Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Art

A man in a silk dress and a gallant rescue

There seems to be no end to the wonderful paintings to be found at the Guildhall Art Gallery. This one is a representation of a famous Greek myth – the murder by Clytemnestra of her husband Agamemnon. Here she stands, wild-eyed in the Mediterranean sunlight, outside the room where she has committed the deed. In the background behind her we can just make out the outline of a dimly lit body …

‘Clytemnestra’ by John Collier (1882)

Agamemnon had commanded the Greek forces which besieged Troy during the Trojan Wars. Before setting sail for home, he sacrificed their youngest daughter Iphigenia to ensure a favourable wind for his fleet. To make matters worse, he returned with his lover, the prophetess Cassandra, the captured daughter of King Priam of Troy. Enraged and grieving, Clytemnestra and her son murdered them both in revenge

Collier was famous for his close attention to detail. There is light etching on the axe blade and the blood drips and runs authentically. All the little roundels we can see in the picture are different …

One has to say, however, that the more you study the figure the more it looks like a man. There is a pure physical dominance – and look at the muscular arms and large hands gripping the axe handle and holding back the curtain …

Collier brings extraordinary attention to detail in her blood-spattered garments.

It is now thought that Collier took his inspiration from an 1880 performance of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon at Balliol College, Oxford in which Clytemnestra was played by a male student, one Frank Benison.

On a much lighter note, here is a pretty little girl attending her first sermon …

My First Sermon’ by John Everett Millais

She obviously knows this is an important occasion in her life and sits with her back straight, eyes attentively focused looking ahead. She is the artist’s 5 year old daughter Effie. On seeing it the Archbishop of Canterbury commented …

… our spirits are touched by the playfulness, the innocence, the purity, and … the piety of childhood

In 1864 the artist produced a sequel entitled ‘My Second Sermon’ …

The Archbishop, Charles Longley, was obviously a rather good sport, and when he saw the later picture commented …

… by the eloquence of her silent slumber, (she has) given us a warning of the evil of lengthy sermons and drowsy discourses. Sorry indeed should I be to disturb that sweet and peaceful slumber, but I beg that when she does awake she may be informed who they are who have pointed the moral of her story, have drawn the true inference from the change that has passed over her since she has heard her “first sermon,” and have resolved to profit by the lecture she has thus delivered to them.

I was reminded of this wonderful drawing of a Victorian congregation who are finding the sermon rather heavy going …

At the far end of the gallery, in a space specially designed for it, you look down on the action-packed painting by John Singleton Copley: ‘Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar 1782’ …

A Spanish attack on Gibraltar was foiled when the Spanish battering ships, also known as floating batteries, were attacked by the British using shot heated up to red hot temperatures (with wry humour, sailors nicknamed them ‘hot potatoes’). I have written about this picture in more detail in an earlier blog which you can find here.

However, there was a detail I missed and really should have pointed out. Fire spread among the Spanish vessels and, as the battle turned in Britain’s favour, an officer called Roger Curtis set out with gunboats on a brave rescue mission which saved almost 350 people. Here is the gallant officer and his men carrying out the rescue, tucked away at the bottom left of the picture. The British flag billows symbolically behind them …

Undoubtedly a very chivalrous act.

A rather distinguished looking man gazes towards a painting of the Grand Opening of Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894 …

He is the architect, Horace Jones, who designed the bridge but sadly died in 1887 before it was completed.

The painting is by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), the most distinguished marine artist of his day …

My eye was immediately drawn to the lady in the light blue dress and the man who looks like her companion sitting on his collapsible chair …

They were obviously important enough to bag a riverside view along with other folk who seem to have packed a wine-accompanied picnic. I know she’s looking through binoculars but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that she was taking a picture with her smartphone.

There are more treasures on display this week including Horace Jones’s original plans (but they don’t photograph very well through glass) …

I really can’t resist views of London that incorporate the river …

The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Today Leeds born Grimshaw is considered one of the greatest painters of the Victorian era, as well as one of the best and most accomplished nightscape, and townscape, artists of all time.

