Walking the City of London

Month: October 2020

Another aimless wander – horses, pigeons and quad bikes

Sometimes it’s just nice to set out without a specific theme or objective in mind and see what turns up.

Last week I was very lucky almost straight away because I came across these two members of the City of London mounted police perfectly posed outside the Royal Exchange …

The riders and horses are based in Wood Street police station where there is a custom made stable block. The station was built in 1965, when mounted police were a much more common sight, but the officers and horses will be moving out at the end of December and the building converted to accommodation. The ladies told me that they would be temporarily based with the Metropolitan Police in the West End but will still be returning regularly to patrol the City. You can read more about the horses’ training etc. here.

Watching out over a very quiet City …

Now that Autumn is here I try to capture the changing foliage and light whenever I can. Here’s St Giles Cripplegate as seen from the podium …

And here’s a view looking north west from Aldgate …

I paid a visit to the lovely little Goldsmith’s Garden on Gresham Street which used to be the churchyard of St John Zachary (destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666) …

It was fun to encounter this pigeon taking a leisurely shower …

He also meticulously washed under his wings – clearly a bird keen on personal freshness …

A little further along the road at St Anne and St Agnes red bricks meet Autumn leaves …

The Barbican often provides some interesting shadows, colours and reflections …

St Paul’s Cathedral with the Firefighter’s Memorial in the foreground …

I am not a great fan of some of the new City architecture but the colours on these buildings in Old Bailey are rather jolly …

The tower of St Alban in Wood Street, all that remained of Wren’s original church after the Blitz …

Next to St Paul’s is the only surviving part of the Church of St Augustine, also badly damaged in the War and partially rebuilt in 1966 …

Here St Botolph Without Aldgate is framed by trees and some Art in the City …

A closer view …

There is also some really good news in these difficult times. The gardens at Finsbury Circus have been handed back to the City now that the Crossrail work there is finished and the Mayor has launched a competition as to how they might be redesigned. You can find details here. As you can see from my picture, it really is a blank canvas …

Some of the offices on the Circus have worked hard on their flower displays …

These merge nicely with the floral decorated stonework …

Finally, a few quirky items.

Caught in mid-air – Parkour at the Barbican …

… and how on earth did these quad bikes end up in a skip on Beech Street?

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A hair merchant, a weeping statue and a Damien Hirst – my visit to St Bartholomew the Great

You approach the church via the Tudor Gatehouse. It dates from 1595 and was fortuitously revealed when a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin in 1915 tore off later accretions as these ‘before’ and ‘after’ images illustrate …

Much of the late 19th and early 20th century church restoration work was carried out by Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930). His son, Philip, was killed in action on 25th September 1916 and his name appears on the memorial to the right of the entrance …

There is a plaque just behind the gate commemorating Sir Aston Webb’s work. It includes his coat of arms (which incorporates a spider, a playful reference to his name) …

You get a nice view of the flint and Portland Stone western facade of the church from the raised churchyard. An old barrel tomb rests in the foreground …

Bear in mind that the original church was vast and also covered the area now occupied by the graveyard and the path. This used to be the nave, as illustrated in this plan on display in the church …

Stepping into the church seems to transport you to another time and place …

The patchworked exterior gives no hint of the stunning Romanesque interior, with its characteristic round arches and sturdy pillars. It’s a rare sight in London; indeed, this is reckoned to be the best preserved and finest Romanesque church interior in the City.

Just to shock you back into the present, the south transept contains this sculpture …

Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin St Bartholomew also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. The second surprise, to me anyway, was that this work was by Damien Hirst, the modern artist known particularly for his spot paintings and the shark swimming in formaldehyde. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of Doctors and Surgeons and Hirst has said that this 2006 work ‘acts as a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development and that depictions of Saint Bartholomew were often used by medics to aid in anatomy studies’. He went on to say that the scissors were inspired by Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) to imply that ‘his exposure and pain is seemingly self- inflicted. It’s kind of beautiful yet tragic’. The work is on long-term loan from the artist …

Just behind Hirst’s work is a rare pre-Reformation font (1404) in which William Hogarth was baptised on 28 November 1697 …

I paused at the monument to Edward Cooke who died in 1652 and read the curious rhyme inscribed on it …

Vnsluce yor briny floods, what can yee keepe

Yor eyes from teares, & see the marble weepe

Burst out for shame: or if yee find noe vent

For teares, yet stay, and see the stones relent.

It was known as the ‘weeping statue’ because the moisture in the atmosphere used to be soaked up by the soft marble and miraculously released again as ‘tears’ from time to time. Alas, the Victorians installed a radiator under the monument which put a stop to the moisture releasing properties of the stone and, sadly, it wept no more.

This is the spectacular tomb of Sir Walter and Lady Mary Mildmay. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and the founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His wife was the sister of the Queen’s ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham. Sir Walter died in 1589 and Mary in 1576 …

It’s thought that the tomb does not contain religious figures or Christian symbols because Sir Walter had strong Puritan leanings.

