Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: October 2019

City postboxes

Along with red telephone boxes, the red postbox is immediately recognisable as something intrinsically British and last week, as I passed the Penny Post’s founder’s statue, I decided to write a blog about them.

Here he is, cast in bronze and larger than life, looking across King Edward Street (EC1A 1HQ) …

Sculptor : Edward Onslow Ford (1881-2)

The unveiling took place on 17 June 1882 and the reporter for the City Press said all were impressed by the ‘grace and firmness’ of the statue’s attitude.

Sir Rowland Hill stands erect, in the attitude of an energetic and busy man, and, notebook and pencil in hand, may be taken to be engaged in some detail of his scheme.

It was originally sited outside the Royal Exchange and was moved, after some time in storage, to its present location in 1923. The area was then still dominated by the Post Office but gradually work was moved to Mount Pleasant and the main building sold to bankers Merrill Lynch in 1997.

The post box nearby to the north only dates from 2001 …

Now stroll through Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT) to St Martin’s Le Grand, maybe pausing on the way to investigate the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Turn right after you leave the park and few yards ahead you will find this fascinating replica …

The box was topped with acanthus leaves and ball and was made in three sizes, with five distinct types.

This early box was designed by the architect John Penfold in 1866. Green was chosen as the colour so the box would blend in with the landscape but it was replaced by ‘pillar box’ red in 1884 to improve visibility. Penfold had a fascinating career which included the re-design the Jewin Street area in the City of London after it had been destroyed by a large fire. It was again destroyed in the Blitz and now houses the Golden Lane Estate.

Devotees of trivia may be interested to note that in the cartoon series Danger Mouse DM’s sidekick is named Penfold since the duo’s secret hideout was a post box (although not a Penfold one).

And now a story that might be an urban myth.

John Betjeman lived in this house in Cloth Fair for almost 20 years (EC1A 7JQ). The story goes that, if he had written a letter but couldn’t be bothered to go to the post box, he would put a stamp on it and cast it out the window in the certain knowledge that a helpful Londoner would find it and post it for him.

Sir John’s nearest post box would have been just on the other side of the Henry VIII gateway to St Bartholomew’s Hospital (EC1A 7BE) …

It’s unique in carrying no royal cipher and also because, although it faces the hospital, it is emptied from the other side of the wall in the street …

Hill’s 1840 Postal Reform act introduced affordable postage and easy-to-use adhesive stamps. Yet the nearest letter-receiving office was miles away from many communities. It took Anthony Trollope (the Victorian author, then a General Post Office official) to notice that in Europe, locked cast-iron pillar boxes were placed in convenient locations with regular collection times.

Trollope first introduced this efficient scheme to the Channel Islands in 1852, and pillar boxes emerged on the mainland the following year. By 1860, over 2,000 ‘standard’ design roadside boxes were established and by the 1890s, this had increased to 33,500. The UK now has about 115,500 and a Royal Mail post box stands within half a mile of over 98% of the UK population.

This box on Fleet Street has a plaque commemorating Trollope’s work …

As well as free-standing pillar boxes there are also those fitted into walls. Here’s an advertisement by James Ludlow, a firm that produced them …

Here are a few from the City (although not produced by Ludlow) …

A Victorian pair in Chiswell street next to the Jugged Hare bar and restaurant (EC1Y 4SA)

And two from the Barbican highwalk …

These were made by the Carron Company, one of the major suppliers of letter boxes during the twentieth century. From the Mungal Foundry, near Falkirk, Stirlingshire they cast pillar boxes (from 1922), wall boxes (from 1952) and small lamp boxes for rural areas (from 1969 to 1982). The ironworks were first established in 1759 and played an important part in the Industrial Revolution as well as becoming famous for its naval cannons but the company became insolvent in 1982 after 223 years casting iron.

I am beginning to get the hang of the terminology now – this, for example, is a ‘double aperture’ box since it has two slots …

Some, like this one, still have a slot marked ‘Meter Mail’. Metered reply mail, or MRM, is a type of mail in which a business sends pre-printed, self-addressed envelopes or packages to customers with postage pre-paid in-house using a postage meter. This is much less common nowadays and many of the ‘meter mail’ signs are being removed.

