Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: January 2020

Health & Safety in Victorian times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the first mention of horses on the wall …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has a fine gravestone in Barnes Cemetery …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inscription reads …

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

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

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

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

And the doctors’ memorial window …

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

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

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

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

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

English History Online has the following to say …

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

And here it is …

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

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

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

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A plethora of plaques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is …

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tis now the very witching of the night

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to the world.

(Hamlet’s soliloquy Act 3 Scene 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plaque is in Cloak Lane EC4R 2RU.

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

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

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

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

I shall end on two more lighthearted notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pebbles’ posthumous award.

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City streets then and now

I was inspired by a recent Spitalfields Life blog to revisit some old City locations and find out what has changed (and what hasn’t!). Most of the old pictures are from the late 1890s or the early days of the 20th century and come from the Bishopsgate Institute archive.

Holborn Circus seemed a good place to start since Prince Albert is still there raising his hat to the City …

And here he is circa 1910 …

What is sad is when some interesting views disappear. Here is a picture I took looking east in June 2017 where Albert appears to be saluting Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey …

Now there is a new building obstructing his view …

The beating heart of the business City – Throgmorton Street circa 1920 …

And today – that clock on the left is still there …

It dates from 1892 …

If you look further along the street you can just glimpse the extraordinary entrance to Draper’s Hall …

The always informative Bob Speel architecture website tells us that the tall, powerful imposing figures are known as Atlantes and were carved by Henry Alfred Pegram in 1896.

It’s hard to imagine now that the Victorians allowed a railway bridge to be built which obstructed the view of St Paul’s from Fleet Street that had existed since 1710. Here’s the view circa 1910 …

The bridge was finally demolished in 1990 and this is the view today …

This is Fetter Lane around 1910 …

You can see mirrors suspended at an angle in order to bring more light into the first floor of number 85.

Numbers 85, 86 and 87 are now gone but 84 and its neighbour survive, albeit somewhat altered …

The Monument around 1900. Note the sign on the left … you could book a room at Lightfoot’s Inn or just pop in and enjoy some fresh oysters, a common food then even for the poor (as this article explains) …

The view of The Monument from the same point today …

Pageantmaster Court, just off Ludgate Hill, refers to the person charged with organising the Lord Mayor’s Show. Here’s a picture taken from there in 1910 …

And today …

The building on the right is still there. Once a bank it’s now a wine bar …

Here is Cheapside in 1892, when horsedrawn vehicles were still in the ascendancy and this picture was probably taken from one. There is a nice selection of male headgear in the image – a few top hats, a homburg and a debonair chap sporting a straw boater …

Around 1910 …

I think the newspaper advertisement reads ‘France surprise for Turkey – Ambassadors ordered to leave’. Further down the road a haircut will cost you 4d and a shave 2d.

And today from approximately the same spot …

And finally, a favourite of mine, men laying tramlines at the junction of Clerkenwell Road and Goswell Road …

In the background is the Hat and Feathers pub, sadly now closed …

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Looking skywards

I spend a lot of time looking up as I wander around the City, which is another reason why I tend to take photographs at the weekend. That way I won’t be obstructing bustling City folk going about their business and get tutted at when I stop abruptly.

I hope you find this miscellaneous collection interesting. Some have appeared in blogs already but I have included them again because I just like them.

This globe sits on top of the London Metropolitan University building on Moorgate (EC2M 6SQ) …

I had never noticed before that it is encircled by the signs of the Zodiac.

Here’s what it looks like at street level with the Globe Pub sign in the foreground …

Whilst on the subject of Zodiacs, there are some attractive figures around the door of 107 Cheapside (EC2V 6DN) …

They were sculpted by John Skeaping, Barbara Hepworth’s first husband …

Sagittarius – November 22nd to December 21st.

Pisces – February 19th to March 20th.
Aquarius January 20th to February 18th.

And in Cheapside there is another globe, this time supported by a straining Atlas balanced on top of a clock …

It was once the headquarters of the Atlas Assurance Company. The entrance was in King Street and above the door is another depiction of Atlas hard at work. I like the detail of his toes curled around the plinth (EC2V 8AU) …

Across the road is Kings House sporting a magnificent crown …

Above it is a very pretty Mercer Maiden dating from 1938 …

This wise old owl watches commuters as they flow back and forth over London Bridge. He was located outside what was once the Guardian Insurance Company headquarters (EC4N 7HR) …

Look up as you walk down Eastcheap and you will see the remains of a dead camel …

Constructed between 1883 and 1885, the building at 20 Eastcheap was once the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices, whose trademark showed three camels bearing different shaped loads being led by a Bedouin Arab. The firm was particularly well known for its ‘Camel’ brand of tea. When Sir Henry Peek (son of one of the original founders) commissioned this building he wanted the panel over the entrance to replicate the trademark, right down to the dried bones of the dead camel lying in the sand in the foreground.

Admire the leopard’s head symbol of the Goldsmith’s Company over the entrance to the old churchyard of St Zachary on Gresham Street (EC2V 7HN) …

Guardian angels are still resting on their swings opposite St Paul’s Underground Station …

This fearsome dragon on Fleet Street guards the western entrance to the City on the site of the old Temple Bar. He looks like something straight out of a Harry Potter story …

I love spotting the wide variety of weather vanes that populate the skyline even in a City crowded with new skyscrapers. This one referencing the horrific death of a martyr sits atop St Lawrence Jewry (EC2V 5AA) …

St Lawrence was executed in San Lorenzo on 10 August 258 AD in a particularly gruesome fashion, being roasted to death on a gridiron. At one point, the legend tells us, he remarked ‘you can turn me over now, this side is done’. Appropriately, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians.

The church of Anne and St Agnes also stands in Gresham Street and is unmistakable by its letter ‘A’ on the weather vane on top of the small tower. It is named after Anne, the mother of the virgin Mary and Agnes, a thirteen year old martyr (EC2V 7BX) …

Now compare and contrast these two war memorials.

In Holborn is this work by Albert Toft. Unveiled by the Lord Mayor in 1922, the inscriptions read …

To the glorious memory of the 22,000 Royal Fusiliers who fell in the Great War 1914-1919 (and added later) To the Royal Fusiliers who fell in the World war 1939-1945 and those fusiliers killed in subsequent campaigns.

Toft’s soldier stands confidently as he surveys the terrain, his foot resting on a rock, his rifle bayoneted, his left hand clenched in determination (EC1N 2LL).

Behind him is the magnificent, red terracotta, Gothic-style building by J.W. Waterhouse, which once housed the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company. Walk through the entrance arch to the courtyard and you will see the work of a sculptor who has chosen to illustrate war in a very different fashion. The memorial carries the names of the 786 Prudential employees who lost their lives in the First World War …

The sculptor was F V Blunstone and the main group represents a soldier sustained in his death agony by two angels. He is lying amidst war detritus with his right arm resting on the wheel of some wrecked artillery piece. His careworn face contrasts with that of the sombre, beautiful girls with their uplifted wings. I find it incredibly moving.

I have written about angels in the City before and they are usually asexual, but these are clearly female.

And finally, 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!

Happy New year!

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