And finally, I paid a quick visit to the Roman Amphitheatre in the basement and took this picture of what is believed to be the opening used to allow wild animals to enter the arena. We can see two slots into which a gate may have been raised and lowered …

If you haven’t done so yet I highly recommend the free guided tours that take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – you can find out more here on their website.

Broadgate sculptures (Part 2)

I have visited Broadgate and its sculptures in an earlier blog and I went back again last weekend to photograph some more.

First up is Rush Hour, a patinated bronze by George Segal (1982) situated in the Broadgate Circle (EC2M 2QS) …

We’ve all been there, haven’t we, heads down, not exactly rushing to get to the office. Or maybe just starting the long slog home on a rainy day (knowing there are train cancellations on our line).

Segal was renowned for casting his figures directly from life – usually friends and family – using plaster bandages to create human scale moulds from which his bronze sculptures could be cast. As a result, all the figures have their eyes closed …

This is Cascade in Exchange Square (EC2A 2EH). It was created by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (whose Chicago office designed much of Broadgate) and Stephen Cox RA (1991) …

‘Energising and restorative, this water cascade creates a natural oasis within Exchange Square. Calmed within the basin, the water develops circles of stillness around the enduring Indian granite stones, placed at measured intervals as if to signify the passage of time. The perfect place to pause and reflect on the day’s events’. Or maybe a place to chill out after a really horrific commute.

On Finsbury Avenue (EC2M 2PA) you will find Bellerophon Taming Pegasus by Jacques Lipchitz (1966) …

A half-size cast of Lipchitz’s final sculpture (which resides in Columbia University, New York), this is a representation of the epic moment in which Greek hero Bellerophon tames the winged horse Pegasus. This tangle seems to balance rather precariously on its pedestal with hooves, wings and tail radiating in all directions. For Lipchitz, this work demonstrated the ultimate dominance of man over nature, stating ‘You observe nature, make conclusions, and from these you make rules’.

On Broadgate Plaza (EC2M 3AB), Ganapathi and Devi (1988) is another work by Stephen Cox. Apart-yet-together, Ganapathi and Devi alludes to sculptural torsos and ancient themes; Devi refers to the female Hindu goddess, while Ganapathi is the Tamil name for Ganesha, the popular elephant god. Fusing power and sensuality, the stones combine historical and contempoary references, from the quarry to the executed forms …

The stone was sourced from the quarries of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India …

Peering through the entrance to 155 Bishopsgate I spotted this spectacular piece of art (EC2M 3YD) …

It’s The Mechanics Institute II (1991) by William Tillyer. The notes say: ‘A carefully balanced composition of architecture, cloud, sky and foliage, Tillyer represents the notion of man’s presence via geometric patterns while the contrasting colours suggest the force of natural elements (flashes of warm sun, rushes of air currents, dappled blue light and gentle sea tides)’. The foyer is marketed to movie makers looking for locations as ‘a New York style atrium space’ and it certainly looks the part.

I wandered away from Broadgate, a hundred yards or so north up Bishopsgate, and came across Principal Place (EC2A 2BA) along with this interesting work entitled In Anticipation by James Burke (2018). Do have a look at the website.

Meanwhile, back in Broadgate, Venus still gazes skywards …

Read more about her and other sculptures here.

Fun and Miscellany – my 100th blog!

Thank you so much for subscribing to my little publication – especially those of you who have been with me since the very beginning almost two years ago.

For the first anniversary I included things that I had come across that had made me smile and I want to do that again this week. I want as well, however, to include a few items that I thought were interesting but didn’t fit under any broad heading.

One of the great pleasures of doing research is the occasional joy of serendipity. I recently discovered that encouraging people to cycle to work is nothing new and magazines were being published almost 40 years ago which included maps to help cyclists navigate.

