Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

The only Catholic church in the City

I have been researching the history of St Mary Moorfields in Eldon Street (EC2M 7LS) and Catholic worship in the City generally.

For over two hundred years, after the 1559 Act of Uniformity, Catholics were forbidden to worship in public until the Catholic Relief Act of 1791. A chapel was opened in 1686, but had to be suspended in 1689. From 1736 there was a chapel in Ropemaker’s Alley but its altar, fittings and crucifixes were ripped out and destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780. This was succeeded by a chapel in White Street. Its replacement in 1820 by a large Classical church in Finsbury Circus sponsored by laypeople marked a turning point in the size and stylistic aspirations of Catholic churches. The final church of the first wave of building that succeeded the Relief Act, it was probably the finest in structure and decoration and also the largest Catholic church in London. It was called St Mary Moorfields after its location …

‘Celebration of High Mass on Christmas Day’ – Picture: Wikimedia Commons

In 1884 the Church acquired a huge site off of Victoria Street in west London. The construction of what would be Westminster Cathedral commenced in 1895 and in 1899, when parts of the new building became usable for worship, the Moorfields church was sold and demolished. It was replaced by the present building in Eldon Street which was designed by George Sherrin and opened on 25th March 1903. The name remained the same even though it was no longer in Moorfields.

The entrance is squeezed in between two shops and if you are walking along the north side of Eldon Street it is easy to miss it completely unless you look up and see the Papal tiara over the doors …

View from the South side of Eldon Street.

The facade is of Portland stone with some intricate decoration either side of the entrance. Note the hammer, pliers and three nails representing the crucifixion. Further up there is a scourge and a crown of thorns …

Alongside are scenes from the life of the Virgin by J Daymond …

These two represent the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Above them is a statue of the Virgin and child being crowned by cherubs …

I think the interior is magnificent. The classical como marble columns around the altar come from the old church …

As does the High Altar itself …

It is modelled in the form of a sarcophagus to recall the ancient practice of celebrating Mass on the tombs of martyr-saints in the catacombs of Rome.

The wide becherubed font also made the journey from Moorfields but the cover is from around 1900 …

The church enjoys very little natural light. In fact when the building was erected the floor had to be lowered three feet to protect adjoining buildings’ ‘ancient lights’. As a result the stained glass window is artificially illuminated …

It depicts the Assumption.

One of the side chapels …

The oak wood carving in the church is very attractive and is also by Daymond …

The tympanum above the shrine to St Thomas More at the south end of the aisle portrays his execution in 1920s mosaic style …

It is a lovely little church to visit and when I have popped in occasionally pre-Covid there was a very atmospheric whiff of incense.

You can find details such as mass times on the website.

Incidentally, there were other survivors from the 1899 demolition, four stained glass windows which found their way to St Joseph’s Lambs Passage (EC1Y 8LE), a small chapel in the basement of a former school of 1901. Despite what the sign on the building says, it is not actually a church but a ‘chapel of ease’ to St Mary’s. Such chapels were built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who could not reach the parish church conveniently …

As a result of wartime damage only two windows survive and this is one of them (The Agony in the Garden). I wasn’t able to access the building to take pictures so the image comes from the internet …

Details of the chapel, its history, services and place in the community can be found here.

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Rescued! Church artifacts saved from destruction (and a fascinating story of resurrection)

On the night of December 30th 1940, when Christchurch Newgate Street was a blazing inferno, an unknown postman rushed into the building, grabbed this font cover and carried it to safety …

Made of oak, it was created about 1690 and is typical of many such covers made for City churches after the Great Fire of 1666. You can admire its beautiful craftmanship if you visit St Sepulchre-without-Newgate where it rests on a new font, the original having been destroyed in the bombing (EC1A 2DQ).

