Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: City Symbols Page 1 of 2

Looking skywards

I spend a lot of time looking up as I wander around the City, which is another reason why I tend to take photographs at the weekend. That way I won’t be obstructing bustling City folk going about their business and get tutted at when I stop abruptly.

I hope you find this miscellaneous collection interesting. Some have appeared in blogs already but I have included them again because I just like them.

This globe sits on top of the London Metropolitan University building on Moorgate (EC2M 6SQ) …

I had never noticed before that it is encircled by the signs of the Zodiac.

Here’s what it looks like at street level with the Globe Pub sign in the foreground …

Whilst on the subject of Zodiacs, there are some attractive figures around the door of 107 Cheapside (EC2V 6DN) …

They were sculpted by John Skeaping, Barbara Hepworth’s first husband …

Sagittarius – November 22nd to December 21st.

Pisces – February 19th to March 20th.
Aquarius January 20th to February 18th.

And in Cheapside there is another globe, this time supported by a straining Atlas balanced on top of a clock …

It was once the headquarters of the Atlas Assurance Company. The entrance was in King Street and above the door is another depiction of Atlas hard at work. I like the detail of his toes curled around the plinth (EC2V 8AU) …

Across the road is Kings House sporting a magnificent crown …

Above it is a very pretty Mercer Maiden dating from 1938 …

This wise old owl watches commuters as they flow back and forth over London Bridge. He was located outside what was once the Guardian Insurance Company headquarters (EC4N 7HR) …

Look up as you walk down Eastcheap and you will see the remains of a dead camel …

Constructed between 1883 and 1885, the building at 20 Eastcheap was once the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices, whose trademark showed three camels bearing different shaped loads being led by a Bedouin Arab. The firm was particularly well known for its ‘Camel’ brand of tea. When Sir Henry Peek (son of one of the original founders) commissioned this building he wanted the panel over the entrance to replicate the trademark, right down to the dried bones of the dead camel lying in the sand in the foreground.

Admire the leopard’s head symbol of the Goldsmith’s Company over the entrance to the old churchyard of St Zachary on Gresham Street (EC2V 7HN) …

Guardian angels are still resting on their swings opposite St Paul’s Underground Station …

This fearsome dragon on Fleet Street guards the western entrance to the City on the site of the old Temple Bar. He looks like something straight out of a Harry Potter story …

I love spotting the wide variety of weather vanes that populate the skyline even in a City crowded with new skyscrapers. This one referencing the horrific death of a martyr sits atop St Lawrence Jewry (EC2V 5AA) …

St Lawrence was executed in San Lorenzo on 10 August 258 AD in a particularly gruesome fashion, being roasted to death on a gridiron. At one point, the legend tells us, he remarked ‘you can turn me over now, this side is done’. Appropriately, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians.

The church of Anne and St Agnes also stands in Gresham Street and is unmistakable by its letter ‘A’ on the weather vane on top of the small tower. It is named after Anne, the mother of the virgin Mary and Agnes, a thirteen year old martyr (EC2V 7BX) …

Now compare and contrast these two war memorials.

In Holborn is this work by Albert Toft. Unveiled by the Lord Mayor in 1922, the inscriptions read …

To the glorious memory of the 22,000 Royal Fusiliers who fell in the Great War 1914-1919 (and added later) To the Royal Fusiliers who fell in the World war 1939-1945 and those fusiliers killed in subsequent campaigns.

Toft’s soldier stands confidently as he surveys the terrain, his foot resting on a rock, his rifle bayoneted, his left hand clenched in determination (EC1N 2LL).

Behind him is the magnificent, red terracotta, Gothic-style building by J.W. Waterhouse, which once housed the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company. Walk through the entrance arch to the courtyard and you will see the work of a sculptor who has chosen to illustrate war in a very different fashion. The memorial carries the names of the 786 Prudential employees who lost their lives in the First World War …

The sculptor was F V Blunstone and the main group represents a soldier sustained in his death agony by two angels. He is lying amidst war detritus with his right arm resting on the wheel of some wrecked artillery piece. His careworn face contrasts with that of the sombre, beautiful girls with their uplifted wings. I find it incredibly moving.

I have written about angels in the City before and they are usually asexual, but these are clearly female.

And finally, as I walked along Cornhill one day I glanced up and saw these rather sinister figures silhouetted against the sky…

Closer inspection shows them to be devils, and rather angry and malevolent ones too …

They look down on St Peter upon Cornhill and are known as the Cornhill Devils (EC3V 3PD). The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself.

If this resembles the rector he must have been a pretty ugly guy!

Happy New year!

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City postboxes

Along with red telephone boxes, the red postbox is immediately recognisable as something intrinsically British and last week, as I passed the Penny Post’s founder’s statue, I decided to write a blog about them.

Here he is, cast in bronze and larger than life, looking across King Edward Street (EC1A 1HQ) …

Sculptor : Edward Onslow Ford (1881-2)

The unveiling took place on 17 June 1882 and the reporter for the City Press said all were impressed by the ‘grace and firmness’ of the statue’s attitude.

Sir Rowland Hill stands erect, in the attitude of an energetic and busy man, and, notebook and pencil in hand, may be taken to be engaged in some detail of his scheme.

It was originally sited outside the Royal Exchange and was moved, after some time in storage, to its present location in 1923. The area was then still dominated by the Post Office but gradually work was moved to Mount Pleasant and the main building sold to bankers Merrill Lynch in 1997.

The post box nearby to the north only dates from 2001 …

Now stroll through Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT) to St Martin’s Le Grand, maybe pausing on the way to investigate the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Turn right after you leave the park and few yards ahead you will find this fascinating replica …

The box was topped with acanthus leaves and ball and was made in three sizes, with five distinct types.

This early box was designed by the architect John Penfold in 1866. Green was chosen as the colour so the box would blend in with the landscape but it was replaced by ‘pillar box’ red in 1884 to improve visibility. Penfold had a fascinating career which included the re-design the Jewin Street area in the City of London after it had been destroyed by a large fire. It was again destroyed in the Blitz and now houses the Golden Lane Estate.

Devotees of trivia may be interested to note that in the cartoon series Danger Mouse DM’s sidekick is named Penfold since the duo’s secret hideout was a post box (although not a Penfold one).

And now a story that might be an urban myth.

John Betjeman lived in this house in Cloth Fair for almost 20 years (EC1A 7JQ). The story goes that, if he had written a letter but couldn’t be bothered to go to the post box, he would put a stamp on it and cast it out the window in the certain knowledge that a helpful Londoner would find it and post it for him.

Sir John’s nearest post box would have been just on the other side of the Henry VIII gateway to St Bartholomew’s Hospital (EC1A 7BE) …

It’s unique in carrying no royal cipher and also because, although it faces the hospital, it is emptied from the other side of the wall in the street …

Hill’s 1840 Postal Reform act introduced affordable postage and easy-to-use adhesive stamps. Yet the nearest letter-receiving office was miles away from many communities. It took Anthony Trollope (the Victorian author, then a General Post Office official) to notice that in Europe, locked cast-iron pillar boxes were placed in convenient locations with regular collection times.

Trollope first introduced this efficient scheme to the Channel Islands in 1852, and pillar boxes emerged on the mainland the following year. By 1860, over 2,000 ‘standard’ design roadside boxes were established and by the 1890s, this had increased to 33,500. The UK now has about 115,500 and a Royal Mail post box stands within half a mile of over 98% of the UK population.

This box on Fleet Street has a plaque commemorating Trollope’s work …

As well as free-standing pillar boxes there are also those fitted into walls. Here’s an advertisement by James Ludlow, a firm that produced them …

Here are a few from the City (although not produced by Ludlow) …

A Victorian pair in Chiswell street next to the Jugged Hare bar and restaurant (EC1Y 4SA)

And two from the Barbican highwalk …

These were made by the Carron Company, one of the major suppliers of letter boxes during the twentieth century. From the Mungal Foundry, near Falkirk, Stirlingshire they cast pillar boxes (from 1922), wall boxes (from 1952) and small lamp boxes for rural areas (from 1969 to 1982). The ironworks were first established in 1759 and played an important part in the Industrial Revolution as well as becoming famous for its naval cannons but the company became insolvent in 1982 after 223 years casting iron.

I am beginning to get the hang of the terminology now – this, for example, is a ‘double aperture’ box since it has two slots …

Some, like this one, still have a slot marked ‘Meter Mail’. Metered reply mail, or MRM, is a type of mail in which a business sends pre-printed, self-addressed envelopes or packages to customers with postage pre-paid in-house using a postage meter. This is much less common nowadays and many of the ‘meter mail’ signs are being removed.

Modern boxes are now being introduced with small businesses and eBay sellers in mind – here is one next to a Victorian box near Barbican station …

I know why the change is needed but I still know which one I prefer.

For all things postal I strongly recommend a visit to the Postal Museum where you can, among many other exhibits, admire this special Air Mail box, created to make communication with His Majesty’s Dominions around the world easier …

You can read lots more on these fascinating websites, one jointly published by Historic England and Royal Mail and this one by The Letter Box Study Group.