This is the monument to James Rivers who died of the plague in 1641 …

The inscription refers to a disease as malignant as the time referring, no doubt, to the English Civil War. Rivers was a prominent Puritan MP and took his seat in Parliament in 1640.

In a number of places around the church you will find these beautiful sculptures in glass by Sophie Arkette …

They are entitled Colloquy and are etched with literary or poetical text. These are illuminated and distorted by the effects of light (from either candles within the work or from around the building) and water (included within parts of the work).

Under the oriel window there is a nice example of a rebus, in this case a representation of a person’s name using a picture. Here Prior Bolton’s name is neatly implied by a crossbow bolt piercing a tun (a type of cask). Bolton was Prior of St Bartholomew the Great between 1505 and 1532 and carried out repair and construction work across the church …

There is also a version in 16th century stained glass at the eastern end of the church …

I was intrigued by this tombstone in the north transept …

To be buried inside the church indicated that he was a wealthy man and this was no doubt because, in the 18th century, wigs of all varieties were tremendously fashionable. Good hair was seen as a sign of health, youth and beauty and merchants like Mr Thornell often travelled the country looking for supplies (even buying it off the head of those needy enough to sell it).

As I walked down the transept I glanced to my left and glimpsed this reclining figure …

It is of course, the tomb of Prior Rahere, the founder of the Priory and hospital …

He wears the habit of an Augustinian canon and the angel carries a shield with the arms of the priory.

Rahere was a courtier and favourite at the court of Henry I who reigned from 1100 to 1135. After falling dangerously ill whilst on pilgrimage to Rome, Rahere had a vision of St Bartholomew, who told him to found a hospital. He duly got better, and when he returned to London he founded a hospital and an Augustinian priory in 1123 (dedicating them to St Bartholomew to give thanks for his recovery). He was the institution’s first prior and remained in this role until his death in 1144 (the tomb is later and dates from 1405). You can still see some of the original paintwork …

Incidentally, I came across this great 1915 picture of how the tomb was protected during wartime bombing …

There is much more to see in this beautiful place and so I strongly recommend a visit. Entrance is free but the church has been hit hard by the pandemic so, if you can afford it, do make a donation to help support it. Opening times are on the website which you can access here.

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From Sam Pepys’s dinner plate to the Essex Auroch

Yes, I have again been taking advantage of the wonderful fact that the Museum of London has reopened and is free to enter with a timed ticket.

I was thrilled to see a new exhibit connected to my hero Samuel Pepys – naval administrator, Member of Parliament and, of course, famous diarist. The item is a silver dinner plate made in 1681/82 and engraved with his coat of arms. Scratched by knives and forks, it is one of only three that now survive of the full dinner service …

By the time he commissioned this he was already a wealthy man and took great pleasure in entertaining at home. I like this boast from his diary dated 8th April 1667 and his remark about Mrs Clarke made me laugh out loud …

We had with my wife and I twelve at table and very good and pleasant company, and a most neat and excellent, but dear dinner; but, Lord, to see with what envy they looked upon all my fine plate was pleasant, for I made the best show I could, to let them understand me and my condition, to take down the pride of Mrs Clarke, who thinks herself very great.

Being a man of intense curiosity, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Pepys would almost certainly have heard of this discovery made during the rebuilding of St Martin’s Church on Ludgate Hill in 1669 …

It’s the third century tombstone of a Roman centurion wearing a tunic, a military belt and a long cloak draped over his left shoulder.

Amazingly, the inscription is still legible …

To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina his most devoted wife set up this memorial.

I think modern illustrations like this are mainly for the benefit of children, but I love them …

Incidentally, and still on a Roman theme, nearby is a fine mosaic floor dating from AD 300 and discovered in Bucklersbury in 1869 …

Pepys witnessed and wrote about the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Museum has a rare depiction of the City before the fire. It dates from around 1630, three years before he was born …

Nearby is a dramatic oil painting of the conflagration at its height …

The view is taken from the west with the Cathedral, fiercely ablaze, dominating the scene. John Evelyn described what happened when the fire reached St Paul’s …

The stones of St Paul’s flew like grenades, the lead melting down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements of them glowing with fiery redness.

The cathedral was thought to be safe and the nearby printers and booksellers stored their entire stock in the crypt. Unfortunately the fire caught hold of wooden scaffolding put up for repairs and the cathedral and all its contents were consumed.

Since his home was at risk, Pepys hired a cart ‘to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things’ and buried his valuable Parmesan cheese in the garden.

