Walking the City of London

Author: The City Gent Page 1 of 17

Why WFH when you can WFC?

WFC? Working From Church, of course!

Forever trying to move with the times, some of the City churches have adapted brilliantly to take advantage of new technology which allows people to work virtually anywhere. This has also enabled me to indulge two of my main passions – churches and their history and cake.

St Nicholas Cole Abbey was the first church to be rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire (1672-78). You can see one of its most interesting features before you actually go in the door. The beautiful galleon weathevane came from St Michael Queenhithe, another Wren church, demolished in 1876 under the Union of Benefices Act 1860 …

The view from the south side of Queen Victoria Street …

The interior is spacious and light …

My orange and cranberry cake was delicious and tasted home-made. The tea was good too (£6.70 in total – well, it is the City!) …

A striking ‘wall’ of innovative, modern glass depicts Christ’s Kingdom Spreading throughout the World (1962). Abstract elements connect all three windows with details of landscapes from across the globe at their base. Igloos, tepees and skyscrapers for the Americas, towers and domes for Europe, and minarets and domes for Africa and Asia …

The maker was Keith New (1926-2012), a pioneering British modernist stained glass artist. His career was launched by the 1952 Royal College of Art commission to design the windows for Coventry Cathedral.

On the way to the loo you encounter some old grave markers that have been re-sited on the floor ..

Somerset Place was a very posh address in the 18oos – no wonder Mrs Stewart wanted it on her gravestone.

Onward to St Mary Aldermary and its witty advertising board …

It was 12:15 when I got there and there was already a formidable queue for the food stall in the churchyard …

Before you head into the church, look down at what I believe is the most accurate grave marker in the City …

There is a well preserved coat of arms which includes four beavers suggesting involvement in the fur trade which was flourishing at the time. It’s a tribute to the quality of the stone and the carving that (even assuming it wasn’t laid until Henry died) it has survived so well after 200 years of footfall.

Under the coat of arms the inscription reads as follows …

Mrs Anna Catharina Schneider. Died 15th of June 1798 at half past Six O’clock in the Evening. Aged 57 Years, 3 months and 9 Days

I have written more about this memorial and others in my ‘favourite tombs’ blog from February 2021.

Having looked down outside the door, look up on entering and admire the fabulous intricate fan-vaulted ceiling that I wrote about in last week’s blog

The cafe food selection …

There’s plenty of room to sit in the church …

St Mary-le-Bow is just 100 yards or so to the north. This is the view from Cheapside …

You can see the dragon weathervane very well on a sunny day like this …

The cafe in the crypt …

The menu is very comprehensive and you can view it here.

As I walked down the steps to the cafe I was struck by the incredibly worn nature of the stone – this could well have been the crypt entrance long before the 1666 Great Fire and Wren’s rebuilding of the church …

The church was totally gutted during the Blitz but it’s very much worth a visit to see the beautiful post-war stained glass. For example, to the north (left) of the sanctuary is depicted the Patron of the parish, the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding (and thus symbolising her care for us) the church built by Wren. She is clothed in blue (the traditional colour for Our Lady) and her feet appear to be resting on the arches of the crypt. Surrounding Our Lady’s image are seventeen Wren churches which survived the Second World War, each held by the patron saint of the parish …

You’ll find her and other fabulous examples of City church stained glass in my blog dedicated to the subject.

Alongside the church is another set of steps …

This is a place for silent prayer and contemplation …

I was fascinated by some of the gravestones …

And the fine collection of heraldic symbols …

And last, but by no means least, St Mary Woolnoth, designed by Christopher Wren’s esteemed protégé Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661 – 1736) …

The food service area is tucked away just inside the door …

Do visit the interior where you can admire the memorial to John Newton, the reformed slave trader who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace …

The stunning, bulging pulpit dates from Hawksmoor’s time and Newton delivered his sermons from it. It was made by Thomas Darby and Gervaise Smith …

Don’t miss the 1810 ‘price list’ hanging on the west wall …

You can eat outside and watch the world go by. The air is a lot cleaner now that Bank Junction is closed to most traffic …

I have written about St Mary Woolnoth before and you can find my blog here.

Now, an important message: It has been proven time and time again that music, particularly live music, can have immense beneficial psychological effects. This is especially true for folk who may be feeling isolated or are experienceing dementia. And it’s not just the elderly who can benefit, but also young people who may be spending much of their life receiving care in hospital. There is a lovely charity, the Spitz Charitable Trust, who have delivered this life enhancing service for over ten years and, because I love what they do, I am for the first time promoting a charity in my blog. All charities are having tough times at the moment so do, please, see if you can make a contribution, however modest, to help them in their work. Click here for their crowdfunding page and to find out more about them.

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St Mary Aldermary – the most spectacular of the ‘Marys’.

In 1500 there were 15 churches in the City of London dedicated to a St Mary. It was by far the most popular dedication with the next most popular being All Hallows (8 churches) and St Michael (7 churches). This, of course, was helped by the fact that there are two St Marys – Mary the Virgin, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene one of Jesus’s followers who was present at the crucifixion. But even if we count only the churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is still the most popular dedication with a total of 13.

I’ve already written in some detail about the six Marys still in existence but for some reason I rather neglected paying serious attention to St Mary Aldermary – an omission I intend to put right in this week’s blog. Incidentally, the name ‘Aldermary’ possibly derives from ‘Older Mary’ meaning the oldest church in the City dedicated to her.

As every guide to the church will tell you – when you enter just look up!

The nave …

The south side aisle …

The north side aisle …

The fabulous plaster fan-vaulted ceiling is more reminiscent of a cathedral and St Mary’s is the only parish church in England known to have one.

It is unclear why Wren chose to rebuild the church (1679-82) in an uncharacteristically Gothic style. Funding came from a personal estate, so it may have been the desire of the executors, or possibly the will of parishoners. Whatever the cause, the fortunate result is arguably the most important late 17th century Gothic church in England.

A quirky feature of the church is the angle of the east wall which followed the line of a pre-1678 passage …

One of the the east windows by Lawrence Lee (1955) is ‘a fusion of sacred and secular with St Thomas, St John the Baptist and Madonna and Child above and panels depicting important episodes from the dramatic history of the church below. The gothic church tower powerfully depicted appears engulfed in the flames of the Great Fire of London of 1666’ …

In close up, Sir Christopher Wren kneels to present his plans for the new church …

The west window by John Crawford commemorates the defence of London against air attack in the 1939-45 War. It depicts the Risen Christ in Glory with the Hand of God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove. Above are the Instruments of the Passion, while below are the emblems of the four Evangelists. The lower lights show St Michael overcoming the Dragon, representing the force of good vanquishing evil, with St Peter (left) and St Paul (right). At the base is a panorama of London and at the top the arms of the various Services involved …

A blocked off window above the north door, dating from 1876, depicts the Transfiguration …

The pulpit is thought to have been carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons

The organ was built by George England in 1791 …

This beautiful, rare wooden sword rest dates from 1682 …

You can read more about the fascinating history of sword rests here.

The font was a gift from a wealthy parishoner called Dutton Seaman in 1627. One commentator describes it as having been ‘designed with jacobean gusto’ …

There is a plaque to James Braidwood, who was married in the church in 1838. He was the first Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment and formed the world’s first municipal fire brigade in Edinburgh. He died tragically whilst fighting the terrible Tooley Street Fire of 1861. You can read all about him and the fire in which he perished in my Tooley Street Fire blog

René Baudouin was a Huguenot refugee from Tours in France. He established himself in Lombard Street, London, with a silk merchant Etienne Seignoret. The pair were successful but they were fined for continuing to trade with France during the Anglo-French war (1689-1697) …

There is also a memorial to the brilliant surgeon Percivall Pott who I wrote about in last week’s blog.

St Mary is the regimental church of the Royal Tank Regiment – ‘Once a Tankie always a Tankie’ …

The nearby old City church of St Antholin was demolished in 1875 and the parish merged with St Mary’s. A plaque on the wall outside memorialises this union …

If you entered St Mary’s from the west, the door casing you walked through came from St Antholin …

The best view of the church is from the south side of Queen Victoria Street …

The golden finials at the top of the tower are now, I’m told, made of fibreglass!

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From a famous broken leg to child chimney sweeps – my new hero Percivall Pott.

On a recent visit to St Mary Aldermary, I took a stroll around the church and was intrigued by this memorial …

I wanted to find out more about this paragon who was ‘Original in Genius, prompt in Judgement, rapid in Decision’, who, ‘whilst he gathered the knowledge of his Predecessors, he perceived their errors and corrected them’. Someone ‘Singularly eminent in his profession’ but also with ‘Private Virtues … his signal tenderness towards his family ‘ and ‘Amiable. Useful. Great’. I liked very much also the tribute to ‘his beloved Wife. The Partner of his virtues and his intellectual endowments’.

Here he is, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds …

Percivall Pott (1714-1788) was born and raised in the City of London. Due to the untimely death of his father before he reached the age of four, it was
thanks to the generosity of his rich relatives that he had the opportunity to fulfil his ambitions. At only 22 years he was awarded the Great Diploma of the Company of Barber Surgeons and by 34 was appointed a fully independent surgeon at St Bartholomew’s, where he remained until
retirement. Today, over 300 years since his birth, he is known as one of the founders of orthopaedics and occupational health.

Pott’s name lives on in a number of conditions that he identified, such as Pott’s disease of the spine and Pott’s Puffy Tumour. The one that initially intrigued me, however, was Pott’s Fracture and how it came to get its name. It was literally by accident!

Here is its story – do please have a read. It speaks volumes about the man himself and the times he lived in.

