Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Memorials Page 1 of 2

A plethora of plaques

Plaques abound in the City and I thought it might be fun to write here about some of the more unusual or interesting ones I have come across.

First up is this example, now rather tucked away in a corner at Liverpool Street railway station. It’s underneath the main memorial to the First World War dead, which was unveiled by this gentleman in 1922 …

Wilson was assassinated outside his house in Eaton Place at about 2:20 pm. Still in full uniform, he was shot six times, two bullets in the chest proving fatal. The two perpetrators, IRA volunteers Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, shot two police officers and a chauffeur as they attempted to escape but were surrounded by a hostile crowd and arrested after a struggle. Interestingly both were former British army officers and O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, his subsequent disability hindering their escape. After a trial lasting just three hours they were convicted of murder and hanged at Wandsworth gaol on 10 August that year – justice was certainly delivered swiftly in those days. No organisation claimed responsibility for Wilson’s murder.

Until researching this event I hadn’t realised that, in all, about 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces during World War One. Since there was no conscription, about 140,000 of these joined during the war as volunteers and about 35,000 of them died.

A brave doctor from an earlier war is commemorated in the church of St Bartholomew the Less, his actions and character described in poignant detail …

His former medical contemporaries at St Bartholomew’s Hospital have set up this tablet to keep in memory the bright example of ARTHUR JERMYN LANDON Surgeon Army Medical Department who, while continuing to dress the wounded amid a shower of bullets in the action on Majuba Hill, was in turn mortally wounded. His immediate request to his assistants “I am dying do what you can for the wounded” was characteristic of his unselfish disposition. His habitual life was expressed in the simple grandeur of his death. He was born at Brentwood Essex 29th June 1851. Died two days after the action at Mount Prospect South Africa 1st March 1881.

A plaque of a totally different nature is affixed to a hotel in Carter Lane …

The plaque was the result of a long campaign by a City grandee called Joseph Newbon who was a great believer in making sure that historical events connected with the City were properly commemorated.

Ironically, the letter written to Shakespeare by Richard Quiney (asking to borrow £30, about £3,700 in today’s money) was never dispatched and was found among his papers after he died.

Here it is …

You can find a transcript here, along with a lot more information, on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.

The plaque was originally on the wall of a major Post Office, hence the reference to the Postmaster General. Now demolished, its imposing entrance has been incorporated into the hotel …

Whilst on the subject of The Bard, this magnificent bust is in St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Love Lane EC2 …

A Wren church gutted in the Blitz, the remains of St Mary Aldermanbury were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA in 1966. The restored church is now a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946.

Below the bust is a plaque commemorating his fellow actors Henry Condell and John Heminge who were key figures in the printing of the playwright’s First Folio of works seven years after his death. There are almost twenty plays by Shakespeare, including The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, which we would not have at all if it were not for their efforts. Both of them were buried at St Mary’s …

This is what Shakespeare had to say about the churchyards of his day …

‘Tis now the very witching of the night

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to the world.

(Hamlet’s soliloquy Act 3 Scene 2)

Up until the mid-19th century the City contained numerous churchyards, usually adjacent to a parish church, but these were becoming seriously overcrowded and seen as an obvious threat to health. Not only did the population have to breathe in the ‘odour of the dead’, gravediggers themselves could contract typhus and smallpox from handling diseased corpses.

You can get a sense of how packed the graveyards were if you look at them now and see how much higher than street level some of them still are. For example, here is the view from inside St Olave Hart Street …

Eventually the overcrowding of the dead meant relatively fresh graves were broken into while new ones were being dug, and corpses were dismembered in order to make room for more. Sites were also subject to body snatchers (nicknamed the ‘Resurrection Men’), who sold the corpses on the black market as medical cadavers. The government eventually took action action when a serious cholera epidemic broke out and burial within the City limits was virtually totally prohibited by a series Burial Acts.

The removal of the dead from one churchyard is commemorated here …

A plaque on the wall informs us that ‘the burial ground of the parish church of St. Mary-At-Hill has been closed by order of the respective vestries of the united parishes of St. Mary-At-Hill and Saint Andrew Hubbard with the consent of the rector and that no further interments are allowed therein – Dated this 21st day of June 1846’. Following the closure, all human remains from the churchyard, vaults and crypts were removed and reburied in West Norwood cemetery. You can read more on the excellent London Inheritance blog.

Some bodies remained in place only to be resited for other reasons. In the case of the churchyard of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook it was the construction of the District Line underground railway …

The plaque is in Cloak Lane EC4R 2RU.

There is a fascinating article here about the London Underground’s construction and it’s reported encounters with London’s dead.

St Olave Silver Street was totally destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but its little churchyard lives on. A much weathered 17th century stone plaque records the terrible event …

This was the Parish Church of St Olave Silver street, destroyed by the dreadful fire in the year 1666.

Silver Street itself was annihilated in the Blitz and erased completely by post-war development and traffic planning. The little garden containing the stone is on London Wall at the junction with Noble Street.

I shall end on two more lighthearted notes.

Probably hundreds of people pass through the subway that leads to Mansion House Underground Station every day and don’t notice this old plaque dating from 1913 …

It celebrates not only the opening of the subway but also some brand new Gentlemen’s toilets (hence the involvement of the Public Health Department). ‘Street fouling’ had become a major problem, hence the rather ambiguously worded signs that were once common around London exhorting people to …

In the mid 19th century ideas were being put forward for ‘halting places’ and ‘waiting rooms’ and the City of London installed the first underground ‘Convenience’ outside the Royal Exchange in 1855. It’s still there, completely renovated, and is accessed by tunnels leading to Bank Underground Station. The original toilets were for men only, ladies had to wait another 30 years for their ‘convenience’.

The Mansion House loo is now closed and sealed off but a great example of street level toilet architecture exists on Eastcheap …

I am indebted for much of this information to a lady called Sarah McCabe who made the provision of underground conveniences the subject of her MA dissertation – I highly recommend it.

And finally. I know I have written about this famous cat before but it’s a nice story so I am going to repeat it.

High up on a tiled pillar in Barbican Underground Station is this rather sad little 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.

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St Botolph Without Aldgate and its extraordinary memorials

What a pleasure it is to enter the church and come face to face with this distinguished gentleman …

Robert Dow was a Master of the Merchant Taylors and during his life gave away a substantial sum to various charitable establishments. The value of his donations and those receiving the money are listed on his monument …

He lived to the great age of 90 and died in 1612. I love the expression that, when he eventually passed away, he was ‘full of days’. The skull his hands are resting on may be to remind us that we too are mortal, even as we relax and enjoy his company and read of his generosity.

Nearby is an eyecatching brown and cream alabaster monument. It commemorates Lord Darcy and Sir Nicholas Carew, both beheaded on Tower Hill for high treason against Henry VIII in 1537 and 1539 respectively …

The figure is a corpse resting on a bier with the head thrown back dramatically.

The inscription reads …

Here lyeth Thomas Lord Darcy of the North, and some time of the Order of the Garter. Sir Nicholas Carew Knt. sometime of the Garter. Lady Elizabeth Carew, Daughter to Sir Francis Brian, Knt. And Sir Arthur Darcy Knt. younger Son to the abovenamed Lord Darcy. And Lady Mary his dear Wife, Daughter to Sir Nicholas Carew Knt. who had ten Sons and five Daughters. Here lye Charles, William and Philip, Mary and Ursula, Sons and Daughters to the said Sir Arthur, and Mary his Wife; whose Souls God take to his infinite Mercy. Amen.

More delights await you further inside the church.

This beautifully carved wooden panel depicts King David along with musical instruments …

It was created between 1713 and 1715 to grace the front of an organ gallery in the church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel. When the church was destroyed by bombing on the 27th December 1940 the carving was saved and later restored …

In 1676 Thomas Whiting gifted the organ for the benefit of the ‘hole parrish’ …

The organ was originally built for his house, which must have been a substantial property to say the least.

