Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Symbols

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 monan 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.





Terminal Tales 3 – Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street is the UK’s third busiest station after Victoria and Waterloo. This will no doubt come as no surprise to those of you who battle your way through here every day in the rush hours. However, maybe I can persuade you to spend a little time exploring the station and its surroundings since it does have some really fascinating aspects to it.

Next to the station eastern entrance is a Wetherspoons in a building called Hamilton Hall. It is named after Lord Claud Hamilton, chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company (1893–1923), and is the former ballroom of the old Great Eastern Hotel. Pop in for a drink and cast your eyes upwards …

The bar area.

Yes, the original ballroom decorations are still there, and you can get an even closer look if you go upstairs …

At least one source states that the design was copied directly from the Palais Soubise in Paris in 1901. Opulent is the word that springs to mind.

Named after the British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, Liverpool Street was the Great Eastern Railway’s London Terminus with the first suburban trains departing in 1874.The Great Eastern, and its successor the London & North Eastern Railway, concentrated on developing and increasing its suburban steam services, a business model that continued until steam was withdrawn in the 1960s. Under its modernisation plan, British Railways electrified all suburban services running form Liverpool Street station, and all steam had been replaced by diesel locomotives by the end of 1962.

The days of steam.

Someone once described it as a ‘Dark Cathedral’.

A plan to demolish the station, and its neighbour Broad Street, was put forward in 1975 but fierce opposition meant a compromise had to be reached. Eventually, only Broad Street was demolished (in 1986) and Liverpool Street developed more sympathetically.

Nicely preserved are traces of a time when astonishing care was taken with what people would see on starting and finishing their journey.

What about these lovely reliefs sculpted in brick against the back wall of the Great Eastern Hotel …

A steam train …

One of the Great Eastern Railway’s own ships …

And a fireman, or stoker …

The western entrance towers hold a clock and the old railway emblems …

Just outside the entrance is the Kindertransport commemorative statue …

Photograph: Robin Coupland. Statue by Frank Meisler (2006).

In 1938 and 1939, nearly ten thousand unaccompanied Jewish children were transported to Britain to escape persecution in their hometowns in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. These children arrived at Liverpool Street station to be taken in by British families and foster homes. Often they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

The station contains a number of other poignant memorials. The inscription above the largest one reads:

To the glory of God and in grateful memory of the Great Eastern Railway staff who in response to the call of their King and Country, sacrificed their lives during the Great War.

There are over 1,100 names.

There are two plaques below the main memorial …

You can read more about the Field Marshal and his murder in my blog from 15 February, Some Interesting Faces.

The Master of the Great Eastern Railway ship SS Brussels, Fryatt was court martialled for attempting to ram an attacking German submarine and being a franc-tireur (a civilian engaged in hostile military action). Having been found guilty, he was executed almost immediately by firing squad, after a show trial lasting barely two hours, during which he was afforded no proper defence. As happened following the execution of Edith Cavell in 1915, the event caused international outrage, and led to Fryatt’s body being repatriated after the war and given a ceremonial funeral. If you have the chance, read about him online – the story is absolutely fascinating.

This memorial was unveiled in 1920 by the Lord Mayor …

I have been unable to find out anything about The London Society of East Anglians.

The station was built on the site of the old Bethlehem asylum for the mentally ill commonly known as Bedlam. So when trains are totally disrupted and people say ‘it’s Bedlam here’ – once upon a time it really was.





Unusual memorials

I am sure there are very few dishonest solicitors nowadays, but there seems to have been a time when an honest one was rather unusual, and this virtue was so exceptional that his clients paid for a memorial plaque saying so. It reads ‘Hobson Judkin, late of Clifford’s Inn, THE HONEST SOLICITOR who departed this life June 30th 1812’.

The plaque can be seen in St Dunstan-in-the West on Fleet Street.

‘Go reader’ we are told ‘and imitate Hobson Judkin’.

