Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Religion

Resurrection! More tales from City Lanes, Courts and Alleys

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

St Mary-At-Hill EC3R 8EE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there are some nice ghost signs …

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

26 Old Jewry EC2R 8DQ

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

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

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

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

I entered with some trepidation

Looking back you get the true canyon effect …

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

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

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

John Rocque’s map of 1746

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

Looking towards Crutched Friars

When you emerge, cross the road and look back …

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

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

The view from Mark Lane

On the left is the tower of All Hallows Staining …

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

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

They are nowhere near number 48 or 43

And this spooky little alien character …

There is one grave left in the graveyard …

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

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

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

The wooden facade of the restaurant makes it look much older

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

‘Hello, hello, hello …’

St Mary Woolnoth – a lucky survivor

The church of St Mary Woolnoth has been lucky twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inlaid sunburst marquetry by Appleby is sublime …

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

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

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

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

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

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

Appropriately, the lady on the left represents electricity …

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

Mercury reclines on the right …

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

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

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

St Paul’s Cathedral from the outside – 18th century graffiti and posh pineapples.

I decided to start my walk around the cathedral at the Great West Door, a very popular background for many tourist photographs. Maybe some are recalling the sequence in the film Mary Poppins (‘Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!’) or perhaps Princess Diana, emerging wearing her stunning wedding dress with its 25 foot train. Both can be viewed on YouTube.

The Great West Door – only opened on very special occasions.

I have, however, yet to see anyone look more closely at the surrounding stonework. If they did, they would encounter a fascinating collection of 18th century graffiti. They are very hard to see and extremely difficult to photograph so these are my best efforts.

Names in cursive script overlap one another …

Some are clearly dated …

And it wasn’t just men leaving their mark …

Elizabeth Ives was here (1760).

‘JH’ must have taken some time over this …

And what about this bird with a bald human head?

Maybe a pompous, plump supervisor who upset one of his apprentices?

There are many, many inscriptions and they become more visible as your eyes get used to the light.

If you now turn around and walk down the steps you can examine these fossils, embedded in the stone for over 5oo million years …

You can read more about them in my blog Jurassic City.

The first pineapple arrived in Europe courtesy of Christopher Columbus in 1493.  The strange fruit he brought back from Guadaloupe looked like a pine cone but the edible interior had the texture of an apple. Pineapples begin to rot as soon as they are picked, so supplies from overseas were rare, and they proved very difficult to cultivate. The forces of supply and demand drove up the 17th century price to the present day equivalent of £5,000 each – but you could rent one for your dinner party table centrepiece if you wanted to show off. They became associated with wealth, royalty and generous hospitality which, presumably, is why they were chosen as the decorative finials on the St Paul’s western towers. Their shape is aesthetically pleasing too.

The gilded copper pineapples were modelled by Francis Bird (1677-1731), cast by Jean Tijou and completed in July 1708. Tijou was a French Huguenot ironworker about whom little else is known.

You can see them most clearly from outside the tourist information centre across the road. They were cleaned and restored in 2003 and are covered with two layers of gold leaf (as are the numbers and hands of the clock face).

Standing there you can also see the south porch of the cathedral and the centrepiece of the pediment, a phoenix rising from its own ashes above the word ‘RESURGAM’, a fitting symbol of the Cathedral and harking back to an earlier episode in its construction.

The carving is by Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700).

When marking out foundations, Sir Christopher Wren asked a labourer to bring a stone to mark a particular spot. The man came back with a fragment of a broken tombstone on which was carved one word – RESURGAM – I shall rise again – and the architect never forgot this omen.

St Paul’s has an abundance of cherubs …

You can read more about the City’s cherubs in my earlier blog Charming Cherubs.

On the north side is the Dean’s door …

The carver was stonemason and architect Christopher Kempster (1627-1715).

Kempster’s work on the cherub’s heads and foliage was considered so good Wren awarded him an extra £20 for ‘the extraordinary diligence and care used in the said carving and his good performance of the same’. When Kempster died at the age of 88 his son carved a cherub’s head for his memorial.

Much restoration has had to be carried out on St Paul’s in view of both its age and the damage done by London’s polluted air. In the yard beside the cathedral you can see an example close up …

A very eroded statue of St Andrew from the pediment of the south portico.

The churchyard also contains a statue of St Paul …

Over 30,000 Londoners died in the World War II air raids and they are commemorated by this understated monument outside the north transept.

