Walking the City of London

Category: Art Deco

Courts, alleys and a green elephant

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

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

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

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

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

… and ‘OUT’ exit …

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

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

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

The view looking towards Fleet Street …

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

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

The note in the box reads …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Britain’s first daily newspaper.

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

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

Mitre Court was named after the Mitre Tavern …

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

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

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

Now to Hare Place and its interesting history.

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

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

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

The privilege of Sanctuary was finally abolished in 1687.

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

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

What awaited me inside the gates was quite unexpected …

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

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City grotesques, the screamer and other odd decorations

Is this the creepiest sculpture to be found in the City?

It’s on the tower of St Mary Somerset (EC4V 4AG). This was a Wren church, but I don’t think either he, or his very competent colleague Nicholas Hawksmoor, had anything to do with this screaming face. Their style was more cheerful cherubs and occasionally dragons or a phoenix.

The church was demolished in 1871 but the tower was saved and restored by the architect Ewan Christian who was also responsible for the National Gallery. It was probably him, therefore, who installed the head. It predates Munch’s picture but reminds me of it …

The 1893 painting by Edvard Munch, commonly known as The Scream.

You can read more about the church and its background on The Londonist website from which I have borrowed this picture by Tony Tucker indicating where the screamer can be found …

The tower is now a private home.

The Guildhall building at 71 Basinghall Street boasts a menagerie of strange creatures (EC2V 7HH). Some sit either side of the entrance …

Others lurk near the top of the building …

… and on the roof itself …

A predatory bird keeps a beady eye on you from the roof of 60 Lombard Street (EC3V 9EA) …

I must have walked past this building at 51-54 Gracechurch Street hundreds of times but never looked up and noticed two lines of extraordinary heads above and below the fifth floor windows …

It was constructed between 1928 and 1930 and designed by the architect Leo Sylvester Sullivan. It has lovely Art Deco features but I have no idea why he incorporated the heads. There are 17 in total and this is a small selection …

You can read more about the building on the excellent Look Up London website.

Another head, this time on the tower of St Margaret Pattens, Rood Lane (EC3M 1HS) …

Two owls stand guard above the King William Street entrance to what was once the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Company’s City office…

One of the delights of Eastcheap are these figures just below the roof of number 23 …

I cannot look at these dogs’ and boars’ heads without smiling. When I first photographed them a few years ago they had a splash of colour and I think it is a shame that this has been painted over …

A little further east at 33-35 another boar’s head peeps out from the undergrowth. It references the Eastcheap inn of that name which was supposed to be the meeting place of Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal and other characters in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays …

The Walkie Talkie looms over the area and dwarfs the remaining Victorian buildings including the one containing the boar’s head which dates from 1868. Pevsner described it as ‘one of the maddest displays in London of gabled Gothic’ and he quoted Ian Nairn, the architectural critic, who called it ‘the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare’ …

This creature on All Hallows by the Tower looks like an authentic gargoyle (water spout) but the downpipe or guttering is missing, maybe lost when the church was severely damaged in the war …

As I walked along Cornhill one day I glanced up and saw these rather sinister figures silhouetted against the sky…

Closer inspection shows them to be devils, and rather angry and malevolent ones too …

They look down on St Peter upon Cornhill and are known as the Cornhill Devils (EC3V 3PD). The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself …

If this resembles the rector he must have been a pretty ugly guy.

And finally, two mice share a piece of cheese in Philpot Lane. There are several theories as to the story behind these charming little creatures but no one knows for sure who put them there and why …

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Wine and Oxo cubes

It has been many years since I crossed Southwark Bridge and then I wasn’t taking much notice of the buildings in Queen Street Place as I headed towards the bridge and out of the City. When I took the trouble to look last week I was absolutely captivated by this delightful but rather strange Art Deco sculpture by H W Palliser …

One writer called it ‘the sexiest sculpture in London– I couldn’t possibly comment.

Built by the Vintners’ Company in 1928, at the centre stands a nude woman clutching to herself bunches of grapes which grow on vines at her side. She is a Bacchante, the ‘spirit of the harvest’, and two goats look up at her adoringly as four doves descend above her head. Two swans are also in attendance, reminding us that the Vintners’ Company is one of the three owners of all the swans on the upper Thames, the others being the Dyers and HM the Queen. The model for the woman was Leopoldine Avico who was also, I believe, the model for The Queen of Time above Selfridges.

