinating Roman period artifacts that miraculously survived successive redevelopments. You will find more on the London Mithraeum website.

The City then was home to numerous insurance companies but many have now either decamped elsewhere or become subsumed into larger entities.

I have been hunting for traces of their existence and, like the Roman ruins, many pieces of evidence have survived.

Take a walk down the shadowy and rather mysterious Change Alley and you will come across a building that once housed the Scottish Widows insurance company along with its magnificent crest. At the centre is the mythical winged horse, Pegasus, symbol of immortality and mastery of time. A naked figure, the Greek hero Bellerophon, is shown grasping its mane.  In mythology, Bellerophon captured Pegasus and rode him into battle. This explains the motto ‘Take time by the forelock’, or ‘seize the opportunity’. Presumably time could be tamed by taking out a Scottish Widows policy to make provision against the uncertainties of the future.

The Scottish Widows building in Change Alley

Here is a Scottish Widows advertisement from the turn of the 20th century …

Scottish Widows’ advertising placard, early 1900s, featuring Walter Crane’s Pegasus

This striking piece of advertising features a beautiful full colour version of the Pegasus motif created by Walter Crane. Crane (1845 – 1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He is considered to be the most influential, and among the most prolific, children’s book creator of his generation.

Fast forward to the present day and Scottish Widows is now part of Lloyds Banking group, its corporate symbol now being the beautiful ‘Scottish Widow’.

Amber Martinez is the fourth Scottish Widow

Rising from the flames and just about to take off over the City is the legendary Phoenix bird and from 1915 until 1983 this was the headquarters of the Phoenix Assurance Company. One can see why the Phoenix legend of rebirth and restoration appealed as the name for an insurance company.

5 King William Street


The clock shows the name of the present tenants, Daiwa Capital Markets

Insurance companies often seemed to favour having clocks outside their buildings – a neat form of advertising when not everyone could afford a watch.

This wise old owl looks across the road to the north side of London Bridge, observing the thousands of commuters flowing back and forth every day from London Bridge Station. He is perched outside what was once the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company (later just ‘Guardian’) and was for a while their symbol, presumably signifying wisdom and watchfulness.

68 King William Street – he now watches over a branch of House of Fraser

Since 1893 this golden lady has been standing at the top of  13-15 Moorgate facing the Bank of England.

Her image is repeated on the side of the building.

This was originally the London headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society. The lady comes from its coat of arms (granted in 1885) which show her holding a skull (mortality) in her left hand with a serpent (signifying wisdom) entwined on her right.

The building also incorporates an attractive set of figures representing Prudence, Justice, Truth and Thrift – presumably all Virtues that the Insurer would like to be identified with.

The Cardinal Virtues look down on Moorgate

Some sadly rather dusty ladies in Fleet Street on what were once the offices of the Norwich Union Insurance Company (now Aviva). Prudence is on the left, with her little hoard of fruits and a leafy branch whilst the cherubic figure of Liberality, or Plenty, spills his cornucopia of coins and fruits over Lady Justice’s shield. She is probably there because the entrance arch is shared with Serjeants’ Inn and, as usual, she holds scales and a sword.

And finally, completed in 1958 for the Sun Life Assurance Society, these two sundials  incorporate the company’s sunburst logo.The south facing sundial has the letters GMT under the sun face and covers hours from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The west facing sundial also shows the letters GMT in the bottom right corner of the dial and covers the hours 2:00 in the afternoon until 7:00 in the evening.

107 Cheapside

Also at 107 Cheapside you will find a splendid collection of Zodiacal signs arranged in twelve relief panels around the main door. When the Lord Mayor opened the building in July 1958 he said he felt sure that the signs would ‘attract a considerable number of people to inquire what you can do for them’. This would have been a remarkable marketing success, but sadly there is no record of long queues forming to purchase life insurance. The sculptor was John Skeaping who, incidentally, was Barbara Hepworth’s first husband.

