Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Month: May 2020

Aimless wandering!

I think the lockdown is finally getting to me. I usually don’t have much trouble thinking of a theme for the blog but this week I have failed. So instead, I just wandered around a still quiet City with my camera waiting to see what caught my eye. These are the results – I hope you find some of them interesting.

Now the pavements are deserted, it’s easier to look upwards as you walk and see what you might have missed on previous occasions.

The Victorians paid a lot of attention to decorative detail and I really liked these two faces, carved into bricks, looking out over London Wall. I’ve nicknamed them Beauty …

… and the beast …

And while on the subject of beauties and beasts, take a look at this view from Gresham Street …

The church is St Lawrence Jewry and behind it some modern buildings that I like, the Cheesegrater and the Scalpel, and one I don’t, a characterless glass monster growing on Bishopsgate.

There’s a nice little pond in front of the church …

It’s home to these Arum Lilies and Irises …

I have written before about Thomas Gresham and the college he founded was once based here at 90 Basinghall Street until 1991 (EC2V 5AY) …

Above the coat of arms rests the symbolic Gresham grasshopper …

The sun was perfectly placed to illuminate Ariel or The Spirit of the Winds by Charles Wheeler. She’s positioned on a cupola above the Bank of England on Tivoli Corner …

When she was unveiled in 1937 the Bank’s magazine stated …

It is the symbol of the dynamic spirit of the Bank which carries Credit and Trust over the wide world.

Ariel was, of course, the Spirit of the Air in Shakespeare’s Tempest, who by Prospero’s magic could ‘put a girdle around the world in forty minutes’.

I’m fascinated by this old Wall on London Wall. I can’t find out more about it but it looks Medieval to me (EC2M 5ND) …

London Wall has lots of examples of the wonderful work the small team of City gardeners do to keep beds and parks looking good all year round …

Austin Friars (off Old Broad street) was once the location of an Augustinian Friary until its dissolution in 1538. Walk in through an atmospheric doorway with its charming ghost signs …

When I visited the sun was in exactly the right place to illuminate the slightly spooky friar who reminds us of the area’s original purpose …

He resides at 4 Austin Friars, was sculpted by T Metcalfe and dates from 1989 (EC2N 2HA).

Near St Giles Cripplegate, the Columbarium is known as ‘one of London’s secret gardens.’ It lies to the east of the church down a flight of stairs. There are some niches on an outside wall and others are in a covered area enclosed by a gate …

And finally, two of the City of London Police’s finest …

… and their riders.

I really enjoyed my little walk and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

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St Sepulchre’s Church and Newgate Gaol

For centuries there was a close connection between the church and the notorious prison just across the road from it (EC1A 2DQ).

Demolished in 19o2 and standing where the Old Bailey is now, there had been a prison on the site since the 12th century. Over time the building had been consistently altered physically, but what did not change was its reputation for brutality, filth, sickness and death.

Newgate Gaol shortly before demolition.

The gallows loomed over the justice system. The first permanent version was set up at Tyburn in 1571 (roughly where Marble Arch is today) and prisoners were taken there through the streets from Newgate attracting vast crowds of spectators. The journey could take up to three hours with the carts stopping at taverns on the way where popular convicts were treated to drinks – sometimes the condemned men shouted ‘ I’ll buy you a pint on the way back’.

Getting ready for Tyburn ‘customers’. The Tyburn Tree by Wayne Haag from the Hyde Park Barracks Mural Project, Sydney, Australia.

After execution, which was often more like slow strangulation, fights frequently broke out over ownership of the body with relatives and friends fighting surgeons who were promised ten bodies a year for dissection.

While researching I came across this poem by John Taylor (1578-1653) …

I Have heard sundry men oft times dispute
Of trees, that in one year will twice bear fruit.
But if a man note Tyburn, ‘will appear,
That that’s a tree that bears twelve times a year.
I muse it should so fruitful be, for why
I understand the root of it is dry,
It bears no leaf, no bloom, or no bud,
The rain that makes it fructify is blood.
I further note, the fruit which it produces,
Doth seldom serve for profitable uses:
Except the skillful Surgeons industry
Do make Dissection of Anatomy.

To stamp out disorders, the Tyburn gallows was demolished in 1783 and executions moved to a spot outside Newgate itself …

A hanging outside Newgate in the early 1800s – Wikipedia.

Remarkably, a part of the old prison wall can still be seen at the end of the beautifully named Amen Corner, off the equally prettily named Ave Maria Lane (EC4M 7AQ) …

Amen Corner is now private property so this picture comes from the Internet.

Also, one of the doors condemned prisoners walked through to their execution is kept at the Museum of London …

Picture copyright Museum of London.

St Sepulchre’s Church today …

Look out for the sundial …

It is on the parapet above south wall of the nave and is believed to date from 1681. It is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and dots marking the half hours. I wondered if the Newgate executioner might have taken the time from this dial to help him decide when to start the journey west to the gallows.