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A visit to Aldgate East underground station

I know I shouldn’t encourage graffiti but, as I walked to the Station from Aldgate, I became intrigued by these carrots. The one in the middle looks really frightened – have one of the two on either side of it eaten his green topping? They certainly have scary teeth …

I think the space they look down on was the original site of Aldgate East tube station before it moved to its current location nestling under the Passmore Edwards Library

Next door is the Whitechapel Gallery with its pretty Tree of Life frieze by Rachel Whiteread which I wrote about in an earlier blog

Whiteread’s golden leaves.

I am visiting the station to see some fascinating tiles that date from the 1930s. You will see from the pictures that most carry the letter ‘S’. This stands for the artist and craftsman Harold Stabler, who was commissioned by the London Passenger Transport Board in 1936 to design 18 ceramic tiles to decorate new and refurbished underground stations. The first of the tiles were installed at Aldgate East when it was rebuilt in 1938 – this one represents the rearing horse from the coat of arms of the county of Kent …

They are not always easy to spot.

This is a great representation of London Underground’s headquarters at 55 Broadway …

Here is the building itself …

These birds are flying over water, representing the River Thames …

In this representation of the Palace of Westminster, there is a crown, a coronet and a bowler hat representing the Monarch, the Lords and the Commons …

This is from the coat of arms of the County of London …

The winged Griffin was the original symbol of London Transport. I can’t see an ‘S’ so possibly a later reproduction …

St Paul’s Cathedral (I can’t find the ‘S’ on this one either) …

Probably made specifically for St Paul’s Station.

This tile illustrates the coat of arms for the County of Middlesex …

The Crystal Palace …

And here the classic Underground roundel …

There is a more complete selection on the Bethnal Green Underground Station platforms which you can read about here.

Finally, I had to smile sadly when I noticed this optimistic piece of signage when I disembarked the train at Moorgate …

Secret & Sacred Rivers

I’m always intrigued by Londoners’ capacity to ignore odd behaviour. For example, I spent a good ten minutes bending over this grating, some of it virtually on my knees, and no one showed the slightest curiosity …

Junction of Greville Street and Saffron Hill (EC1M 3JF)

I was, of course, trying to hear the sound of running water since, directly underneath, runs probably the most famous of London’s ‘lost’ subterranean rivers, the Fleet. Its headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath, each of which was dammed into a series of ponds in the 18th century. At the southern edge of the Heath these descend underground as sewers which join in Camden Town. The waters flow four miles from the ponds to the River Thames, just underneath Blackfriars Bridge. Incidentally, it didn’t run down Fleet Street, it merely ran past its eastern, lower end.

This map, showing the route of the Fleet and various other waterways, is on display at the excellent Secret Rivers exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands …

Because of its later reputation, I always had a view that the Fleet where it joined the Thames would be a deeply unpleasant place, so this picture rather surprised me …

This painting (by a follower of Samuel Scott) was obviously influenced by Canaletto, who was based in England until 1755. Looking north across the Thames, it shows the entrance to the Fleet circa 1750 with Bridewell Foot Bridge, the City Wharf and Dock, and Blackfriars Stairs. The Fleet was developed into a canal up to Holborn, lending this view a Venetian appearance. This grand aspect, however, did not last long as the wharves proved unprofitable and Londoners continued to dump their rubbish in the river.

Originally a green river valley, the Fleet River had been gradually transformed into the Fleet Ditch, infamous for being a source of filth, corruption and disease. Observing a flood during a storm in 1710 Jonathan Swift penned the following lines …

Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Pope made this small literary contribution in 1728 …

To where Fleet Ditch, with disemboguing streams, rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to the Thames.

On display at the exhibition is sad little exhibit. Found during excavations of the old river bed, it’s a dog’s collar with the inscription ‘Tom at Ye Greyhound Bucklersbury’. Poor Tom.

There is a reminder in the exhibition of how muddy and dirty the City’s streets were. This pair of wooden pattens date from the 15th century and were used to protect shoes and raise the wearer above the mud. They have a leather hinge to aid walking …

London’s population grew rapidly through the seventeenth century from about 200,000 to about half a million which resulted in a significant rise in the need for coal. This was brought from the north east of the country in barges which offloaded at wharves in the tidal Fleet. Street names that survive today remind us of this …

And the thoroughfare that ended at the canal, so you couldn’t go any further …

The Fleet Valley from Clerkenwell to the Thames housed many of London’s prisons and all manner of vice was practised in the dingy, stinking claustrophobic rookeries (slums). Nor was there much privacy if you had to go to the loo. This medieval oak three-seater toilet seat was found over cesspit in a yard behind buildings that faced on to modern day Ludgate Hill …

This picture tells a story. It’s an 1841 drawing by Antony Crosby of the Fleet River at Holborn Bridge – note the wooden latrine projecting over the ditch on the left …

Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 in order to span the Fleet and provide level access from east to west – a great improvement in an era of horse-drawn traffic. You can see it reaches over a deep valley …

Looking north whilst standing on what was the bank of the old Fleet canal.

When I climbed the stairs to take a picture from above a curious City dragon popped his head up to see what I was doing …

Gradually the entire river was enclosed in Victorian sewer tunnels and it now flows into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge (just below where the banker Roberto Calvi was found hanged in 1982) …

Rivers, such as the Thames and the Walbrook, influenced where the Romans founded Londinium and the Museum of London exhibition also illustrates the fact that our connection to water goes beyond the practical, reaching into the spiritual. While most objects found in London’s rivers are lost items, rubbish or remnants of river-related activities, some cannot be explained so easily. These bear witness to the spiritual importance of rivers.

On display, for example, is this first or second century AD small representation of a river god, possible Neptune, apparently cast or placed into the Walbrook …

And this piece of a marble offering is particularly fascinating …

The inscription has been translated thus:

To the Divinities of the Emperors (and) to the god Mars Camulus. Tiberinius Celerianus, a citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix, of Londoners the first …

It is the first example from the capital to use the word Londiniensi or ‘Londoners’. The language suggests a man who hailed from northern France and probably traded or travelled regularly within that region but whose home seems to have become London.

If you want to read more about Roman London I have written three earlier blogs on the subject: The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and the Games, The Romans in London … and two Roman ladies and The Roman Wall revisited.

The Museum of London Docklands exhibition runs until 27th October this year. I highly recommend it.

My favourite animals

Every now and then I have been featuring City animals in the blog and I am going to to pick out again some of the ones I like best.

There is the grumpy dolphin from The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

He needn’t look so worried – both he and the pub are Grade II listed

What about this splendid animal standing outside Spitalfields Market with Hawksmoor’s 1714 masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the background …

This goat would have got my vote

Wonderfully entitled I Goat, it was hand sculpted by Kenny Hunter and won the Spitalfields Sculpture Prize in 2010 (E1 6AA). The artist commented …

Goats are associated with non-conformity and being independently-minded. That is also true of London, its people and never more so than in Spitalfields.

This honey bee is, appropriately, a keystone over the entrance to Honey Lane which connects Cheapside with Trump Street (EC2V 6DB).

107 Cheapside – a busy bee buzzes up to some fruit and flowers

It is part of the old headquarters of The Sun Life Assurance Society whose Zodiac covered entrance I wrote about in my earlier blog Looking at the Stars. Although the connection to Honey Lane is obvious, it’s possible the insurance company also liked the reputation bees have for industriousness and providing for the future. The name of the lane comes from the bee-keepers who used to live there and it also once led to All Hallows Honey Lane, a medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire.

This little Scottish terrier is called Chippy. He rests now in All Hallows by the Tower at the feet of his master the Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton CH MC who became vicar of the Church in 1922 and remained there until 1963. He is best known for his work initially as an army chaplain during the First World War and in particular the establishment of Talbot House, a unique place of rest and sanctuary for British troops. After the war the spirit and intent of Talbot House became expressed through the Toc H movement.

All Clayton’s Scottish Terriers were called Chippy

A wise owl gazes at the commuters as they trek over London Bridge from his perch on the House of Fraser store opposite the north entrance to the bridge.

The building used to be the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside look up and you will see two young boys at either end of the grand building that was once the City headquarters of Midland Bank (1935). The are both struggling with a rather angry looking Goose …

The sculptor was William Reid Dick

Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The building is now a private club and restaurant, called The Ned in Sir Edwin’s honour (he would no doubt be chuffed).

This magnificent leaping fox appears on the exquisite Grade II listed Art Deco shopfront of the Fox company, who manufactured and repaired umbrellas. Mr Fox opened his first shop in the City in 1868 but this shop dates from 1935. You can still purchase a classy Fox umbrella if you go to their website, but the shop is now a wine bar.

