Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Author: The City Gent Page 1 of 7

A wander around St Paul’s (again)

I find myself continually drawn to the area around the Cathedral. There is always the constant background noise of tourist chatter but there is also something wonderful about walking around in the shadow of Sir Christopher Wren’s sublime masterpiece.

And there is also a lot to see.

This old Parish Pump, dated 1819, bears the name of St Faith’s Parish despite the fact that the church after which it was named was demolished in 1256 (yes, over 700 years ago) to allow for the eastern expansion of St Paul’s.

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From the 1250s until the reign of Edward VI, the parish known as St Faith under St Paul’s literally worshiped beneath St Paul’s Cathedral, using a space the end of the west crypt under St Paul’s Quire. After the Great Fire of 1666 the parish was united with St Augustine Watling Street. The pump was once situated against railings of St Paul’s Churchyard close to St Paul’s Cross, but was moved to its present position in 1973.

The old parish still has a boundary marker on the wall of St Paul’s Cathedral School …

You can read more about Parish Markers here.

Emily Young FRBS is one of the country’s foremost stone sculptors and you can enjoy her work in the form of Angels I to V in the courtyard opposite the Cathedral’s main entrance. I never tire of looking at them …

I have written an entire blog about City Angels and Devils and you can access it here.

Now climb up the steps to the imposing West Door and admire, if that’s the right word, the elegant cursive script of the 18th century ‘vandals’ who scratched their names in the stonework …

Some of it is very high up which leads me to believe the marks were made by workmen using sharp implements whilst standing on a scaffold …

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In the gardens you will find this pretty little drinking fountain …

An extraordinary coincidence occurred during the Cathedral’s rebuilding. Whilst staking out the foundations in the newly cleared site, Sir Christopher needed to mark a particular spot and asked a labourer to fetch a stone. The man came back with a fragment of a broken tombstone on which was carved 0ne word, RESURGAM – I shall rise again. Wren’s son later wrote that the architect never forgot that omen and it was an incident from which he drew comfort when the obstacles that arose during the long years of rebuilding seemed insuperable.

If you look up at the pediment of the south porch this is what you will see …

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The sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber was instructed to portray a phoenix rising from the ashes. This would not only be a fitting symbol for the Cathedral but would also include the one word that had cheered Wren two decades earlier.

In Paternoster Square there is this unusual sundial …

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I took this picture on 28th September.

Opposite the Cathedral on Ludgate Hill is a nice double aperture pillar box …

It was cast in 1996 …

At that time Machan Engineering were the only foundry in the UK to make the traditional cast-iron pillar boxes. The company had supplied Royal Mail since the 1980s and used to get 150 orders a year but in 2014 they only received 20 orders and in 2015 they had just one. Sadly the business closed later that year.

I have written a blog devoted to City postboxes and you can find it here.

And finally, look closely at limestone wall which supports the signage for the London Stock Exchange Group. You will see a great collection of bivalves – oyster shells from the Jurassic period when dinosaurs really did walk the earth …

Read more about the City’s fossils in my blog Jurassic City.

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The great man himself portrayed in stained glass at the church of St Lawrence Jewry

A City Miscellany

As I walk around the City I often just take pictures with no particular theme in mind and it seems a shame not to share them so here is a random collection.

First up are a couple of Police Call Boxes that date from 1958. This one is in St Martin’s Le Grand …

And this one alongside St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard …

Along with the well-known TARDIS boxes the Metropolitan Police Service’s network of call boxes included the smaller Police Public Call Post, designed for the City’s narrower streets. Originally they were fitted with a telephone, a compartment for a first aid kit, and a large light attached directly or using a pylon to the top of the post. Once there were over 70 of them but they were gradually removed from 1969 onwards and these are the only two I have come across in the City. Incidentally, there are no longer any TARDIS boxes anywhere in London apart from when Dr Who is visiting (as of course you know, TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space).

If you want more information there is a book by John Bunker called The Rise and Fall of the Police Box and you can read more about Dr Who and his time travelling machine here.

I liked this glimpse of a chandelier in the Goldsmiths’ Company building on a dull rainy day …

I have written before about Cliffords Inn Passage and how spooky it is with little natural light and the wall-mounted ‘deflectors’ designed to deter male misbehaviour and protect the brickwork …

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Because I do most of my photography at the weekend the imposing doors at the north end have always been closed but last week they were open and I was able to take a cheerier view looking towards Fleet Street …

I like this shot which contrasts the blue paint of the subway entrance with the bold red facade of the Leysian Mission (which one day I shall get around to writing about) …

153 Fenchurch Street is squeezed between two glass office blocks but happily has survived 20th century redevelopment and contains this pretty cartouche. It shows two men fishing under a ribbon signage stating ‘Established 1740, Tull, 153 Fenchurch St.’

I am indebted to the London Remembers website for this information …

From Some Notes on the Ward of Aldgate (1904) “Messrs. SAMUEL TULL & Co., 12, Creechurch Lane, Rope, Line, Twine and Net Makers, established over 164 years. Originally at the sign of the “Peter Boat” (after the Apostle Peter), on Fish Street Hill, from there to 153, Fenchurch Street, and then for many years at 97, Leadenhall Street {now demolished}. They have a large number of customers of long standing — many of whom are of the same old school as themselves, the beginning of whose accounts go back for generations.”

I have also written before about Change Alley and its intriguing history. This plaque inspired me to do a bit more research …

Here it is some time in the 19th century …

Eventually it was swallowed up as Martin’s Bank expanded and bought local freeholds. There is an interesting history of the Bank and the local area which you can find here. It looks like it was written in 1969 and I think is a lovely piece of corporate memorabilia.

This carving is also in Change Alley but I have yet to work out what it represents. It looks like a church but not one I recognise …

I really have tried to like the Walkie-Talkie but just can’t. Here it is looming over the 19th century masterpiece that is 33-35 Eastcheap …

I like elephants and the doors of the Cutlers’ Company boast a fine pair (EC4M 7BR). The words are the Company motto Pour parvenir a bonne foy (To succeed through good faith) …

And finally, this sign on the wall of St Andrew by the Wardrobe is gradually disappearing (EC4V 5DE). Eventually no one will know that the key for the fire ladder is kept with the Sexton at nearby 52 Carter Lane …

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City postboxes

Along with red telephone boxes, the red postbox is immediately recognisable as something intrinsically British and last week, as I passed the Penny Post’s founder’s statue, I decided to write a blog about them.

Here he is, cast in bronze and larger than life, looking across King Edward Street (EC1A 1HQ) …

Sculptor : Edward Onslow Ford (1881-2)

The unveiling took place on 17 June 1882 and the reporter for the City Press said all were impressed by the ‘grace and firmness’ of the statue’s attitude.

Sir Rowland Hill stands erect, in the attitude of an energetic and busy man, and, notebook and pencil in hand, may be taken to be engaged in some detail of his scheme.

It was originally sited outside the Royal Exchange and was moved, after some time in storage, to its present location in 1923. The area was then still dominated by the Post Office but gradually work was moved to Mount Pleasant and the main building sold to bankers Merrill Lynch in 1997.

The post box nearby to the north only dates from 2001 …

Now stroll through Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT) to St Martin’s Le Grand, maybe pausing on the way to investigate the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Turn right after you leave the park and few yards ahead you will find this fascinating replica …

The box was topped with acanthus leaves and ball and was made in three sizes, with five distinct types.

This early box was designed by the architect John Penfold in 1866. Green was chosen as the colour so the box would blend in with the landscape but it was replaced by ‘pillar box’ red in 1884 to improve visibility. Penfold had a fascinating career which included the re-design the Jewin Street area in the City of London after it had been destroyed by a large fire. It was again destroyed in the Blitz and now houses the Golden Lane Estate.

Devotees of trivia may be interested to note that in the cartoon series Danger Mouse DM’s sidekick is named Penfold since the duo’s secret hideout was a post box (although not a Penfold one).

And now a story that might be an urban myth.

John Betjeman lived in this house in Cloth Fair for almost 20 years (EC1A 7JQ). The story goes that, if he had written a letter but couldn’t be bothered to go to the post box, he would put a stamp on it and cast it out the window in the certain knowledge that a helpful Londoner would find it and post it for him.

Sir John’s nearest post box would have been just on the other side of the Henry VIII gateway to St Bartholomew’s Hospital (EC1A 7BE) …

It’s unique in carrying no royal cipher and also because, although it faces the hospital, it is emptied from the other side of the wall in the street …

Hill’s 1840 Postal Reform act introduced affordable postage and easy-to-use adhesive stamps. Yet the nearest letter-receiving office was miles away from many communities. It took Anthony Trollope (the Victorian author, then a General Post Office official) to notice that in Europe, locked cast-iron pillar boxes were placed in convenient locations with regular collection times.

