Walking the City of London

Month: May 2021

A visit to the Monster Supplies store (and some interesting sights on Hoxton Street).

Every now and then I head a short distance out of the City and look in at my favourite store – Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (N1 6PJ). A location hiding a fascinating and important secret which will be revealed later …

You know you are just about to visit somewhere special before you even go through the door. What kind of a place has a dispenser outside offering you free poems?

And what kind of creatures need this guidance to remind them of social distancing?

No need to worry about going in – they have the appropriate licences …

Glancing through the window, some of the merchandise looks decidedly … er … odd …

On the packed shelves inside you will find lots of items that will give pleasure to yourself and any monsters you know (both little and grown up). There are, for example …

Even non-flying reptiles love Dragon Treats but caution is needed with the Guts and Garlic Chutney – as the label warns, it is definitely not suitable for vampires.

Originally made for Banshees, these Banshee Balls have brought soothing relief to humans too …

These days sensible monsters regularly sanitise …

Even if you didn’t enter the shop with a vague sense of unease, you can leave with one …

A notice at the counter gives a clue as to what this very special place is all about …

Behind a secret, cunningly camouflaged door, wonderful things happen (staff will grudgingly show you the door if you promise not to eat them when they emerge from behind the counter).

The shop supports the fantastic work undertaken by my favourite charity, The Ministry of Stories. Co-founded by author Nick Hornby in 2010, the charity’s mission is to develop self-respect and communication skills through innovative writing programmes and one-to-one mentoring. Its clients are children living in under-resourced communities and its work is conducted both in schools and at the dedicated writing centre behind the secret door in the shop.

Do read more on their fascinating website : https://ministryofstories.org/

I have seen some of the results of their work and it has been absolutely extraordinary. They are literally changing children’s lives for the better. If you like what you see maybe you will be kind enough to make a donation – all charities have been finding the last year difficult.

Or, visit the shop and stock up on unusual treats.

Opening times are:

  • Thursday 1pm-5pm
  • Friday 1pm-5pm
  • Saturday 11am-5pm
  • Closed Sun-Wed

The website will give you much more information : https://www.monstersupplies.org/pages/about-us

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was recently voted ‘No. 1 Kids’ Shop in London’ by Time Out Magazine – which was weird, because we are self-evidently a shop for monsters’.

You’ll see some interesting sights as you walk up Hoxton Street from the junction with Old Street.

A short way along on the left, at the entrance to Hoxton Square, is this piece of street art …

A few yards away is another work by the same artist but I can’t quite make out the signature …

Chivalry is not dead.

Keep walking north and check out this beautiful little garden, created in memory of Khadija Saye who, along with her mother, Mary Mendy, was tragically killed in the Grenfell Tower fire …

I wonder how much longer these old business premises will remain untouched. The firm was run by the wonderfully named Lazarus Lambert until it closed in 2002. ‘JFB 1892’ is etched into the concrete brackets …

I like this retro local business sign. The store stocks ‘actually everything’ …

That’s all for now.

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

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

Monkeys and lions in Seething Lane

I couldn’t resist going back to visit the fascinating carvings in the Seething Lane Garden that I wrote about last week. They all relate to the life of Samuel Pepys and have revealed a few things that I did not know.

I was puzzled by this carving of a monkey who is sitting on some books and appears to have taken a bite out of a rolled up document …

Then I found the following entry in Pepys’s diary for Friday 18th January 1661 …

I took horse and guide for London; and through some rain, and a great wind in my face, I got to London at eleven o’clock. At home found all well, but the monkey loose, which did anger me, and so I did strike her till she was almost dead …

I’m not sure whether it was his pet or his wife’s, but it certainly paid a heavy price for its misbehaviour.

He also got upset with his wife’s pet dog. On 16th February 1660 he wrote …

So to bed, where my wife and I had some high words upon my telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother gave her out at the window if he pissed in the house any more.

On 11th January 1660 he visited the Tower of London menagerie and ‘went in to see Crowly, who was now grown a very great lion and very tame’. And here he is …

Amazingly, Pepys once owned a pet lion himself.

As the Navy’s principal administrator he wielded considerable influence and was frequently sent gifts in order to curry favour. Kate Loveman, in her book Samuel Pepys and His Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703 writes : ‘In Algiers the consul Samuel Martin found providing suitable presents taxing … He sent Pepys naval intelligence and (in despair) …

A Tame Lion, which is the only rarity that offers from this place …

Pepys kept the creature in his home at Derby House and sent the following gracious message to Martin, assuring him that the animal was …

… as tame as you sent him and as good company.

In 1679 tragedy struck when Pepys was arrested, dismissed from service and sent to the Tower of London on charges of ‘Piracy, Popery and Treachery’. The first two were outlandish and easily disproved but much more damaging and dangerous was the rumour that he had sold state secrets to the French (a crime which carried the terrifying penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered).

