Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Commerce Page 1 of 3

Holborn Viaduct – ladies, lions and ‘maximum bling’

Last week I promised you a bit more about this brilliant Victorian masterpiece of engineering and sculpture.

There are four ladies on the Viaduct representing Fine Art, Science, Agriculture and Commerce.

Fine Art was sculpted by Farmer & Brindley

In her right hand she holds a crayon ‘as drawing is the most essential principal in Design’. Her left hand holds a drawing board with paper pinned to it, which rests on her left thigh. Her left foot rests on an Ionic capital denoting architecture. Behind her to her left is part of a Corinthian column, on the top of which stands a bust of Pallas Athena, ‘as she was the patroness of both the useful and elegant arts’.

Behind the figure’s right foot, a small palette and brushes rest on the base …

Science is also by Farmer & Brindley. She is ‘of more masculine proportions than Fine Art, with a fine penetrating countenance’ …

Her tiara has a star at its centre and stars form the fringe of her robe. She holds in her hand the ‘Governors’ that were used to control steam engines. At her left side stands a tripod on which is placed a terrestrial globe encircled with the Electric Telegraph wire which is connected with a battery.

Around the top of the tripod are the signs of the zodiac ‘indicating Astronomy’ …

Beneath it lie compasses and a crumpled sheet of paper with geometrical drawings, one of them a demonstration of Pythagoras’s theorem (you also get a better view of the battery in this picture) …

Agriculture was sculpted by Henry Bursill

She wears a crown of olives, ‘the emblem of peace’, and there is a decorative band of oak leaves on the fringe of her robe. ‘She turns to Providence with a thankful expression for a beautiful harvest’ and in her right hand she holds a sickle. Beside her left foot is a belt with a sheath, containing a whetstone.

Bursill also sculpted Commerce …

She is shown ‘advancing with right hand outstretched towards mankind in a sign of welcome, whilst in her left she proudly holds gold ingots and coin, the foundation of enterprise and Commerce in the civilized world’. At her feet to her right are two keys along with a parchment showing the City Arms representing ‘the Freedom of the City’ …

Farmer and Brindley are also responsible for the four winged lions …

I love these Atlantes holding up a balcony. They date from 2014 when the north east pavilion was rebuilt …

Here’s one in close up …

In 2013 the Viaduct was repainted and re-gilded with, at the request of the City Conservation Officer, ‘maximum bling’.

You get an idea of how well this was accomplished in this picture. It shows the re-gilded base of one of the lamps, a knight’s helmet and a City dragon …

There is a fascinating article about the work, particularly the gilding, here.

I hope you have enjoyed these two visits to the Viaduct. Again I have been plundering Dr Philip Ward-Jackson’s wonderful book Public Sculpture of the City of London for much of this blog’s detail.

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Holborn Viaduct – not all it seems

I have been out and about again, taking new pictures as I exercise.

Every now and then when researching I find out something I didn’t know that I really should have – more of this later.

Before the Viaduct was built it had become obvious that a flat route between Bank and Holborn had become desperately needed. The hills leading down into the valley were as steep as 1:15 in places and the following passage from the Observer for the 20th November 1864 tells us something of the horrors of horse drawn traffic using this route:

The great traffic of the city of London is from east to west, and to accommodate this there are at present but two leading lines – those by way of Holborn Hill and Fleet Street. The steep ascents of Holborn Hill and Skinner Street are wholly unsuited for the vehicular traffic which passes over them, and no person can pass along these streets without witnessing the delays which are caused, and the wasteful expenditure of horse flesh and the cruelty to animals which the ascent of these streets involve.

Work was started in 1863 and I really like this splendid photograph of the work in progress looking west …

Note the advertisement for the ‘New’ St Pancras Station.

And another view looking south …

The Holborn Viaduct Improvements Committee turned up for a photo shoot …

True top-hatted Victorian Gentlemen. It’s a good composition, isn’t it, with two of them getting their clothes grubby sitting on bricks. An anonymous artisan looks to be doing a bit of work on the balustrade and lamp post to the right.

Queen Victoria arrives at the formal opening on 6 November 1869 …

It has been called ‘The world’s first flyover’.

She killed two birds with one stone by opening Blackfriars Bridge on the same day.

