Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Some pics from my Instagram collection

I set up my Instagram account because I found myself taking quite a few pictures totally unrelated to the City of London and I wanted a home for them.

They are quite lighthearted and I am publishing some here in the hope that it will encourage more of you to follow me on Instagram. You’ll find the address at the end of the blog.

I’ll start with a ‘heads up!’

Kilburn High Road wig shop …

A hairpiece for all styles and colours …

A selection of heads in an architectural salvage shop at King’s Cross …

Some fun street art …

Camden Town

An elegant lady on Highgate Hill …

And another …

‘Big girls need big diamonds’.

Street art meets a spinal column on Old Street …

Tasteful Shoreditch poetry …

On Rivington street …

Rather complex decision tree on Great Eastern Street …

More straightforward decision tree on Old street …

‘Let’s ADORE and ENDURE each other’ …

Artwork by Stik …

On Holloway Road, Dick Whittington strides out back to a modern looking City …

Mural at the London Postal Museum …

And a strongly worded notice on the wall inside where the railway workshops used to be …

The bear necessities at Spitalfields Market …

And nearby, a shop that once satisfied stallholders’ needs …

This injured kestrel found a friend near Guildhall …

And still on an animal theme. Where do Barbican ducks go shopping?

Waitrose of course …

Scrapyard sculpture …

Finally, a few pictures from a visit to Malaga …

‘Mmmmmm ice cream …. yummy!’

A water-themed painting next to a dry river course …

Picasso’s birthplace …

He was a great fan of the bullfight and inside is a photo of him catching a hat the matador has thrown to him. Lucky photographer – right place, right time …

You can follow me on Instagram at …

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Some unusual artifacts in City Churches

I find great pleasure visiting the City churches and often come across unusual artifacts that spark my curiosity and I have put a selection together for this week’s blog. Incidentally, there are still an amazing 47 churches within the Square Mile and I have not yet visited all of them!

As you approach the door to St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street you are walking on the paving that once led to the original London Bridge between 1171 and 1831 (EC3R 6DN). Inside is this beautiful scale model of the bridge …

Over nine hundred tiny people are crammed onto the bridge, amongst them a miniature King Henry V, who can be seen processing towards the City of London from the Southwark side of the bridge …

Read more on the excellent London Walking Tours blog from which these pictures were taken.

As an added bonus you can check out the 17th century parish fire engine just inside the main entrance …

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

St Mary-At-Hill EC3R 8EE

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

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

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

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

If you find yourself in St Paul’s Cathedral do seek out the only statue to survive the ravages of the Great Fire of 1666 which totally destroyed the Cathedral’s predecessor.

Nicholas Stone’s effigy of the poet and preacher John Donne is a remarkable survival of seventeenth-century English sculpture. Donne is shown standing, perched on a funerary urn, and enveloped in a body-hugging burial shroud which has been gathered into two decorative ruffs at the head and feet. Based on a drawing done when he was dying, and at his request, consider the face, with its shuttered eyelids, raffish beard, and benign, half-smiling expression.

The urn still shows scorch marks from the fire …

I haven’t had a proper long look at St Mary Abchurch yet but did manage to call in for a few minutes to take a (rather hurried) picture of this unusual Poor Box …

You need three keys to open it, one being inserted horizontally.

And I like this old box outside the little museum at St Bartholomew’s Hospital …

Rather a strangely placed apostrophe, I think.

And now on to one of my favourite churches, St Vedast-alias-Foster (EC2V 6HH).

You enter through early 17th century oak doors that have remarkably survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz. Beyond the foyer you find yourself facing the font and its beautifully carved wooden cover. Originally from St Anne and St Agnes, the font was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the cover is by Wren’s frequent collaborator, the master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons

Inside St Martin within Ludgate on Ludgate Hill (EC4M 7DE) 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)

And I am indebted, as I often am, to the blogger A London Inheritance who pointed out in his latest publication something I missed.