Using his own resources and considerable network, he tracked down the story to a lying scoundrel called John Scott. Pepys was subsequently freed but was left homeless, jobless and in a perilous situation financially. In her book Samuel Pepys, The Unequalled Self, Claire Tomalin made the poignant observation that whilst in the Tower ‘he could console himself only with the sound of the familiar bells of All Hallows and St Olave’s’.

Here is the carving of Pepys in the Tower …

You can read the full story of his first imprisonment in The Plot against Pepys by Ben and James Long.

He was to return to office in 1686 with the full support of the new king, James II, and set up a special ‘Navy Commission’ to clear the navy’s accounts and restore the force to its 1679 levels. This was completed six months ahead of schedule and was probably his last, and arguably greatest, achievement.

Back in 1649 Pepys had skipped school and witnessed the execution of King Charles the First outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Here is the poor King’s head being held aloft by his executioner …

The death warrant of King Charles I, 29 January 1649 (detail). Parliamentary Archives.
HL/PO/JO/10/1/297A.

Eleven years later, on 13th October 1660, he witnessed the execution of Major-General Thomas Harrison, one of the regicide signatories to the warrant. The punishment was hanging drawing and quartering. Pepys’s droll diary entry made me smile …

I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition.

Pepys loved theatrical performances and represented in the garden is an early version of Punch and Judy …

On 9th May 1662 he wrote …

Thence with Mr Salisbury, who I met there, into Covent Garden to an alehouse, to see a picture that hangs there, which is offered for 20s., and I offered fourteen – but it is worth much more money – but did not buy it, I having no mind to break my oath. Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants. So to the Temple and by water home …

On 4th September 1663 he visited the notorious Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield and toured the attractions with his wife. He wrote, ‘above all there was at last represented the sea, with Neptune, Venus, mermaids, and Ayrid on a dolphin‘. The mermaid is also here in the park …

The first page of the diary in the shorthand code he had devised for it …

Blessed be God, at the end of last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I live in Axe Yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more family than us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.

Samuel had been a student at Magdalene College, Cambridge and bequeathed the College his vast library of over 3,000 tomes (including the six volumes of his diary). The library, which bears his name, is represented here (the Wyvern is the College crest) …

Photo credit : Spitalfields Life.

The Gentle Author, who publishes Spitalfields Life, has written an eloquent description of his visit to the library which you can read here.

I have written about Pepys before : Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church’ and Samuel Pepys and the Plague.

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

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

Bladderstones and fleas in the Seething Lane Garden

I mentioned in my blog last week that I’d been visiting the garden dedicated to a famous Londoner and it was a real thrill to discover some garden pavers with fascinating carvings (EC3N 4AT). The famous Londoner was, of course, Samuel Pepys and I haves since discovered a lot more about the carvings.

But first of all, some examples. The first one I noticed made me smile.

Pepys had been plagued by recurring stones since childhood and, at the age of 25, decided to tackle it once and for all and opt for surgery. He consulted a surgeon, Thomas Hollier, who worked for St Thomas’ Hospital and was one of the leading lithotomists (stone removers) of the time. The procedure was very risky, gruesome and, since anaesthetics were unknown in those days, excruciatingly painful. But Pepys survived and had the stone, ‘the size of a tennis ball’, mounted and kept it on his desk as a paperweight. It may even have been buried with him. One of the garden carvings shows a stone held in a pair of forceps …

You can read more about the procedure Pepys underwent here.

Pepys survived the Great Plague of 1665 even though he remained in London most of the time. The pestilence is referenced by a plague doctor carrying a winged hourglass and fully dressed in 17th century protective clothing …

No one at the time realised that the plague could be spread by fleas carried on rats. One of the species sits cheekily at the doctor’s feet.

There is a flea in the garden but it has nothing to do with the plague …

While visiting his bookseller on a frosty day in early January 1665 Pepys noticed a copy of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, ‘which‘, Pepys recorded in his diary, ‘is so pretty that I presently bespoke it‘ …

Like many other readers after him, Pepys was immediately drawn in by the beautiful engravings printed in what was the world’s first fully-illustrated book of microscopy. When he picked up his own copy later in the month Pepys was even more pleased with the book, calling it ‘a most excellent piece . . . of which I am very proud‘. The following night he sat up until two o’clock in the morning reading it, and voted it ‘the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life‘. Here is the engraving Hooke made of a flea …

It’s on a huge fold-out page 43 by 33 centimetres.

You can explore the wonders of Micrographia yourself by clicking on this link to the British Library website.

In the garden Pepys is commemorated with a splendid bust by Karin Jonzen (1914-1998), commissioned and erected by The Samuel Pepys Club in 1983 …

The plinth design was part of the recent project and the music carved on it is the tune of Beauty Retire, a song that Pepys wrote. So if you read music you can hear Pepys as well as see his bust …

Pepys was evidently extremely proud of Beauty Retire, for he holds a copy of the song in his most famous portrait by John Hayls, now in the National Portrait Gallery. A copy of the portrait hangs in the Pepys Library …

Every year, on the anniversary of his surgery, Pepys held what he called his ‘Stone Feast’ to celebrate his continued good health and there is a carving in the garden of a table laden with food and drink …

The Great Fire of London began on 2 September 1666 and lasted just under five days. One-third of London was destroyed and about 100,000 people were made homeless. He wrote in his diary …

I (went) down to the water-side, and there got a boat … through (the) bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods: poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till … some of them burned their wings and fell down.

