Walking the City of London

Category: Art Page 1 of 3

Fascinating surprises at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

A trip to the Guildhall art Gallery is always a treat and it is even more so now with its Inspired exhibition which runs until 23 December. It’s a new exhibition drawn from the Guildhall Art Gallery’s permanent collections that examines ways in which visual artists have taken inspiration from the literary arts – poetry, plays, novels, and also music.

Let’s start with this thoughtful, gentle man, sculpted by someone who knew him very well personally …

This is Terry-Thomas, a major star in the 1950s and 60s best known for playing disreputable members of the upper classes especially ‘cads’, ‘toffs’ and ‘bounders’ …

The last years of his life were tragic. Following his death, Lionel Jeffries called him ‘the last of the great gentlemen of the cinema’, while the director Michael Winner commented that ‘no matter what your position was in relation to his, as the star he was always terribly nice. He was the kindest man and he enjoyed life so much’.

This is the actress Valerie Hobson at the height of her career in 1948…

She gave up acting shortly after marrying her second husband John Profumo, the government minister who later became the subject of a sensational (and epoch-changing) scandal in 1963.

This picture was originally entitled Young Airman …

It’s now believed to be a portrait of Roald Dahl in his RAF uniform.

This is P C Harry Daley

His memoir This Small Cloud was published posthumously in 1987 and was a fascinating account of life as a working class gay man in the early 20th century.

This painting is entitled Keats Listening to the Nightingale on Hampstead Heath and represents the moment he was inspired to write his famous Ode published in 1819 …

The little bird can be seen in the top left hand corner, silhouetted by the moon …

Here’s the dramatic moment in Macbeth when, at a banquet, he sees the ghost of the murdered Banquo. His wife, the principal figure in the painting, tries to take control by firmly grabbing his shoulder …

The guests stare at him in surprise …

Beautiful sculptures on display include Sir Henry Irving as Hamlet …

Geoffrey Chaucer …

Goethe’s female character Mignon …

and the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók …

Learn more about these works by watching this excellent 15 minute video tour by Katty Pearce, the exhibition curator, or even better visit yourself – you won’t be disappointed …

Curator’s tour : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOO8TKdqZLE

I visited the day after the Lord Mayor’s Show and his State Coach was on display at the Basinghall Street entrance to the Guildhall piazza …

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At the Museum of the Order of St John. How a drowned lady gained immortality.

Consider this lady’s beautiful serene face …

Known as LInconnue de la Seine, read on further in the blog to discover her story and how she became world famous.

One has to acknowledge that, when walking through Clerkenwell, this building comes as a bit of a surprise …

The plaque reveals its history …

The museum that now occupies the building is a treat and entry is free. It tells the fascinating story of this famous organisation, from its origins in Jerusalem over 900 years ago to today’s modern St John Ambulance service. I only visited a small part of the museum so will be returning and aiming to take part in a guided tour.

The first exhibits you see…

The Order’s motto today is Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum – For the Faith and in the Service of Humanity. This duty of care is just as relevant today as it was 900 years ago in Jerusalem. The principles of the Order can be summarised in three words, which are inscribed on the central podium shown in the image above.

Faith – Like monks, the first Brothers of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem vowed to be poor, chaste and obedient …

Care – They took one other vow – to honour and care for the sick and the poor

Valour – Most of the Brothers were Knights trained in the arts of war. They used these skills to defend the Holy Land …

From the earliest times, the Order had female members. St Ubaldesca joined at Pisa around 1150 and after her death in 1205 she was canonised for her lifelong devotion to the care of others. This painting, from the 1600s, depicts her in a pious pose wearing the robes of the order …

I really like this poster from the 1950s representing as it does the spread of the modern Order throughout the world, initially via the British Empire …

A 1955 portrait of a St John Ambulance Brigade Officer and Nurse …

There’s definitely even more of a hint of Florence Nightingale and her lamp in this painting …

These two examples of suits of armour date from the 1500s to the 1800s but they broadly represent the kind of protection worn by the opposing forces during the Order’s long struggle with the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks favoured mail shirts …

The plate armour worn by European knights offered better protection but it was heavy, inflexible and – under the Mediterranean sun – soon became uncomfortably hot …

Siege relics …

A magnificent 16th century banqueting table decoration that once belonged to the treasury of the Knights of Malta in Valletta ..