Also in the church is this figure of a young man, apparently asleep …

In fact, Edward James Auriol died tragically at the age of 17 when he drowned whilst swimming in the Rhône river in Geneva one bright morning on 19th August 1847. A student at Kings College London, he was the ‘tenderly beloved and only child’ of the Rector of St Dunstan’s Edward Auriol and his wife Georgiana.

St Bride’s Fleet Street was badly damaged in the War but has now been sympathetically restored. In it there is a memorial to a lady who has a special connection with the United States…

Virginia Dare by Clare Waterhouse (1999).

At some time in the early 1580s the wedding took place at St Bride’s between Eleanor White and the tiler and bricklayer Ananias Dare. Their daughter Virginia was to be the first English child born in North America on Roanoake Island on 18 August 1587 after being brought there in an expedition led by her father, John. Because ‘this childe was the first Christian borne in Virginia, she was named Virginia.’

Roanoake turned out to be a bad choice. Previous settlers had fled in 1585 after little more than a year due to dwindling supplies and deteriorating relationships with the natives (they hitched a ride with Francis Drake, who fortunately happened to be passing). Similarly with the 1587 settlement, it soon became obvious that more supplies (and men) were needed and White set off again for England. He was unable to return speedily but eventually arrived back on Virginia’s third birthday. No trace remained of his daughter or of the other 114 men, women and children he had left behind – what happened to them has remained a mystery ever since. Virginia lives on though – in the name Dare County and the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge.

The Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge – over 5 miles long and opened in 2002.

In All Hallows-by-the-Tower, a maritime accident is commemorated.

Jesus summons drowned Sea Scouts out of the water …

The inscription reads …

It is I, be not afraid.
Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the waters.
And He said, ‘Come.’ St Matt. 14-27

Sea Scouting was a relatively new movement and in July 1912 the Daily Mirror newspaper presented them with a 50-ton Ketch, named the Mirror, equipped with the latest wireless equipment.

The evening of Saturday, October 25th, was a fine clear night and most of the Scouts turned in. The Mirror was tacking across the Thames between Gravesend and Tilbury having passed two steamers when a third, the Hogarth, loomed up, close to. Hogarth appeared to be making a turn to pass behind the Mirror, but crashed into her amidships sinking her.

For some time the yacht hung on the stem of the steamer and some boys managed to get up onto her. Ropes were thrown and four or five more were saved. Hogarth’s boat was promptly lowered and picked up three more boys from the water but four perished.

I found it difficult not to be reminded of the Marchioness disaster in 1989 – the commemorative plaque for those victims is in Southwark Cathedral …

Finally, in Postman’s Park, behind St Botolph’s Aldersgate, can be found the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. The ceramic tablets (and there are 54 of them) were the idea of the Victorian artist Georg Frederic Watts and I shall be writing more about him and this memorial in a future blog.

In the meantime, it is interesting to see the tablets illustrate some of the dangerous features of the times.

These were days before consumer protection legislation when it came to product safety …


The dangers associated with a horse transport era are apparent …

Industrial accidents were commonplace …

The highly contagious nature of diptheria put doctors’ lives in danger during treatment …

The historian John Price has researched the lives of the people commemorated on the memorial and in a future blog I will be drawing on his work. He has published an excellent book on the subject which I recommend highly if you want to read more – Heroes of Postman’s Park by John Price – ISBN 978-0-7509-5643-7.


Bench Marks and other ‘ghosts’

With global warming and rising sea levels just how safe are you as you walk along Cheapside? Read on to find out.

The City contains many examples of signs that were once important but have now ceased to have the relevance they once did. In the last blog I looked at parish boundary markers and this week I will be looking at other examples.

If you know Wood Street then you will be familiar with the tower of the old church of St Alban, left stranded in the middle of the street as a result of wartime bombing and subsequent redevelopment …

St Alban, Wood Street EC2

Whilst walking past it one day, I noticed this mark chiselled into the base of the west side of the tower …

Then, on a later date walking past St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, I saw another one …

It isn’t so clear but if you want to see it look just below the notice boards on the Cheapside entrance to the church …

The mark is below the notice board on the left.