In January 1756, while on his way to see a patient, Pott was thrown from his horse and sustained an open compound fracture of his lower leg. This is his son-in-law’s account of what happened next …

Conscious of the dangers attendant on fractures of this nature, and thoroughly aware how much they may be increased by rough treatment, or
improper position, he would not suffer himself to be moved until he had made the necessary dispositions. He sent to Westminster, then the nearest place, for two Chairmen to bring their poles; and patiently lay on the
cold pavement, it being the middle of January, till they arrived. In this situation he purchased a door, to which he made them nail their poles. When all was ready, he caused himself to be laid on it, and was carried through
Southwark, over London Bridge, to Watling Street, near St. Paul’s, where he had lived for some time—a tremendous distance in such a state! I cannot forbear remarking, that on such occasions a coach is too frequently employed, the jolting motion of which, with the unavoidable awkwardness of position, and the difficulty of getting in and out, cause a great and often a fatal aggravation of the mischief.

After a meeting with some fellow surgeons, it was decided that amputation was the only sensible option and the distinguished patient agreed. Just as the instruments were prepared, however, Edward Nourse (a fellow surgeon and Pott’s mentor) arrived and insisted reduction be tried. Here traction and pressure are applied to the fracture to correct the positioning of the bones.

Pott’s confidence in Nourse and his advice paid off and he subsequently kept his limb without evidence of disability. The reduction approach introduced by Nourse was subsequently refined and became widely used in the treatment of open compound fracture, leading to a substantial decline in amputations. In addition, fractures of the lower leg similar to the type Pott suffered, became known as Pott fractures.

A 1768 medical text book illustration of a Pott fracture …

So what is Pott’s connection with child chimney sweeps?

Being a chimney sweep, or climbing boy as they were often called, was a harsh and dangerous profession. Those employed were often orphans or from impoverished backgrounds, sold into the job by their parents …

After the Great Fire of London in 1666 buildings started becoming taller, with more rooms that required heating. This, combined with the Hearth Tax of 1662 assessed on the number of chimneys a house had, resulted in labyrinths of interconnected chimney flues. The much narrower and compact design that resulted meant adult sweeps were far too large to fit into such confined spaces. This understandably created a logistical problem as the deposits from the soot required constant cleaning but the space in which to do so was hardly navigable.

Thus, the climbing boys (and sometimes girls) became an essential part of mainstream life, providing a much needed service to buildings across the country.

A Trade Card from 1789 in which he promises he ‘always attends with the Boys himself’. Notice the probable ages of the children! …

I was quite surprised to come across this card, also from the 1700s – a challenge to the stereotype!

This online image is, supposedly, of a teenage sweep ‘apprentice’. Although it doesn’t have a clear attribution it has an authentic look about it …

One legend goes that funeral directors took pity on the young boys and gave them the top hats and coattails of deceased customers. If you book a ‘lucky’ sweep for your wedding he may well turn up wearing the traditional top hat.

Whilst there were variations between buildings, a standard flue would narrow to around 9 by 9 inches. With such a miniscule amount of movement afforded in such a small space, many of the climbing boys would have to ‘buff it’, meaning climb up naked, using only knees and elbows to force themselves up.

The perils of the job were vast, allowing for the fact that many a chimney would still be very hot from a fire and with some still maybe on fire. The skin of the boys would be left stripped and raw from the friction whilst a less dexterous child could possibly have found themselves completely stuck.

The position of a child jammed in a chimney would have often resulted in their knees being locked under their chins with no room to unlock themselves from this contorted position. Some would find themselves stranded for hours whilst the lucky ones could be helped out with a rope. Those less fortunate would simply suffocate and die in the chimney forcing others to remove the bricks in order to dislodge the body. The consistent verdict given by the coroner after the loss of a young life like this was ‘accidental death’.

This is a cross-section of a seven-flue stack in a four-story house with cellars, an 1834 illustration from Mechanics’ Magazine …

The author states: ‘The illustration at ‘E’ shows a disaster. The climbing boy is stuck in the flue, his knees jammed against his chin. The master sweep will have to cut away the chimney to remove him. First he will try to persuade him to move: sticking pins in the feet, lighting a small fire under him. Another boy could climb up behind him and try to pull him out with a rope tied around his legs – it would be hours before he suffocated’.

The death of two climbing boys in the flue of a chimney. Frontispiece to ‘England’s Climbing Boys’ by Dr. George Phillips …

This is what Pott wrote about chimney sweeps in 1775. His compassionate nature shines through …

The fate of these people seems singularly hard; in their early infancy they
are most frequently treated with great brutality, and almost starved with
cold and hunger; they are thrust up narrow, and sometimes hot chimneys,
where they are buried, burned and almost suffocated; and when they get
to puberty, become liable to a most noisome, and fatal disease.

Pott’s work and concern opened the door on a new field of occupational health when he proved an association between an exposure to soot by chimney sweeps in London and cancer of the scrotum: the first time an environmental hazard encountered in the workplace was shown to cause cancer. Many of the climbing boys would get scrotal squamous cell carcinoma, which they called soot wart, in their late teens or early twenties.  His publication on the topic in 1775, Chirurgical Observations, also contributed to the creation of the field of epidemiology and the passage of the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1788, which set the minimum age for chimney sweeps at eight years but it was rarely enforced.

Subsequent legislation failed to be effective also and business continued more or less as usual until 1875 when a 12-year-old sweep, George Brewster, got stuck in a chimney and died shortly after. His Master, William Wyer, was found guilty of manslaughter, and widespread publicity incited a fervent campaign for strict regulations. In 1875, a successful solution was implemented by the Chimney Sweepers’ Act which required sweeps to be licensed and made it the duty of the police to enforce all previous legislation – though it was too late for the countless young labourers who had come before.

As will be obvious from the length of this blog, as I researched him more extensively I became a great admirer of Percivall Pott. Not only a great medical man but, by all accounts, a fine person too and quite a character. For example, one biographer states ‘he had a pleasing appearance, and dressed according to the fashion of the period, visiting the hospital in his powdered wig, red coat and buckled sword … he was elegant, lower than middle size. He was an excellent conversationalist with ready wit and a fund of anecdotes’.

On December 27, 1788, he died of pneumonia due to a chill he caught while, against advice, visiting a patient in severe weather 20 miles from London. His last conscious words were: “My lamp is almost extinguished; I hope it
has burnt for the benefit of others.” It certainly had.

At some point his gravestone was moved from inside the church to just outside the west door where now, sadly, folk walk across it not realising the distinguished person it commemorates …

The inscriptions are very worn but I have established what they say and they form an interesting record of some of Percivall’s descendants. Here they are …

PERCIVALL POTT F.R.S. died 27 December 1788. Aged 75

MRS SARAH FRYE, his eldest daughter, died 27 October 1791, aged 41

Mrs. MARY LITCHFIELD, eldest daughter of J. R. FRYE and above SARAH and wife of H. C. LITCHFIELD, died 22 January 1806, aged 31

Mrs SARAH POTT, relict of above, died 18 January 1811, aged 87

Miss MARY LITCHFIELD, second daughter of RICHARD LITCHFIELD, of Torrington, co. Devon, died 1 March 1811, aged 27

PERCIVALL POTT, eldest son of above PERCIVALL, died 27 January 1833 aged 83

SARAH FRYE. Daughter of J. R. FRYE and grand-daughter of PERCIVALL POTT, senr., died 9 March 1844 aged  69

Ven. JOSEPH HOLDEN POTT, M.A. Chancellor of Exeter, and late Archdeacon of London, died 17 February, 1847, aged 88

I am indebted to the historian Jessica Brain for her article about the climbing boys which I have drawn on extensively for this blog. You can read the full article here. You can also read an excellent short biography of Percivall Pott here in the Who’s Who in Orthopedics Journal. For a really deep analysis of the climbing boys and the campaigns to help them I recommend the 2010 doctoral thesis by Niels van Manen PhD, which you will find here.

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Special Billingsgate edition.

Often, just when I fear I am running out of subjects to write about, the Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery comes to my rescue and they have just done so again with their special exhibition focusing on Billingsgate Market.

A Survey of London by John Stow in 1603 described Billingsgate as follows: ‘… which … is at this present a large Watergate, Port or Harbrough for shippes and boats, commonly arriving there with fish, both fresh and salt, shell fishes, salt, Orenges, Onions, and other fruits and rootes, wheate, Rie, and garine of divers sorts …’.

Before you view the items on display, pause at the backlit ‘Agas’ Map of 1561 and seek out ‘Bylynges gate’ and the carefully drawn ships moored at the quayside …

The first cabinet …

On the left is the Liber Horn, a book made in 1311 by Andrew Horn (Chamberlain of the City 1320-1328). It’s a compilation of charters, statutes and customs written upon vellum in Norman French …

In May 1699 an Act of Parliament conferred special privileges on the market which was declared ‘… a free and open Market for all sorts of fish whatsoever …’ and the sale of fish six days in the week and mackerel for sale on Sundays’. The two documents in the centre of the case date from this period.

The order issued by the Court of Aldermen on 24 December 1699 details the hours of the fish market and the times at which the market bell was to be rung as well as commenting on ‘… Mischiefs and evil Practices …’. …

On the right is a petition by the fishermen to Sir Richard Levitt (sic), Lord Mayor, protesting at being ‘… hindered and oppressed by great vessels loaded with salt and oranges …’ and requests the dock be cleared for the petitioners’ vessels …

The market flourished and the 1830 map on the right illustrates the layout of the dock at that time …

The second cabinet …

The collection of tolls by the market authorities was recorded in volumes. These detail the payments raised on type of vessel and catch with expenses including (handwritten at the bottom of the page) an allowance for coal and candles and collecting bad fish …

Porters were licensed by the City of London to act as porter and ply for trade within the market and this volume records the details …

This is a close up of the entry for Edward Jenkins, the man whose entry is crossed out because of his death, showing his various changes of address over the years …

Licenses were issued to individuals confirming their ability to work …

There is also a nice selection of images for visitors to enjoy. Here are just a few …

The present building dates from 1876 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones, an architect perhaps best known for creating Tower Bridge but who also designed Leadenhall and Smithfield markets. Business boomed until 1982, when the fish market moved to the Isle of Dogs. The south side of the old market today …

I love the weathervanes …

Similar weathervanes adorn the new market buildings in Docklands but they are fibreglass copies.