There is a fine 18th century sword rest …

Sword rests (or stands) were originally installed in City churches to hold the Lord Mayor’s sword of state when he used to visit a different church every Sunday, a practice that ceased in 1888 as congregations fell and people moved to the suburbs.

There is a long eulogy to Benjamin Pratt inscribed on a hanging drape …

He affected to end his days in celibacy and departed this life on the 3rd day of May 1715 … he had just arriv’d at the prime of his age and was then taken from his labours to receive an exceeding great reward.

And now a memorial that positively demanded more research, an inventor who died ‘in want’ in 1831 and was finally commemorated by a Lord Mayor in 1903 …

The full story is fascinating and I can’t do it justice in this short blog. To read more go to the London Inheritance blog which you can find here.

A number of past Lord Mayors are commemorated in stained glass …

Now leave the church and walk around to the north side where a few gravestones have been placed against the wall.

This one contains an intriguing and poignant inscription to a son and his father …

It’s now much worn but, luckily for me, an audit of churchyard inscriptions was made in 1910 and this is what the tombstone tells us …

Sacred to the memory of

THOMAS EBRALL Citizen and Corn Merchant, shot by a Life Guardsman unknown, in the shop of Mr Goodeve, Fenchurch Street, 9 April, 1810 died 17th same month, in his 24th year.

THOMAS EBRALL, his father, died from his loss, 23 August, 1810, aged 48.

‘Died from his loss’, how sad. I have tried to find out more about the incident that resulted in young Mr Ebrall’s death but no luck so far.

The man who conducted the inscription audit at the turn of the last century was one Percy C. Rushen who noticed how they were slowly disappearing due to ‘atmospheric elements’ or ‘sacriligist’ vandalism. Here is a link to his book – my hero!

There is also an unusual water feature resembling a chest tomb …

Now cross the road to the Minories and look back …

The following drawing from 1740 by its builder, George Dance the Elder, shows the church looking exactly the same as it does today …

Incidentally, the church had a narrow escape during the Blitz when a bomb fell straight through the roof but failed to explode. The Blitz was an extraordinary period for the Rector of the day, who slept in the Crypt, surrounded by coffins, and climbed onto the roof during air raids to put out incendiary fires.

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Exploring Aldgate – including a terrible event in the past

On Sunday 30th September 1888 at about 1.45 in the morning Police Constable 881 Edward Watkins turned into Mitre Square, a regular part of his beat.

In the southernmost corner, clearly picked out by the bullseye lantern on Watkins’s belt, lay the terribly mutilated body of a woman. Watkins ran across to Kearley and Tongue’s warehouse, knowing that the watchman there, George James Morris, was a retired police officer. Watkins found the door to the warehouse ajar, pushed it open, and found Morris sweeping the steps that led down toward the door.

‘For God’s sake, mate, come to my assistance,’ cried Watkins.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Morris, to which Watkins replied, ‘There’s another woman cut to pieces.’

The woman was Catherine Eddowes* and she was destined to be named as the fourth victim of the Whitechapel Murderer, more commonly known as Jack the Ripper.

Around this time Charles Goad was compiling maps for use by the fire insurance companies and this is one of his earliest prepared just 20 months before the murder. The red spot indicates where the body was found …

The murder scene …

The Square today – I think I am standing approximately where she was was discovered …

The fact that ‘Jack’s’ identity has never been agreed upon has led to the practice commonly called Ripperology in which the crimes and possible perpetrators are endlessly debated and discussed. Needless to say there are numerous sources online but I found this one to be one of the most interesting including as it does a poignant list of poor Catherine’s possessions. You can find an account of her funeral here. (By the way, you can see an authentic police bullseye lantern in the City of London Police Museum and a picture in my blog The City’s Little Museums).

In the centre of my photograph of the Square today is an example of the Sculpture in the City initiative …

This is Climb by Juliana Cerqueira Leite. In this fascinating YouTube clip she explains how it was created.

As you stand in Mitre Square you can often hear children playing. They are pupils at Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School …

Note the red goose quill.

Sir John Cass was born in the City of London in 1661 and during his lifetime served as Alderman, Sheriff and the City’s MP.

In 1710 he set up a school for 50 boys and 40 girls and rented buildings in the churchyard of St Botolph Without Aldgate. Cass intended to leave the vast majority of his property to the independent school but, when he died in 1718, had only initialled two of the eight pages of his will. The incomplete will was contested, but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery thirty years after his death. The school, which by this time had been forced to close, was re-opened, and the foundation established.

There is an old legend that he had a haemorrhage of the lungs which stained the quill pen with which he was initialising his will, and it is for this reason that the pupils of the school still wear red goose quills when they attend St Botolph’s Church on the anniversary of their Founder’s birth each year.

Two statues of children in blue coats stand over the previous girls’ and boys’ entrances …

The school was rebuilt in 1909 and I think these statues are reproductions. I don’t know if the originals still exist.

Blue was the distinctive colour for paupers, charity schools and almsmen, (hence Bluecoat Boys and Girls) and Cass’s School would have been called a Bluecoat School. By extension it typified the dress of tradesmen so that ‘To put on a blue apron’ meant to take up a trade. Incidentally, the great diarist Samuel Pepys, recording a trade riot in London in 1664, tells us that ‘At first, the butchers knocked down all the weavers that had green or blue aprons.’ Those were the days.

Here’s a bust of Sir John as displayed in the nearby church of St Botolph Without Aldgate, which I shall write about in a later blog …

Someone had tucked a two pence coin into his flowing locks but I didn’t like to remove it in case it was part of some arcane tradition!

On the school gates I noticed this very appropriate instruction …

I took this picture of St Botolph’s whilst standing behind another Sculpture in the City exhibit by Jyll Bradley …

Made from coloured sheets of edge-lit Plexiglas turned on their side and leant against a south-facing wall, Dutch / Light (for Agneta Block) creates an open-glasshouse pavilion that is activated by the sun. The work references the so-called ‘Dutch Light’ a horticultural revolution that hit British shores over three centuries ago as Dutch growers pioneered early glasshouse technology.

There is lots more to see around Aldgate and St Botolph’s so I shall return next week.

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*None of the research I have done suggests that Catherine was a prostitute and this is confirmed in a new book, The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold, which you can read more about here.

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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Swinging angels, an alligator and public sculpture around St Paul’s

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Crossing the road outside St Paul’s Underground station I came across the surprising sight of 40 golden angels resting on swings above my head …

Entitled Lunch Break they are an installation by architects KHBT in collaboration with artist Ottmar Hörl. Intended to create a strong conceptual and visual link to the Cathedral it is, the note nearby tells us, also an emotional and imaginative work that is aiming to make people think and smile. ‘After all, in this particular time, guardian angels deserve some rest’ …

Outside the west front of the Cathedral is the statue commemorating Queen Anne, a Victorian replica of an earlier work that had become weathered and vandalised. The queen is surrounded by four allegorical figures and this one represents America …

She wears a feathered head-dress and skirt whilst her left hand grasps a metal bow. Her right hand may once have held an arrow.

What fascinated me, however, is the creature by her feet which resembles a rather angry Kermit the frog (alongside the severed head of a European) …

In 1712, this is what the original sculptor Francis Bird imagined an alligator would look like. A contemporary description of the statue states …

There is an allegator creeping from beneath her feet; being an animal very common in some parts of America which lives on land and in the water.

In the Diamond Jubilee Gardens close by is this work, The Young Lovers, by Georg Ehrlich (1897-1966). The Cathedral gives it a dramatic backdrop …

Ehrlich was a Austrian sculptor who was born and studied in Vienna. During the First World War he served in the Austrian Army and in 1930 he married the artist Bettina Bauer. After the rise of the Nazis, Ehrlich decided that it was too dangerous for them to be in Austria since they were both Jewish and they moved to London. He became a British citizen in 1947 and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1962.

Since the weather was so nice, I took the opportunity to capture this profile of the one-time Dean of St Paul’s John Donne …

John Donne 1572 – 1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012)

I have written about Donne before and you can access the blog here.