Incidentally, I have written about City Sundials before in a blog entitled We are but shadows. Also, on the corner of the churchyard, there is a famous drinking fountain which you can read about here.

Carts carrying the condemned on their way to Tyburn would pause briefly at the church where prisoners would be presented with a nosegay. However, they would already have had an encounter with someone from the church the night before. In 1605, a wealthy merchant called Robert Dow made a bequest of £50 for a bellman from the church to stand outside the cells of the condemned at midnight, ring the bell, and chant as follows:

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 the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

And you can still see the bell today, displayed in a glass case in the church …

Includes my reflection … whoops!

Adjacent to the bell is this helpful notice …

The last public hanging in England took place outside Newgate on 26 May 1868, the condemned man being the Fenian Michael Barrett who had been convicted of mass murder.

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, to give it it’s full name, has other fascinating features which I shall write about in a future blog.

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City children

Not all statues, pictures and memorials in the City are of the ‘great and the good’ – there are quite a few young people represented as well.

For a start, there are the charity school children who wore a striking uniform that confirmed their school’s charity status – hence the name Bluecoat Schools. Blue was chosen since it was once the cheapest dye available. The school buildings often displayed life-size representations of their pupils and these two can now be found outside the church of St Andrew Holborn (EC4A 3AF) …

They depict children attending St Andrew’s Parochial School, founded in 1696 and located in Hatton Garden since 1721. The statues once stood over the Cross Street entrance to the Hatton Street school but were moved here during the church’s restoration after WWII bombing damage.

Sir John Cass’s School at Aldgate also has its little boy and girl statues (C3A 5DE) …

This work outside Liverpool Street Station depicts children from the Kindertransport (EC2M 7PD). I think they are beautifully portrayed, appearing both curious and confident (and one piece of luggage is clearly a violin case) …

Photograph: Robin Coupland. Statue by Frank Meisler (2006).

In 1938 and 1939, nearly ten thousand unaccompanied Jewish children were transported to Britain to escape persecution in their hometowns in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. These children arrived at Liverpool Street station to be taken in by British families and foster homes. Often they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

On a modern building in Giltspur Street (EC1A 9DD) a naked boy stands looking upwards with his arms crossed. He is often referred to as The Golden Boy of Pye Corner and he probably started life as a shop sign …

Now he commemorates one of the places where the Great Fire of 1666 was finally halted, and the inscription beneath refers to the belief by some at the time that God was punishing the City for the sin of gluttony. This was also evidenced by the fact that the conflagration started in Pudding Lane!

Despite the reference to gluttony, the little boy is not enormously fat but ‘healthily rotund’, as children or putti tended to be sculpted at that time. Pye (or Pie) Corner, on the other hand, was noted for food shops, particularly at the time of Bartholomew Fair. This annual celebration was finally suppressed in 1855 for ‘encouraging debauchery and public disorder’ and becoming a ‘school of vice which … initiated … youth into the habits of villainy’. The fair had also become one of the year’s great opportunities for pickpockets as well as for prostitutes, who might be found in tents coyly labelled ‘soiled doves’ or in a nearby street appropriately named Cock Lane.

But I digress.

Just behind the Royal Exchange is a work that caused some controversy, the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9). (EC3V 3NL).

In his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson describes the lady as follows:

Despite her casual garb she has a diadem or tiara on her head. With her left arm she enfolds a baby, who she is suckling, whilst with her right she draws to her knee a naked boy, who gazes up at her.

Nearby is a very relaxed George Peabody who I have written about in an earlier blog

Ward-Jackson tells us that the suckling lady’s very authentic exposed breast produced at least one letter of protest to the editor of The Globe. The correspondent urged that ‘common decency’ should be observed and went on …

Do you not think, Sir, that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of ‘lacteal sustenation’ be concluded … or the young woman and youngsters provided with the requisite clothing.

Living in the Appold Street entrance to Exchange Square are The Broad Family (EC2A 2BR) …

Look long enough and you will see mum, dad, a little girl with her ball and the family dog (well I did, anyway). It has just occurred to me that the dog resembles Dr Who’s companion K9.

The little girl’s shoes peep out tantalisingly …

These young folk striding out purposefully are part of the memorial to Christ’s Hospital School which was sited nearby before it relocated to Horsham in 1902 (EC1A 7BA). It shows the pupils developing from street urchins to smart, confident young adults …

I love the ragamuffins at the far end of the sculpture.They seem to be having enormous fun and sport the most extraordinary hairstyles …

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside look up and you will see two young boys at either end of the grand building that was once the City headquarters of Midland Bank (1935). The are both struggling with a rather angry looking Goose …

The sculptor was William Reid Dick.

Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The building is now a private club and restaurant, called The Ned in Sir Edwin’s honour.