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My visit to the Wellcome Collection and the ‘Cult of Beauty’.

I hope those of you who are regular readers don’t mind too much when I wander outside the bounds of the City when I think there is something interesting happening elsewhere, and in the case of the Wellcome Collection it’s only a few Tube stops away.

At the entrance to the Cult of Beauty exhibition …

The guide tells us that the exhibition explores notions of beauty across time and cultures. ‘Around the world, beauty is constantly seen as an ideal worthy of going to great lengths to achieve. But what are the driving forces that lead us to believe in a myth of universal beauty, despite its evolving nature?’

‘Featuring over 200 items, including historical objects, artworks, films and new commissions, the exhibition considers the influence of morality, status, health, age, race and gender on the evolution of ideas about beauty.’

Reproduction of the bust of Nefertiti, originally created circa 1354-1351 BCE …

‘An archytype of African feminine beauty’.

‘Beautiful features have long been seen as a gateway to the spiritual in different belief systems. The print of Krishna challenges Christian associations of beauty with morals such as chastity’ …

‘The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of multicultural and multi-ethnic identities, especially in areas where different religions and cultural traditions meet’ …

The ‘Esquiline Venus’ and the ‘Idolino’ or ‘Little Idol’ – First Century concepts of beauty reproduced in the late 19th century …

‘Husbands bringing their ugly wives to a windmill, to be transformed into beautiful women’ – German chapbook circa 1650 …

Trying to get that figure in shape …

It was not just women enduring torture …

A dandy being laced into a tight corset by two servants (1819).

Cosmetic entrepreneur Helena Rubenstein testing products in her Long Island Factory (1950s) …

The installation ‘Beauty Sensorium’ brings together historical references with reconstructions of Renaissance make-up recipes, inviting visitors to look, smell and touch …

Equipment to enhance appearance and fragrance …

More like a surgeon’s travelling kit …

‘Narcissister’s three-metre-tall hanging sculpture ‘(Almost) all of my dead mother’s beautiful things’ centres on the crushing weight of beauty ideals that are passed from one generation to another’ …

‘Makeupbrutalism’s multimedia installation ‘It makes no sense being beautiful if no one else is ugly’ encourages us to question our beliefs, confront our raw selves beneath social pressure and to peel back the layers of the beauty industry’ …

What represents beauty changes all the time …

This 1970s product made me smile …

And on the Underground going home later, I had to smile again when I looked up and saw this (plus ça change) …

It is a provocative and thoughtful exhibition and I enjoyed it very much.

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Some images I liked that didn’t make it into a blog.

I take lots of pictures as I stroll around London and not all of them make their way into a blog. As I looked through images from the last six months or so I decided to publish a selection of the ones I liked most and hope you enjoy looking at them too.

I’ll start with one of my strangest encounters, the Golden Confessional Booth in the Bishopsgate Institute …

It was donated to the Institute by the artist Franko B in 2022. You can read more about him and the archive held at the Institute here.

If bollards have to be installed they might as well be pretty …

The Goldsmith’s Company leopard at the entrance to their garden on Gresham Street …

The screen in the crypt of St Pauls Cathedral …

The metalwork screen, 3.50 m high x 8 m wide, spans the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, It stands as a permanent memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, the third great national hero to have a state funeral at the Cathedral, alongside those of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson.

I never get tired of photographing the Cathedral …

A stroke of planning genius putting a water feature here …

Outside St Thomas’ Hospital, Edward VI looks in good shape considering how long he’s been in the open air …

It’s one of two statues of the king at the hospital, both commemorating his re-founding of the institution in 1551. This one was carved by Thomas Cartwright in 1682 and originally formed the centrepiece of a group of figures which adorned a gateway on Borough High Street. It was moved to its current location in the 20th century.

Old gravestones in Postman’s Park …

According to the estimable Percy Rushen, the full inscription on the stone in the middle reads ‘FANNY wife of WILLIAM SNOWLEY of the parish, died 22 November 1847 aged 48’. The one in front is the marker for ‘JOSHUA HOBSON, of the parish, died 5 February 1833 aged 49’.

The Gothic masterpiece that is St Pancras, built 1868 …

Nearby Kings’s Cross. It’s the older of the two buildings (1852) but certainly doesn’t look it …

The mysterious McLaren sports car that’s been parked outside the St Pancras hotel for ages …

You can read more about it here.

If you order oysters at Searcey’s Restaurant at St Pancras the plate is rested on this rather special holder …

The giant gnomon on the sundial at Tower Hill …

Numerous important events are recorded around the dial ..

The Emperor Trajan outside the nearby Underground entrance. Disrespectful visitors often place an empty drinks can in his hand …

I spotted this cinema poster in a restaurant. Certainly typical of its period (1967) …

The critics were not kind and I don’t think they made another movie!

Barbican hanging gardens …

Duck tucking into one of his ‘5-a-day’ …

The circus still comes to town …

Blackfriars reflection …

Unusual sundial on the Thames River Walk near the Millennium Bridge …

Inside Battersea Power Station – lots of big brands but not a lot of people …

Two important messages …

The wall in the distance is all that remains of the notorious Newgate Gaol, demolished in 1902 …

Great ghost sign at Finchley Road Underground Station …

Lovely idea at Kilburn Station …

And another transport related image, the magnificent roof at Stockwell Bus Garage – at one time it was Europe’s largest unsupported roof span …

Licence plate humour (well, I’m easily amused) …

And finally, lunch last week at Brutto, a great way to start the New Year …

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The Heroes of Postman’s Park.

You only need to visit the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park to see evidence of the dangers that people were exposed to in Victorian times.

Here is the man we have to thank for this window on the past …

George Frederic Watts was a famous Victorian artist and this picture is a self-portrait. He first suggested the memorials we see today in 1887 but the idea was not taken up until 1898 when the vicar of St Botolph’s church offered him this site in Postman’s Park. There Watts’ ambition to commemorate ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ came to fruition and when the park was officially opened on 30 July 1900 there were already four tablets in place.

Sixty two people feature on the memorial today which is housed in a wooden loggia …

I find that their stories still evoke a range of emotions, particularly ones of sadness and curiosity, which left me wanting to know more about these people, their lives and the manner of their deaths. There are also clues as to the nature of society and work at that time along with the quality of healthcare.

We are reminded, for example, that horses played a tremendous part in work practices, transport, leisure and, sadly, war. It’s estimated, for example, that there were about 3.3 million horses in late Victorian Britain and in 1900 about a million of these were working horses. Of the 62 people commemorated here, five died as a result of an incident involving horses and I shall write about two of them.

Here is the first mention of horses on the wall …

William Drake earned his living as a carriage driver and on this occasion his passenger was one of the most famous sopranos of her day, a lady called Thérèse Tietjens. The breaking of the carriage pole caused panic among the horses and they reared out of control. In fighting to control them, Drake received a severe kick to his right knee which subsequently resulted in the septicaemia that led to his death on April 8th. A message was passed to the coroner at the inquest that ‘those dependent on the deceased would be amply cared for by Madame Tietjens’. Notwithstanding this, Drake was buried at the expense of the parish in a common grave in Brompton Cemetery, although there is evidence that his widow did receive an annuity from somewhere.

Elizabeth Boxall died after being kicked by a runaway carthorse as she pulled a small child out of its way …

Her brave act actually took place in July 1887 but over the next eleven months poor Elizabeth’s health deteriorated. Part of her leg was amputated in September and a further part (up to her hip) in January 1888, her condition being complicated by a diagnosis of cancer. Her parents were distraught by her death and the way she had been treated by the medical profession – for example, the first amputation was carried out without her or her parents’ permission. ‘They regularly butchered her at that hospital’ her father exclaimed at the inquest and the jury found that shock from the second operation was the cause of death. No one from the hospital attended the inquest but the House Governor at the London Hospital disputed the finding in a letter to the press.

Still on a medical theme, the highly contagious infection known as diptheria features twice on the memorials. Now extremely rare due to vaccination programmes, it was once a frequent killer of small children and also posed a danger to physicians such as Samuel Rabbeth …

I have been able to locate a picture of him thanks to the excellent London Walking Tours blog…

Dr Samuel Rabbeth (1858 – 1884) from The Illustrated London News 15th November 1884
Copyright, The British Library Board

On October 10th the doctor was treating a four year old patient who was in danger of asphyxiation as diptheria often resulted in a membrane blocking the airways. The standard treatment of tracheotomy had been performed but to no avail and Rabbeth performed the more risky procedure of sucking on the tracheotomy tube to remove the obstruction. Unfortunately in doing so he contracted the infection himself and died on 20th October (not the 26th as shown on the plaque). There was some (fairly muted) criticism of his actions by doctors who believed he acted recklessly, although from the most honourable of motives.

He has a fine gravestone in Barnes Cemetery which gives details of his personal professional history and the circumstances of his death …

Dr Lucas was infected as a result of an unfortunate accident …

He was in the process of administering an anaesthetic to a child with diptheria in order that a tracheotomy could be carried out. The child coughed or sneezed in his face but, instead of delaying to clean himself up, which may have endangered the child’s life, he continued and as a result became infected. He died within a week.