His bust points almost due west but shows him turning to the east towards his birthplace on Bread Street. The directions of the compass were important to Donne in his metaphysical work: east is the Rising Sun, the Holy Land and Christ, while west is the place of decline and death. Underneath the bust are inscribed words from his poem Good Friday – Riding Westward :

Hence is’t that I am carried towards the west, This day when my soul’s form bends to the east

The most familiar quotation from Donne comes from his Meditation XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I really like this work by Paul Mount (1922-2009), also to be found in the gardens …

Amicale (2007)

Mount was one of the last British artists whose careers were interrupted by the Second World War. A lifelong pacifist, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in North Africa and then France, where he stayed on after the end of the war to do relief work. Once free to work again, artists like him never really lost their sense of a world to be made anew through art. For Mount, sculpture expressed an essential human dignity. He observed …

The way that two shapes relate is as important as the way two people relate.

There is a nice obituary notice about him and his fascinating life in The Guardian which you can access here.

And finally, every time I walk past St Paul’s I am struck by the beauty of the stone carving, take this example …

Or this abundance of cherubs …

And this meticulous carving around the Dean’s Door …

Christopher Wren paid the sculptor, William Kempster, an additional £20 for the excellence of his work.

As memories of wartime fade, these shrapnel marks from a nearby bomb blast serve to remind us of how close the Cathedral came to destruction …

A number of other City buildings bear scars from World War bombing and you can read about them here.

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More fab fountains – one’s a cracker!

Why has this 19th century drinking fountain got a carving on it that looks a bit like a Christmas cracker?

It’s located on the south west side of Finsbury Square and forms part of an elaborate memorial …

The inscription reads …

Erected and presented to the Parish of St Luke by Thomas and Walter Smith (Tom Smith and Co) to commemorate the life of their mother, Martha Smith, 1826 – 1898.

Martha was the widow of Tom Smith and here I would like to relate a little history courtesy of the excellent London Remembers website. In 1847, twenty five year old Tom, an ornamental confectionery retailer in Goswell Road, brought the French idea of a bon-bon wrapped in a twist of paper over to Britain. In 1861, probably inspired by fireworks, he introduced a new product line, ‘le cosaque’, or the ‘Bang of Expectation’, or crackers as we now know them. This successful product, originally used to celebrate any event you care to name, enabled the business to move to larger premises on Finsbury Square, where they stayed until 1953.

Smith and his sons knew a thing or two about advertising and were not modest about their wonderful products. Here’s a typical 19th century example …

I love the instructions to ‘Refuse worthless imitations’ and ‘Make Merriment everywhere’.

There is an example of a Tom Smith’s Cracker and box on display in the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. This picture was taken by The Londonist who has written a very comprehensive blog about the memorial which you can find here

Victorian Christmas crackers were filled with all sorts of trinkets and surprises – first they contained rhymed mottoes or verses, then some sort of fancy-paper hat, bonnet, mob-cap or masks. Considerable artistic talent was introduced in the adornment of these novelties.

And here is an image from the Tom Smith archive where you can also find the 2019 catalogue and order your Christmas supplies!

The company is now owned by Napier Industries and still holds a Royal Warrant.

Here’s the founder himself. He was born 1823 and died, quite young, in 1869 …

We can thank the company for going on to develop cracker contents like the novelty gift and corny joke. You also have to blame one of Tom’s sons for the paper hat we are obliged to wear, often with excruciating British embarrassment, at work Christmas parties.

Crackers never took off in America and it has been claimed that the British liked them because ‘it taught their children how to deal with disappointment at an early age’.

And now for something rather odd. The water fountain was funded by the sons but the daughters went their own way. A few yards away is this horse and cattle trough …

It bears the following inscription (now very faded) …

In remembrance Martha Smith 1898. Erected by her daughters P. L. and L. D.

The sons erect the splendid water fountain and the daughters erect the utilitarian water trough. Does this tell us something about their personalities or about Victorian gender differences?

Researching the origin of the Christmas cracker has been a genuine pleasure and if you want to know more there is a book about the ‘King of Crackers’ – I might just order a copy. You can find a review here.

Next up is the St Lawrence and Mary Magdalene fountain located on Carter Lane opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Created as a joint enterprise between the two parishes that give it its name, the fountain was originally installed in 1866 outside the Church of St Lawrence Jewry …

An engraving from ‘The Builder’ publication 1866.

The location next to St Lawrence Jewry …

A man quenching his thirst in 1911.

It was dismantled in 1970 and put into a city vault for fifteen years, then stored in a barn at a farm in Epping. The pieces were sent to a foundry in Chichester for reassembly in 2009 and it was was moved to the current location the following year …

The work was designed by the architect John Robinson (1829-1912) and sculpted by Joseph Durham (1814-1877), both very famous men in their time.

The fountain takes the form of a niche with carved hood resting on granite columns. Set into the niche is a bronze bas-relief of Moses striking the rock at Horeb (Exodus. XVII. IV-VI) …

Water runs down the face of the bronze from where Moses’ staff strikes. To the left of Moses is the figure of a woman holding a cup of water to her child’s mouth.

Above the fountain is a carved stone statue of St Lawrence holding a gridiron (on which he was martyred) …

In the south-facing niche is a statue of St Mary Magdalene holding a cross, and with a skull at her feet …

The other two niches are empty but are believed to have originally held the names of past benefactors of the churches carved into white marble slabs. Below, a new brass tap has now been fitted which dispenses water when pressed.

I wrote about the City’s water fountains and their fascinating history a few years ago and you can read the blog again here.

Five tiny City churchyards (and a chatty lady)

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

And this is the memorial …

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

With its inscription …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The alley was then called Church Court

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

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

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

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

One tomb is visible from the street …

It has a fascinating inscription …

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

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

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

The Fen Court labyrinth

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally here is another meditation labyrinth …

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

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

Charles Dickens nicknamed it ‘St Ghastly Grim’

It leads to the secluded, tranquil garden …

The labyrinth is in the corner on the left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Charterhouse

Last week I took a tour of the Charterhouse buildings in Charterhouse Square (EC1M 6AN). They are just opposite Florin Court, the flats used as ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ in the Poirot TV series.

A Carthusian monastery had existed on this site since 1371, but catastrophe came in 1535 when the monks were asked to sign an oath acknowledging the King – Henry VIII – as the supreme head of the Church of England. Many refused, and on 4th May that year the Prior, John Houghton, a monk and a lay brother, were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Houghton’s right arm was chopped off and hung over the Charterhouse entrance gate – a symbol of what happened to those refusing to acknowledge the King’s authority.

One of the many fascinating things to see on a modern-day tour is this engraving …

Probably by Nicolas Beatrizet (1540-1560)

The print was produced in Rome about 20 years later. Five of the scenes show the monks imprisoned, dragged through the streets and then being executed. The final scene shows two Carthusian monks being executed in York.

The gatehouse in the 1930s

Charterhouse has passed through many incarnations over the centuries and evidence of this abounds to this day.

We can still see the entrance to one of the two-up two-down cells the monks occupied …

Food was passed in to the cell through the portal on the left to avoid disturbing the monk’s solitude

Each monk lived as a hermit, spending their time in prayer, contemplation and scholarly work. They seldom spoke, usually only meeting together for Sunday lunch.

Sir Edward North (later Baron North) bought the ransacked property in 1545 and turned it into a mansion. To describe North (1496-1564) as a ‘survivor’ in this tumultuous period would be an understatement – somehow remaining in favour with both Queen Mary and later Queen Elizabeth I. In fact three other owners of Charterhouse (John Dudley, Thomas Howard and Philip Howard) were all executed for treason.

Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk, bought the buildings in 1564. He rebuilt what is now called the Norfolk Cloister, from the ruins of the monks’ original Great Cloister …

The boys from Charterhouse school played football here, its narrow dimensions creating the need for the offside rule

It was in King James’s reign in 1611 that a former ‘Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts’, Thomas Sutton, said to be England’s wealthiest commoner, bought the property and established a founda­tion to maintain a school and almshouses. The school, for 40 boys, was the beginning of Charterhouse School. Later, John Wesley and William Makepeace Thackeray were pupils. In 1872, the school moved to Godalming, taking the young Robert Baden-Powell to complete his schooling in Surrey.

