Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

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More City courtyards and alleys – Change Alley

By the end of June 1720, one share in the South Sea Company (a monopolistic trading entity) would have cost you £1,050. As confidence began to ebb away, however, the price began to drop. By the end of August, the stock was less than £800 and by December £175, meaning financial ruin for many institutions and penury for hundreds of individuals. A subsequent enquiry revealed a web of corruption, deceit and bribery and resulted in disgrace and prosecution for numerous company and government officials. The so-called South Sea Bubble passed into legend.

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Change Alley (EC3V 9AZ – then called Exchange Alley) is where the dealing in the South Sea shares took place and gets a mention in a poem to peoples’ folly …

Why did ‘Change Alley waste thy precious hours
Among the fools who gaped for golden show’rs?
No wonder if we found some poets there,
Who live on fancy, and can feed on air;
No wonder they were caught by South Sea schemes,
Who ne’er enjoyed a guinea but in dreams.

Some speculators, however, got out in time and with great profit. One of them was Thomas Guy, who owned a bookshop at the end of Lombard Street. We benefit to this day from his successful investment and philanthropy as he used some of the cash to found Guy’s Hospital.

Thomas Guy in 1706

Any history of the City and its development always makes reference to the extraordinary growth and influence of the coffee house, the first being opened by a Greek named Pasqua Roseé in 1652. Its location is commemorated by this plaque in St Michael’s Alley …

Incidentally, there is something suspicious about this plaque – it probably isn’t a bona fide City one. Though blue and oblong, the proportions are wrong, the style is different and it’s anonymous.

‘In many ways the coffee houses formed the central hub of daily life; they were where the news was gathered and distributed; they were the main places for the exchange of gossip. Here a business man could meet his client and discuss a deal in relative comfort and warmth over a dish of coffee (as they called it) and perhaps a hearty meal. As popular as the coffee houses became, they were not without their enemies and slanderers. In 1674 a congregation of ladies formed the ‘Women’s Petition against Coffee’, circulating notices about London in which they complained that by indulging in the beverage men were made as ‘unfruitful as the dessert where that unhappy berry is said to be bought’. Despite their efforts, by the 18th century it was estimated that there were over 3000 coffee houses in London.’ (Extract from the Underground Map blog).

Change Alley was the site of another famous coffee house …

The grasshopper references the emblem of Sir Thomas Gresham who built the Royal Exchange

Following the Fire of 1666, Garraway’s was reconstructed on a grand scale. Situated on a corner with various entrances into the building, it had smaller rooms and a kitchen downstairs and a large coffee room upstairs.

Here it is in a contemporary illustration from the 19th century – the alley looks very different from today where it is hemmed in by white tiled office blocks …

Garraway’s from W. Thornbury, Old and New London, vol 2, p. 174

A panel on the fascinating doors at 32 Cornhill depicts its interior. You can read more about the doors and their stories here

A place where ‘People of Quality who have Business in the City, and the most considerable and wealthy Citizens frequent’.

The Scottish Widows insurance company arrived in 1935 …

They made sure that the splendid company logo was prominently displayed even though it faces the narrow alley and blank walls. I have written about it in more detail in an earlier blog entitled Insurance Company Ghosts

It is extraordinary that the warren of courtyards and alleys off Cornhill survives to this day given not only wartime bombing but, long before then, a ferocious fire.

‘This dredful fire which has laid Waste so useful & opulent Part of the City began in the Powdering Room at Mr Eldridge’s peruke maker near the midle of Exchange Alley on Friday March 25 1748 at One o’Clock in the Morning, and continued burning till Twelve the same day.’

A peruke was another name for the fashionable wigs, or periwigs, worn at the time.

After the stock market crash that followed the South Sea Bubble scandal, the fire insurance market had consolidated into the hands of three major companies : The Sun, Royal Exchange and the Phoenix. Each had their own small fire fighting force that independently dealt with fires, including the Exchange Alley one. This map of the 1748 fire damage was drawn up to ensure a satisfactory allocation and settlement of any claims …

The three separate fire fighting forces were merged in 1832, along with those of six other companies, to form the London Fire Engine Establishment. You can see a late 17th century/early 18th century fire engine at the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street EC3R 6DN …

By the way, one striking feature of Change Alley has remained the same over the centuries – as you wander around the bordering streets, you keep seeing it. There are five access points. Two off Cornhill, two off Lombard Street and one leading out of Birchin Lane.