I haven’t been able to find an image of him or his final resting place but a poem written in his memory was published in a number of newspapers and you can read it in full here.

Thomas Griffin was engaged to be married on 16 April 1899 and on 11 April he had travelled to Northampton to discuss arrangements with his family and then back home to Battersea for work the next day. He expected that by the end of the week he would be married, but that was not to be, and by the end of the following day he was dead …

An inquest on 17 April was told that, after an explosion in the refinery boiler room, the door had been closed and the men told to keep out. Griffin, who had been evacuated to safety, suddenly cried out ‘My mate! My mate!’ and before anyone could stop him had disappeared into the boiler room. Terribly scalded all over his body he died later that day. The coroner lamented that …

… the conduct of a man like him deserves to be recorded. No doubt there are heroes in everyday life, but they do not come to the front and so we do not hear of them.

Unbeknown to the coroner, Watts had been collecting newspaper cuttings of heroic acts for years and added Griffin’s story to the growing archive. So it came to pass that Thomas Griffin was among the first four people to be commemorated upon the newly opened memorial.

And finally …

One might get the impression that this gentleman was particularly worthy of recognition because the person he saved was not only a stranger but also a foreigner. This would be a shame if it detracts from a very brave act and a tragic one also since, according to Cambridge’s brother Royston, John need not have perished. He told the Nottingham Evening Post

My brother, who was a very good swimmer, saw while bathing an unknown person drowning, and swam out to her assistance. The bathing boat rescued the lady, and the other bather, but the boatmen declined to go out again, although we implored them to do so, and offered them payment, until they were ordered out by officials. It was then, of course, too late.

I have written in great detail about the following four heroes in an earlier blog which you can find (along with pictures of three of them) here

I am indebted for the background research used in this blog to the historian John Price and his incredibly interesting book Heroes of Postman’s Park – Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London. You will find details of how to purchase your copy here.

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St Stephen Walbrook – The Samaritans, Sir Henry Moore and a brave doctor.

One day in 1936 a young priest officiated at his first funeral – a 14 year old girl who had killed herself because, when her periods started, she thought it was a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. That there seemed to have been no one she could talk to had a profound effect on him, but it was not until 18 years later that, as he put it,

I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker … ? What sort of a someone might they want?

He looked at his phone, ‘DIAL 999 for Fire, Police or Ambulance’ it said …

There ought to be an emergency number for suicidal people, I thought. Then I said to God, be reasonable! Don’t look at me… I’m possibly the busiest person in the Church of England.

When the priest, Chad Varah, was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a ‘999 for the suicidal’. He was, in his own words, ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. The first call to the new service was made on 2nd November 1953 and this date is recognised as Samaritans’ official birthday.

The Reverend Dr Chad Varah at his telephone – you just had to dial MAN 9000.

It soon became obvious that the volunteers, who used to keep people company whilst they were waiting to speak to Chad, were also capable of helping in their own right and in February 1954 he officially handed over the task of supporting the callers to them.

If you visit the church you can see the phone itself …

St Stephen Walbrook (rebuilt 1672-80) was one of Wren’s largest and earliest churches and the meticulous care taken with it might, some suggest, be because Sir Christopher lived next door. Incidentally, Mr Pollixifen, who lived on the other side, bitterly complained about the building taking his light. Maybe he was mollified when the the church’s internal beauty was revealed.

Views towards St Stephen’s have opened up since completion of the new development on Walbrook, which also houses a meticulously restored Temple of Mithras (see my 25th January 2018 blog: The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and the Games).

Looking at the exterior one can see the lovely green Byzantine style dome …

The interior is bright, intimate and stunning, old Victorian stained glass having been removed …

Wren’s dome and Sir Henry Moore’s altar

The dome was the first of its kind in any English church and a forerunner of Wren’s work on St Paul’s Cathedral. After being damaged in the Blitz the church was restored by Godfrey Allen in 1951-52. Controversy broke out when, between 1978 and 1987, the church was re-ordered under the sponsorship of churchwarden Peter (later Lord) Palumbo and a striking ten tonne altar by Sir Henry Moore was placed at its centre.

Sometimes I look at church memorial plaques and, if they are entirely in Latin, just rather lazily move on. In this case it was a big mistake since I was ignoring a tribute to a very brave man …

Dr Nathaniel Hodges’ memorial on the north wall. Photograph: Bob Speel.

The Great Plague of 1665-1666 was the worst outbreak in England for over 300 years and London probably lost getting on for 20% of its population. While 68,596 deaths were recorded in the city, the true number was most likely to be over 100,000. Those who could, usually the professionals and the wealthy, fled the city and this included four-fifths of the College of Physicians. Charles II and his courtiers left in July for Hampton Court and then Oxford where Parliament also relocated in October,

Nathaniel Hodges was a 36-year-old doctor practising in London when the pestilence reached the City. London was awash, he said later, with ‘Chymists’ and ‘Quacks’ dispensing, as he put it: ‘… medicines that were more fatal than the plague and added to the numbers of the dead.’

Dr Hodges decided to stay and minister to the sick and dying.

First thing every morning before breakfast he spent two or three hours with his patients. He wrote later …

Some (had) ulcers yet uncured and others … under the first symptoms of seizure all of which I endeavoured to dispatch with all possible care …

hardly any children escaped; and it was not uncommon to see an Inheritance pass successively to three or four Heirs in as many Days.

After hours of visiting victims where they lived he walked home and, after dinner, saw more patients until nine at night and sometimes later.

He survived the epidemic and wrote two learned works on the plague. The first, in 1666, he called An Account of the first Rise, Progress, Symptoms and Cure of the Plague being a Letter from Dr Hodges to a Person of Quality. The second was Loimologia, published six years later …

The above is a later edition of Dr Hodges’ work, translated from the original Latin and published when the plague had broken out in France.

It seems particularly sad to report that his life ended in personal tragedy when, in his early fifties, his practice dwindled and fell away. Finally he was arrested as a debtor, committed to Ludgate Prison, and died there, a broken man, in 1688.

Translated from the Latin, his memorial reads as follows:

Learn to number thy days, for age advances with furtive step, the shadow never truly rests. Seeking mortals, born that they might succumb, the executioner comes from behind. While you breathe you are a victim of death; you know not the hour in which your fate will call you. While you look at monuments, time passes irrevocably. In this tomb is laid the physician Nathaniel Hodges in the hope of heaven; now a son of earth, who was once a son of Oxford. May you survive the plague by his writings. Born 13 September AD 1629 Died 10 June 1688.

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Fun architecture in Eastcheap (and trying out the camera on my new phone!)

Having got myself a new iPhone I thought I would give it a trial run in Eastcheap where there is some unusual architecture to explore.

This is what you see as you approach from the west …

And if you view from the east …

I thought it would be interesting to include these images to illustrate just how the Fenchurch Building a.k.a. the Walkie Talkie dominates the skyline here. It was amusing that, when the building was finished, it was discovered that the glass concentrated and reflected the sun’s rays in such a way that it was scorching cars parked in the street below. The structure was given a new nickname – the Walkie Scorchie.

The stars of the show at street level are definitely numbers 33-35. Designed by R L Roumieu and built 1868, today the facade is grade II* listed. The ‘masterpiece’ (as described by Architectural Historian; Pevsner) was made for Hill & Evans, vinegar-makers from Worcester …

Pevsner goes on to describe it as ‘one of the maddest displays in London of gabled Gothic’ and he quotes from Ian Nairn – architectural critic – who calls it ‘the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare’.

I love it!

Look at the wonderfully detailed brickwork …

There’s a medieval head wearing a coronet …

… and a boar crashing through the undergrowth. What’s that all about? …

The animal is a reference to The Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap where Shakespeare set the meetings of Sir John Falstaff and Prince Hal in his Henry IV plays and the medieval head represents the Prince.

No. 25, by Bird & Walters (1892-93), was a former pub. The narrow and plainer building on the right was built in 1860 …

Another 1860 building is the eye-catching one on the corner. It was once the offices and warehouses for Messers Hunt & Crombie, spice merchants …

Just below the roof is a fabulous combo of dogs’ and boars’ heads along with lovely brickwork …

Walk around the corner to see London’s tiniest public sculpture. Thousands of people walk past it every day and have, I’m sure, no idea it is there.

Can you spot it …

It’s two mice eating a piece of cheese …

There are a number of theories as to its origin but nobody knows for sure.

Further east, on the opposite side of the road, are more Eastcheap animals, including the remains of a dead one.

Constructed between 1883 and 1885, the building at number 20 was once the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices, whose trademark showed three camels bearing different shaped loads being led by a Bedouin Arab …

The firm was particularly well known for its ‘Camel’ brand of tea. When Sir Henry Peek (son of one of the original founders) commissioned this building he wanted the panel over the entrance to replicate the trademark, right down to the dried bones of the dead camel lying in the sand in the foreground.

The Peek Brothers letter heading/trademark – Copyright – British Overprint Society – Mark Matlach

He clearly wanted his prestigious building to be enhanced by a suitably eminent sculptor – preferably one with knowledge of camel anatomy.

The sculptor he picked, William Theed, was indeed an extraordinary choice for such a mundane task. Theed was a great favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and his work can be seen on the Albert Memorial where he sculpted the group Africa the central figure being, of course, a camel …

The Queen also liked and trusted him so much that she asked him to take her beloved Albert’s death mask when the Prince died tragically young in 1861.

Peeks carried on trading under various names until the 1970s. Another branch of the family ensures that the name lives on by way of the biscuit makers Peek Freans …

As is often the case, I am indebted to Katie Wignall, the Look up London blogger and Blue Badge Guide, for much of the background information on the architecture in today’s blog.