Such was the intensity of the blaze that these two iron padlocks and key melted together in a lump. The owner of the premises, an 80-year-old watchmaker, chose to hide in his cellar rather than flee (presumably to protect his stock from looters). These items were found beside his body …

Referring to a giant who was supposed to have lived in the building, this figure, known as Gerald the Giant, stood in a niche on the front elevation of Gerard’s Hall in Basing Lane and dates from around 1670 …

I like his daintily decorated shoes …

There is also some lovely stained glass dating from 1660 – 1700 …

Dragging myself away from the 17th century, there were two paintings I really enjoyed studying. The first is entitled Eastward Ho! and was painted by Henry Nelson O’Neil in 1857. It became his most popular work …

Soldiers are shown boarding a ship at Gravesend, leaving to fight in the ‘Indian Mutiny’ – the first Indian war of independence. In a poignant scene they are saying farewell to their loved ones and it is a very emotionally charged picture. For the men we can only see in their faces optimism and patriotism whilst in the faces of the women we see fear and a sense of foreboding.

The Times newspaper commented …

Hope and aspiration are busy among these departing soldiers, and if mothers and wives, and sisters and sweethearts, go down the side sorrowing, it is a sorrow in which there is no despair, and no stain of sin and frailty…

A year later he painted Home Again

The soldiers are seen coming down the gangway of their troop ship. The main character appears to be the bearded soldier in khaki uniform with his Kilmarnock ‘pork-pie’ cap under a white cotton Havelock, which was worn to afford the wearer’s neck protection from the blazing and merciless Indian sun.

When the paintings were exhibited together in London thousands of Victorians queued to see them.

The Times had this to say about Home Again

The crowd round the picture delight to spell out the many stories it includes – its joyous reunitings, its agonies of bereavement; the latter kept judiciously down …

And, of course, I mustn’t forget the Aurock. Its colossal skull confronts you soon after you enter …

A beast that’s been extinct for nearly 400 years, this particular skull dates from the Neolithic period (4,000 -2,200 BC) and was discovered in Ilford, East London, where herds of this creature once roamed.

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A few more things that made me smile

In these difficult times, I’d like to share some miscellaneous things I have encountered recently that cheered me up.

I am going to start with the extraordinary, eccentric Stanley Green, ‘the protein man’, who regularly patrolled Oxford Street with his billboard. This may seem strange since he died in 1993, but I have chosen him as my first story because I came across his billboard last week at the Museum of London …

Copyright Andrew Lawson.

He began his mission in June 1968, initially in Harrow on Saturdays, becoming a full-time human billboard six months later on Oxford Street. He cycled there from Northolt with his board attached to his bicycle, a journey that could take up to two hours, until he was given a bus pass when he turned 65. From Monday to Saturday he walked up and down the street until 6:30 pm, reduced to four days a week from 1985. Saturday evenings were spent with the cinema crowds in Leicester Square. He would go to bed at 12:30am after saying a prayer. ‘Quite a good prayer, unselfish too’, he told the Sunday Times in 1985. ‘It is a sort of acknowledgment of God, just in case there happens to be one’. He was 78 when he died in December 1993 and, presumably because he distrusted ‘passion’, he never married.

The Museum’s decision to put his message on display introduces him to a new audience …

His self-published and printed booklet, Eight Passion Proteins, went through 84 editions and the Museum holds 36 of them. You can read more about him here and here.

You will no doubt be pleased to know that Royal Wedding teabags are still available in a Ludgate Hill tourist gift shop – hurry, hurry while stocks last …

Don’t they look lovely.

By way of contrast, I thought these models in a shop on Eastcheap were decidedly spooky …

Like creatures out of a Dr Who episode.

Covid humour at the pharmacy …

Covid humour at the wine bar …

Cocktail Bar humour …

A less complicated message …

Pretty camera camouflage on Holloway Road …

Street art meets spinal column in Hoxton …

Sadly over-optimistic signage …

Finally caught the reflection I wanted – street sculpture with red London bus and St Paul’s …

When construction workers use their imagination to brighten up the site – good for them …

What a positive message …

A great hero of mine and one of my favourite London statues – Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras International Station …

Many of Pimlico Plumbers’ vans have ‘witty’ number plates …

Even the scooters are wearing masks around here …

City pigeons simply don’t believe this statement …

We spent a really nice few days in Norfolk recently and here are some of the pictures I took.

Local delicacies – rabbit and pigs ears, giant trotters and chicken feet …

Sow and buffalo ears …

Houghton Hall has a stunning collection of work by Anish Kapoor. Some are in the grounds like this one, Sky Mirror

Others are in the house …

Kings Lynn is a lovely, interesting town. I even caught a glimpse of Bad King John …

At the charming and incredibly interesting True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, a Victorian seafarer struggles to come to terms with the pandemic …

And the place has a Wimpy! I thought they had disappeared decades ago. I didn’t pop in for a ‘Bender’ though (fellow Baby Boomers will know what I am referring to) …

There is some beautiful architecture to enjoy as well …

Now that going abroad is problematic it’s great to be exploring England again.

And finally to the Sandringham Estate where we came across these poignant little headstones commemorating the last resting place of three of Her Majesty’s corgis. Heather’s inscription tells us she was the great granddaughter of Susan (on the far left) …

I’ll be back walking the City again next week but hope you enjoyed this little excursion.

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