The Zodiacal signs around the entrance

Sagittarius – November 22 to December 21

Pisces – February 19 to March 20

Aquarius – January 20 to February 18

City animals 3

A neat little book called City of London Safari by Helen Long was recommended to me by my friend Annetta and reading it inspired me to go out again and take more pictures of the many animals that inhabit the City.

My most pleasing discovery in the book was this little Scottish terrier called Chippy. He rests now in All Hallows by the Tower at the feet of his master the Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton CH MC who became vicar of the Church in 1922 and remained there until 1963.  He is best known for his work initially as an army chaplain during the First World War and in particular the establishment of Talbot House, a unique place of rest and sanctuary for British troops. After the war the spirit and intent of Talbot House became expressed through the Toc H movement.

All Clayton’s Scottish Terriers were called Chippy

These one and a half times life-size bronzes are outside the headquarters of the London Underwriting Centre in Mincing Lane and the sculptor was Althea Wynne, who sadly died in 2012. She was a keen rider and her love of horses shows through clearly along with influences from classical art, especially Etruscan. There is also a deliberate reference to the classical horses in front of St Mark’s in Venice, whose wealth was also almost entirely built on trade.

Each horse stands 10ft high, weighs 4.5 tonnes and is shown pawing the ground. They are intended ‘to exemplify the dynamism and power of new City buildings …’

In typical City fashion they were swiftly nicknamed Sterling, Dollar and Yen

A ram stands proudly on the crest of the Clothworkers’ Company on the entrance to Dunster Court, Mincing Lane.

Once upon a time you could learn more about the City Livery Companies if you smoked Wills’s cigarettes!

Founded by Royal Charter in 1528, the original purpose of The Clothworkers’ Company was to protect its members and promote the craft of cloth-finishing within the City of London. Although few of their present members are involved in the textile industry in any direct way, the Company continues to support textiles, principally through educational grants, fostering the development of technical textiles and colour science, and support for the nation’s textile heritage.

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside look up and you will see two young boys at either end of the grand building that was once the City headquarters of Midland Bank (1935). The are both struggling with a rather angry looking Goose.

The sculptor was William Reid Dick

Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The building is now a private club and restaurant, called The Ned in Sir Edwin’s honour.

The name of the street is a clue

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

The St Katherine Cree weathercock with The Gherkin in the background

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

The Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, is the adopted emblem of the Middle Temple and can be seen in many places around the Inn.

Lamb and Flag keystone, Fleet Street entrance to the Middle Temple (notwithstanding the date, the precision suggests it has been substantially recut over time)

There is a theory that the holy lamb was chosen as the emblem because it had originally been used by the Knights Templar whose arms were two knights mounted on one horse with a trotting Agnus Dei.

A Goldsmith’s Company symbolic leopard head over the entrance to the old churchyard of St John Zachary

The St John Zachary garden is on the site of the former churchyard and church of St John Zachary, which was partly destroyed in the Great Fire. In 1339 the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths had acquired land here and built the earliest recorded livery hall on this site. The present multi-level garden includes mature trees, benches, lawn and a fountain.

A wise owl gazes at the commuters as they trek over London Bridge from his perch on the House of Fraser store opposite the north entrance to the bridge.

The building used to be the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company

And finally, a wily fox decorates the door of the old Fox’s umbrella shop on London Wall.


Art Deco in the City

I used to often confuse Art Deco and Art Nouveau – probably because they both begin with the word ‘art’. I had to get my head around this properly when I decided to write this blog and therefore searched for a simple explanation.

The one I like best is that Art Nouveau tends to be flowing and flowery whereas Art Deco tends to be sharp and streamlined.  Both designs evolved as a result of the culture of the times – Nouveau influenced by the industrial revolution and Deco by the First World War.

Here are some of my Art Deco favourites.

Every now and then when I headed off to meetings in the East end of the City I would walk past the magnificent, undulating and symmetrical Ibex House at 42-47 Minories. Built in 1937, it is clad in black and beige faience and, apparently, has the longest strip windows in London. When it opened you could rent space for 6 shillings (30 new pence) per square foot – which included the cost of cleaning.


Ibex House, Minories – view from Portsoken Street

I often feel a bit nostalgic walking down Fleet Street. I well remember its heyday when lorries trundled past carrying gigantic rolls of paper and you could hear the presses rumbling into the night producing the next day’s print news. Sadly, it was also the home of the notorious so-called ‘Spanish Customs’, restrictive practices which eventually left the industry open to brutal modernisation and, finally, total relocation.

The former Daily Express building in Fleet Street (1932) has a black facade with rounded corners in vitrolite with clear glass and chromium strips and, in my view, looks quite futuristic even today. The newspaper moved out in 1989 and the current owners are investment bankers Goldman Sachs. The foyer is stunning but currently hidden from view behind curtains – come on, Goldman’s, draw back those curtains and let us mere mortals have a peep!

120 Fleet Street – Architects Ellis and Clarke and later Sir Evan Owen Williams


Facade detail


The foyer, currently hidden from the street

The former Daily Telegraph  building at 141 Fleet street is another Art Deco masterpiece (also owned by Goldman Sachs). It is meant to be overwhelming and certainly succeeds with its giant fluted columns topped with carved Egyptian capitals.

Daily Telegraph building 1928 by Elcock and Sutcliffe with Thomas Tait (who studied under Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

Just above street level, Twin Mercuries head off to distribute news around the Empire with the sun rising over the centre of the hemisphere which is, of course, England. Apparently the carver, Arthur Oakley, shortly afterwards became a monk specialising in religious ornaments.

Relief of twin Mercuries by Arthur Oakley


This clock above the entrance is a delight

Florin Court , designed by Guy Morgan and Partners and opened in 1936, is famous now as the fictional ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ home of Hercule Poirot. It’s in Charterhouse Square and originally boasted squash courts, a dining room and a cocktail bar. Nowadays, there’s a gym, a spa and a wi-fi area.

Which room is Miss Lemon’s office?

I have two favourites – Fox Umbrellas and the ship’s prow in Bury Street.

Fox Umbrellas at 118 London Wall was constructed in 1937 on the ground floor of an early 19th century terraced house. It is by the shopfitting firm E. Pollard & Company and has a vitrolite front along with curved non-reflective glass (an American invention for which Pollard held the English patent).  According to the blog London’s Historic Shops and Markets, this ‘invisible’ glass, which was was very expensive, allowed passers-by to see much further into the shop and made the stock on display more visible at a time when interior lighting was duller and less sharp than today. It works by using a steeply curved concave glass to deflect light towards matt black ‘baffles’. Pollards installed the same type of glass at Simpsons of Piccadilly, where it is still in place today (the store is now a Waterstones).


Fox’s before it became a wine bar

Fox’s today – you can see the unique curved glass

Lovely detail on the door

Pop in for a glass of wine – many of the original features have been preserved.

For the Art Deco ship’s prow, first find Holland House in Bury Street just opposite the Gherkin and the subject of my earlier blog, Ship Ahoy. Walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively. It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa and reflects the company’s main business of shipping.
I love this story about the ship’s positioning.
Apparently the company owner, Helene Kröller-Müller, had wished to buy the whole of the Bury Street corner, but had been thwarted by the adjacent owners who refused to sell. As a consequence, Holland House is broken into two sections, and it has been suggested that the aggressive prow of the ship was intended to ‘cock a snook’ at the neighbours.

The ship’s prow with the Gherkin in the background


Coats of Arms – a quick quiz

The City livery companies and the City of London itself grew up together. Those working in the same craft lived and worked near each other, grouping together to regulate competition within their trade and maintain high standards. The early London guilds benefited their members and customers alike, controlling the manufacture and selling of most goods and services in the Square Mile. When some guilds introduced their own distinctive clothing and regalia – or livery – to distinguish their members from those in other guilds, they soon became known as livery companies. All have been granted coats of arms, some dating back to the 15th century, and many are displayed proudly on buildings throughout the City.

There is a nice little summary on the website of the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers about livery company coats of arms.They say that the acquisition of a coat of arms by a livery company signified social status in the same way that a coat of arms was the badge of a gentleman: a visual affirmation of its permanence and distinguished heritage: a combination of a traditionally noble characteristic with merchants and craftsmen. The care and expense that companies lavished on the acquisition, preservation and display of their important documents and insignia suggest that antiquity and heraldry were important aspects of their sense of corporate identity, alongside processions, halls, feasts and clothing.

Over the last few weeks I have been seeking out some examples and photographing them, twelve of which are set out below.

Just for fun, do have a look at them and try to guess the trades and professions they represent just by looking at the arms and their mottoes. I have provided a few clues and the answers are at the end of the blog … some are more obvious than others!

1. ‘Ecce Agnus Dei Qui Tollit Peccata Mundi’ – ‘Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world’. A few clues. The angels are ‘crowned with stars in token of light’ and the company’s original motto was ‘things which are in dispute are made clear by the light’.


2. The Crest is a lynx – a short tailed wild cat whose fur was formerly held in great esteem. No one below the rank of Earl was allowed to wear it.


3. ‘Give Glory to God’ – these leopards have managed to change their spots


4. ‘Hinc Spes Affulget’‘Hence Hope Shines Forth‘ – somewhere to shelter on your journey (and get a drink and some food)


5. ‘My trust is God alone’ – you may be on tenterhooks trying to work this one out


6. I don’t think a clue is needed for this one


7. The beehive is a good clue – and their product had purposes other than providing light

8. The trowel offers a strong hint


9. Their motto is ‘A blessing to the aged’ – I can vouch for that


10. ‘Throughout the world I am called the bringer of help’ – The horns of the rhinoceros and the unicorn were reputed to be of medical use

11. The motto is God is our Strength and if you look closely you will see four salamanders, the top two chained together. In medieval times they were reputed to be able to survive fire.


The final coat of arms belongs to an Honourable Company rather than a Worshipful one – a rare privilege bestowed on the company by King George V.

12. The ship is the Golden Hind in full sail and the Red Ensign flag and gold quadrant are also clues.



The answers are the Worshipful Companies of …

1. Tallow Chandlers : Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2SH

2. Skinners : 8 1/2 Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2SP

3. Dyers : 10 Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2ST

4. Innholders :  30 College St, London EC4R 2RH

5. Clothworkers :  Dunster Court, Mincing Lane, London EC3R 7AH

6. Saddlers : 40 Gutter Lane, London EC2V 6BR

7. Wax Chandlers : 6 Gresham St, London EC2V 7AD

8. Plaisterers : 1 London Wall, London EC2Y 5JU

9. Spectacle Makers :  Apothecaries Hall, Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EL

10. Apothecaries : Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EJ

11. Ironmongers : Shaftesbury Place, Off Aldersgate Street, London EC2Y 8AA

12. The Honourable Company of Master Mariners : 4 Temple Place, WC2R 2PG (the picture is of their coat of arms in All Hallows by the Tower, Byward St, EC3R 5BJ)


Looking at the Stars

Walking along Cannon Street one day I was captivated by this wonderful Zodiacal clock – especially as one wouldn’t expect to see astrological symbols in the pragmatic, businesslike, City of London. Configured like a dial, the names of the months are inscribed around the circumference and the inner ring has panels with signs of the Zodiac corresponding to the months. What also caught my eye was the gilt bronze sunburst at the centre, on which can be plainly seen the features of Winston Churchill. The building is called Bracken House and used to be the head office of the Financial Times. It is named after Brendan Bracken, its chief editor after the war.

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

Only a five minute walk away at 107 Cheapside you will find another splendid collection of Zodiacal signs arranged in twelve relief panels around the main door. The building was originally the headquarters of the Sun Life Insurance Company. When the Lord Mayor opened the building in July 1958 he said he felt sure that the signs would ‘attract a considerable number of people to inquire what you can do for them’. This would have been a remarkable marketing success, but sadly there is no record of long queues forming to purchase life insurance. The sculptor was John Skeaping who, incidentally, was Barbara Hepworth’s first husband.