The Ashford Litter …

A breakthrough in the transportation of patients allowing them to be moved comfortably by a single person.

The order played a pivotal role in caring for casualties in the First World War …

Just one of a number of display cabinets …

The triangular bandage is a staple component of first aid kits with many different uses. In the late 19th century the St John Ambulance Association started providing printed versions demonstrating how to use it …

Also in the cabinet there is an evocative painting from 1917 of a ward at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Étaples. The blanket of each bed is emblazoned with the eight-pointed cross of St John …

The insignia can be seen again on a red plaque above each bed, naming the donor who provided funds for it …

The Hospital in Étaples was the largest voluntary hospital serving the British Expeditionary Force during the First World War. It had a staff of 241, all from the St John Ambulance Brigade, and was considered by all who knew it to be the best designed and equipped military hospital in France, caring for over 35,000 patients throughout the war. On the night of the 19th May 1918, the hospital was hit by a bomb which killed five members of staff. Shortly after, on 31st May, a second bomb hit the hospital, resulting in eleven deaths and sixty casualties.

In April 1945, Ada Evelyn-Brown was one of a group of St John Ambulance nurses sent to care for newly liberated prisoners at the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in north-west Germany. Her photograph album is on display at the museum …

Finally, to a beautiful but tragic lady.

This is the face of a young woman found drowned in the River Seine in Paris in the late 1880s. No one could identify the body, but the pathologist reportedly became fascinated with her serene expression and commissioned a death mask. Soon multiple reproductions were on sale throughout Paris …

In the 1950s a Norwegian toymaker, Asmund Laerdal, was commissioned to produce a mannequin in which people could practise mouth-to-mouth and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Seeking a non-threatening model, he chose LInconnue and when his mannequin was mass-produced she became world-famous for a second time, known to this day as ‘Resusci Anne’.

I loved my visit to the museum and highly recommend it.

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Another East End stroll – from anarchists to art nouveau.

For this expedition I got off the train at Aldgate and walked east along Whitechapel High Street.

The area is being transformed out of all recognition with massive refurbishment and redevelopment taking place on the south side. The north side of the street, however, still has its narrow cobbled alleys and iconic places like the Whitechapel Gallery.

The first alley I came across had no name but held the promise of some street art …

I wasn’t disappointed …

This next alley does have a name and is the home of a delightful project …

Look at these brilliant illustrations referencing the local area …

And it stretches right across the arched roof …

I see capitalist consumption alongside anarchist freedom just before I head down Angel Alley …

Freedom – a light at the end of the tunnel …

Some wall postings along the way …

The Freedom Press was founded way back in 1888 and this is their bookshop …

The wall of heroes …

Appropriate merchandise is available on their website

Back on the High Street, I don’t recall seeing one of these before …

Then one comes to a wonderful institution, The Whitechapel Art Gallery. It grew from the high-minded vision of the Reverend Samuel Barnett and his social reformer wife Henrietta. They believed that art would lift the spirits of the East End poor, counteracting the ‘paralysing and degrading sights of our streets’. It was opened in 1901 and designed by the brilliant architect Charles Harrison Townsend …

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

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

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

Apart from visiting the Gallery, there are other advertised opportunities to better yourself …

Crossing to the south side of the road, I was fascinated by this old house and its wooden shutters …

It has an 18th century look about it but I haven’t been able to find out more.

And finally to this little park …

Formerly known as St Mary’s Park, it is the site of the old 14th-century white church, St Mary Matfelon, from which the area of Whitechapel gets its name. This is its 17th century incarnation …

All that now remains of the old church is the floor plan .

The area was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998 in memory of Altab Ali, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi Sylheti clothing worker. He was murdered on 4 May 1978 in Adler Street by three teenage boys as he walked home from work. Ali’s murder was one of the many racist attacks that came to characterise the East End at that time.

