Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Stained Glass

Postman’s Park and the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Postman’s Park was once the churchyard to the adjacent church, St Botolph Aldersgate, but between 1858 and 1860 it was cleared of human remains and re-landscaped as a public space. A number of gravestones remain and you can see some of them now stacked neatly against the northern churchyard wall …

Nearby, in 1829, the General Post Office had moved in to a vast new building on St Martin Le Grand and, when the new park opened, it quickly became a popular leisure area for the post office workers and, as a result, the park soon became known as Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT).

It contains now what is, in my view, one of the most interesting, poignant and rather melancholy memorials in the City – The G F Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This plaque nearby contains a useful mini-history …

In the late 1890s the idea was mooted that the park would be an ideal location for a memorial to ‘ordinary’ and ‘humble’ folk who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others. Two of its most enthusiastic supporters were the artists George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife Mary (1849 – 1938). There are some nice images of both him and his wife on the National Portrait Gallery website. Here he is  and here his wife Mary.

After much debate about its positioning and design, the memorial was finally declared finished and open on 30 July 1900, the building looking very much as it does today …

The memorial consists of 54 ceramic tablets which were gradually added over the years, each describing a particular act of selfless heroism. I have chosen to write about four of them using as my source the splendid book by the historian John Price: Heroes of Postman’s Park (ISBN 9780750956437). You can also, like me, become a Friend of the Watts Memorial, and more details can be found here.

The first of my four heroes is Alice Ayres …

The picture above shows Alice Ayres as portrayed by the Illustrated London News in 1885 (Copyright the British Library Board). Her commemorative plaque reads as follows and was the first to be installed …

It was Alice’s brave act that prompted Watts to write to the Times newspaper and suggest the creation of a memorial

That would celebrate the sacrifices made by ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ by collecting ‘…a complete record of the stories of heroism in every-day life’.

Alice threw down a mattress from a burning building and successfully used it to rescue three children …

From The Illustrated Police News 2nd May 1885 Copyright, The British Library Board.

Alice eventually jumped herself but received terrible injuries and died two days later. Incidentally, if her name rings a bell with you it could be because, in the 2004 film Closer, one of the characters, Jane Jones, sees Alice’s memorial and decides to adopt her name.

John Clinton was only 10 when he dived into the Thames to save another little boy’s life. Unfortunately, after the rescue, John himself slipped back into the water and drowned. According to his father this wasn’t his first brave act, having saved a baby from a fire and tearing down burning curtains that were threatening the house. Both acts were commemorated in this illustration …

From The Illustrated Police News, 28th July 1894. Copyright, The British Library Board.

His funeral was widely reported …

I am indebted to the editor of the London Walking Tours website for this photograph of John Clinton’s image on his tombstone in Manor Park cemetery …

His Postman’s Park plaque …

And now another brave lady,

Many of these memorials give us glimpses of the nature of society at the time these events took place, and Mary’s story is a typical example. It is most unlikely that she would ever have found herself serving at sea had it not been for the fact that her husband, Richard, was drowned when the cross channel steamer SS Honfleur sank in the English Channel on 21 October 1880.

The steamer was operated by the London & South Western Railway Company (LSWR) and so Richard was one of their employees. It was common practice at the time for railway companies to offer employment to the widows or children of deceased employees so as to avoid having to pay compensation or provide a pension. Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary Rogers – 1855-1899

The story of the sinking of the SS Stella is a gripping one and rather too complicated to relate in detail here. If you want all the details either get hold of a copy of John Price’s book and/or have a look at this website run by Jake Simpkin, a Blue Badge holder and south of England historian.

From The Illustrated Police News – 8th April 1899. Copyright, The British Library Board

The Times reported that Rogers …

Helped ‘her ladies’ from the cabin into the lifeboats. Next she gave up her own lifejacket, and then when urged to get into the lifeboat refused for fear of capsizing it. She was told it was her only chance, but she persisted that she could not save her own life at the cost of a fellow creature’s. She waved the lifeboat ‘farewell’ and bid the survivors to be of ‘good cheer’.

In 1908, the committee of the new Anglican Liverpool Cathedral chose 21 ‘noble women’ for commemoration in stained glass windows. Mary was included, and is depicted in her window alongside Grace Darling and Elizabeth Fry …

Walking down Central Street one day I noticed this green plaque on the other side of the road …

On crossing over to take a look this is what I saw …

I took a picture, resolving to do further research and then discovered that the brave Alfred Smith is commemorated on the Watts Memorial …

PC Smith, 37 years old, was on duty in Central Street when the noise was heard of an approaching group of fourteen German bombers. One press report reads as follows …

In the case of PC Alfred Smith, a popular member of the Metropolitan Force, who leaves a widow and three children, the deceased was on point duty near a warehouse. When the bombs began to fall the girls from the warehouse ran down into the street. Smith got them back, and stood in the porch to prevent them returning. In doing his duty he thus sacrificed his own life.

Smith had no visible injuries but had been killed by the blast from the bombs dropped nearby. He was one of 162 people killed that day in one of the deadliest raids of the war.

His widow was treated much more kindly than Mary Rogers. She received automatically a police pension (£88 1s per annum, with an additional allowance of £6 12s per annum for her son) but also had her MP, Allen Baker, working on her behalf. He approached the directors of Debenhams (whose staff PC Smith had saved) and solicited from them a donation of £100 guineas (£105). A further fund, chaired by Baker, raised almost £472 and some of this was used to pay for the Watts Memorial tablet, which was officially unveiled on the second anniversary of Alfred’s death.

Watts used newspaper reports to decide who should receive the honour of a plaque, but in one case the report was false and the ‘hero’ didn’t exist. Unfortunately, Watts didn’t see the newspaper article correcting the mistake and the plaque went up anyway. If you want to know the identity of the non-existent ‘hero’ I am not going to reveal it here, and you will have to buy John Price’s book to find out.

I wrote about some more of the heroes from the memorial in an earlier blog which you can access here.

 

 

 

 

 

Anniversary Blog! Things that made me smile.

I am really pleased to be celebrating the 52nd edition of my blog. Thank you so much for subscribing – especially those of you who have been doing so since the beginning.

As this is a special occasion, I am departing from the usual format and have been looking back at pictures from previous editions as well as other pictures that, for various reasons, I did not use. My only criteria for inclusion is that they made me smile and I hope you find them amusing too – where there is a blog you can click on the links to access it.

First up are these cherubs busy assembling a bazooka – I particularly like the ‘LOVE’ tattoo that one of them has on his arm …

And what about these two chatting on a 19th century telephone …

They all appeared in my blog Charming Cherubs

On looking through the archive I was surprised at just how many animals have found their way into my blog. For example, when I was photographing John Bunyan’s tomb in the Bunhill Burial Ground, I was photobombed by this cheeky squirrel. He decided to tuck into his lunch just as I was about to take the picture …

You can read more here

Everyone knows the story of Dick Whittington and his cat and here the animal is portrayed in stained glass. He looks like he has just seen a mouse – and I love his perky tail …

This and other stunning stained glass windows are celebrated here

Another well known cat can be found in Gough Square. His name is Hodge and he is sitting on his master’s famous dictionary …

His owner, Dr Johnson, declared him  ‘A very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’

From famous cats to mysterious mice. Nibbling a piece of cheese, they add charm to a building in Philpot Lane off Eastcheap and have been described as London’s smallest sculpture.

No one knows their origin but there are a few theories. You can read more about the mice and other animals here

When deciding on how to decorate this imposing City building the sculptor had a bit of fun by adding this little boy struggling to hold a goose …

The street it is on is, of course, Poultry

Floppy eared dogs and smiling boars’ heads compete for your attention at the corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane …

Unfortunately when I looked recently they had been repainted a dull, boring cream.

They reference a Shakespeare play and you can read more here

I really liked this poster for the movie King Kong and then had to smile when, looking closely, I noticed an unusual feature. As Kong rampages through New York, he also seems to be chasing a double-decker London bus …

Edgar Wallace worked on the script for the film and I recount some of his story here

Is this the only statue in London portraying a man with a pronounced squint?

The inscription on his statue reads as follows: ‘A champion of English freedom, John Wilkes 1727-1797, Member of Parliament, Lord Mayor.’ You can read more about him here

Unveiled in November 2017, this splendid sculpture in the Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden commemorates Christ’s Hospital School’s 350 years presence in the City of London from 1552 to 1902.

The sculpture is ‘designed to curve gently, reflecting the care and support provided to children, who flow from the youngest entering the School to confident adolescents marching boldly into their futures’.

What made me smile was the portrayal of the ragamuffins at the far right, obviously before they benefited from the school’s civilising influence …

They look like they are having great fun running wild.

The Cornhill Devils are said to resemble the rector of the church next door …

I tell the story of the devils in this blog

If you walk down Fleet Street you will notice that many of the narrow alleyways leading off to the north have plaques embedded in their entrance telling stories of Fleet Street in its heyday as the print news capital of the UK. The one at the entry to St Dunstan’s Court reminds one of the way game technology has moved on. Older readers will recognise figures from Pacman, the game used here to illustrate ‘hi tech’ developments. Younger readers will probably have no idea what we are talking about …

I don’t normally like graffiti but this seemed fair comment when you look around the City today …

‘Let’s bung up another skyscraper while they’re not looking.’

And I will end with a picture from my first blog. Happily these camels are still being led towards Tower hill …

Here’s a link to my first blog

Thank you again for subscribing!

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wren Window by Christopher Webb (1957)

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

And below them are two more modern figures …

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

The flames remind us of two terrible years of destruction …

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

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

Note the angel at the base of the window …

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

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

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

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

The angel is holding the restored church.

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

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

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

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

Looking towards the east end of the church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London

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

Here Hayward shows that critical moment on Highgate Hill …

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

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

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

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

In another window St Michael slaughters the serpent …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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