Walking the City of London

Category: Art Page 1 of 2

St Mary Abchurch – Wren’s hidden masterpiece.

St Mary’s is tucked away halfway down the narrow Abchurch Lane that links Cannon Street and King William Street (EC4N 7BA). As Stephen Millar has written in his wonderful little book London’s City Churches, to stand in the old churchyard and look at the Dutch influenced red brick exterior it is not hard to imagine yourself back in the 17th century …

Built between 1681 and 1686, this is one of Wren’s greatest parish churches. The interior is almost square, its rich dark woodwork contributing to the intimate atmosphere …

The dome was built during Wren’s experimental period, later perfected on a much larger scale at St Paul’s Cathedral. The dome was painted in 1708 by parishioner William Snow and contains a heavenly choir around the name of God in Hebrew …

It’s very difficult to photograph but I found this image on Pinterest, copyright Rex Harris …

The beautiful reredos features limewood carvings by Grinling Gibbons, the pre-eminent carver of his generation …

The pelican in the centre represents the Eucharist and is also the crest of Corpus Christi College …

Also of note are the original box pews on three sides of the church …

The pulpit (circa 1685) is by William Grey and is one of the finest examples in any City church …

Near the entrance is an original alms box dating from 1694 (three keys were needed to open it!) …

On the front pews are two ceremonial wrought iron sword-rests used to support the civic sword when the Lord Mayor of London attends a service at the church. The arms on the sword-rests are those of two former parishioners who were also Lord Mayors of London, George Scholey (1812) and Samuel Birch (1814). The first …

And the second …

Images courtesy of A London Inheritance.

William Emmett made the wooden Royal Arms …

Along with the font cover …

The font itself is by William Kempster.

The church’s connection with the Fruiterers Company is commemorated by this charming stained glass window …

Outside you’ll find an old hydrant cover from 1841 which incorporates a parish marker. The pipe and outlet are clearly seen in the hole in the centre and only the cover that was originally across this hole is missing …

There’s an old ghost sign too …

It’s a lovely church to visit. There are regular organ recitals and you can grab a coffee and a snack from one of the stalls in the churchyard. Find out more here.

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Where Maggie wed Denis – a visit to Wesley’s Chapel.

Wesley’s Chapel on City Road was first opened in 1778 by John Wesley (1703-1791) as a home base for his fast growing network of churches and societies which eventually became the Methodist Church (EC1Y 1AU).

The house where he lived during his later years is next door. Here’s the view of the house from Bunhill Burial Ground where Wesley’s mother is buried. He could see her grave from his bedroom window on the second floor …

Here he is depicted visiting the grave in 1779 …

The original marker has now been replaced by one with a much shorter inscription …

This part of Bunhill is not open to the public.

There are dozens of memorials within the Chapel, along with 18 magnificent stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes. Although it’s an active house of worship, it is open to the public during the week and many visitors come to see the place where Wesley preached and lived and last week I became one of them.

This window shows Sir Galahad overcoming the seven deadly sins and, through his victory, building the City of God. Sir Galahad is the patron saint of the Wesley Guild, which, when founded, was seen as a modern youth movement …

Here is a small selection of other glass you can admire …

This window gives thanks for the fact that the chapel escaped damage during the Second World War …

At either end of the vestibule there are two windows by Mark Cazalet. One shows God as fire …

And the other God as water …

The view from the balcony …

Margaret Thatcher (then Margaret Roberts) married Denis Thatcher here on 13 December 1951 and both their children were christened here. She donated the communion rail in 1993 …

The War memorial …

Old Boys’ Brigade flag …

The Brigade is still going strong and now welcomes girls as members. Have a look at their very lively website here.

A seat in the Foundery Chapel. ‘Primitive’ meant ‘simple’ or ‘relating to an original stage’; the Primitive Methodists saw themselves as practising a purer form of Christianity, closer to the earliest Methodists …

I strongly recommend a visit to the museum …

And the shop, where you can pick up a tasteful memento of your visit …

Wesley’s tomb is behind the Chapel …

In the basement of the Chapel there is a beautifully preserved Victorian lavatory dating from 1899. It’s a shrine to Thomas Crapper – the champion of the flushing toilet and inventor of the ballcock …

Unfortunately it was closed when I visited but you can, however, read about it and see more images in the Gentle Author’s blog At God’s Convenience.

The Chapel and the Museum are wonderful places to visit and this blog really doesn’t do them justice so do call in if you get the chance.

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Some cheerful Spring pics.

In this week’s blog I have just put together some of the random pictures I have been taking over the last few weeks that will hopefully create a cheerful mood.

Who wouldn’t smile on seeing this Baker Street doggie …

This time of year is, for me, a great opportunity to grab images from nature.

A corporate window box in Wood Street …

On the Barbican Estate …

An afternoon nap …

In Fortune Street Park …

A pretty piece of art …
With a sad back story …

Blossom time at Aldgate …

Opposite St Paul’s Underground Station …

The Festival Gardens at St Paul’s Cathedral …

On London Wall …

Visitors to the office whilst I was writing my blog. Mrs Duck …

And her handsome partner …

‘Goodbye – I have better things to do than pose for you!’

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More Street art (particularly work supporting Ukraine).

I popped over to the Brick Lane area in order to see what was happening in the flourishing street art scene and noticed that Ukraine and its struggle is beginning to emerge as a subject. I took these images in Fournier Street …

I’m indebted to The Londonist blog for further images …

And one I particularly like. Crystal Palace folk know how to send an authentic London message! …

Meanwhile, in Paris …

And this City of London shop repainted its signage …

Here are some other pics from my wanderings …

And some that made me smile …
And I did!

This one (and several like it) is on the wall beneath a warehouse now converted into apartments. Made me stand back and wonder what on earth could fall on my head …

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‘True love will find you in the end!’ Whitecross Street art to cheer us up.

All today’s pictures were taken on Whitecross Street or very near it in adjacent roads.

I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t heard of the singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston before and so I am very grateful to this piece of street art by Steve Chapman for bringing him to my attention …

You can listen to Johnston actually singing this song here. If the link doesn’t work you can Google it – it’s lovely.

Here’s the rest of Chapman’s painting …

A quote by José Argüelles, (1939 – 2011), an American New-age author and artist …

Spring by Jimmy C …

This magnificent Camellia is obviously very happy here in the car park …

Jimmy also painted this sweet little heart …

Tyger Tyger by mural artists Paul Skelding and Tim Sanders is usually largely hidden by the fig tree in front. You can read more about it (and other tigers) here in the Londonist blog …

On Peabody Buildings …

Nearby …

See if you can find this little chap …

During creation at the Whitecross Street Party in September last year …

One of my favourites – the tattooed angel and her weird companion …

I like the pigeon …

It was a dull day but these works really cheered me up as did these cheerful little daffodils popping up on London Wall. Thank you City of London Gardeners!