Another survivor of the Blitz can be found in St Botolph Without Aldgate (EC3N 1AB). This intricately carved wooden panel depicts King David along with musical instruments …

It was created between 1713 and 1715 to grace the front of an organ gallery in the church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel. When the church was destroyed by bombing on the 27th December 1940 the carving was saved and later restored …

St Giles Cripplegate was severely damaged during the Second World War and there was a direct hit on the north door in the summer of 1940. The following December the church was showered with so many incendiary bombs that even the cement caught alight. You can still see scorch marks …

All that remained was the shell, the arcade in the chancel, the outside walls and the tower and that these survived says much for the medieval architects. It wasn’t just bombing that resulted in church furniture being moved. When nearby St Luke’s was closed due to subsidence in 1959 St Giles was a beneficiary, acquiring the closed church’s pews …

Altar …

And a lovely 18th century font …

A tablet recording the Rectors of St Luke’s since 1733 also made the move …

St Swithun London Stone was also damaged in bombing but unfortunately was beyond repair and eventually demolished. It’s pulpit fortunately survived and is now used at All Hallows by the Tower …

It dates from around 1670 and is carved in the style of Grinling Gibbons. Above it is the tester, or sounding board, designed to represent three pilgrim shells associated with the pilgrimage of St James Compostella in Spain.

However, the greatest cause of church destruction after the Great Fire was not the Blitz but The Union of Benefices Act of 1860. In order to reflect the dramatic drop in the City’s population, it allowed the London diocese to sell churches and built new ones in the suburbs with the proceeds. This accounted for the loss of some 22 churches and the last of these – All Hallows Lombard Street – was demolished as late as 1938, despite the contemporary reverence for Wren.

I have been tracking where some of these churches’ belongings ended up.

The church of St Matthew Friday was demolished in 1888 but the Wren Pulpit found its way to St Andrew by the Wardrobe …

As did the font cover …

The baptismal font in St Margaret Lothbury, believed to be by Gibbons, came from St Olave, Old Jewry, after that church was partially demolished in 1887 except for the tower and west wall, which remain today. The font is a carved bowl with cherub heads at each corner and the four sides are decorated with Adam and Eve, the dove returning to the ark, the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip …

One of my favourite churches, St Vedast-alias-Foster, has been particularly fortunate in its acquisitions (EC2V 6HH).

The Gibbons font cover came from St Anne and St Agnes after that church was damaged by bombing …

The exquisite 17th-century wineglass pulpit was made for All Hallows, Bread Street (demolished 1878). It’s also by Gibbons …

Legend has it that incorporating a peapod was one way that Gibbons ‘signed’ his work. If the peapod was open he had been paid – if it was closed he had not. If this is true, he was properly remunerated for his work on this pulpit …

The reredos came from St Christopher-le-Stocks (demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension to the Bank of England) …

And finally, a tale of resurrection.

St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, was severely damaged and gutted in the Blitz …

After the war, however, it had the unique distinction of being taken apart, shipped to Fulton, Missouri in the USA in 1965, and rebuilt to mark the visit of Churchill to Westminster College in 1946. The church now sits above the National Churchill Museum. Westminster College was the location of Churchill’s speech that included the famous phrase ‘An iron curtain has descended across the continent’.

Here’s how it looks today …

You can read more about the church and the Museum here.

The old site of the church in Aldermanbury is now a garden …

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City grotesques, the screamer and other odd decorations

Is this the creepiest sculpture to be found in the City?

It’s on the tower of St Mary Somerset (EC4V 4AG). This was a Wren church, but I don’t think either he, or his very competent colleague Nicholas Hawksmoor, had anything to do with this screaming face. Their style was more cheerful cherubs and occasionally dragons or a phoenix.

The church was demolished in 1871 but the tower was saved and restored by the architect Ewan Christian who was also responsible for the National Gallery. It was probably him, therefore, who installed the head. It predates Munch’s picture but reminds me of it …

The 1893 painting by Edvard Munch, commonly known as The Scream.

You can read more about the church and its background on The Londonist website from which I have borrowed this picture by Tony Tucker indicating where the screamer can be found …

The tower is now a private home.

