Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Sculpture

War Memorials in the City

The aftermath of the First World War saw tens of thousands of memorials erected across the country. This reflected not only the huge impact on individual communities but also the official policy of not repatriating the dead: the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at the loss of three quarters of a million British lives.

As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at some of the many City memorials that commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving King and Country. I am particularly fascinated by the different approaches taken by sculptors and the allegories they chose to use.

Firstly, I revisited St Michael Cornhill and this sculpture by Richard Reginald Goulden. The memorial commemorates 2,130 men from three parishes  who served in the War of whom about 170 died ‘for the freedom of the world’ …

Allegorical figures surround the base as St Michael with his flaming sword stands steadfastly above …

On the left, the quarreling beasts typify war, but are ‘sliding slowly but surely from their previously paramount position. Life, in the shape of young children, rises with increasing confidence under the protection of the champion of right’.

And now to Holborn and this work by Albert Toft. Unveiled by the Lord Mayor in 1922, the inscriptions read …

To the glorious memory of the 22,000 Royal Fusiliers who fell in the Great War 1914-1919 (and added later) To the Royal Fusiliers who fell in the World war 1939-1945 and those fusiliers killed in subsequent campaigns.

 

Toft’s soldier stands confidently as he surveys the terrain, his foot resting on a rock, his rifle bayoneted, his left hand clenched in determination. At the boundary of the City, he looks defiantly towards Westminster. The general consensus on the internet is that the model for the sculpture was a Sergeant Cox, who served throughout the First World War.

Behind him is the magnificent, red terracotta, Gothic-style building by J.W. Waterhouse, which once housed the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company. Walk through the entrance arch to the courtyard and you will see the work of a sculptor who has chosen to illustrate war in a very different fashion. The memorial carries the names of the 786 Prudential employees who lost their lives …

The sculptor was F.V. Blundstone and the work was inaugurated on 2 March 1922. All Prudential employees had been offered ‘the opportunity of taking a personal share in the tribute by subscribing to the cost of the memorial’ (suggested donations were between one and five shillings).

The main group represents a soldier sustained in his death agony by two angels. He is lying amidst war detritus with his right arm resting on the wheel of some wrecked artillery piece. His careworn face contrasts with that of the sombre, beautiful girls with their uplifted wings. I find it incredibly moving.

I have written about angels in the City before and they are usually asexual, but these are clearly female.

At the four corners of the pedestal stand four more female figures.

One holds a field gun and represents the army …

One holds a boat representing the navy …

At the back is a figure holding a shell representing National Service …

The fourth lady holds a bi-plane representing the air force …

The work is tucked away in the building’s courtyard, Waterhouse Square (EC1N 2SW), and I am sure that most of the thousands of people who walk along Holborn every day have no idea it is there.

And finally, I looked again at the War Memorial to London Troops outside the Royal Exchange …

At the bottom of the list of battalions, two in particular caught my eye …

I am going to do further research on the Artists Rifles and the London Cyclists and hopefully include the results in a later blog.

As luck would have it, I visited the Imperial War Museum last week and came across a postcard of this splendid recruitment poster from 1912. It is poignant to look at this picture with its pretty village setting and then think of the industrial age war and slaughter that was soon to follow …

I will continue writing about war memorials for the next few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Sculptures with striking poses

I’ll start with a work that caused some controversy, the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9).

In his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson describes the lady as follows:

Despite her casual garb she has a diadem or tiara on her head. With her left arm she enfolds a baby, who she is suckling, whilst with her right she draws to her knee a naked boy, who gazes up at her.

She is outside Royal Exchange Buildings EC3V 3NL.

Nearby is a very relaxed George Peabody who I have written about in an earlier blog

Ward-Jackson tells us that the suckling lady’s very authentic exposed breast produced at least one letter of protest to the editor of The Globe. The correspondent urged that ‘common decency’ should be observed and went on …

Do you not think, Sir, that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of ‘lacteal sustenation’ be concluded … or the young woman and youngsters provided with the requisite clothing.