I came across this persuasive cover of On your bike! magazine from 1982 …

And now something a bit more surreal, a piece of art that was on display at the Guildhall art Gallery until a few weeks ago …

Marcello Pecchioli’s eye-catching stained glass Alien Priest was part of the Gallery’s ‘Visionary Artists’ exhibition. I like the flying saucers in the background.

Next up is this picture in the Gallery entitled Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1860-1956). Painted in 1901, it depicts a young man and girl walking in a misty, wet park with a horse-drawn cab rank in the background.

I like it because to me it’s one of those pictures that immediately gets you making up a back story to the characters. Surely this is an assignation – a secret lovers meeting, he clasping her hand and she gazing lovingly into his face. Then it struck me: Garden of Eden! A place of dangerous temptation and banishment!

Apparently guides point out that this picture is actually about a mismatch between a wealthy woman who has fallen for a man much below her station: note his clumpy shoes, lack of gloves and his rolled up trouser bottoms. Also the way he’s carrying not one but two umbrellas, intertwined like the two lovers. There are tiny raindrops hanging from the black branches. Surely they represent tears to come? Or am I getting completely carried away? Another commentator has said that she is simply a smartly dressed maidservant on her day off, out walking with her beau.

In Cullum Street I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning sculpture by Sarah Lucas entitled Perceval

Part of the ‘Sculpture in the City’ initiative – EC3M 7JJ

It’s a large-scale replica of a traditional china ornament of the kind that took pride of place on many British mantelpieces forty years ago. Perceval was a knight of the Round Table and apparently there is fertility symbolism in the giant concrete marrows on the cart. You can read more about this work here.

Also for us to admire as part of the Sculpture in the City project is this example entitled Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX). I love it because it’s completely bonkers …

See how many animals you can spot

I keep meaning to spend some time in the Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street recording the brilliant brasses there (EC4V 4EG) but I still haven’t got around to it. So in the meantime, here is the advice on one of them …

‘Don‘t advertise – tell a gossip

Don’t forget to look down when crossing the Millennium (‘Wobbly’) Bridge and see if you can spot some of the witty work by the artist Ben Wilson. He has painstakingly painted literally dozens of pieces of discarded chewing gum …

I have written more about him in my earlier blog Tales from City Bridges.

There is a Banksy rat painting in Chiswell Street that has been altered by another artist. Banksy’s piece originally depicted a stencilled ghetto rat holding a placard which read ‘London doesn’t work’ …

Photograph taken by ‘Noodlefish’ 26 August 2006

However, Robbo, Banksy’s rival graffiti artist, reworked the placard by adding his name in red letters. Robbo was known for leaving his mark on many Banksy pieces but I read in the interesting Londonist blog that Robbo died in 2014, bringing the rivalry to an end.

I haven’t been able to find out more about the strange ‘Life is beautiful’ figure next to it.

It is hard to imagine now but many of London’s roads were once paved with wood. However a map of London by Bartholomew’s in 1928 shows clearly the expansive reach of the wooden block road paving method. In the map excerpt below, the yellow roads are all paved with wooden blocks …

Read more in the excellent blog ‘Ian Visits’

Many were destroyed in wartime bombing and many also dug up by local residents for burning as heating. Since they were impregnated with tar they burnt furiously and, of course, made a major contribution to London’s filthy air.

For some people this was an entrepreneurial opportunity. This is Alan Sugar being interviewed for the Daily Express in 2010 about when he noticed old blocks being uncovered when roads were being resurfaced …

The workers showed me the blocks, which were impregnated with tar, and they chucked a couple onto the fire – they burned like a rocket. Bingo! It occurred to me that these discarded wooden blocks could be made into fire-lighting sticks. I could cut them up into bundles of sticks and flog them.

And you can still see a section of wooden road today at the junction of Chequer Street and Bunhill Row EC1 …

Looking over the wall on the Embankment one day I noticed these lions heads with mooring rings …

They were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70 and it is said that, if the lions drink, London will flood.