The inscriptions read …

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

And around the sides


The cathedral itself did not escape World War II bombing unscathed but several bomb hits (and numerous incendiary attacks) miraculously failed to seriously damage the dome. Virtually every other structure in the near vicinity was destroyed or had to be demolished.

One is reminded how close St Paul’s came to destruction by these shrapnel scars still visible on the north wall …

The cathedral’s north wall.

In 1668, when Christopher Wren was commissioned to submit proposals for a new cathedral, he was only in his thirties. From then, until when the government declared the work finished on Christmas day 1711, he not only maintained his vision but also held together an incredibly varied body of people to a common purpose.

He is thought of as a scientific genius and a great architect, but he was also a great man, with an understanding of other men and an ability to get more out of them than they knew they had in them.

Dr Ann Saunders – historian and author


Sir Christopher Wren as portrayed in stained glass at the church of St Lawrence Jewry

He is buried in a quiet corner of the cathedral crypt under a plain stone and an inscription which includes the words ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice‘, usually translated as

Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you




Hidden Gems

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

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

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’.

At the back of the store is this spiral staircase …

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

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

Previously the Towergate Building.

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

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

There is a whole section of wall and an archway.

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

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

174 Queen Victoria St, London EC4V 4EG.

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

Some pretty stained glass.

Some good advice …

‘Don’t advertise, tell a gossip’.

Part of the interior …

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

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

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

Pictures courtesy of the Shaw’s Booksellers website.

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


City Churchyards then and now

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

‘Tis now the very witching time of night

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world.

(Hamlet’s soliloquy Act 3 Scene 2)

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

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

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

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

Here is how it looked in 1815 …

Painting by George Shepherd.

And how it looks now …

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

Some memorials can still be read … …

The Williams Family gravestone.

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

Some other memorials have traces of their original decoration …

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

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

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

The graveyard was in constant use until the 1840s …

St Bartholomew the Great 1737 – British History Online

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

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

The site now looking towards the church …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tranquil Fountain Courtyard and Cloister.

Overlooking the little garden is this memorial …

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

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

The Courtyard also displays a nice boundary marker …

Boundary marker for St Vedast alias Foster.

And finally, the church that rose again …

St Mary Aldermanbury in the 19th century.

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

St Mary Aldermanbury in its new home …

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

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

The garden on the original site of St Mary Aldermanbury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wren’s dome and Sir Henry Moore’s altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The City Parishes and their boundaries

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

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

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

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

Here are some of my favourites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in close up …

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

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

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

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

In close up …

Markers for St Swithen London Stone and St Mary Bothaw.

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

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

On 41 Carthusian Street, EC1, opposite Charterhouse Square …

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

In Charterhouse Street, EC1 …

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

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





City Churches and Churchyards – more tales of the unexpected

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

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

Entrance to St Vedast Fountain Courtyard and Cloister

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

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

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

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

The view towards Lower Thames Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See if you can find the Chapel on the model

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

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

Photo by Lonpicman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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










We are but shadows – City Sundials

I was browsing the British Sundial Society website (as you do) and it inspired me to look for examples of these elegant devices in the City. My research also took me on a bit of a journey around Spitalfields, which I hope you enjoy reading about.

Sundials measure local solar time, and were the only source of time for business and government before the invention of the clock, and even then were used to check clock accuracy whilst the mechanisms were still being perfected. The coming of the railways in the early 19th century meant that time needed to be consistently measured throughout the country, and this speeded up clock development. Sundials, however, survived in many places, and are still being manufactured today, serving both a practical purpose along with being aesthetically pleasing.

There are some fine examples in the City, measuring out the minutes using the shadow cast by the sun as it appears to move from east to west, reaching its zenith at mid-day.

On the corner of 107 Cheapside

Completed in 1958 for the Sun Life Assurance Society, the two dials 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.

The building will be familiar to any of you who have had a chance to look at the signs of the Zodiac arranged around its main entrance and described my earlier blog Looking at the Stars.

Sundial Court, Chiswell Street

Once part of the Whitbread Brewery, this dial is now behind locked security gates but is still visible from the road. It is made of wood, with its motto ‘Such is Life’, dating back to 1771. Around the sides it has the interesting inscription Built 1758, burnt 1773, rebuilt 1774.

There is a late 17th Century dial on St Sepulchre’s, Holborn Viaduct.

