Walking the City of London

Category: Art Page 1 of 2

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 …

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

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

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 …

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

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

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

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

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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My pictures of St Paul’s Cathedral

Since many of the places I visit in order to get inspiration for my blog are temporarily closed I was beginning to get rather worried. However, an idea came to me just sitting at my desk and looking around the room. Regular readers will know how fond I am of St Paul’s and a number of pictures of the Cathedral hang on the study wall, so I decided to write about those.

The largest by far is this one, a signed limited edition print entitled Pencil drawing of London and St Paul’s of the 18th Century by Roger Withington used on the reverse of the £50 note issued from 1981

I love the detail like the little figures manning the boats …

On the quayside barrels are being unloaded, wood is being stacked in the wood yard and in the foreground two ladies are being rowed to their destination. The lady in the boat on the left is wearing a pretty bonnet and the one in the boat on the right is holding an open parasol …

Here is how the drawing was used on the actual £50 note, with Sir Christopher Wren in the foreground …

This is a signed etching entitled A City Lane. St Paul’s by Leslie Moffat Ward RE SGA (1888-1978) …

The picture isn’t dated but is obviously pre-Second World War. There is a lady standing on the corner and her clothes suggest the early years of the 20th century …

I have been trying to identify where the artist was at the time and I am pretty sure he was looking north up Black Swan Court, perhaps positioned at its junction with Carter Lane. Here’s the location in the 1873 Ordnance Survey Map with my pencil indicating where I think the lady was standing …

By 1895 the northern entrance had been built over and access converted into a covered alley way. I think that’s the arch you can see behind and to the right of the lady.

Black Swan Court is still shown in the Survey’s 1914 edition (although too small to be named) …

It looks like the southern entrance has now also been converted into a covered alley which suggests that, if he was standing on Carter Lane, Ward was working there before 1914 (when he would have had his 26th birthday).

The area was very badly damaged in the Blitz and Black Swan Court disappeared for ever. The Black Swan Tavern (which was actually on Carter Lane) was also destroyed and you can see an image of it in ruins here in the London Picture Archive.

I really like this depiction of Ludgate Hill in 1928 (or thereabouts), especially the stout City policeman and the classic open-topped red omnibus …

I’m sure about the dating because of the label on the back, which made me feel a bit sad. I wonder what Lizzie, Pollie and nephew Will would think of the fact that their thoughtful present would end up in a Kent bric-a-brac shop almost 90 years later, which is where I bought it for £20 …

This picture is entitled Eng. by J. Storer from a drawing by H.S. Storer N. East View of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The label on the back describes it as Date circa 1817 – copper engraving hand coloured in watercolours. It’s nice that there is a stagecoach in the picture since this was their golden age. For example, in 1750 it took around 2 days to travel from Cambridge to London but by 1820 the journey time had been slashed to under 7 hours. I also like the chap galloping off on his horse, obviously on urgent business.

And last, but by no means least, a painting by my friend Chris (on a Christmas card) …

Finally, a picture to cheer everyone up, the little daffodils are out …

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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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From Sam Pepys’s dinner plate to the Essex Auroch

Yes, I have again been taking advantage of the wonderful fact that the Museum of London has reopened and is free to enter with a timed ticket.

I was thrilled to see a new exhibit connected to my hero Samuel Pepys – naval administrator, Member of Parliament and, of course, famous diarist. The item is a silver dinner plate made in 1681/82 and engraved with his coat of arms. Scratched by knives and forks, it is one of only three that now survive of the full dinner service …

By the time he commissioned this he was already a wealthy man and took great pleasure in entertaining at home. I like this boast from his diary dated 8th April 1667 and his remark about Mrs Clarke made me laugh out loud …

We had with my wife and I twelve at table and very good and pleasant company, and a most neat and excellent, but dear dinner; but, Lord, to see with what envy they looked upon all my fine plate was pleasant, for I made the best show I could, to let them understand me and my condition, to take down the pride of Mrs Clarke, who thinks herself very great.