I shall be visiting more alleys in future blogs. As you will see from these pictures, they have managed to keep much of their charm and air of mystery …

Thank you for reading this week’s edition.

Tales from the City’s courtyards and alleys

One evening in April 1718 a comedian named Bowen (described as a ‘hotheaded Irishman’) was drinking copiously in the Pope’s Head Tavern. Having worked himself into a ‘transport of envy and rage’ he sent for an actor, a comedian and competitor called Quin. As soon as Quin entered, Bowen planted his back against the door, drew his sword, and bade Quin draw his. Quin remonstrated in vain and at last drew in his own defence, trying to disarm his antagonist. Bowen eventually received a mortal wound, of which he died in three days, ‘confessing at last his folly and madness’. Quin was tried, and honourably acquitted. This story, from British History Online*, sent me searching for the scene of the affray – logic telling me that it must be in Pope’s Head Alley (EC3V 9AY).

Sadly the Tavern no longer exists and the alley has been shifted a little to the east from its original location.

It looks a bit sterile from its Cornhill entrance (it leads to Lombard Street) and I wasn’t going to bother to walk down it …

I am glad I did though, because first of all, looking up, I noticed this line of bees and bee hives …


Here is a close-up of one of them …

And then came across the Pope himself …

The bee symbol was traditionally associated with the Barberini family and, in particular, the 17th century Pope Urban VIII Barberini. I honestly don’t know if this is the reason for the bees but that’s my hypothesis.

Below the Pope’s head there is metal fence incorporating the galloping Lloyd’s Bank horse …

So the moral of this tale is – don’t judge an alley by its entrance.


I went on enthusiastically to explore more. I know it’s a cliche, but the phrase ‘stepping back in time’ really does come to mind with some of them.

For example, here is a picture I took of Ball Court and a side entrance to Simpsons’s Tavern …

The Tavern’s full address is Ball Court, 38 1/2 Cornhill (EC3V 9DR). It still looks authentically 18th century …

On Cornhill you will find the entrance to Sun Court (EC3V 3NB) …

At the end of the alley the scene opens out considerably …

You are looking at the rear of the Merchant Taylors’ Hall with its lovely curved glass windows. There is a nicely carved rendition of the Merchant Taylors’ coat of arms …

Here is the full colour version …

The motto is a quotation from Gaius Sallustius Crispus: ‘Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maxumae dilabuntur‘ : with harmony small things grow, while with discord the mightiest are ruined.

Further along Cornhill another nice surprise awaits you in White Lion Court (EC4V 3NP) …

The gated entrance doesn’t look terribly promising

Once inside you find yourself facing this stunning four-storey house, said to date from 1767 …

Probably originally the home of a wealthy merchant, it was once the offices of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.

On the wall is another emblem of the Merchant Taylors’ crest …

And a nice example of the Parish Boundary mark for St Peter Cornhill …

I hope you have enjoyed this short tour through some of the City’s courts and alleys. There are many more to visit and I shall cover them in a future blog.

*Incidentally, there are a number of versions of the fight between Quin and Bowen and not all of them coincide with the British History Online account. The fullest I have found appears in the book The Life of Mr James Quin, Comedian, from his commencing Actor to his retreat to Bath. It was published in London in 1766, includes an account of Quin’s trial, and can be found online here.


Post War plans for the City

My subjects are often inspired by what other bloggers have published and one of my blogging heroes is the author of the blog A London Inheritance. The author inherited a photographic archive from his father showing London scenes before, during and after the war. In the blog he follows up what those locations look like now along with beautifully illustrated stories of London’s history.

Recently he wrote about this Report published on behalf of the Corporation of London in 1951. It deals in detail with plans conceived by consultants in 1947 for the reconstruction of the City …

Published by the Architecture Press

I have taken some extracts from it that I found particularly fascinating but if you want to read the entire blog (and I recommend it highly) here is a link.

The first illustration that interested me was this Inventory of Accommodation within the City. The present day Barbican Estate falls firmly into section 9 …

The report then goes on to illustrate in this table the total floor space in 1939 along with the percentage destroyed during the War …

As you can see, the map highlights the considerable amount of damage caused by the early raids of 1940 / 41 when incendiaries caused significant fire damage in the areas around and to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral as shown by the high percentage figures for blocks 2,7 and 9.

