Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Commerce Page 1 of 2

Fleet Street Ghosts

Although I have written about Fleet Street in an earlier blog, I always find something new to write about when I walk there.

How about these impressive gates incorporating the words ‘Serjeant’s Inn’ …

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What caught my eye, however, was the dove perched on a twisted serpent and the words Prudens Simplicitas (Prudent Simplicity). This was the motto of the Amicable Society which was based here from 1838 and was the world’s first mutual life insurance company. The unusual choice of creatures may refer to a biblical quotation in which Jesus exhorted followers to be ‘wise as serpents, gentle as doves’. Lost during building works, the gates were rediscovered in a scrapyard in 1937 and returned to their original position here in 1970.

The arms were officially granted on 9 February 1808 to the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office and re-granted 14 April 1938 to the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society after the two organisations merged. You can see the dove and serpent in the Norwich Union coat of arms …

Arms of Norwich Union Life Insurance Society
Esto Perpetua means ‘Be everlasting’.

There is more information about the coat of arms and its fascinating symbolism here, the connection with Aviva here, and my blog about Insurance Company ghosts here.

How sad that the venerable Thomas Cook travel agency has gone into compulsory liquidation. Cook started organising leisure trips in the summer of 1841 when he arranged a successful one-day rail excursion at a shilling a head from Leicester to Loughborough. During the next three summers Mr Cook put together a succession of trips, taking passengers to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham. Four years later, he organised his first trip abroad, taking a group from Leicester to Calais. This was followed in the 1860s by trips to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and America …

Italy and Switzerland were popular early destinations

In partnership with his son, John Mason Cook, he opened an office in Fleet Street in 1865. In accordance with his beliefs, Mr Cook senior and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. You can still see the office now. It is graced with numerous globes and cherubs …

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Hundreds of cherubs live in the City – you can find many of them pictured in my blog Charming Cherubs.

The Cook family sold the business in 1928 and the Thomas Cook brand has just been saved from obscurity after the Chinese owner of Club Med said it would buy the name for £11m. There is a nice potted history of the company here.

Once the beating heart of newspaper journalism, Fleet Street’s printing past survives only in some commemorative plaques and old signage.

Many of the alleys and courtyards contain plaques at their entrances. This one recalls a dramatic event as reported by The Sun newspaper …

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Computerisation is represented, a bit bizarrely I think, by the electronic Pac-Man game …

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And some old signage is still clear …

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Child’s Bank has traded from the same Fleet Street site since 1673. Its impressive Grade II* listed premises, designed by eminent architect John Gibson, were opened here in 1880 …

I really like the following story. When the founder’s grandson, Robert Child, died in 1782 without any sons he refused to leave his interests in the Bank to his daughter because she had eloped earlier that year with the Earl of Westmoreland. Child didn’t want the Earl to get hold of the Child family wealth so he left it in trust to his daughter’s second surviving son or eldest daughter. This turned out to be Lady Sarah Sophia Fane who was born in 1785. There must have been a great supply of Earls at the time because she married the Earl of Jersey in 1804 thereby becoming a Countess. Here she is in a painting by Alfred Edward Chalon …

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Fane)

Upon her majority in 1806 she became senior partner in the Bank and exercised her rights personally until her death in 1867. She was known by the nickname ‘Silence’, which was ironic since, famously, she almost never stopped talking. The memoirist Captain Gronow, who disliked her, called her ‘a theatrical tragedy queen’, and considered her ‘ill-bred and inconceivably rude’.

And now two memorials to real Queens …

Mary looks down on Pret’s customers as they buy their lunch at 143-144 Fleet Street.

Mary Queen of Scots House was built in 1905 for a Scottish insurance company. The statue was the idea of one of the developers, Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, Bart, MP, who was a big fan of the ill-fated lady.
The architect was one R.M. Roe, who concocted ‘a facade as frilly as a doily with lashings of French Flamboyant tracery’.

Her nemesis is commemorated nearby …

She looks young, doesn’t she?

This statue of Queen Elizabeth I is nearby in a niche at St Dunstan-in-the-West and its history is rather complex. Some current thinking is that the Queen dates from 1670-99 despite a date on the base of 1586, which would have made it the only statue carved in her lifetime. It is now thought that, rather than the date of sculpture, this date was inscribed on it when the statue was placed on a restored Lud Gate in 1670 after the Great Fire and is merely making reference to the original gate. When the gate was demolished in 1760 she was moved to a previous St Dunstan’s but this was torn down in 1829-33 to be replaced by the current building. Meanwhile it seems that the statue spent the time in the basement of a nearby pub. It was only when that too was demolished in 1839 that the statue was rediscovered and put in its current niche on St Dunstan’s. Millicent Fawcett, the prominent suffragist, left £700 in her will for the statue’s upkeep and the funds are managed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

I have written about Fleet Street and its features many times but I have no doubt that I will be doing so again!

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A City Miscellany

As I walk around the City I often just take pictures with no particular theme in mind and it seems a shame not to share them so here is a random collection.

First up are a couple of Police Call Boxes that date from 1958. This one is in St Martin’s Le Grand …

And this one alongside St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard …

Along with the well-known TARDIS boxes the Metropolitan Police Service’s network of call boxes included the smaller Police Public Call Post, designed for the City’s narrower streets. Originally they were fitted with a telephone, a compartment for a first aid kit, and a large light attached directly or using a pylon to the top of the post. Once there were over 70 of them but they were gradually removed from 1969 onwards and these are the only two I have come across in the City. Incidentally, there are no longer any TARDIS boxes anywhere in London apart from when Dr Who is visiting (as of course you know, TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space).

If you want more information there is a book by John Bunker called The Rise and Fall of the Police Box and you can read more about Dr Who and his time travelling machine here.

I liked this glimpse of a chandelier in the Goldsmiths’ Company building on a dull rainy day …

I have written before about Cliffords Inn Passage and how spooky it is with little natural light and the wall-mounted ‘deflectors’ designed to deter male misbehaviour and protect the brickwork …

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Because I do most of my photography at the weekend the imposing doors at the north end have always been closed but last week they were open and I was able to take a cheerier view looking towards Fleet Street …

I like this shot which contrasts the blue paint of the subway entrance with the bold red facade of the Leysian Mission (which one day I shall get around to writing about) …

153 Fenchurch Street is squeezed between two glass office blocks but happily has survived 20th century redevelopment and contains this pretty cartouche. It shows two men fishing under a ribbon signage stating ‘Established 1740, Tull, 153 Fenchurch St.’

