Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: February 2020

The City before the War

I have been loaned a lovely book called Streets of the City by Judy Pulley and have included some of the photographs from it for those of you who like looking at wonderfully atmospheric pictures from the past. You can buy your copy of the book here.

A photographer recorded the vast scale of the construction site for the Holborn Viaduct looking west towards Holborn in 1869. A hoarding advertises the ‘New’ St Pancras Station which opened the previous year …

The finished product …

A congested Fleet Street in 1905 …

The view today …

Shops alongside the entrance to Cannon Street station in March 1939. Three years later most had been destroyed by the wartime bombing …

Prince Albert doffs his hat to the City in 2020 …

In this picture His Royal Highness makes the same gesture at the turn of the last century…

Below is the view towards the west in 1910. The awnings outside Gamages store can be seen on the right and just behind Prince Albert’s statue a man in an invalid carriage braves the traffic. He should be OK if vehicles obey the sign on the lamp post which urges ‘Caution’ and ‘Drive Slowly’. Wallis & Co on the left advertises linens and blankets and has a display of parasols hanging outside the shop. …

Eastcheap as seen from the end of Cannon Street. The statue of King William IV was erected in 1844 when King William street was created as a new approach to London Bridge. The small cart in the centre is delivering ice and the buses are turning right towards London Bridge, just as they do now …

The busy west end of Cheapside at the corner of New Change around 1905 with omnibuses and a Royal Mail coach to the right. The statue is of Sir Robert Peel and was erected here in 1855 and then removed to Hendon Police Training School in 1939 …

The sign on the lamp post says ‘Standing for 10 Hackney Carriages’.

I particularly like this picture of Fleet Street in the 1930s because it shows the cart on the left laden with massive rolls of paper for use in the nearby printing presses …

It’s 7 o’clock in the morning in February 1937 and Lower Thames Street is at a standstill as fish from old Billingsgate Market is loaded on to carts …

The viaduct carrying the approach road to London bridge can be seen in the distance and to its left the church of St Magnus the Martyr.

Many of these pictures illustrate the enormously important role horses played in the life and commerce of the City right into the 20th century.

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Another stroll along Fleet Street

As I think I have said before, I never tire of walking around this part of the City, especially spotting things of interest simply by directing my gaze skywards.

I remember the heyday of printed news when the Fleet Street hostelries were frequently packed with journalists, lawyers and print workers ‘refreshing’ themselves at lunchtime and in the evening. Now you are more likely to encounter overseas visitors seeking out ‘authentic old English pub’ experiences.

Mr Punch advertises these listed premises at the east end of the street …

The previous building on the site was known as the Crown and Sugar Loaf but was renamed the Punch Tavern in the late 1840s because of its association with Punch Magazine which had its offices at that end of Fleet Street.

The Old Bell further west is also listed …

The story goes that it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to accommodate the stonemasons working on nearby St Bride’s Church and the rear of the pub does, indeed, date from 1669.

Between the buildings you can glimpse St Bride’s and its famous ‘wedding cake’ spire as you proceed from east to west …

Why would a business stress ‘discretion’?

Because it’s a pawnbrokers, still advertising their presence using the symbol of three spheres suspended from a bar, said to be a reference to the coat of arms of the Florentine Medici family …

I love this pair of spectacles and thought at first that the sign must date from the 19th century but in fact Whitby & Co have only been around for 20 years …

On the north side of the street you can see the evidence of past publications now, alas, defunct or relocated elsewhere …

Further along are the premises previously occupied by the Kings & Keys pub, once a favourite hangout place for journalists from the Daily Telegraph next door. The name is derived by the amalgamation of two licences of separate former pubs, the Cross Keys and the Three Kings …

It’s narrow because, like many other buildings fronting Fleet Street, it follows the size of the original medieval plot.

If you are a little tired by now and need to recharge batteries there are healthy snacks available nearby …

Onward to St Dunstan in the West which boasts this magnificent clock …

It dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. The figures of the two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads.

The double headed eagle is the emblem of the Hoare family and their bank’s premises are at the Sign of the Golden Bottle – a practice dating from the time before buildings were allocated street numbers …

The London firm was started in 1672 by Richard Hoare and tended to the affairs of many famous literary folk including the diarist Samuel Pepys, poet Lord Byron and novelist Jane Austen.