New roads and high and low level separation of pedestrians and vehicles was seen as the way forward for the City. The Barbican Highwalk is a present day example of what the new ‘pedways’ above the traffic might have looked like and there is an interesting article on the subject here.

The following drawing shows the proposed high level road in Lower Thames Street with the ground level occupied by a service road and a pedestrian area …

Lower Thames Street is not very nice to walk along nowadays, but the proposed high level road would probably not have had enough capacity

This drawing is of the proposed low level concourse at London Bridgehead, just to the west of the Monument …

I like the man getting a shoeshine and the Monument Tea Rooms

This is a clever piece of anticipation if you just swop the Sherry, Port and Madeira bar for a Wine bar and the Tea Rooms for a Cafe Nero. And nowadays men seem to be wearing hats again.

The following impression, also of the proposed London Bridgehead, is again (apart from the clothes) rather modern …

The report notes that the City is ‘chronically short of places to eat’ so no doubt the authors would be pleased to see how that situation has drastically improved.

The high level separation of traffic can be seen here as part of the large circulatory road system on the northern end of London Bridge …

Interesting that a pavement artist has been included

To the right is a glass sided entrance to the Monument Underground Station with the London Transport roundel on the side. This would have replaced the entrance on Fish Street Hill which today is an entrance directly on the ground floor of an office building rather than this rather nice, glass sided descent by escalator. I have to keep reminding myself that these ideas were being put forward over 70 years ago.

I really had to do a double-take when I saw this drawing entitled ‘An impression of a possible treatment of the proposed new approach to St. Paul’s from the river.’

What a great vision

And now we have a similar view after we cross the Millennium Bridge (however we are unlikely to spot a man in a top hat).

Just to show that not all the recommendations were attractive, a picture entitled ‘An impression of the suggested Cheapside Underpass, a proposal which has been postponed on grounds of cost.’

That’s the church of St Mary-le-Bow on the right

I think we had a lucky escape there.

And finally, a reminder of the utter destruction the War brought to some parts of the City. A photograph taken by the blogger’s father showing a very large pile of rubble following the demolition of bombed buildings in Aldersgate …

I hope you enjoyed today’s blog – apologies to those of you who already subscribe to the London Inheritance blog and have therefore seen these images before. If you don’t subscribe and are interested in London’s history I can’t recommend it more highly.

Whitecross Street Art and a very naughty lady

At the north end of Whitecross on the corner with Old Street a plaque on a wall tells us that there once lived here a lady called Priss Fotheringham who had been ranked ‘the second best whore in the City’. This description appeared in 1660 in a serial publication called The Wandring Whore by John Garfield, which described in some detail the antics of London’s prostitutes.

The tongue in cheek plaque is by ‘English Hedonists’ and was ‘Mad in England’

Described when young as a ‘cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye’, Priscilla Fotheringham (nee Carswell) was a colourful character very famous in her time. It is thought she was born in Scotland around 1615 and little is known of her early life. What we do know is that in 1652 she was sent to Newgate Gaol having been found in a house of ill-repute …

… sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.

In 1658 she was still misbehaving and was bound over by a Middlesex Justice of the Peace for …

… being a notorious strumpet … that had undone several men by giving them the foul disease … and for keeping the husband of Susan Slaughter from her and for also threatening to stab said Susan Slaughter … and also for several notorious wickedness which is not fit to be named among the heathen.

She had married Edward Fotheringham, an odious character from a brothel-owning family, in 1656, and he set her up as a madam at the Jack-a-Newberry Tavern on the corner where her plaque now stands. As her looks faded with time she became more ‘creative’ in the way customers were entertained – you can read more detail in her Wikipedia entry. She made enough money to set up her own brothel and died (of syphilis) a wealthy woman around 1668.

I have found a great 17th century ballad about the area and placed it at the end of the blog.

Whilst walking up from Beech Street to visit Priss’s little plaque I was struck by the extraordinary variety and quality of the street art, much of it a legacy of Whitecross Street parties.

The one that always catches my eye is this mural by Conor Harrington, an Irish artist living and working in London …

It was created in 2012

Beneath it and to the left is one of my favourites, the cherubs assembling a bazooka …

Stencil work by DS Art


Paul Don Smith is a prolific artist and I have come across a lot of his work around Brick Lane. Here are two of his Whitecross Street offerings …

You can also catch a glimpse of his work here, the lady on the side of the street furniture on the left …

I think the figure on the door with the party hat is a homage to Jean-Michel  Basquiat

And I always smile when I see the installation by the Italian artists Urban Solid below the window of the Curious Duke Gallery …

And what about this rather rude representation of someone taking a selfie …

Referring back to Priss and the days when much of this part of London was a centre of prostitution, I would like to end with this from the Roxburghe Ballad collection …


In Whitecross Street and Golden Lane
Do strapping lasses dwell,
And so there do in every street
‘Twixt that and Clerkenwell.
At Cowcross and at Smithfield
I have much pleasure found,
Where wenches like to fairies
Did often trace the ground.

Nowadays the big attraction is Waitrose.



On the Tiles again


A few days ago I visited the Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market (EC4V 1LR) and came across these splendid tiles depicting Sir Christopher Wren. He is standing in front of The Monument (which still has scaffolding around it) holding up a drawing of how it will look when finished …

Just look at the characters gathered around him …

A lady holding a fan leans out of her carriage window to chat to the architect. A child (possibly her servant) stands nearby holding what looks like a pet King Charles spaniel. Some nearby gentlemen are also intrigued, but the chap with the red hat who looks like Errol Flynn might be more interested in the lady. Observe the elegant shoes of the man holding an eyeglass. Not really appropriate for the City’s muddy streets, so maybe he is her carriage companion. The carriage driver looks over his shoulder at the scene. The panel is by W.B. Simpson & Sons and is faintly dated 12th March 1882.

And now another wonderful new discovery for me, the exterior of the former Nordheim Model Bakery at 12-13 Widegate Street (E1 7HP), just off Middlesex Street near Liverpool Street Station. Here are the glazed faience reliefs as a group – they are a joy – showing the bread-making process in beautiful detail …

Hauling in the flour
Kneading the dough
Into the oven for baking
Triumphantly carrying the finished product

They date from 1926 and their creator was the sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1889-1977). Having joined up with the Artists’ Rifles in 1914, he had distinguished himself in the First World War having been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for ‘ … conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of the left flank of the Company of the Battalion’. Despite being severely wounded, he had fought on until relieved two days later. His work became more and more religious and he eventually entered a Carmelite order, retired to the West Country, and died there at the age of 88. The panels reminded the Gentle Author of the Stations of the Cross and you can read his posting about these works here.

I love this bright red high-relief terracotta frieze on the exterior of Cutlers’ Hall (1886-7) in Warwick Lane (EC3M 7BR). The ancient Cutlers’ Company’s origins go back to 1416, their business originally produced and traded in knives and swords but eventually expanding into household cutlery and domestic wares such as razors and scissors.

The work realistically depicts late Victorian cutlery production. This is not surprising since the sculptor, Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946) of Sheffield, was once a cutler himself. The frieze (containing 33 figures) was made by E. Goodall & Co of Manchester …

The detail is extraordinary

I had to smile when I noticed this plastic owl just above the terracotta on the right. He’s obviously intended to deter pigeons …

‘To-whit to-whoo!’

The Bishopsgate Institute (230 Bishopsgate EC2M 4QH) is a fascinating cultural centre in the City of London.

The website tells us that the architect for the building was decided by a design competition and Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928) was chosen as the winner. Townsend was an inspiring and original architect whose work was individual rather than adhering to any particular style or movement. The Grade II* listed building combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but the influences of Townsend’s interest in Romanesque and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the broad semi-circular arched entrance, twin roof turrets and mosaic interior floors. Do go inside and visit the beautifully restored library.


The Tree of Life

And finally (for now) the flamboyant Bolton House at 14-16 Cullum Street EC3M 7JJ. Built in 1907, it has a white faience facade with green and turquoise decoration including the heraldic device of Prior Bolton, after whom the building was named. It’s another lovely example of Art Nouveau completed just before that style went out of fashion.

Incidentally, I have already written about the Prior in an earlier blog because of his connection with St Bartholomew the Great. Under the oriel window in the church 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

I am indebted to the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society for the source of much of today’s blog. They published a special Gazetteer on the City of London and I have used it for reference. The photographs are my own. My thanks also to Richard Jones of London Walking Tours.


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