The Great Hall (1571) where the Brothers dine today

In the Hall, Sutton’s coat of arms can be seen above this magnificent Caen stone chimneypiece, the cannon and gunpowder barrels at the sides referencing his connection with The Ordnance …

The arms include the head of a hunting dog, a Talbot, now extinct. It’s a motif that can be found throughout the building …

A carved Talbot dog on the stairs along with the arms of the fourth Duke of Norfolk


In Wash House Court, Tudor bricks meet Monastery stone …

Above the entrance to the passageway to the Court, a tiny monk has found a quiet place to study his Bible …

The buildings were severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the Second World War …

The medieval door to the Chapel damaged in the Blitz

The Chapel contains Thomas Sutton’s spectacular monument …

A relief panel shows the Poor Brothers in their gowns and a body of pious men and boys (perhaps scholars) listening to a sermon …

I love the figure, Vanitas, blowing bubbles and representing the ephemeral quality of worldly pleasure. The figure with the scythe is Time

The man himself …

His body rests in a vault beneath the monument

By way of contrast we can also see, in a darkened room lit by candles, this poor soul. Uncovered during the Crossrail tunneling, archeologists found it belonged to a man in the prime of his life, in his mid-twenties, when he was struck down by the Black Death. It’s believed he died at some point between 1348 and 1349, at the height of the pandemic …

Thomas Sutton’s will provided for up to 80 residents (called Brothers): ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or at land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or other calamity’.

A community of some 40 Brothers (as of 2016, women are not excluded by this term) still live in the Charterhouse today.

This blog only covers a tiny example of what you will discover at the Charterhouse. I highly recommend the tours that are conducted every day except Monday. Some are led by one of the resident Brothers and are given from the perspective of each individual Brother, therefore no two tours are the same. Click here for details.

Resurrection! More tales from City Lanes, Courts and Alleys

Lovat Lane, which runs between Eastcheap and Lower Thames Street, reminds one of the old City with its cobbled surface and narrow winding shape …

St Mary-At-Hill EC3R 8EE

If you pop into St Mary-At-Hill church you will immediately encounter on your left this extraordinary representation of Resurrection on the Day of Judgment …

Christ holding a banner stands amidst clouds. Satan, a figure with large claws, is being trampled under his feet

It’s a very unusual example of late 17th century English religious carving and most likely dates from the 1670s. Its carver is unknown, but it is known that the prominent City mason Joshua Marshall was responsible for the rebuilding of the church in 1670-74 and his workshop may have produced the relief.  Exactly where it was originally positioned is uncertain; most likely it stood over the entrance to the parish burial ground and was brought inside in more recent times.

You can see open coffins among the chaos
The winged Archangel Michael helps people rise again

If you visit the little churchyard you will see evidence of another form of resurrection …

A plaque on the wall informs us that ‘the burial ground of the parish church of St. Mary-At-Hill has been closed by order of the respective vestries of the united parishes of St. Mary-At-Hill and Saint Andrew Hubbard with the consent of the rector and that no further interments are allowed therein – Dated this 21st day of June 1846’. Following closure, all human remains from the churchyard, vaults and crypts were removed and reburied in West Norwood cemetery. You can read more on the excellent London Inheritance blog.

I spotted this splendid winged lion outside number 31 – placed their by the owners of the Salotti 31 restaurant …

The St Mark Lion is the symbol of Venice, where the restaurant owners come from

And there are some nice ghost signs …

Walking along Old Jewry last week I noticed this little courtyard …

26 Old Jewry EC2R 8DQ

Tucked away behind locked gates is what was once the City of London Police Headquarters (the Old Jewry address gave the force its former radio call sign of ‘OJ’). They originally moved there in 1842 but this building, in neo-Georgian style, was constructed between 1926 and 1930. The police moved out, to Wood Street, in 2001.

There are two alleys off Bishopsgate that are quite easy to miss but reward investigation. The first I explored was Swedeland Court (EC2M 4NR) …

I can’t find out why it’s called Swedeland Court (or why it’s a ‘court’ and not an ‘alley’). At the end is the interesting Boisdale Restaurant. It’s worth walking to the end and looking back towards the street as there are some charming old lamps and it’s very atmospheric …

Nearby is the rather uninviting looking Catherine Wheel Alley which will eventually lead you to Middlesex Street …

I entered with some trepidation

Looking back you get the true canyon effect …

The Catherine Wheel pub stood here for 300 years until it burned down in 1895. It’s said that the name was changed at one point to the Cat and Wheel in order to placate the Puritans who objected to its association with the 9th century saint. It’s also claimed that the highwayman Dick Turpin drank here, but if he drank in every pub that has since claimed a connection he would never have been sober enough to ride a horse.

When I worked near here in the 1970s it was always a pleasure to walk through this covered passage since the enclosed area was redolent with the aroma of spices, once stored here in the heyday of London Docks. It had the nickname ‘Spice Alley’ …

The pathway from Fenchurch Street (just beside the East India Arms EC3M 4BR) leads to Crutched Friars and by the time of Rocque’s map of 1746 it had acquired the name French Ordinary Court …

John Rocque’s map of 1746

The lane itself dates from the 15th century and perhaps even earlier. It was further enclosed in the 19th century as Fenchurch Street railway station was constructed above, transforming it into a cavernous passage.

Looking towards Crutched Friars

When you emerge, cross the road and look back …

The Court was named for the fact that, in the 17th century, Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence at number 42 next door, to sell coffee and pastries there. They also served fixed price meals and in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’.

Star Alley (EC3M 4AJ) links Mark Lane with Fenchurch Street and you can also find it on Rocque’s map …

The view from Mark Lane

On the left is the tower of All Hallows Staining …

First mentioned in the late 12th century, ‘staining’ meant it was made of stone unlike other City churches which were made of wood. It was rebuilt in 1674 after collapsing four years earlier (possibly because of too many burials near the building). You can read more about it here in the London Inheritance blog.

I found a few odd things here. These mysterious tiles, which look quite modern, have what I think are construction workers in the foreground and a tower crane in the background …

They are nowhere near number 48 or 43


And this spooky little alien character …

There is one grave left in the graveyard …

The marker for the grave of John Barker (d 179?), his wife (d 1831) and their son Robert (date of death illegible)

Unfortunately I have not been able to find out more about the family.

As you look towards Fenchurch Street, you can see the date of the post-war building inscribed above the entrance …

The wooden facade of the restaurant makes it look much older

Finally, there is also an edition of Spitalfields Life dealing with City Alleys – you can access it here. This is my favourite picture from it …

‘Hello, hello, hello …’

St Mary Woolnoth – a lucky survivor

The church of St Mary Woolnoth has been lucky twice.

A masterpiece by Wren’s brilliant protégé Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was built between 1716 and 1727 in the English Baroque style. Amazingly, it was scheduled for demolition in 1898 in order to facilitate the construction of Bank Underground Station. A public outcry put a stop to that and a compromise was reached. The crypt was cleared and the extended area under the church became the Underground ticket office – the church authorities collected a whopping £170,000 in compensation.

It was lucky a second time around during the Second World War which it survived unscathed …

Bank Underground Station, January 11th 1941 – a near miss for the church

First recorded in 1191, it has an unusual name. The founder may have been a Saxon noble, Wulfnoth, or alternatively, the name may be connected with the wool trade. Certainly this was true of the nearby church of St Mary Woolchurch Haw, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 (its parish then united with that of St Mary Woolnoth).