On a more serious theme, St Thomas à Becket lies in agony in St Paul’s Churchyard on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral (EC4M 8AD) …

‘Becket’ by Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1970-71).

The Ornamental Passions website gives the following description :

(The sculptor) depicts the Archbishop in the agony of death, his right hand extended as if to ward off the blows of his knightly assassins. The plinth is stepped to recall the steps into the choir of Canterbury Cathedral … This memorable image was created in 1970 as part of the commemorations of the saint’s martyrdom.
The material looks like bronze but is in fact resin coloured to look like bronze.

Just across the road from St Paul’s, on the right as you approach the Millennium Bridge, you will see the National Firefighters Memorial (EC4M 8BX) which depicts a Fire Officer and two Firemen, cast in bronze engaged in firefighting duties. Unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991, it was originally called ‘Blitz’ and was dedicated to the men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II.  In 2000 it was renamed the Firefighters Memorial in order to commemorate all firefighters killed whilst in service and a new raised plinth now records almost 2,300 names.

Two of the men are ‘working a branch’, their legs braced to take the strain …

Churchill memorably called them ‘Heroes with grimy faces’.

The Officer below looking over his shoulder, possibly calling up reinforcements, is Cyril Demarne OBE who provided photographs to help the sculptor (who also happened to be his son-in-law) …

According to Philip Ward-Jackson, Demarne’s initials CTD are scattered among the brickwork on which the men stand but his old colleagues needed no such clues. One stated in an interview …

You can tell it’s Cyril by the way he’s standing … He always waved his arms about like that when he was ordering us about.

Officer Demarne in full flow …

By 1943 over 70,00 women had enrolled in the National Fire Service in the United Kingdom. This memorial commemorates those who lost their lives in the London Blitz …

The lady on the left is an incident recorder and the one on the right a despatch rider.

Finally, would you like to see Zoe, the floating Barbican Muse? If so, make your way to the Barbican Library on the second floor of the Centre, stand with your back to it, and walk through the automatic doors. She’s a few yards ahead on your left …

Sculpted by Matthew Spender in 1993-4, she is made of polyurethane and glass fibre and finished in gold leaf. She holds in her left hand the masks of Comedy and Tragedy whilst her right hand points the way to the entrance to the Centre (hopefully assisting folk lost in the highwalk system). She’s nicknamed Zoe after the Cambridge student who had posed for the sculptor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City work and public sculpture 2

This week I am looking at sculptures representing work in the City in the 20th Century.

Although I mentioned them in an earlier blog I wanted to show these figures again because they are so unusual …

Old churchyard of St John Zachary, 25 Gresham Street EC2V 7HN.

Wilfred Dudeney’s monument Three Printers (1954) has been here since 2009. Commissioned by the Westminster Press Group, it represents the newspaper process with a newsboy (sales), printer and editor (or proprietor), and used to stand by their offices in New Street Square. When the square was redeveloped the Goldsmiths’ Company, as the freeholders of the square, relocated the sculpture here (they had to rescue it from a demolition yard). Look closely, the printer is grasping a ‘stick’ for holding metal type, and Dudeney’s name is in ‘mirror writing’ just as it would have been when typeset the old-fashioned way.

This sculpture reminded me of words from Auden’s The Waste Land:

 Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
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.

It is entitled Rush Hour by George Segal (1983-7) and is in Broadgate (EC2M 3WA) …

Trudging wearily off home in the rain …

Segal created this sculpture from live models, encasing them in wire mesh and plaster bandages, before cutting each cast open to free the model, rejoining the mould and casting bronze figures from the plaster versions. You will notice that all their eyes are closed …

And now something a bit more cheerful …

Philip Ward-Jackson, in his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, tells us of the Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Committee of the Corporation which was chaired by Frederick Cleary. In his autobiography Cleary recorded that Jonzen’s figure below was intended as a tribute to the efforts of his committee but Ward-Jackson feels that ‘it might have been better described as a symbol of the ‘greening’ of the City in the post-war period’. Most appropriately, Mr Cleary has a garden named after him, and you can read about it in my earlier blog about City gardens generally.

