Walking the City of London

Month: February 2018

Fleet Street Legends

Today I am writing about two people who changed the world of newspaper reporting forever, and both have commemorative busts in Fleet Street.

They come from the great days of newspaper publishing, when Fleet Street throbbed with sound of the press machinery and journalists and barristers gossiped at the bar in El Vino. ‘They used to say that the way to tell them apart was to ask if anyone had a pen’, says Michael McCarthy, a former reporter, ‘the journalists would be the ones who didn’t have one.’

El Vino is still there at 47 Fleet Street, but the family that had owned it since 1879 sold up in 2015

Ladies were forced to sit in the back room until Anna Coote, a journalist who was banished in this way, took the owners to court.  In 1982, three Appeal Court judges, all of whom admitted to being patrons, ordered that the ban be lifted on the grounds that the exclusion could harm women’s careers if they could not ‘pick up the gossip of the day’. The manager at the time called it ‘a very sad day’ for El Vino, ‘a place where old-fashioned ideals of chivalry still flourish’.

At number 78 Fleet Street is this bust, erected in 1936, with a stirring inscription on a plaque below that reads …

T. P. O’Connor, journalist & parliamentarian, 1848 – 1929.
His pen could lay bare the bones of a book or the soul of a statesman in a few vivid lines.

As well as being a journalist, Thomas Power O’Connor (often referred to as ‘Tay Pay’, people mimicking the way he pronounced his initials) was also an Irish nationalist and House of Commons MP for almost 50 years. One biographer has claimed that ‘there is hardly one significant paper circulating in the English speaking world that does not owe something of its style to T.P.’s original Star‘. He ‘made newspapers both clean and readable’ and therefore ‘popular’.

He founded the Star in 1880. Its editorial policy pulled no punches and declared …

The rich, the privileged, the prosperous need no guardian or advocate; the poor, the weak, the beaten require the work and word of every humane man and woman to stand between them and the world.

It was a radical evening paper published six days a week, fighting valiantly against social injustice and for the rights of the poor as well as workers involved in trade union disputes. So popular was it that by 1888 it had achieved an average circulation of some 125,000 copies a day at a price of one halfpenny.

O’Connor also understood that sensational crimes sold newspapers and the ‘Whitechapel murders’ gave plenty of scope – graphic details being often accompanied by lurid illustrations, for example …

‘Finding the body of Martha Tabram’

Reporting on what would later be described as the Jack the Ripper murders pushed circulation up to over 400,000, and reports were accompanied by harsh criticism of the police and the Commissioner Charles Warren in particular.

The Star finally ceased publication in 1960, absorbed by its long-time rival the Evening News which became the Evening News and Star, reverting back to just the Evening News in 1968.

The T.P. tradition was followed by others. When, in 1896, Alfred Harmsworth, later lord Northcliffe, launched his new journal the Daily Mail he was said to have instructed his journalists :

Find me a murder every day!

He now looks down at us from the wall of St Dunstan’s-in-the-West at 186 Fleet Street …

The bust is by Kathleen Scott, Baroness Kennet. An inscription below reads: ‘Northcliffe MDCCCLXV-MCMXXII’ (1865-1922)

The Daily Mail was immensely popular – two of its taglines were:

‘The busy man’s daily journal’ and ‘The penny newspaper for one halfpenny’

Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, was less flattering, describing it as …

Produced by office boys for office boys

The original plan was to sell 100,000 copies but the print run on the first day was 397,215 and additional printing facilities had to be acquired to sustain a circulation which rose to 500,000 in 1899. By 1902, at the end of the Boer Wars, circulation was over a million, making it the largest in the world.

The paper devised numerous ways to keep their readership engaged. For example, in 1906, the paper offered £1,000 for the first flight across the English Channel and £10,000 for the first flight from London to Manchester.  Punch magazine thought the idea preposterous and offered £10,000 for the first flight to Mars, but by 1910 both the Mail‘s prizes had been won.

Along with his other newspapers (including the Observer, Evening News, Times and Daily Mirror) by 1914 Northcliffe controlled 40 per cent of the morning newspaper circulation in Britain, 45 per cent of the evening and 15 per cent of the Sunday circulation. All his papers were fiercely imperialistic and anti-German and in the run up to the war, the Star thundered in criticism …

Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war

Such was Northcliffe’s influence on anti-German propaganda that, on 14th February 1917, a German warship shelled his house, Elmwood, in Broadstairs in an attempt to assassinate him. He escaped injury, but the shells killed the gardener’s wife and small child.

Incidentally, direct selling insurance off the page is nothing new. During the First World War the paper sold insurance against Zeppelin attacks …

Harmsworth’s marriage to Mary Elizabeth Milner in 1888 produced no children but he had four acknowledged children by two different women. The first, Alfred Benjamin Smith, was born when he was seventeen, the mother being a sixteen-year-old maidservant in his parents’ house. Smith died in 1930, allegedly in a mental home. By 1900, Harmsworth had acquired a new mistress, an Irishwoman named Kathleen Wrohan, about whom little is known but her name. She bore him two further sons and a daughter, and died in 1923.