I am indebted to the London Remembers website for this information …

From Some Notes on the Ward of Aldgate (1904) “Messrs. SAMUEL TULL & Co., 12, Creechurch Lane, Rope, Line, Twine and Net Makers, established over 164 years. Originally at the sign of the “Peter Boat” (after the Apostle Peter), on Fish Street Hill, from there to 153, Fenchurch Street, and then for many years at 97, Leadenhall Street {now demolished}. They have a large number of customers of long standing — many of whom are of the same old school as themselves, the beginning of whose accounts go back for generations.”

I have also written before about Change Alley and its intriguing history. This plaque inspired me to do a bit more research …

Here it is some time in the 19th century …

Eventually it was swallowed up as Martin’s Bank expanded and bought local freeholds. There is an interesting history of the Bank and the local area which you can find here. It looks like it was written in 1969 and I think is a lovely piece of corporate memorabilia.

This carving is also in Change Alley but I have yet to work out what it represents. It looks like a church but not one I recognise …

I really have tried to like the Walkie-Talkie but just can’t. Here it is looming over the 19th century masterpiece that is 33-35 Eastcheap …

I like elephants and the doors of the Cutlers’ Company boast a fine pair (EC4M 7BR). The words are the Company motto Pour parvenir a bonne foy (To succeed through good faith) …

And finally, this sign on the wall of St Andrew by the Wardrobe is gradually disappearing (EC4V 5DE). Eventually no one will know that the key for the fire ladder is kept with the Sexton at nearby 52 Carter Lane …

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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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Two of the best free views of the City

I was thrilled when I finally got around to visiting The Garden at 120 on the roof of 120 Fenchurch Street (EC3M 5BA). The entrance is in Fen Court and before you even get to the lift you can look up and see the digital art installation by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier on the ceiling. There is also a haunting soundscape as well. It’s a fabulous piece of work (entitled The Call of Things) and you can read more about it here.

The ceiling at the entrance to Fen Court

You don’t have to book a time to visit, just turn up. Visiting times are set out on their website. After airport style bag checks a lift whisks you to the 15th floor where you have a 360 degree view. Here are a few of the images I took on a nice sunny day last week.

You can see the Gherkin in all its glory. A treat now that it is becoming more and more hemmed in by, frankly not very attractive, new buildings …

The Scalpel can be observed just alongside it …

The Walkie Talkie dominates part of the view …

In the distance, Canary Wharf …

and Tower Bridge …

The Shard is framed by the Witch’s Hat (the London Underwriting Centre) and the Walkie Talkie …

Down below a massive development takes place behind some preserved facades …

The roof is, of course, a garden as well as an observation point and the plants will eventually grow to form a pergola …

Many congratulations to insurer Generali and their architects Eric Parry for this stunning development and for making it so accessible.

Let’s not forget, however, the other great free view that can be enjoyed on the roof at One New Change (EC4M 9AF). Interesting views of St Paul’s start in the lift …

And continue on the roof …

The panorama includes the new apartments at Blackfriars, the Oxo Tower, the London Eye, the Unilever Building and the spire of St Augustine with St Faith (now part of St Paul’s Cathedral School) …

Both roofs are usually nowhere near as busy as you might expect.

Pebbles the cat … and other Underground surprises

High up on a tiled pillar in Barbican Underground Station is this poignant memorial …

For many years Pebbles was a favourite of staff and passengers, often sleeping soundly on top of the exit barriers despite the rush hour pandemonium going on around him. Here is a picture from the wonderfully named Purr’n’Fur website, a great source for moggie-related stories …

Clearly he was greatly missed when he died, as the plaque faithfully records, on 26th May 1997. This was doubly sad because he was due to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award. This was sponsored by Spillers Pet Foods and named after Arthur, a cat they used in their advertising who, I seem to remember, ate with his paws. The Certificate that came with the award is also displayed (the co-winner, the aptly named Barbie, was Pebbles’ companion) …

Pebbles’ posthumous award.

As I walked down the stairs to see the plaque I noticed that everything looks sadly tatty. However, just imagine these tiles when they were newly fitted before the War, with their geometric patterns leading you down to the Ticket Office …

And how wonderful, the Office window is still there, although instead of a helpful Ticket Clerk there is a poster. I reckon those lovely brass fittings and the counter date from the early 1930s. The pattern on the tiles continues down here as well – such thoughtful design …

The station, originally called Aldersgate Street, was opened on 23 December 1865 and had a large glazed roof which allowed light down to the platform. Here it is in 1936 …

The roof was removed in 1955 but you can still see the supporting brackets …

John Betjeman wrote about the roof’s dismantling, calling the work Monody on the death of Aldersgate Street Station

Snow falls in the buffet of Aldersgate station,
Soot hangs in the tunnel in clouds of steam.
City of London! before the next desecration
Let your steepled forest of churches be my theme.

Barbican station holds the unenviable distinction as the scene of the tube network’s first ever passenger disaster. On 16 December 1866 three passengers were killed and a guard was seriously injured when a girder collapsed onto a passenger train in the station. The newspapers reported that service on the line was running again only 30 minutes after the accident.

Look out for the old parish boundary marker dated 1868 on the eastbound platform …

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I have written in more detail about boundary markers in an earlier blog which you can find here. If you want to read more about the railways in the area, there is a great blog on the subject called Reconnections with useful maps and interesting pictures.

Onward now to the refurbished Farringdon Station. On climbing the stairs from the platform you can admire the original 19th century roof supports …

Just before exiting through the barriers I spotted some nice old stained glass windows. I had never noticed them before, it just shows what you can come across if you have time to dawdle …

I had as my guide a book by the brilliant Underground historian Antony Badsey-Ellis – Underground Heritage. He tells us that many Metropolitan Railway stations were modernised between 1914 and 1931 and the house style employed at what is now Farringdon Station was by Charles W Clarke …

The only decoration on the friezes was the diamond motif used by the railway …

It’s been reproduced as a heritage sign at Moorgate ..

And here it is again at Aldgate …

In the lobby is a beautifully maintained memorial to the seven people killed at Aldgate in the terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005 …

There is also a plaque commemorating the Queen’s visit in 2010 …

The tiles at Aldgate are very pretty and often include the Metropolitan Railway diamond …

And it’s nice to see some original platform signage from the 1930s (with original roof supports in the background) …

And finally, a ghost station …

You can still see the old entrance to Mark Lane tube station next to the All Bar One, just as Byward Street becomes Tower Hill. It closed on 4 February 1967 and was replaced by the nearby Tower Hill station. The entrance (through the arch on the left of the steps) now leads to a pedestrian subway …

Secrets of Old Street – who remembers the Dansette record player?

Old Street really is old – recorded as Ealdestrate in about 1200, and leOldestrete in 1373. I started my walk heading west from Old Street Roundabout (or Silicon Roundabout as it was nicknamed some years ago, due to the nearby cluster of hi-tech businesses).