Up until the turn of this century, the north eastern corner of the viaduct was dominated by an early 1950s building called Bath House. You can see its massive scale in this picture …

When it was demolished it was decided that a new staircase building should be constructed in the same style as the old Victorian one that had been lost in wartime bombing (and that it should include a lift).

It was completed in 2014 and here it is, looking white and pristine in my picture …

Not only that, the north west step building (also on the left) is itself relatively new, being completed in 2001. All this was, I am embarrassed to say, news to me, although the buildings’ colour and cleanliness should have been a clue.

All four pavilions around the viaduct are named after important Londoners from the past.

Sir William Walworth was a 14th century Lord Mayor. He now poses authoritatively, sword in scabbard, on the north west corner …

On June 15th 1381 he was accompanying King Richard II when they debated in Spitalfields with the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, Wat Tyler. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Walworth ran Tyler through with his sword. Badly wounded, Tyler was carried into nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital but, rather unsportingly, Walworth had him dragged out and decapitated. Poll Tax protesters were dealt with very ruthlessly in those days!

On the south west corner …

FitzEylwin was the first Mayor of London and probably held office until his death. His hands rest on a battleaxe and he is wearing a surcoat over his chain mail.

There is a City legend portrayed on the south east corner…

Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, is dressed in 16th century costume and holds a parchment.

Finally, on the fourth corner, is this gentleman …

Sir Hugh Myddleton, a goldsmith and entrepreneur, established the New River Company which constructed the New River bringing much needed fresh water from Hertfordshire to London. This remained the most important source of piped water in London for 300 years and Robert Stephenson considered him ‘the first English Engineer’. He is holding the River plans in his hand and I think his right foot is resting on a water conduit pipe.

This is the view of the Viaduct today, giving some idea as to how deep the valley was …

Paint analysts reckon it has been repainted at least fourteen times. Look at this fascinating cross section of old paint layers …

Cross section of paint from one of the lamp standards.

The Viaduct proved much more interesting than I expected, so I shall be continuing its story next week.

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More City doors and doorways

Created between the 15th century and the more recent past, I have found a selection for us to admire and, in many cases, still walk through like thousands before us.

The oldest door I have discovered is the medieval chapel door in The Charterhouse. It was damaged by fire when the building was bombed during the Blitz (EC1M 6AN) …

When you visit St Vedast-alias-Foster in Foster Lane you enter through early 17th century oak doors that have remarkably survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz (EC2V 6HH) …

The cherubim carved on the keystone above the door are by one of Sir Christopher Wren’s favourite stonemasons, Edward Strong, and date from the 1690s. In total Strong was paid £3106:14:7 for his work on the church – he charged £5 for the cherubs.

On the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral is the Dean’s Door …

The carver was stonemason and architect Christopher Kempster (1627-1715), another of Wren’s favourite craftsmen. His work on the cherub’s heads and foliage was considered so good Wren awarded him an extra £20 for ‘the extraordinary diligence and care used in the said carving and his good performance of the same’. When Kempster died at the age of 88 his son carved a cherub’s head for his memorial.

Incidentally, £1 then was worth about £120 now.

The Cathedral’s main entrance, the 30 foot high Great West Door, is only opened on special occasions …

Look closely and you will see it is surrounded by 18th century graffiti, some in elegant cursive script …

The facade St Martin’s House at 1 Gresham Street is a delight (EC4V 7BX) …

Dating from 1891 it incorporates a wonderfully happy, smiling Mr Sun …

What also makes it charming is the rogue apostrophe ….

Surely it should read St Martin’s House?

What about this trio above what was once the entrance to the City Headquarters of the Royal Insurance Company at 24-28 Lombard Street (EC3V 9AJ) …

The historian Philip Ward-Jackson writes as follows:

‘The winged chimera at the centre of the group has the head of a woman and the legs of a lion. The two personifications are fine looking women, naked to the waist. The Sea holds a caduceus, and therefore also symbolises marine commerce … The attributes of Fire are a torch and bunches of faggots.

This quite sinister allegorical group must have been intended to intensify the fears of potential customers.’

The church of St Stephen Walbrook was constructed between 1672 and 1679 and is another Wren building (EC4N 8BN). The doors look original to me but I haven’t yet found out for sure …

The building is where Dr Chad Varah founded the Samaritans and you can read more about that and the church itself here.