And to end with, two more items with watery themes that make me smile.

Firstly, a famous satire on the quality of the Metropolitan water supply in 1828. An elderly lady displays her horror and shock on looking at a speck of Thames water through a microscope …

Copyright: British museum

It’s by the artist and caricaturist William Heath (1795-1840) and is entitled Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us! You can read more about the efforts made to get fresh water to Londoners in my blog Philanthropic Fountains.

And finally I always say hello to this miserable dolphin on The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB). I also tell him to cheer up – the pub is a listed building and therefore so is he …

Thanks again for subscribing!

City of London – Then and Now

In some respects, parts of the City of today look remarkably like they did decades ago whilst others are changed almost beyond recognition.

I shall start with the entrance to the Guildhall as painted in 1905 and attributed to William Luker Junior (1867-1947). I like the intimate family group with the little girl glancing back at the authentic flapping pigeons …

I felt I just had to write a few words about the painter.

The son of a famous artist who fell on hard times, young William (‘Willie’ to his doting mother) caused consternation when, in 1888 at the age of 21, he made a family servant pregnant. He did the honourable thing and married her, albeit secretly, which caused even more anguish to his poor mum. Records of the period show his new wife to be Margaret Stadowicka, a Polish immigrant eight years his senior. The greater responsibility seems to have prompted him to mature quickly as an artist and he became a very successful painter of animals.

This is the Guildhall entrance today …

The view from Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral was slightly improved by the removal in 1990 of the London Chatham & Dover Railway bridge that used to span Ludgate Hill. Here is the view at the turn of the last century …

This view (from Gillian Tindall’s book A Tunnel Through Time) shows the railway bridge in more detail …

And here is a more recent image. The bridge may have gone but modern buildings do intrude …

This is a photograph of the Wren church of St Alban Wood Street circa 1875 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is the view today. Only the church tower remains as the area was devastated by Second World War bombing …

The name Cheapside comes from the old English term for a market (ceapan – ‘to buy’) and the a street with this name was here long before the Great Fire of 1666. Here is a picture taken around 1890 looking east when there were about 11,000 hansom cabs and 500 horse-drawn buses in London. By 1910 they had all virtually disappeared to be replaced by taxis and motor buses …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is a view from about the same point taken in May 2019 …

Apart from the tower of St Mary-le-Bow, the south side of Cheapside has changed dramatically with the construction of the office and retail space One New Change. On the north side at the junction with Wood Street, however, stands a little treasure …

The shop on the corner in an anonymous drawing from the 1860s

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

This is how the corner looks today …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

You can read lots more about the little shop and its fascinating immediate surroundings in my earlier blog: A Shop, a Tree and a Poem. And even more here: Hidden Gems.

Some of Fleet Street has hardly changed at all. Here is a view of St Dunstan-in -the-West around 1910 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and held at the Bishopsgate Institute

And here is a picture taken in May this year. Some of the Journals changed their names – the Dundee Advertiser becoming the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Hours becoming the Sunday Post. The Post has now become famous as the last newspaper to leave Fleet Street. They turned off the lights for the final time on 5th August 2016.

I came across this fascinating picture whilst doing my research. It was published in 1975 in the book The City at War by Ian Grant and Nicholas Maddren. Looking west along Fleet Street towards the Strand, it was taken in 1944 and shows the smoke arising in the distance from a recent hit by a V2 rocket …

The caption in the book reads: ‘Passengers getting off the bus hardly break their stride’.

And finally, I am publishing again this painting by Harold Workman now on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery and entitled Chaos on London Bridge. It was probably painted some time in the 1930s or 1940s …

And here is a picture I found of London Bridge circa 1870 …

Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

I think London Bridge and its history might be worth a blog on its own and I shall explore this idea.

You can find more great ‘Then and Now’ pictures (including some of the above) here on the Spitalfields Life blog.

