Walking the City of London

Author: The City Gent Page 1 of 10

Nature therapy to cheer us up

The weather last week was truly, truly awful but I waited until the sky brightened a little to go in search of some natural colour and some signs that nature was reasserting itself beyond the gloom.

What could be a better start that these spectacular red berries …

Here they are in their context outside St Paul’s Cathedral …

Some more berries peep out in Brewers’ Hall Garden …

Nearby Karin Jonzen’s Gardener (1971) toils patiently …

Postman’s Park has splashes of colour if you look carefully …

Along with a curious goldfish …

Congratulations to the owners or tenants of 30 Gresham Street for these displays …

There are also some pretty beds alongside St Paul’s Underground Station …

It’s nice to return home where our Car Park Attendant has created this wonderful little garden …

Incidentally, on my way back from St Paul’s this plaque caught my eye. I think the wording gives us a hint of the pride of the Kingdom when imperial power was probably at its height: ‘British Dominions beyond the Seas’ …

You might also like to read The Gentle Author’s blog on Winter Flowers.

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Reasons to be optimistic

Occasionally, when I feel the dark, heavy hand of doom tapping me on the shoulder (Covid, Lockdowns, Brexit, Trump etc) I cheer myself up by looking back at times past when things looked very grim but from which we eventually recovered. One way I do this is to look at some of the images of the terrifying days of the early 1940s and compare them to the same scene today.

The following Aerofilms photo from before the war shows how St. Paul’s was surrounded by the dense city streets with buildings much closer to the cathedral than they are now. These were not only offices, but also plenty of warehouses with one of the major publishers / book distributors having their office and warehouse just north of St. Paul’s in Paternoster Square. The spires of the city churches still stood clear of their surroundings, but St. Paul’s dominated the area …

EPW055297

Christmas 1940 had been relatively quiet, however on the evening of the 29th December a large bomber force appeared over the City just after 6pm and for just over the next three hours incendiary bombs rained down on the City along with high explosive bombs. This combination caused maximum damage. High explosive bombs would rip buildings apart, exposing their contents to the impact of the incendiaries. During the peak of the raid over 300 incendiary bombs a minute were falling across the City and St. Paul’s quickly became surrounded by a sea of flame, fire crossing over the small streets and debris falling all around. These pictures show what was considered to be the almost miraculous survival of St Paul’s Cathedral …

Two things strike me about the lower photograph. Firstly how dirty the cathedral stonework had become after over 300 years of London pollution. Secondly, two of those shrapnel marks that stand out so clearly against the soot-stained cathedral are still preserved today …

You can see where other scars from the bombing have been repaired.

This aerial view shows how close the Cathedral came to destruction …

Copyright : Popperfoto – Getty Images.

The view today …

As a result of the bombing, many of the narrow alleys nearby dating from medieval times simply disappeared as did Paternoster Row (although the name still lives on) …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

This picture is entitled ‘Prince Albert raises his hat as Holborn Circus burns behind him‘ …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

And he is still there in the same jaunty pose, albeit relocated a few yards to the east. You can read more about the statue here

St Clement Danes was seriously damaged …

Copyright : Associated Press.

But eighty years later Dr Johnson carries on nonchalantly reading his book. He is no longer imprisoned behind railings and has a fully restored church behind him …

The building still bears its Second World War scars …

In the book I consulted for these photographs the good Doctor gets a further mention …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

Nothing much has changed. The photograph above is looking south from Fleet Street, this is the view today looking north …

St Mary-le-Bow was completely gutted. I was moved by this poignant picture of a service being conducted in the roofless building in 1941 …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

I am pretty sure that the window behind them that gives the unusual view of St Paul’s has now been filled with this beautiful stained glass work by John Hayward. Here the Virgin Mary cradles the church named after her as if it were a child, surrounded by church spires that survived the Blitz …

St Lawrence Jewry was also terribly damaged with only the walls and steeple remaining. This picture was taken on 30th December 1940 …

Copyright : Media Storehouse.

Now fully restored, it contains some of my favourite stained glass by Christopher Webb. In one window an angel holds the roofless, windowless church filled with rubble. In the background St Paul’s is illuminated by flames and searchlights pierce the sky as buildings burn …

In another the angel holds the restored building …

I have written previously about the lovely stained glass that can be found in the City and you can access the blog here : Dick Whittington, Hipster, City Stained Glass.

London Wall on the morning after the big December 1940 attack …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

A scene typical of what Londoners faced on returning to work after an air raid. Fire hoses snake across the rubble filled street.

In this image a War Artist records the damage in Cannon Street …

The view today, as close as I can get it without being run over …

Christ Church Greyfriars, Newgate Street, could not be saved …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

It’s now laid out as a garden …

Image courtesy of Jenikya’s Blog.

It’s impossible to consider the history of London without referencing some of the great disasters which have befallen it in the past and last year, living in Covid times, I published a piece about the terrible pestilence of 1665 : Samuel Pepys and the Plague – ‘God preserve us all.

I’m not making direct comparisons between these past disasters and the current pandemic – just reminding myself that even after terrible events a kind of normality usually returns, although life is never exactly the same as before. What seems to be unchanging, however, is people’s resilience and a spirit of helping others that I find positively uplifting.

I am indebted to the author of this book for some of the wartime photographs. It also contains a fascinating commentary …

I have also used quotations and pictures from from the excellent London Inheritance blog which you can access here.

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What do pigeons do all day? And why was one awarded the Croix de Guerre?

I was visiting Bunhill Fields burial ground last week with a view to writing about it again for a New Year blog. Whilst focusing my camera on an interesting tombstone I was photobombed by this cheeky fellow …

Although anthropomorphism is frowned upon by some, I do tend to indulge every now and then and felt the pigeon was definitely sending me a message along the lines of ‘why are you writing about boring bits of stone when you could be writing about me?’ So I took the hint and this week’s blog is the result.

Obviously I started with some serious research. Have you, for example, ever wondered what pigeons do all day? Wonder no more – here is a breakdown of their typical activity over 24 hours …

Pie chart of pigeon activity over a 24 hour period (n=12) | © www.londonpigeons.co.uk

Just how smart are they?

From my own observations it is obvious that the pigeon population has become aware of the Covid risk and birds are now practising social distancing as a matter of course …

With total isolation for the particularly vulnerable …

Sadly, however, they tend to lose all self-control when presented with food (just like some humans do when presented with alcohol and the opportunity to party) …

A kind lady has just distributed a handful of bread!

It has been difficult to establish the average pigeon’s IQ. As an expert in this field has written …

‘Pigeons have a very high brain to body mass ratio. The academic literature on pigeon intelligence is fairly non-existent. This is partly due to the difficulty in administering traditional IQ tests to pigeons: they have a notoriously short attention span and furthermore find it difficult to hold a pen’.

An MRI scan reveals a very large brain relative to body size …

Pigeon brain cross-section| © www.londonpigeons.co.uk

City of London pigeons, again according to my observations, spend a lot of time walking rather than flying and there would appear to be two reasons for this. Firstly, our fondness for eating ‘on the go’ due to our busy lifestyles which results either in accidental food distribution or occasional bursts of generosity where we share our snacks with our feathered companions. I have also witnessed acts of intimidation where rougher elements of the pigeon community hang around in an intimidating fashion in parks and outside supermarkets giving humans the ‘feed me or else’ glare …

The second reason, I believe, is the presence of a number of pairs of peregrine falcons that nest on Tate Modern and on the towers of the Barbican. A pigeon represents a tasty meal …

Photograph David Tipling/Getty Images.

Pigeons are monogamous and mate for life and their mating ritual is quite cute. A single male will nod his head at the female which takes his fancy and spread his tail feathers to communicate his interest. The birds look directly at each other, and if the hen likes what she sees, she will nod back. The male will then prune his feathers, leaving the next move to the female. If interested the hen will hold out her head and move closer to the male and fan her tail feathers.

Things get spicy when the male offers his beak and indulges in a pigeon kiss (rubbing their beaks together) …

The hen will feed the male from her beak and together they will coo. Once she demonstrates she is ready, four seconds later its all over …

After mating the first egg will be laid within 10 days, with a second arrival following a couple of days later.

When it comes to food they don’t seem to be that fussy. I have observed them eating …

  • Bread
  • Chips
  • Biscuits
  • Cooked rice
  • Crisps
  • Pizza

I think it rather sad they get called flying rats. They often seem to me to be positively fastidious, especially when there are pools of water around that they love to splash about in, like this one I spotted making sure to wash under his wings …

And lots of mutual grooming takes place too – occasionally leading to energetic bouts of hanky-panky.

A quick question for you. Who wrote the following to friends who were coming to visit him …

‘I hope Lady Lyell & yourself will remember whenever you want a little rest & have time how very glad we should be to see you here. I will show you my pigeons! Which is the greatest treat, in my opinion, which can be offered to human beings’.

