Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Philanthropy

The Pump of Death and a walk towards St Botolph’s

At the junction of Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street people usually hurry past this old water pump without a second glance, not knowing anything about some gruesome aspects of its history …

There was a well here for centuries and one appears to be shown on the Agas map of 1561 …

Look under the ‘A’ of Aldegate

After a pump was installed in the sixteenth century the water gained a reputation for being ‘bright, sparkling, and cool, and of an agreeable taste’. In the early 1870s, however, people started noticing the taste deteriorate and become foul. Then people who had drank the water started dying in great numbers in a tragedy that became known as the Aldgate Pump Epidemic.

It was known that Thames water was dangerous as illustrated by this 1850s drawing entitled The Silent Highwayman

But Aldgate water originated in the healthy springs of Hampstead and Highgate and flowed underground – so it should have been safe.

The bad news broke publicly in April 1876 …

An investigation by the Medical Officer of Health for the City revealed the terrible truth. During its passage underground from north London it had passed through and under numerous new graveyards thereby picking up the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies. The pump was immediately closed and eventually reconnected to the safer New River Company’s supply later in 1876. You will find a fascinating history of the New River Company if you access the splendid London Inheritance blog.

The epidemic was obviously a distant memory by the nineteen twenties when Whittard’s tea merchants used to

… always get the kettles filled at the Aldgate Pump so that only the purest water was used for tea tasting.

I have discovered a few old pictures …

The pump in 1874- picture from the Wellcome Collection.

And in August 1908 a little East End boy refreshes himself using the cup attached to the pump by a chain …

The full picture …

The wolf’s head spout is said to reference the last wolf killed in the City of London …

Nice that it has survived intact into the 21st century.

Walking towards St Botolph’s church I saw on the left this magnificent drinking fountain ‘Erected by permission of the vicar and churchwardens’. It has a connection with the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association which I have written extensively about in my blog Philanthropic Fountains

It’s dedicated to the memory of Frederic David Mocatta …

A wealthy bullion broker, after he had retired from the business in 1874 he devoted himself to works of public and private benevolence, especially in the deprived East End of London. It was people from that area who raised the money for this memorial and you can read more about him here.

A little bit further on is this 1950s police call box …

This is the third one I have discovered in the City and you can read more about the others here.

As you walk up the steps to visit St Botolph’s, turn around and look across the road. There are some old late Victorian buildings that have survived redevelopment and I was struck by how much care had gone into the decoration at roof height, even though very few people would be looking up to see it …

Next week I enter St Botolph’s and will write about some of the best and most interesting monuments and memorials in the City.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Terminus tales – Blackfriars Station

Nowadays, if you want to travel by rail to Continental Europe, you head for St Pancras International and Eurostar. Once upon a time though, your gateway to the Continent was Blackfriars Station in the City.

The station was badly damaged during the Second World War but the wall displaying a selection of the locations you could catch a train to survived and you can see it today in the ticket hall. It was part of the original façade of the 1886  station (originally known as St Paul’s) and features the names of 54 destinations – each painstakingly carved into separate sandstone blocks.

The destinations are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf …

‘Where shall we buy a ticket to today? Crystal Palace or Marseilles? Westgate-on-Sea or St Petersburg? Tough choices!’

The new station gave the London Chatham & Dover Railway an important foothold in the City of London.

If you leave the station and turn left you can walk across Blackfriars Bridge and take in a few more interesting sights.

There are these columns rising out of the river …

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

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

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

And now features not everyone notices. They are not related to the station but if you have ventured onto the bridge they are worth looking out for.

Peer over the parapet and on either side you will see some birds on the capitals of the bridge supports, beautifully carved in Portland stone by J.B.Philip.

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

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

Just after you turn left outside the station you will see one of my favourite water fountains, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored.

Sculptor Wills Bros.

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

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

The City’s little museums

Would you like to see an authentic signature of Henry VIII? A Hogarth painting on a staircase? A bomb made by the suffragettes? All these fascinating things are there for you to visit for free at some of the City’s smaller and lesser known museums.

First up is my favourite, the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum. Walk through the imposing Henry VIII gate on Giltspur Street and the museum entrance is about 30 metres to your left under the North Wing archway. It is packed with exhibits from the hospital’s 900 year history, so this blog only gives you a taste of what you can see – there is also an introductory film.

You will be greeted by a friendly volunteer and this beautifully turned out nurse …

‘This way for the museum …’

Almost immediately you will come across an impressive document on vellum recording an agreement between Henry VIII and the City of London dated 27 December 1546 (just a month before his death). In it he promises to grant to the City the hospital and the church, in return for which the City will provide care for 100 poor men and women.

The document bears Henry VIII’s seal, the king charging into battle on horseback accompanied by a dog …

And it is signed by Henry as well, in the top left hand corner …

The agreement was prompted by the King having considered ‘… the myserable estate of the poore aged sick sore and ympotent people as well men as women lyinge and goying about Beggyng’.

Another cabinet contains a wide selection of artifacts that make you pleased that surgery and medicine have advanced so profoundly in the last few hundred years …

Included are instruments from the 1820s used for breaking up bladder stones, a wooden head for practicing trepanning (drilling holes in the skull), a surgeon’s amputation kit and a leg prosthesis for a child.

You can skip any gruesome exhibits though, and head for the back of the museum where you can look through the door and see this staircase …

In 1733, when William Hogarth heard that the governors of St Bartholomew’s were considering commissioning the Venetian artist, Jocopo Amigoni, to paint a mural in the newly constructed North Wing of the hospital, he offered his own services free. Many of the people portrayed are suffering from conditions that were treated at the hospital, for example the man Jesus is reaching out to at the Pool of Bethesda has a leg ulcer.

As you head towards the exit a friendly nun will offer you a snack …

The London Police Museum in Guildhall is housed at 2 Aldermanbury …

A fine set of moustaches.

The City of London police have been responsible for looking after the Square Mile since 1839 and this exhibition is a collaboration with the Guildhall Library.

Some exhibits make you smile …

Coat hangers from a police station circa 1930s or 40s.

The joke is that the minimum height for a City of London Police officer was 5 feet 9 inches whereas for the Metropolitan Police it was 5 feet 7 inches.

Other exhibits are more serious …

Cleverly disguised bombs made by Suffragettes.

And finally some police enforcement equipment …

The object with the elaborate crest is a tipstaff dated 1839 – it was a sign of rank and unscrewed to provide a place to carry documents. The handcuffs are 19th century, the earlier one was attached to the wrist of the detained person and the officer would hold the other side. The ‘bullseye’ lamp for night patrol is from the 1880s and the truncheon, with the City emblem, from the same period.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and that it prompts you to visit these places if you haven’t done so already. Later this year I will be writing about two more small museums – the crypt at All Hallows by the Tower and the museum at the Bank of England.

 

 

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