Being a man of intense curiosity, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Pepys would almost certainly have heard of this discovery made during the rebuilding of St Martin’s Church on Ludgate Hill in 1669 …

It’s the third century tombstone of a Roman centurion wearing a tunic, a military belt and a long cloak draped over his left shoulder.

Amazingly, the inscription is still legible …

To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina his most devoted wife set up this memorial.

I think modern illustrations like this are mainly for the benefit of children, but I love them …

Incidentally, and still on a Roman theme, nearby is a fine mosaic floor dating from AD 300 and discovered in Bucklersbury in 1869 …

Pepys witnessed and wrote about the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Museum has a rare depiction of the City before the fire. It dates from around 1630, three years before he was born …

Nearby is a dramatic oil painting of the conflagration at its height …

The view is taken from the west with the Cathedral, fiercely ablaze, dominating the scene. John Evelyn described what happened when the fire reached St Paul’s …

The stones of St Paul’s flew like grenades, the lead melting down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements of them glowing with fiery redness.

The cathedral was thought to be safe and the nearby printers and booksellers stored their entire stock in the crypt. Unfortunately the fire caught hold of wooden scaffolding put up for repairs and the cathedral and all its contents were consumed.

Since his home was at risk, Pepys hired a cart ‘to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things’ and buried his valuable Parmesan cheese in the garden.

Such was the intensity of the blaze that these two iron padlocks and key melted together in a lump. The owner of the premises, an 80-year-old watchmaker, chose to hide in his cellar rather than flee (presumably to protect his stock from looters). These items were found beside his body …

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 …

I like his daintily decorated shoes …

There is also some lovely stained glass dating from 1660 – 1700 …

Dragging myself away from the 17th century, 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.

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 …

And, of course, I mustn’t forget the Aurock. Its colossal skull confronts you soon after you enter …

A beast that’s been extinct for nearly 400 years, this particular skull dates from the Neolithic period (4,000 -2,200 BC) and was discovered in Ilford, East London, where herds of this creature once roamed.

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A few more things that made me smile

In these difficult times, I’d like to share some miscellaneous things I have encountered recently that cheered me up.

I am going to start with the extraordinary, eccentric Stanley Green, ‘the protein man’, who regularly patrolled Oxford Street with his billboard. This may seem strange since he died in 1993, but I have chosen him as my first story because I came across his billboard last week at the Museum of London …

Copyright Andrew Lawson.

He began his mission in June 1968, initially in Harrow on Saturdays, becoming a full-time human billboard six months later on Oxford Street. He cycled there from Northolt with his board attached to his bicycle, a journey that could take up to two hours, until he was given a bus pass when he turned 65. From Monday to Saturday he walked up and down the street until 6:30 pm, reduced to four days a week from 1985. Saturday evenings were spent with the cinema crowds in Leicester Square. He would go to bed at 12:30am after saying a prayer. ‘Quite a good prayer, unselfish too’, he told the Sunday Times in 1985. ‘It is a sort of acknowledgment of God, just in case there happens to be one’. He was 78 when he died in December 1993 and, presumably because he distrusted ‘passion’, he never married.

The Museum’s decision to put his message on display introduces him to a new audience …

His self-published and printed booklet, Eight Passion Proteins, went through 84 editions and the Museum holds 36 of them. You can read more about him here and here.

You will no doubt be pleased to know that Royal Wedding teabags are still available in a Ludgate Hill tourist gift shop – hurry, hurry while stocks last …

Don’t they look lovely.

By way of contrast, I thought these models in a shop on Eastcheap were decidedly spooky …

Like creatures out of a Dr Who episode.

Covid humour at the pharmacy …

Covid humour at the wine bar …

Cocktail Bar humour …

A less complicated message …

Pretty camera camouflage on Holloway Road …

Street art meets spinal column in Hoxton …

Sadly over-optimistic signage …

Finally caught the reflection I wanted – street sculpture with red London bus and St Paul’s …

When construction workers use their imagination to brighten up the site – good for them …

What a positive message …

A great hero of mine and one of my favourite London statues – Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras International Station …

Many of Pimlico Plumbers’ vans have ‘witty’ number plates …

Even the scooters are wearing masks around here …

City pigeons simply don’t believe this statement …

We spent a really nice few days in Norfolk recently and here are some of the pictures I took.

Local delicacies – rabbit and pigs ears, giant trotters and chicken feet …

Sow and buffalo ears …

Houghton Hall has a stunning collection of work by Anish Kapoor. Some are in the grounds like this one, Sky Mirror

Others are in the house …

Kings Lynn is a lovely, interesting town. I even caught a glimpse of Bad King John …

At the charming and incredibly interesting True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, a Victorian seafarer struggles to come to terms with the pandemic …

And the place has a Wimpy! I thought they had disappeared decades ago. I didn’t pop in for a ‘Bender’ though (fellow Baby Boomers will know what I am referring to) …

There is some beautiful architecture to enjoy as well …

Now that going abroad is problematic it’s great to be exploring England again.

And finally to the Sandringham Estate where we came across these poignant little headstones commemorating the last resting place of three of Her Majesty’s corgis. Heather’s inscription tells us she was the great granddaughter of Susan (on the far left) …

I’ll be back walking the City again next week but hope you enjoyed this little excursion.

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Things that cheered me up

In these unusual times it is, I think, easy to get a bit fed up. So I thought I would share with you a few things that have brightened up my days recently.

What better place to start than with this magnificent bear taking a rest in City Point Square …

The Square is quite a cheerful place nowadays with lots of colourful seating and it’s quite buzzy weekday lunchtimes and evenings now that the Rack & Tenter pub is open again.

I call this picture ‘Sunflower Surprise’ …

Nature makes its presence felt against the Barbican concrete. That’s Shakespeare Tower in the background.

My favourite front door …

I suppose they got fed up with people saying they couldn’t find the bell!

I am very fond of Sir William Staines whose bust is on display in the church of St Giles Cripplegate, the Ward of which he represented as Alderman …

I smile when I see him because he looks like a man who enjoyed his food. Despite starting life as a bricklayer’s labourer, he amassed a vast fortune and, even though he remained illiterate, he was eventually elected Lord Mayor of London …

Beechey, William; Sir William Staines, Lord Mayor of London (1800); City of London Corporation.

He built nine houses for aged or infirm workmen and tradesmen who had fallen on hard times. No doubt remembering his own upbringing, he made sure that there was ‘nothing to distinguish them from the other dwelling-houses, and without ostentatious display of stone or other inscription to denote the poverty of the inhabitants’. That’s why I like him.

Fun street art always cheers me up. Here’s a rather grumpy elephant near Whitecross Street …

In the nearby company of a grumpy parrot …

A slightly disconcerting window display at the Jugged Hare Bar and Restaurant …

High spot of last week was a visit to the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens.

What I hadn’t properly appreciated before was the use Moore made of maquettes in order to help him visualise the finished work, which was often vast in scale. He also sometimes took photographs of these little masterpieces having placed them in an exterior setting in order to demonstrate to customers what a finished work would look like in the landscape.

There is a room full of them …

The gardens contain 21 sculptures by Moore and in several cases you can compare the original maquette …

… with the finished work …

It’s a bronze created between 1979 and 1981 entitled Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut and to me looks like a a woman reaching back over her shoulders.

The gardens are a perfect setting for his work …

I like the faces in the less abstract pieces …

They can look quite sinister …

Goslar Warrior : Bronze : 1973-1974.

Another thing I didn’t know was that some of his designs had been woven into tapestries …

A great day – so nice to get away from the City and to loose oneself in the company of a genius like Moore.

And finally, a different kind of art …

In a music shop window, Jagger and Richards performing in Köln in 1976. Who would have guessed they would still be touring 44 years later?

They haven’t changed a bit!

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