You get a nice view of Vintners’ Hall from the Bridge …

Immediately next door is Thames House (1911-12). It was built for the Liebig Extract of Meat Company whose product was imported from a huge plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. There is a clue as to what they made over the central entrance …

Yes, the two stone horns symbolise the South American herds that provided the meat for the famous and successful Oxo cube (or ‘boiled up cow’, as one commentator rather unkindly called it). The other carvings represent Abundance – a nude youth pours water from a vase and a nude maiden pours flowers from a cornucopia.

In the pediment on the North Pavilion a pair of nude figures hold a strop to tame the winged horse Pegasus, who beats the cloud with his hooves in his struggle …

This may allude to the alleged energising qualities of the product.

On the South Pavilion pediment a female figure with fruit and flowers represents the fruits of the land with Neptune, holding his trident and a rope for his net, signifies the fruits of the water …

Between them is the figure of a boy standing on two winged wheels symbolising Trade..

Directly over the door is this group …

It’s a particularly lavish doorway surmounted by an arch over a circular window or oculus. The spandrels over the arch contain bas reliefs of women denoting Commerce (left) and Wisdom (right), by Richard Garbe. Commerce holds a caduceus and brandishes an oak branch, symbol of endurance and fortitude. Wisdom holds a torch and proffers a laurel branch, symbol of victory. Above, a dove with an olive branch in her beak brings peace.

In front of the window is a bronze galleon by the metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds …

The ship is flanked by some rather grotesque fish which look like they are gasping for air. Maybe Neptune has just caught them.

Here’s the full frontal view …

Further along to the north I admired some elaborate doors …

The old doorway to Thames House at the junction with Upper Thames Street is now an entrance to Five Kings House, the interior of the building having now presumably been segmented in some way (EC4R 1QS) …

Above the door the male figure, with a helmet and wings at his heels, is clearly Mercury as God of Commerce. It’s not clear what the lady represents – possibly agriculture. Two seated putti support a cartouche

Queen Street Place was a wonderful surprise to me. I have often been asked if I am ever going to run out of things to write about but I can’t imagine this ever happening. The City seems to have something new to offer me every day I walk around it.

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The bridges of London Bridge – Part 2

For the first half of the 18th century the river remained London’s main thoroughfare. The watermen’s cry of ‘Oars! Oars!’ as they looked for customers constantly rang out in riverside streets. One Frenchman, who hadn’t quite mastered the language but had heard of London’s immoral reputation, thought this an invitation to try a quite different service.

But things were about to change.

By the mid-1750s the bridge was clearly failing in its purpose to provide an adequate river crossing, but the building of a new bridge nearby was constantly blocked by the strong waterman lobby and riverside businesses. Bridge residents showed their objection to a nearby temporary wooden bridge by persistently trying to burn it down.

But something had to be done, the bridge being …

Narrow, darksome, and dangerous … from the multitude of carriages … with frequent arches of strong timber crossing the street from the tops of houses to keep them together and stop them falling into the river.

Thomas Pennant writing in 1750.

A compromise was reached in 1757 by pulling down all the houses on the bridge as well as the chapel of St Thomas the Martyr. The bones of the cleric who oversaw the earliest building of the bridge in the 12th century, Peter de Colechurch, were interred there and some accounts say that, when they were uncovered, the workmen unceremoniously tossed them into the Thames.

St Thomas’s chapel is commemorated with a stained glass window in St Magnus-the -Martyr church. I like the sleepy monk on the right …

But the bridge continued to be congested and, for a growing port, increasingly seen as an obstacle to trade. The momentum for change was unstoppable and the old bridge was doomed …

Demolition of Old London Bridge as seen from the Southwark side 1832 Guildhall Art Gallery

Few tears were shed over its destruction. As Bernard Ash writes in his fascinating book The Golden City : ‘This was not a sentimental generation. It looked forward not backward. It saw no picturesqueness in the narrow, inconvenient ways of its forebears or in the narrow, inconvenient and often makeshift things they had built’.

But the river was no longer the highway of London – private carriages and hackney coaches were taking over. As Ash eloquently points out, all the watermen’s traffic had ‘run away on wheels’.

A new bridge designed by the Scottish engineer John Rennie (1761-1821) was decided upon. The work went ahead in 1824 under the supervision of his sons, John Rennie the Younger and George. In order to keep the old bridge open for traffic during construction it was decided that the new one should be on a different alignment, about one hundred feet upstream.

Construction took seven and a half years at a cost of two and a half million pounds and the lives of forty workmen, many perishing in the fast flowing water caused by the continued existence of the old bridge.

The opening (depicted below) was described in The Times as …

the most splendid spectacle that has been witnessed on the Thames for many years.

The opening of London Bridge by William IV on 1st August 1831 by Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867) – Guildhall Art Gallery

The King arrived at about 4pm and the red carpeted stairs where he landed can be seen leading up to the bridge on the far side of the river. A huge pavilion where a sumptuous banquet was held had been erected on the bridge. The royal standard can be seen flying from the pavilion at the north end. The King was accompanied by his wife Adelaide – hence the name of the 1925 Art Deco office block on the north east side of the bridge that you can see today.

Here’s a view of Adelaide House from the Thames path …

London’s growing prosperity led to increased traffic and more congestion problems for the bridge …

London Bridge circa 1870. Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

By 1896 the bridge was the busiest point in London, and one of its most congested – on average 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour. Subsequent surveys showed that the bridge was sinking an inch every eight years, and by 1924 the east side had sunk some three to four inches lower than the west side. Clearly the bridge would eventually have to be removed and replaced.

The bridge in the 1930s – Adelaide House is on the right

In 1967, to many people’s astonishment, Rennie’s bridge was put up for sale and, to more astonishment, was bought on 18th April 1968 by the Missourian entrepreneur and oilman Robert P McCulloch for $2,460,000. Under no illusion that he had bought Tower Bridge (as some papers mischievously reported) he moved it piece by piece to Lake Havasu City Arizona – all 10,276 granite blocks individually numbered.

The bridge is dedicated in its new home in 1971

I think it looks great …

You can read more about Lake Havasu here along with the 50th anniversary last year of the bridge’s purchase.

The London Bridge we see today was constructed between 1967 and 1972 and opened by Queen Elizabeth on 17th March 1973. I like this nighttime picture …

Now there are security blocks in place as a result of the terrorist attack in June 2017…

I hope you have enjoyed these short histories of the bridges that have been known as ‘London Bridge’. Incidentally, if you do a Google search for ‘London Bridge images’ you will see that, on most American sites, you’ll be shown pictures of Tower Bridge!

Art Deco in the City

I used to often confuse Art Deco and Art Nouveau – probably because they both begin with the word ‘art’. I had to get my head around this properly when I decided to write this blog and therefore searched for a simple explanation.

The one I like best is that Art Nouveau tends to be flowing and flowery whereas Art Deco tends to be sharp and streamlined.  Both designs evolved as a result of the culture of the times – Nouveau influenced by the industrial revolution and Deco by the First World War.

Here are some of my Art Deco favourites.

Every now and then when I headed off to meetings in the East end of the City I would walk past the magnificent, undulating and symmetrical Ibex House at 42-47 Minories. Built in 1937, it is clad in black and beige faience and, apparently, has the longest strip windows in London. When it opened you could rent space for 6 shillings (30 new pence) per square foot – which included the cost of cleaning.

 

Ibex House, Minories – view from Portsoken Street

I often feel a bit nostalgic walking down Fleet Street. I well remember its heyday when lorries trundled past carrying gigantic rolls of paper and you could hear the presses rumbling into the night producing the next day’s print news. Sadly, it was also the home of the notorious so-called ‘Spanish Customs’, restrictive practices which eventually left the industry open to brutal modernisation and, finally, total relocation.

The former Daily Express building in Fleet Street (1932) has a black facade with rounded corners in vitrolite with clear glass and chromium strips and, in my view, looks quite futuristic even today. The newspaper moved out in 1989 and the current owners are investment bankers Goldman Sachs. The foyer is stunning but currently hidden from view behind curtains – come on, Goldman’s, draw back those curtains and let us mere mortals have a peep!

120 Fleet Street – Architects Ellis and Clarke and later Sir Evan Owen Williams

 

Facade detail

 

The foyer, currently hidden from the street

The former Daily Telegraph  building at 141 Fleet street is another Art Deco masterpiece (also owned by Goldman Sachs). It is meant to be overwhelming and certainly succeeds with its giant fluted columns topped with carved Egyptian capitals.

Daily Telegraph building 1928 by Elcock and Sutcliffe with Thomas Tait (who studied under Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

Just above street level, Twin Mercuries head off to distribute news around the Empire with the sun rising over the centre of the hemisphere which is, of course, England. Apparently the carver, Arthur Oakley, shortly afterwards became a monk specialising in religious ornaments.

Relief of twin Mercuries by Arthur Oakley

 

This clock above the entrance is a delight

Florin Court , designed by Guy Morgan and Partners and opened in 1936, is famous now as the fictional ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ home of Hercule Poirot. It’s in Charterhouse Square and originally boasted squash courts, a dining room and a cocktail bar. Nowadays, there’s a gym, a spa and a wi-fi area.

Which room is Miss Lemon’s office?

I have two favourites – Fox Umbrellas and the ship’s prow in Bury Street.

Fox Umbrellas at 118 London Wall was constructed in 1937 on the ground floor of an early 19th century terraced house. It is by the shopfitting firm E. Pollard & Company and has a vitrolite front along with curved non-reflective glass (an American invention for which Pollard held the English patent).  According to the blog London’s Historic Shops and Markets, this ‘invisible’ glass, which was was very expensive, allowed passers-by to see much further into the shop and made the stock on display more visible at a time when interior lighting was duller and less sharp than today. It works by using a steeply curved concave glass to deflect light towards matt black ‘baffles’. Pollards installed the same type of glass at Simpsons of Piccadilly, where it is still in place today (the store is now a Waterstones).

 

Fox’s before it became a wine bar

Fox’s today – you can see the unique curved glass

Lovely detail on the door

Pop in for a glass of wine – many of the original features have been preserved.

For the Art Deco ship’s prow, first find Holland House in Bury Street just opposite the Gherkin and the subject of my earlier blog, Ship Ahoy. Walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively. It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa and reflects the company’s main business of shipping.
I love this story about the ship’s positioning.
Apparently the company owner, Helene Kröller-Müller, had wished to buy the whole of the Bury Street corner, but had been thwarted by the adjacent owners who refused to sell. As a consequence, Holland House is broken into two sections, and it has been suggested that the aggressive prow of the ship was intended to ‘cock a snook’ at the neighbours.

The ship’s prow with the Gherkin in the background

 

City Angels (and a few devils)

Having had a lot of fun seeking out cherubs for an earlier blog I decided to go in search of angels.

Above the door of St Michael Cornhill is the warrior Archangel Michael ‘disputing with Satan’. It was carved by John Birnie Philip when the church was remodelled in 1858-1860.

No question as to who is winning this battle

Outside the church is another sculpture of Michael brandishing a flaming sword. It is a bronze memorial to the 170 out of the 2,130 men of this parish who enrolled for military service in the First World War and died as a result.

 

A close-up of the inscription

The sculpture (by R R Goulden) was described in the Builder magazine as follows

St Michael with the flaming sword stands steadfast above the quarreling beasts which typify war, and are sliding slowly, but surely, from their previous paramount position. Life, in the shape of young children, rises with increasing confidence under the protection of the champion of right.

 

Do go into the church, it’s a serene place to visit with very attractive pews and stained glass.

Of particular note on the left is the Churchwarden’s pew which shows St Michael thrusting a lance into the mouth of a truly evil-looking devil. It’s a work by the eminent wood carver William Gibbs Rogers (1792-1875).

The carving on the church wardens pew showing St Michael driving a spear into the devil’s mouth..

 

 

A close-up of the devil’s face on the churchwarden’s pew.

When you come out of the church turn right and you will find that Cornhill is seriously infested with devils.

It’s a blogger’s dilemma when one encounters what seems to be an apocryphal explanation for something one is researching. I have taken the decision that it’s OK to publish if, firstly, I make the nature of the story clear and, secondly, if it could just about be true, and thirdly if it’s a great story!

What follows seems to me to meet all the criteria.

As I walked along Cornhill one day I glanced up and saw these rather sinister figures silhouetted against the sky…

Closer inspection shows them to be devils, and rather angry and malevolent ones too …

They look down on St Peter upon Cornhill and are known as the Cornhill Devils. The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself.

If this resembles the rector he must have been a pretty ugly guy!

Onward now towards the Tower of London via Hart Street.

Two trumpeting spandrel angels face one another over the doors of St Olave, Hart Street.

North door, St Olave

You can read more about this historic church in my earlier blog Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church’.

This angel by the door of All Hallows by the Tower holds a shield bearing the cross of St Andrew. Above is the crossed sword emblem of the Diocese of London.

All Hallows by the Tower, north door

Fleet street is always great to visit given the vast range of subjects to explore.

Inside the door of St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street…

Angels holding a commemorative plaque to the original architect (1830-1832) John Shaw. On his death the work was continued by his son, also John

The plaque reads:

The foundation stone of this Church was laid on the 27th day of July 1831 and consecrated to the worship of Almighty God on the 31st day of January 1833: John Shaw, Architect who died July 30th 1832, the 12th day after its external completion, and in the 57th year of his age. To his memory this tablet is here placed by the Inhabitants of this Parish.

Ever since one of my earliest blogs, Philanthropic Fountains, I have a bit of  a ‘thing’ about drinking fountains so I shall digress from angels momentarily.

Just outside St Dunstan’s is this pretty but sadly timeworn fountain designed by John Shaw junior. The inscription is really hard to read but I believe it says …

The gift of Sir James Duke Bart MP ald. of this ward

The fear of the Lord is the fountain of life

Elected Lord Mayor 1848

MP London 1849

Fountain detail

An Art Deco trumpeting angel called The Herald graces 85 Fleet Street. The sculpture is by William Reid Dick and was unveiled by Sir Edwin Lutyens himself on 10 July 1939. The Times stated that The Herald was

Sending forth through her trumpet the news gathered from all corners of the Earth …

The Herald

And finally to St Bartholomew the Great via St Paul’s Cathedral.

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 beside St Paul’s Cathedral. I never tire of looking at them.

 

And finally some more classical angels at the church of St Bartholomew the Great …

They support the coat of arms of the founding patron King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135)

 

City Animals 2

Animals are everywhere in the City and, after some really nice feedback on my previous City Animals blog, I have decided to put together another selection.

First up is this magnificent leaping fox. It 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, EC2

It’s easy to understand why lion heads have been chosen to adorn so many late Victorian and early 20th Century buildings. They are fierce, brave, noble, the king of the beasts and, of course, immediately recognisable as a symbol of Great Britain in the heyday of Empire.

Grrrrr …. just look at those teeth and claws. Entrance to Salisbury House, London Wall

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 disctionary.

17 Gough Square

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 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 (rather nicely, I think) 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

And now another cat.

Hanging signs were once a major feature of London’s streets and were encouraged by Charles I in order to help people find their way around at a time when many could not read. Needless to say, they became immensely popular with businesses, and proliferated to such an extent that they posed a threat to life and limb in times of storm and windy weather. When, in 1718, one brought about the collapse of an entire building frontage and killed four people it was obvious something had to be done. Nonetheless but it was not until 1762 that businesses were forced to remove them and fix them to shopfronts instead – just as we see today. The Cat and Fiddle sign in Lombard Street harks back to a tavern of that name but was only erected in 1902, along with other replicas, to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

At the sign of the ‘Cat-a-Fiddling’ Lombard Street

And finally, this stunning black horse is part of the 2017 ‘Sculpture in the City’ project. It is at the corner of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street,

‘The Black Horse’ (2015) by Mark Wallinger

Ship Ahoy!

I really like The Gherkin a.k.a. 30 St Mary Axe and it’s interesting to recall that when it was completed in 2003 it dominated that part of the City. Now it’s sad to see soaring new office developments beginning to surround it so it’s unique shape is gradually being hidden from view. When it was finished it was for a while informally known as The Swiss Re building, after the company that commissioned it for their London headquarters, but some wag said it looked like ‘an erotic gherkin’ and the description stuck. It’s probably a shame for the company that their award-winning building had its name hijacked like this, even though they no longer own it.

Ship’s prow in Bury Street

Anyway, you may be wondering what the connection is with the magnificent Art Deco ship’s prow in the photograph above. Bear with me.

The Gherkin is built on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, which was eventually demolished as a result of an IRA bomb in 1992. The clearing of the area to provide an open space around the Gherkin opened up for the first time a new view of Holland House in Bury Street. This was at one time one of the narrowest streets in the City but the west side was demolished to open up the Gherkin ‘piazzetta’ (the name for a little piazza, I’m told). So the Holland House architect originally designed the building to be viewed obliquely.

Holland House with the Gherkin reflected in its windows

Holland House is fascinating for a number of reasons. For example, it was built in 1916 right in the middle of the First World War and the year of the Somme. The Dutch company Wm. H. Müller who commissioned it were big in shipping, steel and mining. In its feature on the building, the journal Building Design comments as follows: ‘The company thrived in the neutrality of the Netherlands … and there were scarcely any British clients who could, or would, invest in such a large city building. The glazed terracotta bricks (made in Delft) were sent to London in the firm’s ships and given priority over other cargoes’. It is also the only building in London by Hendrik Petrus Bertage, the foremost Dutch architect of the 20th Century and is one of the first in London to have a steel framed structure.
But what about the ship!
Walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively. It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa and reflects the company’s main business of shipping.
I love this story about the ship’s positioning.
Apparently the company owner, Helene Kröller-Müller, had wished to buy the whole of the Bury Street corner, but had been thwarted by the adjacent owners who refused to sell. As a consequence, Holland House is broken into two sections, and it has been suggested that the aggressive prow of the ship was intended to ‘cock a snook’ at the neighbours.

The ship’s prow with the Gherkin in the background

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