Modern boxes are now being introduced with small businesses and eBay sellers in mind – here is one next to a Victorian box near Barbican station …

I know why the change is needed but I still know which one I prefer.

For all things postal I strongly recommend a visit to the Postal Museum where you can, among many other exhibits, admire this special Air Mail box, created to make communication with His Majesty’s Dominions around the world easier …

You can read lots more on these fascinating websites, one jointly published by Historic England and Royal Mail and this one by The Letter Box Study Group.

Don’t forget you can follow me on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

More water – trickling, whooshing and gurgling

In last week’s blog I wrote about the classic fountains that can be found around the City. This week I’m looking at more modern versions and would like to start with this spectacular example.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street (EC3M 4BS) a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’.

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Tucked away in Aldermanbury (EC2V 7HY) is one of the City’s earliest permanent abstract public sculptures …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_6776-670x1024.jpg
Glass Fountain by Allen David (1969).

It was commissioned by Mrs Gilbert Edgar who was ‘enchanted by the iridescent design’. She was wife of Gilbert H. Edgar CBE, who was a City of London Sheriff, and it was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London in December 1969.

I have always liked the little pool and fountains outside the entrance to St Lawrence Jewry in Gresham Street (EC2V 5AA) …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_6775-649x1024.jpg

One day when I was passing I saw three ducks in the water, parading around as ducks tend to do. Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_6771-1024x680.jpg

If you have the time, do visit the church and enjoy the beautiful modern stained glass.

Nearby you have the opportunity to see two examples of fountains that gurgle up through the pavement. Here is the one outside 25 Basinghall Street (EC2V 5HA) …

There is a rather damp footpath running diagonally through it. It might be tempting to traverse it if you’ve over indulged at the Davy’s Wine Bar next door.

Here’s another version in Aldermanbury Square (EC2V 7HR), just across the road from Allen David’s fountain …

The traffic-free square was re-designed in 2006. Natural stone was used and over 20 trees planted with soft landscaping, new seating and a new water feature on the south side with 24 jets set flush with the paving.

The Salters’ Hall Garden (EC2Y 5DE) has been recently refurbished and looks wonderful …

Inside a new water fountain commemorates a past master …

The full inscription reads …

In Memory of Jock Russell, Master Salter 2001-2002. Sal Sapit Omnia (Salt seasons everything).

Looking for some water whooshing? Head off to the gardens alongside St Paul’s Cathedral where the formal layout consists of a sunken lawn with a wall fountain. The water pours from lion’s heads …

The fountain and garden were a gift from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

And finally to the Barbican. In Ben Jonson Place, two small dolphins stand on their tails and twist in opposite directions …

The sculpture is by John Ravera and dates from 1990.

This is more of a waterfall than a fountain …

View from the Andrewes highwalk

And from behind …

The fountains alongside the terrace are currently under repair so this is a picture I took last year …

Don’t forget you can follow me on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

By the way, the Lord Mayor’s Show is on 9th November and his coach is currently out on display in Guildhall Yard …

Water ‘crashing, whooshing, gurgling or gently lapping’

I’d like to quote from the City Corporation’s little booklet on Fountains – it’s rather poetic in places.

‘Fountains are an important sensory diversion in the urban scene of the City. Whether a municipal drinking fountain or a monumental water feature, they provide a rich diversity of sculptural form, movement and sound. The movement provided by the water of a fountain is probably its most fascinating element. Still water seems lifeless, but when given motion, either by spurting, spraying, spouting, undulating or tumbling, it becomes full of life and vitality. Of itself colourless, water can direct and refract light rays, and when it is in the form of a fine mist, it can disperse all the colours of the spectrum. The sound of a fountain is also one of its most essential and most overlooked attractions. Whether the water is crashing, whooshing, gurgling or gently lapping, sound is an integral part of a fountain’s aesthetic appeal. This can improve significantly the quality of a space, not only by adding the sound of water, but also by blocking out the less attractive sounds of the City’.

So I was inspired to search out some nice examples and I shall start with this absolute beauty in the quadrangle at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (EC1A 7BE). Created in 1859, it shows naked boys holding aloft a shell with dolphin-esque waterspouts …

It was the idea of Philip C Hardwick, the Hospital Surveyor.

You can read the full story about its construction and the part it played in Bart’s history here on the Bart’s Heritage website.