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Christmas lights and the Bash Street Kids!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it rather difficult to feel very ‘Christmassy’ this year. However, the Christmas lights are beginning to cheer me up and here is my selection (plus a fascinating visit I made to Somerset House).

I’ll start with one of my favourites – hats off to Chartered Accountants Hall …

I think those icicles look really authentic …

Then there’s this installation at City Point …

And on the St Alphage Highwalk overlooking the Salters’ Hall garden. This one is constantly changing …

A profound message on the green wall nearby …

Onward to Spitalfields Market …

And Bishopsgate …

And Broadgate …

Here’s a small Christmas tree selection, starting with City of London Girls’ School …

Wood Street …

St Giles Church …

King’s Cross Station …

The Courtauld Gallery …

And Somerset House with the skating rink in the background …

What was I doing at Somerset House?

Visiting the Beano Exhibition of course. Here’s edition Number 1 …

There are reckoned to be only 25 copies still in existence and one sold in 2015 for £17,300.

I laughed out loud at this imagining of how the Bash Street Kids turned out 30 years on. Especially Smiffy!

There’s a first edition of the Dandy on display also …

In 2004 a copy fetched £20,350. Only 10 copies of the comic’s first edition are known to exist, but the free gift metal whistler sold in the auction is the only one to have survived.

It’s a great exhibition, highly recommended …

Be sure to log in next week because it’s the famous Christmas Quiz!

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Noël Coward at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

What a pleasure on a gloomy, cold day to approach the Guildhall Art Gallery with an air of anticipation …

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 – 26 March 1973) was one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and successful playwrights, songwriters, actors and directors …

Entry to the exhibition is free (timed ticket required) and you are also handed a delightful pocket biography containing images of some of the exhibits …

It tells us that there was much more to Coward’s style than just chic costumes and décor. His humour was often a deflecting mirror that allowed him to probe deeply into social and emotional complexities. As a gay man (at a time when homosexuality was criminalised) who also surmounted significant barriers of class, he brought to his art the acute perceptions of an outsider and an anarchic comic edge. He pushed boundaries by dramatising sexuality with candour, and modelled an alternative vision of masculinity. He built a family around him of friends and collaborators, offering fantastic opportunities to women that was rare for his time.

I recall seeing many Noël Coward caricatures over the years, often portraying him in a luxurious dressing gown holding a long cigarette holder …

And, appropriately, the first exhibit you see on display is this dressing gown that belonged to him in the 1950s. ‘They’re so comfortable to act in’, said Coward ‘. ‘And they’ve got swing …’ …

Noël’s famous Las Vegas dressing gown from 1955 …

It became an international icon in its own right following his stellar Las Vegas performances, Coward posing in it with a procession of celebrity visitors such as such as Cole Porter, Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall and, of course, Frank Sinatra …

Labels at the Gallery are clear and informative and items beautifully displayed …

For his contemporary audiences his productions were also visual feasts and one gets a great sense of this in the exhibition. For example, this reconstruction of a 1930 costume for Gertrude Lawrence when appearing in Private Lives

There are some iconic items and images …

There is sheet music … it’s 1941 and Londoners are going about their normal business despite the horrors of the Blitz …

And from 1923 …

Along with posters …

And costume and set designs …

You also get a sense of the glamorous audiences of the day …

There are some great, evocative photographs …

And the very personal …

Sir Noël after receiving his Knighthood …

It’s a great exhibition and I highly recommend it.

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Some things I have seen on recent wanderings – from traitors’ heads to woolly mammoths.

As regular readers will know, every now and then I like to publish some images that I have taken that don’t fit easily into any particular theme and this week’s blog is an example. They include wanderings outside the City and even London itself but I hope you will still enjoy them.

Walking down Errol Street in Islington (EC1Y 8LU – opposite Waitrose) I looked up and, for the first time, noticed this very touching memorial …

This wonderful map entitled The Streets They Left Behind is interactive. Just click on the poppies to read more about the men who never returned.

Just across the road in Whitecross Street are the premises of A Holt & Sons Ltd …

Because so many trades have moved out of the City and its adjacent boroughs, I had always assumed that the building contained flats and that the signage had been retained as a quaint ‘feature’ to attract tenants. How wrong I was!

The business (which specialises in cotton textiles) was founded by Abraham Holtz who started his enterprise on a stall nearby and who then bought these premises in 1864. It has been in the family ever since (the ‘z’ was dropped from the name at the time of the First World War). Have a look at their website for the full fascinating story.

The building is adjacent to the tiny, covered alley called Shrewsbury Court …

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to establish the origin of its name. You can read more about its history here in the splendid Ian Visits blog.

A few yards inside the alley is one of my favourite London doors. The story I have conjured up in my mind is that, some time in the early 1970s, the people living there found that visitors knocked on the door rather than ringing the bell. When asked why, callers usually said that they didn’t know there was a bell. As a consequence, the residents (who obviously had artistic talents) got out their paint brushes and added this helpful sign to indicate where the push button bell was. Brilliant!

If learning a bit more about City doors takes your fancy have a look at my blog entitled That rings a Bell.

The other day at the Museum of London I was admiring this painting of London as seen from Southwark in around 1630. It’s one of the few painted records of the City before it was destroyed in the Great Fire …

My eye was drawn to London Bridge where a wide selection of traitors’ heads offered a grisly welcome to newcomers approaching from the south …

I liked this view of the outside of the Charterhouse with the very old gates, a gas lamp and an iconic red London pillar box …

The Kentish ragstone wall is fantastic …

I wrote recently about the great Italian experience that is Eataly on Bishopsgate. Here’s some of the scrumptious produce on sale …

There are a few doorways around the City that have always intrigued me since the wood seems to be incredibly old and repurposed from another function. The first is on Foster Lane and the next two Carter Lane …

I have noticed a recent trend in City opticians to have really wacky displays that don’t seem to bear much resemblance at all to their product. This one’s in Aldersgate and is obviously referencing the nearby Barbican estate …

Generally speaking, I don’t approve of graffiti, but this made me laugh …

When visiting Highgate Cemetery a few weeks ago I encountered these two ladies on Highgate Hill. The first (‘Big girls need big diamonds’) is obviously Elizabeth Taylor …

If you are visiting nearby and are interested in finding them they are on the outside wall of the oddly named Brendan the Navigator pub (N19 5NQ).