The most celebrated priest associated with the church was John Newton (1725-1807)…

Born the son of a master mariner in Wapping, he spent the early part of his career as a slave trader. From 1745-1754 he worked on slave ships, serving as captain on three voyages. He was involved in every aspect of the slaver’s trade, and his log books record the torture of rebellious slaves. Following his conversion to devout Christianity in 1748 he eventually became rector here in 1780. In the church is his memorial tablet, which he wrote himself beginning …

John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa …

In 1785, he became a friend and counsellor to William Wilberforce and was very influential himself in the abolition of slavery. He lived just long enough to see the Abolition Act passed into law. Think of him also when you hear the hymn Amazing Grace, which he co-wrote with the poet William Cowper in 1773.

The outside of the church is very unusual and it has a fine position on the corner of King William Street and Lombard Street, just off the major Bank road junction (EC3V 9AN). The clock is mentioned in a famous poem which I shall refer to later …

The gate to the church bears the coat of arms of the Diocese of London …

These cherubs once used to gaze at me as, when I worked nearby, I went down the steps to the station on my way home …

The small, square, tranquil interior was regarded by Simon Jenkins as the ‘most remarkable in the City, the majesty it conjures from a limited space’ ..

At each corner are a group of three great Corinthian columns …

Monuments other than the one to Newton include this one to William Kentish …

The plaque, in the shape of the end of a chest tomb, incorporates a bright coat of arms with the motto ‘Survive and thrive’. William’s grandson was buried in Highgate Cemetery and the plaque describes where to find his resting place. Beneath is a note of the will of Thomas Kentish of St Albans (died 1712) which arranges for the education etc. of four boys, ideally named Kentish.

This panel was erected in memory of Thomas Lloyd, the man who started the famous coffee house, which eventually led to the Corporation of Lloyd’s …

The miniature coat of arms at the top is held by two tiny lions and, although it was placed here only in 1931, to me it does look appropriately 18th century.

The stunning, bulging pulpit dates from Hawksmoor’s time and Newton delivered his sermons from it. It was made by Thomas Darby and Gervaise Smith …

The inlaid sunburst marquetry by Appleby is sublime …

In the corner sits this clock mechanism surrounded by a cover on which is etched an extract from T.S. Elliott’s poem The Wasteland

Elliott worked nearby and, having watched the commuters trudge over London Bridge, wrote …

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

No doubt if you were not at the office by the ‘final stroke of nine’ you were going to be late.

And finally, have you noticed these figures around the corner from the church in King William Street?

I used to think they were connected to the church but I was mistaken. They were, in fact, created in 1899 to enhance the entrance to the Underground Station. Bank was the terminus of the City and South London Railway – the first deep level ‘tube’ in London and, indeed, the world and the first to use electric locomotives.

Appropriately, the lady on the left represents electricity …

She wears a spiked crown, is surrounded by thunder clouds and shoots lightning bolts from her extended finger.

Mercury reclines on the right …

He represents Speed. He is wearing his winged hat and sandals and holding a caduceus. The architect was Sydney Smith who designed the Tate Gallery at Millbank and the sculptor Oliver Wheatley.

By the way, if you travel to the church by Underground, as you climb the stairs to the street take a moment to admire these fearsome dragons by Gerald Laing …

… and if you think the Tube is claustrophobic now, the original City & South London railway carriages had no windows because ‘there was nothing to see’. Here is a drawing from an 1890 edition of the Illustrated London News …


Adding life stories to names

Often when I look at war memorials I think about the life stories behind the names, some of which will obviously have been lost forever as memories fade and family members die. Sometimes, however, very detailed personal records have been accurately preserved for reasons other than just family history.

Such was the case for this vessel that departed Pier 54 in New York on 1st May 1915 bound for Liverpool. Her name is recorded here on the Mercantile Marine Memorial on Tower hill …

Below the name, as is the practice on the memorial, the names of the crew who were lost and whose bodies were never recovered are listed in alphabetical order …

Some of the tablets listing the Lusitania crew.

In total 1,193 people perished when the ship was sunk by a torpedo fired by the German U Boat U 20 on 7th May 1915 off the coast of Ireland. The number of crew lost was 402.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was intrigued by men who chose to serve under names other than the name on their birth certificate and have researched many of them using the invaluable Merseyside Maritime Museum Lusitania database. One of the reasons this exists is that, since the crew were employees of the Cunard Line, insurance, pensions and the balance of their wages had to be distributed to their families, and so research was necessary to ensure the correct beneficiaries were identified.

On the tablet below are inscribed the names of three men in this ‘served as’ category – Kyle, Land and Pardew. Edward Kyle was 44 when he died and we don’t know why he chose to serve under the name of Robins. Similarly, we don’t know why Cann Cooper Land chose the name Jones when he signed up as a ‘Second Butcher’ on 12 April 1915 (although after his death the local paper stated ‘he was always known as Charlie Jones’). We do know he was 27 years old but gave his age as 25. In August 1915 his family was given the balance of his wages.

Much more is known about Charles Pardew who served as Charles John Scott …

Charles had been engaged as a fireman in the engineering department on a wage of six pounds ten shillings a month (£6.50). In July 1915 his widow Sarah swore an affidavit (supported by a lifelong friend called Fennell) that Charles had used the alias Scott since 1894. Apparently he had once sailed from Australia in a ship named the Charles Scott and decided to adopt that as his service name. For some reason he had also claimed he was 60 when in fact he was 57. Sarah received £300 compensation from the company and in August The Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her a monthly pension of one pound six shillings (£1.30).

There is someone on the memorial who shouldn’t be there at all …

We don’t know why Joseph Patrick Huston engaged as an able seaman under the name of Joseph Robb. His body was one of the first to be recovered, but for some reason the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of this, so his body was listed among the missing. He was 24 when he died and was buried in the Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, County Cork on 10th May 1915.

The Lusitania mass burial ceremony. Joseph Huston’s body was among those recovered.

The memorial now …

I will carry on researching the Lusitania crew and will report back on any more interesting facts I come across.

You may remember that in my blog of 25th October I mentioned the London Cyclists Battalion …

A recruitment poster from 1912.

It was therefore quite a coincidence that, on 9th November this year, Theresa May laid wreath at the grave of a cyclist, John Parr, the first UK soldier to be killed in the First World War on 21 August 1914. He was 15 when he signed up in 1912 but claimed to be eighteen years and one month. His comrades nicknamed him ‘Ole Parr’, which suggests that everyone knew he was much younger than he claimed, especially since on joining he was only 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighed just 8.5 stone!

John Henry Parr’s grave at St Symphorium Military Cemetery, Mons, Belgium.

Parr was a reconnaissance cyclist in the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and died on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium. Bicycles were commonly used in the War, not only for troop transport, but also for carrying dispatches. Field telephones were also limited by the need for cables, and ‘wireless’ communications were still unreliable. So cyclists – and runners, motorbike riders, pigeons and dogs – were frequently preferred by both the Allies and the German army. There is an interesting article on the subject by Carlton Reid in Forbes magazine 

I want to end this week’s blog with a story that moved me greatly when I reported it before in my blog about the City’s Little Museums.

These three battlefield crosses can be found in the crypt museum in All Hallows-by-the-Tower and I wrote in detail about the one in the centre …

This marked the grave of 2nd Lt. G.C.S Tennant. His last letter home was found unposted on his body after his death. It reads:

Sept. 2nd 1917.

Dearest Mother,

All well I come out tonight. By the time you get this you will know I am through all right. I got your wire last night, also your three letters. Many thanks for that little book of poems. It is a great joy having it out here. There is nothing much to do all day except sleep now and then. It will soon be English leave, and that will be splendid! I got hit in the face by a small piece of shrapnel this morning, but it was a spent piece, and did not even cut me. One becomes a great fatalist out here.

God bless you, your loving Cruff.

He was killed later that night, at about 4.00 am, and is now buried at Canada Farm Cemetery. He was 19 years old.

George Christopher Serocold Tennant (1897-1917).

After his death one of his men attested:

‘He was specially loved by us men because he wasn’t like some officers who go into their dug-outs and stay there, leaving the men outside. He had us all in all day long … The men would have done more for him than for many another officer because he was so friendly with them and he knew his job. He was a fine soldier, and they knew it.’