Trollope first introduced this efficient scheme to the Channel Islands in 1852, and pillar boxes emerged on the mainland the following year. By 1860, over 2,000 ‘standard’ design roadside boxes were established and by the 1890s, this had increased to 33,500. The UK now has about 115,500 and a Royal Mail post box stands within half a mile of over 98% of the UK population.

This box on Fleet Street has a plaque commemorating Trollope’s work …

As well as free-standing pillar boxes there are also those fitted into walls. Here’s an advertisement by James Ludlow, a firm that produced them …

Here are a few from the City (although not produced by Ludlow) …

A Victorian pair in Chiswell street next to the Jugged Hare bar and restaurant (EC1Y 4SA)

And two from the Barbican highwalk …

These were made by the Carron Company, one of the major suppliers of letter boxes during the twentieth century. From the Mungal Foundry, near Falkirk, Stirlingshire they cast pillar boxes (from 1922), wall boxes (from 1952) and small lamp boxes for rural areas (from 1969 to 1982). The ironworks were first established in 1759 and played an important part in the Industrial Revolution as well as becoming famous for its naval cannons but the company became insolvent in 1982 after 223 years casting iron.

I am beginning to get the hang of the terminology now – this, for example, is a ‘double aperture’ box since it has two slots …

Some, like this one, still have a slot marked ‘Meter Mail’. Metered reply mail, or MRM, is a type of mail in which a business sends pre-printed, self-addressed envelopes or packages to customers with postage pre-paid in-house using a postage meter. This is much less common nowadays and many of the ‘meter mail’ signs are being removed.

Modern boxes are now being introduced with small businesses and eBay sellers in mind – here is one next to a Victorian box near Barbican station …

I know why the change is needed but I still know which one I prefer.

For all things postal I strongly recommend a visit to the Postal Museum where you can, among many other exhibits, admire this special Air Mail box, created to make communication with His Majesty’s Dominions around the world easier …

You can read lots more on these fascinating websites, one jointly published by Historic England and Royal Mail and this one by The Letter Box Study Group.

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More water – trickling, whooshing and gurgling

In last week’s blog I wrote about the classic fountains that can be found around the City. This week I’m looking at more modern versions and would like to start with this spectacular example.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street (EC3M 4BS) a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’.

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Tucked away in Aldermanbury (EC2V 7HY) is one of the City’s earliest permanent abstract public sculptures …

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Glass Fountain by Allen David (1969).

It was commissioned by Mrs Gilbert Edgar who was ‘enchanted by the iridescent design’. She was wife of Gilbert H. Edgar CBE, who was a City of London Sheriff, and it was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London in December 1969.

I have always liked the little pool and fountains outside the entrance to St Lawrence Jewry in Gresham Street (EC2V 5AA) …

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One day when I was passing I saw three ducks in the water, parading around as ducks tend to do. Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me …

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If you have the time, do visit the church and enjoy the beautiful modern stained glass.

Nearby you have the opportunity to see two examples of fountains that gurgle up through the pavement. Here is the one outside 25 Basinghall Street (EC2V 5HA) …

There is a rather damp footpath running diagonally through it. It might be tempting to traverse it if you’ve over indulged at the Davy’s Wine Bar next door.

Here’s another version in Aldermanbury Square (EC2V 7HR), just across the road from Allen David’s fountain …

The traffic-free square was re-designed in 2006. Natural stone was used and over 20 trees planted with soft landscaping, new seating and a new water feature on the south side with 24 jets set flush with the paving.

The Salters’ Hall Garden (EC2Y 5DE) has been recently refurbished and looks wonderful …

Inside a new water fountain commemorates a past master …

The full inscription reads …

In Memory of Jock Russell, Master Salter 2001-2002. Sal Sapit Omnia (Salt seasons everything).

Looking for some water whooshing? Head off to the gardens alongside St Paul’s Cathedral where the formal layout consists of a sunken lawn with a wall fountain. The water pours from lion’s heads …

The fountain and garden were a gift from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

And finally to the Barbican. In Ben Jonson Place, two small dolphins stand on their tails and twist in opposite directions …

The sculpture is by John Ravera and dates from 1990.

This is more of a waterfall than a fountain …

View from the Andrewes highwalk

And from behind …

The fountains alongside the terrace are currently under repair so this is a picture I took last year …

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By the way, the Lord Mayor’s Show is on 9th November and his coach is currently out on display in Guildhall Yard …

Water ‘crashing, whooshing, gurgling or gently lapping’

I’d like to quote from the City Corporation’s little booklet on Fountains – it’s rather poetic in places.

‘Fountains are an important sensory diversion in the urban scene of the City. Whether a municipal drinking fountain or a monumental water feature, they provide a rich diversity of sculptural form, movement and sound. The movement provided by the water of a fountain is probably its most fascinating element. Still water seems lifeless, but when given motion, either by spurting, spraying, spouting, undulating or tumbling, it becomes full of life and vitality. Of itself colourless, water can direct and refract light rays, and when it is in the form of a fine mist, it can disperse all the colours of the spectrum. The sound of a fountain is also one of its most essential and most overlooked attractions. Whether the water is crashing, whooshing, gurgling or gently lapping, sound is an integral part of a fountain’s aesthetic appeal. This can improve significantly the quality of a space, not only by adding the sound of water, but also by blocking out the less attractive sounds of the City’.

So I was inspired to search out some nice examples and I shall start with this absolute beauty in the quadrangle at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (EC1A 7BE). Created in 1859, it shows naked boys holding aloft a shell with dolphin-esque waterspouts …

It was the idea of Philip C Hardwick, the Hospital Surveyor.

You can read the full story about its construction and the part it played in Bart’s history here on the Bart’s Heritage website.

Originally the water was projected much higher in order to be seen above the shrubs that had then recently been planted …

Picture credit: The Wellcome Collection.

Just across the road is the West Smithfield Garden (EC1A 9BD). Waste ground for a time, the site was finally laid out as public gardens by the Corporation of London and opened to the public in 1872 …

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A drinking fountain with a bronze figure representing ‘Peace’ was erected in 1873 a few years after the armistice between France and Prussia was signed in 1871 …

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The sculptor was John Birnie Philip (1824-1875).

You can see Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey in the background.

Before you leave the Bart’s area do visit the interesting little Hospital museum just inside the entrance to the quadrangle.

The St John Zachary or Goldsmith’s Garden in Gresham Street EC2V 7HN) is a haven of peace in the bustling City. Walk under the stunning golden leopard’s head symbol of the Goldsmith’s Company …

Down the steps in the sunken garden you will find this pretty little fountain …

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You can read more about the garden and an interesting nearby sculpture called The Three Printers in my City Gardens blog.

Postman’s Park’s fountain is rather modest (EC1A 7BT) …

And finally, on the north side of Blackfriars Bridge is one of my favourites, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored (but sadly no longer pouring water) …

Sculptor Wills Bros.

The pretty lady represents ‘Temperance’ and she originally stood outside the Royal Exchange. The fountain was inaugurated by Samuel Gurney, MP, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association, on 27 July 1861 and you can read more about him, and the Association, in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains.

This week’s fountains have been very traditional.

Next week I will look at more modern versions, including those that tend to pop up out of the ground …

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Swinging angels, an alligator and public sculpture around St Paul’s

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Crossing the road outside St Paul’s Underground station I came across the surprising sight of 40 golden angels resting on swings above my head …

Entitled Lunch Break they are an installation by architects KHBT in collaboration with artist Ottmar Hörl. Intended to create a strong conceptual and visual link to the Cathedral it is, the note nearby tells us, also an emotional and imaginative work that is aiming to make people think and smile. ‘After all, in this particular time, guardian angels deserve some rest’ …

Outside the west front of the Cathedral is the statue commemorating Queen Anne, a Victorian replica of an earlier work that had become weathered and vandalised. The queen is surrounded by four allegorical figures and this one represents America …

She wears a feathered head-dress and skirt whilst her left hand grasps a metal bow. Her right hand may once have held an arrow.

What fascinated me, however, is the creature by her feet which resembles a rather angry Kermit the frog (alongside the severed head of a European) …

In 1712, this is what the original sculptor Francis Bird imagined an alligator would look like. A contemporary description of the statue states …

There is an allegator creeping from beneath her feet; being an animal very common in some parts of America which lives on land and in the water.

In the Diamond Jubilee Gardens close by is this work, The Young Lovers, by Georg Ehrlich (1897-1966). The Cathedral gives it a dramatic backdrop …

Ehrlich was a Austrian sculptor who was born and studied in Vienna. During the First World War he served in the Austrian Army and in 1930 he married the artist Bettina Bauer. After the rise of the Nazis, Ehrlich decided that it was too dangerous for them to be in Austria since they were both Jewish and they moved to London. He became a British citizen in 1947 and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1962.