Fox and Company Limited, ‘Recovers’ and ‘Repairs’, 118 London Wall, EC2Y 5JA

Once surrounded by the throbbing printing presses of Fleet Street newspapers, Gough Square is today a quiet haven off the noisy main road. Now known as Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square was built by one Richard Gough, a City wool merchant, at the end of the seventeenth century. It is the only survivor from a larger development and Dr Johnson lived here from 1748 to 1759 whilst compiling his famous dictionary …

Nearby, Johnson’s most famous cat, Hodge, is remembered by this attractive bronze by John Bickley which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, no less, in 1997. Hodge sits atop a copy of the dictionary and alongside a pair of empty oyster shells. Oysters were very affordable then and Johnson would buy them for Hodge himself. James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, explained why:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature

People occasionally put coins in the shell for luck and every now and then Hodge is given a smart bow tie of pink lawyers’ ribbon.

‘A very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’, said Johnson

And finally, from a famous cat to mysterious mice. Nibbling a piece of cheese, they add charm to a building in Philpot Lane off Eastcheap and have been described as London’s smallest sculpture. Even though they have been repainted they are still a bit hard to find – so I am not saying precisely where they are, and hopefully you will enjoy looking for them. One theory is that the builders in 1862 were pestered by mice who persistently ransacked their lunch packs, so they left this little informal tribute. Another is that they commemorate a man who died during the construction of the nearby Monument to the Great Fire. Mice had eaten his lunch, but he accused a fellow worker by mistake, and fell to his death in the fight that followed. As to the true story behind the little rodents, your guess is as good as mine.

The Philpot Lane mice

Five tiny City churchyards (and a chatty lady)

Did you realise that, just off Cannon Street, is the final resting place of Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr? She was captured in 1409 and taken with her children and mother to the Tower of London during her father’s failed fight for the freedom of Wales. A memorial to her, and the suffering of all women and children in war, was erected in the former churchyard of St Swithen where she was buried. It survives as a raised public garden and here is the pretty entrance gate on Oxford Court (EC4N 8AL) …

And this is the memorial …

Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw

With its inscription …

The garden is a cosy, secluded space with seating where you can enjoy a break from the City hustle and bustle …

The Church itself was demolished as a result of World War II bombing.

St Clement’s Eastcheap isn’t on Eastcheap, for reasons I will go into in a future blog. It’s in the appropriately named St Clement’s Lane (EC4N 7AE). As you look down the Lane from King William Street it’s tucked away on the right …

Just past the church is St Clement’s Court, the narrow alley leading to the churchyard. There is an intriguing plaque on the wall of the adjacent building …

Obradović was a Serbian writer, philosopher, dramatist, librettist, translator, linguist, traveler, polyglot and as the plaque says, the first minister of education of Serbia. Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry. He was honoured in 2007 by a special Serbian stamp …

You enter the churchyard via three steps. City churchyards are frequently higher than street level, evidence of how may bodies were crammed in until graveyards were closed to new burials in the middle of the 19th century …

The churchyard was reduced in size in the 19th century by an extension that was added to the church and all that remains now are a couple of gravestones and two chest tombs …

The inscription on one is just about legible, it reads …

In memory of Mr JOHN POYNDER late of this Parish who departed this life on 11th April 1800 aged 48 years. Also four of his children who died in their infancy.

The narrow alleyway can be traced back to 1520 and St Clement’s Lane is also an old thoroughfare. Here it is on Roques map of 1746 leading then, as it does now, to Lombard Street directly opposite the Church of St Edmund King and Martyr …

The alley was then called Church Court

Here’s another view from King William Street, you can see St Edmund’s in the distance …

The church dates from 1674 having been rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire (although the design was probably by his able assistant Robert Hooke). In 2001 it became the London Centre for Spirituality …

It was a lovely, warm sunny day and, looking at the church architecture, for a moment I had the overwhelming feeling that I was in Italy!

To find the churchyard, now a private garden, head down George Yard adjacent to the church (EC4V 9EA). It closed for burials in 1853 …

One tomb is visible from the street …

It has a fascinating inscription …

Sir HENRY TULSE was a benefactor of the Church of St Dionis Backchurch (formerly adjoining). He was also Grocer, Alderman & Lord Mayor of the City. In his memory this tombstone was restored in 1937 by THE ANCIENT SOCIETY OF COLLEGE YOUTHS during the 300th year of the Society’s foundation. He was also Master of the Society during his Mayoralty 1684.

St Dionis Backchurch was demolished in 1878 and the proceeds of the land sale used to resurrect it as a new church of the same name in Parsons Green. The Ancient Society of College Youths is the premier change ringing society in the City of London, with a national and international membership that promotes excellence in ringing around the world. Sir Henry owned significant estates in South London – you’ll be remembering him as your train trundles through Tulse Hill Station.

St Gabriel Fenchurch was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt but its churchyard remains – now called Fen Court (EC3M 6BA) it’s just off Fenchurch Street. If you are feeling stressed, or just need to take time out, you can use the labyrinth there to walk, meditate and practise mindfulness. It was the idea of The London Centre for Spiritual Direction and you can read more about it here.

The Fen Court labyrinth

Three chest tombs are evidence of it’s earlier burial ground function …

This vault was built in the year 1762 by MRS ANNE COTTESWORTH for a burying place for Herself she being born in this Parish And her nearest relations being buryed in the next Vault

Her family coat of arms is quite sheltered and has survived City pollution well

Also there is the striking Gilt of Cain monument, unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008, which commemorates the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. Fen Court is now in the Parish of St Edmund the King and St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard St, the latter having a strong historical connection with the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Rev John Newton, a slave-trader turned preacher and abolitionist, was rector of St Mary Woolnoth from 1780 to 1807 and I have written about him in an earlier blog St Mary Woolnoth – a lucky survivor.

The granite sculpture is composed of a group of columns surrounding a podium. The podium calls to mind an ecclesiastical pulpit or slave auctioneer’s stance, whilst the columns evoke stems of sugar cane and are positioned to suggest an anonymous crowd. This could be a congregation gathered to listen to a speaker or slaves waiting to be auctioned.

The artwork is the result of a collaboration between sculptor Michael Visocchi and poet Lemn Sissay. Extracts from Lemn Sissay’s poem, Gilt of Cain, are engraved into the granite. The poem skilfully weaves the coded language of the City’s stock exchange trading floor with biblical Old Testament references.

And finally here is another meditation labyrinth …

It’s in one of my favourite places, St Olave Hart Street churchyard in Seething Lane (EC3R 7NB) …

You walk in through the gateway topped with gruesome skulls, two of which are impaled on spikes …

Charles Dickens nicknamed it ‘St Ghastly Grim’

It leads to the secluded, tranquil garden …

The labyrinth is in the corner on the left

This was Samuel Pepys’s local church. He is a hero of mine and I have devoted an earlier blog to him and this church : Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church‘.

In 1655 when he was 22 he had married Elizabeth Michel shortly before her fifteenth birthday. Although he had many affairs (scrupulously recorded in his coded diary) he was left distraught by her death from typhoid fever at the age of 29 in November 1669.

Do go into the church and find the lovely marble monument Pepys commissioned in her memory. High up on the North wall, she gazes directly at Pepys’ memorial portrait bust, their eyes meeting eternally across the nave where they are both buried. When he died in 1703, despite other long-term relationships, his express wish was to be buried next to her.

Take a close look at her sculpture – I am sure it is intended to look like she is animatedly in the middle of a conversation …

As you leave the church, notice how much higher the churchyard ground level is …

It’s a reminder that it is still bloated with the bodies of plague victims, and gardeners still turn up bone fragments. Three hundred and sixty five were buried there including Mary Ramsay, who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to London. We know the number because their names were marked with a ‘p’ in the parish register.

Sorry not to end on a more cheerful note! I have written before about City churchyards and you can find the blog here.

Harry Potter meets the Children of the Damned

Every now and then at the weekend I see film crews going about their business and using the City as a location. This prompted me to see what I could find regarding films that have already been released, and whether I could include some excerpts in my blog. I was not disappointed and hope you enjoy watching the results of my research.

First up is Children of the Damned. Released in 1964, it tells the story of six mysterious children, apparently born without fathers, who possess extraordinary telekinetic powers. They come to be seen as a threat to humanity and are hunted down. They take refuge in a derelict church which is eventually destroyed by the army.

The building used to portray the outside of the church is St Dunstan in the East on St Dunstan’s Hill (EC2R 5DD). Here is a recent picture with the Walkie Talkie lurking in the background …

And here is a screen shot of two of the protagonists entering the church where the children are hiding. Little do they know what fate awaits them …

I found this great four and a half minute sequence of scenes from the film accompanied by appropriate music by Iron Maiden (you may want to adjust the sound accordingly!). Click here for the link – I love it.

Also arriving in UK cinemas in 1964 was Mary Poppins featuring the lovely Julie Andrews. The film was also notorious for Dick Van Dyke’s appalling Cockney accent.

The two stars

A scene from the film includes the song Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag, where an old lady is doing just that whilst sitting on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Click here to watch the sequence and hear the song.

It is, sadly, partly trick photography and the sweet old lady was filmed in a studio in California. The song was said to be Walt Disney’s favourite and the old lady was the Academy Award winning actress Jane Darwell who made her first of hundreds of movies in 1913. She was specifically chosen for the part by Disney himself and it was her last role.

