Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: May 2019

Fun and Miscellany – my 100th blog!

Thank you so much for subscribing to my little publication – especially those of you who have been with me since the very beginning almost two years ago.

For the first anniversary I included things that I had come across that had made me smile and I want to do that again this week. I want as well, however, to include a few items that I thought were interesting but didn’t fit under any broad heading.

One of the great pleasures of doing research is the occasional joy of serendipity. I recently discovered that encouraging people to cycle to work is nothing new and magazines were being published almost 40 years ago which included maps to help cyclists navigate.

I came across this persuasive cover of On your bike! magazine from 1982 …

And now something a bit more surreal, a piece of art that was on display at the Guildhall art Gallery until a few weeks ago …

Marcello Pecchioli’s eye-catching stained glass Alien Priest was part of the Gallery’s ‘Visionary Artists’ exhibition. I like the flying saucers in the background.

Next up is this picture in the Gallery entitled Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1860-1956). Painted in 1901, it depicts a young man and girl walking in a misty, wet park with a horse-drawn cab rank in the background.

I like it because to me it’s one of those pictures that immediately gets you making up a back story to the characters. Surely this is an assignation – a secret lovers meeting, he clasping her hand and she gazing lovingly into his face. Then it struck me: Garden of Eden! A place of dangerous temptation and banishment!

Apparently guides point out that this picture is actually about a mismatch between a wealthy woman who has fallen for a man much below her station: note his clumpy shoes, lack of gloves and his rolled up trouser bottoms. Also the way he’s carrying not one but two umbrellas, intertwined like the two lovers. There are tiny raindrops hanging from the black branches. Surely they represent tears to come? Or am I getting completely carried away? Another commentator has said that she is simply a smartly dressed maidservant on her day off, out walking with her beau.

In Cullum Street I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning sculpture by Sarah Lucas entitled Perceval

Part of the ‘Sculpture in the City’ initiative – EC3M 7JJ

It’s a large-scale replica of a traditional china ornament of the kind that took pride of place on many British mantelpieces forty years ago. Perceval was a knight of the Round Table and apparently there is fertility symbolism in the giant concrete marrows on the cart. You can read more about this work here.

Also for us to admire as part of the Sculpture in the City project is this example entitled Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX). I love it because it’s completely bonkers …

See how many animals you can spot

I keep meaning to spend some time in the Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street recording the brilliant brasses there (EC4V 4EG) but I still haven’t got around to it. So in the meantime, here is the advice on one of them …

‘Don‘t advertise – tell a gossip

Don’t forget to look down when crossing the Millennium (‘Wobbly’) Bridge and see if you can spot some of the witty work by the artist Ben Wilson. He has painstakingly painted literally dozens of pieces of discarded chewing gum …

I have written more about him in my earlier blog Tales from City Bridges.

There is a Banksy rat painting in Chiswell Street that has been altered by another artist. Banksy’s piece originally depicted a stencilled ghetto rat holding a placard which read ‘London doesn’t work’ …

Photograph taken by ‘Noodlefish’ 26 August 2006

However, Robbo, Banksy’s rival graffiti artist, reworked the placard by adding his name in red letters. Robbo was known for leaving his mark on many Banksy pieces but I read in the interesting Londonist blog that Robbo died in 2014, bringing the rivalry to an end.

I haven’t been able to find out more about the strange ‘Life is beautiful’ figure next to it.

It is hard to imagine now but many of London’s roads were once paved with wood. However a map of London by Bartholomew’s in 1928 shows clearly the expansive reach of the wooden block road paving method. In the map excerpt below, the yellow roads are all paved with wooden blocks …

Read more in the excellent blog ‘Ian Visits’

Many were destroyed in wartime bombing and many also dug up by local residents for burning as heating. Since they were impregnated with tar they burnt furiously and, of course, made a major contribution to London’s filthy air.

For some people this was an entrepreneurial opportunity. This is Alan Sugar being interviewed for the Daily Express in 2010 about when he noticed old blocks being uncovered when roads were being resurfaced …

The workers showed me the blocks, which were impregnated with tar, and they chucked a couple onto the fire – they burned like a rocket. Bingo! It occurred to me that these discarded wooden blocks could be made into fire-lighting sticks. I could cut them up into bundles of sticks and flog them.

And you can still see a section of wooden road today at the junction of Chequer Street and Bunhill Row EC1 …

Looking over the wall on the Embankment one day I noticed these lions heads with mooring rings …

They were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70 and it is said that, if the lions drink, London will flood.

And to end with, two more items with watery themes that make me smile.

Firstly, a famous satire on the quality of the Metropolitan water supply in 1828. An elderly lady displays her horror and shock on looking at a speck of Thames water through a microscope …

Copyright: British museum

It’s by the artist and caricaturist William Heath (1795-1840) and is entitled Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us! You can read more about the efforts made to get fresh water to Londoners in my blog Philanthropic Fountains.

And finally I always say hello to this miserable dolphin on The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB). I also tell him to cheer up – the pub is a listed building and therefore so is he …

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City of London – Then and Now

In some respects, parts of the City of today look remarkably like they did decades ago whilst others are changed almost beyond recognition.

I shall start with the entrance to the Guildhall as painted in 1905 and attributed to William Luker Junior (1867-1947). I like the intimate family group with the little girl glancing back at the authentic flapping pigeons …

I felt I just had to write a few words about the painter.

The son of a famous artist who fell on hard times, young William (‘Willie’ to his doting mother) caused consternation when, in 1888 at the age of 21, he made a family servant pregnant. He did the honourable thing and married her, albeit secretly, which caused even more anguish to his poor mum. Records of the period show his new wife to be Margaret Stadowicka, a Polish immigrant eight years his senior. The greater responsibility seems to have prompted him to mature quickly as an artist and he became a very successful painter of animals.

This is the Guildhall entrance today …

The view from Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral was slightly improved by the removal in 1990 of the London Chatham & Dover Railway bridge that used to span Ludgate Hill. Here is the view at the turn of the last century …

This view (from Gillian Tindall’s book A Tunnel Through Time) shows the railway bridge in more detail …

And here is a more recent image. The bridge may have gone but modern buildings do intrude …

This is a photograph of the Wren church of St Alban Wood Street circa 1875 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is the view today. Only the church tower remains as the area was devastated by Second World War bombing …

The name Cheapside comes from the old English term for a market (ceapan – ‘to buy’) and the a street with this name was here long before the Great Fire of 1666. Here is a picture taken around 1890 looking east when there were about 11,000 hansom cabs and 500 horse-drawn buses in London. By 1910 they had all virtually disappeared to be replaced by taxis and motor buses …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is a view from about the same point taken in May 2019 …

Apart from the tower of St Mary-le-Bow, the south side of Cheapside has changed dramatically with the construction of the office and retail space One New Change. On the north side at the junction with Wood Street, however, stands a little treasure …

The shop on the corner in an anonymous drawing from the 1860s

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

This is how the corner looks today …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

You can read lots more about the little shop and its fascinating immediate surroundings in my earlier blog: A Shop, a Tree and a Poem. And even more here: Hidden Gems.

Some of Fleet Street has hardly changed at all. Here is a view of St Dunstan-in -the-West around 1910 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and held at the Bishopsgate Institute

And here is a picture taken in May this year. Some of the Journals changed their names – the Dundee Advertiser becoming the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Hours becoming the Sunday Post. The Post has now become famous as the last newspaper to leave Fleet Street. They turned off the lights for the final time on 5th August 2016.

I came across this fascinating picture whilst doing my research. It was published in 1975 in the book The City at War by Ian Grant and Nicholas Maddren. Looking west along Fleet Street towards the Strand, it was taken in 1944 and shows the smoke arising in the distance from a recent hit by a V2 rocket …

The caption in the book reads: ‘Passengers getting off the bus hardly break their stride’.

And finally, I am publishing again this painting by Harold Workman now on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery and entitled Chaos on London Bridge. It was probably painted some time in the 1930s or 1940s …

And here is a picture I found of London Bridge circa 1870 …

Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

I think London Bridge and its history might be worth a blog on its own and I shall explore this idea.

You can find more great ‘Then and Now’ pictures (including some of the above) here on the Spitalfields Life blog.

Pictures of London at the Guildhall Gallery

The Guildhall Art Gallery in Guildhall Yard (EC2V 5AE) is one of my favourite places in the City. The reason for this is that the Gallery’s collection of London paintings opens a window onto unusual, memorable and colourful scenes from the City’s history. Dating from the 17th century onwards, they provide a vivid record of civic events along with street, market and crowd scenes which capture the look and feel of city life. What adds to the enjoyment of a visit is the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre which were discovered during redevelopment in 1987 and are now incorporated into the lower levels of the building.

Here is a selection from the pictures I like best.

And we think congestion is bad now …

‘Chaos on London Bridge’ by Harold Workman (1897-1975)

It has, apparently, not been possible to date this picture. The buses look a bit like the once very familiar ‘RT’ that was introduced to London in 1939/40. Here is a picture of one (note the white roof) …

I can’t really be certain though. If you want to research more about London’s buses this is a great website to start with.

London had become the most important City in the world when Niels Moeller Lund (1863-1916) painted this view from the roof of the Royal Exchange in 1904 …

Entitled The Heart of the Empire, the artist looks down on Bank junction which seethes with the commercial life of a City that felt very secure at the Empire’s focal point. With the Mansion House on the left, the sunlit Victorian buildings draw our eye towards St Paul’s Cathedral and the Empire beyond. I like the flock of pigeons rising in the foreground.

This painting, showing an event on 9th November 1789, captures the pageantry of the City at the time and also the way St Paul’s dominated the skyline …

‘Lord Mayor’s procession by water to Westminster 9 November 1789 ‘ by Richard Paton (1717-1791) and Francis Wheatley (1747-1801)

Paton’s story is interesting since he was brought up in poverty. According to one account, while Paton was begging on Tower Hill, he attracted the attention of Admiral Sir Charles Knowles (died 1777), who happened to be passing that way, and who, taking a fancy to the boy, offered to take him to sea. He was assistant to the ship’s painter on Knowles’ ship, gaining knowledge in both painting and seamanship. The second artist, Francis Wheatley, led an ‘irregular and dissipated’ early life and ended up fleeing to Ireland to escape his creditors. He eventually regained respectability and ended his life a Royal Academician.

Here is a more intimate picture of City pageantry and its participants (with some splendid beards on display) …

‘A civic procession descending Ludgate Hill, London 1879 ‘ by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

Born in France, Tissot was originally called Jean-Jacques, but he took the name James as an expression of his Anglophilia. Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris Commune (1871) he moved to London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882. He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris and lived in some style in fashionable St John’s Wood: in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing and shining the shrubbery leaves’.

And finally, from pomp and pageantry to everyday hard work in the markets …

Billingsgate Market in 1962 by Ken Howard (born 1932)

Billingsgate Market relocated to Docklands in 1982.

There has been a livestock market at Smithfield for over 800 years …

Smithfield Market in 1968 by Jacqueline Stanley (born 1928)

The London Evening Standard has just reported that Smithfield meat market could now be leaving London. A former oil refinery site in Thurrock, Essex, is on a shortlist of four locations for a vast, new mega-market which could also house Billingsgate fish market and New Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market. The other three potential sites are at Barking power station in Dagenham, Silvertown near City airport in Docklands, and Fairlop in Redbridge.  The City of London Corporation wants to amalgamate the three historic markets in a purpose-built facility to free up land for housing.

If you visit the Gallery don’t forget to go downstairs to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre …


You can get a sense of the scale of the building even before you enter the Gallery. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area it covered …

In the Gallery there is also an artist’s impression of what the amphitheatre may have looked like …



London Law – A walk around The Temple

The west end of Fleet Street belongs to the lawyers. You can leave the noise and bustle of the main roads and enjoy the tranquility of the Inns of Court, where you can still glimpse through the windows book-stuffed rooms and ribbon-bound briefs. I am going to write about The Temple, the area in the vicinity of Temple Church which consists of two of the four Inns of Court – the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. There is map at the end of the blog to help you navigate.

I entered the Middle Temple from Fleet Street through the archway beneath Prince Henry’s Room at number 17, one of the few buildings still around today that survived the Great Fire of 1666 …

Prince Henry’s room above the entrance to the Middle Temple (the doors are closed in this photograph)

Once called the Fountain Tavern, Samuel Pepys visited it on 28 November 1661 and wrote in his diary …


To the Fountain tavern and there stayed till 12 at night, drinking and singing, Mr. Symons and one Mr. Agar singing very well. Then Mr. Gauden, being almost drunk, had the wit to be gone; and so I took leave too.

Sadly you can’t drink or sing there now since it is not open to the public.

As you walk down Middle Temple Lane, look back and you can see the posts that support the 17th century buildings above. I read somewhere that Dr Johnson used to enjoy swinging around these when in an exuberant mood …

On your right as you walk down the Lane is Fountain Court where there is a Mulberry tree planted in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee …

Nearby is the 16th Century Middle Temple Hall where Shakespeare’s company first performed Twelfth Night in February 1602.

Go down the steps to the left of the fountain and you can walk alongside Middle Temple Gardens. The giant Triffid-like plant on the right is an Echium

The Middle Temple has kept a garden, in various forms, for centuries – indeed Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I, refers to the ‘Temple Garden’ as the location for an argument between York and Lancaster, complete with the plucking of red and white roses, which led to the War of the Roses. There doesn’t seem to be any contemporary evidence for this, however.

The gardens spread out as you walk towards the River Thames and once stretched all the way to the water’s edge before the building of the Embankment in 1870

Retrace your steps and walk through Pump Court to Church Court pausing in Essex Court to admire this old gas lamp …

Not surprisingly, in Church Court you will find the Temple Church after which the area is named. Originally built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters, it was consecrated on 10th February 1185 by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was built in the round to remind worshippers of the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre …

Outside the door of each Chambers is a list of the barristers who practise there or are ‘door tenants’ who do not but who have a connection with the Chambers …

Some have accommodation in Chambers – the author John Mortimer practised as a barrister and had rooms here in Dr Johnson’s Buildings.