Since the weather was so nice, I took the opportunity to capture this profile of the one-time Dean of St Paul’s John Donne …

John Donne 1572 – 1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012)

I have written about Donne before and you can access the blog here.

His bust points almost due west but shows him turning to the east towards his birthplace on Bread Street. The directions of the compass were important to Donne in his metaphysical work: east is the Rising Sun, the Holy Land and Christ, while west is the place of decline and death. Underneath the bust are inscribed words from his poem Good Friday – Riding Westward :

Hence is’t that I am carried towards the west, This day when my soul’s form bends to the east

The most familiar quotation from Donne comes from his Meditation XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I really like this work by Paul Mount (1922-2009), also to be found in the gardens …

Amicale (2007)

Mount was one of the last British artists whose careers were interrupted by the Second World War. A lifelong pacifist, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in North Africa and then France, where he stayed on after the end of the war to do relief work. Once free to work again, artists like him never really lost their sense of a world to be made anew through art. For Mount, sculpture expressed an essential human dignity. He observed …

The way that two shapes relate is as important as the way two people relate.

There is a nice obituary notice about him and his fascinating life in The Guardian which you can access here.

And finally, every time I walk past St Paul’s I am struck by the beauty of the stone carving, take this example …

Or this abundance of cherubs …

And this meticulous carving around the Dean’s Door …

Christopher Wren paid the sculptor, William Kempster, an additional £20 for the excellence of his work.

As memories of wartime fade, these shrapnel marks from a nearby bomb blast serve to remind us of how close the Cathedral came to destruction …

A number of other City buildings bear scars from World War bombing and you can read about them here.

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More fab fountains – one’s a cracker!

Why has this 19th century drinking fountain got a carving on it that looks a bit like a Christmas cracker?

It’s located on the south west side of Finsbury Square and forms part of an elaborate memorial …

The inscription reads …

Erected and presented to the Parish of St Luke by Thomas and Walter Smith (Tom Smith and Co) to commemorate the life of their mother, Martha Smith, 1826 – 1898.

Martha was the widow of Tom Smith and here I would like to relate a little history courtesy of the excellent London Remembers website. In 1847, twenty five year old Tom, an ornamental confectionery retailer in Goswell Road, brought the French idea of a bon-bon wrapped in a twist of paper over to Britain. In 1861, probably inspired by fireworks, he introduced a new product line, ‘le cosaque’, or the ‘Bang of Expectation’, or crackers as we now know them. This successful product, originally used to celebrate any event you care to name, enabled the business to move to larger premises on Finsbury Square, where they stayed until 1953.

Smith and his sons knew a thing or two about advertising and were not modest about their wonderful products. Here’s a typical 19th century example …

I love the instructions to ‘Refuse worthless imitations’ and ‘Make Merriment everywhere’.

There is an example of a Tom Smith’s Cracker and box on display in the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. This picture was taken by The Londonist who has written a very comprehensive blog about the memorial which you can find here

Victorian Christmas crackers were filled with all sorts of trinkets and surprises – first they contained rhymed mottoes or verses, then some sort of fancy-paper hat, bonnet, mob-cap or masks. Considerable artistic talent was introduced in the adornment of these novelties.

And here is an image from the Tom Smith archive where you can also find the 2019 catalogue and order your Christmas supplies!

The company is now owned by Napier Industries and still holds a Royal Warrant.

Here’s the founder himself. He was born 1823 and died, quite young, in 1869 …

We can thank the company for going on to develop cracker contents like the novelty gift and corny joke. You also have to blame one of Tom’s sons for the paper hat we are obliged to wear, often with excruciating British embarrassment, at work Christmas parties.

Crackers never took off in America and it has been claimed that the British liked them because ‘it taught their children how to deal with disappointment at an early age’.

And now for something rather odd. The water fountain was funded by the sons but the daughters went their own way. A few yards away is this horse and cattle trough …

It bears the following inscription (now very faded) …

In remembrance Martha Smith 1898. Erected by her daughters P. L. and L. D.

The sons erect the splendid water fountain and the daughters erect the utilitarian water trough. Does this tell us something about their personalities or about Victorian gender differences?

Researching the origin of the Christmas cracker has been a genuine pleasure and if you want to know more there is a book about the ‘King of Crackers’ – I might just order a copy. You can find a review here.

Next up is the St Lawrence and Mary Magdalene fountain located on Carter Lane opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Created as a joint enterprise between the two parishes that give it its name, the fountain was originally installed in 1866 outside the Church of St Lawrence Jewry …

An engraving from ‘The Builder’ publication 1866.

The location next to St Lawrence Jewry …

A man quenching his thirst in 1911.

It was dismantled in 1970 and put into a city vault for fifteen years, then stored in a barn at a farm in Epping. The pieces were sent to a foundry in Chichester for reassembly in 2009 and it was was moved to the current location the following year …

The work was designed by the architect John Robinson (1829-1912) and sculpted by Joseph Durham (1814-1877), both very famous men in their time.

The fountain takes the form of a niche with carved hood resting on granite columns. Set into the niche is a bronze bas-relief of Moses striking the rock at Horeb (Exodus. XVII. IV-VI) …

Water runs down the face of the bronze from where Moses’ staff strikes. To the left of Moses is the figure of a woman holding a cup of water to her child’s mouth.

Above the fountain is a carved stone statue of St Lawrence holding a gridiron (on which he was martyred) …

In the south-facing niche is a statue of St Mary Magdalene holding a cross, and with a skull at her feet …

The other two niches are empty but are believed to have originally held the names of past benefactors of the churches carved into white marble slabs. Below, a new brass tap has now been fitted which dispenses water when pressed.

I wrote about the City’s water fountains and their fascinating history a few years ago and you can read the blog again here.

City Alleys in Black and White

I try to take all the blog pictures myself and have been exploring the idea of using monochrome where it might produce a better, more atmospheric image. With this in mind, for this week’s blog I have revisited the pictures I took of City alleys some time ago. The commentary may be familiar to you from the earlier writings but I hope the stories are worth revisiting.

The entrance to Ball Court looks decidedly sinister …

There are two alleys off Bishopsgate that are quite easy to miss but reward investigation. The first I explored was Swedeland Court (EC2M 4NR). I can’t find out why it’s called that (or why it’s a ‘court’ and not an ‘alley’). At the end is the interesting Boisdale Restaurant. It’s worth walking to the end and looking back towards the street as there are some charming old lamps and it’s very atmospheric …

Nearby is the rather uninviting looking Catherine Wheel Alley which will eventually lead you to Middlesex Street …

Looking out towards Bishopsgate …

The Catherine Wheel pub stood here for 300 years until it burned down in 1895. It’s said that the name was changed at one point to the Cat and Wheel in order to placate the Puritans who objected to its association with the 9th century saint. It’s also claimed that the highwayman Dick Turpin drank here, but if he drank in every pub that has since claimed a connection he would never have been sober enough to ride a horse.

When I worked near here in the 1970s it was always a pleasure to walk through this covered passage since the enclosed area was redolent with the aroma of spices, once stored here in the heyday of London Docks. It had the nickname ‘Spice Alley’ …

The pathway from Fenchurch Street (just beside the East India Arms EC3M 4BR) leads to Crutched Friars and by the time of Rocque’s map of 1746 it had acquired the name French Ordinary Court. The Court was named for the fact that, in the 17th century, Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence at number 42 next door, to sell coffee and pastries there. They also served fixed price meals and in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’ …

John Rocque’s map of 1746

The lane itself dates from the 15th century and perhaps even earlier. It was further enclosed in the 19th century as Fenchurch Street railway station was constructed above, transforming it into a cavernous passage.

The old French Ambassador’s house …

Star Alley (EC3M 4AJ) links Mark Lane with Fenchurch Street and you can also find it on Rocque’s map …

The wooden facade of the restaurant makes it look much older than 1955.

This is the entrance to Bengal Court …

Squeeeeze through and you could be back in the 17th century …

It was common at the turn of the 20th century for offices to have mirrors installed and hung outside to reflect light. I have come across this picture which is captioned Bengal Court 1910

Copyright Collage – The London Picture Library Record 36020

Wine Office Court off Fleet Street is home to the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, Ye Olde being an accurate description in this case since the pub dates from 1667. It also lives up to expectations inside, being spread over four floors with numerous nooks and crannies …

Looking north towards Fleet Street

For a slightly threatening atmosphere it is hard to beat Clifford’s Inn Passage …

On the right you can see a ‘deflector’ designed to discourage men using the alley as a toilet since it would all splash back on their boots.

Steelyard Passage runs under Cannon Street Station and rather spookily there is a sound installation of the noise made in a steelworking environment …

Apparently the lights on the floor show roughly where the River Thames lapped before it was embanked.