In the Egyptian Avenue in Highgate Cemetery you will come across the vault containing the remains of Mabel Veronica Batten. In front of the entrance there are always fresh flowers placed in a marble container inscribed with the name of her lover, Radclyffe Hall, who is also laid to rest there …

Hall, born Marguerite Radclyffe Hall but known to her loved ones as John, was a lesbian who dressed in men’s clothes in a society and era when same-sex love was considered not only immoral but legally punishable. Her book, The Well of Loneliness, dealing with a love between two women, was published in 1928. Here she is circa 1910 …

Picture: National Portrait Gallery, photographer unknown.

Her novel became the target of a campaign by James Douglas, editor of the Sunday Express, who wrote, ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel.’ A judge eventually ordered the book destroyed, with the defendants to pay court costs.

A lady entrepreneur sets out her wares on Kilburn High Road …

Nearby stalls …

And finally, some images from a really enjoyable trip to Ipswich.

Ipswich Museum is a delight containing an extraordinary range of exhibits, all displayed in an authentic Victorian environment.

Ever wondered what a boa constrictor’s skeleton looks like? Wonder no more …

Ever fancied a close encounter with a woolly mammoth? This is the place to come …

In a sad sign of the times, ten years ago someone broke in and sawed off and stole Rosie the Rhino’s horn!

Staying at the Salthouse Harbour Hotel was fun. There is some interesting art on display …

And some, er, rather eccentric signage …

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Special colour edition! The weather’s been a bit chilly so here’s some colour to warm us up!

Temple tube station’s grey concrete roof terrace has been given a kaleidoscopic makeover by London-based artist Lakwena Maciver. Titled ‘Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground,’ Maciver’s rooftop art installation features a series of interlocking geometric patterns inspired by her Ugandan heritage …

You can read more about the work here along with some great aerial images. Highly recommended since it also includes fascinating time lapse footage of the work’s construction.

You may wonder why Temple Station, built in 1870, has this unusual flat roof. Well, when the station building was proposed, the Duke of Norfolk, who owned land to the north, didn’t want a tall structure obstructing his view. As a result of his objection, the flat roof meant he could still gaze happily over the Thames and wander across the roof if that took his fancy. Another constraint was demanded by the barristers in the nearby Inns of Court. Train drivers were not allowed to blow their whistles in their proximity so members would not be distracted from their briefs (nor, presumably, have their slumbers interrupted).

If you like Italian food and produce Eataly, on Bishopsgate beside Liverpool Street Station, is the place for you. Great restaurants with scrumptious food and mini-shops selling all kinds of produce. There’s a great wine shop as well. I love this sparkling arcade …

Colourful stall at the Whitecross Street Party

My Party favourite, the Big Paintbrush …

Ventilation shafts dazzle underneath the Cheesegrater building at 122 Leadenhall Street (EC3V 4AB) …

Incidentally, there’s an interesting story behind the maypole you can see in the distance and the statue next to it. You can read all about it in my blog Around Leadenhall – Geishas, Sign Language, Maypoles and a Japanese proverb.

I like the ‘splashy’ roof over the pavement at 22 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AJ) …

Fun pink ‘stuff’ at St Pancreas …

Crazy shop window nearby …

Street art near Rivington Street …

The ‘Hanging Gardens of the Barbican’ are gradually changing colour …

Sadly, the last hollyhock of the year …

However, there is cause for optimism. A little green leaf emerging from the Amaryllis!

Last Saturday I went on a guided tour of Highgate Cemetery and took this image of our excellent guide James in his natural green habitat …

The Cemetery is well worth visiting and the guided tours great value for money (or you can go self-guided if you prefer). Details can be found here on their website. You must book a time slot in advance.

And finally, can you spot the Tower 42 orange pumpkin head?

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Roman elephants and Suffragette bread – more fun at the Museum of London.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love the Museum of London and it’s one of my go-to places if I feel I need a bit of cheering up (and, almost inevitably, I learn something new).

For example, it had completely escaped my notice that the Roman Emperor Claudius used elephants during his invasion of Britain in AD 43. Not far inside the entrance to the Museum is this totally bonkers mural illustrating their use in battle. The beasts look suitably angry at being dragged half way around the world just to stamp on a few ancient Britons …

There’s Claudius on the right on a white horse, possibly declaring ‘missio peracta’ (which Google assures me is ‘mission accomplished’ in Latin). Around the same time a young woman of the Iceni tribe called Boudica was aged about 30.

As Queen Boudica, she is now famous for her 60/61 AD uprising against the Romans. For resisting the appropriation of her property and that of her tribe, the local Roman procurator had her flogged and her daughters raped. Building on the fury of other tribes, she raised an army which went on to capture present day Colchester (Camulodunum) routing the Roman division there in the process. She then headed for Londinium.

Early London was a sprawling settlement, unwalled and defenceless since the Governor, Gaius Seutonius Paulinus, believing his troops to be disastrously outnumbered, made a tactical retreat (i.e. fled). On arriving, Boudica’s army burnt the place to the ground and slaughtered everyone they could find. These skulls on display in the Museum may be evidence of that massacre …

Primarily belonging to young adult men, a large number were found in the ancient Walbrook stream (although it must be said that there are alternative theories as to their origin).

The settlement of Verulamium – today’s St Albans – was next to feel the wrath of Boudica’s revenge as her, seemingly unstoppable, army sacked and burnt it en route to their inevitable confrontation with the now significantly strengthened Governor’s army.

The battle went badly and, rather than face the inevitable humiliation of capture, she is said to have poisoned herself and was buried by her people at a secret location. Some claim she’s buried beneath platform 10 of King’s Cross Station – maybe that’s why there’s a Boadicea Street nearby (N1 0UA)!

‘How’s my driving?’ Here she is with her daughters, driving her chariot, remarkably without the use of reins …

Boudica at Westminster : picture by Paul Walter/Wikipedia

Evidence of Boudica’s destruction of London lives on in a layer of burnt earth and debris known as the Red Layer that is occasionally uncovered during modern developments.

Not an elephant but the skull of a long extinct animal called an Auroch …

Up until the early 17th century you could still have encountered a live one (living in Poland). The one in the museum lived in Essex and was found in Ilford where it would have been part of a large herd. Incidentally, Aurochs live on today in the coats of arms of Romania and Moldova.

There’s a great temporary exhibition at the Museum illustrating the work of contemporary London makers.