When he himself died in 1922 he left three months’ pay to each of his six thousand employees.

The Daily Mail’s print circulation in January this year was 1,343,142, second only to the Sun at 1,545,594, but Mail Online is claimed to be the most widely read English newspaper in the world. Its slogan is ‘Seriously Popular’ – I think both O’Connor and Northcliffe would have approved of that aspiration at least (not sure what they would have made of the content though!).


Some interesting faces – from a handsome poet to the ‘ugliest man in England’

Over the last few weeks I have been exploring the City looking at how people have been portrayed in busts, statues and other varieties of portraits. There are a remarkable number of them, particularly if you venture into the churches, so I have just picked some of the ones that I found most interesting.

I will start on a rather sombre note.

This is the beautiful marble war memorial above the concourse at Liverpool Street Station. It contains 1,108 names in alphabetical order and the panel at the top reads as follows:

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

If you look beneath it, you will see two individual memorials containing bronze portraits.

This is the one on the right …

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.

This magnificent bust of William Shakespeare is in St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Love Lane EC2 …

Designed by Charles Clement Walker and sculpted in 1896 by Charles John Allen.

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

The Shakespeare bust in the garden stands as a memorial to 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.

Outside the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral is this rather handsome bearded gentleman …

John Donne 1572-1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012).

In 1617, two years after his ordination, Donne’s wife died at age 33 after giving birth to a stillborn child, their twelfth. Grief-stricken at having lost his emotional anchor, Donne vowed never to marry again, even though he was left with the task of raising his ten surviving children in modest financial circumstances. His bereavement turned him fully to his vocation as an Anglican divine and, on November 22, 1621, Donne was installed as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The power and eloquence of his sermons soon secured for him a reputation as the foremost preacher in the England of his day, and he became a favourite of both Kings James I and Charles I.

His bust points almost due west but shows him turning to the east towards his birthplace on Bread Street. The directions of the compass were important to Donne in his metaphysical work: east is the Rising Sun, the Holy Land and Christ, while west is the place of decline and death. Underneath the bust are inscribed words from his poem Good Friday – Riding Westward :

Hence is’t that I am carried towards the west, This day when my soul’s form bends to the east

The most familiar quotation from Donne comes from his Meditation XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

Donne is also famous for the fact that his effigy in St Paul’s Cathedral was the only one to survive the Great Fire of 1666 almost intact (you can still see scorch marks on the urn).  You have to enter the cathedral to see it.

The effigy by Nicholas Stone

Dr Philip Cottrell of University College Dublin describes it as follows:

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 … The clean, moist appearance of the drapery and the softly-nuanced modelling of the features testify to Stone’s position as the finest sculptor of the English Baroque.

The inscription on this statue of John Wilkes in Fetter Lane EC4 reads as follows:

A champion of English freedom, John Wilkes 1727-1797, Member of Parliament, Lord Mayor.

The inscription on the back of the document he is holding reads ‘A bill for a just and equal representation of the people of England in Parliament’.

English History Online writes of him:

In 1774 that clever rascal, John Wilkes, ascended the civic throne … Young Wilkes grew up a man of pleasure, squandered his wife’s fortune in gambling and other fashionable vices, and became a notorious member of the Hell Fire Club

Wilkes’ career is so extraordinary that I gave up trying to devise edited highlights – please forgive me for cheating and quoting this summary from The Geograph website …

The remarkable Mr Wilkes was a radical, politician, wit, rake, journalist, Lord Mayor of London, prankster and member of The Hellfire Club.

He was repeatedly expelled from The House of Commons and even once declared an outlaw. He is described on the plinth as a “Champion of English freedom” though he was disparagingly known as “the ugliest man in England” by some …. ‘he could woo any woman in competition with any man, provided he was given a month’s start on account of his ugliness.’

Reputedly, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich said to Wilkes “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

Wilkes’ famous squint has been honestly represented by the sculptor, James Butler RA

Although hated by some, Wilkes has also been described as …

The father of the political system we have today and a major influence on that adopted by America: he established freedom of the press as we know it, argued for yearly elections and the abolition of rotten boroughs, and was the first MP to propose universal suffrage in the Commons.

And finally, in my local church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate, there is this touching memorial to Sir William Staines …

And here is the man himself …

Staines had extremely humble beginnings working as a bricklayer’s labourer, but eventually accumulated a large fortune which he generously used for philanthropic purposes. He seemed to recall his own earlier penury when he ensured that the houses he built for ‘aged and indigent’ folk would have ‘nothing to distinguish them from the other dwelling-houses … to denote the poverty of the inhabitant’.

