Walking the City of London

Month: July 2024

The Whitecross Street Party 2024!

Around the stalls …

Mmmm … nice coat!

Along the street …

Art work both finished and pictured in progress

12:00 mid-day …

3:30 pm …

6:00 pm …

Street entertainment and fun …

On your marks … get set …

Go!

That’s all …

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Special Dragon edition!

This week’s blog was prompted by a gift we received – a wonderfully crafted baby dragon from Little Dragon Designs . He’s very small, only just over three inches wide, but very meticulously detailed …

It reminded me that the City is full of dragons and that it has been a long time since I paid them a visit.

In 1963 the Government was redrawing local government boundaries and the City Corporation had to decide how its area of control should be identified. Rather than someting bland and commonplace (e.g. Welcome to the City – Please Drive Carefully) they looked for something a bit more dramatic.

Their final choice to use dragons was facilitated by the controversial decision to demolish the Coal Exchange in Lower Thames Street. The trade in coal in London was hugely important, not just because it fuelled the city, but thanks to taxes that were introduced after the Great Fire of London, it funded a lot of London building works. The Coal Exchange was built in 1847 to help manage the trade and, high above the main entrance, two plinths held two large cast-iron dragons. Here it is around 1900 …

When the Exchange was demolished, the City of London Streets Committee conceived the idea of preserving the dragons as boundary markers, and they were inaugurated in their new home on Victoria Embankment on 16 October 1963 where they remain to this day …

They were originally cast, by the London founder Dewer, in 1849, as can be seen on the back of the shield …

These original dragons are seven feet tall but half size replicas were created for deployment around 11 other entry points to the City.

Before I go on to share more dragons with you the first thing I must be clear about is that the City symbol is a dragon and not a griffin (as is still mistakenly stated in many City guides).

The legendary griffin (or gryphon) is a creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. I have only been able to find one in the City and here it is at the entrance to Dunster Court in Mincing Lane …

He proudly supports the arms of the Clothworkers Company.

Dragons, on the other hand, have a barbed tail, tend to be scaly all over and breathe fire and smoke. Here is the City of London version on Tower Hill …

It is made of cast iron and painted in silver with details picked out in red. It supports a shield with the City emblem of the red cross of St George and the short sword of St Paul, the City’s patron saint.

Guarding the boundary between the City of London and Westminster, the Temple Bar Dragon is in a league of its own. It is taller, fiercer, very gothic and is black rather than silver. It would be quite at home in a Harry Potter story and is quite scary – maybe that’s why the Corporation Committee Chairman, having considered the Temple Bar version, chose the less flamboyant Coal Exchange dragons as boundary markers instead …

Another dragon at Temple Bar faces towards Westminster …

A Times writer commented that it ‘wears an aspect of defiance similar to that of the lion surmounting the mound on the field of Waterloo’.

Once you get your eye in, so to speak, you will find dragons everywhere.

This Smithfield Market beast looks like he is just about to swoop down – perhaps for a meaty lunch …

And these two work hard supporting the roof of Leadenhall Market …

One might pop up unexpectedly as you cross Holborn Viaduct …

You encounter this formidable pair as you leave Bank Underground Station …

More delicate versions adorn the lamps outside the Royal Exchange …

The City’s coat of arms atop the Guildhall …

And on the newer building nearby …

The City’s Latin motto : Lord guide us.

A more modern version (also at the Guildhall) …

You will find a fascinating article about the City coat of arms here.

If you are fascinated by dragons, or know someone who is, I highly recommend a visit to the Little Gragon Designs website. A vast selection of dragon-related gifts!

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City sculptures – a random collection.

Apart from the special Sculpture in the City events, it has been a while since I have specifically sought out other examples of what’s around so last Saturday’s sunny weather proved an ideal opportunity.

I started at Paternoster Square where I had read that the conservation-led artists Gillie and Marc had a new exhibition. Here’s what I found.

Apparently Rabbitwoman and Dogman usually accompany their work and here they hold up an informative panel about the artists …

Other animals in the exhibition …

Rabbitwoman and Dogman are known to travel around the City on their scooter. Here they are picking up a coffee at Spitalfields Market …

Also in Paternoster Square is a 1975 bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink which I particularly like – a ‘naked’ shepherd with a crook in his left hand walks behind a small flock of five sheep …

Dame Elisabeth was, anecdotally, very fond of putting large testicles on her sculptures of both men and animals. In fact, her Catalogue Raisonné informs us that she ‘drew testicles on man and beast better than anyone’ and saw them with ‘a fresh, matter-of-fact delight’. It was reported in 1975, however, that the nude figure had been emasculated ‘to avoid any embarrassment in an ecclesiastical setting’. The sculpture is called, appropriately, Paternoster.

This is The Cordwainer. Here on Watling Street (EC4N 1SR) you are in the Ward of Cordwainer which in medieval times was the centre of shoe-making in the City of London. The finest leather from Cordoba in Spain was used which gave rise to the name of the craftsmen and the Ward. In the background is the wall of St Mary Aldermary church …

Sculpted by Alma Boyes (2002). You can visit her website here.

I love the detail in the work, the craftsman’s face and particularly the hands straining with effort. The statue’s shoes are very beautifully represented too – but then they would have to be.

Easy to miss but worth seeking out is The Building Worker, a bronze statue of a building worker in a pose based on Michelangelo’s David, but in working clothes and wearing a hard hat and carrying a spirit level. He is on Tower Hill EC3 just across the road from the station outside the Tower of London …

The sculptor was Alan Wilson (2006) and it commemorates the ‘thousands of workers who have lost their lives at work … (and) workers who are today building and rebuilding towns and cities across the United Kingdom.’ Wreaths are laid here each year on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, and a two minute silence is observed at noon in memory of those who have suffered fatal injuries in accidents at work.

The Plumbers’ Hall was compulsorily purchased in 1863 to make way for the expansion of Cannon Street Railway station and this statue on the concourse is a reminder of that connection …

The Plumber’s Apprentice by Mark Jennings (2011).

The inscription reads ‘This statue was erected on the site of its last Livery Hall by The Worshipful Company of Plumbers to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Charter by King James I in 1611 and to recognise the support given by the Company to the training of apprentices.’

Now a work that caused a mini-controversy – the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9).

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.

She can be found outside Royal Exchange Buildings, EC3V 3NL.

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.

If you visit the sculptures today you will, in fact, find that Mr Peabody no longer gazes at the lady who shocked the Globe corresponsent. Surely his letter wasn’t acted upon? I can find no evidence one way or another.

How about this slightly mysterious figure at 193 Fleet Street …

I always thought that it resembled a rather effeminate youth but it is in fact a woman disguised as a pageboy, her name, Kaled, appears just under her right foot.

It is by Giuseppe Grandi, and dates from 1872. The shop owner, George Attenborough, had a niche created specially for it over the front door. Kaled is the page of Count Lara in Bryon’s poetic story of a nobleman who returns to his ancestral lands to restore justice. He antagonises the neighbouring chieftains who attack and kill him. Kaled stays with his master and lover to the end, when it is revealed he is in fact a woman. She goes mad from grief and dies.

Something a little more conventional now, this 1881 statue of Sir Rowland Hill by Edward Onslow Ford, R. A. (1852-1901). It’s on King Edward Street …

It’s in front of the old General Post Office building. Read more about this fascinating man and his postal reforms here. For example, I didn’t realise that, before 1840, the British postal system was highly complex and very expensive. Letters were charged by distance and the number of sheets of paper they contained. Normally, the charge was paid by the recipient. As a result people often ‘cross-wrote’ their letters to save money. Imagine having to decpher this missive …

I had to include a few examples of Barbican sculpture.

On the Alban Gate highwalk you will encounter two naked writhing dancers. Quite often I have seen people pose for photographs whilst trying to mimic the figures’ movements – they have not found it easy …

The work, called Unity, is by the Croatian Sculptor Ivan Klapez. It was commissioned by the building developers MEPC in 1992 and marked a turning point is his career. I rather like them in silhouette …

If you visit the sculpture you will see that the male figure is … er … unquestionably male. Shortly after its installation the Daily Telegraph’s ‘City Diary’ recorded local speculation as to whether the penis of the male figure had been shortened ‘to spare the blushes of passing matrons’. The sculptor’s agent insisted that no such concessions had been made. I haven’t included an image of the organ concerned (coward!) so you’ll have to visit and make up your own mind.

The Gladiator, by Eli Ilan (1973) just before you reach the library …

Nice to see that he’s being looked after …

And finally, the magnificent Minotaur by Michael Ayrton. After an itinerant life, he now looks rather wonderful in his more recent location in St Alphage Gardens …

… with a slice of the Roman/Medieval city walls behind him to the left …

Remember you can follow me on Instagram …

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