This impressive entrance is just around the corner from St Stephens. Push the doorbell and you never know, the Lord Mayor might answer the door …

The virus shut down has meant that these magnificent doors at 2 Moorgate can now be seen easily during the week rather than just at the weekend (EC2R 6AG). Each door weighs a ton …

Suitably opulent for a private bank, they were designed by John Poole and date from 1975 when the building was opened by Edward Heath (who used to work for the company). Poole had a free hand with the design and said he intended to represent, in the circular forms, the firm’s centres of business. The linear patterns suggest communications between these centres along with ‘the interaction of spheres of influence’.

In 1888 the Institute of Chartered Accountants decided to treat themselves to a permanent headquarters and work was completed in 1893. Described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ’eminently original and delightfully picturesque’, it is ‘a fine example of Victorian neo-Baroque which draws its inspiration from the work of the Italian Renaissance’. This is the formidable and imposing entrance at One Moorgate Place (EC2R 6EA) …

The architect was John Belcher RA.

The large cartouche above the massive bronze doors depicts the Institute’s coat of arms and is held up by two classical male figures.

In the Museum of London you will find a door that must have struck terror into the hearts of the poor souls who were led through it …

Photograph : Museum of London.

It comes from the now demolished Newgate Prison, dates from 1783, and was the one through which criminals were taken to their place of execution. In fact they walked through three doors of which this was the inner one – there was also an iron-cased half door and an outer one of solid iron. The final person to pass through it to his execution by hanging was the Fenian Michael Barrett on 27 May 1868 – the last public execution to take place in England.

Two doors that are a bit tucked away when open are here at 6 Holborn Viaduct (EC1A 2AE) …

They have certainly suffered some brutal treatment over the years and look very unloved, but the lions heads have survived …

And finally, to finish on a more lighthearted note, just off Whitecross Street is this doorway which makes me smile every time I see it. The story I have conjured up in my mind is that, some time in the early 1970s, the people living there found that visitors knocked on the door rather than ringing the bell. When asked why, callers usually said that they didn’t know there was a bell. As a consequence, the residents (who obviously had artistic talents) got out their paint brushes and added this helpful sign to indicate where the push button bell was. Brilliant!

If, by any remote chance, doors, doorways and bells are your thing, do have a browse of the blogs I have written on these subjects : That Rings a Bell and City of London Doors and Doorways.

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Moorgate and the Goddess of Electricity

Firstly, I hope you are all keeping well and safe in these troubled times, and that maybe my little blog occasionally offers a welcome distraction.

The diminished traffic flow in the City, combined with the recent really sunny days, meant that I could more easily incorporate some photography with the walks I take for exercise. I was able to pause for some time to take detailed images of this spectacular building on Moorgate …

I think it’s crowning glory is its stained glass window, back-lit from within so its detail can be seen clearly from outside the building. Unfortunately the building was closed and in darkness when I visited so I have copied an image from the splendid London Inheritance website and blog.

Originally the London headquarters of the Eastern Telegraph Company, the current neo-classical building was built by Belcher & Joass between 1900 and 1903. At first it was called Electra House (named after the goddess of electricity) and the centre section shows her perched on top of the world. A glowing orb behind her head sends out rays across the seas, presumably representing the information the company’s cables help spread around the world. To the bottom left of the centre section is a sailing ship under full sail and bottom right is a lighthouse. Between the ship and lighthouse is a rough looking sea. The side panels show clouds and more rough sea and stars are scattered over the three parts …

The architect John Belcher was a prominent member the Catholic Apostolic Church and it is thought that this influenced the ornamentation of buildings he designed. The Moorgate stained glass window embodies the theme of communications but also symbolism from the Book of Revelations. You can read more about Belcher here.

To the left of the arch is a seated girl accompanied by a young winged genius …

Sculptor: George Frampton

She is transmitting a message.

The figure on the right is receiving a message (could be an iPad!) …

And above the arch …

… a winged Mercury, the god of Commerce, carries a caduceus.

Higher up is a beautiful frieze of four female figures …

Sculptor: William Goscombe John

They represent from left to right Egypt, Japan, India and China. Egypt carries a water jar on her shoulder, Japan is in a kimono and carries a fan, India lifts the veil from her face, and China carries a samisen (a three stringed lute).