It just remains for me to wish you all a very happy and safe New Year and thank you very much for subscribing.

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The Christmas Quiz!

I almost can’t believe that this is my seventh Christmas quiz. When I started my blog way back in 2017 I wasn’t sure I could maintain a weekly publication, but here I am now writing blog number 325!

Happy Christmas and thank you so much for subscribing.

Here are the questions. They are all based on blogs published during 2023 and the answers are at the end of today’s edition.

1. This great 19th century philanthropist gave his name to good quality housing specifically designed for London’s ‘working poor’. Born in America, he was so admired by Queen Victoria that, when he died, she arranged for his body to be returned home on a British battleship. Who was he?

2. ‘Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy …’

Where is this window commemorating Shakespeare’s plays?

3. This window can be found at St Margaret Lothbury. What Livery Company has the lovely motto True Hearts and Warm Hands?

4. Look at these formidable boilers …

… and the massive pumping engine they service …

What world famous London landmark did they once help to operate?

5. The eyes of the man represented in this bust clearly indicate blindness …

He is commemorated in the church of St Giles-without-Cripplegate where he was buried in 1674. Who is he?

6. They are ‘two people’ but ‘only one artist’. Their new gallery opened on 1st April 2023. Who are they?

7. This innocuous tiled corridor was known as ‘Dead man’s walk’. Where is it?

8. This ceremonial staff, inscribed with his title ‘Surveyor to the Fabric’, belonged to a man whose work as an architect created much of the way the City looks today, over 300 years after his death. Who was he?

9. This mark is chiselled into the base of the church tower of St Alban Wood Street …

This one is on the Cheapside face of St Mary-le-Bow …

What do they signify?

10. What Livery Company is represented by this coat of arms?

11. This lady represents Science …

Nearby other ladies represent Fine Art, Agriculture and Commerce. Where are they?

12. This sundial is on a building that was once a Protestant church, then a Methodist Chapel, next a Jewish synagogue and is now a Mosque …

Where is it?

13. This watchtower was once used by brave crews who, when spotting danger to life, rushed to the rescue. Where is it and who were they?

14. These figures in the old churchyard of St John Zachary in Gresham Street represent a trade and profession that once flourished in nearby Fleet Street. What was it? And who do the figures represent?

15. This statue stands in the river opposite The Grapes pub in Limehouse. Who is the sculptor?

16. It’s believed that the Romans brought these animals to Britain and this one left its mark on a 2,000-year-old tile. What kind of animal was it?

17. This book was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It’s a collection of 36 of his works and was brought together by two of his friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell. What is it commonly known as?

18. This is the oldest Catholic church in England and was once located on a vast estate owned by the Bishop of Ely. Where is it?

19. Represented in beautiful stained glass in the church of St Bartholomew the Less, who is the chap in the snazzy tights?

20. This bell, dating from the early 17th century and on display in the Holy Sepulchre church, has a morbid connection with Newgate Gaol. When and why was it rung?

The answers:

1. George Peabody (1795-1869). Read more about him here.

2. Southwark Cathedral. See more images here.

3. It’s the Worshipful Company of Glovers. Read more here about the St Margaret’s stained glass.

4. Tower Bridge. Read more here.

5. John Milton. He was not allowed to rest in peace – read more here.

6. Of course, it’s Gilbert and George.

7. Below the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court.

8. Sir Christopher Wren.

9. They are what is known as Bench Marks and indicate where the height above sea level has been calculated.

10. The Worshipful Company of Saddlers.

11. On Holborn Viaduct.

12. Brick Lane. The Latin roughly translates as ‘We are but shadows’. Read about more sundials here.

13. The firefighter crews based at the old Bishopsgate Fire Station.

14. The trade and profession was the newspaper industry. Commissioned by the Westminster Press Group in 1954, it represents the newspaper process with a newsboy (sales), printer and editor (or proprietor).

15. It’s a sculpture by Anthony Gormley and is one of a series entitled Another Time.

16. A Cat. Read all about a terrific new exhibition about Roman London here.

17. The First Folio. An original copy (and other fascinating Shakespeare related material) is on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery until 25th January 2024.

18. Ely Place.

19. Rahere, the founder of St Bartholomew’s.

20. In 1605, a wealthy merchant called Robert Dow made a bequest of £50 for a bellman from the church to stand outside the cells of the condemned at midnight, ring the bell, and chant as follows:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

Read more about the church here.

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It’s Christmas decorations time – let’s get into the Festive spirit!

Wandering around the streets on a quiet Sunday afternoon at this time of year can be rather atmospheric and got me into quite a Christmassy mood.

This year there are a number of installations that you can walk into.

The ‘Happy House’ at City Point …

The ‘Bauble’ in the churchyard of Holy Sepulchre Church …

The arch at One New Change …

The ‘tree’ at the same location is as pretty as usual …

As is the view of St Paul’s …

The tree outside nearby St Mary-le-Bow …

Also in the churchyard …

At this time of year offices look a bit cosier than usual …

I wonder what’s going to be put in the big red stockings – this year’s bonus maybe (it is a bank!) …

The Shard, looking up from ground level …

… and a small selection of the constantly changing light display on the upper levels …

And finally, this year’s Barbican Christmas tree …

Remember, next week is the Christmas Quiz, so it’s time to do a bit of swotting since the questions will all be about blogs published in 2023.

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The mysterious panyer boy and other curiosities.

Here he sits in Panyer Alley, just beside an entrance to St Paul’s Underground Station, a naked little boy astride what looks like a basket, and a strange inscription precisely dated ‘August the 27 1688’. What is going on?

Sadly the little chap has become very eroded and damaged over the years, and it is pretty surprising that he has survived at all. After a bit of searching I have found a drawing of him, possibly from the 18th or 19th century, which may give us a better idea of what he used to look like …

The pedestal and scrollwork have now disappeared.

I have also found this old photograph, probably early 20th century …

For this picture and other really interesting photos, visit the Spitalfields Life blog Signs of Old London.

As with all mysteries, there are many theories, but all are agreed that the sign really does date from the 17th century since this is acknowledged in trusted sources such as Thomas Pennant’s Of London (1790). What the boy is doing and what he represents are the areas where there is much dispute, for example:

‘Is he: sitting on a pannier (basket), or a coil of rope, or a woolsack, or a barrel?’

‘Is he holding: a bunch of grapes, or a loaf of bread, or his foot (perhaps pulling out a thorn – apparently the carving was once known locally as ‘pick my toe’)?’

‘Does he represent: the bread market that was here in medieval times, and at nearby St Martin’s Le Grand, or the sign of a brewhouse (brewery)? There was a Panyer brewhouse recorded nearby as long ago as 1426.’

‘Does he have any connection whatsoever to the claim to the highest ground?’.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but one thing that is certain is that this is not the ‘highest ground’ in the City, that description nowadays belongs to Cornhill.

Nearby on the north west corner of Warwick Lane is a small bas-relief of Guy, Earl of Warwick. It is believed that the lane was so named since it was the location of the Warwick Inn owned, not surprisingly, by the Earls of Warwick.

The knight represented is the 10th Earl (c.1272-1315) and the British Museum archives hold a picture of the carving as it was illustrated in Antiquities of London (1791) …

And here is how it looks now …

You can see that the top and bottom sections of the present-day relief were added later, most likely at the time of a restoration in 1817 by John Deykes (an architect and surveyor). Pennants London is a book published in 1805 and its 5th edition (1815) gets a mention on the relief, right down to the page number where  the carving is discussed (492). Maybe the publisher paid for the restoration in return for this smart piece of advertising?

Incidentally, whilst researching the Warwicks I came across this reference to the Warwick Inn. Neville, the 16th Earl …

At a meeting of the great estates of the realm in 1547 … lodged himself  (there) with 600 men where, says Stowe, ‘there were oftentimes six oxen eaten at … breakfast, and every tavern was full of his meat; for he that had any acquaintance in that house, might have there so much of sodden [boiled] and roast meat, as he could prick and carry upon a long dagger.’

Now that’s what I call a buffet.

On the north west side of nearby Ludgate Circus is this memorial plaque. Wallace sold newspapers on this corner when he was eleven years old …

The memorial is by F.W. Doyle-Jones (1934).

Born out of wedlock in Greenwich in 1875, and with both of his parents itinerant actors, he was adopted by a kindly Billingsgate fish porter and his wife. Asked by a journalist years later to contribute to a celebrity feature entitled ‘What I Owe My Parents’, Wallace replied on a postcard:

‘Sorry, cock, I’m a bastard’.

Despite such a challenging start to life (or perhaps because of it) his story is extraordinary. As well as journalism, Wallace wrote screen plays, poetry, historical non-fiction, 18 stage plays, 957 short stories, and over 170 novels, By 1926, he was knocking out 18 novels a year and by 1929, he was up to 34, and it was claimed that a quarter of all books read in English were by him.

When he turned to writing fiction in 1905 he told his wife he would give his readers :

 ‘Crime and blood and three murders to the chapter; such is the insanity of the age that I do not doubt for one moment the success of my venture.’

More than 160 films have been made of Wallace’s work and he sold over 50 million copies of his combined works in various editions, The Economist describing him as ‘one of the most prolific thriller writers of [the 20th] century’.

So why is he hardly known at all now compared to his overlapping contemporaries Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie? His biographer, Neil Clark, sees him as a victim of literary snobbery, being one of the first crime writer to come from a working-class background. Another factor may be that the characters of his investigators, JG Reeder and the gloomy Inspector Elk, were not as seductive as Holmes, Poirot or Maigret. For example, Elk was introduced in The Fellowship of the Frog as ‘tall and thin, a slight stoop accentuated his weediness.’

Wallace’s last piece of work was on one of the most famous movies of all time …

In 1931 RKO invited him to Hollywood to work on an idea that Wallace would generously credit to the director, Merian C. Cooper. However, as Neil Clark makes clear in his biography, the Bodleian’s existing script shows that Wallace conceived the ‘beauty and the beast’ motif himself, the climb up the Empire State building and the aeroplane attack. I’m not sure how the red double decker London bus shown in the poster found its way to New York!

Wallace also created the final scene …

‘Kong opens his eyes, picks the girl up, holds her to his breast like a doll, closes his eyes and drops his head,’

Wallace died in Hollywood on 10th February 1932 after falling into a diabetic coma, compounded by double pneumonia, from which he never recovered.

And finally, would you like a close look at a piece of work by the pioneering modern sculptor Jacob Epstein?

Once again, as in previous blogs, I invite you to pass through the blue doors in Foster Lane to the lovely tranquil garden of St Vedast-alias-Foster  …

In the corner you will find Epstein’s Head and Shoulders of Canon Mortlock (1936)…

Mortlock was a personal friend of Epstein’s and also of Max Mallowan (Agatha Christie’s husband) who gave him the cuneiform marked tablet also displayed in the churchyard – see my blog City Churches and Churchyards – more Tales of the Unexpected.

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Copyright : British Museum

St Bartholomew the Less – an arithmetical memorial and some very spectacular tights!

Poor St Bartholomew the Less has had a tough time (EC1A 9DS). Designated ‘the less’ to distinguish it from its better known namesake nearby, it has also had to be substantially rebuilt a number of times including the need to repair damage inflicted in the Blitz. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating place containing many interesting historical monuments.

To find its modest doorway you must enter the grounds of St Bartholomew’s hospital through the Henry VIII gates and look to your left. Inside a rather spooky white hand directs you up stairs to the main body of the church …

It was once a parish church in its own right, the parish boundary being the walls of the hospital. The parishioners were made up of the hospital staff and patients and at one time attendance at services was compulsory for all who were fit enough. It was the only parish of this nature in existence but since 2015, however, it has become part of the Parish of St Bartholomew the Great.

There are many features to admire but, for reasons of space, I have tried to pick some of the most interesting and will look at others in a future blog.

This stained glass commemorates the founding of he monastic complex of St Bartholomew in 1123. The person responsible was Rahere, a courtier to Henry I, who was inspired by a vision of the saint whilst recovering from a serious illness …

Rahere is shown kneeling and beneath his cassock is rather a surprise. He is wearing some very colourful tights, a reference to the fact that he’s often referred to as a minstrel or jester as well as a courtier …

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.

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).

The current windows in the church were designed by Hugh Easton, following the loss of the earlier windows during World War Two. Easton was an eminent stained glass maker who also designed the Battle of Britain memorial window in Westminster Abbey. The design of the nurse in the window in Westminster Abbey is strikingly similar to that in the window here …

The doctors’ memorial window …

The mid-19th century alabaster pulpit depicts Christ healing the sick …

On the east wall is the poignant memorial plaque to Arthur Jermyn Landon …

The reflections make it difficult to read so here it is in full …

His former medical contemporaries at St Bartholomew’s Hospital have set up this tablet to keep in memory the bright example of ARTHUR JERMYN LANDON Surgeon Army Medical Department who, while continuing to dress the wounded amid a shower of bullets in the action on Majuba Hill, was in turn mortally wounded. His immediate request to his assistants “I am dying do what you can for the wounded” was characteristic of his unselfish disposition. His habitual life was expressed in the simple grandeur of his death. He was born at Brentwood Essex 29th June 1851. Died two days after the action at Mount Prospect South Africa 1st March 1881.

Here he is in an image of him dated 1881 held at the Wellcome Foundation …

The elaborate memorial to John and Mary Darker (Died 1784 and 1800) …

Before you leave, look to the right of the door and you will see the tomb of Surgeon John Freke (1688-1756) …

English History Online has the following to say …

… a remarkably curious tomb of the fireplace kind, most elaborately wrought. It is the tomb of Freke, the senior surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, who wrote many works upon surgery, still to be found in its library. His bust is to be seen in the museum of the hospital, and he is represented by Hogarth, in the last plate of “The Stages of Cruelty,” presiding aloft over the dissecting-table, and pointing with a long wand to the dead “subject,” upon whom he is lecturing to the assembled students.

And here it is …

You can read more about Hogarth’s The Four Stages of Cruelty here.

Look back after leaving the church and observe the oldest parts of the building, the 15th-century tower and west end of the church …

Within the tower are three bells, the oldest being cast in 1380. The bells are hung in the original wooden frame thought to be the oldest in London.

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Holy Sepulchre Church – music, war, justice and a marriage that produced 23 children.

I have been a bit unlucky in the past when, walking towards Holborn Viaduct, I have found this church closed. Last weekend, however, my luck was in and I ventured inside. I am delighted I did.

The porch, tower and outer walls date from the mid-15th century …

The interior is a bit of a mixture of late 17th century to mid-Victorian …

The first thing that struck me was the quality of the stained glass.

A window removed for safe keeping during the War …

St Bernard with some of his followers …

I stopped to admire the glass in the Musicians’ Chapel.

This is the burial place of Sir Henry Wood, founder and conductor of the Proms for nearly 50 years, in memory of whom there is a window and a memorial plaque …

There is a window to Walter Carroll who lived from 1869 till 1955 in Manchester. He was a composer and a music teacher, especially known for his music for children, which he wrote for his two daughters Ida and Elsa …

Dame Nellie Melba, an Australian operatic lyric coloratura soprano, also has a commemorative window. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician …

For centuries, the church had a close association with the notorious Newgate Prison which stood across the road where the Old Bailey is now.

Carts carrying the condemned on their way to Tyburn would pause briefly at the church where prisoners would be presented with a nosegay. However, they would already have had an encounter with someone from the church the night before. In 1605, a wealthy merchant called Robert Dow made a bequest of £50 for a bellman from the church to stand outside the cells of the condemned at midnight, ring the bell, and chant as follows:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

And you can still see the bell today, displayed in a glass case in the church …

The south chapel is dedicated to the City of London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers …

Regimental colours dating back to the 19th century are on display …

The terrible carnage of the First World War is recalled by some of the battle honours recorded here …

I am so delighted that I looked up and noticed this memorial …

I quote here from the Worshipful Company of Barbers’ website:

Edward Arris was a distinguished surgeon and Master of the Barbers’ Company. He died in 1651, two years after his wife Mary. Their marriage had lasted 60 years and produced 23 children, only one of whom (Thomas) survived their mother.

The inscription reads: ‘Edward Arris Esq gave to ye company of Chyrurgeons 30l for an anatomy lecture & to the Hospital of St Bartholomew 24l both yearly forever to Christ Church Hospital 100l & 50l towards rebuilding of this church; and several large gifts to the poor of this parish, wherein he was born. And all these in his life time. Hee deceased the 28 May 1676 aged 85 and lyeth buryed by his wife.

The money Arris provided to the Company in 1645 – a benefaction he attempted to keep secret – founded six lectures and a dissection in the Inigo Jones Anatomy Theatre annually. His name (along with that of another Master of the Company) and these lectures live on today as the Arris and Gale Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Besides providing grooming services, barber-surgeons regularly performed dental extractions, bloodletting, minor surgeries and sometimes amputations. The association between barbers and surgeons goes back to the early Middle Ages, hence the blood and bandages sign outside barber shops today.

This beautiful font cover was donated by a parishoner in 1670 …

There is another font cover nearby with a thrilling back story …

Vicars going back to the 12th century …

When you leave the church there is one other thing to look out for – the first ever public drinking fountain installed in London …

You can read all about it in my earlier blog entitled Philanthropic Fountains.

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‘Lest we forget’ …

After Remembrance Sunday every year it has become my habit to visit some of the City War Memorials, both to pay my respects and to read some of the moving tributes left by visitors.

The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates over 36,000 men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars along with the seafarers killed in the Falklands conflict of 1982.

The first was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled in 1928. The main structure is in Portland stone. It takes the form of a vaulted colonnade or pavilion reminiscent of a Doric temple but open at both ends …

That’s All Hallows-by-the-Tower in the distance …

The second was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and unveiled in 1955 …

It is a sunken garden with the steps leading down to it flanked by a Mercantile Marine officer …

… and a seaman of the Merchant Service. Behind him, in his eyrie above what was once the Port of London Authority building, Father Thames points towards the sea …

The walls are covered with bronze panels with the names of the dead arranged alphabetically under their ships with the name of the Master or Skipper first in each case if they were among the lost. At regular intervals, between the inscription panels, are allegorical figures representing the Seven Seas.

A little boy rides a dolphin accompanied by seahorses …

Neptune with his trident …

A mermaid combing her hair …

My eyes were drawn to these pictures of a lost sailor and his ship …

This is the sweet poem that was attached …

The Falklands Memorial …

A close up of the little hat …

The London Troops Memorial outside the Royal Exchange

Your attention may be drawn to two battalions with unusual names, the Cyclists and the Artists’ Rifles …

Bicycles were commonly used in the First World War, not only for troop transport, but also for carrying dispatches. Field telephones were limited by the need for cables, and ‘wireless’ communications were still unreliable, so cyclists – and runners, motorbike riders, and pigeons and dogs – were frequently preferred, by the Allies and the German army.

I came across two interesting recruitment posters for the Cyclists at the Imperial War Museum. The first paints a quite romantic picture of the battalion going into combat in the bucolic setting of what looks like an English village. Nothing like the industrial level mass slaughter that these poor men would have to face in the First World War…

This one made me smile taking into account, as it does, the poor state of early 20th century dental hygiene …

The story of the Artists’ Rifles is a fascinating one.

The regiment was formed in 1859 by art student Edward Starling. It was a volunteer regiment and formed out of the widespread fear of a French invasion. Many of those who joined were artists, actors, musicians and architects and its first headquarters was located at Burlington House. The First World War would see the regiment literally leading from the front as they become a training regiment for officers in this period. It is also for this reason that the Artists Rifles had one of the highest casualty rates of any regiment.

This painting, Over the Top by John Nash, depicts his regiment in action. On 30th December 1917, the 1st Artists Rifles counter-attacked at Welsh Ridge, south-west of Cambrai. Nash called the action ‘pure murder’ as most of the company were killed. A sergeant, he counted himself lucky to escape the carnage …

Copyright : Imperial War Museum.

During the Great War, 2,003 of the regiment’s men were killed and over 3,000 wounded. Members of the regiment would be awarded eight Victoria Crosses and over 850 other military awards including the Distinguished Service Order (awarded 52 times) and the Military Cross (awarded 822 times). They were also mentioned in dispatches 564 times.

Incidentally, in the very first episode of the fourth series of Blackadder he becomes an artist, believing that this is his chance to escape the trenches. However, it is revealed that the artist’s role is to undertake a highly dangerous job – to draw the enemy’s defences from No Man’s Land.

The last episode of the series is renowned for its moving climax and you can view it here : Good luck everyone.

On Cornhill, the Archangel Michael holds aloft a flaming sword ……

The memorial commemorates 2,130 men from the parish – and the neighbouring City of London parishes of St Peter le Poer and St Benet Fink with which it was merged in 1906 – who served in the British armed forces in the First World War. About 170 died in the war, listed on a roll of honour kept in the church.

By the angel’s right foot are two lions, one biting the other, representing war; by the left foot are four putti looking upwards, representing peace.

And finally to St Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield …

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) …

Poignantly, the name Webb also appears on the memorial …

Aston’s son, Philip, was killed in action on 25th September 1916.

And finally, another poem dedicated to seafarers …

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The oldest Catholic church in England (and do you know anyone called Audrey?)

Last week I mentioned my visit to St Etheldreda’s church in Ely Place and promised to return, which I duly did on a lovely sunny Monday morning this week.

Ely Place was until relatively recently considered to be a part of Cambridgeshire. For centuries, it was an enclave – an area of land physically located in the City of London but not under its jurisdiction. Instead, it was privately owned by the Bishops of Ely, and even today the street has its own gatehouse and beadles …

The houses date from the 1770s.

Tucked away down a narrow passage on the left is the quaint Ye Olde Mitre pub. When I first visited it back in the 1970s it kept shorter ‘Country’ rather than ‘City’ opening hours …

Further north along Ely Place the church of St Etheldreda is set back from the road …

The original name of the saint celebrated here was Æthelthryth and this eventually evolved into Etheldreda which, in turn, sometimes became pronounced Audrey (a girl’s name now somewhat out of fashion). This explains the naming of the late Victorian block of flats called Audrey House that nudge up against the church itself …

The Bishop of Ely once had a palace in London back in the 13th century. To get an idea of the extraordinary wealth of the church before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, this is a section of the so-called Agas map of 1561 in which my fellow blogger London Inheritance has marked the streets that formed the boundaries to the Bishop’s land …

You can see the name Ely Place and St. Andrew’s church just to the right of where he has marked Holborn.

A private chapel was built alongside the palace dedicated to St Etheldreda, the nun who founded the first religious house in Ely in the 7th Century and is the saint to whom Ely Cathedral was dedicated. The chapel here dates from the late 13th Century and is one of the few buildings in London surviving from the reign of Edward I since it escaped the flames of the Great Fire in 1666 (although it was severely damaged following an air raid during the Second World War).

As soon as you enter you know you are in a rather special place …

Before descending into the crypt, there is an interesting feature just to the right of the door …

It was found when the site was excavated but its original purpose has never been established, although some have suggested it is the remains a Roman font.

Down the steps into the crypt …

When I visited the space was laid out for a function of some kind …

Some of the niches surrounding the venue …

Back upstairs now to the upper church.

On the way you pass a Royal coat of arms which commemorates the reopening of the church after bomb damage repair on 2nd July 1952 …

Also this memorial to William Lockhart

The upper church is a beautiful, spiritual place with some stunning post-War stained glass …

In the centre of the east window is Christ whilst at the apex God the Father surmounts the choir of angels …

To the left of Mary, the Mother of God, stands St Etheldreda, holding an image of the monastery she founded …

The west window is dedicated to the English martyrs. Five martyrs, each holding a palm, stand underneath the Tyburn gallows …

Martyrs hang on the ‘Tyburn Tree’ prior to being ‘drawn and quartered’ …

They are also commemorated with statues standing on corbels along both sides of the upper church. Here are three of them, all executed at Tyburm.

Anne Line, a sempstress, martyred in 1601 …

John Roche, a Thames Waterman, martyred in 1588 …

Edward Jones, a Welsh gentleman, martyred 1590 …

Alas there was no sign of the reliquary containing part of the saint’s ‘uncorrupted’ hand that I mentioned in my last blog. Presumably it’s stored away for safe keeping.

Overall St Ethelreda’s is a calm, welcoming place – ideal for quiet contemplation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I’d strongly recommend a visit both for that reason and for its historical importance.

If you want to read more about the church and the area go to the excellent London Inheritance blog. If you visit the church do purchase the guide book – it is very well written with excellent illustrations …

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Spooky special edition!

I know Halloween ended a few days ago but it did inspire me to look again at spooky aspects of the City and produce a special edition. I was also enthused by a quite extraordinary house I encountered in a trip to Hampstead which had totally embraced the Halloween spirit. Here’s a sample …

More later.

What better place to start in the City than Samuel Pepys’s ‘own church’, St Olave Hart Street.

It has a really gruesome but stunning churchyard entrance incorporating impaled skulls and crossed bones dated 11th April 1658. The Latin inscription, roughly translated, reads ‘Christ is life, death is my reward‘ and the central skull wears a victory wreath.

Charles Dickens called it ‘St Ghastly Grim’.

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

Note how much higher the graveyard is than the floor at the church door.

The crypt of the ‘Journalists’ Church’, St Brides in Fleet Street, is home to a fascinating museum containing an extraordinary coffin …

Until well into the 18th century the only source of corpses for medical research was the public hangman and supply was never enough to satisfy demand. As a result, a market arose to satisfy the needs of medical students and doctors and this was filled by the activities of the so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘body snatchers’. Some churches built watchhouses for guards to protect the churchyard, but these were by no means always effective – earning between £8 and £14 a body, the snatchers had plenty of cash available for bribery purposes. A tempting advertisement …

The idea was not popular with the clergy and in 1820 the churchwardens at St Andrew’s Holborn refused churchyard burial to an iron coffin. The body was taken out and buried, which led to a law suit. The judgment was that such coffins could not be refused but, since they took so much longer than wooden ones to disintegrate, much higher fees could be charged. This no doubt contributed to the relatively short time iron coffining was used.

St Brides also contains a charnel house, only opened by special arrangement. As you walk around the crypt, bear in mind that there are quite a few old Londoners resting nearby …

The primary customers for fresh corpses were the trainee surgeons at St Bartholomew’s Hospital so it’s no surprise that the nearby church of St Sepulchre had its own watchhouse. Sadly this was destroyed in the Blitz but there is a charming replica that you can see today …

Just around the corner is the entrance to the church so do call in if you can and visit a grim reminder of the days of the notorious Newgate Gaol and public executions.

Carts carrying the condemned on their way to Tyburn would pause briefly at the church where prisoners would be presented with a nosegay. However, they would already have had an encounter with someone from the church the night before. In 1605, a wealthy merchant called Robert Dow made a bequest of £50 for a bellman from the church to stand outside the cells of the condemned at midnight, ring the bell, and chant as follows:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

And you can still see the bell today, displayed in a glass case in the church …

About five minutes’ walk away is the beautiful church of St Bartholomew the Great inside which is what I think is one of the most disturbing sculptures in the City …

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 …

There’s nothing like a nice relic – even if it’s not on open display.

This is St Ethelreda’s Roman Catholic church in Ely Place (a road strange in its own right since it is privately managed by its own body of commissioners and beadles) …

The building is one of only two surviving in London from the reign of Edward I and dates from between 1250 and 1290. It is dedicated to Aethelthryth or Etheldreda, the Anglo-Saxon saint who founded the monastery at Ely in 673. According to the story, sixteen years after she died of the plague her body was exhumed in 695 and was found to be pure and uncorrupted with even her clothes having miraculous properties. Although her body has been lost it is said that her uncorrupted hand still rests in a casket in this church.

Unfortunately, this reliquary is kept beside the high altar and I couldn’t gain access so we must make do with an online image …

Nevertheless, it wasn’t a wasted visit. The church is a fascinating place as can be seen from some of the images I did take …

So I shall be back.

And finally, the Hampstead house on Flask Walk that truly embraced the spirit of Halloween.

Disabling the burglar alarm …

Hilarious!

The gang’s all here …

Welcome!

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A terrific new exhibition – a Roman cat, Georgian rabbits and much more.

Earlier this week I visited the recently opened Roman Wall exhibition in Vine Street. Entrance is free but you need to book a time slot online.

Looking down through a window near the entrance you get an excellent sense of Roman London’s street level …

Once inside the imposing nature of the wall itself is immediatly apparent…

The exhibition signage is first class throughout …

It is also complemented by Museum of London plaques …

Archaeoligical finds from the site (which served as a cesspit for many years) are beautifully displayed ..

As regular readers will know, I rather like quirky stuff, and some of the finds displayed fall into that category.