More recently, fans of the Harry Potter movies have been prowling the City spotting familiar locations. Leadenhall Market is popular …

Apparently the cobbled, covered market stood in for Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter film.

In a later film, however, Hagrid and Harry enter the Alley through the blue door of the Leaky Cauldron pub …

And here it is at 42 Bull’s Head Passage (EC3V 1LU), still part of Leadenhall Market …

The Millennium Bridge features in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There is a really scary sequence as the Muggle World is attacked by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, with the bridge a particular target. You can view it if you click here.

Again back in time, looking at a TV series called The Professionals which was broadcast from 1977 to 1983. Inside the secure corridors of Criminal Intelligence 5, a high-level British anti-crime unit, George Cowley hands out tough assignments to his two top agents: thuggish William Andrew Philip Bodie, who favours a ‘hit first, ask questions later’ style, and the more cerebral Raymond Doyle, a former Docklands police constable …

Martin Shaw ((Doyle), Gordon Jackson (Cowley) and Lewis Collins (Bodie)

The opening sequence of the second series closes with the trio leaving the CI5 headquarters (aka the old Port of London Authority building in Trinity Square, EC3N 4AJ) .

You can view it here – it’s the first 45 seconds. It’s followed by half an hour of extracts from individual episodes. Ideal viewing if you are interested how cultural and popular fashion trends have changed over the last 30 plus years!

Now it’s a hotel

The building also featured in the James Bond film Skyfall. Here is Dame Judi Dench as M arriving for a meeting with the Chairman of the Security & Intelligence Committee …

That’s all for now.

I am going to carry on researching and hopefully will have some more stories and film clips to put in a future blog.

The Cracksman

Tales from the City’s courtyards and alleys

One evening in April 1718 a comedian named Bowen (described as a ‘hotheaded Irishman’) was drinking copiously in the Pope’s Head Tavern. Having worked himself into a ‘transport of envy and rage’ he sent for an actor, a comedian and competitor called Quin. As soon as Quin entered, Bowen planted his back against the door, drew his sword, and bade Quin draw his. Quin remonstrated in vain and at last drew in his own defence, trying to disarm his antagonist. Bowen eventually received a mortal wound, of which he died in three days, ‘confessing at last his folly and madness’. Quin was tried, and honourably acquitted. This story, from British History Online*, sent me searching for the scene of the affray – logic telling me that it must be in Pope’s Head Alley (EC3V 9AY).

Sadly the Tavern no longer exists and the alley has been shifted a little to the east from its original location.

It looks a bit sterile from its Cornhill entrance (it leads to Lombard Street) and I wasn’t going to bother to walk down it …

I am glad I did though, because first of all, looking up, I noticed this line of bees and bee hives …

Here is a close-up of one of them …

And then came across the Pope himself …

The bee symbol was traditionally associated with the Barberini family and, in particular, the 17th century Pope Urban VIII Barberini. I honestly don’t know if this is the reason for the bees but that’s my hypothesis.

Below the Pope’s head there is metal fence incorporating the galloping Lloyd’s Bank horse …

So the moral of this tale is – don’t judge an alley by its entrance.

I went on enthusiastically to explore more. I know it’s a cliche, but the phrase ‘stepping back in time’ really does come to mind with some of them.

For example, here is a picture I took of Ball Court and a side entrance to Simpsons’s Tavern …

The Tavern’s full address is Ball Court, 38 1/2 Cornhill (EC3V 9DR). It still looks authentically 18th century …

On Cornhill you will find the entrance to Sun Court (EC3V 3NB) …

At the end of the alley the scene opens out considerably …

You are looking at the rear of the Merchant Taylors’ Hall with its lovely curved glass windows. There is a nicely carved rendition of the Merchant Taylors’ coat of arms …

Here is the full colour version …

The motto is a quotation from Gaius Sallustius Crispus: ‘Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maxumae dilabuntur‘ : with harmony small things grow, while with discord the mightiest are ruined.

Further along Cornhill another nice surprise awaits you in White Lion Court (EC4V 3NP) …

The gated entrance doesn’t look terribly promising

Once inside you find yourself facing this stunning four-storey house, said to date from 1767 …

Probably originally the home of a wealthy merchant, it was once the offices of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.

On the wall is another emblem of the Merchant Taylors’ crest …

And a nice example of the Parish Boundary mark for St Peter Cornhill …

I hope you have enjoyed this short tour through some of the City’s courts and alleys. There are many more to visit and I shall cover them in a future blog.

*Incidentally, there are a number of versions of the fight between Quin and Bowen and not all of them coincide with the British History Online account. The fullest I have found appears in the book The Life of Mr James Quin, Comedian, from his commencing Actor to his retreat to Bath. It was published in London in 1766, includes an account of Quin’s trial, and can be found online here.

City Lights

The City was enhanced this Christmas by some spectacular light shows.

Firstly, the Shard produced an even better light show than last year. Here are a few of its sequences …

Tower 42 had a festive look …

And, finally, these London Wall Place displays will be around until the end of January and operational between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm.

This ‘greenhouse’ is on the St Alphage Highwalk …

The Salters’ Hall Garden is amazing …

2 London Wall Place is transformed …

Certainly worth a look if you have a chance before the end of the month.

The Bank of England, the Lothbury Ladies and more doors

I really like the exterior of the bank of England, Soane’s curtain wall speaking as it does of security and confidence.

Before I write about the doors, however, there are the four ladies to admire. Carved by Sir Charles Wheeler between 1932 and 1937, and nicknamed the Lothbury Ladies, they are located against the ends of the upper pavilion blocks.

The eastern pair stand in front of cornucopias and piles of money …

According to the splendid Ornamental Passions website, from which these pictures are taken, Wheeler was slightly queasy about these images of prosperity given that this was a time of financial crisis (Britain having just been forced off the gold standard). He thought sheaves of corn might be more suitable and wrote to the architect Sir Herbert Baker suggesting this. Baker ‘clearly told him not to be silly’.

The ladies on the western side are each hold a standing naked child between their legs, one male …

… and one female …

They ‘represent the hope of the future of the renewed Bank and its ideals’.

I wrote about the main Threadneedle Street doors in an earlier blog but you will encounter more as you walk around the building. These are the Goods Yard Doors in Lothbury which contain symbols of work – in the tympanum between the two lions rampant are a hammer and anvil, a monkey wrench and a rivet.

The roundels in the door are surrounded by rope motifs, the upper ones containing half-length nude male figures also symbolising work. The one on the left is carrying a load on his back …

… the one on the right is bent over a vice

The lower roundels contain curled up lions …

People have obviously been stroking his head.

These are the daunting, even menacing, Lothbury Court or Bullion Doors …


Loops of chains hang from a ring in the lion’s mouth and the doors themselves are decorated with huge double-warded keys, the handle of each containing a caduceus. These are the only sliding doors at the bank and Herbert Baker sent a Wheeler a sketch with the rather rude comment …

We already have too many prancing lions and a bullion door must be a more forbidding thing, simple in expression and to a big scale.

And finally, here are the doors on Princes Street with, yes, more ‘prancing lions’ …

I love their curly tails, and above them a smiling male sun and lady moon.

Incidentally, the main doors are magnificent and this is a link to the blog where I write about them in more detail …



The Royal Exchange

Last week I wrote about the talented Sir Thomas Gresham, the part he played in founding the Royal Exchange and how his generosity is still commemorated on the building itself.

This week I am taking a look at other aspects of the structure starting with the magnificent Portland stone pediment which you can’t miss if you look up as you cross the road at Bank junction. As is often the case, I am indebted to Dr Philip Ward-Jackson and his book Public Sculpture of the City of London for some of the descriptions …

The Exchange itself was designed by William Tite. The pediment sculpture is by Richard Westmacott Junior and deploys seventeen figures.

The inscription on the base on which the figure of commerce stands is from Psalm 24.1., a text chosen by Prince Albert. He laid the foundation stone in 1842.

Commerce holds in her left hand a ‘charter of exchange’ and in her right a rudder. There is also a ship’s prow, a beehive and a cornucopia.

Looking to the left …

… there are three City merchants in the civic robes of Lord Mayor, Alderman and Common Councilman. Beyond these are a Hindu and a Muslim. A young Greek carrying a vase strides towards them whilst looking over his shoulder towards the outermost group. These are an Armenian (occupied with a scroll) and a Turk (‘busy with his daily accounts’). The extreme angle is filled with an anchor and other nautical instruments.

Looking to the right …

… two British merchants are being shown fabric by a Persian. The next group consists of a Chinese merchant, a kneeling African and a Levantine sailor. Beyond these is a British sailor cording a bale of merchandise. The outermost figure, kneeling amongst jars, packages etc, is a supercargo, or shipboard sales manager.

Interestingly, the Exchange was built at the time of the Chinese ‘Opium Wars’, a period which saw the collapse of the Chinese economy. In China today the period 1839 to 1939 is referred to as The Century of Humiliation (which some commentators believe still has an important influence on Chinese attitudes to the West in the 21st century).