Pictures of London at the Guildhall Gallery

The Guildhall Art Gallery in Guildhall Yard (EC2V 5AE) is one of my favourite places in the City. The reason for this is that the Gallery’s collection of London paintings opens a window onto unusual, memorable and colourful scenes from the City’s history. Dating from the 17th century onwards, they provide a vivid record of civic events along with street, market and crowd scenes which capture the look and feel of city life. What adds to the enjoyment of a visit is the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre which were discovered during redevelopment in 1987 and are now incorporated into the lower levels of the building.

Here is a selection from the pictures I like best.

And we think congestion is bad now …

‘Chaos on London Bridge’ by Harold Workman (1897-1975)

It has, apparently, not been possible to date this picture. The buses look a bit like the once very familiar ‘RT’ that was introduced to London in 1939/40. Here is a picture of one (note the white roof) …

I can’t really be certain though. If you want to research more about London’s buses this is a great website to start with.

London had become the most important City in the world when Niels Moeller Lund (1863-1916) painted this view from the roof of the Royal Exchange in 1904 …

Entitled The Heart of the Empire, the artist looks down on Bank junction which seethes with the commercial life of a City that felt very secure at the Empire’s focal point. With the Mansion House on the left, the sunlit Victorian buildings draw our eye towards St Paul’s Cathedral and the Empire beyond. I like the flock of pigeons rising in the foreground.

This painting, showing an event on 9th November 1789, captures the pageantry of the City at the time and also the way St Paul’s dominated the skyline …

‘Lord Mayor’s procession by water to Westminster 9 November 1789 ‘ by Richard Paton (1717-1791) and Francis Wheatley (1747-1801)

Paton’s story is interesting since he was brought up in poverty. According to one account, while Paton was begging on Tower Hill, he attracted the attention of Admiral Sir Charles Knowles (died 1777), who happened to be passing that way, and who, taking a fancy to the boy, offered to take him to sea. He was assistant to the ship’s painter on Knowles’ ship, gaining knowledge in both painting and seamanship. The second artist, Francis Wheatley, led an ‘irregular and dissipated’ early life and ended up fleeing to Ireland to escape his creditors. He eventually regained respectability and ended his life a Royal Academician.

Here is a more intimate picture of City pageantry and its participants (with some splendid beards on display) …

‘A civic procession descending Ludgate Hill, London 1879 ‘ by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

Born in France, Tissot was originally called Jean-Jacques, but he took the name James as an expression of his Anglophilia. Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris Commune (1871) he moved to London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882. He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris and lived in some style in fashionable St John’s Wood: in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that he had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors, and around the studio, a garden where, all day long, one can see a footman in silk stockings brushing and shining the shrubbery leaves’.

And finally, from pomp and pageantry to everyday hard work in the markets …

Billingsgate Market in 1962 by Ken Howard (born 1932)

Billingsgate Market relocated to Docklands in 1982.

There has been a livestock market at Smithfield for over 800 years …

Smithfield Market in 1968 by Jacqueline Stanley (born 1928)

The London Evening Standard has just reported that Smithfield meat market could now be leaving London. A former oil refinery site in Thurrock, Essex, is on a shortlist of four locations for a vast, new mega-market which could also house Billingsgate fish market and New Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market. The other three potential sites are at Barking power station in Dagenham, Silvertown near City airport in Docklands, and Fairlop in Redbridge.  The City of London Corporation wants to amalgamate the three historic markets in a purpose-built facility to free up land for housing.