In the Guildhall Art Gallery there is a pretty little girl attending her first sermon …

My First Sermon’ by John Everett Millais

She obviously knows this is an important occasion in her life and sits with her back straight, eyes attentively focused looking ahead. She is the artist’s 5 year old daughter Effie. On seeing it the Archbishop of Canterbury commented …

… our spirits are touched by the playfulness, the innocence, the purity, and … the piety of childhood

In 1864 the artist produced a sequel entitled ‘My Second Sermon’ …

The Archbishop, Charles Longley, was obviously a rather good sport, and when he saw the later picture commented …

… by the eloquence of her silent slumber, (she has) given us a warning of the evil of lengthy sermons and drowsy discourses. Sorry indeed should I be to disturb that sweet and peaceful slumber, but I beg that when she does awake she may be informed who they are who have pointed the moral of her story, have drawn the true inference from the change that has passed over her since she has heard her “first sermon,” and have resolved to profit by the lecture she has thus delivered to them.

I was reminded of this wonderful drawing of a Victorian congregation who are finding the sermon rather heavy going …

In 1995 a skeleton was discovered when excavations were taking place before the construction of 30 St Mary Axe, now often referred to as the Gherkin. The remains were of a young girl aged between 13 and 17 years – her arms were crossed over her body and pottery close by indicated a burial date of between AD 350 and 400.

Having been removed to the Museum of London, she waited patiently until 2007 when the developers of the Gherkin proposed that she be reburied on the site. So, in April of that year, there was a service at St Botolph’s church in Aldgate followed by a procession through the streets before her body was respectfully interred near where it was found. The Lady Mayoress of the City of London was there to spread rose petals on the gravesite, marked with a marble slab decorated with a laurel wreath.

We don’t know her name, or whether she was an original Londoner, but she now rests again 1,600 years after her death in the place that she would have called Londinium.

And finally to one of my favourite places, the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT). I have written before about three of the brave youngsters commemorated there – Alice Ayres, John Clinton and Elizabeth Boxall.

To them I will now add this young man …

While their mum was out running an errand Henry’s two-year-old sister Jessie, intrigued by the glow of a paraffin lamp, managed to clamber up a chair and reach out for it. Tragically, she overturned it and was enveloped in flaming paraffin. Henry rushed to help her, but in tearing off her clothes set fire to himself and both children received severe burns. Jessie survived but Henry died on 5th January – the coroner at his inquest commented ‘it is a sad case, the little fellow was quite a hero’.

That’s all for this week – I hope you enjoyed it even though I have written about some of these subjects before.

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Holborn Viaduct – ladies, lions and ‘maximum bling’

Last week I promised you a bit more about this brilliant Victorian masterpiece of engineering and sculpture.

There are four ladies on the Viaduct representing Fine Art, Science, Agriculture and Commerce.

Fine Art was sculpted by Farmer & Brindley

In her right hand she holds a crayon ‘as drawing is the most essential principal in Design’. Her left hand holds a drawing board with paper pinned to it, which rests on her left thigh. Her left foot rests on an Ionic capital denoting architecture. Behind her to her left is part of a Corinthian column, on the top of which stands a bust of Pallas Athena, ‘as she was the patroness of both the useful and elegant arts’.

Behind the figure’s right foot, a small palette and brushes rest on the base …

Science is also by Farmer & Brindley. She is ‘of more masculine proportions than Fine Art, with a fine penetrating countenance’ …

Her tiara has a star at its centre and stars form the fringe of her robe. She holds in her hand the ‘Governors’ that were used to control steam engines. At her left side stands a tripod on which is placed a terrestrial globe encircled with the Electric Telegraph wire which is connected with a battery.

Around the top of the tripod are the signs of the zodiac ‘indicating Astronomy’ …

Beneath it lie compasses and a crumpled sheet of paper with geometrical drawings, one of them a demonstration of Pythagoras’s theorem (you also get a better view of the battery in this picture) …

Agriculture was sculpted by Henry Bursill

She wears a crown of olives, ‘the emblem of peace’, and there is a decorative band of oak leaves on the fringe of her robe. ‘She turns to Providence with a thankful expression for a beautiful harvest’ and in her right hand she holds a sickle. Beside her left foot is a belt with a sheath, containing a whetstone.

Bursill also sculpted Commerce …

She is shown ‘advancing with right hand outstretched towards mankind in a sign of welcome, whilst in her left she proudly holds gold ingots and coin, the foundation of enterprise and Commerce in the civilized world’. At her feet to her right are two keys along with a parchment showing the City Arms representing ‘the Freedom of the City’ …

Farmer and Brindley are also responsible for the four winged lions …

I love these Atlantes holding up a balcony. They date from 2014 when the north east pavilion was rebuilt …

Here’s one in close up …

In 2013 the Viaduct was repainted and re-gilded with, at the request of the City Conservation Officer, ‘maximum bling’.

You get an idea of how well this was accomplished in this picture. It shows the re-gilded base of one of the lamps, a knight’s helmet and a City dragon …

There is a fascinating article about the work, particularly the gilding, here.

I hope you have enjoyed these two visits to the Viaduct. Again I have been plundering Dr Philip Ward-Jackson’s wonderful book Public Sculpture of the City of London for much of this blog’s detail.

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