The Guildhall building at 71 Basinghall Street boasts a menagerie of strange creatures (EC2V 7HH). Some sit either side of the entrance …

Others lurk near the top of the building …

… and on the roof itself …

A predatory bird keeps a beady eye on you from the roof of 60 Lombard Street (EC3V 9EA) …

I must have walked past this building at 51-54 Gracechurch Street hundreds of times but never looked up and noticed two lines of extraordinary heads above and below the fifth floor windows …

It was constructed between 1928 and 1930 and designed by the architect Leo Sylvester Sullivan. It has lovely Art Deco features but I have no idea why he incorporated the heads. There are 17 in total and this is a small selection …

You can read more about the building on the excellent Look Up London website.

Another head, this time on the tower of St Margaret Pattens, Rood Lane (EC3M 1HS) …

Two owls stand guard above the King William Street entrance to what was once the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Company’s City office…

One of the delights of Eastcheap are these figures just below the roof of number 23 …

I cannot look at these dogs’ and boars’ heads without smiling. When I first photographed them a few years ago they had a splash of colour and I think it is a shame that this has been painted over …

A little further east at 33-35 another boar’s head peeps out from the undergrowth. It references the Eastcheap inn of that name which was supposed to be the meeting place of Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal and other characters in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays …

The Walkie Talkie looms over the area and dwarfs the remaining Victorian buildings including the one containing the boar’s head which dates from 1868. Pevsner described it as ‘one of the maddest displays in London of gabled Gothic’ and he quoted Ian Nairn, the architectural critic, who called it ‘the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare’ …

This creature on All Hallows by the Tower looks like an authentic gargoyle (water spout) but the downpipe or guttering is missing, maybe lost when the church was severely damaged in the war …

As I walked along Cornhill one day I glanced up and saw these rather sinister figures silhouetted against the sky…

Closer inspection shows them to be devils, and rather angry and malevolent ones too …

They look down on St Peter upon Cornhill and are known as the Cornhill Devils (EC3V 3PD). The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself …

If this resembles the rector he must have been a pretty ugly guy.

And finally, two mice share a piece of cheese in Philpot Lane. There are several theories as to the story behind these charming little creatures but no one knows for sure who put them there and why …

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Queen Anne – tales of tragedy, love and vandalism

Directly outside the west front of St Paul’s Cathedral stands this statue of Queen Anne …

Queen Anne – Born 6 February 1665, died 1 August 1714. Ascended the throne 8 March 1702. She was the last of the Stuart dynasty.

It was during her reign that the rebuilding of St Paul’s, after the 1666 Great Fire, was completed. The original statue was erected in 1712, an integral part of the design. It was damaged, deteriorated and was replaced with this copy in 1886.

It’s difficult not to feel sorry for Anne. Her personal life was marked by the tragedy of losing 18 children (including twins) through miscarriage, stillbirth and early death. Two of her daughters, Mary and Anne Sophia, died within days of each other, both aged under two years, of smallpox in 1687.

One little boy, William Duke of Gloucester, survived but within weeks it became clear that he was an ill child. He suffered from debilitating convulsions, struggled to walk and died in 1700 at the age of 11. Here is a touching portrait of them both …

Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
Oil on canvas, based on a work of circa 1694 : © National Portrait Gallery, London
.

Her marriage, to Prince George of Denmark, was a devoted, loving and faithful one and she was devastated by his death in October 1708. By all accounts he was rather a dull character, one contemporary thought him ‘of a familiar, easy disposition with a good sound understanding but modest in showing it … very fat, loves news, his bottle and the Queen’. Another, more cruelly making fun of George’s asthma, said the Prince was forced to breathe hard in case people mistook him for dead and buried him.

Anne was given to intense female friendships, first with the Duchess of Marlborough, whose husband’s victories over the French lent the Crown reflected glory, and later with Abigail Masham.

These were explored to some dramatic effect in the film The Favourite starring Olivia Colman – the official trailer is brilliant and you can view it here. Watch out for Emma Stone’s magnificent snort.

Here’s the Queen again in close up, gazing imperiously down Ludgate Hill …

Wearing a golden crown, she has the Order of St George around her neck, a sceptre in her right hand and the orb in her left. The four allegorical ladies around the base of the statue represent England, France, Ireland and North America, as at that time Anne considered herself to be queen of them all.

With her left hand, Britannia supports a cartouche with the royal arms …

Holding a trident in her right hand she also wears Minerva’s breastplate adorned with a gorgon mask as if it were a sash. Minerva was the Roman Goddess of wisdom and the sponsor of arts, trade and strategic warfare.

France is seated with her eyes lowered and wearing a helmet with three fleurs-de-lis on the visor surmounted by a plume sweeping backwards …

Her right hand rests on a substantial truncheon and her left clasps a mural crown.

In my opinion America is the most interesting and I have written about her before …

She wears a feathered head-dress and skirt whilst her left hand grasps a metal bow. Her right hand may once have held an arrow.

What fascinates me, however, is the creature by her feet which resembles a rather angry Kermit the frog (alongside some poor chap’s severed head) …

In 1712, this is what the original sculptor Francis Bird imagined an alligator would look like. A contemporary description of the statue states …

There is an allegator creeping from beneath her feet; being an animal very common in some parts of America which lives on land and in the water.

A pretty young Ireland is seated at the back of the monument with a harp resting on her right thigh …

Anne was 37 years old when she became queen in 1702. At her coronation she was suffering from a bad attack of gout and had to be carried to the ceremony in an open sedan chair with a low back so that her six-yard train could pass to her ladies walking behind. Her medical conditions made her life very sedentary and she gradually put on a lot of weight. She died after suffering a stroke on Sunday 1st August 1714 at the age of 49.

The size of her coffin, on the far right, tells a story …

From ‘British Royal Tombs’ by Aidan Dodson.

She left no clear will: perhaps her fear of death meant she could not bring herself to sign one, yet she left her country changed forever. She created the United Kingdom as we know it today and prepared the way for the Hanoverians, the dynasty of the Georgians, who ruled Britain until Queen Victoria. In fact Queen Anne worked with a new kind of monarchy that we recognise today. No longer would monarchs rule by the divine right of kings, a belief that led her grandfather, Charles I, to the scaffold. Instead, monarchs ruled in conjunction with parliament. History seems to have been rather unkind to her and this article in History Extra attempts to set the record straight.

In 1897 Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and a service was held in the open air outside St Paul’s …

Due to her frailty she remained in her carriage throughout the ceremony where the clergy joined her, surrounded by dignitaries and troops from around the Empire …

Credit : Government Art Collection

You can just see, in the bottom left hand corner, the railings that surround Anne’s statue.

Its position is clearer in this photograph …

© National Portrait Gallery, London.

At one point when the celebrations were being planned it was suggested that Queen Anne’s statue be moved but Victoria was horrified …

‘Move Queen Anne? Most certainly not’ Victoria declared, ‘Why it might some day be suggested that my statue should be removed, which I should much dislike!’

I want to say a little more about why the original 1712 statue was replaced by a copy in 1886. As far back as June 1823 it was described in The Gentleman’s Magazine as being in a ‘ruinous state’. The article went on …

It has been twice attacked by lunatics, first in January 1743, when the man broke off the sceptre … and again in 1769 when a Lascar who, when apprehended, attempted to stab the watchman. In both cases it appeared, upon examination before a Magistrate, that the men were out of their senses. … The Lascar had the Globe in his hands as he was climbing over the iron rails.

The poor Lascar was consigned to the notorious Bedlam Hospital for the insane – a very long way from home.

Anne and her companions were acquired by the writer Augustus Hare, repaired, and moved to the grounds of his country house, Holmhurst St Mary near Hastings. The house has since been used as a school and a convent, and is now subdivided into private living accommodation. I found this picture of the original statues on the internet and they have obviously been comprehensively vandalised – very sad …

You can find an excellent article about their acquisition, removal and history here.

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A famed swordsman, a tragic drowning and an honest lawyer – exploring St Dunstan-in-the-West

I had a great stroke of luck last Friday when I wandered into St Dunstan’s and met by chance two of the lady administrators who kindly took the trouble to show me around. The church is on Fleet Street (EC4A 2HR).

In a niche in one of the side chapels is a marble bust of a youth with fine features, Edward James Auriol lying on a pillow, hand on heart, as if asleep …

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

Nearby is this fascinating memorial to ‘ye fam’d swordsman’ Alexander Layton who died in 1679 and who rests ‘not far from this place’ …

Erected by a grateful scholar of Layton’s, ‘John Brewer of Grays Inn Road’, at the foot of the tablet are the following words suggesting Layton’s final opponent was death itself …

His thrusts like lightning flew, more skilful Death

Parried ’em all, and beat him out of breath.

There was nothing the ‘Master of Defence’ could do.

There’s a memorial bust to Cuthbert Fetherstone (1537-1615) …

He served as the Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth I, and as such was her trusted friend. Cuthbert and his wife Katharine lived in London but the housing conditions in the city were poor and they eventually left their home in Chancery Lane. They purchased Hassingbrook Hall, an ancient manor near the banks of Hassinbrook at Stanford-le-Hope, twenty-five miles downstream from London. After Elizabeth’s death he became Usher and Crier to King James I.

Here he is, painted in oils around 1598 …

Copyright: National Trust Uppark House and Garden, West Sussex

The earliest monuments in the church are these two brass kneeling figures …

The plaque reads as follows …

Here lyeth buryed the body of Henry Dacres, Cetezen and Marchant Taylor and Sumtyme Alderman of London, and Elizabeth his Wyffe, the whych Henry decessed the … day of … the yere of our Lord God – and the said Elizabeth decessed the xxii day of Apryll the yere of our Lord God MD and XXX.

Elizabeth died in 1530 and Henry nine years later. His will tells us that the brass was already made before he died and ‘made at myn owne costes to the honour of almighty god and the blessed sacrament’. He also left 20 shillings to be used for the annual purchase of coal for the benefit of poor parishoners.

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’.

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

The kneeling figure next to the war memorial is said to represent Sir Roger North (1577-1651) …

This plaque celebrates the virtues and generosity of James Chambers, a ‘Citizen and Goldsmith … Eminent Banker … A man courteous to his neighbours … a Loving Husband, a Tender Father and a Sincere Friend’ …

He was also incredibly generous, being …

Very benificent to his Relations to whom he parted with upwards of £20,000 in his lifetime.

That would be getting on for two million pounds in today’s money.

The front right-hand pew has a seat reserved for the Lord Mayor, dramatically marked by an iron sword rest, dating from 1745, and commemorating the English victory over the Jacobite Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, at Culloden. My photograph doesn’t really do it justice …

Sword rests, or sword stands, were originally installed in City churches to hold the Lord Mayor’s sword of state when he visited different churches every Sunday, a practice which ceased in 1883.

Dedicated to a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury and Benedictine monk, St Dunstan’s survived the Great Fire but was demolished and rebuilt between 1830 and 1833. The octagonal interior is wonderfully atmospheric …

I took a close look at the remarkable Christian Orthodox screen (or iconostasis) which came from Romania in 1966 …

The screen is over 100 years old and was originally created for the Monastery of Antim in Bucharest. I also spotted various individual icons …

These and the screen are clues to the fact that, although this is a Church of England church, it also hosts Romanian Orthodox Church services.

There is more to see in St Dunstan’s and I intend to return. If you are interested in churches, this is definitely one to visit. It has just reopened for private prayer and you can find opening times on the website.

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