The Underground Station is now buried beneath the roundabout but was once much more visible …

Old Street station in 1929 (note the tramlines in the foreground). These buildings were demolished in the 1960s. Picture courtesy of the London Transport Museum.

As you leave the present day station you catch a glimpse of the spectacular Leysian Mission building – something for a future blog …

I crossed the road and started my Old Street journey on the south side of the street.

The first building of interest is on the left, what was previously St Luke’s Parochial School …

The foundation stone is now protected behind a perspex sheet (the school moved to new premises in 1972) …

A generous benefactor paid for this extension in 1887 …

‘Erected for 400 children’

Around the door there is some lovely gothic-style woodwork …

Across the road is this striking piece of street art …

‘Stop knife crime’.

It was commissioned by The Flavasum Trust to commemorate the life of a young man, Tom Easton, who died nearby in 2006 as a result of a knife attack. The painter was Ben Eine.

If you are feeling peckish, grab a tasty Turkish Kebab from my pal at number 94 …

Look up for the old Salvation Army Hostel ghost sign …

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

There is a 19th century pub building on the corner with Whitecross Street. It was once the site of the Jack-a-Newberry Tavern, a notorious brothel …

A plaque on the side commemorates a former resident …

Whitecross Street Market is one of London’s oldest markets, dating back to the 17th century. By the 19th century it was known as the Squalors’ Market, due to associations with poverty and alcohol, but investment in 2008 has made it a thriving daytime street-food market.

I have written about Priss (‘the second best whore in the city’) and Whitecross Street in an earlier blog which you can find here.

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

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

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

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

William Caslon the Elder is buried in the churchyard. …

Caslon’s family grave. He died in 1766.

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

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

There are more 19th century buildings further to the west but I think the property on the right is more recent …

There is what looks like a livery company crest on one of them but I can’t identify which company …

Number 116 used to be the Margolin Gramophone Company factory …

They manufactured the Dansette record player – a name very familiar to us baby-boomers …

You could even buy a portable one!

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

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

The building is for sale at the moment – offers in excess of £6.5 million if you’re interested – EC1V 9BE.

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

Sadly the Hat and Feathers across the road has not reopened after a short time operating as a restaurant …

2 Clerkenwell Road EC1M 5PQ.

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

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

There are some interesting things to see just off Old Street.

There is the seven storey, eleven foot wide, award-winning narrow house at 125 Golden Lane (it does come with a lift) …

The architect was Jo Hagan of USE Architects (2004)

Further down Golden Lane, turn left into Garrett Street and admire the old Whitbread Brewery stables. I have written about them in an earlier blog which you can find here

The Gentle Author has also taken a walk down Old Street and some of the pictures here of St Luke’s church are his. He also covers the east end on the other side of the roundabout which I did not. Here is a link.

Horses and Ale – the end of two eras

Take a stroll down Garrett Street (EC1Y 0TY) and you’ll soon be walking past a building that still survives to remind us of the end of two great eras – the age of horse-drawn transport and the once-thriving brewing industry in London. These were the stables custom-built for the dray horses that pulled the Whitbread Brewery wagons. When the brewery’s stables in Chiswell Street became full, Garrett Street was built to take the overflow – 13 horses on the ground floor, 36 on the first floor and over 50 on the top. The building had to be well constructed – a shire horse can weigh up to a ton.

When the horse numbers diminished, part of the third floor was turned into a firing range for the gun club and the windows bricked up

I think these are the original gates, now painted a rather dramatic yellow …

At the rear you can see the individual stables on the ground floor …

The internal stairs reflect the gentle slope underneath that made it easy for the horses to be led to the upper floors …

The first floor stables in 1991 …

Copyright John Sparks

Some of the original features are still visible today …

In 1897, when the Garrett Street stables were built, there were over 50,000 horses transporting people around the city every day – several thousand horse buses (which needed 12 horses per day) and 11,000 Hansom cabs. In addition there were thousands of horse drawn carts and drays, like Whitbread’s, delivering goods around what was then the largest city in the world.

In this 19th century image you are looking east down Cheapside with the statue of Sir Robert Peel in the foreground (along with one of his uniformed ‘Bobbies’) …

The presence of so many horses in the already congested city had major implications for the health of the population. On average each horse would produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure every day plus several pints of urine and this attracted huge numbers of disease-carrying flies. Also, working horses only had a working life of about three years and many collapsed and died in the street. These carcasses had to be disposed of but often the bodies were left to putrefy so the corpses could be more easily sawn into pieces for removal.

Some working animals led terrible, short, brutal lives, but clearly the Whitbread horses were far better cared for. We should spare a thought, though, for the 118 of their best horses that were commissioned by the Government for service in the battlefields of the First World War – none ever returned.

First World War horses carrying ammunition

In happier times, Whitbread Shires were delivering ale well into the 20th century …

A delivery to the George Inn, Southwark

The brewing business was formed in 1742 when Samuel Whitbread formed a partnership with Godfrey and Thomas Shewell and acquired a small brewery at the junction of Old Street and Upper Whitecross Street and another brewhouse for pale and amber beers in Brick Lane. The entire operation was moved to Chiswell Street in 1750 and was spectacular enough to attract a visit from King George III and Queen Charlotte which this plaque commemorates …

The size of the premises is still impressive today, although the building is now a hotel (EC1A 4SA) …

Viewed from the west
Viewed from the east

As you walk through the arched entrance you see an impressive mahogany door on the right …

Then you enter the main yard itself with its overhanging gantries …

The old clock is still there …

And there is a weathervane incorporating the old Whitbread hind’s head logo over the 1912 extension, now dwarfed by the Barbican’s Cromwell Tower …

The yard is still cobbled …

Just visible across the road is the appropriately named Sundial Court. Also once part of the Brewery site, the sundial itself is now behind locked security gates but is still visible from the road. It is made of wood, with its motto ‘Such is Life’, dating back to 1771. Around the sides it has the interesting inscription Built 1758, burnt 1773, rebuilt 1774. I have written about it and other City sundials in an earlier blog, We are but shadows.

Adjacent to Sundial Court are the houses used by the Brewery partners …

A plaque on the wall also references the fire of 1773 …

Brewing at Chiswell Street stopped in 1976 and Whitbread stopped brewing beer altogether in 2001, selling all its operations to the Belgian group Interbrew.

A mere ten years after the stables were built, horse traffic was rapidly vanishing from the streets of London to be replaced by motorised vehicles such as this …

A preserved London General Omnibus at the London Transport Museum Covent Garden

The last horses left the Garrett Street stables on Monday 16th September 1991, heading for their new home on the Whitbread hop farm in Paddock Wood, Kent.

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of the Whitbread Shire horses and their stables there is no better place to look than the website run by John Sparks : http://whitbreadshires.moonfruit.com/#

By the way, whilst doing my research I came across an interesting example of the danger of forecasting. In 1894 The Times newspaper predicted …

In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.

I now always think of this when reading forecasts in today’s press and there was an interesting article on this very subject in the Financial Times which you can read here.

Down by the River – wharves, beaches and desperate immigrants

Once upon a time, access by foot to the River Thames was absolutely essential since it was London’s main highway. These ‘Watermen’s Stairs’ were also of great benefit if you were unfortunate enough to fall into the river. A Waterman would usually be nearby plying for hire and might be inclined to rescue you (and the stairs were often adjacent to a public house, where such accidents could be more likely to happen!).

Although wharves and later rudimentary docks began to be used to offload goods, most ships simply moored in lines in the middle of the river and their cargo was rowed to shore and carried up shoreline stairs.

John Rocque’s London Map of 1756 showed literally dozens of such access points and last Sunday I decided to go in search of what was left of them, starting at the east side of the Millennium Bridge. These are the steps leading to the foreshore …

This is the exact spot where the ancient Trig Lane access to the River was located and back in the 1970s redevelopment work revealed a 14th century wharf. Here is a picture of some of the site taken in 1974, now totally covered by riverside office development …

Read more on Adrian Procter’s blog

There was some amateur excavation taking place when I visited …

Looking all around you see lots of pieces of pottery, tiles and bricks along with lumps of chalk …

Large chalk beds were once laid down to provide a soft settling place for barges at low tide.

It’s rather a strange feeling standing on the river bed and gazing along the foreshore …

As I walked east I looked back and spotted a sandy beach. You can see the Trig Steps in the distance …

My next stop was the Cousin Lane steps next to Cannon Street railway station …

As is common along the River, you can see the remains of old wharves …

And a barge resting nearby …

I got a distinct feeling that I was trespassing.

These steps at London Bridge are no longer open to the public. Again the remains of old wharves are visible at low tide …

Further along the Thames Walk a capstan reminds us of the days when this part of the river was a major commercial shipping hub …

Looking over the riverside wall, lots more lumps of chalk are clearly visible …

Next on my list was Custom House Stairs – here is how they appear in Roque’s Map of 1746 …

And here they are today …

I encountered lots of oyster shells on my walk, once a very cheap source of food for Londoners …

An old winch still decorates the pedestrian walkway …

As I walked past the Tower I was reminded of pictures I had seen of the beach there that was opened up in July 1934 for the use of people who couldn’t afford to go to the seaside. Apparently 1,500 bargeloads of sand were used to create it …

It was finally closed in 1971 due to river pollution. There is a nice blog about it here.

My final set of stairs were located just past St Katharine Dock along St Katharine’s Way. The entrance is easy to miss since the signage is quite high up …

Here I hesitated …

It’s all a bit slimy and slippery …

When you reach the bottom it’s clear you are definitely below the level of high tide …

The view looking west …

As I looked back up the steps I was reminded of a story in the London Inheritance blog.

On the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman’s Stairs …

IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.

I hope these steps led to a better life for some of those poor souls, many surely victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849.

The scene at Skibbereen during the Great Famine, by Cork artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by The Illustrated London News.

The bridges of London Bridge – Part 1

When I discovered that, at one time, the London Bridge authorities employed a Keeper of the Heads I was inspired to write about the many reincarnations of London Bridge since the Romans built the first crossing about AD 50. The relationship between the bridges and London is fascinating and so I want to do it justice with two blogs.

There is an artist’s impression of Roman London, including the bridge, on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery …

The picture reflects the fact that the river was very much wider then (about five times what we see today) and consequently much shallower. The bridge was probably built of oak and, being the only fixed crossing below Staines, it became a major contributor to the prosperity of London which soon replaced Colchester as the Roman capital.

The earliest written reference to the bridge (Lundene brigce) appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of AD 984 when mention is made of a woman being taken there to be drowned for witchcraft. From 1176 a new stone bridge was constructed under the leadership of a cleric, Peter of Colechurch, and was to last for well over 600 years.

This painting by Samuel Scott (1702-1772) gives some idea of what the bridge looked like around the middle of the 18th century. People in the houses had a magnificent view and could fish from their windows as the buildings overhung the water by several feet. In the mid-1750s, the naturalist Thomas Pennant also observed that …

People living on the Bridge soon grew deaf to the noise of the falling waters, the clamours of the watermen, or the frequent shrieks of drowning wretches.

Copyright Corporation of London – Guildhall Art Gallery

Do pop into St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street (EC3R 6DN) and have a look at this splendid model of the Bridge (a photo really doesn’t do it justice) …

The bridge was supported by 18 boat-shaped ‘starlings’. These effectively blocked half the river and tidal surges and the build up of waste made the current notoriously uneven. The drop in water level could be as much as eight feet and navigating the arches was known as ‘shooting the bridge’. Wary passengers would alight on one side and be picked up by their boat on the other – assuming their waterman had not drowned, which many of them did, hence the 1670 saying …

London Bridge was made for wise men to pass over, and fools to pass under.

Such was the proliferation of buildings, people crossing the bridge for the first time (which could take an hour) often did not realise they were not in a normal street. At some points it was only twelve feet wide.

I have to mention the heads.

Beheading was a common form of execution at the time and reserved for higher-born individuals since it was swifter and less barbaric than hanging or burning at the stake. Heads also became available when individuals suffered the terrible death of being hanged, drawn and quartered (usually for high treason).

From ‘Visscher’s Panorama1616

Between 1305 when the first head was placed atop a pike over the Drawbridge Gate, and 1678 when the practice was stopped, there was a near-permanent display of decapitated heads grinning down from their spikes that pedestrians would have passed beneath. There was a plentiful supply, a visitor in 1592 counted 34 ‘heads of persons of distinction’.

The first head to be displayed in this way was the Scottish patriot and rebel William Wallace in 1305 after he had been hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield. The Bridge authorities employed a Keeper of the Heads who maintained security since relatives of the deceased were often desperate to reclaim the head in order that it could be reunited with the body (thereby restoring the immortal soul). When the flesh had rotted away the Keeper usually tossed the skull into the river.

I am indebted to the historian Heidi Nichols for her research – read her full article here.

The width of the river, its slow current, and the obstruction caused by London Bridge all contributed to the river frequently freezing over for two months at a time. This enabled the famous Thames Frost Fairs whose heyday was during the Little Ice Age between the 17th and early 19th Century (although the river had frozen before – Henry VIII travelled the river from Westminster to Greenwich by sleigh in 1536).

This picture, The Thames During the Great Frost of 1739, shows the Frost Fair in the foreground and figures inspecting the incomplete piers of Westminster Bridge on the right. In the distance is a view of the City of London including St Paul’s Cathedral and spires of the City churches …

Painting by Jan Griffier the Younger (1688-1750) at the Guildhall Art Gallery. It was reported that ‘The Thames floated with rocks and shoals of ice; rising everywhere in hillocks and huge rocks of ice and snow‘.

Between 1607 and 1814 there were a total of seven major fairs. There were football pitches, bowling matches, fruit-sellers, shoemakers, barbers… even a pub or two. To keep the shopkeepers warm, there were even fires within their tents. During the four days of the final 1814 Fair an elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.

A Frost Fair in full swing (from the Londonist blog) …

The fairs ended as the weather became warmer and their possibility finally eliminated when the old London Bridge was demolished in 1831.

Demolition of Old London Bridge as seen from the Southwark side 1832 Guildhall Art Gallery

I will write about the bridges that subsequently replaced it next week.

In the meantime, if you visit St Magnus, pause outside for a few minutes. Firstly, you will be standing on the pedestrian approach to the old bridge …

And under the arch you will see this piece of wood …

Two remnants of the medieval bridge sit within the church gardens; originally part of the bridge’s northern archway, these stones now lie unmarked …

My next blog about the bridges will take us up to the present day.

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.

City Clocks

One day in the 1660s a young apprentice lad was due to meet his Master on London Bridge. Unfortunately, because he had no way of telling the time, he was late and severely castigated for his tardiness. Some fifty years later the young man, Charles Duncombe, had become immensely wealthy and, along with being knighted, had been elected Lord Mayor of London. The story goes that, the day he got into trouble, he promised himself that one day he would erect a public clock, so that all in the vicinity would know the time.

And we can still see today the clock he paid for and donated …

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The clock was made by Langley Bradley of Fenchurch Street who frequently worked for Christopher Wren. Bradley made the first clock that was installed in St Paul’s Cathedral.

It’s at the side of the tower of St Magnus-the-Martyr, which once stood alongside the entrance to London Bridge until 1832, and so was highly visible both to people crossing the bridge and many in the City. Nowadays it is very hemmed in by office development …

But its situation was quite different in the early 19th century …

You can see the clock and its proximity to the bridge in this etching by Edward William Cooke entitled Part of Old London-Bridge, St Magnus and the Monument, taken at Low-water, August 15th, 1831.

Now I have to say that, although Duncombe definitely donated the clock, there are some doubts about whether it was linked to a ‘promise’ he made as an apprentice. Nonetheless, it’s a nice story and so I thought it was appropriate to include it here.

I have always liked this clock at the corner of Fleet Street and Ludgate Circus …

I read somewhere that, during the Blitz, an incendiary device became entangled in the ball at the top and dangled there for hours until it was deactivated. I often have this image in my head of gently swaying ordnance when I walk up Fleet Street.

And Fleet Street has a lot to offer when it comes to clock spotting.

How about this masterpiece …

St Dunstan-in-the-West EC4A 2HR

Installed just after the Great Fire of London in 1671, it was the first clock in London to have a minute hand, with two figures (perhaps representing Gog and Magog) striking the hours and quarters with clubs, turning their heads whilst doing so.

The present version of the clock was installed in 1738 before, in 1828, being moved to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford’s house in Regent’s Park. The Great War saw the Regent’s Park residence housing soldiers blinded from combat. The charity which undertook this went on to name itself after where the clock in the house came from: St Dunstan’s. It was returned to the Church in 1935 by Lord Rothermere to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

If you like the occasional burst of colour, look up at this Art Deco beauty outside the old Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph (EC4A 2BB) …

Do any of you remember the original Number 1 Poultry, the 1870 Mappin & Webb building which, despite being listed, was demolished in 1994? Here is a picture taken a few years before demolition …

I was very familiar with the clock that faced the junction since, when I started work nearby and got off the Tube, it would indicate whether I was going to be late or not.

This is the new building that replaced it. I don’t dislike it, I’m just sad they felt they had to destroy the old one …

The building (by James Stirling and Michael Wilford & Partners) is now Grade II* listed. Photo copyright Adrian Welch

A small plus, I suppose, is that the old Mappin & Webb clock has been preserved in the public atrium …

And a wonderful frieze from the old building illustrating royal processions has also been preserved and relocated facing Poultry. Here is a small section …

King Charles II rides past accompanied by his pet spaniels

I am really pleased to report that the refurbishment of Bracken House is now complete and we can see again the extraordinary Zodiacal clock on the side of the building that faces Cannon Street (EC3M 9JA).

Here it is in all its glory …

If you look more closely at the centre this is what you will see …

On the gilt bronze sunburst at the centre you can clearly see the features of Winston Churchill. The building used to be the headquarters of the Financial Times and is named after Brendan Bracken, its chief editor after the war.

During the War Bracken served in Churchill’s wartime cabinet as Minister of Information. George Orwell worked under Bracken on the BBC’s Indian Service and deeply resented wartime censorship and the need to manipulate information. If you like slightly wacky theories, there is one that the sinister ‘Leader’ in Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, was inspired by Bracken, who was customarily referred to as ‘BB’ by his Ministry employees.

The oddly-shaped Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street sports a pretty clock just above the jolly friar’s head …

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked for long time.

The Royal Courts of Justice have a magnificent clock (WC2A 2LL). It was ‘set in motion’ when ‘the surveyor severed the cord holding the pendulum’. Here’s the event as recorded in the Illustrated London News of December 1883 …

Designed by George Edmund Street, it has been described as ‘exuberant’ …

When doing research for this blog I discovered a tragic event relating to the clock. On 5th November 1954 a clock mechanic, Thomas Manners, was killed when his clothes were caught up in the machinery as he wound up the mechanism. He had been carrying out this task every week since 1937, as well as looking after the 800 or so other clocks in the law court buildings. You can read the press cutting I came across here.

The Royal Exchange has two ‘twin’ clocks, both exactly the same, one facing Threadneedle Street and one facing Cornhill …

Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that contains an image of Gresham’s original Royal Exchange whilst above Atlas lifts a globe. I have seen it described as a Valentine’s Day clock because of the two red hearts. Ahhhh, sweet!

Clocks have featured regularly in my blogs and you can read more about some of them here and here.

Underground history at Moorgate station

I love old photographs, and there is a selection of them on display alongside the platforms at Mooorgate Station. For those of you who don’t board or alight there I have reproduced them here. For those of you that do, I have added a little more history.

First up is this distinguished looking gentleman …

Lord Ashfield posed with his daughter at Moorgate Station in 1924

Ashfield was then Chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. He had joined the organisation as General Manager in 1907 when it was in such poor financial shape that he reserved the right to leave after a year and return to America where he was running the New Jersey transport system. A charming but tough character, on arrival he demanded and got resignation letters from all the UERL senior management, post-dated by six months.

An extraordinarily competent businessman, he turned the operation into a success and went on to hold numerous senior positions with the Underground railway as well as becoming President of the Board of Trade in 1916.

Here is a copy of the first Underground Map of 1908 showing the UERL’s lines and those of the other Tube lines including the Metropolitan Railway …

I still find it quite amazing that the Metropolitan opened for business over 150 years ago in 1863 as a possible solution to London’s desperately overcrowded streets. It was a great success, carrying over 30,000 passengers on its first day, despite the foul and disgusting atmosphere created by the steam trains that pulled the carriages. The Metropolitan’s owners claimed the ‘invigorating’ atmosphere ‘provided a sort of health resort for people who suffered from asthma’, but they also allowed drivers to grow beards in a futile bid to filter out the worst of the fumes. An attempt to ban smoking was thwarted by Parliament and a total ban didn’t take place until 1987 as a result of the King’s Cross fire.

This drawing of circa 1865 shows early morning commuters arriving having taken advantage of cheap fares on ‘workmen’s trains’ …

Available if you travelled before 6:00 am, the cheap workmen’s tickets were incredibly popular. Interviewed by the journalist Henry Mayhew, the labourers he spoke to all voiced their enthusiasm for a service that allowed poorer Londoners to live further out, sparing them a six-mile walk to work and allowing their families to live in two rooms rather than one.

Commuting from the suburbs was portrayed in this poster as a very civilised experience …

Stamp issued in 2013 the celebrate 150 years of the Underground

Isn’t this poster from 1911 by Alfred France splendid, look at the silhouettes …

The Underground really was for everyone

There was also a horse-drawn omnibus available at Moorgate for onward journeys. In fact, the very last journey of this nature in London was between Moorgate and London Bridge on October 25th 1911 …

The last journey

The station was busy enough to require a signal box …

1933 – Signallers operated their levers in a cabin by the Station

By 1955 a signaller controlled Moorgate’s section of track from a new push-button signalling cabin …

I think this is a great picture from 1965 of Underground workers stopping for a tea break during a shift realigning the Metropolitan line tracks …

‘I’ll be mother’. That’s a proper workers’ teapot!

An entrance to the station survived the Second World War bombing that destroyed other parts of the building …

Picture taken in 1955

I found these pictures during my research and hope you find them interesting …

A heritage Metropolitan steam train at Moorgate in 2014 – Picture by Christian NX

There is a Greathead tunneling shield which was left in place below the station in 1904 when the Lothbury extension to the Great Northern & City Line was abandoned …

You can find this picture and read more fascinating facts on the Subterranea Britannica website. I have also written about Greathead and where you can actually walk through one of his shields in an earlier blog. You can find a link here.

More City courtyards and alleys


I have been back prowling around the alleys and courtyards just off Cornhill and again experiencing the atmosphere and surprises to be found here. Take, for example, Corbet Court (EC4V 0AT). The entrance doesn’t look very promising …

But once you have entered look around and you will come face to face with this lovely serene lady who has gazed out at London and Londoners since 1669 …

Regular readers will recognise her as a Mercer Maiden, the symbol and coat of arms of the Mercer Company. She first appeared on a seal in 1425 but her precise origins are unknown, and there is no written evidence as to why she was chosen as the Company’s emblem. She can be found all over London marking Mercer property and I have written about her in an earlier blog which can be found here.

Nearby is St Peter’s Alley (EC3V 3PD) with its atmospheric entrance on Cornhill …

Here stands the church of St Peter’s, Cornhill which is now used as a Christian Aid study centre and is currently not open to the public. The Saint stands atop the entrance gate holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven …

The church tower with some of its more recent neighbours such as the Cheesegrater …

A few memorial stones are beginning to wear away …

Thomas Atkinson was a resident of Corbet Court

The churchyard was in use as the main place of burial for the parish until 1850 and following closure it was laid out as a garden for public use that you see now.

If you retrace your footsteps to Corbet Court, you can then walk down St Michael’s Alley (EC4V 9DS) which winds its way to back to Cornhill …

Your eye is immediately drawn to the gigantic lamp advertising the Jamaica Wine House, a Victorian stone fronted building which now stands on the site of the City’s first coffee house …

A plaque commemorates the coffee house and I wrote about this last week

Pasqua Rosée (Easter Rose) the proprietor was the servant of a Levant merchant named Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment.

Look out for the entrance to Castle Court …

You’ll see the back of the George & Vulture … …

… and this splendid narrow alleyway.

Squeeze through and enjoy the feeling that you are back in the 17th century …

It was common at the turn of the 20th century for offices to have mirrors installed and hung outside to reflect light. I have come across this picture which is captioned Bengal Court 1910

Copyright Collage – The London Picture Library Record 36020

Make your way back to the front entrance of the George & Vulture …

You will find a fascinating history of this great pub here.

Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of these old tiles …

Simpson’s Tavern in Ball Court retains its character …

As does the Ball court entrance …

And finally, as I walked back down this alley towards Cheapside, I came across this old bank entrance …

… and, around the corner, these extra large iron-framed windows designed to catch the maximum amount of light for the benefit of the clerks beavering away inside …

I am taking a break from alleys and courtyards now!

But I know I will be tempted back.

More City courtyards and alleys – Change Alley

By the end of June 1720, one share in the South Sea Company (a monopolistic trading entity) would have cost you £1,050. As confidence began to ebb away, however, the price began to drop. By the end of August, the stock was less than £800 and by December £175, meaning financial ruin for many institutions and penury for hundreds of individuals. A subsequent enquiry revealed a web of corruption, deceit and bribery and resulted in disgrace and prosecution for numerous company and government officials. The so-called South Sea Bubble passed into legend.

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Change Alley (EC3V 9AZ – then called Exchange Alley) is where the dealing in the South Sea shares took place and gets a mention in a poem to peoples’ folly …

Why did ‘Change Alley waste thy precious hours
Among the fools who gaped for golden show’rs?
No wonder if we found some poets there,
Who live on fancy, and can feed on air;
No wonder they were caught by South Sea schemes,
Who ne’er enjoyed a guinea but in dreams.

Some speculators, however, got out in time and with great profit. One of them was Thomas Guy, who owned a bookshop at the end of Lombard Street. We benefit to this day from his successful investment and philanthropy as he used some of the cash to found Guy’s Hospital.

Thomas Guy in 1706

Any history of the City and its development always makes reference to the extraordinary growth and influence of the coffee house, the first being opened by a Greek named Pasqua Roseé in 1652. Its location is commemorated by this plaque in St Michael’s Alley …

Incidentally, there is something suspicious about this plaque – it probably isn’t a bona fide City one. Though blue and oblong, the proportions are wrong, the style is different and it’s anonymous.

‘In many ways the coffee houses formed the central hub of daily life; they were where the news was gathered and distributed; they were the main places for the exchange of gossip. Here a business man could meet his client and discuss a deal in relative comfort and warmth over a dish of coffee (as they called it) and perhaps a hearty meal. As popular as the coffee houses became, they were not without their enemies and slanderers. In 1674 a congregation of ladies formed the ‘Women’s Petition against Coffee’, circulating notices about London in which they complained that by indulging in the beverage men were made as ‘unfruitful as the dessert where that unhappy berry is said to be bought’. Despite their efforts, by the 18th century it was estimated that there were over 3000 coffee houses in London.’ (Extract from the Underground Map blog).

Change Alley was the site of another famous coffee house …

The grasshopper references the emblem of Sir Thomas Gresham who built the Royal Exchange

Following the Fire of 1666, Garraway’s was reconstructed on a grand scale. Situated on a corner with various entrances into the building, it had smaller rooms and a kitchen downstairs and a large coffee room upstairs.

Here it is in a contemporary illustration from the 19th century – the alley looks very different from today where it is hemmed in by white tiled office blocks …

Garraway’s from W. Thornbury, Old and New London, vol 2, p. 174

A panel on the fascinating doors at 32 Cornhill depicts its interior. You can read more about the doors and their stories here

A place where ‘People of Quality who have Business in the City, and the most considerable and wealthy Citizens frequent’.

The Scottish Widows insurance company arrived in 1935 …

They made sure that the splendid company logo was prominently displayed even though it faces the narrow alley and blank walls. I have written about it in more detail in an earlier blog entitled Insurance Company Ghosts

It is extraordinary that the warren of courtyards and alleys off Cornhill survives to this day given not only wartime bombing but, long before then, a ferocious fire.

‘This dredful fire which has laid Waste so useful & opulent Part of the City began in the Powdering Room at Mr Eldridge’s peruke maker near the midle of Exchange Alley on Friday March 25 1748 at One o’Clock in the Morning, and continued burning till Twelve the same day.’

A peruke was another name for the fashionable wigs, or periwigs, worn at the time.

After the stock market crash that followed the South Sea Bubble scandal, the fire insurance market had consolidated into the hands of three major companies : The Sun, Royal Exchange and the Phoenix. Each had their own small fire fighting force that independently dealt with fires, including the Exchange Alley one. This map of the 1748 fire damage was drawn up to ensure a satisfactory allocation and settlement of any claims …

The three separate fire fighting forces were merged in 1832, along with those of six other companies, to form the London Fire Engine Establishment. You can see a late 17th century/early 18th century fire engine at the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street EC3R 6DN …

By the way, one striking feature of Change Alley has remained the same over the centuries – as you wander around the bordering streets, you keep seeing it. There are five access points. Two off Cornhill, two off Lombard Street and one leading out of Birchin Lane.

I shall be visiting more alleys in future blogs. As you will see from these pictures, they have managed to keep much of their charm and air of mystery …

Thank you for reading this week’s edition.

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.


Post War plans for the City

My subjects are often inspired by what other bloggers have published and one of my blogging heroes is the author of the blog A London Inheritance. The author inherited a photographic archive from his father showing London scenes before, during and after the war. In the blog he follows up what those locations look like now along with beautifully illustrated stories of London’s history.

Recently he wrote about this Report published on behalf of the Corporation of London in 1951. It deals in detail with plans conceived by consultants in 1947 for the reconstruction of the City …

Published by the Architecture Press

I have taken some extracts from it that I found particularly fascinating but if you want to read the entire blog (and I recommend it highly) here is a link.

The first illustration that interested me was this Inventory of Accommodation within the City. The present day Barbican Estate falls firmly into section 9 …

The report then goes on to illustrate in this table the total floor space in 1939 along with the percentage destroyed during the War …

As you can see, the map highlights the considerable amount of damage caused by the early raids of 1940 / 41 when incendiaries caused significant fire damage in the areas around and to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral as shown by the high percentage figures for blocks 2,7 and 9.

New roads and high and low level separation of pedestrians and vehicles was seen as the way forward for the City. The Barbican Highwalk is a present day example of what the new ‘pedways’ above the traffic might have looked like and there is an interesting article on the subject here.

The following drawing shows the proposed high level road in Lower Thames Street with the ground level occupied by a service road and a pedestrian area …

Lower Thames Street is not very nice to walk along nowadays, but the proposed high level road would probably not have had enough capacity

This drawing is of the proposed low level concourse at London Bridgehead, just to the west of the Monument …

I like the man getting a shoeshine and the Monument Tea Rooms

This is a clever piece of anticipation if you just swop the Sherry, Port and Madeira bar for a Wine bar and the Tea Rooms for a Cafe Nero. And nowadays men seem to be wearing hats again.

The following impression, also of the proposed London Bridgehead, is again (apart from the clothes) rather modern …

The report notes that the City is ‘chronically short of places to eat’ so no doubt the authors would be pleased to see how that situation has drastically improved.

The high level separation of traffic can be seen here as part of the large circulatory road system on the northern end of London Bridge …

Interesting that a pavement artist has been included

To the right is a glass sided entrance to the Monument Underground Station with the London Transport roundel on the side. This would have replaced the entrance on Fish Street Hill which today is an entrance directly on the ground floor of an office building rather than this rather nice, glass sided descent by escalator. I have to keep reminding myself that these ideas were being put forward over 70 years ago.

I really had to do a double-take when I saw this drawing entitled ‘An impression of a possible treatment of the proposed new approach to St. Paul’s from the river.’

What a great vision

And now we have a similar view after we cross the Millennium Bridge (however we are unlikely to spot a man in a top hat).

Just to show that not all the recommendations were attractive, a picture entitled ‘An impression of the suggested Cheapside Underpass, a proposal which has been postponed on grounds of cost.’

That’s the church of St Mary-le-Bow on the right

I think we had a lucky escape there.

And finally, a reminder of the utter destruction the War brought to some parts of the City. A photograph taken by the blogger’s father showing a very large pile of rubble following the demolition of bombed buildings in Aldersgate …

I hope you enjoyed today’s blog – apologies to those of you who already subscribe to the London Inheritance blog and have therefore seen these images before. If you don’t subscribe and are interested in London’s history I can’t recommend it more highly.

On the Tiles again


A few days ago I visited the Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market (EC4V 1LR) and came across these splendid tiles depicting Sir Christopher Wren. He is standing in front of The Monument (which still has scaffolding around it) holding up a drawing of how it will look when finished …

Just look at the characters gathered around him …

A lady holding a fan leans out of her carriage window to chat to the architect. A child (possibly her servant) stands nearby holding what looks like a pet King Charles spaniel. Some nearby gentlemen are also intrigued, but the chap with the red hat who looks like Errol Flynn might be more interested in the lady. Observe the elegant shoes of the man holding an eyeglass. Not really appropriate for the City’s muddy streets, so maybe he is her carriage companion. The carriage driver looks over his shoulder at the scene. The panel is by W.B. Simpson & Sons and is faintly dated 12th March 1882.