If you visit the Gallery don’t forget to go downstairs to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre …


You can get a sense of the scale of the building even before you enter the Gallery. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area it covered …

In the Gallery there is also an artist’s impression of what the amphitheatre may have looked like …



Tales from City Bridges

Next time you are walking across the Millennium Bridge (aka the Wobbly Bridge) slow your pace and look down whilst trying to avoid being trampled by the crowds. You will soon be rewarded by seeing some tiny pictures …

There are literally hundreds of them, painted on discarded chewing gum by the artist Ben Wilson …

The artist at work – picture copyright the Look up London blog

‘When a person throws chewing gum, it’s a thoughtless action. I’m turning that around. People think they don’t have an effect. But all the people that chew gum and throw it on the street, they created that. Once painted, it suddenly takes on new meaning and has been given the kind of worth that would otherwise be unthinkable’

Ben Wilson talking to Human Nature magazine

You can read the interview here and see many more pictures here. He’s never been arrested because he’s painting chewing gum not the Bridge. Smart!

Whilst on the subject of quirky bridge features, have a look at this picture I took as I walked across Tower Bridge last weekend …

Is that a lamp post without a lamp? Here’s a view from the other side …

It’s a cast iron chimney that used to be connected to a coal fire in the Royal Fusiliers room under the Bridge, helping them to keep warm whilst on guard duty.

The room has now been enveloped by a restaurant, appropriately named The Sergeant’s Mess

Now to one of my favourite churches, St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street (EC3R 6DN).

It’s believed that the Roman’s first built a crossing over the Thames around here in AD 50. Eventually there were wharves nearby and the churchyard holds a piece of one …

This is not, however, the best feature of the yard.

Take a look at this picture of the ‘old’ Medieval London Bridge where St Magnus can be seen in the top left hand corner …

A plaque as you enter from the street explains why this area is so unique …

For a treat go inside the church where there is a model of the Bridge on display …

It’s enhanced by dozens of little figures going about their business as well as what looks like a visit by the King on horseback …

These pictures are from the London Walking Tours blog.

From 1763 until the old bridge was demolished in 1831, this archway was the main pedestrian entrance onto the bridge. As I walk through it I can’t help thinking about the thousands and thousands who preceded me. Were they heading into the City to make their fortune perhaps? Or maybe leaving in bitter disappointment …

As a further surprise, some of the stones from the old Medieval bridge’s northernmost arch remain in the courtyard …

And finally, here are a few things to look out for as you cross Blackfriars Bridge.

There are these columns rising out of the river …

In 1862-64 a bridge was built to accommodate four trains at one time. John Wolfe-Barry and H M Brunel built a second bridge to increase the number of trains coming into St Paul’s. The columns are the remains of the original bridge, which was removed in 1985 as it was deemed too weak for modern trains.

Note the pulpit-shaped tops of the bridge pillars. They reference the original monastery of the Black Friars or Dominican monks, evicted by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. I have written about the Medieval monasteries in an earlier blog which you can find here.

On the south side is the beautifully painted coat of arms of the London Chatham & Dover Railway …

Note the white horse rampant, symbol of Kent, and the county motto ‘Invicta’ meaning ‘undefeated’ or ‘unconquered’.

And now some features not everyone notices. Peer over the parapet and on either side you will see some birds on the capitals of the bridge supports, meticulously carved in Portland stone by J.B.Philip.

The birds on the west side are fresh water birds and plants to be found on the upper reaches of the river …

And on the east side, sea birds and seaweeds to be found at the mouth of the Thames …

On the north side of the bridge you will see one of my favourite water fountains, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored …

The pretty lady represents ‘Temperance’ and she originally stood outside the Royal Exchange.

The fountain was inaugurated by Samuel Gurney, MP, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association, on 27 July 1861 and you can read more about him, and the Association, in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains.

Whitecross Street Art and a very naughty lady

At the north end of Whitecross on the corner with Old Street a plaque on a wall 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.

The tongue in cheek plaque is by ‘English Hedonists’ and was ‘Mad in England’

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.

I have found a great 17th century ballad about the area and placed it at the end of the blog.

Whilst walking up from Beech Street to visit Priss’s little plaque I was struck by the extraordinary variety and quality of the street art, much of it a legacy of Whitecross Street parties.