British History Online records an encounter he had with the notorious Wilkes who referred rather rudely to Staines’ original occupation …

The alderman was an illiterate man, and was a sort of butt amongst his brethren. At one of the Old Bailey dinners, after a sumptuous repast of turtle and venison, Sir William was eating a great quantity of butter with his cheese. “Why, brother,” said Wilkes, “you lay it on with a trowel!”


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


City Churches and Churchyards – more tales of the unexpected

City churches and their churchyards have so much to offer, and after all these years I am still discovering new quirky items and treasures to write about in my blog. Two church interiors and two churchyards will feature today. I know many of my readers are immensely knowledgeable in this area but I hope there will be something new here even for them.

Once again I suggest you pass through the blue doors at 4 Foster Lane …

Entrance to St Vedast Fountain Courtyard and Cloister

Near the piece of Roman pavement I discussed in an earlier blog (The Romans in London and Two Roman Ladies) you will see displayed in a niche a tablet with cuneiform writing.

It comes from a 9 BC Iraqi Ziggurat and was given to the Rector, Canon Mortlock, by Agatha Christie’s husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. He discovered the brick during a 1950-65 dig and apparently it includes the name of Shalmaneser who ruled from 858 to 834 BC.

Just down the road from Pudding Lane, the source of the Great Fire, St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street was the second church to be destroyed in 1666. It was rebuilt by Wren circa 1671-84 and, despite being damaged in the Blitz, it has a great atmosphere – especially on a Sunday when lots of incense has been deployed.

It is worthy of an entire blog all to itself, but for today I will be writing about just a few of its fascinating features. First of all there is the portico you walk through to enter the church …

The view towards Lower Thames Street

Between 1176 and 1831 the churchyard formed part of the roadway approach to Old London Bridge. I found it easy to imagine the tens of thousands who passed through here, since it was the only bridge across the Thames until Westminster Bridge was opened in 1750. Despite the heavy passing traffic, and the lavatorial white tiles on the nearby buildings, this is an atmospheric place and I paused there thinking of all those forgotten souls who had walked these flagstones before me.

The clock (top left in the picture) was presented in 1709 by Sir Charles Duncombe when he was Lord Mayor. One legend tells us that, as a poor saddler’s apprentice living south of the river, he was often severely reprimanded by his master for being late because he had no way of telling the time. Now immensely wealthy, he gifted the clock for the benefit of other folk who could not afford a timepiece.

Right inside the door is a lovely surprise – a 17th century fire engine …

It once belonged to St Michael Crooked Lane. It has only recently been displayed in the narthex having been in store with the Museum of London since 1945.

And if the fire engine wasn’t enough to prompt a visit, what about this extraordinary model of the Old London Bridge …

My picture really does not do it justice – it is four metres long and portrays the bridge at the start of the 15th century

It was created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. The detail is superb, from the individual tiles on the lead roofing, to the countless  individuals crushing into the roadway or hanging out of windows. 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. No wonder it is estimated that the bridge usually took more than an hour to cross.

This window on the south side remembers the St Thomas a Becket chapel which was situated near the centre of the bridge …

See if you can find the Chapel on the model

The chapel paid a levy to St Magnus from the fees received from travellers crossing the river.

I paid another visit to St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the junction of Holborn Viaduct and Snow Hill. Housed there, in a glass case, is a macabre relic – the Newgate Execution Bell

Photo by Lonpicman

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the clerk of St Sepulchre’s was responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned person’s cell in Newgate Prison, just across the road where the Old Bailey court is now. A tunnel linked the church to the prison and at midnight, on the night before their execution, the bell would be rung twelve times and the following ‘wholesome advice’ delivered …

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die.
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before Almighty God will appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you not to eternal flames be sent,
And when St Sepulcher’s bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but £50 was insufficient to cover the extra cost.

On the day of execution, the condemned were ‘carted away’ and ‘went west’ from Newgate to the Tyburn gallows (near today’s Marble Arch), the death cart pausing outside St Sepulchre’s for the prisoners to be presented with a nosegay. The distance between Newgate and Tyburn was approximately three miles, but due to streets often being crowded with onlookers, the journey could last up to three hours. A usual stop of the cart was at the Bowl Inn in St Giles where the condemned were allowed to drink ‘strong liquors or wine’.

The tremendous disruption caused by the thousands who came to watch eventually became too much for the authorities and the last execution at Tyburn took place on Friday the 7th of November 1783 when John Austin was hanged for highway robbery. Public executions continued outside Newgate Gaol until 1868 and still attracted vast crowds, the last person dispatched being the Fenian Michael Barrett on the 28th May that year.

Looking down from St Sepulchre’s is this sundial. Dating from 1681 it will have witnessed many of the sad events associated with the old prison. You can read more about it, and other dials, in my blog We are but shadows – City Sundials.

The dial is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and dots marking the half hours.










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