And finally, if you decide to do some exploration yourself, do bear in mind that you might arouse suspicion …

My Barbican Architecture Tour Part 2

In last week’s blog I talked about cruise liners and curves. This week it’s castles, crenellations and concrete (I am familiar with the rule ‘always avoid annoying alliteration’ but I just couldn’t help myself).

‘Barbican’ used to be the name of a street in a bustling commercial area in the ward of Cripplegate. By the end of the 19th century it was the centre of the rag trade and was home to fabric and leather merchants, furriers, glovers and a host of other tradesmen. You can see it on the so-called Agas map of 1633 …

On the 29th December, 1940, at the height of the Second World War, an air raid by the Luftwaffe razed virtually the entire surrounding area to the ground.

The word (from Old French: barbacane) means a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes. And it’s easy to spot the architects’ references to that function as you walk around the 35 acre estate.

What about this entrance to the art gallery …

Those steps look formidable, and those crenellations (aka battlements) look like they are there to house a castle’s defenders.

Inside the walls are thick and the gates ready to be clanged shut against intruders …

More battlements look down on the Sculpture Court …

Where you can also spot some slits for archers to use …

Along the highwalk the archers’ reference is even more obvious …

It can also be seen on the extraordinary pyramid-topped entrance on Aldersgate, and even the bridge looks like a defensive structure (I’m thinking World War 2 pill boxes) …

Interesting shadows form at certain times of day …

The architecture responds very well to being photographed in monochrome, for example these crenellations at the top of the towers …

And this vertiginous view …

There are three flats per floor arranged within a triangular plan. Entrances, circulation spaces, lifts and escape stairs are in the centre of the tower.

These classical looking columns appear to support the structure …

The Barbican is the best surviving example of the post-war plan to separate pedestrians and traffic using raised pavements, rather clumsily called ‘pedways’. The plan failed due to a combination of the need to protect listed buildings, lack of coordination and the public’s reluctance to climb away from street level and embrace a new elevated world.

You can observe this part of the highwalk stopping in mid-air, its further progress into the City impeded by the wall of the Museum of London …

The often-derided yellow line was painted to help visitors navigate their way to the Centre …

Gilbert Bridge

It reminds me of a drawbridge over a moat since I saw it from the east end of the estate …

There was a plan at one time to run a road through the development roughly where Gilbert Bridge is now in order to preserve the north-south access lost in the bombing. Needless to say the architects objected and their argument prevailed.

The architecture here is often described as Brutalist, the term being derived from the French béton brut, meaning raw or unfinished concrete. Although the concrete at the Estate was left exposed, it was not unfinished, having been pick-hammered to give it a rough, rusticated appearance implying a sense of monumentality. You can see examples of raw and pick-hammered concrete side by side at the entrance to the Conservatory …

Getting the desired effect was incredibly labour intensive. After the concrete had dried for at least 21 days, workers used handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate …

We were told that the hammering needed for the entire Estate, including the towers, was carried out by a team of only six men.

Our tour guide not only imparted information about the architecture but also lots about the history of the Estate and the surrounding area. Highly recommended! It’s free and you can book on the website.

Cruise liners and curves – my Barbican architecture tour Part 1

Last week I finally went on a Barbican architecture tour and boy was it fascinating, and as an added bonus has given me enough material for two blogs. If you live or work near the estate, or attend performances here, do please have a look and hopefully you will find it interesting enough to make you want to come and explore. The architects were Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and the Barbican was their Utopian vision and masterpiece.

Standing on the terrace by the lake, our attention was drawn to the fact that Defoe House bore a distinct resemblance to a cruise liner bearing down on us …

A comparison that became even more apparent as we viewed the building from the north side …

Do you see what I mean?

In another maritime allusion, the elegantly curved tips of the cantilevered balconies resemble the hull of a ship …

And don’t these ventilation shafts look like classic ocean liner funnels …

The layout of the apartments was designed to maximize the amount of natural light in the rooms that would most benefit from it. Bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms are therefore positioned along external walls, while kitchens and bathrooms are placed against inner walls.

In 1963 this ran into a technical problem. The London County Council had recently passed bye-laws requiring all kitchens to have windows or equivalent ventilation. Many of the Barbican kitchens did not have ventilation so a deal was struck. Approval was gained when what had previously been called ‘kitchens’ were instead renamed as ‘cooking areas’ and designated part of the living room. You can read the full fascinating story here in Barbican Living.

There is another maritime connection. To make the kitchens as efficient and space-saving as possible, the architects took their cue from the compact design of boats and brought in Brooke Marine, a firm of yacht designers. A full-size mock-up of a kitchen was erected by the Gas Council, Watson House Research Centre, and was tested by going through the motions of preparing several different kinds of meals.

Very good quality hardwood was used for the windows and their surrounds and the wood was painted with clear varnish. The overall effect from a distance is to give a warm honey colour to the buildings …

This fragment of the Roman and Medieval wall survived the Blitz …

Note the barrel vault roofs of the top floor flats, a feature widely employed in Roman architecture …

I noticed these curving stairs complementing one another …

Part of the site was occupied by railway yards before the wartime destruction. The architects have acknowledged this by inverting the curved brick arches that were once a feature of the area and using them to frame the windows …

The architects loved Venice and cited the canals, bridges and pavements of that city as the model for the pedestrian systems of the Barbican, describing it as ‘the best example of a city where foot and service traffic is completely segregated. This segregation,’ they continued, ‘has worked admirably for many centuries and there is no good reason why the principle should not be applied equally effectively in the City of London’.

There is lots of water, interesting reflections and great views, like this one from Gilbert Bridge as you approach the Centre entrance. Note the pretty circular ‘igloos’ covered in their Summer plumage …

And the wooden shutters on Frobisher Crescent look like they belong in more sunny climes …

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s original plans featured five tower blocks of twenty stories. These designs were rejected by the planning authority, primarily on the grounds that the scheme had insufficient outdoor space. In response, the architects reduced the number of tower blocks to three in order to minimize the buildings’ footprints. At the same time, they more than doubled their height to maintain housing density, making them for many years the tallest residential towers in Europe.

All three tower blocks and the majority of the terrace blocks stand above the podium on piloti, enabling pedestrians to navigate the estate unimpeded by buildings …

Occasionally you can also catch some interesting reflections …

The architects admired, and I believe corresponded with, the Brutalist architect Ernő Goldfinger and liked his idea of separating lifts and services from the main body of buildings. Our guide pointed out this example on the Estate …

Sometimes I think taking images in monochrome works best.

By way of comparison, here is one of Goldfinger’s most celebrated buildings …

Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in Kensal Town west London – picture copyright ArchDaily

In 1964 the City of London Corporation presented the architects with a revised brief which demanded an expanded theatre and concert hall. The outcome of this was the Barbican Centre, a building which had to be shoehorned into the master plan after construction had already begun.

The theatre, to be used by the Royal Shakespeare Company, required a fly tower to accommodate scenery. The clever solution to disguising this feature above ground was the creation of the second largest conservatory in London after Kew …

Housing over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees it a great place to visit. Opening times are limited, however, and it is sometimes closed for private events, so it’s best to check the website first to make sure you can get in.

And finally, they might not be exotic, bit I did like the look of these tomatoes that are being cultivated by a resident …

If you want to read more about the architectural history of the Barbican here is a link to an article that I found extremely useful and quoted often in this blog. It’s called AD Classics: The Barbican Estate / Chamberlin, Powell and Bon Architects.

I will be writing more about what I learnt on my tour in next week’s blog, but in the meantime you can find lots more pictures here when I wrote about the Estate and toured the Conservatory in July last year.

If you want to go on a tour (it’s free) here is the link to the website.

A visit to Aldgate East underground station

I know I shouldn’t encourage graffiti but, as I walked to the Station from Aldgate, I became intrigued by these carrots. The one in the middle looks really frightened – have one of the two on either side of it eaten his green topping? They certainly have scary teeth …

I think the space they look down on was the original site of Aldgate East tube station before it moved to its current location nestling under the Passmore Edwards Library

Next door is the Whitechapel Gallery with its pretty Tree of Life frieze by Rachel Whiteread which I wrote about in an earlier blog

Whiteread’s golden leaves.

I am visiting the station to see some fascinating tiles that date from the 1930s. You will see from the pictures that most carry the letter ‘S’. This stands for the artist and craftsman Harold Stabler, who was commissioned by the London Passenger Transport Board in 1936 to design 18 ceramic tiles to decorate new and refurbished underground stations. The first of the tiles were installed at Aldgate East when it was rebuilt in 1938 – this one represents the rearing horse from the coat of arms of the county of Kent …

They are not always easy to spot.