At the very top of the building four naked boys support an armillary sphere which is itself encircled by a broad band displaying zodiacal signs …

Here it is in close up …

Some small figures decorate the tops of the pillars. Here are a few of them.

The horned god Pan playing his flute …

A blindfolded Lady Justice holding scales and sword …

I have no idea as to what this one represents …

I hope you found this interesting. I have not covered all the building’s decorations in this blog and there are more inside which maybe I will get access to at some future date.

To end on a more lighthearted note, have you noticed that the pigeons seem to have deserted the City? No humans, no food, I suppose. However, I did spot this lonely chap self-isolating on the old Roman/Medieval City wall …

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The City before the War

I have been loaned a lovely book called Streets of the City by Judy Pulley and have included some of the photographs from it for those of you who like looking at wonderfully atmospheric pictures from the past. You can buy your copy of the book here.

A photographer recorded the vast scale of the construction site for the Holborn Viaduct looking west towards Holborn in 1869. A hoarding advertises the ‘New’ St Pancras Station which opened the previous year …

The finished product …

A congested Fleet Street in 1905 …

The view today …

Shops alongside the entrance to Cannon Street station in March 1939. Three years later most had been destroyed by the wartime bombing …

Prince Albert doffs his hat to the City in 2020 …

In this picture His Royal Highness makes the same gesture at the turn of the last century…

Below is the view towards the west in 1910. The awnings outside Gamages store can be seen on the right and just behind Prince Albert’s statue a man in an invalid carriage braves the traffic. He should be OK if vehicles obey the sign on the lamp post which urges ‘Caution’ and ‘Drive Slowly’. Wallis & Co on the left advertises linens and blankets and has a display of parasols hanging outside the shop. …

Eastcheap as seen from the end of Cannon Street. The statue of King William IV was erected in 1844 when King William street was created as a new approach to London Bridge. The small cart in the centre is delivering ice and the buses are turning right towards London Bridge, just as they do now …

The busy west end of Cheapside at the corner of New Change around 1905 with omnibuses and a Royal Mail coach to the right. The statue is of Sir Robert Peel and was erected here in 1855 and then removed to Hendon Police Training School in 1939 …

The sign on the lamp post says ‘Standing for 10 Hackney Carriages’.

I particularly like this picture of Fleet Street in the 1930s because it shows the cart on the left laden with massive rolls of paper for use in the nearby printing presses …

It’s 7 o’clock in the morning in February 1937 and Lower Thames Street is at a standstill as fish from old Billingsgate Market is loaded on to carts …

The viaduct carrying the approach road to London bridge can be seen in the distance and to its left the church of St Magnus the Martyr.

Many of these pictures illustrate the enormously important role horses played in the life and commerce of the City right into the 20th century.

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Another stroll along Fleet Street

As I think I have said before, I never tire of walking around this part of the City, especially spotting things of interest simply by directing my gaze skywards.

I remember the heyday of printed news when the Fleet Street hostelries were frequently packed with journalists, lawyers and print workers ‘refreshing’ themselves at lunchtime and in the evening. Now you are more likely to encounter overseas visitors seeking out ‘authentic old English pub’ experiences.

Mr Punch advertises these listed premises at the east end of the street …

The previous building on the site was known as the Crown and Sugar Loaf but was renamed the Punch Tavern in the late 1840s because of its association with Punch Magazine which had its offices at that end of Fleet Street.

The Old Bell further west is also listed …

The story goes that it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to accommodate the stonemasons working on nearby St Bride’s Church and the rear of the pub does, indeed, date from 1669.

Between the buildings you can glimpse St Bride’s and its famous ‘wedding cake’ spire as you proceed from east to west …

Why would a business stress ‘discretion’?

Because it’s a pawnbrokers, still advertising their presence using the symbol of three spheres suspended from a bar, said to be a reference to the coat of arms of the Florentine Medici family …

I love this pair of spectacles and thought at first that the sign must date from the 19th century but in fact Whitby & Co have only been around for 20 years …

On the north side of the street you can see the evidence of past publications now, alas, defunct or relocated elsewhere …

Further along are the premises previously occupied by the Kings & Keys pub, once a favourite hangout place for journalists from the Daily Telegraph next door. The name is derived by the amalgamation of two licences of separate former pubs, the Cross Keys and the Three Kings …

It’s narrow because, like many other buildings fronting Fleet Street, it follows the size of the original medieval plot.