Incidentally, there is also a lovely tribute to the 83 men commemorated on the memorial outside Christ Church Spitalfields. It includes biographical details and a map of where they lived and surrounding areas. It was published in the Spitalfields Life blog and can be accessed here.

 

A moving discovery at Tower Hill – and two more City war memorials

I was walking through the Tower Hill memorial garden last Sunday when I noticed a small cross resting on one of the allegorical figures, just above the dolphin’s head …

Here it is in close up …

How wonderful. Arthur Myers remembered by a grandchild and two great, great grandchildren. His ship, the Empire Lakeland, was sunk by a U Boat on 11 March 1943.

I also noticed when I was there that, with Remembrance Sunday approaching, wreaths and other little crosses are beginning to appear.

Many are from institutions …

… and some in respect of just one vessel …

HMT stands for His Majesty’s Transport. The Rohna was requisitioned as a troop ship in 1940 and sunk in the Mediterranean in November 1943. Most of those killed were American troops.

And so on to my next two memorials, the first being the National Submarine War Memorial on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ). Although able to hide when submerged, once struck the vessels were often unable to rise to the surface and became effectively underwater coffins. In the First World War fifty four boats were lost and with them the lives of 138 officers and 1,225 men. At the inauguration in 1922 Rear Admiral Sinclair, the Chief of the Submarine Service, reminded those present that, during the Great War …

The number of those killed in the Submarine Service was greater in proportion to its size than any other branch of His Majesty’s fighting forces … one third of the total personnel.

In November 1959 new panels commemorating Second World war losses were unveiled by Rear Admiral B W Taylor.

Wright and Moore, writing for the 20th Century Architecture website, describe the memorial as a complex mixture of narrative and symbolism …

Sculptor: F B Hitch Architect: A H R Tenison Founder: E J Parlanti

The central figures recreate the scene set inside the submarine exaggerating it into a small, claustrophobic tunnel. The crew use charts and follow dials, the captain is braced at the centre with the periscope behind his head. Around the vessel a shallow relief depicts an array of sea creatures or mermen appearing to trap and haul the submarine in fishing nets, reminding us that the submarines were as much prey to the tempestuous elements as they were to the enemy.

On both corners are allegorical figures. Next to the list of vessels lost between 1914 and 1918, Truth holds up her mirror. Just further to the left in the picture are two of the 40 bronze wreath hooks in the form of anchors …

On the right, next to the vessels lost in the Second World War, Justice wears a blindfold and as usual holds a sword and scales …

I have written about Justice and other representations in the City of the cardinal virtues in an earlier blog which you can find here.

And now to the Grand Avenue, Central Markets, Smithfield (EC1A 9PS) and this monument commemorating men, women and children who perished both overseas and nearby …

The original memorial (above the red granite plinth) is by G Hawkings & Son and was unveiled on 22  July 1921. 212 names are listed.

Between Fame and Victory holding laurel wreaths, the cartouche at the top reads …

1914-1918 Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men who in these years of war went forth from this place for God and the right. The names of those who returned not again are here inscribed to be honoured evermore.

At 11:30 in the morning on 8th March 1945 the market was extremely busy, with long queues formed to buy from a consignment of rabbits that had just been delivered. Many in the queue were women and children. With an explosion that was heard all over London, a V2 rocket landed in a direct hit which also cast victims into railway tunnels beneath – 110 people died and many more were seriously injured.

The aftermath.

The monument was refurbished in 2004/5 and unveiled on 15 June 2005 by the Princess Royal and Lord Mayor Savory. The red granite plinth had been added and refers to lives lost in ‘conflict since the Great War’. On it mention is made of the women and children although the V2 event is not specifically referred to.

‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all Sheep and Oxen’.

At the base is the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Butchers who helped to fund the refurbishment, along with the Corporation of London and the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association.

Incidentally, the market was also hit by bombs dropped from a Zeppelin in the First World War – you can still see the shrapnel marks nearby on the walls of St Bartholomew’s Hospital …

I have written about these and other scars of war that can be found around the City in an earlier blog: Bombs and Boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tower Hill Memorials – wars and executions

Trinity Square Gardens outside Tower Hill underground station is home to a number of memorials, one of which relates to events going back centuries.

In the south east corner and in the foreground of this picture is a circular granite sundial which has a cast iron anchor in the centre which acts as a gnomon …

The Falklands War Memorial. Designed by Gordon Newton of War Memorial Limited (2005).

On 2 April 1982, Argentine forces landed in and captured the Falklands Islands. A task force was dispatched in order to retake the territory and this was accomplished when the occupying forces surrendered on 14 June that year. Nine members of the Merchant Navy and eight members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary were killed in the conflict and their names are recorded here beneath those of their ships …

In the main photograph’s background you can see two other memorial structures. On the left are commemorated the 12,000 men of the merchant navy and fishing fleets who lost their lives in the the First World War ‘who have no grave but the sea’ …

Sculptor: William Reid Dick   Architect: Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Made of Portland stone, the walls are covered with bronze panels with the names of the dead arranged alphabetically under their ships with the name of the Master or Skipper first in each case if they were among the lost.

On visiting a few years ago it was clear than many of those unfortunate mariners were still being remembered by family descendants …

When I first looked really closely at the panels I noticed something strange in one section of the memorial, see if you do too …

At least four of the men, Moyle A.J., O’Mealie J., Kelly T.E. and Pardew C.J. served under names other than those that were registered at their birth. I am trying to research their stories and will hopefully have something to report in my next blog. There is also a ship recorded here that was actually lost in the Second World War – something also for a future blog.

Just to the north is the Second World War memorial to the further 24,000 men lost between 1939 and 1945 …

Sculptor: Charles Wheeler   Architect: Edward Maufe.

It is a sunken garden with the steps leading down to it flanked by a Mercantile Marine officer …

… and a seaman of the Merchant Service. Behind him, in his eyrie above what was once the Port of London Authority building, Father Thames points towards the sea …

Within the garden the walls are overlaid with bronze plaques on which the names of the men and their ships are inscribed in relief. At regular intervals, between the inscription panels, are allegorical figures representing the Seven Seas. Here is one of them, Neptune with his trident …

And another, a mermaid combing her hair …

One can’t write about Tower Hill without some mention of its gruesome history as a place of execution …

This memorial is located on the approximate site of public executions. Nearby, within the walls of the Tower of London, is Tower Green, where people such as Henry VIII’s unwanted Queens were disposed of more discretely. On 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn was beheaded there, the deed carried out by a swordsman which ensured a speedy death.

Her old adversary Thomas Cromwell watched her decapitation, but was to end his days on the public gallows a mere four years later on 28 July 1540. The executioner being drunk, his end was a nasty, botched affair. On the same day Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, but the marriage only lasted a few years until she too was executed at the Tower.

Records are incomplete but the known execution tally for both locations is well over 100 ranging from the first (Sir Simon Burley on 5 May 1388) to the last (three Gordon rioters hanged on 11 July 1780). Two of the Jacobite ‘Rebel Lords’ beheaded for high treason have a special plaque …

Site of the ancient scaffold where the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino suffered 18th August 1746.

In this 1746 etching of their execution, the scaffold on the left is surrounded by horse and foot guards, holding back the throng of spectators, who also watch from tiers erected for the purpose. The executioner is raising the axe above his head …

Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

 

War Memorials in the City

The aftermath of the First World War saw tens of thousands of memorials erected across the country. This reflected not only the huge impact on individual communities but also the official policy of not repatriating the dead: the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at the loss of three quarters of a million British lives.

As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at some of the many City memorials that commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving King and Country. I am particularly fascinated by the different approaches taken by sculptors and the allegories they chose to use.

Firstly, I revisited St Michael Cornhill and this sculpture by Richard Reginald Goulden. The memorial commemorates 2,130 men from three parishes  who served in the War of whom about 170 died ‘for the freedom of the world’ …

Allegorical figures surround the base as St Michael with his flaming sword stands steadfastly above …

On the left, the quarreling beasts typify war, but are ‘sliding slowly but surely from their previously paramount position. Life, in the shape of young children, rises with increasing confidence under the protection of the champion of right’.