The paw prints on this tile are a cat’s …

The Romans brought cats with them to Britain although there is some evidence of domesticated felines before this time. Like modern cats, they knew no boundaries. When this tile was still soft and lying on the ground of the tile yard to dry, one of our cats’ ancestors strolled casually across it, leaving its territorial mark for posterity.

This rabbit skeleton has been dated to between 1760 to 1770 …

There are no visible butchery or skinning marks, so it was probably not kept for eating. It is likely that it was kept as a domestic pet, perhaps by the children of the family. Alongside it are the vertebrae and jawbones from a younger rabbit. These bunnies may have been much loved when alive. But having died, it appears that both were dropped unceremoniously into the cesspit in the backyard. Or maybe, horror of horrors, they fell in accidentally and drowned.

Of course I had to include this, a charmingly named ‘stool pan’ …

Another useful explanation …

Nice to see he’s wearing a decidedly modern-looking anti-Covid mask.

How the terraced houses on the site may have looked …

Some of the other artefacts on display include the following.

Pretty chinaware – someone must have been very unhappy when these articles were broken and had to be consigned to the rubbish pit. Or maybe they had just fallen out of fashion and were discarded …

Clay pipes galore …

A familiar brand …

Lots to see, very well displayed and explained …

As you leave you get a fine view of the outer face of the wall …

The last thing to admire is the artwork by Olivia Whitworth, the East London-based artist who creates wonderfully detailed illustrations …

If you are in ‘London Wall mode’, don’t forget there are two other wonderful examples nearby.

Just five minutes’ walk away at Cooper’s Row, round the back of a hotel, is an equally spectacular stretch of wall that is off the tourist trail. Here you can see the marks of former staircases and medieval windows cut through to create a rugged monument of significant height …

Also, alongside Tower Hill Underground Station, the Roman Emperor Trajan stands in front of another magnificent section …

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Shakespeare at the Guildhall Art Gallery – not to be missed.

A property deed signed by William Shakespeare and a near-perfect copy of the First Folio are on display as part of celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of one of the world’s most significant literary treasures

The City of London Corporation’s copy of the 1623 First Folio, which was owned by one-time Prime Minister, William Petty Fitzmaurice, and is now conserved at Guildhall Library, is one of the finest and most complete copies in the world …

The book was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It’s a collection of 36 of his works and was brought together by two of his friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell under the full title of:

Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies.

As a tribute to their friend, Heminges and Condell wanted to put forward the best possible version of Shakespeare’s plays, so they used original prompt books, quartos, and original notes to collate the final collection. 

The title page has an engraving of the playwright …

This is an important image since it’s one of the few portraits of Shakespeare to have been approved by those who had known him personally.

The parish register containing the entry for the burial of Edmund Shakespeare, William’s nephew, is also on display …

In the exhibition you will see John Keats’s facsimile of the First Folio, in which he wrote two poems, including ‘On Sitting Down To Read King Lear Once Again’, and which is open to the play’s first page …

In March 1613 William Shakespeare and three associates agreed to purchase the Gatehouse of the former Dominican priory in London known as Blackfriars from Henry Walker for the sum of £140. The indenture of bargain and sale is dated March 10. The purchasers also agreed to the mortgage shown here, dated March 11, for the same property, in the amount of £60, implying that the buyers put up only £80 at the time of sale. The document is signed by three buyers, William Shakespeare, William Johnson and John Jackson. The place set aside for the signature of John Heminges is left blank …

The thrill here, of course, is that this document contains one of the only six Shakespeare signatures known to exist. Here it is ..

My image is not great so this is a screenshot of a better one from the Internet

The heroes of the story of Shakespeare’s plays and of the First Folio are John Heminge and Henry Condell without whom most, if not all, of his work would have been lost forever.

They were both buried at the church of St Mary Aldermanbury which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Unfortunately it was gutted during the Blitz in 1940, leaving only the walls intact. Rather unusually, in 1966 the remains of the church were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA. The church now stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946.

Heminge and Cordell, however, have been honoured with a splendid memorial on the previous site of the church …

‘TO THEIR DISINTERESTED AFFECTION THE WORLD OWES ALL THAT IT CALLS SHAKESPEARE. THEY ALONE COLLECTED HIS PRINTED WRITINGS REGARDLESS OF PECUNIARY LOSS AND WITHOUT THE HOPE OF ANY PROFIT GAVE THEM TO THE WORLD. THEY THUS MERITED THE GRATITUDE OF MANKIND’

Incidentally, the Heritage Gallery in the Guildhall Art Gallery is a bit of a hidden treasure with ever-changing displays of great interest drawn from the City of London collections and archives. It also boasts a splendid back-lit copy af the Agas map of Early Modern London …

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Fire in the City! Artists in the Blitz.

Five City churches are currently hosting an exhibition of reproductions of paintings by firefighter artists along with contemporary photographs from the London Fire Brigade archive.

The works are displayed on pop-up screens. For example, this one is at

St James Garlickhythe

And this one is in St Mary Aldermary

You will find details of participating churches at the end of the blog along with opening times.

Here I am going to publish examples of some of the work on display, starting with my favourite, Driving by Moonlight, by Mary Pitcairn …

It depicts an AFS volunteer, Gillian “Bobbie” Tanner, at the wheel of a truck. She was awarded the George Medal for bravery and the citation read: ‘On the night of 20 September 1940, Auxiliary G.K.Tanner volunteered to drive a 30 cwt lorry loaded with 150 gallons of petrol. Six serious fires were in progress and for three hours Miss Tanner drove through intense bombing to the point at which the petrol was needed, showing coolness and courage throughout‘.

During the Second World War, women joined the fire service for the first time as volunteers in the AFS working in a variety of roles ranging from control operators to dispatch riders and delivery drivers.

AFS women despatch riders around 1940 …

A 1941 oil painting by Reginald Mills of Mrs Kathleen Sayer an AFS Station Officer …

The Women’s Division of the AFS had its own leadership structure.

This portrait is by Bernard Hailstone

After the war Hailstone had a very successful career as a portrait painter. A gregarious, outgoing man, he went on to paint the last officially commissioned portrait of Sir Winston Churchill in 1955 and later members of the Royal family.

Here he is at work as a fireman circa 1940 attaching a hose to a fire hydrant …

Resting at a Fire by Reginald Mills, around 1941 …

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These AFS firefighters are surrounded by rolled up hose, resting in the back of an appliance vehicle which pulls a trailer pump, while their colleagues in the background continue to fight a fire. You can see a church spire in the background.

Bells Down by Julia Lowenthal …

Julia Lowenthal’s drawings and paintings gave remarkable insights into life inside the fire stations during the Blitz. Unlike most of her fellow firefighter artists she worked primarily in pencil and watercolour. Lowenthal was based in Kilburn and most of her surviving work is of colleagues in the station, and often at rest. Her watercolour sketch Bells Down refers to firefighters being called to action by bells in their fire station.

At the top of a turntable ladder in Eastcheap directing water into a blazing building, terrifying …

Also terrifying, Run! by Reginald Mills ..

There are examples of extraordinary works by Paul Dessau. In one set, four scenes show different stages of the battle to conquer the flames, much in the style (if not the subject matter) of a Hogarth series. Look closely and you’ll see a monstrous form in each panel. In the first stage, termed Overture by the music-loving Dessau, the bombs begin to fall and a smokey menace looms large over the City …

In Crescendo, the flames take hold as a fiery giant smashes down buildings …

Rallentando, as the name suggest, shows the beast tempered, its infernal form withered but still intimidating …

In the final scene, Diminuendo, the foe lies vanquished amid the smoking rubble, the firemen victorious. Yet the creature has untold siblings who will return night after night to challenge the city’s protectors anew …

Cannon Street – also by Dessau …

Aftermath of a bombing raid near Cheapside with St Paul’s in the background …

Rescuing Horses by Reginald Mills …

Red Sunday, 29 December 1940 by W.S.Haines. Haines was a member of the London River Service and unlike other firefighter artists he was not working in the tight confines of the City of London. This meant he had the opportunity for more panoramic pictorial compositions. Here you can see St Pauls Cathedral and the spires of City churches, through the iconic silhouette of Tower Bridge …

The London Blitz lasted from 7 September 1940 until 11 May 1941 and between 7 September and 2 November heavy bombing continued every night except one. More than 20,000 Londoners were killed including 327 men and women from the fire service with over 3,000 seriously injured. The Germans’ key weapon in the Blitz was the incendiary bomb, a device designed not to explode on impact, but able to burn at 2,500 degrees. Thousands of these were dropped creating fires that threatened to overwhelm the capital.

The firefighter memorial opposite St Paul’s Cathedral …

Part is dedicated to the women who died whilst serving in wartime. The lady on the left is an incident recorder and the one on the right a despatch rider …

Fire in the City is open now and can be seen in the following churches:

  • St Mary-le-Bow: Monday to Friday, 7.30am – 6.00pm. Open weekends on an informal basis.
  • St James Garlickhythe: Monday to Wednesday, 10.00am – 4.30pm, Thursday, 11.00am – 3.00pm, Sunday: 9.00am – 1.00pm. Friday & ​​Saturday, Closed.
  • St Mary Aldermary: Tuesday to Friday, 7.30am – 4.00pm
  • St Magnus the Martyr: Tuesday to Friday, 10.00am – 4.00pm, Sunday, 10.00am – 1.00pm (Mass at 11am)
  • St Stephen Walbrook: Monday to Friday, 10.30am – 3.30pm

(Venue details may be subject to change so it is advised to check individual church websites for the latest information). The exhibition will move to a second cluster of churches from Monday 23 October until the end of November (with selected venues hosting displays into December).

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