What about these three squirrels busy chomping on nuts …

Gosling’s, originally a goldsmiths and later a bank, started trading at the Sign of the Three Squirrels around 1650. It was the fourth largest of the banks that joined together in 1896 to establish Barclay and Co Ltd as a joint stock bank. Today, Goslings remains the oldest branch in the Barclays Group and still occupies its original site in the City.

The adjacent Inns of Court were once so important to Lloyd’s Bank that they had a dedicated branch (with a pretty beehive emblem suggesting hard work and prudence) …

Looking skywards, you can observe these muscular chaps supporting the building’s upper stories…

And finally, at number 50 …

Sculpted by A. Stanley Young in 1913, the building housed both the Norwich Union Insurance Company and the lawyers of Serjeant’s Inn. On the left, the Insurance side, Lady Prudence holds a little hoard of fruit and a leafy branch whilst the cherubic figure of Liberality or Plenty spills his cornucopia of coins and fruit. On the right, the lawyers’ side, blindfolded Lady Justice rests against her shield and sword grasping the scales of justice in her left hand.

There are many versions of Lady Justice in the City and I have written about them here.

You can find earlier blogs about Fleet Street here Fleet Street Ghosts and here Fleet Street Legends.

Remember you can follow me on Instagram :

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Some pics from my Instagram collection

I set up my Instagram account because I found myself taking quite a few pictures totally unrelated to the City of London and I wanted a home for them.

They are quite lighthearted and I am publishing some here in the hope that it will encourage more of you to follow me on Instagram. You’ll find the address at the end of the blog.

I’ll start with a ‘heads up!’

Kilburn High Road wig shop …

A hairpiece for all styles and colours …

A selection of heads in an architectural salvage shop at King’s Cross …

Some fun street art …

Camden Town

An elegant lady on Highgate Hill …

And another …

‘Big girls need big diamonds’.

Street art meets a spinal column on Old Street …

Tasteful Shoreditch poetry …

On Rivington street …

Rather complex decision tree on Great Eastern Street …

More straightforward decision tree on Old street …

‘Let’s ADORE and ENDURE each other’ …

Artwork by Stik …

On Holloway Road, Dick Whittington strides out back to a modern looking City …

Mural at the London Postal Museum …

And a strongly worded notice on the wall inside where the railway workshops used to be …

The bear necessities at Spitalfields Market …

And nearby, a shop that once satisfied stallholders’ needs …

This injured kestrel found a friend near Guildhall …

And still on an animal theme. Where do Barbican ducks go shopping?

Waitrose of course …

Scrapyard sculpture …

Finally, a few pictures from a visit to Malaga …

‘Mmmmmm ice cream …. yummy!’

A water-themed painting next to a dry river course …

Picasso’s birthplace …

He was a great fan of the bullfight and inside is a photo of him catching a hat the matador has thrown to him. Lucky photographer – right place, right time …

You can follow me on Instagram at …

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

Some unusual artifacts in City Churches

I find great pleasure visiting the City churches and often come across unusual artifacts that spark my curiosity and I have put a selection together for this week’s blog. Incidentally, there are still an amazing 47 churches within the Square Mile and I have not yet visited all of them!

As you approach the door to St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street you are walking on the paving that once led to the original London Bridge between 1171 and 1831 (EC3R 6DN). Inside is this beautiful scale model of the bridge …

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 …

Read more on the excellent London Walking Tours blog from which these pictures were taken.

As an added bonus you can check out the 17th century parish fire engine just inside the main entrance …

Lovat Lane, which runs between Eastcheap and Lower Thames Street, reminds one of the old City with its cobbled surface and narrow winding shape …

St Mary-At-Hill EC3R 8EE

If you pop into St Mary-At-Hill church you will immediately encounter on your left this fascinating representation of Resurrection on the Day of Judgment

Christ holding a banner stands amidst clouds. Satan, a figure with large claws, is being trampled under his feet

It’s a very unusual example of late 17th century English religious carving and most likely dates from the 1670s. Its carver is unknown, but it is known that the prominent City mason Joshua Marshall was responsible for the rebuilding of the church in 1670-74 and his workshop may have produced the relief.  Exactly where it was originally positioned is uncertain; most likely it stood over the entrance to the parish burial ground and was brought inside in more recent times …

You can see open coffins among the chaos
The winged Archangel Michael helps people rise again

If you find yourself in St Paul’s Cathedral do seek out the only statue to survive the ravages of the Great Fire of 1666 which totally destroyed the Cathedral’s predecessor.