The plaque records a charity set up by Elizabethan fish monger Thomas Berry, or Beri. He is seen on the left of the plaque, and to the right are ten lines of text, followed by two lines which describe the charity:

“XII Penie loaves, to XI poor foulkes. Gave every Sabbath Day for aye”

The plaque is dated 1586, and the charity was set up in his will of 1601 which left his property in Edward Street, Southwark to St Mary Magdalen, with the instruction that the rent should be used to fund the loaves. The recipients of the charity were not in London, but were in Walton-on-the-Hill (now a suburb of Liverpool), a village that Berry seems to have had some connection with. The charity included an additional sum of 50s a year to fund a dinner for all the married people and householders of the town of Bootle.

The interesting lines of text are above those which describe the charity. Thomas seems to have spelled his last name either Berry or Beri and these ten lines of anti-papist verse include his concealed name.

St Martin Ludgate

And finally, why would a church display an old-fashioned telephone under a glass case?

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 Walbrook 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.

And this is the original telephone …

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Health & Safety in Victorian times

You only need to visit the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park to see evidence of the dangers that people were exposed to in Victorian times.

Here is the man we have to thank for this window on the past …

George Frederic Watts was a famous Victorian artist and this picture is a self-portrait. He first suggested the memorials we see today in 1887 but the idea was not taken up until 1898 when the vicar of St Botolph’s church offered him this site in Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT). There Watts’ ambition to commemorate ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ came to fruition and when the park was officially opened on 30 July 1900 there were already four tablets in place.

Sixty two people feature on the memorial today which is housed in a wooden loggia …

I find that their stories still evoke a range of emotions, particularly ones of sadness and curiosity, which left me wanting to know more about these people, their lives and the manner of their deaths. There are also clues as to the nature of society and work at that time along with the quality of healthcare.

We are reminded, for example, that horses played a tremendous part in work practices, transport, leisure and, sadly, war. It’s estimated, for example, that there were about 3.3 million horses in late Victorian Britain and in 1900 about a million of these were working horses. Of the 62 people commemorated here, five died as a result of an incident involving horses and I shall write about two of them.

Here is the first mention of horses on the wall …

William Drake earned his living as a carriage driver and on this occasion his passenger was one of the most famous sopranos of her day, a lady called Thérèse Tietjens. The breaking of the carriage pole caused panic among the horses and they reared out of control. In fighting to control them, Drake received a severe kick to his right knee which subsequently resulted in the septicaemia that led to his death on April 8th. A message was passed to the coroner at the inquest that ‘those dependent on the deceased would be amply cared for by Madame Tietjens’. Notwithstanding this, Drake was buried at the expense of the parish in a common grave in Brompton Cemetery, although there is evidence that his widow did receive an annuity from somewhere.

Elizabeth Boxall died after being kicked by a runaway carthorse as she pulled a small child out of its way …

Her brave act actually took place in July 1887 but over the next eleven months poor Elizabeth’s health deteriorated. Part of her leg was amputated in September and a further part (up to her hip) in January 1888, her condition being complicated by a diagnosis of cancer. Her parents were distraught by her death and the way she had been treated by the medical profession – for example, the first amputation was carried out without her or her parents’ permission. ‘They regularly butchered her at that hospital’ her father exclaimed at the inquest and the jury found that shock from the second operation was the cause of death. No one from the hospital attended the inquest but the House Governor at the London Hospital disputed the finding in a letter to the press.

Still on a medical theme, the highly contagious infection known as diptheria features twice on the memorials. Now extremely rare due to vaccination programmes, it was once a frequent killer of small children and also posed a danger to physicians such as Samuel Rabbeth …

I have been able to locate a picture of him thanks to the excellent London Walking Tours blog

Dr Samuel Rabbeth (1858 – 1884) from The Illustrated London News 15th November 1884
Copyright, The British Library Board

On October 10th the doctor was treating a four year old patient who was in danger of asphyxiation as diptheria often resulted in a membrane blocking the airways. The standard treatment of tracheotomy had been performed but to no avail and Rabbeth performed the more risky procedure of sucking on the tracheotomy tube to remove the obstruction. Unfortunately in doing so he contracted the infection himself and died on 20th October (not the 26th as shown on the plaque). There was some (fairly muted) criticism of his actions by doctors who believed he acted recklessly, although from the most honourable of motives.