And now another wonderful new discovery for me, the exterior of the former Nordheim Model Bakery at 12-13 Widegate Street (E1 7HP), just off Middlesex Street near Liverpool Street Station. Here are the glazed faience reliefs as a group – they are a joy – showing the bread-making process in beautiful detail …

Hauling in the flour
Kneading the dough
Into the oven for baking
Triumphantly carrying the finished product

They date from 1926 and their creator was the sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1889-1977). Having joined up with the Artists’ Rifles in 1914, he had distinguished himself in the First World War having been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for ‘ … conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of the left flank of the Company of the Battalion’. Despite being severely wounded, he had fought on until relieved two days later. His work became more and more religious and he eventually entered a Carmelite order, retired to the West Country, and died there at the age of 88. The panels reminded the Gentle Author of the Stations of the Cross and you can read his posting about these works here.

I love this bright red high-relief terracotta frieze on the exterior of Cutlers’ Hall (1886-7) in Warwick Lane (EC3M 7BR). The ancient Cutlers’ Company’s origins go back to 1416, their business originally produced and traded in knives and swords but eventually expanding into household cutlery and domestic wares such as razors and scissors.

The work realistically depicts late Victorian cutlery production. This is not surprising since the sculptor, Benjamin Creswick (1853-1946) of Sheffield, was once a cutler himself. The frieze (containing 33 figures) was made by E. Goodall & Co of Manchester …

The detail is extraordinary

I had to smile when I noticed this plastic owl just above the terracotta on the right. He’s obviously intended to deter pigeons …

‘To-whit to-whoo!’

The Bishopsgate Institute (230 Bishopsgate EC2M 4QH) is a fascinating cultural centre in the City of London.

The website tells us that the architect for the building was decided by a design competition and Charles Harrison Townsend (1851-1928) was chosen as the winner. Townsend was an inspiring and original architect whose work was individual rather than adhering to any particular style or movement. The Grade II* listed building combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but the influences of Townsend’s interest in Romanesque and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the broad semi-circular arched entrance, twin roof turrets and mosaic interior floors. Do go inside and visit the beautifully restored library.


The Tree of Life

And finally (for now) the flamboyant Bolton House at 14-16 Cullum Street EC3M 7JJ. Built in 1907, it has a white faience facade with green and turquoise decoration including the heraldic device of Prior Bolton, after whom the building was named. It’s another lovely example of Art Nouveau completed just before that style went out of fashion.

Incidentally, I have already written about the Prior in an earlier blog because of his connection with St Bartholomew the Great. Under the oriel window in the church 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

I am indebted to the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society for the source of much of today’s blog. They published a special Gazetteer on the City of London and I have used it for reference. The photographs are my own. My thanks also to Richard Jones of London Walking Tours.


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Thomas Gresham and The Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange will forever be associated with Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579). Here he is, portrayed as a confident young man in his mid-twenties:

Portrait – Gresham College.

Apprenticed for seven years in the Mercer trade, he spent much of his time on the continent, learning French and Flemish in the process. His astuteness with finance came to the attention of Thomas Cromwell who started putting royal work his way, and Gresham’s connection with royalty continued under Elizabeth I. As well as managing his family’s trading interests (primarily clothing, guns and ammunition) as a royal agent he was charged with reducing the royal debt held by Antwerp merchants. When he took over this task the debt stood at £250,000 but by 1565, applying a combination of shrewd trading and interest rate speculation, he had reduced it to only £20,000 (earning himself a knighthood). These skills increased his own wealth considerably as well, and this was further enhanced on the death of his father.

By the late 1560s he was reputed to be the richest commoner in the country. Having no heir (his only son died in 1564), in his later years he used some of his vast wealth to produce two lasting legacies – Gresham College and the first Royal Exchange. The College was established at his house in Bishopsgate where lectures were given on a wide range of subjects including astronomy, geography, medicine and music. The College still offers lectures today at its Holborn premises. The Royal Exchange, based on the Antwerp model, was his gift to the City’s merchant negotiators who up to that time ‘had done their business in the wind and weather of the public street’.

Queen Elizabeth formally opened the Exchange on 23 January 1571, giving the building its Royal title along with a licence to sell alcohol. The building was lost in the Great Fire of 1666 and its successor also burned down in 1838. The third building which stands today was opened in 1844 with much ceremony by Queen Victoria herself, Prince Albert having laid the foundation stone two years earlier.

In this blog I will be looking at some of the features of the present building that perpetuate Gresham’s memory and I will deal with other aspects in a later blog.

Let’s start with the main gates that face Bank junction …

Best observed when closed, they incorporate an image of the great man himself. Above his head are the arms of Gresham College with the sword and mace representing the City …

The gates were supplied by the firm of H. and M.D. Grissell whose foundry also produced the railings for Buckingham Palace and the British Museum. Henry Grissell (nicknamed ‘Iron Henry’) was famous not only for the quality of his work but also his attention to detail, evident here in the entrance to the Exchange in Threadneedle Street …

If you look closely you will see that the ironwork incorporates Gresham’s initials:

Along with a Mercer Maiden …

I have written about the Maidens in more detail in an earlier blog and their use as a symbol denoting property owned by the Worshipful Company of Mercers of which Gresham was a member. They still own the land on which the Exchange stands.

Look up at the Exchange and you will see several grasshoppers, the symbol of the Gresham family …

Facing Threadneedle Street.

And the weathervane on the roof, which was saved from the fire that destroyed the second Exchange in 1838 …

The story goes that one of Thomas’s ancestors, Roger de Gresham, was abandoned as an infant in the marshlands of Norfolk and would have perished had not a passing woman been attracted to the child by a chirruping grasshopper. Heraldic spoilsports assert that it is more likely a ‘canting heraldic crest’ playing on the sound ‘grassh’ and ‘gresh’.

There is, course, also a statue of Gresham himself on the building but it is so high up you can only view it from practically underneath …

The Ornamental Passions’ website tells us the following about the sculptor William Behnes. He was, apparently …

… a half-English Irish-educated artist whose financial profligacy had reduced him to penury. He was declared bankrupt half way through the commission but he successfully completed it and was paid £550 (roughly £50,000 today).

Incidentally, the Exchange was lucky to survive the wartime bombing especially when, on 11 January 1941, a direct hit on Bank Station killed 111 people. These pictures show the aftermath then and the view today …

 

The view at Bank on a quiet Sunday.

 

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