Originally the water was projected much higher in order to be seen above the shrubs that had then recently been planted …

Picture credit: The Wellcome Collection.

Just across the road is the West Smithfield Garden (EC1A 9BD). Waste ground for a time, the site was finally laid out as public gardens by the Corporation of London and opened to the public in 1872 …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_3809.jpg

A drinking fountain with a bronze figure representing ‘Peace’ was erected in 1873 a few years after the armistice between France and Prussia was signed in 1871 …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_3807.jpg
The sculptor was John Birnie Philip (1824-1875).

You can see Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey in the background.

Before you leave the Bart’s area do visit the interesting little Hospital museum just inside the entrance to the quadrangle.

The St John Zachary or Goldsmith’s Garden in Gresham Street EC2V 7HN) is a haven of peace in the bustling City. Walk under the stunning golden leopard’s head symbol of the Goldsmith’s Company …

Down the steps in the sunken garden you will find this pretty little fountain …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_5549-647x1024.jpg

You can read more about the garden and an interesting nearby sculpture called The Three Printers in my City Gardens blog.

Postman’s Park’s fountain is rather modest (EC1A 7BT) …

And finally, on the north side of Blackfriars Bridge is one of my favourites, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored (but sadly no longer pouring water) …

Sculptor Wills Bros.

The pretty lady represents ‘Temperance’ and she originally stood outside the Royal Exchange. The fountain was inaugurated by Samuel Gurney, MP, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association, on 27 July 1861 and you can read more about him, and the Association, in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains.

This week’s fountains have been very traditional.

Next week I will look at more modern versions, including those that tend to pop up out of the ground …

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram :

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

Swinging angels, an alligator and public sculpture around St Paul’s

First of all, some great news! You can now follow me on Instagram at :

www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

Crossing the road outside St Paul’s Underground station I came across the surprising sight of 40 golden angels resting on swings above my head …

Entitled Lunch Break they are an installation by architects KHBT in collaboration with artist Ottmar Hörl. Intended to create a strong conceptual and visual link to the Cathedral it is, the note nearby tells us, also an emotional and imaginative work that is aiming to make people think and smile. ‘After all, in this particular time, guardian angels deserve some rest’ …

Outside the west front of the Cathedral is the statue commemorating Queen Anne, a Victorian replica of an earlier work that had become weathered and vandalised. The queen is surrounded by four allegorical figures and this one represents America …

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 fascinated me, however, is the creature by her feet which resembles a rather angry Kermit the frog (alongside the severed head of a European) …

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.

In the Diamond Jubilee Gardens close by is this work, The Young Lovers, by Georg Ehrlich (1897-1966). The Cathedral gives it a dramatic backdrop …

Ehrlich was a Austrian sculptor who was born and studied in Vienna. During the First World War he served in the Austrian Army and in 1930 he married the artist Bettina Bauer. After the rise of the Nazis, Ehrlich decided that it was too dangerous for them to be in Austria since they were both Jewish and they moved to London. He became a British citizen in 1947 and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1962.

Since the weather was so nice, I took the opportunity to capture this profile of the one-time Dean of St Paul’s John Donne …

John Donne 1572 – 1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012)

I have written about Donne before and you can access the blog here.

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.

I really like this work by Paul Mount (1922-2009), also to be found in the gardens …

Amicale (2007)

Mount was one of the last British artists whose careers were interrupted by the Second World War. A lifelong pacifist, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in North Africa and then France, where he stayed on after the end of the war to do relief work. Once free to work again, artists like him never really lost their sense of a world to be made anew through art. For Mount, sculpture expressed an essential human dignity. He observed …

The way that two shapes relate is as important as the way two people relate.

There is a nice obituary notice about him and his fascinating life in The Guardian which you can access here.

And finally, every time I walk past St Paul’s I am struck by the beauty of the stone carving, take this example …

Or this abundance of cherubs …

And this meticulous carving around the Dean’s Door …

Christopher Wren paid the sculptor, William Kempster, an additional £20 for the excellence of his work.

As memories of wartime fade, these shrapnel marks from a nearby bomb blast serve to remind us of how close the Cathedral came to destruction …

A number of other City buildings bear scars from World War bombing and you can read about them here.