He has a fine gravestone in Barnes Cemetery …

Dr Lucas was infected as a result of an unfortunate accident …

He was in the process of administering an anaesthetic to a child with diptheria in order that a tracheotomy could be carried out. The child coughed or sneezed in his face but, instead of delaying to clean himself up, which may have endangered the child’s life, he continued and as a result became infected. He died within a week.

I haven’t been able to find an image of him or his final resting place but a poem written in his memory was published in a number of newspapers and you can read it in full here.

Thomas Griffin was engaged to be married on 16 April 1899 and on 11 April he had travelled to Northampton to discuss arrangements with his family and then back home to Battersea for work the next day. He expected that by the end of the week he would be married, but that was not to be, and by the end of the following day he was dead …

An inquest on 17 April was told that, after an explosion in the refinery boiler room, the door had been closed and the men told to keep out. Griffin, who had been evacuated to safety, suddenly cried out ‘My mate! My mate!’ and before anyone could stop him had disappeared into the boiler room. Terribly scalded all over his body he died later that day. The coroner lamented that …

… the conduct of a man like him deserves to be recorded. No doubt there are heroes in everyday life, but they do not come to the front and so we do not hear of them.

Unbeknown to the coroner, Watts had been collecting newspaper cuttings of heroic acts for years and added Griffin’s story to the growing archive. So it came to pass that Thomas Griffin was among the first four people to be commemorated upon the newly opened memorial.

And finally …

One might get the impression that this gentleman was particularly worthy of recognition because the person he saved was not only a stranger but also a foreigner. This would be a shame if it detracts from a very brave act and a tragic one also since, according to Cambridge’s brother Royston, John need not have perished. He told the Nottingham Evening Post

My brother, who was a very good swimmer, saw while bathing an unknown person drowning, and swam out to her assistance. The bathing boat rescued the lady, and the other bather, but the boatmen declined to go out again, although we implored them to do so, and offered them payment, until they were ordered out by officials. It was then, of course, too late.

I have written in great detail about the following four heroes in an earlier blog which you can find (along with pictures of three of them) here

I am indebted for the background research used in this blog to the historian John Price and his incredibly interesting book Heroes of Postman’s Park – Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London. You will find details of how to purchase your copy here.

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St Bartholomew the Less (including a memorial that requires you to multiply and subtract)

Poor St Bartholomew the Less has had a tough time (EC1A 9DS). Designated ‘the less’ to distinguish it from its better known namesake nearby, it has also had to be substantially rebuilt a number of times including the need to repair damage inflicted in the Blitz. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating place containing many interesting historical monuments.

To find its modest doorway you must enter the grounds of St Bartholomew’s hospital through the Henry VIII gates and look to your left. Inside a rather spooky white hand directs you up stairs to the main body of the church …

It was once a parish church in its own right, the parish boundary being the walls of the hospital. The parishioners were made up of the hospital staff and patients and at one time attendance at services was compulsory for all who were fit enough. It was the only parish of this nature in existence but since 2015, however, it has become part of the Parish of St Bartholomew the Great.

There are many features to admire but, for reasons of space, I have tried to pick some of the most interesting and will look at others in a future blog.

High up on the south wall is the memorial to Robert Balthrope, Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I …

The inscription reads …

Here Robert Balthrope Lyes intombed,
to Elizabeth Our Queene
Who Sergeant of the Surgeons Sworne,
Neere Thirtye Yeeres Hathe Beene
He Died at Sixtye Nine of Yeeres,
Decembers Ninthe The Daye
The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice

Deductinge Nine A waye.
Let Here His Rotten Bones Repose
Till Angells Trompet Sounde
To Warne The Worlde of Present Chaunge
And Raise the Deade From Grounde.

He died in 1591, but the poet who devised this eulogy presumably had a problem getting 1591 to rhyme with anything. So he chose the frankly odd solution of asking the reader to do some mental arithmetic – ‘The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice’ (i.e. 800 x 2 = 1600) Deductinge Nine A waye (1600 – 9 = 1591).

The current windows in the church were designed by Hugh Easton, following the loss of the earlier windows during World War Two. Easton was an eminent stained glass maker who also designed the Battle of Britain memorial window in Westminster Abbey. The design of the nurse in the window in Westminster Abbey is strikingly similar to that in the window here …

And the doctors’ memorial window …

The mid-19th century alabaster pulpit depicts Christ healing the sick …

On the east wall is the poignant memorial plaque to Arthur Jermyn Landon which I wrote about in last week’s blog

Here he is in an image of him dated 1881 held at the Wellcome Foundation …

The elaborate memorial to John and Mary Darker (Died 1784 and 1800) is signed by J Binley …

Before you leave, look to the right of the door and you will see the tomb of Surgeon John Freke (1688-1756) …

English History Online has the following to say …

… a remarkably curious tomb of the fireplace kind, most elaborately wrought. It is the tomb of Freke, the senior surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, who wrote many works upon surgery, still to be found in its library. His bust is to be seen in the museum of the hospital, and he is represented by Hogarth, in the last plate of “The Stages of Cruelty,” presiding aloft over the dissecting-table, and pointing with a long wand to the dead “subject,” upon whom he is lecturing to the assembled students.

And here it is …

You can read more about Hogarth’s The Four Stages of Cruelty here.

Look back after leaving the church and observe the oldest parts of the building, the 15th-century tower and west end of the church …

Within the tower are three bells, the oldest being cast in 1380. The bells are hung in the original wooden frame thought to be the oldest in London.

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A plethora of plaques

Plaques abound in the City and I thought it might be fun to write here about some of the more unusual or interesting ones I have come across.

First up is this example, now rather tucked away in a corner at Liverpool Street railway station. It’s underneath the main memorial to the First World War dead, which was unveiled by this gentleman in 1922 …

Wilson was assassinated outside his house in Eaton Place at about 2:20 pm. Still in full uniform, he was shot six times, two bullets in the chest proving fatal. The two perpetrators, IRA volunteers Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, shot two police officers and a chauffeur as they attempted to escape but were surrounded by a hostile crowd and arrested after a struggle. Interestingly both were former British army officers and O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, his subsequent disability hindering their escape. After a trial lasting just three hours they were convicted of murder and hanged at Wandsworth gaol on 10 August that year – justice was certainly delivered swiftly in those days. No organisation claimed responsibility for Wilson’s murder.

Until researching this event I hadn’t realised that, in all, about 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces during World War One. Since there was no conscription, about 140,000 of these joined during the war as volunteers and about 35,000 of them died.

A brave doctor from an earlier war is commemorated in the church of St Bartholomew the Less, his actions and character described in poignant detail …

His former medical contemporaries at St Bartholomew’s Hospital have set up this tablet to keep in memory the bright example of ARTHUR JERMYN LANDON Surgeon Army Medical Department who, while continuing to dress the wounded amid a shower of bullets in the action on Majuba Hill, was in turn mortally wounded. His immediate request to his assistants “I am dying do what you can for the wounded” was characteristic of his unselfish disposition. His habitual life was expressed in the simple grandeur of his death. He was born at Brentwood Essex 29th June 1851. Died two days after the action at Mount Prospect South Africa 1st March 1881.

A plaque of a totally different nature is affixed to a hotel in Carter Lane …

The plaque was the result of a long campaign by a City grandee called Joseph Newbon who was a great believer in making sure that historical events connected with the City were properly commemorated.

Ironically, the letter written to Shakespeare by Richard Quiney (asking to borrow £30, about £3,700 in today’s money) was never dispatched and was found among his papers after he died.

Here it is …

You can find a transcript here, along with a lot more information, on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.