This is a great representation of London Underground’s headquarters at 55 Broadway …

Here is the building itself …

These birds are flying over water, representing the River Thames …

In this representation of the Palace of Westminster, there is a crown, a coronet and a bowler hat representing the Monarch, the Lords and the Commons …

This is from the coat of arms of the County of London …

The winged Griffin was the original symbol of London Transport. I can’t see an ‘S’ so possibly a later reproduction …

St Paul’s Cathedral (I can’t find the ‘S’ on this one either) …

Probably made specifically for St Paul’s Station.

This tile illustrates the coat of arms for the County of Middlesex …

The Crystal Palace …

And here the classic Underground roundel …

There is a more complete selection on the Bethnal Green Underground Station platforms which you can read about here.

Finally, I had to smile sadly when I noticed this optimistic piece of signage when I disembarked the train at Moorgate …

Two of the best free views of the City

I was thrilled when I finally got around to visiting The Garden at 120 on the roof of 120 Fenchurch Street (EC3M 5BA). The entrance is in Fen Court and before you even get to the lift you can look up and see the digital art installation by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier on the ceiling. There is also a haunting soundscape as well. It’s a fabulous piece of work (entitled The Call of Things) and you can read more about it here.

The ceiling at the entrance to Fen Court

You don’t have to book a time to visit, just turn up. Visiting times are set out on their website. After airport style bag checks a lift whisks you to the 15th floor where you have a 360 degree view. Here are a few of the images I took on a nice sunny day last week.

You can see the Gherkin in all its glory. A treat now that it is becoming more and more hemmed in by, frankly not very attractive, new buildings …

The Scalpel can be observed just alongside it …

The Walkie Talkie dominates part of the view …

In the distance, Canary Wharf …

and Tower Bridge …

The Shard is framed by the Witch’s Hat (the London Underwriting Centre) and the Walkie Talkie …

Down below a massive development takes place behind some preserved facades …

The roof is, of course, a garden as well as an observation point and the plants will eventually grow to form a pergola …

Many congratulations to insurer Generali and their architects Eric Parry for this stunning development and for making it so accessible.

Let’s not forget, however, the other great free view that can be enjoyed on the roof at One New Change (EC4M 9AF). Interesting views of St Paul’s start in the lift …

And continue on the roof …

The panorama includes the new apartments at Blackfriars, the Oxo Tower, the London Eye, the Unilever Building and the spire of St Augustine with St Faith (now part of St Paul’s Cathedral School) …

Both roofs are usually nowhere near as busy as you might expect.

Pebbles the cat … and other Underground surprises

High up on a tiled pillar in Barbican Underground Station is this poignant memorial …

For many years Pebbles was a favourite of staff and passengers, often sleeping soundly on top of the exit barriers despite the rush hour pandemonium going on around him. Here is a picture from the wonderfully named Purr’n’Fur website, a great source for moggie-related stories …

Clearly he was greatly missed when he died, as the plaque faithfully records, on 26th May 1997. This was doubly sad because he was due to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award. This was sponsored by Spillers Pet Foods and named after Arthur, a cat they used in their advertising who, I seem to remember, ate with his paws. The Certificate that came with the award is also displayed (the co-winner, the aptly named Barbie, was Pebbles’ companion) …

Pebbles’ posthumous award.

As I walked down the stairs to see the plaque I noticed that everything looks sadly tatty. However, just imagine these tiles when they were newly fitted before the War, with their geometric patterns leading you down to the Ticket Office …

And how wonderful, the Office window is still there, although instead of a helpful Ticket Clerk there is a poster. I reckon those lovely brass fittings and the counter date from the early 1930s. The pattern on the tiles continues down here as well – such thoughtful design …

The station, originally called Aldersgate Street, was opened on 23 December 1865 and had a large glazed roof which allowed light down to the platform. Here it is in 1936 …

The roof was removed in 1955 but you can still see the supporting brackets …

John Betjeman wrote about the roof’s dismantling, calling the work Monody on the death of Aldersgate Street Station

Snow falls in the buffet of Aldersgate station,
Soot hangs in the tunnel in clouds of steam.
City of London! before the next desecration
Let your steepled forest of churches be my theme.

Barbican station holds the unenviable distinction as the scene of the tube network’s first ever passenger disaster. On 16 December 1866 three passengers were killed and a guard was seriously injured when a girder collapsed onto a passenger train in the station. The newspapers reported that service on the line was running again only 30 minutes after the accident.

Look out for the old parish boundary marker dated 1868 on the eastbound platform …

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I have written in more detail about boundary markers in an earlier blog which you can find here. If you want to read more about the railways in the area, there is a great blog on the subject called Reconnections with useful maps and interesting pictures.

Onward now to the refurbished Farringdon Station. On climbing the stairs from the platform you can admire the original 19th century roof supports …

Just before exiting through the barriers I spotted some nice old stained glass windows. I had never noticed them before, it just shows what you can come across if you have time to dawdle …

I had as my guide a book by the brilliant Underground historian Antony Badsey-Ellis – Underground Heritage. He tells us that many Metropolitan Railway stations were modernised between 1914 and 1931 and the house style employed at what is now Farringdon Station was by Charles W Clarke …

The only decoration on the friezes was the diamond motif used by the railway …

It’s been reproduced as a heritage sign at Moorgate ..

And here it is again at Aldgate …

In the lobby is a beautifully maintained memorial to the seven people killed at Aldgate in the terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005 …

There is also a plaque commemorating the Queen’s visit in 2010 …

The tiles at Aldgate are very pretty and often include the Metropolitan Railway diamond …

And it’s nice to see some original platform signage from the 1930s (with original roof supports in the background) …

And finally, a ghost station …

You can still see the old entrance to Mark Lane tube station next to the All Bar One, just as Byward Street becomes Tower Hill. It closed on 4 February 1967 and was replaced by the nearby Tower Hill station. The entrance (through the arch on the left of the steps) now leads to a pedestrian subway …

Secret & Sacred Rivers

I’m always intrigued by Londoners’ capacity to ignore odd behaviour. For example, I spent a good ten minutes bending over this grating, some of it virtually on my knees, and no one showed the slightest curiosity …

Junction of Greville Street and Saffron Hill (EC1M 3JF)

I was, of course, trying to hear the sound of running water since, directly underneath, runs probably the most famous of London’s ‘lost’ subterranean rivers, the Fleet. Its headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath, each of which was dammed into a series of ponds in the 18th century. At the southern edge of the Heath these descend underground as sewers which join in Camden Town. The waters flow four miles from the ponds to the River Thames, just underneath Blackfriars Bridge. Incidentally, it didn’t run down Fleet Street, it merely ran past its eastern, lower end.

This map, showing the route of the Fleet and various other waterways, is on display at the excellent Secret Rivers exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands …

Because of its later reputation, I always had a view that the Fleet where it joined the Thames would be a deeply unpleasant place, so this picture rather surprised me …

This painting (by a follower of Samuel Scott) was obviously influenced by Canaletto, who was based in England until 1755. Looking north across the Thames, it shows the entrance to the Fleet circa 1750 with Bridewell Foot Bridge, the City Wharf and Dock, and Blackfriars Stairs. The Fleet was developed into a canal up to Holborn, lending this view a Venetian appearance. This grand aspect, however, did not last long as the wharves proved unprofitable and Londoners continued to dump their rubbish in the river.

Originally a green river valley, the Fleet River had been gradually transformed into the Fleet Ditch, infamous for being a source of filth, corruption and disease. Observing a flood during a storm in 1710 Jonathan Swift penned the following lines …

Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Pope made this small literary contribution in 1728 …

To where Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams, rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.

On display at the exhibition is sad little exhibit. Found during excavations of the old river bed, it’s a dog’s collar with the inscription ‘Tom at Ye Greyhound Bucklersbury’. Poor Tom.

There is a reminder in the exhibition of how muddy and dirty the City’s streets were. This pair of wooden pattens date from the 15th century and were used to protect shoes and raise the wearer above the mud. They have a leather hinge to aid walking …

London’s population grew rapidly through the seventeenth century from about 200,000 to about half a million which resulted in a significant rise in the need for coal. This was brought from the north east of the country in barges which offloaded at wharves in the tidal Fleet. Street names that survive today remind us of this …

And the thoroughfare that ended at the canal, so you couldn’t go any further …

The Fleet Valley from Clerkenwell to the Thames housed many of London’s prisons and all manner of vice was practised in the dingy, stinking claustrophobic rookeries (slums). Nor was there much privacy if you had to go to the loo. This medieval oak three-seater toilet seat was found over cesspit in a yard behind buildings that faced on to modern day Ludgate Hill …

This picture tells a story. It’s an 1841 drawing by Antony Crosby of the Fleet River at Holborn Bridge – note the wooden latrine projecting over the ditch on the left …

Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 in order to span the Fleet and provide level access from east to west – a great improvement in an era of horse-drawn traffic. You can see it reaches over a deep valley …

Looking north whilst standing on what was the bank of the old Fleet canal.