In the foreground stands London Troops War Memorial. Above you can see part of the Latin inscription stating that the Exchange was founded in the thirteenth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and restored in the eighth of Queen Victoria (1844) …

The memorial architect was Sir Aston Webb, the bronzes are by Alfred Drury and the stone carver was William Frith.

On the column is listed all the London regiments that served in the First and Second World Wars and on either side two soldiers stand at ease, one representing the Royal Fusiliers and the other the Royal Field Artillery.

On the south side of the Exchange in Cornhill is this elegant clock …

Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that contains an image of Gresham’s original Royal Exchange. In the distance, peeping up below, is the latest addition to the City skyline, ‘The Scalpel’ in Lime Street.

The inside of the Exchange is now a much used open space where today’s City folk meet once more to gossip, dine, drink coffee and do deals just as Gresham originally intended almost 450 years ago …

 Image: ‘Say I do’ Islington

When visiting the Exchange I usually use the main West door but, whilst researching this blog, I went into the East foyer and was really surprised to come across this remarkable, formidable bust of Abraham Lincoln …

Carver: Andrew O’Connor (1928).

The bust is carved from stone quarried in the vicinity of Lincoln’s birthplace. It was presented to the City by the Lincoln Presentation Committee and was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on 12 February 1930.

Finally, behind the posh retail outlets that nestle near the walls of the Exchange, lie an extraordinary set of murals. This one commemorates the loss of the second Royal exchange to fire in 1838 …

Painting by Stanhope Forbes (1899).


To view them you have to climb to the mezzanine floor and look over the balcony. They date from 1892 and are by artists including Sir Frederick Leighton, Sir Frank Brangwyn and Stanhope Forbes.

Amazingly, plans for the building in 2016 would have meant bisecting them in order to extend the retail space. Fierce criticism meant the plans were shelved but you can see what they would have meant if you look at the Spitalfields Life website from August 2016. The site also has some great pictures of all the murals – they are stunning.








Bombs and Boundaries

In today’s blog I have pulled together two subjects that I have found really interesting in my City wanderings. They are not linked thematically at all, but I hope you will still enjoy reading about them.

When we think of ‘London at War’ we tend to think of the Blitz, but Londoners were also at considerable risk during the First World War.

The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 30 May 1915. At 10:50 that night Zeppelin LZ38 looped around London and, from a high altitude and barely heard, it dropped eighty-nine incendiary bombs and thirty ‘man killing’ grenades. The historian Jerry White tells us, in his splendid book Zeppelin Nights, that there were seven fatalities that night, including four children. Two of the children and two of the adults were burnt to death as a result of fires started by the incendiaries. He goes on to say …

Londoners met the raids with that unpredictable mixture of sangfroid and blind terror that characterised their response to aerial warfare throughout the First World War.

The last attack on Britain did not take place until 5 August 1918, when four Zeppelins bombed targets in the Midlands and the North of England.

There is still some evidence to be seen of the destruction, and the terrible danger you were exposed to if you were on the street during a bombing raid …

Damage at St Bartholomew’s Hospital from Zeppelin raids on 8th September 1915 and on 7th July 1917. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Another picture of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital outer wall. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

And damage from the Second World War …

Shrapnel scars at the junction of Mansell St & Chambers St. Photo courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Once I saw the pictures in Spitalfields Life I kept an eye open for other evidence and, sure enough, on the wall of the Bank of England in Princes Street …

Wall of the Bank of England.

And more of the same …

Beside the entrance to Bank Underground.

Above the Princes Street sign is a notice that will allow me to segue into ‘Boundaries’ …

The signatory, Aretas Akers-Douglas was First Commissioner of Works from 1895-1902, so the notice is a remarkable survivor.

Parish boundary markers will probably be a familiar sight to anyone who has worked in the City.

Long before the advent of the London borough, the parish already existed for spiritual purposes and had a form of management.  This was the ‘vestry’ and so a mechanism was in place for getting local people together, either in the church or in a nearby vestry hall. It was to the parish that local administrative responsibility was gradually given by Parliament. Even when new statutory bodies were set up to deal with lighting, policing, paving, sewerage and so on, the parish remained as the local unit capable of raising its local rate or tax. It was therefore important that people knew what parish they lived in and where the boundaries were. From this emerged the need for distinctive markers.

Here are some example I have found …

Love Lane EC2V : On the left, St Alban, Wood Street, on the right the marker for St Mary Aldermanbury.


A St Martin-in-the Fields parish marker, on a lamp post in Fleet Street

At Frederick’s Place EC2R, clockwise from top left are markers for: St Olave Old Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy and Cheap Ward. I am still researching the last one.

St Botolph Without Aldersgate – a stone marker on a wall in a bomb site in Noble Street EC2V

Honey Lane EC2V : a marker for the parish of St Mary-le-Bow

And finally …

The most famous boundary marker of all – the City of London Dragon. See my earlier blog from October last year: ‘Dragons and Maidens’.

I will be returning to the subject of Parish Markers later in the year – lots more research still to do.
















City Churches and Churchyards – more tales of the unexpected

City churches and their churchyards have so much to offer, and after all these years I am still discovering new quirky items and treasures to write about in my blog. Two church interiors and two churchyards will feature today. I know many of my readers are immensely knowledgeable in this area but I hope there will be something new here even for them.

Once again I suggest you pass through the blue doors at 4 Foster Lane …

Entrance to St Vedast Fountain Courtyard and Cloister

Near the piece of Roman pavement I discussed in an earlier blog (The Romans in London and Two Roman Ladies) you will see displayed in a niche a tablet with cuneiform writing.

It comes from a 9 BC Iraqi Ziggurat and was given to the Rector, Canon Mortlock, by Agatha Christie’s husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. He discovered the brick during a 1950-65 dig and apparently it includes the name of Shalmaneser who ruled from 858 to 834 BC.

Just down the road from Pudding Lane, the source of the Great Fire, St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street was the second church to be destroyed in 1666. It was rebuilt by Wren circa 1671-84 and, despite being damaged in the Blitz, it has a great atmosphere – especially on a Sunday when lots of incense has been deployed.

It is worthy of an entire blog all to itself, but for today I will be writing about just a few of its fascinating features. First of all there is the portico you walk through to enter the church …

The view towards Lower Thames Street

Between 1176 and 1831 the churchyard formed part of the roadway approach to Old London Bridge. I found it easy to imagine the tens of thousands who passed through here, since it was the only bridge across the Thames until Westminster Bridge was opened in 1750. Despite the heavy passing traffic, and the lavatorial white tiles on the nearby buildings, this is an atmospheric place and I paused there thinking of all those forgotten souls who had walked these flagstones before me.

The clock (top left in the picture) was presented in 1709 by Sir Charles Duncombe when he was Lord Mayor. One legend tells us that, as a poor saddler’s apprentice living south of the river, he was often severely reprimanded by his master for being late because he had no way of telling the time. Now immensely wealthy, he gifted the clock for the benefit of other folk who could not afford a timepiece.

Right inside the door is a lovely surprise – a 17th century fire engine …

It once belonged to St Michael Crooked Lane. It has only recently been displayed in the narthex having been in store with the Museum of London since 1945.

And if the fire engine wasn’t enough to prompt a visit, what about this extraordinary model of the Old London Bridge …

My picture really does not do it justice – it is four metres long and portrays the bridge at the start of the 15th century

It was created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. The detail is superb, from the individual tiles on the lead roofing, to the countless  individuals crushing into the roadway or hanging out of windows. Over nine hundred tiny people are crammed onto the bridge, amongst them a miniature King Henry V, who can be seen processing towards the City of London from the Southwark side of the bridge. No wonder it is estimated that the bridge usually took more than an hour to cross.

This window on the south side remembers the St Thomas a Becket chapel which was situated near the centre of the bridge …

See if you can find the Chapel on the model

The chapel paid a levy to St Magnus from the fees received from travellers crossing the river.

I paid another visit to St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the junction of Holborn Viaduct and Snow Hill. Housed there, in a glass case, is a macabre relic – the Newgate Execution Bell

Photo by Lonpicman

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the clerk of St Sepulchre’s was responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned person’s cell in Newgate Prison, just across the road where the Old Bailey court is now. A tunnel linked the church to the prison and at midnight, on the night before their execution, the bell would be rung twelve times and the following ‘wholesome advice’ delivered …

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die.
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before Almighty God will appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you not to eternal flames be sent,
And when St Sepulcher’s bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but £50 was insufficient to cover the extra cost.

On the day of execution, the condemned were ‘carted away’ and ‘went west’ from Newgate to the Tyburn gallows (near today’s Marble Arch), the death cart pausing outside St Sepulchre’s for the prisoners to be presented with a nosegay. The distance between Newgate and Tyburn was approximately three miles, but due to streets often being crowded with onlookers, the journey could last up to three hours. A usual stop of the cart was at the Bowl Inn in St Giles where the condemned were allowed to drink ‘strong liquors or wine’.

The tremendous disruption caused by the thousands who came to watch eventually became too much for the authorities and the last execution at Tyburn took place on Friday the 7th of November 1783 when John Austin was hanged for highway robbery. Public executions continued outside Newgate Gaol until 1868 and still attracted vast crowds, the last person dispatched being the Fenian Michael Barrett on the 28th May that year.

Looking down from St Sepulchre’s is this sundial. Dating from 1681 it will have witnessed many of the sad events associated with the old prison. You can read more about it, and other dials, in my blog We are but shadows – City Sundials.

The dial is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and dots marking the half hours.










City animals 4

I have found that there is something about City animals – after you first start looking for them you see them everywhere and they become a bit of an obsession (or they have for me!).  So here is this week’s collection – I hope you like them and find them interesting. First up are two dolphins in very contrasting environments.

More than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives in the two World Wars and the Mercantile Marine Memorial (on Tower Green, alongside Tower Hill Underground station) commemorates the almost 36,000 of them who have no known grave. The boy riding the dolphin, accompanied by fishes and seahorses, is one of seven sculptures representing the seven seas by Sir Charles Wheeler. The sculpture is surrounded by plaques showing the names of the dead arranged alphabetically under their ship’s name and the name of the Master or Skipper.

The Mercantile Marine Memorial – boy riding a dolphin

I will be writing a special blog on the subject of memorials later this year, and will include some more detailed photographs and commentary on the Mercantile Marine Memorial then.

This dolphin looks decidedly uncomfortable balanced on the facade of The Ship pub in Hart Street (built 1887) …

He needn’t look so worried – both he and the pub are Grade II listed

What about this splendid animal standing outside Spitalfields Market with Hawksmoor’s 1714 masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields, in the background …

This goat would have got my vote

Wonderfully entitled I Goat, it was hand sculpted by Kenny Hunter and won the Spitalfields Sculpture Prize in 2010.

The artist commented …

Goats are associated with non-conformity and being independently-minded. That is also true of London, its people and never more so than in Spitalfields

Is it possible to look up and see these floppy-eared dogs and smiling boar’s heads without smiling yourself?

Corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane

The boars’ heads reference the Boar’s Head Inn, Eastcheap, which Shakespeare has Sir John Falstaff visit in Henry IV. Presumably the dogs were used for boar hunting, but they are obviously pals here.

I have always been curious about these ram’s heads on the corner of St Swithen’s Lane and Cannon Street …

I consulted a great source of City knowledge, The City’s Lanes and Alleys by Desmond Fitzpatrick. He writes that …

For well into the second half of the last century, the building was a branch of a bank dealing with services to the wool trade, a business connection pleasantly expressed … by the rams’ heads crowned with green-painted leaves, as if Bacchus and Pan had met!

Copies of this excellent book are available by sending a cheque to the author at Holly Tree Cottage, Angel Street, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 OBG. It costs £15 plus £2 postage. Great value – 350 pages packed with knowledge.

This honey bee is, appropriately, a keystone over the entrance to Honey Lane which connects Cheapside with Trump Street.

107 Cheapside – a busy bee buzzes up to some fruit and flowers

It is part of the old headquarters of The Sun Life Assurance Society whose Zodiac covered entrance I wrote about in my earlier blog Looking at the Stars. Although the connection to Honey Lane is obvious, it’s possible the insurance company also liked the reputation bees have for industriousness and providing for the future.

The name of the lane comes from the bee-keepers who used to live there and it also once led to All Hallows Honey Lane, a medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire. The area then became a small meat market which was itself replaced by City of London School in 1835. The area was significantly damaged by Second World War bombing and nothing now remains of the original buildings after post-war redevelopment. In fact, the lane itself has moved about 140 feet to the east.

The Black Eagle sign in Brick Lane reminds passers by of the Black Eagle Brewery. Founded in 1666, under the 18th century management of Sir Benjamin Truman it started its expansion to eventually become, as Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, one of the biggest brewers in the world. The brewery itself closed in 1989 and the site is now a small business hub and entertainment area.

And finally, as most City folk know, the old Whitbread Brewery on Chiswell Street is now a hotel and conference centre.

However, not many know that the old horse stables still exist in Garrett Street EC1, just off Golden Lane. The mighty shire horses could still be seen delivering ale throughout London well into the 1970s until Whitbread moved out of brewing and into budget hotels and coffee shops.

The Garrett Street Stables

It’s sad in a way to note that in 1699 there were almost 200 substantial brewers in London, and in 1952 there were still 25 operating in the capital. Now only Fuller’s of Chiswick are left as the capital’s last remaining major brewer.

Tales of the unexpected – in City churches

Last Saturday I headed off to St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, my intention being to take a photograph of the founder Rahere’s tomb for a future blog I am planning. I hadn’t been there for at least five years and was very happy to pay the entry fee and enjoy the church as virtually the only visitor. When I entered the south transept, however, what I saw literally stopped me in my tracks. Here is a picture …

A naked St Bartholomew holds out his flayed skin

Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin St Bartholomew also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. The second surprise, to me anyway, was that this work was by Damien Hirst, the modern artist known particularly for his spot paintings and the shark swimming in formaldehyde. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of Doctors and Surgeons and Hirst has said that this 2006 work ‘acts as a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development and that depictions of Saint Bartholomew were often used by medics to aid in anatomy studies’. He went on to say that the scissors were inspired by Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) to imply that ‘his exposure and pain is seemingly self- inflicted. It’s kind of beautiful yet tragic’. The work is on long-term loan from the artist. Incidentally, just behind it in the photograph you will see the rare pre-Reformation font (1406) in which William Hogarth was baptised on 28 November 1697.

The quite extraordinary anatomical detail

I did eventually take a picture of Rahere’s tomb, here it is …

Rahere died in 1143 and his tomb dates from 1405

It still contains his remains and I shall write more about it in a future blog.

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

Prior Bolton’s rebus

St Bride’s Fleet Street was gutted in the Blitz but was very sympathetically restored and reopened in 1957. It is famous for its wedding cake steeple and journalistic connections going back to the origins of the printing press itself. Today, however, I am going to talk about my visit to the small museum in the Crypt which is open when the church is and free to enter (and in a way there is a continuing theme of anatomical studies).

Until well into the 18th century the only source of corpses for medical research was the public hangman and supply was never enough to satisfy demand. As a result, a market arose to satisfy the needs of medical students and doctors and this was filled by the activities of the so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘body snatchers’. Some churches built watchtowers for guards to protect the churchyard, but these were by no means always effective – earning between £8 and £14 a body, the snatchers had plenty of cash available for bribery purposes.

One answer was a coffin that would be extremely difficult to open and such an invention was patented by one Edward Bridgman of Goswell Road in 1818. It was made of iron with spring clips on the lid and the coffin below fulfils the patent …

Iron coffin on display in the Crypt

The coffins were expensive, price depending upon the size required and the corresponding weight. An advertisement from the time is on display …

Contemporary advertisement

As a nearby information panel points out, the idea was not popular with the clergy and in 1820 the churchwardens at St Andrew’s Holborn refused churchyard burial to an iron coffin. The body was taken out and buried, which led to a law suit. The judgment was that such coffins could not be refused but, since they took so much longer than wooden ones to disintegrate, much higher fees could be charged. This no doubt contributed to the relatively short time iron coffining was used.

St Dunstan-in-the-West is the custodian of a very famous character after whom Ludgate itself is said to be named – but he is tucked away around the corner in the churchyard and you have to seek him out. It is, of course, the great King Lud himself …

The pre-Roman English King Lud (in the centre) and his sons Androgeus and Theomantius

Probably dating from 1586 when the old Ludgate entrance to the City was rebuilt, the statues from the gate are remarkable, but very battered, survivors. Ludgate was demolished in 1760 and the statues were initially placed in the St Dunstan’s charnel house and then alongside the cemetery. Being pagan figures, the church didn’t care much for them and in 1839 they were sold to the Marquess of Hertford who incorporated them into a house in Regent’s Park. Viscount Rothermere brought them back to the church in 1935 along with the clock.

Dr Philip Ward-Jackson, the eminent public sculpture expert, commented in 2003

While the installation of the clock was accompanied by some celebration, Lud and his sons were afforded the kind of hospitality they had grown to expect from St Dunstan’s. They were placed in a sordid niche in the vestry porch where they have remained ever since, in an increasingly battered and uncared-for state.

And they are still there today.

I think he still looks remarkably dignified

He is recalled here above the doors of the ‘Leon’ restaurant – part of a 19th century building overlooking Ludgate Circus

I am working on a post about Roman London to celebrate the opening of the London Mithraeum. By way of a taster, if you stand under the archway at St Magnus-the-Martyr Church on Lower Thames Street you will see an actual pile from a Roman wharf. It has been found to date from around 75AD.

Label stating its provenance

City animals 3

A neat little book called City of London Safari by Helen Long was recommended to me by my friend Annetta and reading it inspired me to go out again and take more pictures of the many animals that inhabit the City.

My most pleasing discovery in the book was this little Scottish terrier called Chippy. He rests now in All Hallows by the Tower at the feet of his master the Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton CH MC who became vicar of the Church in 1922 and remained there until 1963.  He is best known for his work initially as an army chaplain during the First World War and in particular the establishment of Talbot House, a unique place of rest and sanctuary for British troops. After the war the spirit and intent of Talbot House became expressed through the Toc H movement.