It was the man whose writings brought about one of the most fundamental and controversial changes in the way we viewed the world – Charles Darwin …

Although he never wrote On the Origin of Pigeons he clearly became very fond of them after he started studying and breeding them for scientific purposes in 1856. He wrote to another friend about a trip to London ‘where I am going to bring a lot more pigeons back with me on Saturday, for it is a noble and majestic pursuit, and beats moths and butterflies, whatever you may say to the contrary’. Although his study of pigeons informed On The Origin of Species, Darwin’s real ‘pigeon book,’ The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, did not come out until 1868. Its long and beautifully illustrated section on pigeons is still readable and relevant to both naturalists and pigeon fanciers today …

Here’s one of his illustrations …

And let’s not forget pigeon bravery in two World Wars. Here’s a picture of a carrier pigeon being released from a port-hole in the side of a tank near Albert in the Somme on 9th August 1918. The Tank Corps often used carrier pigeons to relay information during an advance …

One of the bravest military birds was Cher Ami, who now poses stuffed in the Smithsonian Institution …

On 13th October 1918, despite being seriously wounded, she successfully delivered the following message which effectively saved the lives of almost 200 men …

‘We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it’.

Military vets made Cher Ami a prosthetic limb and sent her home to well earned retirement. For her part in saving the 77th Division, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest military honours for her gallantry in the field. General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said ‘There isn’t anything the United States can do too much for this bird.’

Capt John Carney, Cher Ami’s trainer, holds the feathered hero.

Pigeons continued in service during the Second World War. In the early 1940s, the American Signal Pigeon Corps consisted of 3,150 soldiers and 54,000 birds. Some 90 per cent of the messages got through. And these avian secret agents saved countless lives, too – of 54 Dickin Medals (the animals’ Victoria Cross) awarded in World War II, 32 went to pigeons.

One of its most famous recipients in World war II was a pigeon called Commando – read more about him here.

So next time you are tempted to frighten a pigeon or shoo it away remember this – they may be a distant relative of a war hero or descended from one of Charles Darwin’s feathered pals. And maybe look a bit more closely at them too – their colouring can be very attractive …

Who’s a pretty boy then?

I hope you enjoyed this little pigeon journey. For help with this blog I am indebted to the informative and occasionally hilarious London Pigeons website which provided some of the data.

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‘Living London’ 1902

Where I live there is a space outside the flats which is designated for ‘Large recyclable items’ which are collected regularly by two guys in a slightly rickety van. Earlier this year I glanced at the stuff designated for removal (clapped out chairs, leaky radiators etc) and was intrigued to see a small stack of books which I duly rescued. I would like to write about one of them.

It had clearly had a bit of a hard life …

But its title page told me it might be something special …

This was Volume 2 (of three) of Sims’s series entitled Living London.

George Robert Sims (1847-1922) began writing lively humour and satiric pieces for Fun magazine and The Referee, but he was soon concentrating on social reform, particularly the plight of the poor in London’s slums. A prolific journalist and writer he also produced a number of novels.

Here he is, looking very dapper, in around 1890 …

Sims was also a very successful dramatist, writing numerous plays, often in collaboration, several of which had long runs and international success. He also bred bulldogs, was an avid sportsman and lived richly among a large circle of literary and artistic friends. He earned a fortune from his productive endeavours but had gambled most of it away by the time of his death. Read more about his fascinating life here.

To me, the book is treasure house of descriptions of London and its people at the turn of the 20th century. It contains almost sixty contributions from a host of authors with chapter headings such as London Sweethearts, London’s Flower Girls, Underground London and London’s Dosser-Land. Even more wonderful is the fact that it contains over 500, yes, 500, illustrations to enhance the authors’ themes.

For today’s blog I have just dived in to the book, pretty much at random, and chosen a few illustrations that you might find interesting. Later in the New Year I’m going to study it in much more detail and share with you what I have discovered.

This little selection I have entitled Saturday Night

After the performance some folk will be heading straight off home but others will be seeking sustenance at the grand hotels and restaurants nearby …

In another part of London, like another planet, people are gathering for a different reason. The book tells us that, within a radius of ten miles from the Royal exchange, there were 692 pawnbrokers’ shops…

For working class Londoners a convivial evening in the pub …

… might be followed by some tasty fish and chips …

This evening meal in the servants’ quarters is rather more sedate…

Dinner at the workhouse probably didn’t vary much from day to day …

Here are a few of the features of early 20th century London and its people that I may pick up on in the New Year.

London’s homeworkers …

London romance …

London crime …

And London’s hospitals …

I like to end my blogs on a lighthearted note if possible and one of the pictures in the book raised a smile. This gentleman selling matches had worked out that a person on the upper deck of an omnibus was unlikely to come all the way downstairs to buy a box. So our creative vendor devised a way to deliver the purchase and collect payment …

As usual, in the New Year I will be walking the streets to see just what evidence still exists today to remind us of those times past, particularly here in the City.

It just remains for me to wish all my readers a very happy, safe New Year in the hope that, with the arrival of a vaccine, the worst of times may soon be behind us.

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The Shard and Tower 42 at Christmas plus some nice costumes

Both buildings are putting on their Christmas displays and I thought you might enjoy seeing the one from Tower 42 and the Shard sequence.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers – thank you so much for following the blog.

Tower 42 has gone for a Christmas tree …

I think this year’s tree is better than last year’s which looked like this …

The Shard display sequence is great again, still images don’t really do it justice …

I have a great camera but it is a bit heavy and in these final two pictures my hand wobble is evident!

If you are interested here’s a link to my last Christmas blog about the lights. London Wall Place didn’t put up any this year which is a great shame.

And finally, I liked these costumes from a production of Grease on display at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in Silk Street …

Greetings from our home to your home. Keep well and stay safe …

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The Christmas Quiz!

Hello, friends, Happy Christmas!

It’s time again for the Christmas Quiz based on my blogs from 2020. I trust you are all OK in these difficult times and send you my very best wishes for 2021. I am sure that, like me, you hope that it will bring happier times for everyone than the year gone by.

  1. This magnificent statue of the Duke of Wellington stands outside the Royal Exchange. What is it made from?

2. This beautiful clock is sited alongside the church of St Magnus the Martyr and dates from a time when the church was clearly visible from the ‘old’ London Bridge. It was the gift of a Lord Mayor, Sir Charles Duncombe. What’s the story behind his generosity?

3. This extraordinary sculpture of St Bartholomew is, appropriately, on display in the church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield. Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin the saint also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. Who was the sculptor?

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

Where must you go to see it?

5. This brave policeman sacrificed his life saving warehouse workers from a First World War bombing raid. Where can you find this memorial to him?

6. In what way is this church in Eldon Street unique? It’s called St Mary Moorfields.

7. If you visit St Sepulchre-without-Newgate you can admire this font cover with its beautiful craftmanship. Made of oak, it was created about 1690 and is typical of many such covers made for City churches after the Great Fire of 1666. Until 1940 it belonged in Christchurch Newgate Street, so how did it come to reside in St Sepulchre’s?

8. Look at this extraordinary statue at 193 Fleet Street now, sadly, somewhat weathered. Is it a man dressed as a woman or a woman dressed as a man?

9. This cross-section shows the layers of paint from a lamp standard on a famous City landmark. What landmark is it?

10. These figures, called Atlantes, support a balcony overlooking Farringdon Street. Do they date from 1814, 1914 or 2014?

11. This is known as The Dean’s Door and the carver was stonemason and architect Christopher Kempster (1627-1715), one of Wren’s favourite craftsmen. His work on the cherubs’ heads and foliage was considered so good Wren awarded him an extra £20 for ‘the extraordinary diligence and care used in the said carving and his good performance of the same’. Where is The Dean’s Door?

12. This churchyard survives from the 17th century, its banked-up top surface a reminder that it is still bloated with the bodies of victims of the Great Plague of 1665. Three hundred and sixty five were buried there including Mary Ramsay, who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to London. What is the name of the church and what famous civil servant and diarist lived nearby and frequently worshipped there?

13. At the church of St Martin within Ludgate on Ludgate Hill rests this very unusual font. The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding. The inscription on it reads Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin (which translates as ‘Cleanse my sin and not my face only’). There is something unusual about the Greek wording – can you tell what it is?

14. In St Bartholomew the Less, high up on the south wall, is the memorial to Robert Balthrope, Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I …

The inscription reads …

Here Robert Balthrope Lyes intombed,
to Elizabeth Our Queene
Who Sergeant of the Surgeons Sworne,
Neere Thirtye Yeeres Hathe Beene
He Died at Sixtye Nine of Yeeres,
Decembers Ninthe The Daye
The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice

Deductinge Nine A waye.
Let Here His Rotten Bones Repose
Till Angells Trompet Sounde
To Warne The Worlde of Present Chaunge
And Raise the Deade From Grounde.

Can you do the maths and calculate the year he died?

15. What famous cat is this and who lived for a time in the house he is staring at?

16. Here a lady, her head bowed, strains hard to control a gigantic horse (and there is a similar male figure at the other end of the building). The sculpture, called Controlled Energy, dates from 1932 and the sculptor, William Reid Dick, was asked why he included female figures in the work.

This was the sculptor’s interesting reply: ‘These days women are controlling affairs nearly, if not quite, as much as men. They begin to take control in some respects … as soon as they are out of their cradles, and the idea would have been incompletely carried out if only men had been used’.

What building was he working on?

17. What notorious prison is this? Now demolished, where it once stood is now the site of the Central Criminal Court or Old Bailey.

18. What children are represented in this sculpture outside Liverpool Street Station?

19. A friar carrying his missal stands in an alcove in an area named after an order of monks that were finally expelled in 1538 as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. What is the area called?