Nicholas Stone’s effigy of the poet and preacher John Donne is a remarkable survival of seventeenth-century English sculpture. 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. Based on a drawing done when he was dying, and at his request, consider the face, with its shuttered eyelids, raffish beard, and benign, half-smiling expression.

The urn still shows scorch marks from the fire …

I haven’t had a proper long look at St Mary Abchurch yet but did manage to call in for a few minutes to take a (rather hurried) picture of this unusual Poor Box …

You need three keys to open it, one being inserted horizontally.

And I like this old box outside the little museum at St Bartholomew’s Hospital …

Rather a strangely placed apostrophe, I think.

And now on to one of my favourite churches, St Vedast-alias-Foster (EC2V 6HH).

You enter through early 17th century oak doors that have remarkably survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz. Beyond the foyer you find yourself facing the font and its beautifully carved wooden cover. Originally from St Anne and St Agnes, the font was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the cover is by Wren’s frequent collaborator, the master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons

Inside St Martin within Ludgate on Ludgate Hill (EC4M 7DE) I found both a fascinating chandelier and a very unusual font. There is a large entrance lobby (designed to reduce traffic noise inside the church) and you then enter one of Sir Christopher Wren’s least altered interiors (1677-1686) with fine dark woodwork which largely escaped the Blitz.

Look up and you will see this beautiful chandelier or candelabrum …

It’s still lit by candles.

As one commentator has noticed, it looks more like something you would find in a country house or a ballroom. The candles were not lit when I visited but I am sure that when they are, on a dark morning or evening, one must get a real feel for what it was like to worship here in earlier centuries. It came to the church via St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies, probably in 1777: a reminder of the links between the City’s trading economy and the British Empire overseas.

And now to the very unusual font …

The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding.

It contains a Greek palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople:

Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin

(Cleanse my sin and not my face only)

And I am indebted, as I often am, to the blogger A London Inheritance who pointed out in his latest publication something I missed.

The plaque records a charity set up by Elizabethan fish monger Thomas Berry, or Beri. He is seen on the left of the plaque, and to the right are ten lines of text, followed by two lines which describe the charity:

“XII Penie loaves, to XI poor foulkes. Gave every Sabbath Day for aye”

The plaque is dated 1586, and the charity was set up in his will of 1601 which left his property in Edward Street, Southwark to St Mary Magdalen, with the instruction that the rent should be used to fund the loaves. The recipients of the charity were not in London, but were in Walton-on-the-Hill (now a suburb of Liverpool), a village that Berry seems to have had some connection with. The charity included an additional sum of 50s a year to fund a dinner for all the married people and householders of the town of Bootle.

The interesting lines of text are above those which describe the charity. Thomas seems to have spelled his last name either Berry or Beri and these ten lines of anti-papist verse include his concealed name.

St Martin Ludgate

And finally, why would a church display an old-fashioned telephone under a glass case?

One day in 1936 a young priest officiated at his first funeral – a 14 year old girl who had killed herself because, when her periods started, she thought it was a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. That there seemed to have been no one she could talk to had a profound effect on him, but it was not until 18 years later that, as he put it,

I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker … ? What sort of a someone might they want?

He looked at his phone, ‘DIAL 999 for Fire, Police or Ambulance’ it said …

There ought to be an emergency number for suicidal people, I thought. Then I said to God, be reasonable! Don’t look at me… I’m possibly the busiest person in the Church of England.

When the priest, Chad Varah, was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen Walbrook in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a ‘999 for the suicidal’. He was, in his own words, ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. The first call to the new service was made on 2nd November 1953 and this date is recognised as Samaritans’ official birthday.

And this is the original telephone …

Remember you can follow me on Instagram :

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

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