At the entrance to the park is an arch created by David Petersen. It was developed as a memorial to Altab and other victims of racist attacks. The arch incorporates a complex Bengali-style pattern, meant to show the merging of different cultures in east London …

A few grave markers from the old church have survived. This one (belonging to the Maddock family) is very grand, with its button-lidded top, the tomb ‘looks exactly like an enormous soup-tureen for a family of giants with a rather pretentious taste in crockery’ …

For more information I turned to the Spitalfields Life blog and an entry by the historian Gillian Tindall. She writes: ‘The Maddocks … were prosperous timber merchants just off Cable St. Into the tomb, between 1774 and 1810, went Nathan Maddock and his wife Elizabeth, both only in middle life, a daughter of thirteen, a sister-in-law of twenty-five, and her son when he was seventeen. It is a relief to find that Richard Maddock (who did not actually live in Whitechapel any longer but grandly in St James) was seventy when he died, and his sister seventy-nine. A James Maddock died aged nineteen, but that same year another James in the same family was negotiating the deeds of land in the area on which he intended to build and he appears to have lived so long that the tomb was full before it could accommodate him’.

These markers are more modest …

Finally, there’s a very impressive water fountain alongside the park …

The inscription says it was ‘removed from the church railings and erected on present site AD 1879’ …

It was great to still find some character in this area despite the wholesale redevelopment.

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More street art – and who was Mr Schwartz?

Whenever I’m stuck for a blog topic I take myself off east to Brick Lane and its environs just to admire the constantly changing art that seems to appear on every conceivable surface. Also, I have some interesting news about this gentleman and his famous doors later in this week’s issue …

Here’s my personal selection – the works can be found in Fournier Street, Hanbury Street, Princelet Street and Brick Lane itself …

I hope you enjoyed those.

These doors on Fournier Street are very popular with people like me who enjoy their ever-changing selection of artwork …

I was intrigued by these bells adjacent to the doors …

Well, this is Mr Schwartz – doesn’t he look like a lovely man …

You can read all about him and the history of these premises in this excellent blog by Andrew Whitehead.

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An Anglo-Saxon dock and another magical mosaic.

It doesn’t look like much but this could be the oldest Anglo-Saxon era dock in the world – it’s certainly the oldest in the UK. It’s also the last surviving inlet on the Thames in Central London …

It’s squeezed in between tall modern buildings because it’s protected as a scheduled ancient monument …

Nearby is a very informative plaque …

The hotel next door has a terrace you can walk around. Look down at the wharf and this is what you’ll see …

A wonderful collection of oyster shells (oysters once being a poor person’s food) and medieval (maybe even Roman) roof tiles and bricks …

There are also some lumps of white chalk. Large chalk beds were once laid down to provide a soft settling place for barges at low tide.

I’ve written about the Riverfront before in my blog Down by the River – wharves, beaches and desperate immigrants.

Another plaque gives the second reason for my visit …

It was designed by Tessa Hunkin and executed by South Bank Mosaics under the supervision of Jo Thorpe – and I recommend you take a stroll down through the City to the river and study the intricate and lively detail of this epic work for yourself. Tessa also supervised the splendid mosaic I wrote about two weeks ago.

Here’s the mosaic from start to finish. It’s a stunning piece of work and rewards detailed study …

Note the little seal waving you goodbye …

A striking archaeological theme is that archaeology was incorporated into the mosaic. Archaeologist Mike Webber led volunteers to retrieve finds of Roman, medieval and modern date from the foreshore and selected finds were embedded into the mosaic: archaeology becomes art …

And how appropriate that we can see The Globe across the River …

Trivia fact: A key sequence of the 1951 Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob used Queenhithe as a location for filming: Mr. Holland, played by Alec Guinness, can be seen falling from a wharf into the Thames and being rescued by two actors dressed as police officers. You can watch the official trailer here. They don’t make ’em like that any more!

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‘I tested positive 4 love’ – more super art around Whitecross Street.

I like to keep a week or so ahead in my blogging so this one was drafted during the really hot weather when the temperature was hitting 30+ degrees and I didn’t want to walk far. Fortunately, the roads around Whitecross Street always seem to have something to offer so this blog is a bit of a tribute to EC1 as is this mosaic on Chequer Street …

‘Mad in England’ …

Look closely and you’ll find the contributions clever, moving and amusing. Here is a sample …

Lucifur!

And nearby …

I’ve written before about this fascinating piece of street art but I like it so much here it is again. I hadn’t heard of the singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston before and so I am very grateful to this work 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 …

More decorated street furniture …

Other artistic legacies from this year’s Whitecross Street Party …

Read more about this year’s street party and the creation of the art here.

I don’t know the history of these tiles on Roscoe Street …

But they’re pretty and fun …

Look out for the sweet heart by Jimmy C

There’s a super blog about Whitecross Street and it’s history in the London Inheritance series. Here’s the link – it’s entitled Whitecross Street – Sunday 31st May, 1953.

You can read more about the art in my blog ‘True love will find you in the end’.

Incidentally, I was in Belsize Park recently and came across this bonkers bit of crochet work on top of a pillar box. It made me laugh so I thought I’d share it with you here …

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Mosaic Magic!

As you stroll along Shepherdess Walk in Hoxton you’ll see some tantalising clues as to the treat in store …

Then you head down steps to what must be one of the most spooky and best-concealed alleys in London …

With a promise of something really special …

Light at the end of the tunnel …

Emerging through the alley into the park you’re met with these stunning artworks. The mosaics were designed by Tessa Hunkin and completed over two years by a huge team of local volunteers (over 150 in total!) …

Unveiled in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics, the scenes are a celebration of life in Hackney’s parks. Two later pieces on the floor were unveiled in 2013. Tessa Hunkin said proudly …

“We’ve made a little bit of Carthage here in Hoxton. I was inspired by the Roman mosaics of North Africa. It was my idea, I’ve been making mosaics for twenty-five years and I started working with people with mental health problems. I like working with groups of people on large compositions that they can be proud of. Mosaic-making is very time-consuming and laborious, so it seemed a good idea to work with people who have too much time, for whom filling time can be a problem. Also, I’m very interested in the historical precedents and that gives the work another dimension. This project started in July 2011 and it was going to be for six months but, when we came to end of the first mosaic nobody wanted the empty shop that is our workshop, so we just carried on.”

Taking the lyrical name of Shepherdess Walk as a starting point, the first mosaic portrays the shepherdesses that once drove their sheep through here when Hoxton was all fields …

The park itself is fairly recent, with houses standing on the site until around the 1970s. This is starkly different from the early history of the area, which until the late 18th century was rural, as seen in the John Rocque map of 1746 (the red dot shows the site of the park) …

The fields which surrounded this area were used as a route for driving livestock from outside London towards Smithfield meat market (circled above).

A double wall panel illustrates park life throughout the seasons of the year in the East End …

Check out your smartphone messages or do some bird watching …

What could be more Summery than buying a Mr Whippy ice cream, having a picnic or a swim in the lido wearing your smart goggles …

While, underfoot, a pair of pavement mosaics show the wild flowers that persist, all illustrated in superb botanic detail …

Just a few of the artists …

My thanks to the wonderful Katie Bignall of Look Up London and The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life for inspiring me to visit this beautiful piece of art. Do click on the latter link for some lovely interviews with a few of the artists. If you don’t fancy walking through the alley the mosaics are in the corner of Shepherdess Walk Park (N1 7JN).

Other sights on Shepherdess Walk are some interesting doors and knockers …

… and a pub that features in a famous rhyme : ‘Up and down the City Road, in and out The Eagle; that’s the way the money goes, Pop! goes the weasel’ …

You can read more about the pub and the song in the excellent Londonist blog.

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The Whitecross Street Party Art – even better this year. Check out the robin with the positive Covid test!

The announcement I always look forward to …

Crazy creatures blocking the road mean something interesting is happening further up the street …

Lots of stalls …

You won’t go hungry …

There’s a friendly dragon …

A sunbathing fox …

And a shy whale …

Over the weekend there is art being created everywhere ….

Aspiring future exhibitors …

Some of the finished work …

Look at what the jackdaw has in his beak …

Extraordinary work by Stringman …

And the ones that made me smile …

Goodbye until next year …

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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 …