All Clayton’s Scottish Terriers were called Chippy

These one and a half times life-size bronzes are outside the headquarters of the London Underwriting Centre in Mincing Lane and the sculptor was Althea Wynne, who sadly died in 2012. She was a keen rider and her love of horses shows through clearly along with influences from classical art, especially Etruscan. There is also a deliberate reference to the classical horses in front of St Mark’s in Venice, whose wealth was also almost entirely built on trade.

Each horse stands 10ft high, weighs 4.5 tonnes and is shown pawing the ground. They are intended ‘to exemplify the dynamism and power of new City buildings …’

In typical City fashion they were swiftly nicknamed Sterling, Dollar and Yen

A ram stands proudly on the crest of the Clothworkers’ Company on the entrance to Dunster Court, Mincing Lane.

Once upon a time you could learn more about the City Livery Companies if you smoked Wills’s cigarettes!

Founded by Royal Charter in 1528, the original purpose of The Clothworkers’ Company was to protect its members and promote the craft of cloth-finishing within the City of London. Although few of their present members are involved in the textile industry in any direct way, the Company continues to support textiles, principally through educational grants, fostering the development of technical textiles and colour science, and support for the nation’s textile heritage.

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside look up and you will see two young boys at either end of the grand building that was once the City headquarters of Midland Bank (1935). The are both struggling with a rather angry looking Goose.

The sculptor was William Reid Dick

Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The building is now a private club and restaurant, called The Ned in Sir Edwin’s honour.

The name of the street is a clue

The Church of St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall Street, one of the few to almost totally survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, has a rooster on its weathervane.

The St Katherine Cree weathercock with The Gherkin in the background

The Bible tells the story of St Peter denying Christ three times ‘before the cock crowed’. In the late 6th Century Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem of St Peter and also of Christianity generally. Later, in the 9th Century, Pope Nicholas decreed that all churches should display it and, although the practice gradually faded away, the tradition of rooster weathervanes survived in may places.

The Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, is the adopted emblem of the Middle Temple and can be seen in many places around the Inn.

Lamb and Flag keystone, Fleet Street entrance to the Middle Temple (notwithstanding the date, the precision suggests it has been substantially recut over time)

There is a theory that the holy lamb was chosen as the emblem because it had originally been used by the Knights Templar whose arms were two knights mounted on one horse with a trotting Agnus Dei.

A Goldsmith’s Company symbolic leopard head over the entrance to the old churchyard of St John Zachary

The St John Zachary garden is on the site of the former churchyard and church of St John Zachary, which was partly destroyed in the Great Fire. In 1339 the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths had acquired land here and built the earliest recorded livery hall on this site. The present multi-level garden includes mature trees, benches, lawn and a fountain.

A wise owl gazes at the commuters as they trek over London Bridge from his perch on the House of Fraser store opposite the north entrance to the bridge.

The building used to be the offices of the Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company

And finally, a wily fox decorates the door of the old Fox’s umbrella shop on London Wall.


Art Deco in the City

I used to often confuse Art Deco and Art Nouveau – probably because they both begin with the word ‘art’. I had to get my head around this properly when I decided to write this blog and therefore searched for a simple explanation.

The one I like best is that Art Nouveau tends to be flowing and flowery whereas Art Deco tends to be sharp and streamlined.  Both designs evolved as a result of the culture of the times – Nouveau influenced by the industrial revolution and Deco by the First World War.

Here are some of my Art Deco favourites.

Every now and then when I headed off to meetings in the East end of the City I would walk past the magnificent, undulating and symmetrical Ibex House at 42-47 Minories. Built in 1937, it is clad in black and beige faience and, apparently, has the longest strip windows in London. When it opened you could rent space for 6 shillings (30 new pence) per square foot – which included the cost of cleaning.


Ibex House, Minories – view from Portsoken Street

I often feel a bit nostalgic walking down Fleet Street. I well remember its heyday when lorries trundled past carrying gigantic rolls of paper and you could hear the presses rumbling into the night producing the next day’s print news. Sadly, it was also the home of the notorious so-called ‘Spanish Customs’, restrictive practices which eventually left the industry open to brutal modernisation and, finally, total relocation.

The former Daily Express building in Fleet Street (1932) has a black facade with rounded corners in vitrolite with clear glass and chromium strips and, in my view, looks quite futuristic even today. The newspaper moved out in 1989 and the current owners are investment bankers Goldman Sachs. The foyer is stunning but currently hidden from view behind curtains – come on, Goldman’s, draw back those curtains and let us mere mortals have a peep!

120 Fleet Street – Architects Ellis and Clarke and later Sir Evan Owen Williams


Facade detail


The foyer, currently hidden from the street

The former Daily Telegraph  building at 141 Fleet street is another Art Deco masterpiece (also owned by Goldman Sachs). It is meant to be overwhelming and certainly succeeds with its giant fluted columns topped with carved Egyptian capitals.

Daily Telegraph building 1928 by Elcock and Sutcliffe with Thomas Tait (who studied under Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

Just above street level, Twin Mercuries head off to distribute news around the Empire with the sun rising over the centre of the hemisphere which is, of course, England. Apparently the carver, Arthur Oakley, shortly afterwards became a monk specialising in religious ornaments.

Relief of twin Mercuries by Arthur Oakley


This clock above the entrance is a delight

Florin Court , designed by Guy Morgan and Partners and opened in 1936, is famous now as the fictional ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ home of Hercule Poirot. It’s in Charterhouse Square and originally boasted squash courts, a dining room and a cocktail bar. Nowadays, there’s a gym, a spa and a wi-fi area.

Which room is Miss Lemon’s office?

I have two favourites – Fox Umbrellas and the ship’s prow in Bury Street.

Fox Umbrellas at 118 London Wall was constructed in 1937 on the ground floor of an early 19th century terraced house. It is by the shopfitting firm E. Pollard & Company and has a vitrolite front along with curved non-reflective glass (an American invention for which Pollard held the English patent).  According to the blog London’s Historic Shops and Markets, this ‘invisible’ glass, which was was very expensive, allowed passers-by to see much further into the shop and made the stock on display more visible at a time when interior lighting was duller and less sharp than today. It works by using a steeply curved concave glass to deflect light towards matt black ‘baffles’. Pollards installed the same type of glass at Simpsons of Piccadilly, where it is still in place today (the store is now a Waterstones).


Fox’s before it became a wine bar

Fox’s today – you can see the unique curved glass

Lovely detail on the door

Pop in for a glass of wine – many of the original features have been preserved.

For the Art Deco ship’s prow, first find Holland House in Bury Street just opposite the Gherkin and the subject of my earlier blog, Ship Ahoy. Walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively. It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa and reflects the company’s main business of shipping.
I love this story about the ship’s positioning.
Apparently the company owner, Helene Kröller-Müller, had wished to buy the whole of the Bury Street corner, but had been thwarted by the adjacent owners who refused to sell. As a consequence, Holland House is broken into two sections, and it has been suggested that the aggressive prow of the ship was intended to ‘cock a snook’ at the neighbours.

The ship’s prow with the Gherkin in the background


Coats of Arms – a quick quiz

The City livery companies and the City of London itself grew up together. Those working in the same craft lived and worked near each other, grouping together to regulate competition within their trade and maintain high standards. The early London guilds benefited their members and customers alike, controlling the manufacture and selling of most goods and services in the Square Mile. When some guilds introduced their own distinctive clothing and regalia – or livery – to distinguish their members from those in other guilds, they soon became known as livery companies. All have been granted coats of arms, some dating back to the 15th century, and many are displayed proudly on buildings throughout the City.

There is a nice little summary on the website of the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers about livery company coats of arms.They say that the acquisition of a coat of arms by a livery company signified social status in the same way that a coat of arms was the badge of a gentleman: a visual affirmation of its permanence and distinguished heritage: a combination of a traditionally noble characteristic with merchants and craftsmen. The care and expense that companies lavished on the acquisition, preservation and display of their important documents and insignia suggest that antiquity and heraldry were important aspects of their sense of corporate identity, alongside processions, halls, feasts and clothing.

Over the last few weeks I have been seeking out some examples and photographing them, twelve of which are set out below.

Just for fun, do have a look at them and try to guess the trades and professions they represent just by looking at the arms and their mottoes. I have provided a few clues and the answers are at the end of the blog … some are more obvious than others!

1. ‘Ecce Agnus Dei Qui Tollit Peccata Mundi’ – ‘Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world’. A few clues. The angels are ‘crowned with stars in token of light’ and the company’s original motto was ‘things which are in dispute are made clear by the light’.


2. The Crest is a lynx – a short tailed wild cat whose fur was formerly held in great esteem. No one below the rank of Earl was allowed to wear it.