You will see frequent representations of the symbol of Middle Temple, the Lamb and Flag or Agnus Dei. These two are in different styles, an older one on Plowden Buildings in the distance and a post war 1954 version in the foreground …

Pegasus, the winged horse, is the emblem of the Middle Temple …

If you leave by the Tudor Street Gate and look back you can admire the gate design and see another winged horse …

At the Charterhouse

Last week I took a tour of the Charterhouse buildings in Charterhouse Square (EC1M 6AN). They are just opposite Florin Court, the flats used as ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ in the Poirot TV series.

A Carthusian monastery had existed on this site since 1371, but catastrophe came in 1535 when the monks were asked to sign an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the supreme head of the Church of England. Many refused, and on 4th May that year the Prior, John Houghton, a monk and a lay brother, were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Houghton’s right arm was chopped off and hung over the Charterhouse entrance gate – a symbol of what happened to those refusing to acknowledge the King’s authority.

One of the many fascinating things to see on a modern-day tour is this engraving …

Probably by Nicolas Beatrizet (1540-1560)

The print was produced in Rome about 20 years later. Five of the scenes show the monks imprisoned, dragged through the streets and then being executed. The final scene shows two Carthusian monks being executed in York.

The gatehouse in the 1930s

Charterhouse has passed through many incarnations over the centuries and evidence of this abounds to this day.

We can still see the entrance to one of the two-up two-down cells the monks occupied …

Food was passed in to the cell through the portal on the left to avoid disturbing the monk’s solitude

Each monk lived as a hermit, spending their time in prayer, contemplation and scholarly work. They seldom spoke, usually only meeting together for Sunday lunch.

Sir Edward North (later Baron North) bought the ransacked property in 1545 and turned it into a mansion. To describe North (1496-1564) as a ‘survivor’ in this tumultuous period would be an understatement – somehow remaining in favour with both Queen Mary and later Queen Elizabeth I. In fact three other owners of Charterhouse (John Dudley, Thomas Howard and Philip Howard) were all executed for treason.

Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk, bought the buildings in 1564. He rebuilt what is now called the Norfolk Cloister, from the ruins of the monks’ original Great Cloister …

The boys from Charterhouse school played football here, its narrow dimensions creating the need for the offside rule

It was in King James’s reign in 1611 that a former ‘Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts’, Thomas Sutton, said to be England’s wealthiest commoner, bought the property and established a founda­tion to maintain a school and almshouses. The school, for 40 boys, was the beginning of Charterhouse School. Later, John Wesley and William Makepeace Thackeray were pupils. In 1872, the school moved to Godalming, taking the young Robert Baden-Powell to complete his schooling in Surrey.

The Great Hall (1571) where the Brothers dine today

In the Hall, Sutton’s coat of arms can be seen above this magnificent Caen stone chimneypiece, the cannon and gunpowder barrels at the sides referencing his connection with The Ordnance …

The arms include the head of a hunting dog, a Talbot, now extinct. It’s a motif that can be found throughout the building …

A carved Talbot dog on the stairs along with the arms of the fourth Duke of Norfolk


In Wash House Court, Tudor bricks meet Monastery stone …

Above the entrance to the passageway to the Court, a tiny monk has found a quiet place to study his Bible …

The buildings were severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the Second World War …

The medieval door to the Chapel damaged in the Blitz

The Chapel contains Thomas Sutton’s spectacular monument …

A relief panel shows the Poor Brothers in their gowns and a body of pious men and boys (perhaps scholars) listening to a sermon …

I love the figure, Vanitas, blowing bubbles and representing the ephemeral quality of worldly pleasure. The figure with the scythe is Time

The man himself …

His body rests in a vault beneath the monument

By way of contrast we can also see, in a darkened room lit by candles, this poor soul. Uncovered during the Crossrail tunneling, archeologists found it belonged to a man in the prime of his life, in his mid-twenties, when he was struck down by the Black Death. It’s believed he died at some point between 1348 and 1349, at the height of the pandemic …

Thomas Sutton’s will provided for up to 80 residents (called Brothers): ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or at land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or other calamity’.

A community of some 40 Brothers (as of 2016, women are not excluded by this term) still live in the Charterhouse today.

This blog only covers a tiny example of what you will discover at the Charterhouse. I highly recommend the tours that are conducted every day except Monday. Some are led by one of the resident Brothers and are given from the perspective of each individual Brother, therefore no two tours are the same. Click here for details.

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