Don’t forget to find me on Instagram: www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

More fab fountains – one’s a cracker!

Why has this 19th century drinking fountain got a carving on it that looks a bit like a Christmas cracker?

It’s located on the south west side of Finsbury Square and forms part of an elaborate memorial …

The inscription reads …

Erected and presented to the Parish of St Luke by Thomas and Walter Smith (Tom Smith and Co) to commemorate the life of their mother, Martha Smith, 1826 – 1898.

Martha was the widow of Tom Smith and here I would like to relate a little history courtesy of the excellent London Remembers website. In 1847, twenty five year old Tom, an ornamental confectionery retailer in Goswell Road, brought the French idea of a bon-bon wrapped in a twist of paper over to Britain. In 1861, probably inspired by fireworks, he introduced a new product line, ‘le cosaque’, or the ‘Bang of Expectation’, or crackers as we now know them. This successful product, originally used to celebrate any event you care to name, enabled the business to move to larger premises on Finsbury Square, where they stayed until 1953.

Smith and his sons knew a thing or two about advertising and were not modest about their wonderful products. Here’s a typical 19th century example …

I love the instructions to ‘Refuse worthless imitations’ and ‘Make Merriment everywhere’.

There is an example of a Tom Smith’s Cracker and box on display in the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. This picture was taken by The Londonist who has written a very comprehensive blog about the memorial which you can find here

Victorian Christmas crackers were filled with all sorts of trinkets and surprises – first they contained rhymed mottoes or verses, then some sort of fancy-paper hat, bonnet, mob-cap or masks. Considerable artistic talent was introduced in the adornment of these novelties.

And here is an image from the Tom Smith archive where you can also find the 2019 catalogue and order your Christmas supplies!

The company is now owned by Napier Industries and still holds a Royal Warrant.

Here’s the founder himself. He was born 1823 and died, quite young, in 1869 …

We can thank the company for going on to develop cracker contents like the novelty gift and corny joke. You also have to blame one of Tom’s sons for the paper hat we are obliged to wear, often with excruciating British embarrassment, at work Christmas parties.

Crackers never took off in America and it has been claimed that the British liked them because ‘it taught their children how to deal with disappointment at an early age’.

And now for something rather odd. The water fountain was funded by the sons but the daughters went their own way. A few yards away is this horse and cattle trough …

It bears the following inscription (now very faded) …

In remembrance Martha Smith 1898. Erected by her daughters P. L. and L. D.

The sons erect the splendid water fountain and the daughters erect the utilitarian water trough. Does this tell us something about their personalities or about Victorian gender differences?

Researching the origin of the Christmas cracker has been a genuine pleasure and if you want to know more there is a book about the ‘King of Crackers’ – I might just order a copy. You can find a review here.

Next up is the St Lawrence and Mary Magdalene fountain located on Carter Lane opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Created as a joint enterprise between the two parishes that give it its name, the fountain was originally installed in 1866 outside the Church of St Lawrence Jewry …

An engraving from ‘The Builder’ publication 1866.

The location next to St Lawrence Jewry …

A man quenching his thirst in 1911.

It was dismantled in 1970 and put into a city vault for fifteen years, then stored in a barn at a farm in Epping. The pieces were sent to a foundry in Chichester for reassembly in 2009 and it was was moved to the current location the following year …

The work was designed by the architect John Robinson (1829-1912) and sculpted by Joseph Durham (1814-1877), both very famous men in their time.

The fountain takes the form of a niche with carved hood resting on granite columns. Set into the niche is a bronze bas-relief of Moses striking the rock at Horeb (Exodus. XVII. IV-VI) …

Water runs down the face of the bronze from where Moses’ staff strikes. To the left of Moses is the figure of a woman holding a cup of water to her child’s mouth.

Above the fountain is a carved stone statue of St Lawrence holding a gridiron (on which he was martyred) …

In the south-facing niche is a statue of St Mary Magdalene holding a cross, and with a skull at her feet …

The other two niches are empty but are believed to have originally held the names of past benefactors of the churches carved into white marble slabs. Below, a new brass tap has now been fitted which dispenses water when pressed.

I wrote about the City’s water fountains and their fascinating history a few years ago and you can read the blog again here.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén