Walking the City of London

Category: Art Nouveau

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

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

Picture by Katie of Look up London Tours.

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

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

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

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

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

The new skyscraper on Bishopsgate looms over the Victorian market …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To add to these in Eastcheap …

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

I hope you have enjoyed today’s blog.

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On the Tiles again

A few days ago I visited the Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market (EC4V 1LR) and came across these splendid tiles depicting Sir Christopher Wren. He is standing in front of The Monument (which still has scaffolding around it) holding up a drawing of how it will look when finished …

Just look at the characters gathered around him …

A lady holding a fan leans out of her carriage window to chat to the architect. A child (possibly her servant) stands nearby holding what looks like a pet King Charles spaniel. Some nearby gentlemen are also intrigued, but the chap with the red hat who looks like Errol Flynn might be more interested in the lady. Observe the elegant shoes of the man holding an eyeglass. Not really appropriate for the City’s muddy streets, so maybe he is her carriage companion. The carriage driver looks over his shoulder at the scene. The panel is by W.B. Simpson & Sons and is faintly dated 12th March 1882.

And now another wonderful new discovery for me, the exterior of the former Nordheim Model Bakery at 12-13 Widegate Street (E1 7HP), just off Middlesex Street near Liverpool Street Station. Here are the glazed faience reliefs as a group – they are a joy – showing the bread-making process in beautiful detail …

Hauling in the flour
Kneading the dough
Into the oven for baking
Triumphantly carrying the finished product

They date from 1926 and their creator was the sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1889-1977). Having joined up with the Artists’ Rifles in 1914, he had distinguished himself in the First World War having been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for ‘ … conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of the left flank of the Company of the Battalion’. Despite being severely wounded, he had fought on until relieved two days later. His work became more and more religious and he eventually entered a Carmelite order, retired to the West Country, and died there at the age of 88. The panels reminded the Gentle Author of the Stations of the Cross and you can read his posting about these works here.

I love this bright red high-relief terracotta frieze on the exterior of Cutlers’ Hall (1886-7) in Warwick Lane (EC3M 7BR). The ancient Cutlers’ Company’s origins go back to 1416, their business originally produced and traded in knives and swords but eventually expanding into household cutlery and domestic wares such as razors and scissors.

The work realistically depicts late Victorian cutlery production. This is not surprising since the sculptor, Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946) of Sheffield, was once a cutler himself. The frieze (containing 33 figures) was made by E. Goodall & Co of Manchester …

The detail is extraordinary

I had to smile when I noticed this plastic owl just above the terracotta on the right. He’s obviously intended to deter pigeons …

‘To-whit to-whoo!’

The Bishopsgate Institute (230 Bishopsgate EC2M 4QH) is a fascinating cultural centre in the City of London.

The website tells us that the architect for the building was decided by a design competition and Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928) was chosen as the winner. Townsend was an inspiring and original architect whose work was individual rather than adhering to any particular style or movement. The Grade II* listed building combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but the influences of Townsend’s interest in Romanesque and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the broad semi-circular arched entrance, twin roof turrets and mosaic interior floors. Do go inside and visit the beautifully restored library.

The Tree of Life

And finally (for now) the flamboyant Bolton House at 14-16 Cullum Street EC3M 7JJ. Built in 1907, it has a white faience facade with green and turquoise decoration including the heraldic device of Prior Bolton, after whom the building was named. It’s another lovely example of Art Nouveau completed just before that style went out of fashion.

Incidentally, I have already written about the Prior in an earlier blog because of his connection with St Bartholomew the Great. Under the oriel window in the church there is a nice example of a rebus, in this case a representation of a person’s name using a picture. Here Prior Bolton’s name is neatly implied by a crossbow bolt piercing a tun (a type of cask). Bolton was Prior of St Bartholomew the Great between 1505 and 1532 and carried out repair and construction work across the church.

Prior Bolton’s rebus

I am indebted to the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society for the source of much of today’s blog. They published a special Gazetteer on the City of London and I have used it for reference. The photographs are my own. My thanks also to Richard Jones of London Walking Tours.

Hidden Gems

I have written before about the history of the little greetings card shop on the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside but didn’t mention the fascinating feature tucked away inside.

The shop dates from 1687 and so was among the first buildings to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’.

At the back of the store is this spiral staircase …

According to at least one source the staircase was in a previous house on the site which was built by Christopher Wren for an alderman, William Turner, who subsequently became Lord Mayor in 1668.

On the corner of Mitre Street and Leadenhall Street is this rather austere office building currently undergoing renovation …

Previously the Towergate Building.

Holy Trinity Priory was the first religious house to be established within the walls of London after the Norman Conquest, being founded by Matilda, the wife of Henry I, in 1108. It was also one of the first Augustinian houses established in England as well as being the first to be dissolved in 1532, voluntarily surrendered to Henry VIII after running up large debts.

It is quite remarkable, therefore, that some of the old priory buildings have survived and even more remarkable that they have been encased in a 20th century office building. If you go up close and peer through the building’s windows on Leadenhall Street this is what you will see …

There is a whole section of wall and an archway.

When the refurbishment is complete I will return and see if I am allowed in to take a better photograph.

A jolly friar looks down on you as you approach the masterpiece of Art Nouveau that is the Black Friar pub on Queen Victoria Street opposite Blackfriars Station …

174 Queen Victoria St, London EC4V 4EG.

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

Some pretty stained glass.

Some good advice …

‘Don’t advertise, tell a gossip’.

Part of the interior …

When you have enjoyed a glass of something refreshing at the Black Friar you can visit another interesting hostelry not far away – walk east along Queen Victoria Street and you will see St Andrew’s Hill on your left. Walk up the hill and on your right you will see Shaw’s Booksellers …

31-34 St Andrew’s Hill, London EC4V 5DE.

It is a gastropub rather than a booksellers and when I had a flat nearby I was told an interesting story about its history which I have been unable to verify but which sounds authentic. Apparently it was a bar for a long time but was renamed Shaw’s Booksellers for the making of a film and it was decided to keep the name. This story is backed up by the existence in the bar of this staircase …

Pictures courtesy of the Shaw’s Booksellers website.

When you look at it close up you will see that it actually goes nowhere and was allegedly installed as part of the alterations made by the filmmakers. It’s a great story and I hope it’s true.


Art Nouveau in the City

I hope you enjoyed my earlier blog on Art Deco – here is the promised post concentrating on Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau is pretty rare in the City so it’s worth seeking out this masterpiece tucked away in Cullum Street just off Lime Street. I haven’t been able to find out a lot more about it apart from the architect (A. Selby) and that it’s reportedly named after Prior Bolton. He was a builder of some eminence employed by Henry VII and Henry VIII which included supervising work on Westminster Abbey.

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

The frieze is typical Art Nouveau

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

The shield apparently resembles Prior Bolton’s heraldic device but I have only found one source for this assertion

The Bishopsgate Institute is a wonderful cultural centre in the City of London.

The website tells us that the architect for the building was decided by a design competition and Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928), whose previous work had mainly consisted of church restoration, was chosen as the winner. Townsend was an inspiring and original architect whose work was individual rather than adhering to any particular style or movement. The Grade II* listed building combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but the influences of Townsend’s interest in Romanesque and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the broad semi-circular arched entrance, twin roof turrets and mosaic interior floors. Do go inside and visit the beautifully restored library.

Townsend’s reputation today is based not only on Bishopsgate Institute but also his other major London public buildings such as the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1901) which I write about later in this blog.

The Institute entrance

Intricate carving reflects Townsend’s fondness for the ‘Tree of Life’, an Arts and Crafts motif symbolizing social renewal through the arts. 

The Whitechapel Gallery was founded in 1901 to bring great art to the people of east London. The Gallery’s history is a history of firsts: in 1939 Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica was displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery on its first and only visit to Britain; in 1958 the Gallery presented the first major show in Britain of seminal American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock; and in 1970 and 1971 the first shows of David Hockney, Gilbert & George and Richard Long were staged to great acclaim.

Turning now to the building itself, the rectangular space between the turrets was originally intended to be covered with a mosaic frieze, but this proved too expensive. In 2012, however, the acclaimed artist Rachel Whiteread created a beautiful substitute. The work was Whiteread’s first ever permanent public commission in the UK.

You can see the similarity to the Bishopsgate Institute

Like the Bishopsgate Institute, the Gallery’s towers each feature a Tree of Life. The Gallery brochure explains that, for this new work of art, Whiteread has cast their leaves in bronze to create an exhilarating flurry across the frieze. Four reliefs, casts of windows, stand as reminders of previous architectural interventions. Inspired by the tenacious presence of urban plants like buddlea, which the artist calls ‘Hackney weed’, Whiteread has covered the leaves and branches in gold leaf, making them part of London’s rooftop repertoire of gilded angels, heraldic animals and crests.

Whiteread’s golden leaves

Connoisseurs of both architecture and beer will know of the splendid Black Friar pub on Queen Victoria Street. An Art Nouveau delight which was saved from demolition in the 1960s by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman and Lady Dartmouth. It’s packed with fascinating details so I will be heading off there with my camera and devote more space to it in a future blog than I have available now.

The Black Friar

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)


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