3. ‘Give Glory to God’ – these leopards have managed to change their spots


4. ‘Hinc Spes Affulget’‘Hence Hope Shines Forth‘ – somewhere to shelter on your journey (and get a drink and some food)


5. ‘My trust is God alone’ – you may be on tenterhooks trying to work this one out


6. I don’t think a clue is needed for this one


7. The beehive is a good clue – and their product had purposes other than providing light

8. The trowel offers a strong hint


9. Their motto is ‘A blessing to the aged’ – I can vouch for that


10. ‘Throughout the world I am called the bringer of help’ – The horns of the rhinoceros and the unicorn were reputed to be of medical use

11. The motto is God is our Strength and if you look closely you will see four salamanders, the top two chained together. In medieval times they were reputed to be able to survive fire.


The final coat of arms belongs to an Honourable Company rather than a Worshipful one – a rare privilege bestowed on the company by King George V.

12. The ship is the Golden Hind in full sail and the Red Ensign flag and gold quadrant are also clues.



The answers are the Worshipful Companies of …

1. Tallow Chandlers : Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2SH

2. Skinners : 8 1/2 Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2SP

3. Dyers : 10 Dowgate Hill, London EC4R 2ST

4. Innholders :  30 College St, London EC4R 2RH

5. Clothworkers :  Dunster Court, Mincing Lane, London EC3R 7AH

6. Saddlers : 40 Gutter Lane, London EC2V 6BR

7. Wax Chandlers : 6 Gresham St, London EC2V 7AD

8. Plaisterers : 1 London Wall, London EC2Y 5JU

9. Spectacle Makers :  Apothecaries Hall, Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EL

10. Apothecaries : Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EJ

11. Ironmongers : Shaftesbury Place, Off Aldersgate Street, London EC2Y 8AA

12. The Honourable Company of Master Mariners : 4 Temple Place, WC2R 2PG (the picture is of their coat of arms in All Hallows by the Tower, Byward St, EC3R 5BJ)


City Angels (and a few devils)

Having had a lot of fun seeking out cherubs for an earlier blog I decided to go in search of angels.

Above the door of St Michael Cornhill is the warrior Archangel Michael ‘disputing with Satan’. It was carved by John Birnie Philip when the church was remodelled in 1858-1860.

No question as to who is winning this battle

Outside the church is another sculpture of Michael brandishing a flaming sword. It is a bronze memorial to the 170 out of the 2,130 men of this parish who enrolled for military service in the First World War and died as a result.


A close-up of the inscription

The sculpture (by R R Goulden) was described in the Builder magazine as follows

St Michael with the flaming sword stands steadfast above the quarreling beasts which typify war, and are sliding slowly, but surely, from their previous paramount position. Life, in the shape of young children, rises with increasing confidence under the protection of the champion of right.


Do go into the church, it’s a serene place to visit with very attractive pews and stained glass.

Of particular note on the left is the Churchwarden’s pew which shows St Michael thrusting a lance into the mouth of a truly evil-looking devil. It’s a work by the eminent wood carver William Gibbs Rogers (1792-1875).

The carving on the church wardens pew showing St Michael driving a spear into the devil’s mouth..



A close-up of the devil’s face on the churchwarden’s pew.

When you come out of the church turn right and you will find that Cornhill is seriously infested with devils.

It’s a blogger’s dilemma when one encounters what seems to be an apocryphal explanation for something one is researching. I have taken the decision that it’s OK to publish if, firstly, I make the nature of the story clear and, secondly, if it could just about be true, and thirdly if it’s a great story!

What follows seems to me to meet all the criteria.

As I walked along Cornhill one day I glanced up and saw these rather sinister figures silhouetted against the sky…

Closer inspection shows them to be devils, and rather angry and malevolent ones too …

They look down on St Peter upon Cornhill and are known as the Cornhill Devils. The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself.

If this resembles the rector he must have been a pretty ugly guy!

Onward now towards the Tower of London via Hart Street.

Two trumpeting spandrel angels face one another over the doors of St Olave, Hart Street.

North door, St Olave

You can read more about this historic church in my earlier blog Samuel Pepys and his ‘own church’.

This angel by the door of All Hallows by the Tower holds a shield bearing the cross of St Andrew. Above is the crossed sword emblem of the Diocese of London.

All Hallows by the Tower, north door

Fleet street is always great to visit given the vast range of subjects to explore.

Inside the door of St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street…

Angels holding a commemorative plaque to the original architect (1830-1832) John Shaw. On his death the work was continued by his son, also John

The plaque reads:

The foundation stone of this Church was laid on the 27th day of July 1831 and consecrated to the worship of Almighty God on the 31st day of January 1833: John Shaw, Architect who died July 30th 1832, the 12th day after its external completion, and in the 57th year of his age. To his memory this tablet is here placed by the Inhabitants of this Parish.

Ever since one of my earliest blogs, Philanthropic Fountains, I have a bit of  a ‘thing’ about drinking fountains so I shall digress from angels momentarily.

Just outside St Dunstan’s is this pretty but sadly timeworn fountain designed by John Shaw junior. The inscription is really hard to read but I believe it says …

The gift of Sir James Duke Bart MP ald. of this ward

The fear of the Lord is the fountain of life

Elected Lord Mayor 1848

MP London 1849

Fountain detail

An Art Deco trumpeting angel called The Herald graces 85 Fleet Street. The sculpture is by William Reid Dick and was unveiled by Sir Edwin Lutyens himself on 10 July 1939. The Times stated that The Herald was

Sending forth through her trumpet the news gathered from all corners of the Earth …

The Herald

And finally to St Bartholomew the Great via St Paul’s Cathedral.

Emily Young FRBS is one of the country’s foremost stone sculptors and you can enjoy her work in the form of Angels I to V in the courtyard beside St Paul’s Cathedral. I never tire of looking at them.


And finally some more classical angels at the church of St Bartholomew the Great …

They support the coat of arms of the founding patron King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135)


Dragons and Maidens

Mythical dragons do seem to keep finding themselves guarding pretty, captive maidens who are then rescued by brave heroes who slay the poor old dragon. So I thought I would combine dragons and maidens for this blog, especially since the dragon is a well-known symbol of the City of London.

The first thing I must be clear about is that the City symbol is a dragon not a griffin!

I always used to call them griffins and that is how they are described constantly in guides to London but there are differences between the two.

A griffin (or gryphon) is a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. I have only been able to find one in the City and here it is …

Entrance to Dunster Court, Mincing Lane

He proudly supports the arms of the Clothworkers Company.

Dragons, on the other hand, have a serpent’s tail, tend to be scaly all over and breathe fire and smoke. Here is the City of London version …

Tower Hill Dragon, EC3

It is made of cast iron and painted in silver with details picked out in red. It holds a shield with the City emblem of the red cross of St George and the short sword of St Paul and nine of them serve as boundary marks around the City. In addition, there are many other dragons all over the City in a variety of poses.

Their original version once graced the 1849 Coal Exchange on Lower Thames Street which was demolished in 1963. The two dragons, however, were relocated to Victoria Embankment in November of that year where they remain to this day and are much bigger than subsequent versions which are about half their size.

From the Illustrated London News 1879 – you can just make out the dragons on the parapet over the entrance

Here is an original dragon in his new home on Victoria Embankment…

That’s the ‘OXO’ building behind him across the Thames

He looks very sinister in silhouette …

Original dragon viewed looking south

Guarding the boundary between the City of London and Westminster, the Temple Bar Dragon is in a league of its own. It is taller, fiercer, very gothic and is black rather than silver. It would be quite at home in a Harry Potter story and is quite scary – maybe that’s why the Corporation Committee Chairman, having considered the Temple Bar version, chose the less flamboyant Coal Exchange dragons as boundary markers instead.

Atop the Temple Bar Memorial

Another dragon at Temple Bar looks towards Westminster …

This Smithfield beast looks like he is just about to swoop down – perhaps for a meaty lunch …

Smithfield Market

And these two work hard supporting the roof of Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market
Leadenhall Market

And so to maidens – Mercer Maidens to be precise.

The Mercer Company is the first in precedence of the ‘Great Twelve’ livery companies of the City of London and I shall be writing in more detail about the companies in a later blog.

The Mercers’ Maiden symbol is part of the coat of arms of the Company and according to their website she first appears on a seal in 1425. Her precise origins are unknown, and there is no written evidence as to why she was chosen as the Company’s emblem. She is often depicted wearing the fashions of her time since the coat of arms was not granted until 1911 so her appearance often varied.

She was often used to mark buildings belonging to the Company and I have been strolling around the City looking for her.

The inconsistency of design is apparent here with these two maidens only a few feet apart on the same building in Old Jewry.

‘Shall I wake up?’
‘No, I think I’ll go back to sleep’

Here is the Mercer Hall Maiden

Ironmonger Lane, off Poultry

And one in Queen Street

Regina House, Queen Street EC4

And another in Gresham Street, incorporating cornucopia signifying wealth and plenty …

93-95 Gresham Street EC2

And finally the oldest surviving …

The earliest surviving maiden, Corbet Court off St Michael’s Alley EC3

As you can see, she is dated 1669 and was reinstated here after development work in 2004. Serene and beautiful, she must have witnessed much of the rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire of 1666.

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