20. Tucked away in a corner at Liverpool Street railway station is this plaque directly underneath the main memorial to the First World War dead. Within two hours of unveiling the memorial Sir Henry Wilson was dead. What happened to him?

Answers to the Quiz:

  1. The statue is made of bronze from captured enemy cannon melted down after the Battle of Waterloo. You can read more here.
  2. The story goes that when he was a young apprentice, and rather poor, he missed an important meeting with his master on London Bridge because he had no way of telling the time. He vowed that, if ever he became rich, he would erect a clock in the vicinity and this magnificent example of the clockmakers’ art was the result. Read more here.
  3. It’s by Damien Hirst. Read more about my visit to the church here.
  4. The Museum of London.
  5. He is commemorated on the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park. Read about him and three other brave policemen here.
  6. It’s the only Catholic church in the City of London. You can read more about its history here.
  7. When Christchurch was a blazing inferno as a result of the Blitz a postman ran into the building and rescued the font cover. Read more about this and other rescued artifacts here.
  8. It’s a woman dressed as a man, 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. (Spoiler alert) She goes mad from grief and dies.
  9. It comes from a lamp standard on Holborn Viaduct. Read more about it here.
  10. 2014, when the staircase to the north east pavilion of Holborn Viaduct was rebuilt in Victorian style. Read more about the history of the viaduct and its statues here.
  11. It is situated on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral.
  12. The church is St Olave Hart Street and the famous civil servant and diarist Samuel Pepys. Read more about him and the terrible plague of 1665 here.
  13. The Greek words are a palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople. Read more about unusual church artifacts here.
  14. Here is the inscription again and the answer to the maths:

Here Robert Balthrope Lyes intombed,
to Elizabeth Our Queene
Who Sergeant of the Surgeons Sworne,
Neere Thirtye Yeeres Hathe Beene
He Died at Sixtye Nine of Yeeres,
Decembers Ninthe The Daye
The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice

Deductinge Nine A waye.
Let Here His Rotten Bones Repose
Till Angells Trompet Sounde
To Warne The Worlde of Present Chaunge
And Raise the Deade From Grounde.

He died in 1591, but the poet who devised this eulogy presumably had a problem getting 1591 to rhyme with anything. So he chose the frankly odd solution of asking the reader to do some mental arithmetic – ‘The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice’ (i.e. 800 x 2 = 1600) Deductinge Nine A waye (1600 – 9 = 1591).

15. The famous cat, Hodge, is remembered by this attractive bronze by John Bickley which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, no less, in 1997. Hodge belonged to Dr Johnson, who lived for a while in the house opposite. Hodge sits atop a copy Johnson’s famous dictionary and alongside a pair of empty oyster shells. Read more here.

16. Unilever house at Blackfriars. You can read more here.

17. It was Newgate Gaol. Read more about it here along with its connection to St Sepulchre’s church including the bell that was rung outside the cells of condemned prisoners the night before their execution.

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

19. Austin Friars (off Old Broad street), once the location of an Augustinian Friary. Read more here.

20 Wilson was assassinated outside his house in Eaton Place at about 2:20 pm. Still in full uniform, he was shot six times, two bullets in the chest proving fatal. The two perpetrators, IRA volunteers Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, shot two police officers and a chauffeur as they attempted to escape but were surrounded by a hostile crowd and arrested after a struggle. Interestingly both were former British army officers and O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, his subsequent disability hindering their escape. After a trial lasting just three hours they were convicted of murder and hanged at Wandsworth gaol on 10 August that year – justice was certainly delivered swiftly in those days. No organisation claimed responsibility for Wilson’s murder. Read more and view other interesting memorials here.

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Christmas Lights and Trees!

I love Christmas, and one of its features that I like best is the efforts made in the City to celebrate the season using lights and trees.

I must admit, I was a bit worried that this year would be a bit of a disappointment in view of the fact that significantly fewer people are travelling here for work or leisure. However, this was not the case and I have been wandering around taking in the work organisations have put in to cheer us up and this week’s blog aims to recognise their achievements.

I’ll start outside one of my favourite places, St Paul’s Cathedral …

Thousands of little lights are embedded in Christmas tree foliage attached to a cone-shaped infrastructure.

One New Change has done a great job with ceiling lights …

And a magnificent ‘tree’ …

If you’re going to advertise Covid tests you might as well make the message more cheerful by surrounding it with decorations …

Moor House on London Wall seen from the Barbican Highwalk …

The Dion Bar and Restaurant at St Paul’s has put together a nice display …

‘Welcome to 88 Wood Street’ …

This one cheers you up when you go shopping …

The folk at 5 Aldermanbury Square have gone to town with four trees, these are two of them …

I like this display too …

Look at that seat on the left. There must be a company that specialises in manufacturing ‘odd looking uncomfortable seats for Reception areas’. This is the ‘Victorian bathtub’ look.

Trees always appear nicer if there are a few parcels scattered around their base. This one is at number 10 Gresham Street …

I thought this new Reception area at 91 Gresham Street looked very smart, even though their tree is a bit tucked away at the back on the right …

This one at City Point looked a bit sad, standing on its own with no other furniture …

The Shard is currently blue in honour of NHS workers …

I think this will change tomorrow (Friday 11th) to a more traditional display.

And finally three from the Barbican Estate. Reception at Cromwell Tower …

At Lauderdale …

and at Shakespeare (I love the little figures) …

Have your thinking caps ready because next week’s blog is the CHRISTMAS QUIZ!

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My attempt to cheer you up if you’re a bit fed up!

These really are strange times and so this week I have been browsing my photo library for images that made me smile. Apologies to Instagram followers since some of them have appeared there already.

First of all, a reminder that there is a market for almost anything …

A tattooed angel has appeared in Whitecross Street …

She replaces the cherubs that were assembling a bazooka …

I wonder what was special about these girls …

I remember when many schools had one of these living on the premises …

I always think ‘man struggling with golf umbrella’ …

Incidentally, this one either means watch out for elderly people or beware of pickpockets …

Cute garden furniture …

And more – even the dustpan is smiling …

Eclectic windowsill collection …

If you are looking for smart garden furniture there is this great stall in Kings Lynn. What about the duck pushing a wheelbarrow? …

Sadly poetic closure notice …

Coffee shop humour …

A witty licence plate from Pimlico Plumbers …

And another …

And yet more …

Suited and Booted tailors in Moorgate. ‘It’s all gonna end in tiers (or with a vaccine)’ …

But this chap seems to be doing OK. I wonder what he advises on …

A sealed door on St John’s Gate Clerkenwell. I don’t think the monks were tiny, just that the level of the street has risen …

The Stag at The Jugged Hare bar and restaurant is very angry about being in Tier 2 …

I have never, ever seen a dog dressed like this. ‘Please mum, I need to go to the loo’ …

Rainbow and red crane combo …

Yet another spooky clothes model to add to the collection …

Finally, I make no apology for including this picture again. It had been raining and this pigeon was drying his feathers and warming his bottom on a spotlight. He is doing this whilst half asleep and balanced on one leg …

Hope these cheered you up a bit if you needed it – I enjoyed putting the selection together.

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City ladies, a magic square and some gentle amusement

Women feature on many City sculptures (often in an allegorical role) and I have been on another sculpture safari to see how many I can identify. I have written about female sculptures twice before and you can find links here and here.

In quite a few cases they are located high up on buildings and so are easily missed.

A good example is this pediment group on what once was the Cripplegate Institute building on Golden Lane (EC1Y 0RR) …

Education is seated in the centre, whilst Art and Science recline at either side. Although the building opened in 1896 the pediment was only added in 1910-11 when the upper stories were modified to provide, among other facilities, a rifle range.

You can read much more about the Institute in the excellent London Inheritance blog which also contains this 1947 photograph highlighting the vast extent of the wartime bomb damage. The Institute building is circled in red …

If you stand outside the Royal Exchange you will be rewarded with two more female figures along with the mysterious Magic Square, but again you have to look up.

The first lady is sited in a pediment above the Bank of England and is known as The Lady of the Bank …

Sculptor Charles Wheeler 1929-1930.

She is seated on a globe and her right hand holds a cloak which billows out to her left. Her left hand holds a temple-like building which contains a miniature relief of the Lady herself and beside her right leg is a cascade of coins. She is a replacement for the original ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, which resembled Britannia, since it was considered stylistically incompatible with the new building. She is intended to represent ‘the stability and security of the Bank of England’. Inside the wreath on the right is the date of construction in Roman numerals, MCMXXX.

On the corner across Bank junction is the impressive NatWest building and if you look up you will see this (rather grubby) allegorical group …

Sculptor Ernest Gillick – 1931-2.

Britannia rises on a winged seat, flanked by Mercury (representing Commerce) and Truth with his torch. At Britannia’s knees are crouching nude females representing Higher and Lower Mathematics. Higher Mathematics, on the left, holds a carved version of Dürer’s Magic Square, a numerical acrostic whose numbers add up to 34 when added horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Lower mathematics holds a pen and a book whilst beside her two owls sit on piles of books.

The square is not very clear now due to the dirt on the carving so here are the numbers it contains …

Innovation Factory — Magic Squares

Dürer included it in an engraving entitled Melancholia I

It can be seen in the top right hand corner and you can read more about it here and here.

Nearby in Prince’s Street, on the same building, you can view this elegant lady at street level …

Sculptor Charles Doman – 1931.

Representing Prosperity, she holds a basket with a rich assortment of fruit and corn.

You have to stretch your neck if you want to examine this relief sculpture at 7 Lothbury (EC2R 7HH) …

Sculptor James Redfern – 1866.

It is rather unusual and is intended as a pastiche of a late medieval Venetian palace. A crowned female figure at the centre sits on a padlocked strong-box and writes in a ledger held up for her by a standing woman with a bunch of large keys suspended from her girdle. Other figures include a woman holding a model steam engine and another figure holding a model boat.

It’s a fascinating building and you can read more about it here.

The frieze on the Institute of Chartered Accountants is magnificent and was intended as a grand symbolic depiction of all the areas of human activity which have benefited from the services of accountants (EC2R 7EF). Groups of figures represent the arts, science, crafts, education, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, mining, railways, shipping and India and the Colonies. I have chosen a few with female figures and the first is entitled ‘Crafts’ …

The shield in the tree is inscribed Laborare est Orareto work is to pray. To the left, two women represent ‘workers in metal’, the one on the left is holding a sword. On the other side of the panel are ‘Pottery’, a woman with a two-handled vase, and ‘Textiles’, a woman with a weaving frame.

Next is ‘Education’ …

The group on the left represents ‘Early Training’. A mother leads her son, who is carrying a cricket bat, towards a schoolmaster wearing a gown and carrying a textbook. On the other side is a student ‘in collegiate dress’ and holding a book, and a ‘College Don’ wearing a mortar-board and gown.

Onward to ‘Manufactures’ …

Behind the allegorical lady, and just about visible, are beehives ‘betokening industry’. The two women on the left represent ‘Fabrics’ – one holds a bolt of cloth and the other a shuttle and a spool of yarn. The two men on the right represent ‘Hardware goods’. The smith has his shirt open and stands next to an anvil. The other is ‘a Sheffield Knife Grinder’ feeling a chisel blade.

Another example is ‘Agriculture’ …

On the left are two men – a sower and a mower. On the other side are two girls – one reaping and the other carrying a basket of fruit.

In my favourite sculpture from the building Lady Justice looks like she has stepped out of her niche in order to upstage the accountants number-crunching away behind her …

She appears frequently in allegorical representations around the City and I have written about them before. If you are interested you can find my blog here.

You can see her again on the Old Bailey behind my final sculpture, the Peace drinking fountain in the Smithfield Rotunda Garden (EC1A 9DY). She is depicted with her right hand raised in a gesture of blessing while her left holds an olive branch …

Sculptors John Birnie Philip and Farmer & Brindley – 1871-3.

The structure was erected by the Corporation’s Market Improvement Committee in 1873 a few years after the armistice between France and Prussia was signed in 1871. The 11m-high fountain originally comprised a huge stone canopy in an eclectic style with four corner figures of Temperance, Hope, Faith and Charity but the structure fell into disrepair and was taken down. The illustration below appeared in The Builder magazine in 1871 …

I thought I’d add some light relief in these difficult times.

Happy Clerkenwell gnomes …

Santa’s elves, with appropriate face coverings, seconded for Covid prevention duty …

An optician on London Wall goes for the ‘minimalist’ window display approach …

And finally, more spooky clothes models to add to the collection …

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‘Spot the grasshopper’, enemy cannon from Waterloo, fascinating men and a Native American lady

I think this picture tells a story. The Gresham grasshopper on the roof of the Royal Exchange is dwarfed by the new monster office block on Bishopsgate and, to a lesser extent, the Cheesegrater. Will these buildings now ever be full?

Outside the Exchange is this handsome chap, sitting without saddle or stirrups, on his fine steed …

Erected in 1844, it is, of course, the Duke of Wellington but the statue was not created to celebrate just his military achievements. On 19th July 1838 the Court of Common Council of the City of London agreed to a contribution of £500 towards its cost in appreciation of his efforts in assisting the passage of the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827. This Act led to the creation of King William Street. The government donated the metal, which is bronze from captured enemy cannon melted down after the Battle of Waterloo …

Not everyone approved. A writer to The Times declared …

…did his Grace ride at Waterloo without a saddle, without boots, without a hat and carrying his own despatches? … Is the charger supposed to be neighing to a blast of trumpets, or whinnying to the mare in the Mansion House?

Nearby is the war memorial to the London Troops …

Standing on either side of the plinth are two soldiers of the London regiments, one middle-aged the other more youthful. It was unveiled on 12 November 1920 …

A leader in The Times was entitled ‘Our London Soldiers’ and extolled the bravery of the men who came …

… from counting-house and shop, from the far-reaching suburbs and the thronged centres … it will serve as a stimulus to the sense of unity and to the sense of duty now growing in our vast and diverse population.

At the bottom of the list of battalions, one in particular caught my eye, the Cyclists …

When visiting the Imperial War Museum I came across a postcard of this splendid recruitment poster from 1912. It is poignant to look at this picture with its pretty village setting and then think of the industrial age war of slaughter, mud and filth, that was soon to follow …

Often described as ‘standing at the back’ of the Royal Exchange, is a statue to a remarkable man – Paul Julius Reuter. The rough-cut granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates the 19th-century pioneer of communications and news delivery. It is a fitting place for the statue because the stone head faces the Royal Exchange which was the reason why Reuter set up his business in the City. He established his offices in 1851 on the opposite side of the walkway to the Royal Exchange – in other words, they were to the east of the Royal Exchange. The stone monument was erected by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation. It was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976 …

The life of Reuter was most interesting. Having started his career as a humble clerk in a bank, he went on to ‘see the future’ of transmitting the news – regardless of whether it was financial or world news. If the ‘modern’ technology of telegraphy – also known then as Telegrams – was not in place, Reuter used carrier pigeons and even canisters floating in the sea to convey news as fast as possible. Such was his ambition to be the first with the news.

Just across the road is another bearded gentleman, studiously studying some plans. James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

The Shield enabled the London Underground to be constructed at greater depths through the London clay. The miners doing the tunneling, using pneumatic spades and hand shovels, would create a cavity in the earth where the Shield would be inserted to hold back the walls whilst the miners installed cast-iron segments to create a ring. The process would be repeated until a tunnel had formed in the shape of a ‘tube’, which is where we get the nickname for the network today. A plaque on the side of the plinth shows the men at work …

What about this fine fellow dominating the small courtyard outside St Mary-le-Bow (sporting another great beard) …

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This is Captain John Smith. A colonial adventurer, Smith was a Citizen and Cordwainer, and set sail from Blackwall to found the colony of Virginia in 1606. Following a period as the prisoner of the native Americans he became head of the settler’s colony before returning to London in 1609-10. He later claimed that during his captivity his life had been saved by ‘Princess’ Pocahontas who pleaded with her father, the paramount Chief, that he be spared execution. Doubt has been cast on this story but early histories did establish that Pocahontas befriended Smith and the Jamestown colony. She often went to the settlement and played games with the boys there. When the colonists were starving, ‘every once in four or five days, Pocahontas with her attendants brought him [Smith] so much provision that saved many of their lives that else for all this had starved with hunger’.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother unveiled the statue on 31st October 1960 and you can watch a Pathe News film of the event here.

Incidentally, Pocahontas went on to marry an Englishman, John Rolfe, visited London, and became quite a celebrity. Sadly she died on the return journey from causes unknown and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend. Her grave has since been lost.

This is a 1616 portrait engraving of her by Simon de Passe. What a super hat …

She was also commemorated on a 1907 postage stamp, the first native American to be honoured in this way …

Now another adventurous gentleman.

A memorial to Admiral Phillip was originally erected at St Mildred’s Church Bread Street. Although the church was destroyed by enemy action in 1941 the bronze bust was salvaged from its ruins. This modern copy can now be found on the south side of the New Change shopping centre, the original is in St Mary-le-Bow church …

The plaque makes interesting reading …

And now a woman and a man dressed somewhat… er … unconventionally.

Let’s start with this extraordinary statue at 193 Fleet Street now, sadly, rather weathered …

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. (Spoiler alert) She goes mad from grief and dies.

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.

Also in the gallery is this David Wynne sculpture of Prince Charles …

He just doesn’t look happy, does he? Maybe he wasn’t too keen on the rather spiky modern version of a coronet that he is wearing here at his 1969 Investiture as Prince of Wales. It was designed by a committee chaired by his auntie Princess Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon). The globe and cross at the top was originally intended to be solid gold but the committee concluded that this would be far too heavy. The solution was to use a gold plated ping-pong ball – which is why I always smile at this portrayal of the Prince (and possibly why he doesn’t appear to have ever worn the item again).

Just by way of further light relief I have found another spooky clothes model to add to my collection (see last week’s blog) …

And these ‘eyebrows’ in the Cheapside Sunken Garden made me laugh. Part of the London Festival of Architecture, they entitled Look Up and are by Oli Colman …

Finally, I loved this joyful Hermes shop window at the Royal Exchange …

As is often the case I am grateful to Philip Ward-Jackson for much of the detail about the sculptures. I highly recommend his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, still available at Waterstones.

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Around Leadenhall – Geishas, Sign Language, Maypoles and a Japanese proverb

I started my walk in Lime Street and just by Lloyd’s is the impressive Asia House. It was built in 1912-13 and designed by George Val Myer when he was only 30. His best known work is the BBC’s Broadcasting House on Portland Place …

Picture by Katie of Look up London Tours.

What makes it particularly interesting are the human figures. They were carved by John Broad of Doulton Ceramics and are entitled Japanese Man and Woman. He holds a model ship and a scroll …

She holds a fan and a paintbrush. Although she isn’t described anywhere as a Geisha I have just made that assumption because she looks so elegantly traditional and is obviously demonstrating artistic talents …

Beneath the pediment another lady sits enthroned, legs nonchalantly crossed, against a stylised sunburst motif …

Her headgear is very elaborate and she has dragons to her right and left.

The building was originally the premises of Mitsui & Co Ltd, a Tokyo firm described in the 1913 Post Office Directory as ‘steamship owners and general commission merchants, export and import’. The current tenant is the Scor Reinsurance Company.

The new skyscraper on Bishopsgate looms over the Victorian market …

During my walk I came across three examples of the current Sculpture in the City initiative.

Inside the market is The Source by Patrick Tuttofuoco which ‘depicts the artist’s hands as he mimes some words conveyed using a sign language’ …

Opposite Lloyd’s is a sign indicating that you have arrived in Arcadia (Utopia) rather than just the main entrance to the Willis Towers Watson building …

The artist, Leo Fitzmaurice, ‘has substituted the factual information, usually found on these signs, for something more poetic, allowing viewers to enjoy this material, along with the space around it in a new and more open-ended way’.

Nearby in Cullum Street (EC3M 7JJ) is Series Industrial Windows 1 by Marisa Ferreira …

The information notice tells us that ‘the artwork invokes Pierre Nora’s notion of ‘lieux de mémoire’ to reflect the urban landscape as fragment, memory and vision and to question how industrial ruins solicit affective, imaginative and sensual engagements with the past’.

Also in Cullum Street is the unusual Art Nouveau Bolton House. I haven’t been able to find out a lot more about it apart from the architect (A. Selby) and that it’s reportedly named after Prior Bolton who had close connections with St Bartholomew the Great (which I have written about here).

It’s blue and white faience with strong Moorish influences …

The building was completed in 1907, a few years before Art Nouveau went out of fashion.

In the market again, I always smile when I come across Old Tom’s Bar …

Old Tom was a gander from Ostend in Belgium who is said to have arrived in the Capital having followed a female member of his flock who took his fancy! Despite the swift dispatch of the other 34,000 members of his party, somehow Tom miraculously managed to survive the dinner table and became a regular fixture at the market and the surrounding inns, who kept scraps aside for him.

So beloved was Old Tom that he even made it into the Times Newspaper! Below is his obituary, published on 16 April 1835:

In memory of Old Tom the Gander.
Obit 19th March, 1835, aetat, 37 years, 9 months, and 6 days.

‘This famous gander, while in stubble,
Fed freely, without care or trouble:
Grew fat with corn and sitting still,
And scarce could cross the barn-door sill:
And seldom waddled forth to cool
His belly in the neighbouring pool.
Transplanted to another scene,
He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green,
With full five hundred geese behind,
To his superior care consign’d,
Whom readily he would engage
To lead in march ten miles a-stage.
Thus a decoy he lived and died,
The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.’

Unfortunately, I can find no reliable contemporary picture of him. Despite claims to the contrary, he is not represented, along with a little boy, above the old Midland Bank Building on Poultry. The goose there was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function.

On my way to the Cheesegrater I spotted this reflection of the Gherkin in the glass walls of The Scalpel along with two of the crosses on St Andrew Undershaft’s pinnacles …

Outside the Cheesegrater, this Godlike figure entitled Navigation holds a passenger ship in his left hand and is flanked by a binnacle and a ship’s wheel. Originally owned by the P&O Banking Corporation, he once looked down from the facade of their building at the junction of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe. I smiled because he seems to be glancing rather suspiciously at the replica maypole that has been installed next to him …

It references the maypole that once stood nearby outside St Andrew Undershaft (so called because the maypole alongside it was taller than the church). The pole was set up opposite the church every year until Mayday 1517 when the tradition was suspended after the City apprentices (always a volatile bunch) rioted against foreigners. Public gatherings on Mayday were therefore to be discouraged and the pole was hung up nearby in the appropriately named Shaft Alley. In 1549 the vicar of St Catharine Cree denounced the maypole as a pagan symbol and got his listeners so agitated they pulled the pole from its moorings, cut it up and burned it.

Here is a picture of the church around 1910. You can see the Navigation statue on the building on the left …

The area has been brightened up recently with the ventilation exits covered in bold designs …

On a lighthearted note, I am collecting pictures of weird and creepy clothes models. There are these in Lime Street …

To add to these in Eastcheap …

And finally, an old Japanese proverb pasted on to the window of a temporarily closed restaurant …

I hope you have enjoyed today’s blog.

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Clocktales

I do like a good clock story and the City has quite a few of them – from the clock that killed a man to the one mentioned in a famous poem.

I’ll start, however, with this beauty sited alongside St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street (EC3R 6DN) …

The clock was the gift of the Lord Mayor, Sir Charles Duncombe. The story goes that when he was a young apprentice, and rather poor, he missed an important meeting with his master on London Bridge because he had no way of telling the time. He vowed that, if ever he became rich, he would erect a clock in the vicinity and this magnificent example of the clockmakers’ art was the result. The artisan was Langley Bradley of Fenchurch Street who had worked with Sir Christopher Wren on several projects, including the early clock that adorned St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren was evidently impressed with Bradley’s work since, in a letter the Lord Chamberlain’s Office in 1711, he went so far as to describe him as ‘a very able artist, very reasonable in his prices’.

In 1709 St Magnus was located at the north side of the ‘old’ London Bridge as this 18th century map illustrates …

You can also see the clock and its proximity to the bridge in this etching by Edward William Cooke entitled Part of Old London-Bridge, St Magnus and the Monument, taken at Low-water, August 15th, 1831.

Some of you may remember the charming neo-gothic Mappin & Webb building that was controversially demolished in 1994 …

It was replaced by Number 1 Poultry, designed by James Stirling and destined to become the youngest City building to be listed as Grade II* …

Prince Charles was unimpressed and said it resembled ‘a 1930s wireless set’.

I prefer it, however, to the Mies van der Rohe skyscraper that was also considered …

If you walk through the new building at street level you’ll see that the old Mappin & Webb clock has been incorporated …

And a wonderful frieze from the old building illustrating royal processions has also been preserved and relocated facing Poultry. Here is a small section …

King Charles II rides past accompanied by his pet spaniels

Now the clock that killed a man. Here it is attached to the Royal Courts of Justice – designed by George Edmund Street, it has been described as ‘exuberant’ …

On 5th November 1954 a clock mechanic, Thomas Manners, was killed when his clothes were caught up in the machinery as he wound up the mechanism. He had been carrying out this task every week since 1937, as well as looking after the 800 or so other clocks in the law court buildings. You can read the press cutting I came across here.

In 1711 Nicholas Hawksmoor was fifty years old yet, although he had already worked with Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral and for John Vanbrugh on Castle Howard, the buildings that were to make his name were still to come. In that year, an Act of Parliament created the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches to serve the growing population on the fringes of the expanding city.

Nicholas Hawksmoor c1661-1736.

Only twelve of these churches were ever built, but Hawksmoor designed six of them and – miraculously – they have all survived, displaying his unique architectural talent to subsequent generations and permitting his reputation to rise as time has passed. One of them is St Mary Woolnoth.

The outside of the church is very unusual and it has a fine position on the corner of King William Street and Lombard Street, just off the major Bank road junction (EC3V 9AN). The clock is mentioned in a famous poem …

In a corner sits the clock’s mechanism surrounded by a cover on which is etched an extract from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland

Eliot worked nearby in Lloyds Bank and, having watched the commuters trudge over London Bridge, wrote these cheerful lines …

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

No doubt if you were not at the office by the ‘final stroke of nine’ you were going to be late.

I have always liked this clock at the corner of Fleet Street and Ludgate Circus …

I read somewhere that, during the Blitz, an incendiary device became entangled in the ball at the top and dangled there for hours until it was deactivated. I often have this image in my head of gently swaying ordnance when I walk up Fleet Street.

The building was originally the London headquarters of the Thomas Cook Travel Agency and, since Mr Cook was a keen supporter of the temperance movement, the first floor contained a temperance hotel. The building is adorned with numerous charming cherubs …

‘This is where we’re going on holiday’.

There are dozens of City cherubs and I have written about some of them here.

The Royal Exchange has two ‘twin’ clocks, both exactly the same, one facing Threadneedle Street and one facing Cornhill …

Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that contains an image of Gresham’s original Royal Exchange whilst above Atlas lifts a globe. I have seen it described as a Valentine’s Day clock because of the two red hearts. Ahhhh, sweet!

Here’s Atlas again, straining under his burden in King Street …

The building was once the home of the Atlas Insurance Company.

The clock at the church of St Edmund King and Martyr in Lombard Street sports a delicate, pretty crown (EC3V 9EA) …

This is Throgmorton Street at the turn of the last century, straw hats (or boaters) being clearly in fashion. You’ll find a short history of them here

The clock on the left is still there (EC2N 2AT) …

You’ll see that Warnford Court was rebuilt in 1884 but, out of interest, I did a bit more research and came across this list of the tenants in 1842 …

Stock brokers, solicitors and merchants mainly but also a hatter, a ‘commercial teacher’, an auctioneer and, strangely, the Danish Consul General’s Office. Interestingly, the Bolivar Mining Association was also located there. The Association was formed to work copper mines at Aroa, Venezuela and were owned for some time by the Bolivar family who leased them to an English company to help finance the war of independence. You can read more here.

Fleet Street has a lot to offer when it comes to clock spotting.

How about this masterpiece …

Installed just after the Great Fire of London in 1671, it was the first clock in London to have a minute hand, with two figures (perhaps representing Gog and Magog) striking the hours and quarters with clubs, turning their heads whilst doing so.

The present version of the clock was installed in 1738 before, in 1828, being moved to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford’s house in Regent’s Park. The Great War saw the Regent’s Park residence housing soldiers blinded from combat. The charity which undertook this went on to name itself after where the clock in the house came from: St Dunstan’s. It was returned to the Church in 1935 by Lord Rothermere to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V. You can read a lot more about its history here.

If you like the occasional burst of colour, look up at this Art Deco treat, also in Fleet Street outside the old offices of the Daily Telegraph (EC4A 2BB) …

I am really pleased to report that the refurbishment of Bracken House is now complete and we can see again the extraordinary Zodiacal clock on the side of the building that faces Cannon Street (EC3M 9JA).

Here it is in all its glory …

If you look more closely at the centre this is what you will see …

On the gilt bronze sunburst at the centre you can clearly make out the features of Winston Churchill. The building used to be the headquarters of the Financial Times and is named after Brendan Bracken, its chief editor after the war.

During the War Bracken served in Churchill’s wartime cabinet as Minister of Information. George Orwell worked under Bracken on the BBC’s Indian Service and deeply resented wartime censorship and the need to manipulate information. If you like slightly wacky theories, there is one that the sinister ‘Leader’ in Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, was inspired by Bracken, who was customarily referred to as ‘BB’ by his Ministry employees.

The oddly-shaped Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street displays a pretty clock just above the jolly friar’s head …

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked for long time.

This wise old owl looks across the road to the north side of London Bridge, observing the thousands of commuters flowing back and forth every day from London Bridge Station (although not so many lately!). He is perched outside what was once the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company (later just ‘Guardian’) and was for a while their symbol, presumably signifying wisdom and watchfulness.

Rising from the flames and just about to take off over the City is the legendary Phoenix bird and from 1915 until 1983 this was the headquarters of the Phoenix Assurance Company at 5 King William Street. One can see why the Phoenix legend of rebirth and restoration appealed as a name for an insurer (EC4N 7DA).

The clock shows the name of the present tenants, Daiwa Capital Markets.

Before clocks there were, of course, sundials and there are many fine examples in the City – both old and relatively new.

These are my two favourites …

The Jacobean church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street was built between 1628 and 1630 and survived the Great Fire of 1666. On the south wall is this wonderful dial, circa 1700, which is described as having ‘gilded embellishments including declining lines, Babylonian/Latin hours and Zodiac signs’. Its Latin motto Non Sine Lumine means Nothing without Light.

And this dial in Fournier Street …

It was once a Protestant church, then a Methodist Chapel, next a Jewish synagogue and is now the Brick Lane Mosque (E1 6QL).

In the late 17th century some 40-50,000 French Protestants, known as Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France, arrived in England with around half settling in Spitalfields. They started a local silk-weaving industry and, incidentally, gave us a new word ‘refugee’ from the French word réfugié, ‘one who seeks sanctuary’. They flourished and established this church in 1743 naming it La Neuve Eglise (The New Church) and installed the sundial we can see today. The Latin motto Umbra sumus translates as ‘we are shadow’, and is taken from Horace’s statement Pulvis et umbra sumus, meaning ‘We are dust and shadow’.

I have written in some detail about sundials in an earlier blog which you can find here.

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PS Long time readers of this blog will recognise some of the above since I have written about clocks before. However, I had to cheat a bit since I took last week off! I hope the additional information I have included has meant that this week’s edition was still enjoyable.

A walk down Queen Victoria Street (and another cute pigeon)

Queen Victoria Street was created in 1871 as an extension to the then new Victoria Embankment and led directly to the Mansion House. The new street was incredibly expensive to build since, obviously, the properties standing in its path had to be purchased before demolition. The cost, over £2,000,000, equates to more than two billion pounds in equivalent value today.

On this extract from the 1847 Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London a red line has been drawn to show how Queen Victoria Street sliced its way across the City …

This picture gives an idea of the extent of the demolition …

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_CT_02_1067

I wanted to try to stand as closely as possible where this picture was taken and, pausing in the street, I looked up and this is what I saw (EC4V 4BQ) …

I climbed some steps and in a grim courtyard outside the gruesome Baynard House is a quite extraordinary sculpture, The Seven Ages of Man by Richard Kindersley (1980) …

At first the infant – mewing and puking in the nurse’s arms …then the whining schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school … then the lover … then a soldier full of strange oaths …

… and then the justice full of wise saws … then the sixth age …the big manly voice turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound … then second childishness and mere oblivion, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It Act II Scene vii)

Here is the view from the terrace taken from approximately the same spot as the demolition picture above …

This image and several of the illustrations in today’s blog have been taken from the excellent blog A London Inheritance which I wholeheartedly recommend.

By the way, the terrace leads to Blackfriars Station and it’s worth popping in to see this example of the station’s past importance.

The station was badly damaged during the Second World War but the wall displaying a selection of the locations you could catch a train to survived and you can see it today in the ticket hall. It was part of the original façade of the 1886 station (originally known as St Paul’s) and features the names of 54 destinations – each painstakingly carved into separate sandstone blocks …

The letters are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf …

Where shall we buy a ticket to today? Crystal Palace or Marseilles? Westgate-on-Sea or St Petersburg? Tough choices!

Moving westward on the north side of Queen Victoria Street you will find the College of Arms (EC4V 4BT). Founded in 1484, this is where you go to get your family coat of arms designed and granted. As well as this function, the College maintains registers of arms, pedigrees, genealogies, Royal Licences, changes of name, and flags. The officers who run the College have some splendid titles such as Clarenceaux King of Arms, Rouge Dragon Persuivant and various Heralds and Heralds Extraordinary.

The original street plan included the complete demolition of their building but the Heralds objected strongly. As a result Queen Victoria Street merely sliced off the south east and south west wings, requiring remodelling of the two stumps. You can see how the colour of the new brickwork differs from the original in this picture …

This print from 1768 shows the building before the 1871 alterations …

Also on the north side is the 1933 Faraday Building, once one of the major hubs for international and national telephone circuits and operator services (EC4V 4BT) …

Look just above the line of the second set of windows and, in the position associated with a key stone, there are a series of carvings, one above each window, that tell the story of what was state of the art telecommunications at the time the building was constructed.

A bang up to date telephone …

Cables that carried the telephone signal …

An electromagnetic relay …

A Horse Shoe Magnet …

The imposing entrance doors are sadly defaced with signage …

There are two nice places to sit down and rest.

The first I would recommend is the Cleary Garden (EC4V 2AR) …

It is named after Fred Cleary who, during the 1970s, was instrumental in encouraging the planting of trees and the creation of new gardens throughout the square mile. During the blitz, the house which once stood here was destroyed exposing the cellars. A shoemaker called Joe Brandis decided that he would create a garden from the rubble, collecting mud from the river banks and transporting soil from his own garden in Walthamstow to the site. His success was such that on 29th July 1949 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited his handiwork.

My second recommendation, if you seek some refreshment in extraordinary surroundings, is the Black Friar pub (EC4V 4EG) …

The interior is so amazing that I am going to write about it in more detail in a later blog dedicated to pubs. In the meantime, here are a few pictures to give you some idea of what to expect …

You can watch an interesting video about the pub and its history here.

And finally, it’s cute pigeon time. I saw this one dozing off whilst using a spotlight to dry his feathers and warm his bottom. He’s also managing to do this whilst balanced on one leg …

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Another aimless wander – horses, pigeons and quad bikes

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

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

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

Watching out over a very quiet City …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closer view …

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

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

These merge nicely with the floral decorated stonework …

Finally, a few quirky items.

Caught in mid-air – Parkour at the Barbican …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vnsluce yor briny floods, what can yee keepe

Yor eyes from teares, & see the marble weepe

Burst out for shame: or if yee find noe vent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was intrigued by this tombstone in the north transept …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Sam Pepys’s dinner plate to the Essex Auroch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazingly, the inscription is still legible …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like his daintily decorated shoes …

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

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

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

The Times newspaper commented …

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

A year later he painted Home Again

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

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

The Times had this to say about Home Again

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

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

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

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A few more things that made me smile

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

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

Copyright Andrew Lawson.

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

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

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

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

Don’t they look lovely.

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

Like creatures out of a Dr Who episode.

Covid humour at the pharmacy …

Covid humour at the wine bar …

Cocktail Bar humour …

A less complicated message …

Pretty camera camouflage on Holloway Road …

Street art meets spinal column in Hoxton …

Sadly over-optimistic signage …

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

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

What a positive message …

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

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

Even the scooters are wearing masks around here …

City pigeons simply don’t believe this statement …

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

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

Sow and buffalo ears …

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

Others are in the house …

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

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

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

There is some beautiful architecture to enjoy as well …

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

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

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

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The brave policemen of Postman’s Park

Postman’s Park contains what is, in my view, one of the most interesting, poignant and rather melancholy memorials in the City – The G F Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This plaque nearby contains a useful mini-history …

I have written about it before along with some of the people commemorated and you can access the blog here.

I visited again last week and was moved to write about the bravery of four of the police officers whose names and details of their courageous acts are recorded on the Memorial.

George Stephen Funnell served for over seven years in the 2nd Battalion of the Oxford Light Infantry. He was discharged on 16th February 1893 and joined the Metropolitan Police the following October.

In this picture one of the medals he is wearing is probably the India General Service Medal with a Burma clasp …

George Stephen Funnell c. 1900

About 1:00 am on Friday 22nd December 1899 a fellow officer had noticed a fire at the Elephant & Castle pub in Wick Road and PC Funnell was one of the constables who came to his assistance. When the barman opened the door to let them in a massive draft of air escalated the fire dramatically. On hearing that there were three women in the building, Funnell and his colleague Thomas Baker rushed in to help rescue them amidst thick black smoke and exploding bottles of spirits.

Funnell led the first woman to the door and then went back to pick up and carry the second to safety. By then badly burned himself, on hearing another woman screaming, he went back in a third time and apparently collapsed when trying to find an alternative way out. The barmaid he was trying to help, Minnie Lewis, somehow managed to escape.

George was taken to the nearest infirmary but never regained consciousness and died on 2nd January 1900. He was 33 years old. This is his memorial plaque …

Five officers were awarded bronze medals by the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire but controversy arose over the treatment of Funnell’s 27-year-old widow Jane and his two young sons. The Globe was one of a number of newspapers who campaigned for the public to contribute to a fund for them, one journalist writing …

He leaves a widow, who receives a pension of £15 a year and £2 10s. for each of her two little boys until they reach fifteen. That is a miserable pittance indeed, and an appeal is made for public help.

I haven’t been able to discover how much was raised but it was probably substantial.

Extra funds were also raised for the widow of PC Alfred Smith

PC Smith, 37 years old, was on duty in Central Street when the noise was heard of an approaching group of fourteen German bombers. One press report reads as follows …

In the case of PC Alfred Smith, a popular member of the Metropolitan Force, who leaves a widow and three children, the deceased was on point duty near a warehouse. When the bombs began to fall the girls from the warehouse ran down into the street. Smith got them back, and stood in the porch to prevent them returning. In doing his duty he thus sacrificed his own life.

Smith had no visible injuries but had been killed by the blast from the bombs dropped nearby. He was one of 162 people killed that day in one of the deadliest raids of the war.

His widow was treated more generously than Mrs Funnell. She received automatically a police pension (£88 1s per annum, with an additional allowance of £6 12s per annum for her son) but also had her MP, Allen Baker, working on her behalf. He approached the directors of Debenhams (whose staff PC Smith had saved) and solicited from them a donation of £100 guineas (£105). A further fund, chaired by Baker, raised almost £472 and some of this was used to pay for the Watts Memorial tablet, which was officially unveiled on the second anniversary of Alfred’s death.

Another memorial to Alfred was unveiled 100 years later in June 2017 where the factory once stood …

Tragically another police constable, Robert Wright, died in vain …

He responded to a colleague’s whistle and arrived at the scene where a shop, known to contain large quantities of flammable and explosive material, was quickly being consumed by flames.

He and another PC, Edward Barnett, were clearing dangerous material from the yard at the back of the shop when Barnett thought he heard screaming and shouted to Wright ‘Quick, there is a woman in the house!‘ They managed to get upstairs through heavy smoke and with burning oil dripping through the ceiling – and found no one, the residents having gone on holiday. Barnett managed to jump to safety through a window but Wright was overcome by the smoke and was later declared dead on arrival at hospital. Although he was badly scalded the cause of death was given as smoke inhalation …

A Portrait of Police Constable Robert Wright.

Police Constable Robert Wright (1864 – 1893) from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 7th May 1893. Copyright, The British Library Board.

Serious accusations of fire brigade incompetence and drunkenness were made at the inquest. The brigade was stationed only 300 yards down the road and it was claimed that a message was sent to them at 1:10 am but that they didn’t arrive until 1:45 am. It was also claimed that at least two brigade members were so drunk they could not carry out their duties. The senior fire officer, Engineer Bowers, conceded that this was true but, by way of some kind of explanation, said that one of them was a retained man and the other from the volunteer brigade. The coroner suggested that the men should ‘…receive the attention of the Corporation’.

Incidentally, Wright’s widow’s pension was £15 a year plus an extra £2 10s for her daughter Ada until she was 15.

For some reason I had never heard of the Silvertown explosion that claimed the life of PC Edward George Brown Greenoff

Edward joined ‘K’ Division of the Metropolitan Police on 7 December 1908 Less than three weeks after joining the police, he married Ada Mina Thorpe, and they went on to have three children, Edward Arthur Cecil (born 1909), Elsie Irene (born 1912) and Albert George (born 1914).

On his beat was a factory manufacturing TNT – although that had not been its original purpose and it was in the middle of a built up area. As he passed the site around 6:00 pm on 19th January 1917 he noticed flames billowing from the premises and a fire engine in attendance. Being fully aware of the danger, Greenoff ran towards the building to help in the evacuation and at the same time persuade the crowds who had gathered to watch to move back.

At 6.52 pm precisely there was a massive explosion as approximately 50 tons of TNT ignited. The blast destroyed a large part of the factory, buildings on the southern side of the Royal Victoria Dock and many houses in the surrounding streets. Debris, amongst it red-hot chunks of rubble, was strewn for miles around. These images give some idea of the destruction …

Silvertown Explosion E copy
Silvertown Exposion K copy
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Silvertown-Exposion-G-1-984x675-1.jpg

The death toll was 73 with more than 400 people injured.

Edward was found seriously hurt in the rubble and died on 29th January aged 30. On 26 June 1917, he was awarded the King’s Police Medal for Gallantry. The citation reads …

Died from injuries received on 19 January from an explosion at a fire in a munitions factory at Silvertown where, despite the imminent danger, he remained at the scene to warn others and evacuate the area.

He was also commemorated in an ornate memorial plaque originally erected in North Woolwich Police Station. It contains this photograph, which was probably taken on his wedding day given the flower in his buttonhole …

EdwardGreenoff copy

If you are interested, you can read much more about the Silvertown explosion here.

There is a nice small statuette in the middle of the Memorial of Mr Watts himself that was installed in 1905, the year after he died. There was originally a plan to cover it with a protective grille but his widow refused and said the public should be trusted …

He holds a scroll on which is inscriber the word HEROES.

For the definitive life histories of the Watts Memorial heroes treat yourself to a copy of John Price’s book Heroes of Postman’s Park – Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London.

There is also a very useful guide on the London Walking Tours website.

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Courts, alleys and a green elephant

Every time I walk along Fleet Street I find something to write about.

This week I decided to take another look at the courts and alleys starting with the curiously named Poppin’s Court (a good name for the restaurant). The wallsign gives tourists a visual clue as to what’s on offer, yummy!) ..

According to The London Encyclopaedia, the abbots of Cirencester, whose crest included a popinjay or parrot, had a town house here in the early 14th century called Le Popyngaye and the name stuck. If this is correct, the apostrophe in the current name is not really appropriate, giving the impression that someone called Poppin used to live there. Or possibly that the court is named after the restaurant. There used to be a stone relief of a parrot over the court’s entrance but this has disappeared.

I was curious to know what a coat of arms with a parrot on it looked like and I found one, on the crest of Sutton United Football Club of all places …

Further west is Peterborough Court, with its ‘IN’ entrance …

… and ‘OUT’ exit …

The Court is named after the Bishop of Peterborough who owned the land in the 14th century. Described as ‘An Art Deco Temple to Journalism’, the Portland Stone building dates from 1928 and was the home of the Daily Telegraph. The newspaper moved out in 1987 and eventually Goldman Sachs International leased the building at a cost of £18 million a year. The lease runs out in 2021 and I think they have already vacated the building since it looks a bit sad and neglected. There was talk last year of it becoming another WeWork site but who knows in the current economic climate. The lovely Art Deco clock usually makes me smile …

Cheshire Court is modest, but its fame comes from its neighbour, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub which has been recorded on this location since at least 1538, although it’s original name was probably the Horn Tavern …

Wine Office Court is so named because licences for selling wine were issued at premises here. That’s the entrance to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on the right …

The view looking towards Fleet Street …

I can’t find out much about Hind Court, it’s possibly named after a tavern …

Many of the courts have a plaque at the entrance. This one shows a facsimile of the front page of the first edition of Daily Express dated Tuesday 24th April 1900 …

The note in the box reads …

The first edition of the Daily Express was published in Fleet Street. It was one of the first papers in Britain to carry gossip, sports, women’s features and a crossword.

Bolt Court is probably named after another vanished inn, the Bolt-in-Tun, and Dr Johnson lived here at number 8 from 1776 to when he died in 1784. The house was lost in a fire in 1819 …

At the entrance is a facsimile of the front page of The Sun newspaper dated 15th September 1984 …

Bolt Court leads to Gough Square where another house that was occupied by Dr Johnson has survived. There is also a sweet sculpture of his cat Hodge looking towards his old home …

I’ve written more about the Square and Hodge in this blog entitled City Animals 2.

St Dunstan’s Court references the nearby church, St Dunstan-in-the-West …

At its entrance computerisation in the printing industry is illustrated, a bit bizarrely I think, by the Pac-Man game …

The Royal Society met in Crane Court from 1710 until they moved to Somerset House in 1780 …

The plaque shows a facsimile of the front page of the Daily Courant dated Wednesday March 11, 1702 …

It was Britain’s first daily newspaper.

 On 14 April 1785 it ran a story about a man murdered after a visit to the barber. Some claim that this was the inspiration behind Victorian penny dreadful Sweeney Todd (allegedly a resident of 183 Fleet St) and the spawning of lots of movies …

It’s worth taking a walk through Crane Court and seeing how it opens up into an area full of character where development has been careful and restrained …

Mitre Court was named after the Mitre Tavern …

The Mitre was Dr. Johnson’s favourite supper-house and James Boswell, his biographer, referred to dining there …

We had a good supper, and port-wine, of which he (Johnson) sometimes drank a bottle.

Like nearby Bouverie Street, the name Pleydell Court comes from the Pleydell-Bouveries, Earls of Radnor, who were landlords in this area …

Now to Hare Place and its interesting history.

The Whitefriars, or Carmelites, once owned land stretching from here to the river. When the monastery was dissolved in November 1538 the land was sold to individuals who subdivided their plots and built tenements on them. However, this precinct had long possessed the privileges of Sanctuary, which were confirmed by a charter of James I in 1608. From about this time the area was known by the cant name Alsatia (after the disputed continental territory of Alsace), and its entrance was in Hare Place, then known as Ram Alley …

It became the ‘asylum of characterless debtors, cheats and gamblers here protected from arrest’. One Edwardian historian spoke of …

Its reeking dens, its bawds and its occupants’ disgusting habits. Every house was a resort of ill-fame, and therein harboured women, and still worse, men, lost to every instinct of humanity.

The privilege of Sanctuary was finally abolished in 1687.

And, finally, I walked through these elaborate gates to Serjeants’ Inn. …

Prudens Simplicitas (Prudent Simplicity) was the motto of the Amicable Society which was based here from 1838 and was the world’s first mutual life insurance company. The unusual choice of creatures may refer to a biblical quotation in which Jesus exhorted followers to be ‘wise as serpents, gentle as doves’. Lost during building works, the gates were rediscovered in a scrapyard in 1937 and returned to their original position here in 1970.

What awaited me inside the gates was quite unexpected …

There is nothing to give a clue as to what this happy elephant represents but I am wondering if he is linked to the green bear that has recently appeared outside Citypoint …

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A more cheerful wander around Smithfield

Last week’s blog was largely concerned with the rather gruesome events that took place in this historic area so I’m aiming to be a bit more lighthearted this week.

Looking up as you walk can be very rewarding. Just opposite Smithfield Central Market on Charterhouse Street I spotted this frieze at the top of one of the buildings …

Here is a close up of the panel on the left …

And here’s the one on the right …

Aren’t they wonderful! I’m pretty sure that’s a bull in the foreground.

And, whilst in livestock mode, if you look just around the corner in Peter’s Lane you will encounter this sight (EC1M 6DS) …

Now look up …

Here’s the bull at the very top …

Surprisingly, they only date from the mid-1990s and are made of glass reinforced resin. The bovine theme was used as a decorative motif because for centuries the appropriately named Cowcross Street was part of a route used by drovers to bring cows to be slaughtered. The tower forms part of The Rookery Hotel and also dates from the mid-1990s, although it looks much older due to the use of salvaged bricks.

I reckon this is a top class piece of sympathetic redevelopment by the architects Gus Alexander. Read all about how they approached the work here.

I’ll say a little about Smithfield’s history.

It appears on some old maps as Smooth Field …

In the Braun and Hogenberg map of 1560/72 it’s Smythe Fyeld …

In the Agas Map of 1633 it’s Schmyt Fyeld …

By the twelfth century, there was a fair held there on every Friday for the buying and selling of horses, and a growing market for oxen, cows and – by-and-by – sheep as well. An annual fair was held every August around St Bartholomew’s Day and was the most prominent and infamous London fair for centuries; and one of the most important in the country. Over the centuries it became a teeming, riotous, outpouring of popular culture, feared and despised like no other regular event by those in power… ‘a dangerous sink for all the vices of London’. This image gives a flavour of it …

In the foreground, a man digs deep into his pocket. It looks like he’s just about to place a bet on a ‘find the pea’ game – a notorious confidence trick being operated here by a distinctly dodgy looking character. In the background musicians play and people dance.

Here’s another view that captures the sheer exuberance of the event …

Bartholomew Fair by Augustus Pugin & Thomas Rowlandson, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

In this 1721 image the behaviour looks more sedate …

In 1815 Wordsworth visited the Fair and saw …

Albinos, Red Indians, ventriloquists, waxworks and a learned pig which blindfolded could tell the time to the minutes and pick out any specified card in a pack.

Alongside the entertainment of the Fair there was an undercurrent of trouble, violence and crime. In 1698 a visiting Frenchman, Monsieur Monsieur Sorbière, wrote …

I was at Bartholomew Fair… Knavery is here in perfection, dextrous cutpurses and pickpockets … I met a man that would have took off my hat, but I secured it, and was going to draw my sword, crying, ‘Begar! You rogue! Morbleu!’ &c., when on a sudden I had a hundred people about me crying, ‘Here, monsieur, see Jephthah’s Rash Vow.’ ‘Here, monsieur, see the Tall Dutchwoman’ …

After more than 700 years the Fair was finally banned in 1855 for being …

A great public nuisance, with its scenes of riot and obstruction in the very heart of the city.

As far as livestock trading was concerned it had always been a place of open air slaughter. The historian Gillian Tindall writes: ‘Moo-ing, snorting and baa-ing herds were still driven on the hoof by men and dogs through busy streets towards Smithfield, sometimes from hundred of miles away. Similarly, geese and ducks were hustled along in great flocks, their delicate feet encased in cloth for protection. They were all going to their deaths, though they did not know it – till the stench of blood and the sounds of other animals inspired noisy fear in them’.

In Great Expectations, set in the 1820s, young Pip comes across the market and refers to it as ‘the shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam [which] seemed to stick to me.

Eventually slaughtering was moved elsewhere and the open air market closed in 1855 …

Smithfield Market’s last day.

The present meat market on Charterhouse Street was established by an 1860 Act of Parliament and was designed by Sir Horace Jones who also designed Billingsgate and Leadenhall Markets. Work on Smithfield, inspired by Italian architecture, began in 1866 and was completed in November 1868. I think this picture was taken not long after construction …

The buildings were a reflection of the modernity of Victorian city. Like many market buildings of the second half the nineteenth century, they owed a debt to Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in their creative use of glass, timber and iron …

One aspect of the London Central Markets, as the Smithfield buildings were known, was particularly revolutionary, though largely hidden. All the buildings were constructed over railway goods yards. For the first time ever, meat was delivered by underground railway direct to a large wholesale market in the centre of a city. In this picture, an underground train whizzes past where the old tracks used to be …

The spectacular colour scheme today replicates what it was when the market opened …

The church of St Bartholomew the Great is always worth a visit but today I’ll just mention the Gatehouse entrance. These pictures show the site before and after the first world war …

The Zeppelin bomb that fell nearby in 1916 partly demolished later buildings revealing the Tudor origins underneath and exposing more of the 13th century stonework from the original nave. By 1932 it was fully restored.

Looking out towards Smithfield you can see the 13th century arch topped by a Tudor building …

Finally, in the Great Avenue (EC1A 9PS), there is this monument commemorating men, women and children who perished both overseas and nearby …

The original memorial (above the red granite plinth) is by G Hawkings & Son and was unveiled on 22  July 1921. 212 names are listed.

Between Fame and Victory holding laurel wreaths, the cartouche at the top reads …

1914-1918 Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men who in these years of war went forth from this place for God and the right. The names of those who returned not again are here inscribed to be honoured evermore.

At 11:30 in the morning on 8th March 1945 the market was extremely busy, with long queues formed to buy from a consignment of rabbits that had just been delivered. Many in the queue were women and children. With an explosion that was heard all over London, a V2 rocket landed in a direct hit which also cast victims into railway tunnels beneath – 110 people died and many more were seriously injured. This picture shows some of the terrible aftermath …

The monument was refurbished in 2004/5 and unveiled on 15 June 2005 by the Princess Royal and Lord Mayor Savory. The red granite plinth had been added and refers to lives lost in ‘conflict since the Great War’. On it mention is made of the women and children although the V2 event is not specifically referred to.

This is the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Butchers who helped to fund the refurbishment, along with the Corporation of London and the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

The crest translates as : ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all Sheep and Oxen’.

Plans have been made for the market to be moved, along with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields markets, to Barking Reach power station, an abandoned industrial site at Dagenham Dock earmarked for redevelopment. The Museum of London will relocate to part of the old market site.

If you want to read more about Smithfield and its history, here is a link to some of my sources:

Smithfield’s Bloody Past by Gillian Tindall.

Today in London’s festive history – The opening of Batholomew’s Fair.

St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse | A rare survivor of 16th century London.

Underneath Smithfield Market – The Gentle Author.

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