‘The Gardener’ by Karin Jonzen FBS (1971) – Brewers’ Hall Gardens, London Wall EC2V 7HR.

Apparently Jonzen, on being given the subject by the Corporation …

… decided on a kneeling figure of a young man, who, having planted a bulb, was gently stroking over the earth.

Easy to miss but worth seeking out is The Building Worker, a bronze statue of a building worker in a pose based on Michelangelo’s David, but in working clothes and wearing a hard hat and carrying a spirit level. He is on Tower Hill EC3 just across the road from the station outside the Tower of London …

The sculptor was Alan Wilson (2006).

It commemorates the ‘thousands of workers who have lost their lives at work … (and) workers who are today building and rebuilding towns and cities across the United Kingdom.’ Wreaths are laid here each year on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, and a two minute silence is observed at noon in memory of those who have suffered fatal injuries in accidents at work.

The Plumbers’ Hall was compulsorily purchased in 1863 to make way for the expansion of Cannon Street Railway station and this statue on the concourse is a reminder of that connection …

The Plumber’s Apprentice by Mark Jennings (2011).

The inscription reads ‘This statue was erected on the site of its last Livery Hall by The Worshipful Company of Plumbers to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Charter by King James I in 1611 and to recognise the support given by the Company to the training of apprentices.’

To round off my day I went looking for a statue I personally remember being erected on Cannon Street in 1996 – The LIFFE Trader (LIFFE standing for the London International Financial Futures Exchange). But he has been moved and tucked away behind glass at the Guildhall Yard in a corridor that the public cannot access …

Please let him go outside, or at least turn him around.

Here he is in his glory days at Cannon Street – a bit of a character with his loosened tie, no doubt doing a deal on his then fashionable clamshell mobile phone …

Photograph copyright Loïc Brohard.

 

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 Animals 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A golden rodent looks out across Bishopsgate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See how many animals you can spot …

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A walk around the Barbican

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the photographer Anthony Palmer as he conducted a walk around the Barbican. For those of you who have never visited the estate, or who have only come to attend a performance, I hope my pictures will encourage you to come for the first time, or linger longer and explore.

First of all, I want to show you some views that may not look like they are from the Barbican at all.

First up is Frobisher Crescent …

Frobisher Crescent shutters as seen from the Sculpture Court.

One of the lakes contain what are affectionately known as the ‘igloos’ …

View looking down from the Andrewes Highwalk.

Beech Gardens (on the highwalk over the Beech Street ‘tunnel’) were designed by Nigel Dunnett and on his website there is a terrific description of how he achieved the transformation of the area.

Here is a picture I took looking towards Bryer Court …

A water feature gives the opportunity to photograph some reflections …

Nearby in Ben Jonson Place, two small dolphins stand on their tails and twist in opposite directions …

The sculpture is by John Ravera and dates from 1990.

The estate contains two gardens for the use of residents only. This is the Thomas More Garden as seen from the Thomas More highwalk …

The second biggest conservatory in London after Kew is one of the Barbican’s best kept secrets. It is usually open on Sundays, but is sometimes shut for private events, so if you are thinking of visiting it is best to consult the website first. Here are a few of the pictures I took last week …

A long time conservatory resident …

This is just a tiny part of the cactus garden …

Gilbert Bridge gives you a good view of one of the lakes and the terrace, which is open to the public …

The water lilies are doing well this year …

Standing on the Wallside highwalk you can see how the 17th century tower of St Giles-without-Cripplegate contrasts with two of the three Barbican residential blocks. Shakespeare Tower is on the left and Cromwell Tower on the right and they were until recently the highest residential towers in Europe …

To the left of the church you can see a line of very old barrel tombs. They formed part of the St Giles cemetery before its destruction in the Second World war. I have written before about this churchyard, and others, in an earlier blog which can be found here.

I took this picture of the magnolia tree earlier this year when it was in flower …

The Barbican also encloses parts of the old Roman/Medieval wall, occasionally used as a perch by a visiting Heron …

Alongside the Wallside highwalk.

People visit from all over the world to explore the iconic Barbican architecture by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.

In this picture Shakespeare tower looms over Frobisher crescent …

As you walk through the estate interesting shapes and shadows emerge …

This view along Seddon Highwalk made me think of the slits used by medieval archers …

A little further on, an elegant column at the base of Lauderdale Tower illustrates the Barbican’s distinctive tooled-concrete finish. It was incredibly labour intensive. After the concrete had dried for at least 21 days, workers used handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate …

The column is next to the entrance to the ThaoV hair salon. The previous salon was called Scissors Palace which I though was a splendid name and was sorry to see it disappear.

New highwalks have just opened with their support structure itself looking like a piece of sculpture …

The entrance to the St Alphage Highwalk.

Around 4,000 people live on the Barbican estate and every now and then you get a glimpse of their decor. These little green creatures live in one of the houses on the estate and always make me smile when I see them peeping out the window …

I hope you have enjoyed this short tour and that it will inspire you to visit and explore. Ending the day with a cocktail at the Martini Bar is highly recommended.

 

City Churches – more unusual discoveries

Last week I thought it was time to take another stroll around the City churches to see what I would discover. After researching last week’s blog, I was particularly interested in artifacts that had been moved from one church to another and why.

I was very lucky in the first church I visited, St Martin within Ludgate, on Ludgate Hill (EC4M 7DE) inside which I found both a fascinating chandelier and a very unusual font. There is a large entrance lobby (designed to reduce traffic noise inside the church) and you then enter one of Sir Christopher Wren’s least altered interiors (1677-1686) with fine dark woodwork which largely escaped the Blitz.

Look up and you will see this beautiful chandelier or candelabrum …

It’s still lit by candles.

As one commentator has noticed, it looks more like something you would find in a country house or a ballroom. The candles were not lit when I visited but I am sure that when they are, on a dark morning or evening, one must get a real feel for what it was like to worship here in earlier centuries. It came to the church via St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies, probably in 1777: a reminder of the links between the City’s trading economy and the British Empire overseas.

And now to the very unusual font …

The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding.

It contains a Greek palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople:

Niyon anomhma mh oyin

(Cleanse my sin and not my face only)

No church blog of mine would be complete if it didn’t contain a reference one of my favourite churches, St Vedast Foster Lane (EC2V 6HH) …

The interior looking east.

Here there are a few features that have come from other churches.

The font and its cover both date from the late 17th century. The font itself was designed by Christopher Wren and the cover is by the most celebrated woodcarver of the 17th century, Grinling Gibbons. Both were rescued from St Anne & St Agnes in Gresham Street after the Blitz.

The reredos behind the altar came from the ‘lost’ church of St Christopher le Stocks …

The original St Christopher le Stocks was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt by Wren in 1671 and situated in Threadneedle Street. During the 18th century, the Bank of England gradually bought up adjoining properties, extending its site into the parish. In 1781 it came to an agreement with the rector of St Christopher’s, and its patron, the Bishop of London, allowing it to demolish the church itself. This was not only motivated by a desire to build on the land, but also by a fear that rioters might use the church as a platform to attack the bank, a concern sparked by the Gordon Riots of 1780.

The richly carved pulpit came from All Hallows Bread Street, demolished in 1878 under the Union of Benefices Act 1860 which I also mentioned in last week’s blog

For my last visit of the day I thought I would take a look at St Anne & St Agnes (mentioned above) and see what I could find there (Gresham Street EC2V 7BX).

The Royal Arms of Charles II on the west wall is one of the best examples in England …

In 1649 the vicar was beheaded for protesting against the execution of King Charles I.

The central dome is supported by four handsome Corinthian columns two of which contain heraldic representations, one being this unicorn …

High up on the south wall are busts of Sir James Drax (died 1662) and his son John (died 1682). They come from the ‘lost’ church of St John Zachary which was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt …

The Drax family were pioneers of the sugar industry (and slavery) in Barbados and apparently Drax Hall Plantation in St George, Barbados is the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the western hemisphere.