And now to Holborn and 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. At the boundary of the City, he looks defiantly towards Westminster. The general consensus on the internet is that the model for the sculpture was a Sergeant Cox, who served throughout the First World War.

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 …

The sculptor was F.V. Blundstone and the work was inaugurated on 2 March 1922. All Prudential employees had been offered ‘the opportunity of taking a personal share in the tribute by subscribing to the cost of the memorial’ (suggested donations were between one and five shillings).

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.

At the four corners of the pedestal stand four more female figures.

One holds a field gun and represents the army …

One holds a boat representing the navy …

At the back is a figure holding a shell representing National Service …

The fourth lady holds a bi-plane representing the air force …

The work is tucked away in the building’s courtyard, Waterhouse Square (EC1N 2SW), and I am sure that most of the thousands of people who walk along Holborn every day have no idea it is there.

And finally, I looked again at the War Memorial to London Troops outside the Royal Exchange …

At the bottom of the list of battalions, two in particular caught my eye …

I am going to do further research on the Artists Rifles and the London Cyclists and hopefully include the results in a later blog.

As luck would have it, I visited the Imperial War Museum last week and came across a postcard of this splendid recruitment poster from 1912. It is poignant to look at this picture with its pretty village setting and then think of the industrial age war and slaughter that was soon to follow …

I will continue writing about war memorials for the next few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Sculptures with striking poses

I’ll start with a work that caused some controversy, the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9).

In his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson describes the lady as follows:

Despite her casual garb she has a diadem or tiara on her head. With her left arm she enfolds a baby, who she is suckling, whilst with her right she draws to her knee a naked boy, who gazes up at her.

She is outside Royal Exchange Buildings EC3V 3NL.

Nearby is a very relaxed George Peabody who I have written about in an earlier blog

Ward-Jackson tells us that the suckling lady’s very authentic exposed breast produced at least one letter of protest to the editor of The Globe. The correspondent urged that ‘common decency’ should be observed and went on …

Do you not think, Sir, that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of ‘lacteal sustenation’ be concluded … or the young woman and youngsters provided with the requisite clothing.

On a more serious theme, St Thomas à Becket lies in agony in St Paul’s Churchyard on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral (EC4M 8AD) …

‘Becket’ by Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1970-71).

The Ornamental Passions website gives the following description :

(The sculptor) depicts the Archbishop in the agony of death, his right hand extended as if to ward off the blows of his knightly assassins. The plinth is stepped to recall the steps into the choir of Canterbury Cathedral … This memorable image was created in 1970 as part of the commemorations of the saint’s martyrdom.
The material looks like bronze but is in fact resin coloured to look like bronze.

Just across the road from St Paul’s, on the right as you approach the Millennium Bridge, you will see the National Firefighters Memorial (EC4M 8BX) which depicts a Fire Officer and two Firemen, cast in bronze engaged in firefighting duties. Unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991, it was originally called ‘Blitz’ and was dedicated to the men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II.  In 2000 it was renamed the Firefighters Memorial in order to commemorate all firefighters killed whilst in service and a new raised plinth now records almost 2,300 names.

Two of the men are ‘working a branch’, their legs braced to take the strain …

Churchill memorably called them ‘Heroes with grimy faces’.

The Officer below looking over his shoulder, possibly calling up reinforcements, is Cyril Demarne OBE who provided photographs to help the sculptor (who also happened to be his son-in-law) …

According to Philip Ward-Jackson, Demarne’s initials CTD are scattered among the brickwork on which the men stand but his old colleagues needed no such clues. One stated in an interview …

You can tell it’s Cyril by the way he’s standing … He always waved his arms about like that when he was ordering us about.

Officer Demarne in full flow …

By 1943 over 70,00 women had enrolled in the National Fire Service in the United Kingdom. This memorial commemorates those who lost their lives in the London Blitz …

The lady on the left is an incident recorder and the one on the right a despatch rider.

Finally, would you like to see Zoe, the floating Barbican Muse? If so, make your way to the Barbican Library on the second floor of the Centre, stand with your back to it, and walk through the automatic doors. She’s a few yards ahead on your left …

Sculpted by Matthew Spender in 1993-4, she is made of polyurethane and glass fibre and finished in gold leaf. She holds in her left hand the masks of Comedy and Tragedy whilst her right hand points the way to the entrance to the Centre (hopefully assisting folk lost in the highwalk system). She’s nicknamed Zoe after the Cambridge student who had posed for the sculptor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City work and public sculpture

I thought it would be interesting to explore how public sculpture has been used to illustrate some of occupations that have been undertaken in the City over the centuries.

First up is one of my favourite pieces, The Cordwainer. Here on Watling Street (EC4N 1SR) you are in the Ward of Cordwainer which in medieval times was the centre of shoe-making in the City of London. The finest leather from Cordoba in Spain was used which gave rise to the name of the craftsmen and the Ward. In the background is the wall of St Mary Aldermary church …

Sculpted by Alma Boyes (2002). You can visit her website here.

I love the detail in the work, the craftsman’s face and particularly the hands straining with effort. The statue’s shoes are very beautifully represented too – but then they would have to be.

It’s a bit of an over-simplification but, basically, cordwainers made shoes (and were not allowed to repair them) and cobblers repaired shoes (and were not allowed to make them). Cobblers got around this injunction by salvaging old leather and making ‘new’ shoes out of that, but in the end a pragmatic solution evolved and the two professions merged under the Cordwainers Company auspices. But if you want your shoes repaired today you still go to a cobbler.

Beside the slope in Aldersgate Street that leads up to the Barbican Estate is this frieze (EC2Y 8AF). It used to be above the premises of W. Bryer & Sons who were gold refiners and assayers at numbers 53 and 54 Barbican. Having survived the Blitz the building was demolished in 1962 and the frieze re-erected here.

‘Gold Smelters’ – Made in Portland stone by J Daymond & Son (1901).

The photographs are mine but I am indebted to The Victorian Web for the descriptions of what is happening.

The left side of the frieze depicts the arrival, weighing, recording the results (by man with the quill pen), and melting the ore. The man with the quill pen, a superviser rather than a workman, is the only one in this part of the scene whose clothes obviously date to the seventeenth century or earlier …

The middle portion of the frieze depicts men working at the smelter: the man at left, whom we have already seen in the previous detail, holds a vessel with tongs while the man to his right stirs the fire, shielding his face from the heat with his right arm. The next man either rests or supervises the work, and the young man kneeling behind him most likely feeds the furnace …

The right side of the frieze shows a worker pouring the refined gold into a mould, and the man behind him examines a small ingot. Outside the workshop, which a curtain divides from the smelting operation, a seated man presents the refined gold to a customer. Here the figures all wear clothing from earlier periods …

What a shame that the friendly shop cat rubbing himself up against the table leg has been damaged.

James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

Designed by James Butler (1994) – Cornhill EC3V 3NR.

The Shield enabled the London Underground to be constructed at greater depths through the London clay. The miners doing the tunneling, using pneumatic spades and hand shovels, would create a cavity in the earth where the Shield would be inserted to hold back the walls whilst the miners installed cast-iron segments to create a ring. The process would be repeated until a tunnel had formed in the shape of a ‘tube’, which is where we get the nickname for the network today. A plaque on the side of the plinth shows the men at work …

Would you like to see a Greathead Shield? It’s easier than you might think since Shields were often abandoned when work was completed. Take the Northern Line to Bank and (without leaving the station) follow the signs for the Waterloo and City Line. This is what you will come across …

Here is some detail …

The plaque underneath explains all …

In next week’s blog I will be looking at some 20th century occupations and the way they have been celebrated in sculpture.

 

 

 

Postman’s Park and the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Postman’s Park was once the churchyard to the adjacent church, St Botolph Aldersgate, but between 1858 and 1860 it was cleared of human remains and re-landscaped as a public space. A number of gravestones remain and you can see some of them now stacked neatly against the northern churchyard wall …

Nearby, in 1829, the General Post Office had moved in to a vast new building on St Martin Le Grand and, when the new park opened, it quickly became a popular leisure area for the post office workers and, as a result, the park soon became known as Postman’s Park (EC1A 7BT).