I really like this stained glass work entitled Gorilla (2017) by Piotr Frac

And what about this piece by James Shaw entitled Plastic Baroque

And I love this witty Venus (2015) by Claire Partington

Pregnant and casually dressed, she poses with a ciggie in one hand and the dogs’ leash in another.

Now some brave women from a different era, the Suffragettes. This is the banner of the West Ham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union 1909-1910 …

Suffragette prisoners often removed loaves of bread from Holloway Prison as a souvenir of their incarceration. Now well over 100 years old, this loaf was carefully preserved and gifted to the Museum in 1950 …

Read more about the campaign for Votes for Women and those who fought it here.

What a great poster …

If you’d like to cast you mind back to the heady, optimistic days of the 2012 London Olympics, the Olympic cauldron is on display again …

When you are appropriately Sanitised, the Victorian Walk is always a nice way to complete a visit …

By the way, if you are passing through Temple Station and have a bit of time to spare, get off and make your way to the station roof where you will find this fabulous installation by London-based artist Lakwena Maciver. It’s entitled ‘Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground’. This is only a small part of it …

I shall have more images for you next week.

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Sculpture in the City – from the joyous to the rather poignant.

Sculpture in the City is an annual sculpture exhibition that uses the City as a rotating gallery space. This is its 10th edition and will be in place until spring 2022.

I’m going to start with my absolute favourite …

The nearby notes tell us that the sculptor Jun T. Lai ‘created Bloom Paradise to symbolize hope and love. The artist’s intention was to bring greater positivity into the pandemic stricken world and release healing energy. The bright and colorful flowers call to an imaginative world, leading the visitor into a fantasy wonderland. Through this work, the artist hopes to bring positive energy and joy, a gift of life, to everyone’.

I think she has succeeded brilliantly. What a lovely vision to encounter as you leave Fenchurch Street Station on your way to work.

When I first caught a glimpse of this clock on the Corner of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street (EC2M 3XD) I was rather puzzled …

Now I know that Silent Agitator by Ruth Ewan is a large clock based upon a detail of an illustration produced by Ralph Chaplin in 1917 for the Industrial Workers of the World union (the IWW). Chaplin’s illustration, bearing the inscription ‘What time is it? Time to organize!’, was reproduced on millions of gummed stickers, known as ‘silent agitators’, that were distributed by union members in workplaces and public spaces across the US. The clock hands bear workers’ clogs or, in French, sabots from which the word sabotage is derived (sabotage was originally used in English to specifically mean disruption instigated by workers).

At Undershaft, EC3A 8AH (Next to St Helen’s Church) is Harlequin Four By Mark Handforth

The descriptive notes state: ‘There is much symbolism in this number, for example it is considered a number of ‘being’, the number that connects mind-body-spirit with the physical world of structure and organisation’. Likewise, the use of lights is a commonality throughout his practice, in the form of candles, reflective neons and fluorescent lights. Handforth cites the way that the landscapes of artificial light that many of us live in, “means that night just becomes a different kind of day”.

Nearby at Undershaft, EC3P 3DQ (Between Aviva and the Leadenhall Building) is Cosmos by Eva Rothschild

The work is composed of three 3.5 metre-high slatted structures which lean into and support each other, painted black on the exterior and sprayed in a coloured gradient within. An imposing physical structure, the work encourages both a physical and aesthetic response. Says Rothschild: “The external piece is quite forbidding. Its black shiny surface is like a set of disruptive gates.”

In Beehive Passage, Leadenhall Market (EC3V 1LT) is Symbols by Guillaume Vandame

‘This is a sculptural installation consisting of 30 unique flags from the LGBTQ+ community. Spanning the original Pride Flag designed by Gilbert Baker in San Francisco in 1978 to its newest iteration by Daniel Quasar in 2018, the flags represent the diversity of gender, sexuality, and desire. The flags are standardised and ordinary, each five feet by three feet, and hang equidistant to represent the equal value and potential each community group has in the world today’.

And finally, Orphans, by Bram Ellens, a rather poignant work situated on Cullum Street (EC3M 7JJ) …

In Orphans, we see how the artist collected old paintings from deceased people to give them a new life …

Through undertakers and thrift stores, he managed to lay his hands on paintings that had become ‘orphaned’ after their owner died and the art was discarded by their heirs.

All of these paintings that ended up in damp storage basements longing for a new owner, contained both the energy of the original artist as well as the attachment of the deceased owner.

The above are only six of the sixteen works you can discover around the City. More details are available here.

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In search of some colour and humour.

When the weather was miserable at the beginning of the month I decided to go in search of some colour and humour to cheer myself up. I started a little to the east of the City in Rivington Street and wandered slowly back to Whitecross Street. I finished with a quick diversion to Paternoster Square to see something unusual – wall-painted street art in the City of London itself.

My first exciting discovery was this work by Dan Kitchener outside the Callooh Gallery …

Underneath the railway bridge …

Hopes and dreams …

Oh dear …

And nearby, by Steve McCracken

Rude but made me laugh …

Note the work by Stik in the top left, and can you spot the cute bunny rabbit carrying a grenade?

Here he is …

More by Thierry Noir

I know I posted this before but can’t resist doing it again …

Can you see the old fireplaces? Probably exposed as a result of bombing and now bricked up. I got a bit carried away thinking about families gathered around them in wintertime, chatting and drinking tea and maybe making toast just like I did as a kid …

On Boot Street N1 6HJ.

As I left the subway I caught a glimpse of the spectacular Leysian Mission building – something for a future blog …

I’ll have to do a bit of research. I really liked the doorbells but resisted the temptation to press one to see if they still worked …

These plaques, placed by some of the great and the good at the turn of the last century, were intriguing also …

I noticed the green line on the pavement, there to help sight-impaired people find their way from the Underground station to Moorfields Eye Hospital. Some say that green is the last colour you see before you lose your vision entirely but I couldn’t find a scientific confirmation of this …

And so onward to the western branch of Old Street and some street art by Bowen and Blackmore

Now half way down Whitecross Street. Note the ‘correspondence’ …

Alongside, the pretty tattooed angel now has a weird companion …

Finally, off to Paternoster Square to record these two characters flanking the entrance to the public loos (EC4M 7BP)!

Only a week to go!!! Don’t forget, there’s an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson now set up for you to visit. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You’ll find Natalie’s banners on the Thames Path at Walbrook Wharf. Here are a few images to whet your appetite …

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Fun at the Whitecross Street Party!

Last Saturday I knew I would be in for a treat when I saw these creatures blocking the road …

Poetry on one of the performance stages …

Time to get creative …

Who needs brushes when a handful of paint will do!

Concentration is so important …

There were lots of places to hunker down and enjoy the day …

Learn about saving our planet whilst having fun …

The grown-ups get to work on Saturday and Sunday …

The big paintbrush is back!

New murals take shape …

Artists at work …

The day wouldn’t be complete without the bonkers balloons …

Don’t forget, there’s an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson now set up for you to visit. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You’ll find Natalie’s banners on the Thames Path at Walbrook Wharf. Here are a few images to whet your appetite …

You can find more details of her display here and its digital counterpart here

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

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Old Street – from spinal columns to record players. A walk along Old Street.

I do enjoy a wander along Old Street – remembering as I walk that it is, as its name suggests, an ancient thoroughfare that probably even pre-dates Roman times. The earliest records of the name are Ealdestrate around 1200, Eldestrete in 1275, and le Oldestrete in 1373. In other words, it was already known as the ‘old street’ when Edward I sat on the throne.

Starting at its Shoreditch end, I always admire the street art surrounding the gigantic spinal column that graces the Osteopathy and Sports clinic …

Across the road is some ‘work’ by the notorious ’10 foot’ character (or someone impersonating him) …

According to the My London blog the guy’s real name is Samuel Moore. In 2010 he was arrested over his work and bailed, but continued to create artwork in public places. He was eventually convicted for committing over £100,000 worth of criminal damage and sent to prison for 26 months.

I love the beautiful civic building that is the old Shoreditch Town Hall …

When it opened in 1866 it was one of the grandest Vestry Halls of its time and its ambitious founders wanted the building to embody their progressive values. Until the 1960s, the Town Hall operated as the centre of local democracy and civic life in the borough and now, after a somewhat rocky time when it was seriously at risk, it is a thriving event venue and community space.

Throughout the building the motto ‘More Light, More Power’ can be seen beneath the crest of Shoreditch. This motto, together with the statue of Progress on the front of the tower, commemorates the borough’s reputation for pioneering bold ideas such as the building’s revolutionary 1897 Refuse Destructor, which generated electricity and powered street lighting in the borough. You can read more about this extraordinary invention here.

Old Street Magistrates Court was transformed into a hotel in 2016 (previous temporary visitors included Reggie and Ronnie Kray) …

Originally known as a Police Court, it dealt with a wide range of business coming under the general heading of ‘summary jurisdiction’, i.e. trial without a jury. The cases heard were largely criminal and of the less serious kind. Examples included: drunk and disorderly conduct, assault, theft, begging, possessing stolen goods, cruelty to animals, desertion from the armed forces, betting, soliciting, loitering with intent, obstructing highways, and motoring offences. Non-criminal matters included small debts concerning income tax and local rates, landlord and tenant matters, matrimonial problems and bastardy (for example, fathers of illegitimate children failing to pay maintenance). There is a fascinating account of bastardy, and its associated tragedies, in the London Lives blog.

The eastern half of the building contained a police station …

It included accommodation for a married inspector on the first floor and for 40 single men on the second and third floors. There was a kitchen and mess room along with rooms for storing, drying and brushing clothes and boots. You really could say there was a ‘police presence’ in those days.

The building in 1974 …

I paused at the Old Street roundabout to admire the Bezier Building …

Unfortunately, I can’t get out of my mind the Gentle Author’s assertion that it looks like a pair of buttocks.

I have written about the west end of the street before, but I hope readers won’t mind if I revisit a few of the buildings again.

Look up and you will see the old Salvation Army Hostel ghost sign …

‘Hostel for working men. Cheap beds and food’.

Number 116 used to be the Margolin Gramophone Company factory (the place is now called Stylus … get it?) …

They manufactured the Dansette record player – a name very familiar to us baby-boomers. During the years 1950-70 over one million were sold …

You could even buy a portable one!

Dansette production ended in December 1969, following the introduction of relatively cheap and efficient Japanese and other Far Eastern imported Hi-Fi equipment. Margolin subsequently went into liquidation.

Look out for the now de-consecrated St Luke’s church. It was designed by John James, though the obelisk spire, a most unusual feature for an Anglican church, the west tower and the flanking staircase wings were by Nicholas Hawksmoor

It was built between 1727-1733 to meet St Giles Without Cripplegate’s booming population.

The weathervane is actually a red-eyed dragon but for some reason locals thought it resembled a louse and nicknamed the church Lousy St Luke’s …

The church was closed in 1964 due to subsidence, but the previously derelict building has now been restored by the London Symphony Orchestra as a beautiful space for performances, rehearsals, recording and educational purposes.

William Caslon the Elder is buried in the churchyard. …

Caslon’s family grave. He died in 1766.

A typefounder, the distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. His typefaces transformed English type design and first established an English national typographic style. Here is a specimen sheet of his typefaces from 1728. In its own way I think it is beautiful …

Caslon’s first workshop was in Helmet Row, next to the church. It has some Grade II listed early 19th century terraced houses, a few of which later had their ground floors converted into shops …

At 12 Old Street is the building that once housed The Old Rodney’s Head public house …

George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney (1718-1792) was a famous Admiral best known for his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 which ended the French threat to Jamaica. The building dates from 1876 and Rodney still gazes down on Old Street …

Some commentators mistakenly attribute the likeness to Lord Nelson.

Sadly the Hat and Feathers, on the corner of Clerkenwell Road, has not reopened after a short time operating as a restaurant …

British History Online tells us that the building dates from 1860 and the facade – ‘gay without being crude’ – is decorated with classical statues, urns and richly ornate capitals and consoles. There are quite a few ghost pubs in the City and you can read more about them here.

I love this old photograph of tram lines being laid at the same junction …

You can find out more about Old Street and its history using the following links:

The Londonist : How old is Old Street?

The Gentle Author : Along Old Street

My earlier blog : Secrets of Old Street – who remembers the Dansette record player?

Don’t forget, there’s an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson now set up for you to visit. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You’ll find Natalie’s banners on the Thames Path at Walbrook Wharf. Here are a few images to whet your appetite …

You can find more details of her display here and its digital counterpart here

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Severed heads and serene ladies. Some Museum of London faces.

Oh, bliss, the Museum of London is easily accessible again and I paid a visit last week. It wasn’t at all crowded (Monday afternoon) and I was looking for a theme that might be interesting. I chose faces.

Let’s get two gruesome ones out of the way first.

Thousands of Londoners flocked to witness the execution of Charles I on 30th January 1649. This curious painting represents Charles as saintly martyr, his head re-attached to his body with stitches around the neck. The three lamenting women represent England, Scotland and Ireland …

British School; Charles I (1600-1649). Artist unknown but reckoned to date from circa 1660.*

Also commemorated in the museum is the most famous regicide, Oliver Cromwell, only instead of a portrait it’s his death mask* …

.

When he died on 3rd September 1658, aged 59, a wax mould was made of his features and was most probably kept by its maker, Thomas Simon. Plaster-casts were made from this original and many now exist in museums both in this country and abroad. Cromwell was buried with great ceremony in the burial place of the Kings at Westminster.

Oliver Cromwell, detail from a painting after Samuel Cooper, 1656, in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

He was not destined to rest in peace for long. On the morning of 30 January 1661, the 12th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I, his exhumed body, and that of two other regicides, was dragged in an open coffin on a sledge through the streets of London to Tyburn gallows. There each body was hanged in full public view until around four o’clock that afternoon. After being taken down, Cromwell’s head was severed with eight blows, stuck on a 20-foot pole, and raised above Westminster Hall …

His head is number 1, the pole on the left above the building. Fellow regicides also exhumed were John Bradshaw (head number 2) and Henry Ireton (number 3).

There are different theories as to what became of his remains – you can read about them here.

And now to a beautiful Roman lady who died young …

Facial reconstruction by Caroline Wilkinson of the Museum. The Museum Curator, Rebecca Redfern, describes her as ‘five foot three and delicately built, petite like a ballet dancer’.

In March 1999, builders working on the redevelopment of Spitalfields Market made a remarkable discovery – a beautifully carved stone sarcophagus, unopened, and obviously holding the remains of someone of exceptional wealth and status. When examined at the Museum of London, the lead coffin inside was found to contain the body of a young woman. Further analysis revealed that her head had rested on a pillow of bay leaves, that she had been embalmed with oils from the Arab world and the Mediterranean, and that she was wrapped in silk, interwoven with fine gold thread. Isotopic analysis of her teeth revealed, not only that she came from Italy, but from Imperial Rome itself. What we do not know is who she was, and why she was so far from home when she died in about AD 350.

Her final resting place.

There were two paintings I really enjoyed studying. The first is entitled Eastward Ho! and was painted by Henry Nelson O’Neil in 1857. It became his most popular work …

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

The Times newspaper commented …

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

A year later he painted Home Again

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

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

The Times had this to say about Home Again

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

Referring to a giant who was supposed to have lived in the building, this figure, known as Gerald the Giant, stood in a niche on the front elevation of Gerard’s Hall in Basing Lane and dates from around 1670. He’s not what you’d call handsome …

But I like his daintily decorated shoes …

In this tobacconist’s shop sign from circa 1800 a Scottish Highlander figure is signalling that snuff is sold there. He would usually be holding a snuff mull of horn in his left hand and a pinch of snuff in his right …

This version has been nicely restored. I think he looks a bit scary …

I like this lady’s cheeky grin, like she knows something we don’t. She wears a fashionable ‘wimple’, or neck cloth, under her chin …

Over 700 years old, she once decorated a London building. Do you think she looks a bit like Anne Robinson?

Photo credit : BBC TV.

This is one of the Civic Virtues who enriched the medieval Guildhall porch around 1480. These virtues were Temperance, Fortitude, Justice and Prudence but we don’t know which one she is …

What we do know is that she was discovered in a garden in North Wales in 1972.

This painting, John Middleton with his Family in His Drawing Room, was painted circa 1796* …

Middleton turns towards an unknown woman and the room contains a ‘square piano’, a flute and a landscape painting above the fireplace. He holds what is probably a sample book since he claimed that he ‘served the principal Artists with their Cloths, Oils, Colours’. The family lived above his shop at 80-81 St Martin’s Lane.

In the picture his four children, Jesse, Anna, Sarah and Joshua pose appropriately. I like the serene expressions on the girls’ faces with the older son paying respectful attention to what his father is saying …

And finally, this cotton dress, emblazoned with the faces of the Fab Four, was available from C&A, a high street clothing shop. It testifies to the way young Londoners embraced the new music and fashions of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ …

Some true fans wearing images of their idols (note the wallpaper too!) …

Source Pinterest.

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*Picture credit Museum of London – I couldn’t get a good image because these items are behind glass.

Tracey Emin meets John Betjeman beside a very controversial sculpture – a visit to St Pancras.

Every now and then I have to travel to King’s Cross St Pancras and when I do I occasionally like to make my way up to the Upper Level (where Eurostar terminates). From there I admire the stunning architecture and one of my favourite statues, a bronze by Martin Jennings of the poet John Betjeman, the man who did most to save the station from demolition …

It depicts him walking into the new station for the first time carrying a bag of books. He is looking up at the great arc of the train shed – which he always did because it took his breath away. He is leaning back and holding onto his trilby hat, his coat tails billowing out behind him, as if caught by the wind from a passing train. He’s clad in suit and mackintosh with the work seeking to capture his ‘shabby appearance with scruffy collar undone and one shoelace knotted string’.

The central text in the Cumbrian slate around where he stands is an extract from his poem Cornish Cliffs

And in the shadowless unclouded glare, Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where, A misty sealine meets the wash of air. / John Betjeman, 1906 – 1984, poet, who saved this glorious station.

Surrounding the statue and base is a series of satellite discs of various sizes set into the floor and hand-inscribed by Jennings with quotations from Betjeman’s poetry …

The inscriptions on the discs are carved without the addition of poem titles. Jennings says: ‘I wanted texts that have a particular meaning but also point to something bigger, so some hint at the joy of trains and travel and stations and architecture, some the seascapes at the other ends of the lines, and one or two of the feelings of yearning associated with stations and life.’

Apart from the magnificent shed roof there are other installations to enjoy and you catch a glimpse of them in this picture …

Suspended from above is a revolving display of contemporary art. Currently it’s a hot pink neon sculpture by Tracy Emin, the largest she has ever created …

She made this sweet comment …

I cannot think of anything more romantic than being met by someone I love at a train station and as they put their arms around me, I hear them say ‘I want my time with you‘.

The clock is newer than it looks …

It is, in fact, a very painstaking reproduction of the original which was accidentally dropped and smashed into thousands of pieces in 1978, reportedly on its way to an American buyer who had paid £250,000 for it. The US gentleman didn’t want a very expensive jigsaw puzzle but the pieces were rescued by Roland Hoggard, a train driver who was shortly due to retire. He paid £25 for them and then spent much of his retirement restoring it so that his labour of love could be proudly displayed on the side of his barn …

It was far too fragile to be moved but Roland (now well into his nineties) very kindly gave access to the people creating the reproduction in order that it could be accurate in every way. It’s a great story and you can read it in more detail here.

It can’t be all that often when a fellow sculptor describes a contemporary’s work as ‘crap’ but that’s what Antony Gormley said about the statue called The Meeting Place

The sculptor,Paul Day, said that his chosen approach ‘was an embracing couple under a clock at a railway station; something that can be universally recognised as a symbol of travel is the couple being reunited. The clock becomes a moon at night. There is a sense of reunification. That had the romantic element’. Installed in 2007 you can’t miss it – it’s nine metres (30 feet) high and definitely inspires a love/hate reaction among passers by. The figures, incidentally, are modelled on Day himself and his wife.

Like it or loathe it, however, the work also incorporates something I think is wonderful – the frieze beneath the characters’ feet. It extends all the way around the base of the statue, each panel seamlessly merging with the next. Each illustration (showing scenes from the railway’s past and present) is deserving of several minutes attention. Here is a selection …

Wounded men returning from the front contrast with soldiers being waved off enthusiastically.
Blinded by gas.
A homeless bag lady with her faithful companion.
Strap-hanging joys of the rush houra chance to do a bit of reading.
‘Lovely to see you again, darling! Just gotta check my messages!’
Repair works following the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
Deep in thought.

The original design featured – among other disturbing things – a train driven by the Grim Reaper (referencing suicides) and a couple indulging in a Matt Hancock-type snog. Obviously these were withdrawn on grounds of taste. You can read the MailOnline’s over-excited reaction here.

Finally, as you walk around the Upper Level, you can often hear a piano being played with varying degrees of competence. There are two pianos at ground level that you can practise on, one of them having been donated by Elton John …

Here’s a link to him actually playing it.

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A visit to the Monster Supplies store (and some interesting sights on Hoxton Street).

Every now and then I head a short distance out of the City and look in at my favourite store – Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (N1 6PJ). A location hiding a fascinating and important secret which will be revealed later …

You know you are just about to visit somewhere special before you even go through the door. What kind of a place has a dispenser outside offering you free poems?

And what kind of creatures need this guidance to remind them of social distancing?

No need to worry about going in – they have the appropriate licences …

Glancing through the window, some of the merchandise looks decidedly … er … odd …

On the packed shelves inside you will find lots of items that will give pleasure to yourself and any monsters you know (both little and grown up). There are, for example …

Even non-flying reptiles love Dragon Treats but caution is needed with the Guts and Garlic Chutney – as the label warns, it is definitely not suitable for vampires.

Originally made for Banshees, these Banshee Balls have brought soothing relief to humans too …

These days sensible monsters regularly sanitise …

Even if you didn’t enter the shop with a vague sense of unease, you can leave with one …

A notice at the counter gives a clue as to what this very special place is all about …

Behind a secret, cunningly camouflaged door, wonderful things happen (staff will grudgingly show you the door if you promise not to eat them when they emerge from behind the counter).

The shop supports the fantastic work undertaken by my favourite charity, The Ministry of Stories. Co-founded by author Nick Hornby in 2010, the charity’s mission is to develop self-respect and communication skills through innovative writing programmes and one-to-one mentoring. Its clients are children living in under-resourced communities and its work is conducted both in schools and at the dedicated writing centre behind the secret door in the shop.

Do read more on their fascinating website : https://ministryofstories.org/

I have seen some of the results of their work and it has been absolutely extraordinary. They are literally changing children’s lives for the better. If you like what you see maybe you will be kind enough to make a donation – all charities have been finding the last year difficult.

Or, visit the shop and stock up on unusual treats.

Opening times are:

  • Thursday 1pm-5pm
  • Friday 1pm-5pm
  • Saturday 11am-5pm
  • Closed Sun-Wed

The website will give you much more information : https://www.monstersupplies.org/pages/about-us

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was recently voted ‘No. 1 Kids’ Shop in London’ by Time Out Magazine – which was weird, because we are self-evidently a shop for monsters’.

You’ll see some interesting sights as you walk up Hoxton Street from the junction with Old Street.

A short way along on the left, at the entrance to Hoxton Square, is this piece of street art …

A few yards away is another work by the same artist but I can’t quite make out the signature …

Chivalry is not dead.

Keep walking north and check out this beautiful little garden, created in memory of Khadija Saye who, along with her mother, Mary Mendy, was tragically killed in the Grenfell Tower fire …

I wonder how much longer these old business premises will remain untouched. The firm was run by the wonderfully named Lazarus Lambert until it closed in 2002. ‘JFB 1892’ is etched into the concrete brackets …

I like this retro local business sign. The store stocks ‘actually everything’ …

That’s all for now.

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Skip discoveries, ducks, bunnies and other miscellany.

Some weeks I can’t think of a unifying theme for the blog so I just allow myself to ramble on.

I don’t know about you, but when I walk past a skip I’m always tempted to have a look inside. I believe searching for retrievable items discarded in skips is called ‘skip diving’ (or in America ‘dumpster diving’) . I haven’t done any actual diving but I have come across some weird items.

How about this …

‘This lockdown has really played havoc with my hair!’.

For quite a few months now a succession of skips have been positioned outside the Barbican Theatre where they are obviously having a clear out of redundant stage props.

Last week there was another unfortunate skip candidate …

‘Hey, come back, don’t leave me here!’.

At first I thought this was an old-fashioned oven but it’s actually made of wood …

Scarily realistic missile. It was there at 9:30 in the morning but gone by 2:00 pm so somebody must have taken a fancy to it …

Yummy, Christmas turkey …

Furry fun – what colour fur would you like for your collar …

And what’s this ‘warning’ all about? Surely a ‘Digital Safe’ doesn’t have a key. It doesn’t seem to be a prop – it’s made of metal and is very heavy …

Whilst on the subject of skips, some of you may remember this weird scenario from last year …

How did three quad bikes end up in a City of London skip?

I loved this Easter bunny collection …

Lady duck frantically running away from two avid suitors …

This tailors in Well Court just off Bow Lane has in the window a full set of uniforms worn by Pikemen in the Lord Mayor’s parade …

There are also some pictures of them in action …

The Company of Pikemen and Musketeers is a ceremonial unit of the Honourable Artillery Company and you can read more about them here.

Also off Bow Lane in Groveland Court is the Williamson’s Tavern. The beautiful listed 18th century gates are said to have been completed to commemorate a visit by King William and Queen Mary. On top in a circle, is the dual cipher of the King and Queen which are fashioned, like the gates, out of curled wrought iron …

Some sources state that the gates were a gift from William and Mary after being entertained there by the Lord Mayor who lived in the building at the time. However, this us not mentioned in the Bow Lane Conservation Area document which I use as a trusted source.

Lots of padlocks for extra security …

The City Gardening team are always working hard to brighten the place up …

London Wall.
Postman’s Park.
Postman’s Park.

I think someone has nicked a few plants from this display, shame on them …

London Wall.

Some more Brick Lane artwork …

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Street art in and around Brick Lane.

In my blog a few weeks ago some of you will remember that I wrote about this pair of doors in Fournier Street …

Much street art is constantly being painted or pasted over. For example, this is what the doors looked like in April 2018 …

I was inspired to go in search of what else had been created nearby and these pictures are the result of my wanderings.

I’ll start in Princelet Street with a work by the famous street artist Stik …

Entitled A Couple Hold Hands in the Street, it shows a woman in a niqab holding hands with a second stick figure. It was painted in 2010 and you can read more about the artist in this fascinating article in Christie’s magazine.

Local people are also very fond of this Hanbury Street bird …

The work is by the Belgian street artist Roa. His intention had been to paint a heron but, after being asked if it was a crane by Bengali people – for whom the crane is a sacred bird – he morphed his bird into a crane to best complement its location on the wall of an Indian restaurant. Read more here about The Return of Roa by The Gentle Author.

To the left of the crane is a bearskin-hatted guardsman break dancing …

Here he is ‘right’ way up …

It’s by the Argentinian painter Martin Ron who is based in Buenos Aires.

There were bound to be a few political points being made …

This made me laugh – could it be Tintin and his dog Snowy doing some clandestine paint spraying? …

The ‘No place for hate’ rabbit pops up a lot …

Layers and layers of street artist paste-ups cover walls …

Picking out individual works is fun and quite absorbing …

I have been trying to identify all the artists but still have some research to do with regard to these distinctive portraits …

Brick Lane looks a bit sad at the moment with the restaurants either closed or open for take-away orders only but the art certainly brightens everything up and I shall be going back to watch it continually develop.

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Potato Heads on Whitecross Street (and some Street history)

It was a lovely sunny day last Saturday so I wandered along Whitecross Street to gaze at some of the wonderful art works. Many of these have been produced over the years at the famous Whitecross Street Party. Who wouldn’t smile at this splendid pair of potato heads …

Work by Keith Jive.

Then there’s a crazy cat with a bird standing on his paw tweeting his love …

Work by Roo.

A pretty green-eyed lady being created …

And now finished and ‘hung’ …

Laughing heads … Ho ho ho ho ho!

I love the colours in this abstract work …

Spot the bee …

A young girl holding a spirit animal over her head and shoulders by Goya Torres (based on her Children of the Sun series). Read more about this fascinating artist here

Not sure what this represents but I still like it, dynamic and colourful …

Work by Will Vibes.

Looking north up the street you get a good view on the right of a mural by Conor Harrington, an Irish artist living and working in London. Incidentally, the church in the background is St Luke Old Street and the unusual obelisk spire is by Nicholas Hawksmoor …

Here is Harrington’s work in more detail. It has weathered quite well considering it was created in 2012 …

Below is a pretty, tattooed winged angel

Stencil by DS Art.

‘Oi, are you lookin’ at my bird?’ …

You can view more pictures and activity here on Instagram.

This year’s party is scheduled for 10th and 11th July, mid-day to 6:00 pm. Read more on the official website.

The street boasts a number of blue plaques placed there by ‘English Hedonists’ and ‘Mad in England’ …

I have written about the Debtors Prison before but here it is again for those of you who missed it the first time around.

British History Online confirms the Nell Gwynne story mentioned on the plaque but I cannot find another source. It also tells us that …

A man may exist in the prison who has been accustomed to good living, though he cannot live well. All kinds of luxuries are prohibited, as are also spirituous drinks. Each man may have a pint of wine a day, but not more; and dice, cards, and all other instruments for gaming, are strictly vetoed.”

A pint of wine a day doesn’t sound too bad.

The prison was capable of holding up to 500 prisoners and Wyld’s map of London produced during the 1790s shows how extensive the premises were …

Prisoners would often take their families with them, which meant that entire communities sprang up inside the debtors’ jails, which were run as private enterprises. The community created its own economy, with jailers charging for room, food, drink and furniture, or selling concessions to others, and attorneys charging fees in fruitless efforts to get the debtors out. Prisoners’ families, including children, often had to find employment simply to cover the cost of the imprisonment. Here is a view of the inside of the Whitecross Street prison with people meeting and promenading quite normally …

‘Inside the Debtors’ Prison, Whitecross Street, London’ by an unknown artist : City of London Corporation, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Creditors were able to imprison debtors without trial until they paid what they owed or died and in the 18th century debtors comprised over half the prison population. Prisoners were by no means all poor but often middle class people in small amounts of debt. One of the largest groups was made up of shopkeepers (about 20% of prisoners) though male and female prisoners came from across society with gentlemen, cheesemongers, lawyers, wigmakers and professors rubbing shoulders.

It’s over two years since I wrote about this second plaque so here it is again.

It tells us that there once lived here a lady called Priss Fotheringham who had been ranked ‘the second best whore in the City’. This description appeared in 1660 in a serial publication called The Wandring Whore by John Garfield, which described in some detail the antics of London’s prostitutes.

Described when young as a ‘cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye’, Priscilla Fotheringham (nee Carswell) was a colourful character very famous in her time. It is thought she was born in Scotland around 1615 and little is known of her early life. What we do know is that in 1652 she was sent to Newgate Gaol having been found in a house of ill-repute …

… sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.

In 1658 she was still misbehaving and was bound over by a Middlesex Justice of the Peace for …

… being a notorious strumpet … that had undone several men by giving them the foul disease … and for keeping the husband of Susan Slaughter from her and for also threatening to stab said Susan Slaughter … and also for several notorious wickedness which is not fit to be named among the heathen.

She had married Edward Fotheringham, an odious character from a brothel-owning family, in 1656 and he set her up as a madam at the Jack-a-Newberry Tavern on the corner where her plaque now stands. As her looks faded with time she became more ‘creative’ in the way customers were entertained – you can read more detail in her Wikipedia entry. She made enough money to set up her own brothel and died (of syphilis) a wealthy woman around 1668.

The Whitecross Street area was at one time rather notorious, as this 17th century ballad records …


In Whitecross Street and Golden Lane
Do strapping lasses dwell,
And so there do in every street
‘Twixt that and Clerkenwell.
At Cowcross and at Smithfield
I have much pleasure found,
Where wenches like to fairies
Did often trace the ground.

Nowadays the big attraction is Waitrose.

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