Sagittarius – November 22nd to December 21st

Pisces – February 19th to March 20th

Aquarius – January 20th to February 18th

The entrance to 107 Cheapside

Ship Ahoy!

I really like The Gherkin a.k.a. 30 St Mary Axe and it’s interesting to recall that when it was completed in 2003 it dominated that part of the City. Now it’s sad to see soaring new office developments beginning to surround it so it’s unique shape is gradually being hidden from view. When it was finished it was for a while informally known as The Swiss Re building, after the company that commissioned it for their London headquarters, but some wag said it looked like ‘an erotic gherkin’ and the description stuck. It’s probably a shame for the company that their award-winning building had its name hijacked like this, even though they no longer own it.

Ship’s prow in Bury Street

Anyway, you may be wondering what the connection is with the magnificent Art Deco ship’s prow in the photograph above. Bear with me.

The Gherkin is built on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, which was eventually demolished as a result of an IRA bomb in 1992. The clearing of the area to provide an open space around the Gherkin opened up for the first time a new view of Holland House in Bury Street. This was at one time one of the narrowest streets in the City but the west side was demolished to open up the Gherkin ‘piazzetta’ (the name for a little piazza, I’m told). So the Holland House architect originally designed the building to be viewed obliquely.

Holland House with the Gherkin reflected in its windows

Holland House is fascinating for a number of reasons. For example, it was built in 1916 right in the middle of the First World War and the year of the Somme. The Dutch company Wm. H. Müller who commissioned it were big in shipping, steel and mining. In its feature on the building, the journal Building Design comments as follows: ‘The company thrived in the neutrality of the Netherlands … and there were scarcely any British clients who could, or would, invest in such a large city building. The glazed terracotta bricks (made in Delft) were sent to London in the firm’s ships and given priority over other cargoes’. It is also the only building in London by Hendrik Petrus Bertage, the foremost Dutch architect of the 20th Century and is one of the first in London to have a steel framed structure.
But what about the ship!
Walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively. It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa and reflects the company’s main business of shipping.
I love this story about the ship’s positioning.
Apparently the company owner, Helene Kröller-Müller, had wished to buy the whole of the Bury Street corner, but had been thwarted by the adjacent owners who refused to sell. As a consequence, Holland House is broken into two sections, and it has been suggested that the aggressive prow of the ship was intended to ‘cock a snook’ at the neighbours.

The ship’s prow with the Gherkin in the background

A Dead Camel in Eastcheap…

For ten years I walked past this building on the way to work but it was almost as long before I looked up and wondered ‘Why is there a camel train carved above a branch of HSBC?’ HSBC have moved on but thankfully the camels (and their dead companion) are still there. They have a story to tell.

Constructed between 1883 and 1885, the building at 20 Eastcheap was once the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices, whose trademark showed three camels bearing different shaped loads being led by a Bedouin Arab. The firm was particularly well known for its ‘Camel’ brand of tea. When Sir Henry Peek (son of one of the original founders) commissioned this building he wanted the panel over the entrance to replicate the trademark, right down to the dried bones of the dead camel lying in the sand in the foreground.

The Peek Brothers letter heading/trademark – Copyright – British Overprint Society – Mark Matlach

He clearly wanted his prestigious building to be enhanced by a suitably eminent sculptor – preferably one with knowledge of camel anatomy.

The sculptor he picked, William Theed, was indeed an extraordinary choice for such a mundane task. Theed was a great favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and his work can be seen on the Albert Memorial where he sculpted the group Africa the central figure being, of course, a camel. The Queen also liked and trusted him so much that she asked him to take her beloved Albert’s death mask when the Prince died tragically young in 1861.


Theed’s masterpiece – ‘Africa’ at the Albert Memorial

Peeks carried on trading under various names until the 1970s. Another branch of the family ensures that the name lives on by way of the biscuit makers Peek Freans.

Theed died in 1891 at the ripe old age of 87. Although his work had become unfashionable towards the end of his life, he still left an estate valued at £41,000 – about £3.5 million in today’s values.

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