It contains now what is, in my view, one of the most interesting, poignant and rather melancholy memorials in the City – The G F Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This plaque nearby contains a useful mini-history …

In the late 1890s the idea was mooted that the park would be an ideal location for a memorial to ‘ordinary’ and ‘humble’ folk who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others. Two of its most enthusiastic supporters were the artists George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife Mary (1849 – 1938). There are some nice images of both him and his wife on the National Portrait Gallery website. Here he is  and here his wife Mary.

After much debate about its positioning and design, the memorial was finally declared finished and open on 30 July 1900, the building looking very much as it does today …

The memorial consists of 54 ceramic tablets which were gradually added over the years, each describing a particular act of selfless heroism. I have chosen to write about four of them using as my source the splendid book by the historian John Price: Heroes of Postman’s Park (ISBN 9780750956437). You can also, like me, become a Friend of the Watts Memorial, and more details can be found here.

The first of my four heroes is Alice Ayres …

The picture above shows Alice Ayres as portrayed by the Illustrated London News in 1885 (Copyright the British Library Board). Her commemorative plaque reads as follows and was the first to be installed …

It was Alice’s brave act that prompted Watts to write to the Times newspaper and suggest the creation of a memorial

That would celebrate the sacrifices made by ‘likely to be forgotten heroes’ by collecting ‘…a complete record of the stories of heroism in every-day life’.

Alice threw down a mattress from a burning building and successfully used it to rescue three children …

From The Illustrated Police News 2nd May 1885 Copyright, The British Library Board.

Alice eventually jumped herself but received terrible injuries and died two days later. Incidentally, if her name rings a bell with you it could be because, in the 2004 film Closer, one of the characters, Jane Jones, sees Alice’s memorial and decides to adopt her name.

John Clinton was only 10 when he dived into the Thames to save another little boy’s life. Unfortunately, after the rescue, John himself slipped back into the water and drowned. According to his father this wasn’t his first brave act, having saved a baby from a fire and tearing down burning curtains that were threatening the house. Both acts were commemorated in this illustration …

From The Illustrated Police News, 28th July 1894. Copyright, The British Library Board.

His funeral was widely reported …

I am indebted to the editor of the London Walking Tours website for this photograph of John Clinton’s image on his tombstone in Manor Park cemetery …

His Postman’s Park plaque …

And now another brave lady,

Many of these memorials give us glimpses of the nature of society at the time these events took place, and Mary’s story is a typical example. It is most unlikely that she would ever have found herself serving at sea had it not been for the fact that her husband, Richard, was drowned when the cross channel steamer SS Honfleur sank in the English Channel on 21 October 1880.

The steamer was operated by the London & South Western Railway Company (LSWR) and so Richard was one of their employees. It was common practice at the time for railway companies to offer employment to the widows or children of deceased employees so as to avoid having to pay compensation or provide a pension. Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary Rogers – 1855-1899

The story of the sinking of the SS Stella is a gripping one and rather too complicated to relate in detail here. If you want all the details either get hold of a copy of John Price’s book and/or have a look at this website run by Jake Simpkin, a Blue Badge holder and south of England historian.

From The Illustrated Police News – 8th April 1899. Copyright, The British Library Board

The Times reported that Rogers …

Helped ‘her ladies’ from the cabin into the lifeboats. Next she gave up her own lifejacket, and then when urged to get into the lifeboat refused for fear of capsizing it. She was told it was her only chance, but she persisted that she could not save her own life at the cost of a fellow creature’s. She waved the lifeboat ‘farewell’ and bid the survivors to be of ‘good cheer’.

In 1908, the committee of the new Anglican Liverpool Cathedral chose 21 ‘noble women’ for commemoration in stained glass windows. Mary was included, and is depicted in her window alongside Grace Darling and Elizabeth Fry …

Walking down Central Street one day I noticed this green plaque on the other side of the road …

On crossing over to take a look this is what I saw …

I took a picture, resolving to do further research and then discovered that the brave Alfred Smith is commemorated on the Watts Memorial …

PC Smith, 37 years old, was on duty in Central Street when the noise was heard of an approaching group of fourteen German bombers. One press report reads as follows …

In the case of PC Alfred Smith, a popular member of the Metropolitan Force, who leaves a widow and three children, the deceased was on point duty near a warehouse. When the bombs began to fall the girls from the warehouse ran down into the street. Smith got them back, and stood in the porch to prevent them returning. In doing his duty he thus sacrificed his own life.

Smith had no visible injuries but had been killed by the blast from the bombs dropped nearby. He was one of 162 people killed that day in one of the deadliest raids of the war.

His widow was treated much more kindly than Mary Rogers. She received automatically a police pension (£88 1s per annum, with an additional allowance of £6 12s per annum for her son) but also had her MP, Allen Baker, working on her behalf. He approached the directors of Debenhams (whose staff PC Smith had saved) and solicited from them a donation of £100 guineas (£105). A further fund, chaired by Baker, raised almost £472 and some of this was used to pay for the Watts Memorial tablet, which was officially unveiled on the second anniversary of Alfred’s death.

Watts used newspaper reports to decide who should receive the honour of a plaque, but in one case the report was false and the ‘hero’ didn’t exist. Unfortunately, Watts didn’t see the newspaper article correcting the mistake and the plaque went up anyway. If you want to know the identity of the non-existent ‘hero’ I am not going to reveal it here, and you will have to buy John Price’s book to find out.

I wrote about some more of the heroes from the memorial in an earlier blog which you can access here.

 

 

 

 

 

City Animals 5

It has been quite a while since I sought out animals in the City and so last weekend I took advantage of the sunny weather and went on another safari.

I always like to visit the Tower Hill memorial to the merchant navy and fishing fleet seafarers who lost their lives in both World Wars and have no grave but the sea. It’s a peaceful place on a weekend as virtually all the visitors to London have their eyes focused on the Tower of London across the road.

There are two memorials alongside one another and these pictures come from the one commemorating the almost 24,000 casualties of the Second World War (Trinity Square EC3N 4DH).

Dolphins feature highly in the allegorical sculptures by Sir Charles Wheeler representing the Seven Seas.

Here a boy is seen riding one surrounded by fishes and sea horses, above his head is a thorny snail …

A dolphin leaps through the legs of this figure who is creating the wind …

You can’t miss Neptune with a spider conch above his head and accompanied by another dolphin …

Across the road from Trinity Square is the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower (EC3R 6BJ).

Substantially damaged in the War it was restored and reopened in 1957 with a new cockerel weathervane …

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay company which once dominated the fur trade and was based nearby. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

A golden rodent looks out across Bishopsgate.

Wander down to the end of New Street off Bishopsgate (EC2M 4TP) and you will find this ram over the gateway leading to Cock Hill …

It’s by an unknown sculptor, dates from the 186os and used to stand over the entrance to Cooper’s wool warehouse.

Outside 68 Lombard Street there hangs an astonishing five foot long grasshopper (EC3V 9LJ) the insect being derived from the coat of arms of the Gresham family. Buildings in Lombard Street were not numbered until 1770 and so when the Greshams lived and worked there a similar sign would have been used to mark their residence …

The year 1563 refers to the year Thomas Gresham (TG on the sign) set up his business here.

The present building dates from 1930 when it was destined to become the City office of Martin’s Bank (whose coat of arms included a grasshopper). The original family sign disappeared at the time of Charles II when such advertisements were banned after numerous serious accidents. They had a tendency to become detached in high winds and on one occasion pulled down the entire frontage of a building. This grasshopper dates from 1902 when a host of signs were recreated to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

And finally, the Sculpture in the City event has brought us this extraordinary work by Nancy Rubins. It’s called Crocodylius Philodendrus and you can view it at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX).

See how many animals you can spot …

In there somewhere you will find crocodiles, hogs, deer, tortoises and a zebra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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