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, junction of Snow Hill and Holborn Viaduct

The dial is on the parapet above south wall of the nave and is believed to date from 1681. It is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and  dots marking the half hours. It shows Winter time from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm in 15 minute marks. I thought it was curious that the 4:00 pm mark is represented as IIII rather than IV – I have no idea why. Across the road is the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) where once stood the notorious Newgate Prison. I wondered if the Newgate executioner might have taken the time from this dial to help him decide when to start the journey to Tyburn scaffold, along with his unfortunate condemned prisoners.

If you visit the church, do have a look at the corner of the churchyard where you will find London’s first public drinking fountain as described in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains. You also get a good view of another previous blog subject, Lady Justice, atop the Old Bailey across the road.

Whenever I visit the Inns of Court I like to enter by one of the old gates in Fleet Street – it really is like stepping back in time, from the bustle of the City to the leafy, collegiate atmosphere of the Inns.

A Fleet Street entrance designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Lamb and Flag is the emblem of Middle temple.


Lane leading from Fleet Street into the Inns

I read somewhere that Dr Johnson used to enjoy swinging round these supporting pillars when he was in an ebullient mood!

There are two fine sundials nearby.

Pump Court, Middle Temple

Reminding the lawyers of their mortality.

And in Fountain Court …

‘Learn justice you who are now being instructed’

The TWT refers to the Middle Temple Treasurer in 1684, William Thursby, a successful lawyer and later MP. He spoke of the study of law as ‘a rough and unpleasant study at the first, but honourable and profitable in the end … as pleasant (and safe and sure) as any profession’.

And now my two favourites.

The Jacobean church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street was built between 1628 and 1630 and survived the Great Fire of 1666. On the south wall is this wonderful dial, circa 1700, which is described as having ‘gilded embellishments including declining lines, Babylonian/Latin hours and Zodiac signs’. Its Latin motto Non Sine Lumine means Nothing without Light.

And finally, this dial in Fournier Street.

Once a Protestant church, then a Methodist Chapel, next a Jewish synagogue and now the Brick Lane Mosque

In the late 17th century some 40-50,000 French Protestants, known as Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France, arrived in England with around half settling in Spitalfields. They started a local silk-weaving industry and, incidentally, gave us a new word ‘refugee’ from the French word réfugié, ‘one who seeks sanctuary’. They flourished and established this church in 1743 naming it La Neuve Eglise (The New Church) and installed the sundial we can see today with the poignant inscription Umbra Sumus – ‘We are shadows’.

Typical weavers’ houses in Fournier Street

Driven out by the decline of the weaving trade and anti-French feeling, the Huguenots slowly dispersed and their church was for a while taken over by ‘The London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews’. Not being very successful, they moved out after ten years and the next tenants were John Wesley’s Methodists, who refurbished the building.

From the 1880s onwards, the East End population underwent another significant upheaval as thousands of Jews arrived fleeing poverty, pogroms, war and revolution. Many settled  in Spitalfields and Whitechapel, close to where they arrived in the docks, setting up numerous businesses.

‘Ghost sign’ for Amelia Gold’s business, 42 Brushfield Street

Built in the 1780s, in the 1880s this shop was once the business premises of a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, a lady called Amelia Gold. Describing herself as a ‘milliner’ indicates that she was a very accomplished, professional maker of ladies’ hats rather than simply a retailer.

The famous entertainer Bud Flanagan was born nearby. His parents Wolf and Yetta (Kitty) Weintrop were Polish Jews who set off for New York in order to flee the pogroms. Sadly for them, a dishonest ticket agent sold them a ticket that only took them as far as London, where they eventually set up a barber shop and tobacconist.

12 Hanbury Street

By the late 19th Century the Methodists had left and the building became the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. However, as the 20th century wore on, many Jews were leaving the East End and the synagogue relocated to Golders Green in 1970. During the 1970s, the area became populated mainly by Bangladeshis who had come to Britain looking for work and often found it in factories and the textile trade. That growing community required a place of worship, and the building was bought and refurbished. In 1976, it reopened as a mosque, the London Jamme Masjid. Today, although it has been renamed, it still serves the Bangladeshi community as a mosque.

A while ago, The Economist ran an article about multicultural London and I would like to end with two quotes from it that I particularly liked since they reference the building.

Because it is a human entrepôt, Spitalfields remains one of London’s poorest and most conservative districts; but now, for the same reason, it is also among the hippest. When old men in traditional dress congregate beneath the mosque’s prophetic sundial, immodestly clad young women weave between them

And …

The mosque is a bricks-and-mortar correction to those Britons who think that immigration is a new and harmful phenomenon

Well said.




Philanthropic Fountains

It was a nice sunny day when I stood in front of this modest little drinking fountain outside St Sepulchre’s Church on Snow Hill near Holborn Viaduct and recalled a picture of the scene on 20th April 1859 when it was unveiled as the first public drinking fountain in London.

A stern reminder to ‘Replace the Cup’ common on many fountains

To me the fountain represents the coming together of some of the great influences on people’s lives in the 19th Century – the philanthropic initiatives of the Quakers, the gradual recognition that access to clean water was essential if London was to continue to flourish, and the temperance and teetotalism movements striving to combat drunkenness.

In the early 19th century water had become a valuable commodity and by 1860 the supply of drinking water to London was controlled by no fewer than eight private companies. It was generally acknowledged that its quality was unsatisfactory to say the least, as outbreaks of cholera earlier in the century had demonstrated. This, combined with a shortage of availability, contributed to a heavy consumption of beer and spirits, particularly among poorer citizens and the ‘labouring classes’ whose workplace was the London streets. Making available free, safe water was to enable a common cause to be established between those seeking to improve hygiene and reduce disease and the anti-alcohol campaigners.

If you look at the picture of the fountain, you might just be able to make out the inscription on the arch above the scallop shell which reads ‘The Gift of Sam Gurney MP 1859’. Gurney was a Quaker, and although Quakers numbered less than 14,000 people in Britain in 1861 their influence in business and philanthropy was disproportionately great – think, for example, of Cadbury, Fry, Barclay and Rowntree. They believed that good works were a sign of man’s sanctification and their economic and religious philosophies ran parallel to one another.

Gurney was present in spring 1859 for the inauguration of The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association. At the meeting the unveiling in two weeks time of his new fountain was announced along with the intention that it would be the first of many. The Earl of Albermarle got rather carried away and stated his hopes that the fountains would …

Check those habits of intemperance which caused nine-tenths of the pauperism, three-fourths of the crime, one half of the disease, one-third of the insanity, one-third of the suicide, three-fourths of the general depravity and (amazingly) one-third of the shipwrecks that annually occurred.

The opening of the fountain was an incredibly well attended event …

 Copyright Illustrated London News.

‘The Lady’ newspaper’s view was that the fountains would help by ‘providing an alternative to the public house and the low company found in those establishments’. To demonstrate the water’s purity the inaugural first sip at the opening was taken by a Mrs Wilson – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter, no less – who declared the taste excellent. Just for the removal of doubt, however, a final announcement was made that the fountain was for the special use of the working classes and was committed to their care. Incidentally, Mrs Wilson used a specially engraved silver cup which she was presented with after the ceremony.

Over the next six years 85 fountains were built, most using granite in order to keep the water supply cool. In summer 1865 the Association conducted a twenty-four-hour survey, which produced some very satisfying results. For example, 2,647 drinkers were recorded at the St Sepulchre’s site; at London Bridge more than 3000 people visited and at Bishopsgate an extraordinary 6,666. By 1867 it was estimated that up to 400,000 drinkers a day were using the amenities and by 1875 there were 276 fountains across the capital.

Charles Gilpin was another Quaker whose fountain can still be seen at St Botolph Without Bishopsgate

‘The Gift of C. Gilpin Esq. M.P. 1860’

Getting the fountains built was no easy matter with protracted negotiations often needed with, for example, local vestries, and of course the water companies themselves, who had to be paid for the water used unless they could be persuaded to become donors. Also, water was a precious commodity, and some objected on moral grounds to the wastefulness of the water flowing continuously when the idea of using taps was rejected, given the wear and tear involved. Before the end of its first decade the term ‘free’ in the Association’s title had been recognised as a misnomer and it was dropped. About the same time it elongated its name to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association to embrace public water provision for animals. Previously troughs had been sited outside public houses with free use only for patrons or on payment of a fee, as one poetic sign declared:

All that water their horses here
Must pay a penny or have some beer

At least one of the horse troughs has survived in the City – although many more can be found around London, usually adapted to accommodate flowers.

Trough and fountain for use by the public, and animals large and small, on London Wall

Remarkably, the cup is also still attached to this nice fountain in Love Lane at the junction with Aldermanbury, the gift of Robert H. Rogers, a Ward Deputy.

Robert H. Rogers’s gift dated November 1890



Love Lane fountain cup and chain


If you thirst for more knowledge about London’s water-related history get hold of a copy of the excellent book ‘Parched City’ by Emma M. Jones on which much of this post is based, including the title.


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