The plaque was originally on the wall of a major Post Office, hence the reference to the Postmaster General. Now demolished, its imposing entrance has been incorporated into the hotel …

Whilst on the subject of The Bard, this magnificent bust is in St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Love Lane EC2 …

A Wren church gutted in the Blitz, the remains of St Mary Aldermanbury were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA in 1966. The restored church is now a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946.

Below the bust is a plaque commemorating his fellow actors Henry Condell and John Heminge who were key figures in the printing of the playwright’s First Folio of works seven years after his death. There are almost twenty plays by Shakespeare, including The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, which we would not have at all if it were not for their efforts. Both of them were buried at St Mary’s …

This is what Shakespeare had to say about the churchyards of his day …

‘Tis now the very witching of the night

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to the world.

(Hamlet’s soliloquy Act 3 Scene 2)

Up until the mid-19th century the City contained numerous churchyards, usually adjacent to a parish church, but these were becoming seriously overcrowded and seen as an obvious threat to health. Not only did the population have to breathe in the ‘odour of the dead’, gravediggers themselves could contract typhus and smallpox from handling diseased corpses.

You can get a sense of how packed the graveyards were if you look at them now and see how much higher than street level some of them still are. For example, here is the view from inside St Olave Hart Street …

Eventually the overcrowding of the dead meant relatively fresh graves were broken into while new ones were being dug, and corpses were dismembered in order to make room for more. Sites were also subject to body snatchers (nicknamed the ‘Resurrection Men’), who sold the corpses on the black market as medical cadavers. The government eventually took action action when a serious cholera epidemic broke out and burial within the City limits was virtually totally prohibited by a series Burial Acts.

The removal of the dead from one churchyard is commemorated here …

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

Some bodies remained in place only to be resited for other reasons. In the case of the churchyard of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook it was the construction of the District Line underground railway …

The plaque is in Cloak Lane EC4R 2RU.

There is a fascinating article here about the London Underground’s construction and it’s reported encounters with London’s dead.

St Olave Silver Street was totally destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but its little churchyard lives on. A much weathered 17th century stone plaque records the terrible event …

This was the Parish Church of St Olave Silver street, destroyed by the dreadful fire in the year 1666.

Silver Street itself was annihilated in the Blitz and erased completely by post-war development and traffic planning. The little garden containing the stone is on London Wall at the junction with Noble Street.

I shall end on two more lighthearted notes.

Probably hundreds of people pass through the subway that leads to Mansion House Underground Station every day and don’t notice this old plaque dating from 1913 …

It celebrates not only the opening of the subway but also some brand new Gentlemen’s toilets (hence the involvement of the Public Health Department). ‘Street fouling’ had become a major problem, hence the rather ambiguously worded signs that were once common around London exhorting people to …

In the mid 19th century ideas were being put forward for ‘halting places’ and ‘waiting rooms’ and the City of London installed the first underground ‘Convenience’ outside the Royal Exchange in 1855. It’s still there, completely renovated, and is accessed by tunnels leading to Bank Underground Station. The original toilets were for men only, ladies had to wait another 30 years for their ‘convenience’.

The Mansion House loo is now closed and sealed off but a great example of street level toilet architecture exists on Eastcheap …

I am indebted for much of this information to a lady called Sarah McCabe who made the provision of underground conveniences the subject of her MA dissertation – I highly recommend it.

And finally. I know I have written about this famous cat before but it’s a nice story so I am going to repeat it.

High up on a tiled pillar in Barbican Underground Station is this rather sad little memorial …

For many years Pebbles was a favourite of staff and passengers, often sleeping soundly on top of the exit barriers despite the rush hour pandemonium going on around him. Here is a picture from the wonderfully named Purr’n’Fur website, a great source for moggie-related stories …

Clearly he was greatly missed when he died, as the plaque faithfully records, on 26th May 1997. This was doubly sad because he was due to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award. This was sponsored by Spillers Pet Foods and named after Arthur, a cat they used in their advertising who, I seem to remember, ate with his paws. The Certificate that came with the award is also displayed (the co-winner, the aptly named Barbie, was Pebbles’ companion) …

Pebbles’ posthumous award.

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