When I climbed the stairs to take a picture from above a curious City dragon popped his head up to see what I was doing …

Gradually the entire river was enclosed in Victorian sewer tunnels and it now flows into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge (just below where the banker Roberto Calvi was found hanged in 1982) …

Rivers, such as the Thames and the Walbrook, influenced where the Romans founded Londinium and the Museum of London exhibition also illustrates the fact that our connection to water goes beyond the practical, reaching into the spiritual. While most objects found in London’s rivers are lost items, rubbish or remnants of river-related activities, some cannot be explained so easily. These bear witness to the spiritual importance of rivers.

On display, for example, is this first or second century AD small representation of a river god, possible Neptune, apparently cast or placed into the Walbrook …

And this piece of a marble offering is particularly fascinating …

The inscription has been translated thus:

To the Divinities of the Emperors (and) to the god Mars Camulus. Tiberinius Celerianus, a citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix, of Londoners the first …

It is the first example from the capital to use the word Londiniensi or ‘Londoners’. The language suggests a man who hailed from northern France and probably traded or travelled regularly within that region but whose home seems to have become London.

If you want to read more about Roman London I have written three earlier blogs on the subject: The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and the Games, The Romans in London … and two Roman ladies and The Roman Wall revisited.

The Museum of London Docklands exhibition runs until 27th October this year. I highly recommend it.

A man in a silk dress and a gallant rescue

There seems to be no end to the wonderful paintings to be found at the Guildhall Art Gallery. This one is a representation of a famous Greek myth – the murder by Clytemnestra of her husband Agamemnon. Here she stands, wild-eyed in the Mediterranean sunlight, outside the room where she has committed the deed. In the background behind her we can just make out the outline of a dimly lit body …

‘Clytemnestra’ by John Collier (1882)

Agamemnon had commanded the Greek forces which besieged Troy during the Trojan Wars. Before setting sail for home, he sacrificed their youngest daughter Iphigenia to ensure a favourable wind for his fleet. To make matters worse, he returned with his lover, the prophetess Cassandra, the captured daughter of King Priam of Troy. Enraged and grieving, Clytemnestra and her son murdered them both in revenge

Collier was famous for his close attention to detail. There is light etching on the axe blade and the blood drips and runs authentically. All the little roundels we can see in the picture are different …

One has to say, however, that the more you study the figure the more it looks like a man. There is a pure physical dominance – and look at the muscular arms and large hands gripping the axe handle and holding back the curtain …

Collier brings extraordinary attention to detail in her blood-spattered garments.

It is now thought that Collier took his inspiration from an 1880 performance of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon at Balliol College, Oxford in which Clytemnestra was played by a male student, one Frank Benison.

On a much lighter note, here 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 …

At the far end of the gallery, in a space specially designed for it, you look down on the action-packed painting by John Singleton Copley: ‘Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar 1782’ …

A Spanish attack on Gibraltar was foiled when the Spanish battering ships, also known as floating batteries, were attacked by the British using shot heated up to red hot temperatures (with wry humour, sailors nicknamed them ‘hot potatoes’). I have written about this picture in more detail in an earlier blog which you can find here.

However, there was a detail I missed and really should have pointed out. Fire spread among the Spanish vessels and, as the battle turned in Britain’s favour, an officer called Roger Curtis set out with gunboats on a brave rescue mission which saved almost 350 people. Here is the gallant officer and his men carrying out the rescue, tucked away at the bottom left of the picture. The British flag billows symbolically behind them …

Undoubtedly a very chivalrous act.

A rather distinguished looking man gazes towards a painting of the Grand Opening of Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894 …

He is the architect, Horace Jones, who designed the bridge but sadly died in 1887 before it was completed.

The painting is by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), the most distinguished marine artist of his day …

My eye was immediately drawn to the lady in the light blue dress and the man who looks like her companion sitting on his collapsible chair …

They were obviously important enough to bag a riverside view along with other folk who seem to have packed a wine-accompanied picnic. I know she’s looking through binoculars but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that she was taking a picture with her smartphone.

There are more treasures on display this week including Horace Jones’s original plans (but they don’t photograph very well through glass) …

I really can’t resist views of London that incorporate the river …

The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Today Leeds born Grimshaw is considered one of the greatest painters of the Victorian era, as well as one of the best and most accomplished nightscape, and townscape, artists of all time.

And finally, I paid a quick visit to the Roman Amphitheatre in the basement and took this picture of what is believed to be the opening used to allow wild animals to enter the arena. We can see two slots into which a gate may have been raised and lowered …

If you haven’t done so yet I highly recommend the free guided tours that take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – you can find out more here on their website.

My favourite animals

Every now and then I have been featuring City animals in the blog and I am going to to pick out again some of the ones I like best.

There is the grumpy dolphin from The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

He needn’t look so worried – both he and the pub are Grade II listed

What about this splendid animal standing outside Spitalfields Market with Hawksmoor’s 1714 masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the background …

This goat would have got my vote

Wonderfully entitled I Goat, it was hand sculpted by Kenny Hunter and won the Spitalfields Sculpture Prize in 2010 (E1 6AA). The artist commented …

Goats are associated with non-conformity and being independently-minded. That is also true of London, its people and never more so than in Spitalfields.

This honey bee is, appropriately, a keystone over the entrance to Honey Lane which connects Cheapside with Trump Street (EC2V 6DB).

107 Cheapside – a busy bee buzzes up to some fruit and flowers

It is part of the old headquarters of The Sun Life Assurance Society whose Zodiac covered entrance I wrote about in my earlier blog Looking at the Stars. Although the connection to Honey Lane is obvious, it’s possible the insurance company also liked the reputation bees have for industriousness and providing for the future. The name of the lane comes from the bee-keepers who used to live there and it also once led to All Hallows Honey Lane, a medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire.

This little Scottish terrier is called Chippy. He rests now in All Hallows by the Tower at the feet of his master the Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton CH MC who became vicar of the Church in 1922 and remained there until 1963. He is best known for his work initially as an army chaplain during the First World War and in particular the establishment of Talbot House, a unique place of rest and sanctuary for British troops. After the war the spirit and intent of Talbot House became expressed through the Toc H movement.

All Clayton’s Scottish Terriers were called Chippy

A wise owl gazes at the commuters as they trek over London Bridge from his perch on the House of Fraser store opposite the north entrance to the bridge.

The building used to be the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company

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 (he would no doubt be chuffed).

This magnificent leaping fox appears on the exquisite Grade II listed Art Deco shopfront of the Fox company, who manufactured and repaired umbrellas. Mr Fox opened his first shop in the City in 1868 but this shop dates from 1935. You can still purchase a classy Fox umbrella if you go to their website, but the shop is now a wine bar.

Fox and Company Limited, ‘Recovers’ and ‘Repairs’, 118 London Wall, EC2Y 5JA

Once surrounded by the throbbing printing presses of Fleet Street newspapers, Gough Square is today a quiet haven off the noisy main road. Now known as Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square was built by one Richard Gough, a City wool merchant, at the end of the seventeenth century. It is the only survivor from a larger development and Dr Johnson lived here from 1748 to 1759 whilst compiling his famous dictionary …

Nearby, Johnson’s most famous cat, Hodge, is remembered by this attractive bronze by John Bickley which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, no less, in 1997. Hodge sits atop a copy of the dictionary and alongside a pair of empty oyster shells. Oysters were very affordable then and Johnson would buy them for Hodge himself. James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, explained why:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature

People occasionally put coins in the shell for luck and every now and then Hodge is given a smart bow tie of pink lawyers’ ribbon.

‘A very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’, said Johnson

And finally, from a famous cat to mysterious mice. Nibbling a piece of cheese, they add charm to a building in Philpot Lane off Eastcheap and have been described as London’s smallest sculpture. Even though they have been repainted they are still a bit hard to find – so I am not saying precisely where they are, and hopefully you will enjoy looking for them. One theory is that the builders in 1862 were pestered by mice who persistently ransacked their lunch packs, so they left this little informal tribute. Another is that they commemorate a man who died during the construction of the nearby Monument to the Great Fire. Mice had eaten his lunch, but he accused a fellow worker by mistake, and fell to his death in the fight that followed. As to the true story behind the little rodents, your guess is as good as mine.

The Philpot Lane mice

Broadgate sculptures (Part 2)

I have visited Broadgate and its sculptures in an earlier blog and I went back again last weekend to photograph some more.

First up is Rush Hour, a patinated bronze by George Segal (1982) situated in the Broadgate Circle (EC2M 2QS) …

We’ve all been there, haven’t we, heads down, not exactly rushing to get to the office. Or maybe just starting the long slog home on a rainy day (knowing there are train cancellations on our line).