The one that always catches my eye is this mural by Conor Harrington, an Irish artist living and working in London …

It was created in 2012

Beneath it and to the left is one of my favourites, the cherubs assembling a bazooka …

Stencil work by DS Art


Paul Don Smith is a prolific artist and I have come across a lot of his work around Brick Lane. Here are two of his Whitecross Street offerings …

You can also catch a glimpse of his work here, the lady on the side of the street furniture on the left …

I think the figure on the door with the party hat is a homage to Jean-Michel  Basquiat

And I always smile when I see the installation by the Italian artists Urban Solid below the window of the Curious Duke Gallery …

And what about this rather rude representation of someone taking a selfie …

Referring back to Priss and the days when much of this part of London was a centre of prostitution, I would like to end with this from the Roxburghe Ballad collection …


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.



Some of my favourite City Art

If you haven’t yet visited the Guildhall Art Gallery I do strongly recommend it (EC2V 5AE). Established in 1886 it contains works dating from 1670 to the present. A visitor described it as ‘free and fabulous’ and I wholeheartedly agree.

Here is one of my favourite pictures, William Logsdail’s painting entitled The Ninth of November 1888

It is, of course, the Lord Mayor’s procession, but in this picture he is nowhere to be seen and the artist has concentrated on the liveried beadles (who he actually painted in his studio)…

… and the people in the crowd …

There is a minstrel in blackface with his banjo and, although I have studied this picture dozens of times, I have only just noticed the little boy next to him nicking an orange from the old lady’s basket. On the right of the picture the man in the brown hat, next to the soldier with the very pale face, is Logsdail’s friend the painter Sir James Whitehead. It’s a sobering thought that, not far away in the East End that afternoon, police were discovering the body of Mary Kelly, believed to be the last of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

Up the stairs at the far end of the gallery, in a space specially designed for it, you look down on the action-packed painting by John Singleton Copley: Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar 1782

A Spanish attack on Gibraltar was foiled when the Spanish battering ships, also known as floating batteries, were attacked by the British using shot heated up to red hot temperatures (sailors nicknamed them ‘hot potatoes’). Fire spread among the Spanish vessels and, as the battle turned in Britain’s favour, an officer called Roger Curtis set out with gunboats on a brave rescue mission which saved almost 350 people.

Look at the painstaking detail in the faces of the officers and Governor General Augustus Eliot, who is portrayed riding to the edge of the battlements to direct the rescue …

The officers were dispersed after the Gibraltar action and poor Copley had to travel all over Europe to track them down and paint them – a task that took him seven years at considerable expense. He recouped some of his cash in 1791 by exhibiting the picture in a tent in Green Park and charging people a shilling to see it (about £10 in today’s value).

Here is a facsimile of an admission ticket …

And now some more contemporary pieces of art.

In the entrance hall to the London Mithraeum at 12 Walbrook (EC4N 8AA) your eyes are drawn immediately to this stunning tapestry by Isabel Nolan: Another View from Nowhen

You can just pop in to look at the tapestry but I hope you will also book a time slot to go downstairs and visit the beautifully restored and exhibited Temple of Mithras. You can read all about it and see some pictures in my blog The Romans in London: Mithras, Walbrook and the Games.

In September 2017 Banksy paid a clandestine visit to the City to coincide with a retrospective of the work of American graffiti artist-turned-painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The first work, a Ferris wheel with people queuing for tickets, is captioned as follows on Banksy’s website:

Major new Basquiat opens at the Barbican – a place that is normally very keen to clean any graffiti from its walls …

The three-pointed crown is a symbol often used in the artist’s own work.

The painting on the other side of the road references a Basquiat picture showing a New Yorker being searched by the police …

Steps have been taken to protect both paintings and you can see them at the junction of Beech Street and Golden Lane (EC1Y 0QT).

And finally, I often smile as I walk along Whitecross Street and see this jolly illustration of the street’s shops portrayed on street furniture …

… along with this cheerful picture inviting you to nip around the corner and dine at the lovely, friendly Baracca Restaurant, highly recommended …

 

 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén