Walking the City of London

Category: Quirky Page 1 of 3

Random subjects I found interesting, from street animals to stained glass. And did Batman and Robin share a bed?

Having a camera on my phone is a great asset but also leads to me taking pics of all kinds of random subjects that don’t have a particular theme. The time then comes when I don’t have a blog theme in mind so I cop out by publishing examples of this miscellaneous collection.

This is one of those times and I hope you enjoy this occasionally quirky selection.

I’ll start with the street animals.

Cricklewood Station boasts a friendly multi-coloured cow …

A cow painted in the red and green colours of the Portugal national football team stands outside a souvenir shop in the Algarve …

Same street – different cow …

Leadenhall market porker …

Every year the Worshipful Company of Paviours bring an inflatable animal (known as a St Anthony’s pig) to the Lord Mayor’s Show …

In medieval times the London meat market at Smithfield released pigs that were unfit for slaughter into the streets to fend for themselves. They were identified by a bell around their neck and some prospered sufficiently to get fat enough to eat. Every now and then the paviours (who maintained the roads) rounded them up and delivered them to feed the poor and needy in the care of St Anthony’s Hospital.

Now, from pigs to swans.

The Vintners and Dyers Companies share in the ownership of mute swans with the monarch and it is their job to catch and ring them in a ceremony known as ‘swan upping’ done each June. This man, the Swan Marker, is in charge of the Vintners’ Swan Uppers for the event, but also wears the uniform of Barge Master, dating back to the time when the Company owned a ceremonial barge on the Thames. Here he is with a feathered companion outside the church of St James Garlickhythe

The Barge Master badge …

Clever advertising in Portugal …

Gifts to take home from Portugal …

Gifts to take home from London …

A sunny day at the Regent’s Canal, St Pancras …

I grabbed this image since the sky and clouds were so attractive. St Stephen Walbrook (1672) was Christopher Wren’s prototype for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the first classical dome to be built in England at the time …

Whoever decided to place this pool here in Cannon Street was a genius …

Lots of creative ideas for your pastry …

Batman and Robin street art snog …

You may be surprised to know that in the early 1950s comics they seemed to share a bed …

When observations were made about this the publishers were quick to make a statement, and I quote it here :

‘It’s necessary to point out that, no — they’re not sharing a bed, as many mistakenly think. You can distinctly make out a gap in the backboard, meaning that, though they are sleeping unusually close together for an adult guardian and his teen ward, they’re not in bed together‘.

So that’s cleared that up!

Nothing odd about a bit of nude sunlamp toning either, by the way …

Speculation as to the pair’s sexuality is discussed in The Slate article entitled, rather unfortunately, A Brief History of Dick.

I was invited for lunch at the Institute of Chartered Accountants and so got to see some of their splendid stained glass …

Another highlight of my year was seeing Tower Bridge raised. I have lived in London all my life and can’t recall witnessing this before in person rather than on TV …

And finally, another big ‘thank you’ to our wonderful City of London gardeners who work so hard all year to keep the place looking fresh and green …

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Great sculpture and flying broomsticks, all within a 15 minute walk.

Sculpture in the City is back along with a fun new pop-up shop in Leadenhall Market. If you work nearby scroll down to the end of this blog for more details – you won’t be disappointed. Here’s a hint of what’s in store …

Let’s look at some sculpture first, and I shall include the explanatory plaques that accompany the works. This is just a selection – go to the website for full details.

I’ll start with the seriously weird at Aldgate Square EC3N 1AF …

Onward now to others starting with Summer Moon at Undershaft EC3A 8AH (Next to St Helen’s Church) …

I love the texture …

… and the location …

Sandwich at Undershaft, EC2N 4AJ (In front of Crosby Square) …

Rough Neck Business at 100 Bishopsgate EC2M 1GT …

Orphans at Cullum Street EC3M 7JJ …

Burial at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Churchyard EC2M 3TL …

Cosmos at Undershaft EC3P 3DQ (Between Aviva and the Leadenhall Building) …

Untitled at 70 St Mary Axe EC3A 8BE …

Generations (Part2) at The Leadenhall Building EC3V 4AB …

Miss at the corner of Bishopsgate & Wormwood Street EC2M 3XD …

And finally The Granary at Cunard Place EC3A 5AR …

Now for something completely different and lighthearted.

The fantastic Monster Supplies Company has opened a pop-up store in Leadenhall Market only a few steps from the Lamb Tavern …

Train strike day – no problem! Just grab a very reasonably priced flying broomstick and soar above the traffic as you head home …

The store was packed with visitors when I called in yesterday …

With Halloween coming up, and Christmas not far behind, there are lots of wacky present opportunities …

Kids seemed to love items with rather disgusting or gruesome names …

These are difficult times so pop along to Leadenhall Market. I guarantee you will feel more cheerful after your visit and maybe come away with Hope and Laughter …

The shop is open Tuesday to Friday from 11:00am to 6:00pm. If you can’t visit in person for any reason you can buy online here.

All proceeds from sales go to support the wonderful Ministry of Stories charity, a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people in Hackney aged 8 to 18. You could also visit their store in Hoxton which I have written about before in my blog entitled, not surprisingly, A visit to the Monster Supplies Store.

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Hats, heads, handsome models and spooky manikins – a stroll down Commercial Road.

I have driven along Commercial Road hundreds, probably thousands, of times and often thought it would be good to take a closer look. These images are the result.

Commercial Road was constructed in 1802–6 as a direct route to link dock traffic between the West India Docks and East India Docks to the City of London. It’s now flanked on either side by numerous businesses involved in the garment trade, which has been historically based in the area. Many are small enterprises and most seem to be ‘wholesale only’ although some are happy to take orders as low as £150.

Here are my favourites.

First up – rather spooky manikins …

They reminded me of the scary shape-shifting robot in the Terminator movie …

They’re a bit less scary when dressed up …

Hats and heads, starting with the obvious place …

Across the road … Boy George? …

Heads awaiting hats …

Why do I find this one so disturbing?

Hey, good looking …

A nice window composition …

Some miscellaneous pics …

When I first read this I thought it said ‘naughty wear’. Actually, I suppose it is …

Every window frame seems to be plastered with ads like these …

Items I was tempted to buy.

Surely my wife would appreciate this …

… and maybe I should plan in advance for a cold Winter …

Someone has misbehaved …

I really enjoyed my visit to this vibrant part of London and I hope you enjoyed viewing the images.

I went home via Aldgate East Underground Station, admiring the 1930s roundel at the entrance …

… and the fascinating tiles on the platform …

I have written about them before in my September 2019 blog.

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The Whitecross Street Party Art – even better this year. Check out the robin with the positive Covid test!

The announcement I always look forward to …

Crazy creatures blocking the road mean something interesting is happening further up the street …

Lots of stalls …

You won’t go hungry …

There’s a friendly dragon …

A sunbathing fox …

And a shy whale …

Over the weekend there is art being created everywhere ….

Aspiring future exhibitors …

Some of the finished work …

Look at what the jackdaw has in his beak …

Extraordinary work by Stringman …

And the ones that made me smile …

Goodbye until next year …

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‘Cock a Doodle Doo’ – Special farm animal edition – with added Jubilee Corgis!

More animals this week with, of course, a nod to Her Majesty’s special weekend. More of this chap and his friends later …

Researching this blog has led me to some fascinating facts. I didn’t, for example, know that a cockerel is a young male bird which, after it’s a year old, is called a rooster. Generously, I provide important information like this to my blog subscribers free of charge.

The rooster had profound religious significance. In the Bible, Jesus foretold that Peter, one of his most devoted disciples, would betray him. “…Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” (Matthew 26:34). And so the rooster became an emblem of Peter’s betrayal. Sometime between 590 and 604 A.D., Pope Gregory I declared that the rooster, emblem of St. Peter, was the most suitable symbol for Christianity. In the 9th century, Pope Nicholas made the rooster official and declared that that all churches must display the rooster on their steeples or domes. I’ve found three in the City.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower …

St Andrew Undershaft …

And St Dunstan-in-the East …

The weathervane above the Rookery Hotel in Smithfield references the nearby meat market …

The building is at the junction of Cowcross Street and Peter’s Lane. Wander down the Lane and you’ll see that the brick walls of the tower have been embellished with bulls’ and cows’ heads modelled and cast in glass reinforced resin by Mark Merer and Lucy Glendenning. The bovine theme was used as a decorative motif because for centuries Cowcross street was part of a route used by drovers to bring cows to be slaughtered at Smithfield …

Another bull at the Smithfield Tavern on Charterhouse Street (EC1M 6HW) …

A herd moves along the north side of the street opposite the meat market …

Two rams are following up the rear. There a quite few of them around the City.

At the end of New Street off Bishopsgate (EC2M 4TP) you will find this one 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.

The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers have a ram in their coat of arms, Here one presides over the entrance to Dunster Court, Mincing Lane (EC3R 7AH) …

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

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

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

There are sheep in the City too.

In Paternoster Square is a 1975 bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink which I particularly like – a ‘naked’ shepherd with a crook in his left hand walks behind a small flock of five sheep …

Dame Elisabeth was, anecdotally, very fond of putting large testicles on her sculptures of both men and animals. In fact, her Catalogue Raisonné informs us that she ‘drew testicles on man and beast better than anyone’ and saw them with ‘a fresh, matter-of-fact delight’. It was reported in 1975, however, that the nude figure had been emasculated ‘to avoid any embarrassment in an ecclesiastical setting’. The sculpture is called Paternoster.

Outside Spitalfields Market, is the wonderfully entitled I Goat. In the background is Hawksmoor’s Christ Church …

It was hand sculpted by Kenny Hunter and won the Spitalfields Sculpture Prize in 2010.

The sculptor commented …

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

And now to those Corgis.

I just had to visit the magnificent Elizabeth Line shortly after it opened. Looking down the escalators at Farringdon I noticed a flash of pink on the left …

Fortunately I didn’t have to run backwards to get a close up shot since you’ll find these little creatures looking out at you on numerous walkways and platforms …

Inside the carriages you can admire the specially designed moquette …

‘Moquette’ is a woven pile fabric. With an almost velvet-like texture, it’s comfortable but still extremely durable, making it ideal for seats on public transport. Transport for London’s moquette designs tend to consist of a repeat geometric pattern, making it easy to match fabrics when upholstering seats, as well as helping to reduce wastage and keep costs down. You can read more about the background to the design here.

If you really like it you can buy a matching scarf and socks! Or maybe a nice bench – a snip at £450. If you’re working from home perhaps you could sit on it and pretend you’re commuting.

I took the train to Whitechapel and had a quick look at some of the portraits by Chantal Joffe. She has lived in east London for many years and her 2m-tall portraits are made from laser-cut aluminium. They’re inspired by her Sunday wanderings among the cosmopolitan crowds thronging the streets and markets around the station—a neighbourhood that has been home to many of London’s migrant communities for centuries. Here are a few examples of her work …

Definitely worth a visit.

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More Street art (particularly work supporting Ukraine).

I popped over to the Brick Lane area in order to see what was happening in the flourishing street art scene and noticed that Ukraine and its struggle is beginning to emerge as a subject. I took these images in Fournier Street …

I’m indebted to The Londonist blog for further images …

And one I particularly like. Crystal Palace folk know how to send an authentic London message! …

Meanwhile, in Paris …

And this City of London shop repainted its signage …

Here are some other pics from my wanderings …

And some that made me smile …
And I did!

This one (and several like it) is on the wall beneath a warehouse now converted into apartments. Made me stand back and wonder what on earth could fall on my head …

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From Submariners to the Blitz Firefighters – a walk along Embankment towards St Paul’s.

A lovely Sunny day last Saturday tempted me out for a walk.

The national Submarine Memorial Memorial on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ) is, I think, one of London’s most moving.

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 …

On a more lighthearted vein, walk east from the Memorial on the north side of the road and you’ll find this chap frantically trying to hail a taxi …

Taxi! by the American Sculptor J Seward Johnson is cast bronze and is now interestingly weathered. If you think the baggy trousers, moustache and side parting are erring on the retro, that’s because this particular office worker was transferred from New York in 2014. It was sculpted in 1983 and originally stood on Park Avenue and 47th Street.

I love this pair of ‘dolphin’ lamps (although they are actually sturgeon) ..

Neptune also makes an appearance …

Further east you can wave to the pretty mermaid who embellishes the Art Deco style Unilever Building …

Further along the lamps repay detailed study …

Across the road, a jolly friar looks down from the Blackfriar pub …

Carry on along Queen Victoria Street and admire the imposing College of Arms building …

… and its ornate gate …

St Peter’s Hill runs north alongside the College and at the top you will find the Firefighters Memorial. On its octagonal bronze base are the names of the 997 men and women of the fire service who lost their lives during the conflict. The sculpture features two firemen ‘working a branch’, with their legs spread to take the strain of the hose …

A sub-officer directs others to assist. There are clues to the identity of this figure scattered among the debris at the figures’ feet: the letters CTD for C.T. Demarne. At the unveiling, his colleagues from the fire service claimed that there was no need for such clues. One who was interviewed by the Telegraph stated: ‘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 bombings …

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

Across the road, just south of the Cathedral, is this rather handsome bearded gentleman …

John Donne 1572-1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012).

In 1617, two years after his ordination, Donne’s wife died at age 33 after giving birth to a stillborn child, their twelfth. Grief-stricken at having lost his emotional anchor, Donne vowed never to marry again, even though he was left with the task of raising his ten surviving children in modest financial circumstances. His bereavement turned him fully to his vocation as an Anglican divine and, on November 22, 1621, Donne was installed as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The power and eloquence of his sermons soon secured for him a reputation as the foremost preacher in the England of his day, and he became a favourite of both Kings James I and Charles I.

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.’

Incidentally, if you walk around the east side of the Cathedral you will see scars from the Second World War bombing which illustrate just how close the building came to destruction …

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A mystery solved and some things that made me smile.

Let’s start with the mystery.

Back in August last year I spoke of a mystery connected to these two gravestones in the old parish churchyard of St Ann Blackfriars in Church Entry (EC4V 5HB) …

My ‘go to’ source of information when it comes to grave markers is the estimable Percy C. Rushen who published this guide in 1910 when he noticed that memorials were disappearing at a worrying rate due to pollution and redevelopment …

So when I came across the last two stones in this graveyard with difficult to read inscriptions I did what I normally do which is to consult Percy’s book in order to see what the full dedication was.

There was, however, a snag. Neither headstone is recorded in Percy’s list for St Ann Blackfriars. Let’s look at them one by one. This is the stone for Thomas Wright …

Fortunately, the book lists people in alphabetical order and, although there isn’t a Wright recorded at St Ann’s, there is one recorded at St Peter, Paul’s Wharf. It’s definitely the same one and reads as follows :

THOMAS WRIGHT, died 29 May 1845, father of the late Mrs Mary Ann Burnet.

The inscription of another stone recorded in the same churchyard reads …

CAROLINE, wife of JAMES BURNET , died 26 July 1830, aged 36.

MARY ANN, his second wife, died 12 April1840, aged 36.

JAMES BURNET, above, died … 1842, aged …3

St Peter, Paul’s Wharf, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt but obviously its churchyard was still there in 1910. And it was still there in the 1950s as this map shows. I have indicated it in the bottom right hand corner with the other pencil showing the location of Church Entry and St Ann’s burial ground …

This is the present day site of Thomas Wright’s original burial place, now Peter’s Hill and the approach to the Millennium Bridge …

The stone must have been moved some time in the mid-20th century, but the question is, was Thomas moved as well? Have his bones finally come to rest in Church Entry? I have been unable to find out.

This is the headstone alongside Thomas’s …

It reads as follows …

In Memory of MARY ROBERTS wife of David Roberts who died the 14th February 1787 aged 34 years. Also two of their children who died in their infancy … the aforesaid DAVID ROBERTS who died the 25th May 1802, aged 52 years.

The mystery surrounding this stone was that, although there are quite a few people called Roberts recorded in Percy’s memorial list, none of them are called Mary or David. So, assuming, the book is complete (and Percy was obviously very fastidious) I wondered where this marker came from.

As a result of the blog, I was contacted by Leah Earl who had been researching old parish records. She discovered that the burials of David and Mary Roberts are recorded in the burial registers for St Peter, Paul’s Wharf, so the grave marker ought to have been there when Percy was transcribing. Since Percy was so careful I can only imagine that he missed this stone either because it had fallen on its face or it had been hidden behind some stones that had been stacked up.

Here are the two pages from the records.

David Roberts is fourth from the bottom on this page …

In this page you can see the tragic year of 1787 unfolding …

The record states that Mary, David’s wife, was buried on the 18th February and her newborn son, John, ten days later. Another child, Sophia, is buried three months after her mother on 30th May. These must be the two children of theirs who ‘died in infancy’. You’ll see that Mary’s age is given as 34 on the gravestone but 35 in the written record.

There is also a record of an Ann Roberts who died aged four on 22nd November 1787 but presumably she is not the child of David and Mary since she’s not mentioned on the marker.

About one in three children born in 1800 did not make it to their fifth birthday and maternal deaths at birth have been estimated at about five per thousand (although that is probably on the low side). Just by way of comparison, in 2016 to 2018, among the 2.2 million women who gave birth in the UK, 547 died during or up to a year after pregnancy from causes associated with their pregnancy. The 1800 equivalent rate would have meant 11,000 deaths.

If you are interested to know more about maternal mortality, its history and causes, you’ll find this incredibly informative article in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Most disturbing is how doctors who discovered the underlying cause of many deaths were disbelieved and vilified by the medical profession as a whole, thus allowing unnecessarily high mortality to continue for decades.

Now, on a more cheerful note, here are a few things that made me smile recently.

As I descended the stairs to Mansion House Station from Bow Lane I came across this little oasis of calm tucked away in a corner …

I have no idea what this is all about but it really cheered me up – so nice that it hasn’t been vandalised.

A couple of cars caught my eye …

Lord knows what this was doing parked outside the Linklaters law firm. Maybe the partners were going to a wedding.

And surely this car belongs to an old – school yuppie …

I wouldn’t argue with the sentiment above this door …

And finally, the City is being populated with some cheery new benches. These are in Aldermanbury …

Incidentally, the tree in the background is Cercis siliquastrum. It is also known as the ‘Judas tree’. This comes from the legend that Judas Iscariot, full of shame after his betrayal of Jesus, hanged himself from one of its branches.

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New year quirkiness – a ‘cottage’ by the tracks, an eccentric doctor and an interesting piece of tree.

Regular readers will know that I can’t always think of a theme and, instead, produce a random collection of stories that may be of interest and today’s blog is one of those.

I’ll start with The Cottage at number 3 Hayne Street, just off Charterhouse Square …

I am indebted to Katie Wignall, the Look up London blogger, for some background information.

The road was first called Charterhouse Street and laid out in 1687 but then along came the Metropolitan Railway and, as part of the work to extend the railway from Moorgate to Farringdon, Charterhouse Street was demolished. In 1873-74 Hayne Street replaced it (according to Pevsner, it’s named after the developer).

So now, teetering on the edge of the tracks and overlooking Barbican Underground Station, house number 3 is the final remnant of this 19th century thoroughfare …

Photo credit : Katie Wignall.

The view from the station platform …

It was scheduled for demolition but I think that would be rather sad. It seems safe at the moment so let’s hope the plans to destroy it have been abandoned. Maybe one day someone might actually live there (would suit an Underground railway enthusiast!) …

So often entrances don’t look very promising but turn out to reveal something quite fascinating and this is true of Masons Avenue.

Firstly, it doesn’t look much like an ‘avenue’, defined in my dictionary as ‘a broad road in a town or city, typically having trees at regular intervals along its sides’. Really more of an alley, it runs between Basinghall Street in the west and Coleman Street in the east and contains a number of very interesting features …

It’s lined with a mock-tudor frontage, which is sadly less than 100 years old — it dates from 1928 …

There is also a nice boundary mark for the parish church of St Stephen Coleman Street dated 1860 …

That figure in the middle is a cockerell in a hoop. In 1431, John Sokelyng, who owned a neighbouring brewery called ‘La Cokke on the hoop’, died and left a bequest to St. Stephen’s on the condition that a mass be sung on the anniversary of his death and that of his two wives. The gift was commemorated by a cock in a hoop motif that would decorate the church until the building was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. Here’s the marker again in its wider setting …

Number 12 boasts an attractive stained glass window (about which I have not been able to find any information) …

In my view, however, the alley’s crowning glory is this old pub …

It is very nice to find a pub sign where the portrait does justice to its name, in this case William Butler (1535–1618). Wikipedia states he was ‘an English academic and physician. A Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, he gained a reputation as an eccentric, a drunkard, and (was once described as) the greatest physician of his time’ …

Here is an image held at la Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de santé

I am always a bit wary of describing medical practitioners from previous centuries as ‘quacks’ since very often they were simply following traditional procedures and in many cases were incredibly well educated.

Some of Dr Butler’s remedies could, however, be described as ‘eccentric’ even for the times. For example, as a cure for epilepsy, he would fire a brace of pistols near his unsuspecting patient, to scare the condition out of them. He is said to have revived a man suffering from an accidental opium overdose by placing him in the chest cavity of a recently-slaughtered cow, and cured another patient of a fever by having him thrown off a balcony into the Thames. On a more enlightened note, he opposed the then common practice of blood-letting.

Here’s his portrait, held at Clare College, to which he bequeathed £260 (about £65,000 today) for the purchase of ‘finest gold,’ from which a chalice and a paten were made…

His biggest claim to fame (apart from being court physician to King James I) is his invention of a medicinal drink known as Dr Butler’s purging ale. Eighteenth-century recipes for the drink listed the ingredients as betony (a bitter grassland plant), sage, agrimony (a wayside plant popular in herbal medicine), scurvy-grass (a seaside plant high in Vitamin C, also used to make scurvy-grass ale), Roman wormwood (less potent than “regular” wormwood but still bitter), elecampane (a dandelion-like bitter plant that continues to be used in herbal cough mixtures) and horseradish, which were to be mixed and put in a bag which should be hung in casks of new ale while they underwent fermentation.

Whether this cured anything or not is unknown but it’s quite likely some degree of purging took place after drinking it! In any case, Doctor Butler’s ale became so successful that a number of pubs were named after him of which the Masons Avenue hostelry is the last remaining. Sadly, Purging Ale is no longer available on tap.

His archive is available to view at his old college and you can read more about it here. Look out for this document where he uses an extra thick nib to describe someone as a ‘Brasen faced lyer‘ …

The pub has some nice external decoration but I couldn’t visit the interior due to Covid-related closure …

Whilst in pedantic mode I couldn’t help but notice that the name of the alley in the City nameplate carries an apostrophe whereas the name in the pediment over the entrance does not …

And finally, a piece of tree. You’ll find it on the Barbican Highwalk if you access it from Barbican Underground Station …

The plaque explains all …

Perhaps I’ll sit there when looking for inspiration for next week’s blog.

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Christmas lights and the Bash Street Kids!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it rather difficult to feel very ‘Christmassy’ this year. However, the Christmas lights are beginning to cheer me up and here is my selection (plus a fascinating visit I made to Somerset House).

I’ll start with one of my favourites – hats off to Chartered Accountants Hall …

I think those icicles look really authentic …

Then there’s this installation at City Point …

And on the St Alphage Highwalk overlooking the Salters’ Hall garden. This one is constantly changing …

A profound message on the green wall nearby …

Onward to Spitalfields Market …

And Bishopsgate …

And Broadgate …

Here’s a small Christmas tree selection, starting with City of London Girls’ School …

Wood Street …

St Giles Church …

King’s Cross Station …

The Courtauld Gallery …

And Somerset House with the skating rink in the background …

What was I doing at Somerset House?

Visiting the Beano Exhibition of course. Here’s edition Number 1 …

There are reckoned to be only 25 copies still in existence and one sold in 2015 for £17,300.

I laughed out loud at this imagining of how the Bash Street Kids turned out 30 years on. Especially Smiffy!

There’s a first edition of the Dandy on display also …

In 2004 a copy fetched £20,350. Only 10 copies of the comic’s first edition are known to exist, but the free gift metal whistler sold in the auction is the only one to have survived.

It’s a great exhibition, highly recommended …

Be sure to log in next week because it’s the famous Christmas Quiz!

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Some things I have seen on recent wanderings – from traitors’ heads to woolly mammoths.

As regular readers will know, every now and then I like to publish some images that I have taken that don’t fit easily into any particular theme and this week’s blog is an example. They include wanderings outside the City and even London itself but I hope you will still enjoy them.

Walking down Errol Street in Islington (EC1Y 8LU – opposite Waitrose) I looked up and, for the first time, noticed this very touching memorial …

This wonderful map entitled The Streets They Left Behind is interactive. Just click on the poppies to read more about the men who never returned.

Just across the road in Whitecross Street are the premises of A Holt & Sons Ltd …

Because so many trades have moved out of the City and its adjacent boroughs, I had always assumed that the building contained flats and that the signage had been retained as a quaint ‘feature’ to attract tenants. How wrong I was!

The business (which specialises in cotton textiles) was founded by Abraham Holtz who started his enterprise on a stall nearby and who then bought these premises in 1864. It has been in the family ever since (the ‘z’ was dropped from the name at the time of the First World War). Have a look at their website for the full fascinating story.

The building is adjacent to the tiny, covered alley called Shrewsbury Court …

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to establish the origin of its name. You can read more about its history here in the splendid Ian Visits blog.

A few yards inside the alley is one of my favourite London doors. The story I have conjured up in my mind is that, some time in the early 1970s, the people living there found that visitors knocked on the door rather than ringing the bell. When asked why, callers usually said that they didn’t know there was a bell. As a consequence, the residents (who obviously had artistic talents) got out their paint brushes and added this helpful sign to indicate where the push button bell was. Brilliant!

If learning a bit more about City doors takes your fancy have a look at my blog entitled That rings a Bell.

The other day at the Museum of London I was admiring this painting of London as seen from Southwark in around 1630. It’s one of the few painted records of the City before it was destroyed in the Great Fire …

My eye was drawn to London Bridge where a wide selection of traitors’ heads offered a grisly welcome to newcomers approaching from the south …

I liked this view of the outside of the Charterhouse with the very old gates, a gas lamp and an iconic red London pillar box …

The Kentish ragstone wall is fantastic …

I wrote recently about the great Italian experience that is Eataly on Bishopsgate. Here’s some of the scrumptious produce on sale …

There are a few doorways around the City that have always intrigued me since the wood seems to be incredibly old and repurposed from another function. The first is on Foster Lane and the next two Carter Lane …

I have noticed a recent trend in City opticians to have really wacky displays that don’t seem to bear much resemblance at all to their product. This one’s in Aldersgate and is obviously referencing the nearby Barbican estate …

Generally speaking, I don’t approve of graffiti, but this made me laugh …

When visiting Highgate Cemetery a few weeks ago I encountered these two ladies on Highgate Hill. The first (‘Big girls need big diamonds’) is obviously Elizabeth Taylor …

If you are visiting nearby and are interested in finding them they are on the outside wall of the oddly named Brendan the Navigator pub (N19 5NQ).

In the Egyptian Avenue in Highgate Cemetery you will come across the vault containing the remains of Mabel Veronica Batten. In front of the entrance there are always fresh flowers placed in a marble container inscribed with the name of her lover, Radclyffe Hall, who is also laid to rest there …

Hall, born Marguerite Radclyffe Hall but known to her loved ones as John, was a lesbian who dressed in men’s clothes in a society and era when same-sex love was considered not only immoral but legally punishable. Her book, The Well of Loneliness, dealing with a love between two women, was published in 1928. Here she is circa 1910 …

Picture: National Portrait Gallery, photographer unknown.

Her novel became the target of a campaign by James Douglas, editor of the Sunday Express, who wrote, ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel.’ A judge eventually ordered the book destroyed, with the defendants to pay court costs.

A lady entrepreneur sets out her wares on Kilburn High Road …

Nearby stalls …

And finally, some images from a really enjoyable trip to Ipswich.

Ipswich Museum is a delight containing an extraordinary range of exhibits, all displayed in an authentic Victorian environment.

Ever wondered what a boa constrictor’s skeleton looks like? Wonder no more …

Ever fancied a close encounter with a woolly mammoth? This is the place to come …

In a sad sign of the times, ten years ago someone broke in and sawed off and stole Rosie the Rhino’s horn!

Staying at the Salthouse Harbour Hotel was fun. There is some interesting art on display …

And some, er, rather eccentric signage …

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In search of some colour and humour.

When the weather was miserable at the beginning of the month I decided to go in search of some colour and humour to cheer myself up. I started a little to the east of the City in Rivington Street and wandered slowly back to Whitecross Street. I finished with a quick diversion to Paternoster Square to see something unusual – wall-painted street art in the City of London itself.

My first exciting discovery was this work by Dan Kitchener outside the Callooh Gallery …

Underneath the railway bridge …

Hopes and dreams …

Oh dear …

And nearby, by Steve McCracken

Rude but made me laugh …

Note the work by Stik in the top left, and can you spot the cute bunny rabbit carrying a grenade?

Here he is …

More by Thierry Noir

I know I posted this before but can’t resist doing it again …

Can you see the old fireplaces? Probably exposed as a result of bombing and now bricked up. I got a bit carried away thinking about families gathered around them in wintertime, chatting and drinking tea and maybe making toast just like I did as a kid …

On Boot Street N1 6HJ.

As I left the subway I caught a glimpse of the spectacular Leysian Mission building – something for a future blog …

I’ll have to do a bit of research. I really liked the doorbells but resisted the temptation to press one to see if they still worked …

These plaques, placed by some of the great and the good at the turn of the last century, were intriguing also …

I noticed the green line on the pavement, there to help sight-impaired people find their way from the Underground station to Moorfields Eye Hospital. Some say that green is the last colour you see before you lose your vision entirely but I couldn’t find a scientific confirmation of this …

And so onward to the western branch of Old Street and some street art by Bowen and Blackmore

Now half way down Whitecross Street. Note the ‘correspondence’ …

Alongside, the pretty tattooed angel now has a weird companion …

Finally, off to Paternoster Square to record these two characters flanking the entrance to the public loos (EC4M 7BP)!

Only a week to go!!! Don’t forget, there’s an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson now set up for you to visit. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You’ll find Natalie’s banners on the Thames Path at Walbrook Wharf. Here are a few images to whet your appetite …

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Fun at the Whitecross Street Party!

Last Saturday I knew I would be in for a treat when I saw these creatures blocking the road …

Poetry on one of the performance stages …

Time to get creative …

Who needs brushes when a handful of paint will do!

Concentration is so important …

There were lots of places to hunker down and enjoy the day …

Learn about saving our planet whilst having fun …

The grown-ups get to work on Saturday and Sunday …

The big paintbrush is back!

New murals take shape …

Artists at work …

The day wouldn’t be complete without the bonkers balloons …

Don’t forget, there’s an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson now set up for you to visit. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You’ll find Natalie’s banners on the Thames Path at Walbrook Wharf. Here are a few images to whet your appetite …

You can find more details of her display here and its digital counterpart here

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/

Some things that made me smile …

I know London is gradually creeping back to a feeling of normality but it still seems a bit grim on occasion, so I’d like to share with you some of the things I have seen or done over the last year that have made me smile.

As lockdown dragged on, I solved the problem of not knowing what day of the week it was. These socks, stored in the correct order, were invaluable (and still are) …

When alcohol was only allowed to be sold when accompanying a meal this was a creative approach …

Mrs Duck and her happy little family – I think most survived to adulthood this year because the seagulls (who enjoy a tasty duckling snack) seem to have gone AWOL …

The big bird of Narrow Street …

‘Herring Gull’ by Jane Ackroyd.

Slightly bonkers window display on Ludgate Hill …

A seat called The Friendly Blob in Bow Churchyard …

You can read more about it here …

Another seat from the Festival installed nearby …

I enjoyed reading this ‘correspondence’ …

Great flower display work by our car park attendants (the origins of the boxes say much about the drinking habits in our block) …

I just had to publish this again …

Sweet message left outside Waitrose …

It’s a bit disconcerting when you visit the Museum of London and see an item you once wore when it was the height of fashion …

Remind you of anyone? …

Big nose at St Pancras …

For a moment I thought this sign was aimed at a guy called Graham … duh!

Wig shop ladies …

A little bit scary, I think …

I’ve seen similar plaques all over London. But then, I suppose, a time traveller would have ‘touched down’ in numerous places …

Humour in Highgate Cemetery – Better a spectacular failure than a benign success

The final chapter

Unequivocal statement …

Pimlico Plumbers registration plates – a small collection …

A timely message from the Clerkenwell Road Chiropractic Clinic …

Another nice suggestion for these difficult times …

Finally, two important dates for your diary.

Firstly, an exciting new installation created by my friend Natalie Robinson commences this Sunday, 5th September. The display is based on her body of work  ‘Reflection: what lies beneath – new maps’  and will be part of the Totally Thames 2021 Festival until the 30th.

You can find details of her display here and its digital counterpart here.

Secondly, the wonderful Whitcross Street Party is on again – see you there!

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Some mysteries, solved and unsolved … from strange street markings to wandering gravestones.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I began to write about the City was to continually look up and it’s true to say that I have often been surprised by what I have observed – from the Cornhill Devils to Mercer Maidens to a beautiful lighthouse on, of all places, Moorgate.

It’s also true to say, however, that looking down can be just as interesting.

Like me, you must have occasionally wondered what symbols like these painted on roads and pavements actually signify. I found this nice collection at the east end of Carter Lane …

Well, wonder no more, all the answers are here. For example …

Not surprisingly, and used in warning signs the world over, red paint denotes electricity. Thus red lines show where electricity cables run and mean that anyone digging there must do so with extreme caution.

White is like a little Post-It note for future contractors …

Blue is usually for water pipes …

Yellow refers to all things gas …

A growing hue in the pavement-marking business is green, the colour of cable communications, which includes town and city CCTV networks and cable television lines …

And finally some others in orange …

All are explained in this fascinating article entitled ‘What do those squiggles on the pavement actually mean? from which I have drawn extensively for this week’s blog.

Incidentally, whilst on Carter Lane I briefly looked up and was puzzled by the small plaque on the left of the parish boundary mark …

According to a document on the Essex Fire Brigade web site, FP stands for Fire Plug. Apparently in the early days of the fire service, and when many underground water pipes were made out of wood, firemen would dig down to the water main and bore a small, circular hole in the pipe to obtain a supply of water to fight the fire.

When finished, they would put a wooden plug into the hole, and leave an FP plate on a nearby wall to alert future firefighters that a water main with a plug already existed.

When wooden pipes were replaced by cast iron pipes in the 19th century, workmen would often bore a small hole in the pipe and fit with a wooden plug when they saw an FP plate. This would later be replaced with the Fire Hydrant method, which would be identified by a large H. Many thanks to the London Inheritance blog for this information.

Looking down can be a bit addictive and another puzzle it presented me with were these ‘V’- shaped incisions into kerb stones. I found a number of examples in EC1.

On Old Street …

Look carefully and you can see there are two of them.

And Dufferin Street …

And Roscoe Street …

Discovering what they might mean proved rather difficult and I entered a whole new world when I started my research. Look at this article entitled The World of Carvings and Stories and click on some of the useful links. I shall continue to look down and see if I encounter any more.

In last week’s blog I spoke of a mystery connected to these two gravestones in the old parish churchyard of St Ann Blackfriars in Church Entry (EC4V 5HB) …

My ‘go to’ source of information when it comes to grave markers is the estimable Percy C. Rushen who published this guide in 1910 when he noticed that memorials were disappearing at a worrying rate due to pollution and redevelopment …

So when I came across the last two stones in this graveyard with difficult to read inscriptions I did what I normally do which is to consult Percy’s book in order to see what the full dedication was.

There was, however, a snag. Neither headstone is recorded in Percy’s list for St Ann Blackfriars. Let’s look at them one by one. This is the stone for Thomas Wright …

Fortunately, the book lists people in alphabetical order and, although there isn’t a Wright recorded at St Ann’s, there is one recorded at St Peter, Paul’s Wharf. It’s definitely the same one and reads as follows :

THOMAS WRIGHT, died 29 May 1845, father of the late Mrs Mary Ann Burnet.

The inscription of another stone recorded in the same churchyard reads …

CAROLINE, wife of JAMES BURNET , died 26 July 1830, aged 36.

MARY ANN, his second wife, died 12 April1840, aged 36.

JAMES BURNET, above, died … 1842, aged …3

St Peter, Paul’s Wharf, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt but obviously its churchyard was still there in 1910. And it was still there in the 1950s as this map shows. I have indicated it in the bottom right hand corner with the other pencil showing the location of Church Entry and St Ann’s burial ground …

This is the present day site of Thomas Wright’s original burial place, now Peter’s Hill and the approach to the Millennium Bridge …

The stone must have been moved some time in the mid-20th century, but the question is, was Thomas moved as well? Have his bones finally come to rest in Church Entry? I have been unable to find out.

This is the headstone alongside Thomas’s …

It reads as follows …

In Memory of MARY ROBERTS who died the 14th February 1787. Also two of their children who died in their infancy like the wife of the aforesaid DAVID ROBERTS who died the 25th May 1802, aged 52 years.

I have read this to mean that Mary died in childbirth – a terrible risk at the time. About one in three children born in 1800 did not make it to their fifth birthday and maternal deaths at birth have been estimated at about five per thousand (although that is probably on the low side). Just by way of comparison, in 2016 to 2018, among the 2.2 million women who gave birth in the UK, 547 died during or up to a year after pregnancy from causes associated with their pregnancy. The 1800 equivalent rate would have meant 11,000 deaths.

If you are interested to know more about maternal mortality, its history and causes, you’ll find this incredibly informative article in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Most disturbing is how doctors who discovered the underlying cause of many deaths were disbelieved and vilified by the medical profession as a whole, thus allowing unnecessarily high mortality to continue for decades.

The mystery surrounding this stone is that, although there are quite a few people called Roberts recorded in Percy’s memorial list, none of them are called Mary or David. So, assuming, the book is complete (and Percy was obviously very fastidious) I wonder where this marker comes from.

That’s all for this week – I shall continue to try to solve the mysteries I have written about.

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Reflections, colours and shapes – what fun I have had.

Sometimes, when the weather is nice, I find it great fun to just wander about taking whatever images I fancy, hoping they will eventually build into some kind of coherent whole. For a while now, sunshine has drawn me into looking at subjects in a slightly more abstract way rather than trying to make them tell a story, and this blog is the result.

I am really, really proud of this image. It’s the reflection on the bonnet and windscreen of a car parked in Wood Street. I love the way the nearby building seems to stretch away into infinity …

The Gherkin and part of the tower of St Andrew Undershaft are reflected in the Scalpel skyscraper (EC3M 7BS) …

The poor Gherkin is gradually vanishing behind its more intrusive neighbours …

But it’s still great to visit the restaurant on the roof and just look up …

A mirror sculpture across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral – I waited specially for the red bus …

Stephen Osborne was laid to rest here almost 320 years ago and since then the sunlight has been reflecting off his gravestone in the south aisle of Southwark Cathedral (SE1 9DA). Hundreds of years of footfall have worn down the elaborate family coat of arms but the quality of the stone and the carving mean we still know today the name of the person it commemorates …

Early morning colours, reflections and shadows …

A fiery, dramatic sunset reflection …

These walls alongside London Wall are from the chapel of St Mary Elsing. It was part of a hospital and priory which had been founded by Sir William Elsing early in the 14th century. I can just imagine a hunched medieval monk or nun emerging from the shadows …

If they could look up they’d get a bit of a shock. I like the way the modern building is framed by a six hundred-year-old arch …

Nearby are the lovely red bricks and diamond patterns of the medieval wall, built on top of the original Roman fortification (EC2Y 5DE) …

Now for some more colour.

A lucky shot – red crane and rainbow (a double rainbow, actually, if you look carefully) …

Modern architects seem to be using colour more adventurously …

Offices in Old Bailey – EC4M 7NB
View looking up from Sun Street (EC2A). The Georgian terrace house in the foreground and its neighbours are being converted into a hotel.

I like 88 Wood Street, but it’s a bit hemmed in by other buildings (EC2V 7QF) …

This optician on London Wall likes rather wacky window displays (EC2Y 5JA) …

Lady in red on Whitecross Street (EC1Y 8JA). She’s walking past the colourful exterior of the Prior Weston Primary School campus …

Now some very old colours. Crafts people restoring Holborn Viaduct recently discovered layers revealing 150 years of repainting …

Time for some shapes and shadows.

No one does symmetry quite like Mother Nature …

A concrete buttress in a car park resembles the prow of a ship as the sun shines through the grating above …

Practicality combined with aesthetic beauty …

At the corner of Clerkenwell Road and St John Street is the building which once housed the Criterion Hotel (EC1V 4JS). Look up and you will see this lovely, painstakingly created Victorian brick decoration. I don’t know what the frogs represent, or maybe they are toads …

Read more about the area in my blog City of London Pub Ghosts.

Where the Barbican archers will be placed if the Estate requires defending …

More morning shadows …

A gentle curve …

And seen from below …

And two more in sync …

Another outside Wax Chandler’s Hall in Gresham Street (EC2V 7AD) …

On a lighthearted note, ‘Luxury collar trim’ colour sample discarded in a skip outside the Barbican Theatre …

Finally, ‘Sunflower Surprise’ …

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A visit to the Monster Supplies store (and some interesting sights on Hoxton Street).

Every now and then I head a short distance out of the City and look in at my favourite store – Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (N1 6PJ). A location hiding a fascinating and important secret which will be revealed later …

You know you are just about to visit somewhere special before you even go through the door. What kind of a place has a dispenser outside offering you free poems?

And what kind of creatures need this guidance to remind them of social distancing?

No need to worry about going in – they have the appropriate licences …

Glancing through the window, some of the merchandise looks decidedly … er … odd …

On the packed shelves inside you will find lots of items that will give pleasure to yourself and any monsters you know (both little and grown up). There are, for example …

Even non-flying reptiles love Dragon Treats but caution is needed with the Guts and Garlic Chutney – as the label warns, it is definitely not suitable for vampires.

Originally made for Banshees, these Banshee Balls have brought soothing relief to humans too …

These days sensible monsters regularly sanitise …

Even if you didn’t enter the shop with a vague sense of unease, you can leave with one …

A notice at the counter gives a clue as to what this very special place is all about …

Behind a secret, cunningly camouflaged door, wonderful things happen (staff will grudgingly show you the door if you promise not to eat them when they emerge from behind the counter).

The shop supports the fantastic work undertaken by my favourite charity, The Ministry of Stories. Co-founded by author Nick Hornby in 2010, the charity’s mission is to develop self-respect and communication skills through innovative writing programmes and one-to-one mentoring. Its clients are children living in under-resourced communities and its work is conducted both in schools and at the dedicated writing centre behind the secret door in the shop.

Do read more on their fascinating website : https://ministryofstories.org/

I have seen some of the results of their work and it has been absolutely extraordinary. They are literally changing children’s lives for the better. If you like what you see maybe you will be kind enough to make a donation – all charities have been finding the last year difficult.

Or, visit the shop and stock up on unusual treats.

Opening times are:

  • Thursday 1pm-5pm
  • Friday 1pm-5pm
  • Saturday 11am-5pm
  • Closed Sun-Wed

The website will give you much more information : https://www.monstersupplies.org/pages/about-us

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was recently voted ‘No. 1 Kids’ Shop in London’ by Time Out Magazine – which was weird, because we are self-evidently a shop for monsters’.

You’ll see some interesting sights as you walk up Hoxton Street from the junction with Old Street.

A short way along on the left, at the entrance to Hoxton Square, is this piece of street art …

A few yards away is another work by the same artist but I can’t quite make out the signature …