If you are a little tired by now and need to recharge batteries there are healthy snacks available nearby …

Onward to St Dunstan in the West which boasts this magnificent clock …

It dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. The figures of the two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads.

The double headed eagle is the emblem of the Hoare family and their bank’s premises are at the Sign of the Golden Bottle – a practice dating from the time before buildings were allocated street numbers …

The London firm was started in 1672 by Richard Hoare and tended to the affairs of many famous literary folk including the diarist Samuel Pepys, poet Lord Byron and novelist Jane Austen.

What about these three squirrels busy chomping on nuts …

Gosling’s, originally a goldsmiths and later a bank, started trading at the Sign of the Three Squirrels around 1650. It was the fourth largest of the banks that joined together in 1896 to establish Barclay and Co Ltd as a joint stock bank. Today, Goslings remains the oldest branch in the Barclays Group and still occupies its original site in the City.

The adjacent Inns of Court were once so important to Lloyd’s Bank that they had a dedicated branch (with a pretty beehive emblem suggesting hard work and prudence) …

Looking skywards, you can observe these muscular chaps supporting the building’s upper stories…

And finally, at number 50 …

Sculpted by A. Stanley Young in 1913, the building housed both the Norwich Union Insurance Company and the lawyers of Serjeant’s Inn. On the left, the Insurance side, Lady Prudence holds a little hoard of fruit and a leafy branch whilst the cherubic figure of Liberality or Plenty spills his cornucopia of coins and fruit. On the right, the lawyers’ side, blindfolded Lady Justice rests against her shield and sword grasping the scales of justice in her left hand.

There are many versions of Lady Justice in the City and I have written about them here.

You can find earlier blogs about Fleet Street here Fleet Street Ghosts and here Fleet Street Legends.

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City streets then and now

I was inspired by a recent Spitalfields Life blog to revisit some old City locations and find out what has changed (and what hasn’t!). Most of the old pictures are from the late 1890s or the early days of the 20th century and come from the Bishopsgate Institute archive.

Holborn Circus seemed a good place to start since Prince Albert is still there raising his hat to the City …

And here he is circa 1910 …

What is sad is when some interesting views disappear. Here is a picture I took looking east in June 2017 where Albert appears to be saluting Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey …

Now there is a new building obstructing his view …

The beating heart of the business City – Throgmorton Street circa 1920 …

And today – that clock on the left is still there …

It dates from 1892 …

If you look further along the street you can just glimpse the extraordinary entrance to Draper’s Hall …

The always informative Bob Speel architecture website tells us that the tall, powerful imposing figures are known as Atlantes and were carved by Henry Alfred Pegram in 1896.

It’s hard to imagine now that the Victorians allowed a railway bridge to be built which obstructed the view of St Paul’s from Fleet Street that had existed since 1710. Here’s the view circa 1910 …

The bridge was finally demolished in 1990 and this is the view today …

This is Fetter Lane around 1910 …

You can see mirrors suspended at an angle in order to bring more light into the first floor of number 85.

Numbers 85, 86 and 87 are now gone but 84 and its neighbour survive, albeit somewhat altered …

The Monument around 1900. Note the sign on the left … you could book a room at Lightfoot’s Inn or just pop in and enjoy some fresh oysters, a common food then even for the poor (as this article explains) …

The view of The Monument from the same point today …

Pageantmaster Court, just off Ludgate Hill, refers to the person charged with organising the Lord Mayor’s Show. Here’s a picture taken from there in 1910 …

And today …

The building on the right is still there. Once a bank it’s now a wine bar …

Here is Cheapside in 1892, when horsedrawn vehicles were still in the ascendancy and this picture was probably taken from one. There is a nice selection of male headgear in the image – a few top hats, a homburg and a debonair chap sporting a straw boater …

Around 1910 …

I think the newspaper advertisement reads ‘France surprise for Turkey – Ambassadors ordered to leave’. Further down the road a haircut will cost you 4d and a shave 2d.

And today from approximately the same spot …

And finally, a favourite of mine, men laying tramlines at the junction of Clerkenwell Road and Goswell Road …

In the background is the Hat and Feathers pub, sadly now closed …

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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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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.

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