Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Author: The City Gent Page 1 of 7

St Botolph Without Aldgate and its extraordinary memorials

What a pleasure it is to enter the church and come face to face with this distinguished gentleman …

Robert Dow was a Master of the Merchant Taylors and during his life gave away a substantial sum to various charitable establishments. The value of his donations and those receiving the money are listed on his monument …

He lived to the great age of 90 and died in 1612. I love the expression that, when he eventually passed away, he was ‘full of days’. The skull his hands are resting on may be to remind us that we too are mortal, even as we relax and enjoy his company and read of his generosity.

Nearby is an eyecatching brown and cream alabaster monument. It commemorates Lord Darcy and Sir Nicholas Carew, both beheaded on Tower Hill for high treason against Henry VIII in 1537 and 1539 respectively …

The figure is a corpse resting on a bier with the head thrown back dramatically.

The inscription reads …

Here lyeth Thomas Lord Darcy of the North, and some time of the Order of the Garter. Sir Nicholas Carew Knt. sometime of the Garter. Lady Elizabeth Carew, Daughter to Sir Francis Brian, Knt. And Sir Arthur Darcy Knt. younger Son to the abovenamed Lord Darcy. And Lady Mary his dear Wife, Daughter to Sir Nicholas Carew Knt. who had ten Sons and five Daughters. Here lye Charles, William and Philip, Mary and Ursula, Sons and Daughters to the said Sir Arthur, and Mary his Wife; whose Souls God take to his infinite Mercy. Amen.

More delights await you further inside the church.

This beautifully carved wooden panel depicts King David along with musical instruments …

It was created between 1713 and 1715 to grace the front of an organ gallery in the church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel. When the church was destroyed by bombing on the 27th December 1940 the carving was saved and later restored …

In 1676 Thomas Whiting gifted the organ for the benefit of the ‘hole parrish’ …

The organ was originally built for his house, which must have been a substantial property to say the least.

There is a fine 18th century sword rest …

Sword rests (or stands) were originally installed in City churches to hold the Lord Mayor’s sword of state when he used to visit a different church every Sunday, a practice that ceased in 1888 as congregations fell and people moved to the suburbs.

There is a long eulogy to Benjamin Pratt inscribed on a hanging drape …

He affected to end his days in celibacy and departed this life on the 3rd day of May 1715 … he had just arriv’d at the prime of his age and was then taken from his labours to receive an exceeding great reward.

And now a memorial that positively demanded more research, an inventor who died ‘in want’ in 1831 and was finally commemorated by a Lord Mayor in 1903 …

The full story is fascinating and I can’t do it justice in this short blog. To read more go to the London Inheritance blog which you can find here.

A number of past Lord Mayors are commemorated in stained glass …

Now leave the church and walk around to the north side where a few gravestones have been placed against the wall.

This one contains an intriguing and poignant inscription to a son and his father …

It’s now much worn but, luckily for me, an audit of churchyard inscriptions was made in 1910 and this is what the tombstone tells us …

Sacred to the memory of

THOMAS EBRALL Citizen and Corn Merchant, shot by a Life Guardsman unknown, in the shop of Mr Goodeve, Fenchurch Street, 9 April, 1810 died 17th same month, in his 24th year.

THOMAS EBRALL, his father, died from his loss, 23 August, 1810, aged 48.

‘Died from his loss’, how sad. I have tried to find out more about the incident that resulted in young Mr Ebrall’s death but no luck so far.

The man who conducted the inscription audit at the turn of the last century was one Percy C. Rushen who noticed how they were slowly disappearing due to ‘atmospheric elements’ or ‘sacriligist’ vandalism. Here is a link to his book – my hero!

There is also an unusual water feature resembling a chest tomb …

Now cross the road to the Minories and look back …

The following drawing from 1740 by its builder, George Dance the Elder, shows the church looking exactly the same as it does today …

Incidentally, the church had a narrow escape during the Blitz when a bomb fell straight through the roof but failed to explode. The Blitz was an extraordinary period for the Rector of the day, who slept in the Crypt, surrounded by coffins, and climbed onto the roof during air raids to put out incendiary fires.

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The Pump of Death and a walk towards St Botolph’s

At the junction of Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street people usually hurry past this old water pump without a second glance, not knowing anything about some gruesome aspects of its history …

There was a well here for centuries and one appears to be shown on the Agas map of 1561 …

Look under the ‘A’ of Aldegate

After a pump was installed in the sixteenth century the water gained a reputation for being ‘bright, sparkling, and cool, and of an agreeable taste’. In the early 1870s, however, people started noticing the taste deteriorate and become foul. Then people who had drank the water started dying in great numbers in a tragedy that became known as the Aldgate Pump Epidemic.

It was known that Thames water was dangerous as illustrated by this 1850s drawing entitled The Silent Highwayman

But Aldgate water originated in the healthy springs of Hampstead and Highgate and flowed underground – so it should have been safe.

The bad news broke publicly in April 1876 …

An investigation by the Medical Officer of Health for the City revealed the terrible truth. During its passage underground from north London it had passed through and under numerous new graveyards thereby picking up the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies. The pump was immediately closed and eventually reconnected to the safer New River Company’s supply later in 1876. You will find a fascinating history of the New River Company if you access the splendid London Inheritance blog.

The epidemic was obviously a distant memory by the nineteen twenties when Whittard’s tea merchants used to

… always get the kettles filled at the Aldgate Pump so that only the purest water was used for tea tasting.

I have discovered a few old pictures …

The pump in 1874- picture from the Wellcome Collection.

And in August 1908 a little East End boy refreshes himself using the cup attached to the pump by a chain …

The full picture …

The wolf’s head spout is said to reference the last wolf killed in the City of London …

Nice that it has survived intact into the 21st century.

Walking towards St Botolph’s church I saw on the left this magnificent drinking fountain ‘Erected by permission of the vicar and churchwardens’. It has a connection with the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association which I have written extensively about in my blog Philanthropic Fountains

It’s dedicated to the memory of Frederic David Mocatta …

A wealthy bullion broker, after he had retired from the business in 1874 he devoted himself to works of public and private benevolence, especially in the deprived East End of London. It was people from that area who raised the money for this memorial and you can read more about him here.

A little bit further on is this 1950s police call box …

This is the third one I have discovered in the City and you can read more about the others here.

As you walk up the steps to visit St Botolph’s, turn around and look across the road. There are some old late Victorian buildings that have survived redevelopment and I was struck by how much care had gone into the decoration at roof height, even though very few people would be looking up to see it …

Next week I enter St Botolph’s and will write about some of the best and most interesting monuments and memorials in the City.

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Exploring Aldgate – including a terrible event in the past

On Sunday 30th September 1888 at about 1.45 in the morning Police Constable 881 Edward Watkins turned into Mitre Square, a regular part of his beat.

In the southernmost corner, clearly picked out by the bullseye lantern on Watkins’s belt, lay the terribly mutilated body of a woman. Watkins ran across to Kearley and Tongue’s warehouse, knowing that the watchman there, George James Morris, was a retired police officer. Watkins found the door to the warehouse ajar, pushed it open, and found Morris sweeping the steps that led down toward the door.

‘For God’s sake, mate, come to my assistance,’ cried Watkins.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Morris, to which Watkins replied, ‘There’s another woman cut to pieces.’

The woman was Catherine Eddowes* and she was destined to be named as the fourth victim of the Whitechapel Murderer, more commonly known as Jack the Ripper.

Around this time Charles Goad was compiling maps for use by the fire insurance companies and this is one of his earliest prepared just 20 months before the murder. The red spot indicates where the body was found …

The murder scene …

The Square today – I think I am standing approximately where she was was discovered …

The fact that ‘Jack’s’ identity has never been agreed upon has led to the practice commonly called Ripperology in which the crimes and possible perpetrators are endlessly debated and discussed. Needless to say there are numerous sources online but I found this one to be one of the most interesting including as it does a poignant list of poor Catherine’s possessions. You can find an account of her funeral here. (By the way, you can see an authentic police bullseye lantern in the City of London Police Museum and a picture in my blog The City’s Little Museums).

In the centre of my photograph of the Square today is an example of the Sculpture in the City initiative …

This is Climb by Juliana Cerqueira Leite. In this fascinating YouTube clip she explains how it was created.

As you stand in Mitre Square you can often hear children playing. They are pupils at Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School …

Note the red goose quill.

Sir John Cass was born in the City of London in 1661 and during his lifetime served as Alderman, Sheriff and the City’s MP.

In 1710 he set up a school for 50 boys and 40 girls and rented buildings in the churchyard of St Botolph Without Aldgate. Cass intended to leave the vast majority of his property to the independent school but, when he died in 1718, had only initialled two of the eight pages of his will. The incomplete will was contested, but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery thirty years after his death. The school, which by this time had been forced to close, was re-opened, and the foundation established.

There is an old legend that he had a haemorrhage of the lungs which stained the quill pen with which he was initialising his will, and it is for this reason that the pupils of the school still wear red goose quills when they attend St Botolph’s Church on the anniversary of their Founder’s birth each year.

Two statues of children in blue coats stand over the previous girls’ and boys’ entrances …

The school was rebuilt in 1909 and I think these statues are reproductions. I don’t know if the originals still exist.

Blue was the distinctive colour for paupers, charity schools and almsmen, (hence Bluecoat Boys and Girls) and Cass’s School would have been called a Bluecoat School. By extension it typified the dress of tradesmen so that ‘To put on a blue apron’ meant to take up a trade. Incidentally, the great diarist Samuel Pepys, recording a trade riot in London in 1664, tells us that ‘At first, the butchers knocked down all the weavers that had green or blue aprons.’ Those were the days.

Here’s a bust of Sir John as displayed in the nearby church of St Botolph Without Aldgate, which I shall write about in a later blog …

Someone had tucked a two pence coin into his flowing locks but I didn’t like to remove it in case it was part of some arcane tradition!

On the school gates I noticed this very appropriate instruction …

I took this picture of St Botolph’s whilst standing behind another Sculpture in the City exhibit by Jyll Bradley …

Made from coloured sheets of edge-lit Plexiglas turned on their side and leant against a south-facing wall, Dutch / Light (for Agneta Block) creates an open-glasshouse pavilion that is activated by the sun. The work references the so-called ‘Dutch Light’ a horticultural revolution that hit British shores over three centuries ago as Dutch growers pioneered early glasshouse technology.

There is lots more to see around Aldgate and St Botolph’s so I shall return next week.

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*None of the research I have done suggests that Catherine was a prostitute and this is confirmed in a new book, The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold, which you can read more about here.

Fleet Street Ghosts

Although I have written about Fleet Street in an earlier blog, I always find something new to write about when I walk there.

How about these impressive gates incorporating the words ‘Serjeant’s Inn’ …

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

The arms were officially granted on 9 February 1808 to the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office and re-granted 14 April 1938 to the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society after the two organisations merged. You can see the dove and serpent in the Norwich Union coat of arms …

Arms of Norwich Union Life Insurance Society
Esto Perpetua means ‘Be everlasting’.

There is more information about the coat of arms and its fascinating symbolism here, the connection with Aviva here, and my blog about Insurance Company ghosts here.

How sad that the venerable Thomas Cook travel agency has gone into compulsory liquidation. Cook started organising leisure trips in the summer of 1841 when he arranged a successful one-day rail excursion at a shilling a head from Leicester to Loughborough. During the next three summers Mr Cook put together a succession of trips, taking passengers to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham. Four years later, he organised his first trip abroad, taking a group from Leicester to Calais. This was followed in the 1860s by trips to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and America …

Italy and Switzerland were popular early destinations

In partnership with his son, John Mason Cook, he opened an office in Fleet Street in 1865. In accordance with his beliefs, Mr Cook senior and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. You can still see the office now. It is graced with numerous globes and cherubs …

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Hundreds of cherubs live in the City – you can find many of them pictured in my blog Charming Cherubs.

The Cook family sold the business in 1928 and the Thomas Cook brand has just been saved from obscurity after the Chinese owner of Club Med said it would buy the name for £11m. There is a nice potted history of the company here.

Once the beating heart of newspaper journalism, Fleet Street’s printing past survives only in some commemorative plaques and old signage.

Many of the alleys and courtyards contain plaques at their entrances. This one recalls a dramatic event as reported by The Sun newspaper …

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Computerisation is represented, a bit bizarrely I think, by the electronic Pac-Man game …

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And some old signage is still clear …

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Child’s Bank has traded from the same Fleet Street site since 1673. Its impressive Grade II* listed premises, designed by eminent architect John Gibson, were opened here in 1880 …

I really like the following story. When the founder’s grandson, Robert Child, died in 1782 without any sons he refused to leave his interests in the Bank to his daughter because she had eloped earlier that year with the Earl of Westmoreland. Child didn’t want the Earl to get hold of the Child family wealth so he left it in trust to his daughter’s second surviving son or eldest daughter. This turned out to be Lady Sarah Sophia Fane who was born in 1785. There must have been a great supply of Earls at the time because she married the Earl of Jersey in 1804 thereby becoming a Countess. Here she is in a painting by Alfred Edward Chalon …

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Fane)

Upon her majority in 1806 she became senior partner in the Bank and exercised her rights personally until her death in 1867. She was known by the nickname ‘Silence’, which was ironic since, famously, she almost never stopped talking. The memoirist Captain Gronow, who disliked her, called her ‘a theatrical tragedy queen’, and considered her ‘ill-bred and inconceivably rude’.

And now two memorials to real Queens …

Mary looks down on Pret’s customers as they buy their lunch at 143-144 Fleet Street.

Mary Queen of Scots House was built in 1905 for a Scottish insurance company. The statue was the idea of one of the developers, Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, Bart, MP, who was a big fan of the ill-fated lady.
The architect was one R.M. Roe, who concocted ‘a facade as frilly as a doily with lashings of French Flamboyant tracery’.

Her nemesis is commemorated nearby …

She looks young, doesn’t she?

This statue of Queen Elizabeth I is nearby in a niche at St Dunstan-in-the-West and its history is rather complex. Some current thinking is that the Queen dates from 1670-99 despite a date on the base of 1586, which would have made it the only statue carved in her lifetime. It is now thought that, rather than the date of sculpture, this date was inscribed on it when the statue was placed on a restored Lud Gate in 1670 after the Great Fire and is merely making reference to the original gate. When the gate was demolished in 1760 she was moved to a previous St Dunstan’s but this was torn down in 1829-33 to be replaced by the current building. Meanwhile it seems that the statue spent the time in the basement of a nearby pub. It was only when that too was demolished in 1839 that the statue was rediscovered and put in its current niche on St Dunstan’s. Millicent Fawcett, the prominent suffragist, left £700 in her will for the statue’s upkeep and the funds are managed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

I have written about Fleet Street and its features many times but I have no doubt that I will be doing so again!

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A wander around St Paul’s (again)

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

And there is also a lot to see.

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

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

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

You can read more about Parish Markers here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Paternoster Square there is this unusual sundial …

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I took this picture on 28th September.

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

It was cast in 1996 …

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

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

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

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

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

A City Miscellany

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

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

And this one alongside St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is some time in the 19th century …

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

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

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

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

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

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City postboxes

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

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

Sculptor : Edward Onslow Ford (1881-2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now a story that might be an urban myth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And two from the Barbican highwalk …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More water – trickling, whooshing and gurgling

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

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

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

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

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

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Glass Fountain by Allen David (1969).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside a new water fountain commemorates a past master …

The full inscription reads …

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

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

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

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

The sculpture is by John Ravera and dates from 1990.

This is more of a waterfall than a fountain …

View from the Andrewes highwalk

And from behind …

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

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

Water ‘crashing, whooshing, gurgling or gently lapping’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: The Wellcome Collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sculptor Wills Bros.

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

This week’s fountains have been very traditional.

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

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

First of all, some great news! You can now follow me on Instagram at :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Donne 1572 – 1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amicale (2007)

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

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

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

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

Or this abundance of cherubs …

And this meticulous carving around the Dean’s Door …

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

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

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

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More fab fountains – one’s a cracker!

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

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

The inscription reads …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It bears the following inscription (now very faded) …

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

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

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

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

An engraving from ‘The Builder’ publication 1866.

The location next to St Lawrence Jewry …

A man quenching his thirst in 1911.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Alleys in Black and White

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

The entrance to Ball Court looks decidedly sinister …

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

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

Looking out towards Bishopsgate …

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

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

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

John Rocque’s map of 1746

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

The old French Ambassador’s house …

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

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

This is the entrance to Bengal Court …

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

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

Copyright Collage – The London Picture Library Record 36020

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

Looking north towards Fleet Street

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

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

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

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

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

My Barbican Architecture Tour Part 2

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

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

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

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

What about this entrance to the art gallery …

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

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

More battlements look down on the Sculpture Court …

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

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

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

Interesting shadows form at certain times of day …

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

And this vertiginous view …

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

These classical looking columns appear to support the structure …

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

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

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

Gilbert Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise liners and curves – my Barbican architecture tour Part 1

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

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

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

Do you see what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I noticed these curving stairs complementing one another …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally you can also catch some interesting reflections …

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

Sometimes I think taking images in monochrome works best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A visit to Aldgate East underground station

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

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

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

Whiteread’s golden leaves.

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

They are not always easy to spot.

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

Here is the building itself …

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

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

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

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

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

Probably made specifically for St Paul’s Station.

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

The Crystal Palace …

And here the classic Underground roundel …

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

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

Two of the best free views of the City

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

The ceiling at the entrance to Fen Court

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

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

The Scalpel can be observed just alongside it …

The Walkie Talkie dominates part of the view …

In the distance, Canary Wharf …

and Tower Bridge …

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

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

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

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

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

And continue on the roof …

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

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

Pebbles the cat … and other Underground surprises

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

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

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

Pebbles’ posthumous award.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here it is again at Aldgate …

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

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

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

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

And finally, a ghost station …

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

Secret & Sacred Rivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope made this small literary contribution in 1728 …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this piece of a marble offering is particularly fascinating …

The inscription has been translated thus:

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

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

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

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

A man in a silk dress and a gallant rescue

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

‘Clytemnestra’ by John Collier (1882)

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

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

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

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

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

On a much lighter note, here is a pretty little girl attending her first sermon …

My First Sermon’ by John Everett Millais

She obviously knows this is an important occasion in her life and sits with her back straight, eyes attentively focused looking ahead. She is the artist’s 5 year old daughter Effie. On seeing it the Archbishop of Canterbury commented …

… our spirits are touched by the playfulness, the innocence, the purity, and … the piety of childhood

In 1864 the artist produced a sequel entitled ‘My Second Sermon’ …

The Archbishop, Charles Longley, was obviously a rather good sport, and when he saw the later picture commented …

… by the eloquence of her silent slumber, (she has) given us a warning of the evil of lengthy sermons and drowsy discourses. Sorry indeed should I be to disturb that sweet and peaceful slumber, but I beg that when she does awake she may be informed who they are who have pointed the moral of her story, have drawn the true inference from the change that has passed over her since she has heard her “first sermon,” and have resolved to profit by the lecture she has thus delivered to them.

I was reminded of this wonderful drawing of a Victorian congregation who are finding the sermon rather heavy going …

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

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

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

Undoubtedly a very chivalrous act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite animals

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

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

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

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

This goat would have got my vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Clayton’s Scottish Terriers were called Chippy

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

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

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside look up and you will see two young boys at either end of the grand building that was once the City headquarters of Midland Bank (1935). The are both struggling with a rather angry looking Goose …

The sculptor was William Reid Dick

Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The building is now a private club and restaurant, called The Ned in Sir Edwin’s honour (he would no doubt be chuffed).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Philpot Lane mice

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