Segal was renowned for casting his figures directly from life – usually friends and family – using plaster bandages to create human scale moulds from which his bronze sculptures could be cast. As a result, all the figures have their eyes closed …

This is Cascade in Exchange Square (EC2A 2EH). It was created by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (whose Chicago office designed much of Broadgate) and Stephen Cox RA (1991) …

‘Energising and restorative, this water cascade creates a natural oasis within Exchange Square. Calmed within the basin, the water develops circles of stillness around the enduring Indian granite stones, placed at measured intervals as if to signify the passage of time. The perfect place to pause and reflect on the day’s events’. Or maybe a place to chill out after a really horrific commute.

On Finsbury Avenue (EC2M 2PA) you will find Bellerophon Taming Pegasus by Jacques Lipchitz (1966) …

A half-size cast of Lipchitz’s final sculpture (which resides in Columbia University, New York), this is a representation of the epic moment in which Greek hero Bellerophon tames the winged horse Pegasus. This tangle seems to balance rather precariously on its pedestal with hooves, wings and tail radiating in all directions. For Lipchitz, this work demonstrated the ultimate dominance of man over nature, stating ‘You observe nature, make conclusions, and from these you make rules’.

On Broadgate Plaza (EC2M 3AB), Ganapathi and Devi (1988) is another work by Stephen Cox. Apart-yet-together, Ganapathi and Devi alludes to sculptural torsos and ancient themes; Devi refers to the female Hindu goddess, while Ganapathi is the Tamil name for Ganesha, the popular elephant god. Fusing power and sensuality, the stones combine historical and contempoary references, from the quarry to the executed forms …

The stone was sourced from the quarries of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India …

Peering through the entrance to 155 Bishopsgate I spotted this spectacular piece of art (EC2M 3YD) …

It’s The Mechanics Institute II (1991) by William Tillyer. The notes say: ‘A carefully balanced composition of architecture, cloud, sky and foliage, Tillyer represents the notion of man’s presence via geometric patterns while the contrasting colours suggest the force of natural elements (flashes of warm sun, rushes of air currents, dappled blue light and gentle sea tides)’. The foyer is marketed to movie makers looking for locations as ‘a New York style atrium space’ and it certainly looks the part.

I wandered away from Broadgate, a hundred yards or so north up Bishopsgate, and came across Principal Place (EC2A 2BA) along with this interesting work entitled In Anticipation by James Burke (2018). Do have a look at the website.

Meanwhile, back in Broadgate, Venus still gazes skywards …

Read more about her and other sculptures here.

Secrets of Old Street – who remembers the Dansette record player?

Old Street really is old – recorded as Ealdestrate in about 1200, and leOldestrete in 1373. I started my walk heading west from Old Street Roundabout (or Silicon Roundabout as it was nicknamed some years ago, due to the nearby cluster of hi-tech businesses).

The Underground Station is now buried beneath the roundabout but was once much more visible …

Old Street station in 1929 (note the tramlines in the foreground). These buildings were demolished in the 1960s. Picture courtesy of the London Transport Museum.

As you leave the present day station you catch a glimpse of the spectacular Leysian Mission building – something for a future blog …

I crossed the road and started my Old Street journey on the south side of the street.

The first building of interest is on the left, what was previously St Luke’s Parochial School …

The foundation stone is now protected behind a perspex sheet (the school moved to new premises in 1972) …

A generous benefactor paid for this extension in 1887 …

‘Erected for 400 children’

Around the door there is some lovely gothic-style woodwork …

Across the road is this striking piece of street art …

‘Stop knife crime’.

It was commissioned by The Flavasum Trust to commemorate the life of a young man, Tom Easton, who died nearby in 2006 as a result of a knife attack. The painter was Ben Eine.

If you are feeling peckish, grab a tasty Turkish Kebab from my pal at number 94 …

Look up for the old Salvation Army Hostel ghost sign …

‘Hostel for working men. Cheap beds and food’.

There is a 19th century pub building on the corner with Whitecross Street. It was once the site of the Jack-a-Newberry Tavern, a notorious brothel …

A plaque on the side commemorates a former resident …

Whitecross Street Market is one of London’s oldest markets, dating back to the 17th century. By the 19th century it was known as the Squalors’ Market, due to associations with poverty and alcohol, but investment in 2008 has made it a thriving daytime street-food market.

I have written about Priss (‘the second best whore in the city’) and Whitecross Street in an earlier blog which you can find here.

On the other side of the road is the now de-consecrated St Luke’s church. It was designed by John James, though the obelisk spire, a most unusual feature for an Anglican church, the west tower and the flanking staircase wings were by Nicholas Hawksmoor

It was built between 1727-1733 to meet St Giles Without Cripplegate’s booming population.

The weathervane is actually a red-eyed dragon but for some reason locals thought it resembled a louse and nicknamed the church Lousy St Luke’s …

The church was closed in 1964 due to subsidence, but the previously derelict building has now been restored by the London Symphony Orchestra as a beautiful space for performances, rehearsals, recording and educational purposes.

William Caslon the Elder is buried in the churchyard. …

Caslon’s family grave. He died in 1766.

A typefounder, the distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. His typefaces transformed English type design and first established an English national typographic style. Here is a specimen sheet of his typefaces from 1728. In it’s own way I think it is beautiful …

Caslon’s first workshop was in Helmet Row, next to the church. It has some early 19th century terraced houses, a few of which later had their ground floors converted into shops …

There are more 19th century buildings further to the west but I think the property on the right is more recent …

There is what looks like a livery company crest on one of them but I can’t identify which company …

Number 116 used to be the Margolin Gramophone Company factory …

They manufactured the Dansette record player – a name very familiar to us baby-boomers …

You could even buy a portable one!

Dansette production ended in December 1969, following the introduction of relatively cheap and efficient Japanese and other Far Eastern imported Hi-Fi equipment. Margolin went into liquidation.

At 12 Old Street is the building that once housed The Old Rodney’s Head public house …

The building is for sale at the moment – offers in excess of £6.5 million if you’re interested – EC1V 9BE.

George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney (1718-1792) was a famous Admiral best known for his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 which ended the French threat to Jamaica. The building dates from 1876 and Rodney still gazes down on Old Street …

Sadly the Hat and Feathers across the road has not reopened after a short time operating as a restaurant …

2 Clerkenwell Road EC1M 5PQ.

British History Online tells us that the building dates from 1860 and the facade – ‘gay without being crude’ – is decorated with classical statues, urns and richly ornate capitals and consoles. There are quite a few ghost pubs in the City and you can read more about them here.

I love this old photograph of tram lines being laid at the same junction …

There are some interesting things to see just off Old Street.

There is the seven storey, eleven foot wide, award-winning narrow house at 125 Golden Lane (it does come with a lift) …

The architect was Jo Hagan of USE Architects (2004)

Further down Golden Lane, turn left into Garrett Street and admire the old Whitbread Brewery stables. I have written about them in an earlier blog which you can find here

The Gentle Author has also taken a walk down Old Street and some of the pictures here of St Luke’s church are his. He also covers the east end on the other side of the roundabout which I did not. Here is a link.

Horses and Ale – the end of two eras

Take a stroll down Garrett Street (EC1Y 0TY) and you’ll soon be walking past a building that still survives to remind us of the end of two great eras – the age of horse-drawn transport and the once-thriving brewing industry in London. These were the stables custom-built for the dray horses that pulled the Whitbread Brewery wagons. When the brewery’s stables in Chiswell Street became full, Garrett Street was built to take the overflow – 13 horses on the ground floor, 36 on the first floor and over 50 on the top. The building had to be well constructed – a shire horse can weigh up to a ton.

When the horse numbers diminished, part of the third floor was turned into a firing range for the gun club and the windows bricked up

I think these are the original gates, now painted a rather dramatic yellow …

At the rear you can see the individual stables on the ground floor …

The internal stairs reflect the gentle slope underneath that made it easy for the horses to be led to the upper floors …

The first floor stables in 1991 …

Copyright John Sparks

Some of the original features are still visible today …

In 1897, when the Garrett Street stables were built, there were over 50,000 horses transporting people around the city every day – several thousand horse buses (which needed 12 horses per day) and 11,000 Hansom cabs. In addition there were thousands of horse drawn carts and drays, like Whitbread’s, delivering goods around what was then the largest city in the world.

In this 19th century image you are looking east down Cheapside with the statue of Sir Robert Peel in the foreground (along with one of his uniformed ‘Bobbies’) …

The presence of so many horses in the already congested city had major implications for the health of the population. On average each horse would produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure every day plus several pints of urine and this attracted huge numbers of disease-carrying flies. Also, working horses only had a working life of about three years and many collapsed and died in the street. These carcasses had to be disposed of but often the bodies were left to putrefy so the corpses could be more easily sawn into pieces for removal.

Some working animals led terrible, short, brutal lives, but clearly the Whitbread horses were far better cared for. We should spare a thought, though, for the 118 of their best horses that were commissioned by the Government for service in the battlefields of the First World War – none ever returned.

First World War horses carrying ammunition

In happier times, Whitbread Shires were delivering ale well into the 20th century …

A delivery to the George Inn, Southwark

The brewing business was formed in 1742 when Samuel Whitbread formed a partnership with Godfrey and Thomas Shewell and acquired a small brewery at the junction of Old Street and Upper Whitecross Street and another brewhouse for pale and amber beers in Brick Lane. The entire operation was moved to Chiswell Street in 1750 and was spectacular enough to attract a visit from King George III and Queen Charlotte which this plaque commemorates …

The size of the premises is still impressive today, although the building is now a hotel (EC1A 4SA) …

Viewed from the west
Viewed from the east

As you walk through the arched entrance you see an impressive mahogany door on the right …

Then you enter the main yard itself with its overhanging gantries …

The old clock is still there …

And there is a weathervane incorporating the old Whitbread hind’s head logo over the 1912 extension, now dwarfed by the Barbican’s Cromwell Tower …

The yard is still cobbled …

Just visible across the road is the appropriately named Sundial Court. Also once part of the Brewery site, the sundial itself is now behind locked security gates but is still visible from the road. It is made of wood, with its motto ‘Such is Life’, dating back to 1771. Around the sides it has the interesting inscription Built 1758, burnt 1773, rebuilt 1774. I have written about it and other City sundials in an earlier blog, We are but shadows.

Adjacent to Sundial Court are the houses used by the Brewery partners …

A plaque on the wall also references the fire of 1773 …

Brewing at Chiswell Street stopped in 1976 and Whitbread stopped brewing beer altogether in 2001, selling all its operations to the Belgian group Interbrew.

A mere ten years after the stables were built, horse traffic was rapidly vanishing from the streets of London to be replaced by motorised vehicles such as this …

A preserved London General Omnibus at the London Transport Museum Covent Garden

The last horses left the Garrett Street stables on Monday 16th September 1991, heading for their new home on the Whitbread hop farm in Paddock Wood, Kent.

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of the Whitbread Shire horses and their stables there is no better place to look than the website run by John Sparks : http://whitbreadshires.moonfruit.com/#

By the way, whilst doing my research I came across an interesting example of the danger of forecasting. In 1894 The Times newspaper predicted …

In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.

I now always think of this when reading forecasts in today’s press and there was an interesting article on this very subject in the Financial Times which you can read here.

Five tiny City churchyards (and a chatty lady)

Did you realise that, just off Cannon Street, is the final resting place of Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr? She was captured in 1409 and taken with her children and mother to the Tower of London during her father’s failed fight for the freedom of Wales. A memorial to her, and the suffering of all women and children in war, was erected in the former churchyard of St Swithen where she was buried. It survives as a raised public garden and here is the pretty entrance gate on Oxford Court (EC4N 8AL) …

And this is the memorial …

Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw

With its inscription …

The garden is a cosy, secluded space with seating where you can enjoy a break from the City hustle and bustle …

The Church itself was demolished as a result of World War II bombing.

St Clement’s Eastcheap isn’t on Eastcheap, for reasons I will go into in a future blog. It’s in the appropriately named St Clement’s Lane (EC4N 7AE). As you look down the Lane from King William Street it’s tucked away on the right …

Just past the church is St Clement’s Court, the narrow alley leading to the churchyard. There is an intriguing plaque on the wall of the adjacent building …

Obradović was a Serbian writer, philosopher, dramatist, librettist, translator, linguist, traveler, polyglot and as the plaque says, the first minister of education of Serbia. Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry. He was honoured in 2007 by a special Serbian stamp …

You enter the churchyard via three steps. City churchyards are frequently higher than street level, evidence of how may bodies were crammed in until graveyards were closed to new burials in the middle of the 19th century …

The churchyard was reduced in size in the 19th century by an extension that was added to the church and all that remains now are a couple of gravestones and two chest tombs …

The inscription on one is just about legible, it reads …

In memory of Mr JOHN POYNDER late of this Parish who departed this life on 11th April 1800 aged 48 years. Also four of his children who died in their infancy.

The narrow alleyway can be traced back to 1520 and St Clement’s Lane is also an old thoroughfare. Here it is on Roques map of 1746 leading then, as it does now, to Lombard Street directly opposite the Church of St Edmund King and Martyr …

The alley was then called Church Court

Here’s another view from King William Street, you can see St Edmund’s in the distance …

The church dates from 1674 having been rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire (although the design was probably by his able assistant Robert Hooke). In 2001 it became the London Centre for Spirituality …

It was a lovely, warm sunny day and, looking at the church architecture, for a moment I had the overwhelming feeling that I was in Italy!

To find the churchyard, now a private garden, head down George Yard adjacent to the church (EC4V 9EA). It closed for burials in 1853 …

One tomb is visible from the street …

It has a fascinating inscription …

Sir HENRY TULSE was a benefactor of the Church of St Dionis Backchurch (formerly adjoining). He was also Grocer, Alderman & Lord Mayor of the City. In his memory this tombstone was restored in 1937 by THE ANCIENT SOCIETY OF COLLEGE YOUTHS during the 300th year of the Society’s foundation. He was also Master of the Society during his Mayoralty 1684.

St Dionis Backchurch was demolished in 1878 and the proceeds of the land sale used to resurrect it as a new church of the same name in Parsons Green. The Ancient Society of College Youths is the premier change ringing society in the City of London, with a national and international membership that promotes excellence in ringing around the world. Sir Henry owned significant estates in South London – you’ll be remembering him as your train trundles through Tulse Hill Station.

St Gabriel Fenchurch was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt but its churchyard remains – now called Fen Court (EC3M 6BA) it’s just off Fenchurch Street. If you are feeling stressed, or just need to take time out, you can use the labyrinth there to walk, meditate and practise mindfulness. It was the idea of The London Centre for Spiritual Direction and you can read more about it here.

The Fen Court labyrinth

Three chest tombs are evidence of it’s earlier burial ground function …

This vault was built in the year 1762 by MRS ANNE COTTESWORTH for a burying place for Herself she being born in this Parish And her nearest relations being buryed in the next Vault

Her family coat of arms is quite sheltered and has survived City pollution well

Also there is the striking Gilt of Cain monument, unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008, which commemorates the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. Fen Court is now in the Parish of St Edmund the King and St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard St, the latter having a strong historical connection with the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Rev John Newton, a slave-trader turned preacher and abolitionist, was rector of St Mary Woolnoth from 1780 to 1807 and I have written about him in an earlier blog St Mary Woolnoth – a lucky survivor.

The granite sculpture is composed of a group of columns surrounding a podium. The podium calls to mind an ecclesiastical pulpit or slave auctioneer’s stance, whilst the columns evoke stems of sugar cane and are positioned to suggest an anonymous crowd. This could be a congregation gathered to listen to a speaker or slaves waiting to be auctioned.

The artwork is the result of a collaboration between sculptor Michael Visocchi and poet Lemn Sissay. Extracts from Lemn Sissay’s poem, Gilt of Cain, are engraved into the granite. The poem skilfully weaves the coded language of the City’s stock exchange trading floor with biblical Old Testament references.

And finally here is another meditation labyrinth …

It’s in one of my favourite places, St Olave Hart Street churchyard in Seething Lane (EC3R 7NB) …

You walk in through the gateway topped with gruesome skulls, two of which are impaled on spikes …

Charles Dickens nicknamed it ‘St Ghastly Grim’

It leads to the secluded, tranquil garden …

The labyrinth is in the corner on the left

This was Samuel Pepys’s local church. He is a hero of mine and I have devoted an earlier blog to him and this church : Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church‘.

In 1655 when he was 22 he had married Elizabeth Michel shortly before her fifteenth birthday. Although he had many affairs (scrupulously recorded in his coded diary) he was left distraught by her death from typhoid fever at the age of 29 in November 1669.

Do go into the church and find the lovely marble monument Pepys commissioned in her memory. High up on the North wall, she gazes directly at Pepys’ memorial portrait bust, their eyes meeting eternally across the nave where they are both buried. When he died in 1703, despite other long-term relationships, his express wish was to be buried next to her.

Take a close look at her sculpture – I am sure it is intended to look like she is animatedly in the middle of a conversation …

As you leave the church, notice how much higher the churchyard ground level is …

It’s a reminder that it is still bloated with the bodies of plague victims, and gardeners still turn up bone fragments. Three hundred and sixty five were buried there including Mary Ramsay, who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to London. We know the number because their names were marked with a ‘p’ in the parish register.

Sorry not to end on a more cheerful note! I have written before about City churchyards and you can find the blog here.

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