St John Zachary may be no more but there is now very attractive and quiet garden where the church used to stand …

You can read more about it here.

 

 

 

 

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.

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 Mysterious Panyer Boy – and other curiosities

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

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

The pedestal and scrollwork have now disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright : British Museum

And here is how it looks now …

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

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

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

Now that’s what I call a buffet.

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

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

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

‘Sorry, cock, I’m a bastard’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also created the final scene …

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and The Games

My two Roman London blogs this month are in celebration of the opening of the London Mithraeum in Bloomberg Space, Walbrook, which I enjoyed tremendously when I visited last week.

If you want to immerse yourself more completely in the Mithras Temple story, you might like to call in to the Museum of London beforehand and view the treasures there from the Walbrook excavation. I have put together a small selection.

There is this head of Mithras …

Head of Mithras, marble, late 2nd century

He is shown as a handsome youth, the head probaly part of a large sculpture forming a focal point at the apse end of the Temple.

Serapis, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, was also represented …

Head of Serapis, marble, late 2nd – early 3rd century

He carries a corn measure on his head symbolising the wealth and fertility of the earth.

And Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom …

Head of Minerva, marble, early 2nd century, possibly AD 130

Again, the head was probably originally part of a larger statue.

So now on to the Mithraeum itself at 12 Walbrook. Entry is free but you must book a time slot in advance using the website.

The first thing you see is this stunning tapestry by Isabel Nolan …

Another View from Nowhen, 2017

There are helpful guides ready, and very willing, to introduce you to the Mithraeum, explain the tapestry and an accompanying sculpture, and hand you an excellent printed guide. There is a well organised display of Roman artefacts which can be explored using your own mobile device, a tablet that they provide, or just by reading the labels. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good enough photograph of these for the blog – please take my word for it that they are fascinating.

Then you are ready to descend through time, seven metres or so, from modern London to the very last days of the Romans in Britain, about AD 410.

Various levels of history are inscribed on the wall as you descend – there is also step-free access

At mezzanine level there is a further exhibition consisting of a reproduction of artefacts from the site including, of course, the head of Mithras, and a helpful commentary.

You then descend further to see the Temple itself. Initially it is dark and shrouded in mist but, as this gradually clears to the sound of evocative chants, you will see an accurate reconstruction of the ruin as it was on the last day of excavation in October 1954.

All the stone that you see and most of the bricks are from the original structure

The central icon of the cult is Mithras killing a bull

All I can say is ‘well done Bloomberg’.

The Walbrook stream played a very important part in the establishment of Roman London. Originating in what is now Finsbury Park, it carried fresh water in to the walled City and carried waste away to the River Thames. As the City developed it became imprisoned underground.

The stream lives on in the name of the street

The area has been difficult to access lately because of construction work, but is now a new open space and I took the opportunity to explore.

What a wonderful surprise! It looks like the Walbrook is flowing again above ground through the City…

Alongside Cannon Street

Parallel to Queen Victoria Street

Entitled Forgotten Streams, and cast in bronze, the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias took as her inspiration the ancient Walbrook itself. It looks very authentic and quite beautiful.

And finally, to complete a Roman London experience, you might want to visit the Guildhall Art Gallery, in the lower level of which you will find Roman London’s Amphitheatre. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area of the Amphitheatre, the site of the famous Roman ‘Games’ …

An outline of what existed about 8 metres below

The site of the Amphitheatre

Once inside you will see the remains of the original walls, the drainage system, and a rather impressive digital projection that fills in the gaps in the ruins.

 

 

Tales of the unexpected – in City churches

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

A naked St Bartholomew holds out his flayed skin

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

The quite extraordinary anatomical detail

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

Rahere died in 1143 and his tomb dates from 1405

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

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

Prior Bolton’s rebus

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

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

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

Iron coffin on display in the Crypt

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

Contemporary advertisement

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they are still there today.

I think he still looks remarkably dignified

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

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

 

Label stating its provenance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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