At first I thought they might be old War Department markers (see below) but didn’t think they were likely to be carved into churches.

I have subsequently discovered, to my personal surprise, that they are what is known as Bench Marks, and there are thousands around the UK indicating where the height above sea level has been calculated. Actually I have often wondered what was taken as ‘sea level’ since the sea tended to, well, go up and down. The decision was taken back in 1918 that the single reference point would be mean sea level at Newlyn in Cornwall. In its favour was that it was situated in an area of stable granite rock and the gauge was perched on the end of a stone pier at the harbour entrance where it was exposed to the open Atlantic. This meant it wasn’t liable to be influenced by the silting up of the estuary or river tide delays.

So now you know – Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN) is the national height system for mainland Great Britain and forms the reference frame for all heights above mean sea level. Bench Marks were made on buildings which surveyors believed were unlikely to be redeveloped or demolished – they would be the ‘bench mark’ for the surrounding area. Nowadays, however, satellites can measure this distance to the nearest few millimetres and Bench Marks are no longer inspected for accuracy.

The St Alban tower survived the Blitz as did the tower of St Mary-le-Bow …

The St Mary-le-Bow tower shortly after the war. Photo : ‘A London Inheritance’.

So you can feel relatively safe from drowning as you walk down Cheapside – by the ODN measurement the church Bench Mark is 56.269ft above sea level!

On the right below is an example of the sign I confused the benchmarks with …

Outside Trinity House, Trinity Square.

The ‘broad arrow’ mark is used to identify property owned by the War Department (which became the Ministry of Defence in 1964) and here it appears on a boundary marker. There are half a dozen WD marks in the vicinity of the Tower of London, all numbered like No 11 above (in ascending order they are numbers 8, 12, 13, 21, 28 and 29).

And finally, I always take a picture of ghost signs because you never know how long they are likely to last. Here is a selection …


A bit of history from the ‘old days’ before Big Bang. There is still a second door on the right but opening it no longer reveals dapper gents with pinstriped trousers perusing the Financial Times.

At the top of Lovat Lane EC3 are these old survivors …

A bonded warehouse held taxable goods ‘in bond’ until an importer redeemed them by paying the appropriate level of excise duty.

And to finish, these printers, stationers and account book manufacturers …

Old sign in Wardrobe Place EC4



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.





Bombs and Boundaries

In today’s blog I have pulled together two subjects that I have found really interesting in my City wanderings. They are not linked thematically at all, but I hope you will still enjoy reading about them.

When we think of ‘London at War’ we tend to think of the Blitz, but Londoners were also at considerable risk during the First World War.

The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 30 May 1915. At 10:50 that night Zeppelin LZ38 looped around London and, from a high altitude and barely heard, it dropped eighty-nine incendiary bombs and thirty ‘man killing’ grenades. The historian Jerry White tells us, in his splendid book Zeppelin Nights, that there were seven fatalities that night, including four children. Two of the children and two of the adults were burnt to death as a result of fires started by the incendiaries. He goes on to say …

Londoners met the raids with that unpredictable mixture of sangfroid and blind terror that characterised their response to aerial warfare throughout the First World War.

The last attack on Britain did not take place until 5 August 1918, when four Zeppelins bombed targets in the Midlands and the North of England.

There is still some evidence to be seen of the destruction, and the terrible danger you were exposed to if you were on the street during a bombing raid …

Damage at St Bartholomew’s Hospital from Zeppelin raids on 8th September 1915 and on 7th July 1917. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Another picture of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital outer wall. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

And damage from the Second World War …

Shrapnel scars at the junction of Mansell St & Chambers St. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Once I saw the pictures in Spitalfields Life I kept an eye open for other evidence and, sure enough, on the wall of the Bank of England in Princes Street …

Wall of the Bank of England.

And more of the same …

Beside the entrance to Bank Underground.

Above the Princes Street sign is a notice that will allow me to segue into ‘Boundaries’ …

The signatory, Aretas Akers-Douglas was First Commissioner of Works from 1895-1902, so the notice is a remarkable survivor.

Parish boundary markers will probably be a familiar sight to anyone who has worked in the City.

Long before the advent of the London borough, the parish already existed for spiritual purposes and had a form of management.  This was the ‘vestry’ and so a mechanism was in place 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.

Here are some example I have found …

Love Lane EC2V : On the left, St Alban, Wood Street, on the right the marker for St Mary Aldermanbury.


A St Martin-in-the Fields parish marker, on a lamp post in Fleet Street

At Frederick’s Place EC2R, clockwise from top left are markers for: St Olave Old Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy and Cheap Ward. I am still researching the last one.

St Botolph Without Aldersgate – a stone marker on a wall in a bomb site in Noble Street EC2V

Honey Lane EC2V : a marker for the parish of St Mary-le-Bow

And finally …

The most famous boundary marker of all – the City of London Dragon. See my earlier blog from October last year: ‘Dragons and Maidens’.

I will be returning to the subject of Parish Markers later in the year – lots more research still to do.
















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.


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


Lady Justice

I had often looked up at Lady Justice gracing the roof of the Old Bailey and admired her poise and balance holding, as she does, the scales of justice and her sword, signifying that with her justice would be swift and final. She stands on a globe, for justice straddles the world.

And of course she was blindfolded, symbolising impartiality … or at least I always thought so. One day I went to a meeting high in a building opposite and looking out the window noticed, to my amazement, that she wasn’t blindfolded at all. This is hard to confirm from street level, and many people I have told about this have frankly disbelieved me, since the concept of her eyes being covered is so embedded. However, according to the Court’s brochure, merely her ‘maidenly form’ is supposed to guarantee her impartiality. She was sculpted by Frederick William Pomeroy – surely it’s no coincidence that Rumpole’s favourite watering hole was a Fleet Street wine bar called ‘Pomeroy’s’?

Lady Justice at The Old Bailey – the Central Criminal Court

Every now and then I have been lucky enough to glimpse an unusual view and actually have my camera with me at the time. Walking past Holborn Circus one day I noticed that Prince Albert on his horse seemed to be saluting a glorious sun-drenched Lady Justice.

Prince Albert salutes Lady justice

If you want to seek out a blindfolded Lady Justice there are a few to be found in the City.

Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues identified by Plato and later taught by Aristotle. They represent the foundation of natural morality and, as well as Justice, comprise Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. It is no coincidence that Justice has Prudence at her right hand in the Moorgate representation below. She is the mother of all the virtues, helping us to distinguish between right and wrong using reason. Here she is carrying a lamp to light her way and a staff to test the ground in front of her. Often she holds a mirror, illustrating the importance of self-awareness when making judgments about others, but here it is held by Truth.

Prudence, Justice, Truth and Thrift at 13-15 Moorgate

The building was completed in 1893 as the London headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society. It’s coat of arms (granted in 1885) are also incorporated, showing a lady holding a skull (mortality) in her left hand with a serpent (signifying wisdom) entwined on her right.

The coat of arms of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society on 13/15 Moorgate

This lady adorns the Institute of Chartered Accountants. It looks like she has stepped out of her niche in order to upstage the accountants number-crunching away behind her.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants, 11 Copthall Avenue

And finally a sadly rather dusty lady in Fleet Street. These were the former offices of the Norwich Union Insurance Company and Justice is probably there because the entrance arch is shared with Serjeants’ Inn.

49-50 Fleet Street

Looking at the Stars

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

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

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

Sagittarius – November 22nd to December 21st

Pisces – February 19th to March 20th

Aquarius – January 20th to February 18th

The entrance to 107 Cheapside

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