A boat in the foreground with the City ablaze in the distance while a piece of furniture floats nearby …

His house was in the path of the fire and on September 3rd his diary tells us that he borrowed a cart ‘to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things‘. The following day he personally carried more items to be taken away on a Thames barge, and later that evening with Sir William Pen, ‘I did dig another [hole], and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.’ And here is his cheese and wine …

Why did he bury cheese? Read more about the value of Parmesan (then and now) here.

Then there are these musical instruments, all of which Pepys could play …

From the Pepys Club website: ‘To Pepys, music wasn’t just a pleasant pastime; it was also an art of great significance – something that could change lives and affect everyone who heard it. He was a keen amateur, playing various instruments and studying singing – he even designed a room in his home specially for music-making. He attended the services at the Chapel Royal; he collected a vast library of scores, frequented the theatre and concerts and even commented with affection on the ringing of the church bells that filled the air in London’s bustling streets where he lived and worked’.

The Navy Office where he worked, eventually rising to become Chief Secretary to the Admiralty …

Source: London Remembers.

There are thirty pavers in all and I shall return to them in a later blog. In the meantime, great credit is due to the folk who worked on this incredibly interesting project.

The designs were created by a team of students and alumni of City & Guilds London Art School working under the direction of Alan Lamb of Swan Farm Studios Ltd. Further contributions to the design were made by Sam Flintham, Jackie Blackman, Clem Nuthall, Tom Ball, Sae Na Ku, Sophie Woodhouse and Alan Lamb himself. Here are some pictures of the sculptors at work.

Tom Ball working on the flea …

Mike Watson working on Pepys’s monogram …

And finally, Alan Lamb working on a theorbo lute, another instrument Pepys could play …

Do visit the garden if you have the chance. Another of its interesting features is that it is irrigated by rainwater harvested from the roof of the hotel next door!

I have written about Pepys before : Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church’ and Samuel Pepys and the Plague.

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

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

Trees, flowers and a medical procedure.

This is my 200th blog and to celebrate I thought I’d do one of the things I enjoy most, just wander around the City taking pictures of the incredibly diverse trees and plants that live there.

First up is this noble fig tree that lives in the Smithfield Rotunda garden (EC1A 9DY) …

I don’t know how old it is but the Rotunda was laid out as a public garden in 1872 and fig trees have been known to live over 200 years so it’s possible that this one has been around for a very, very long time. Just look at the trunk …

The figs are just starting to form …

There’s a great blog post about this tree and figs in general by my fellow blogger Bug Woman and you can find it here.

One tree we know for sure is over 200 years old is this magnificent London Plane in Wood Street …

No one knows precisely how old it is but what we do know is that it was there in 1797 when its presence inspired the poet Wordsworth to compose a poem ‘where the natural world breaks through Cheapside in visionary splendour’. You can read the poem and find out more about the tree and its interesting location here.

The next stop is Postman’s Park for Davidia involucrata. It’s also known as the handkerchief tree for obvious reasons and it’s in bloom now so you can see it if you’re quick (EC1A 7BT) …

Aldermanbury boasts a line of Cercis siliquastrum …

There are two notions as to why they are also called ‘Judas Trees’, the first pertaining to the myth that Judas Iscariot hung himself from this tree after his betrayal of Jesus Christ. The second is that it is a derivation from the French Arbre de Judée (tree of Judea) where the tree was a common sight. Its flowers are edible but they haven’t appeared yet and I don’t intend to have a nibble!

The leaves are pretty and heart shaped …

The Cleary Garden on Queen Victoria Street is named after Fred Cleary (1905-1984), a great campaigner for increasing the City’s open spaces (EC4V 2AR). I’m just choosing two features from the packed garden. The first is a swamp cypress. Most famously associated with the mangrove swamps of the Everglades, it is one of the few deciduous conifers found growing in Britain. …

The second is this lovely gift from Japan …

Here are some of the images I took on a miserable, cloudy 2nd May. The colours quite cheered me up …

There’s a pretty line of Silver Limes in Festival Gardens (EC4M 8AD) …

Nearby, the wonderful team of City gardeners have been hard at work …

As they have been outside St Paul’s Underground Station …

And on Aldermanbury …

I call this ‘the rogue tulip’ …

It’s in the flower beds on Silk Street outside the entrance to the Barbican.

Funnily enough, there was one there last year as well …

And finally, the medical procedure. In a quite new City garden a pair of forceps clasp a bladderstone …

There’s also a drawing of a flea as seen through a microscope …

The garden is dedicated to a famous Londoner and I shall write more about it next week …

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

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

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén