Walking the City of London

Category: Religion Page 1 of 2

Another visit to Southwark Cathedral.

In last week’s blog I wrote about the memorial on Borough High Street to the 344 members of St Saviour’s Parish who lost their lives in the First World War. Next year it will be one hundred years since the memorial was funded by public subscription. The £4,000 raised also allowed a bronze memorial plaque by Sir John Ninian Comper to be erected in the Cathedral. Here it is …

You can read the names on the memorial here. Some families clearly lost more than one member (for example, there are two Pluckroses listed) and a few look like they may have lost three (for example G.Field, F.Field senr, F.Field jnr).

The Cathedral is home to many lavish, elaborate monuments, but the four most simple ones stayed in my mind the longest. The first was this tribute to little 10 year old Susanna Barford who died in 1652 …

A VIRGIN PURE NOT STAIN’D BY CARNALL LUST
SUCH GRACE THE KING OF KINGS BESTOWD UPON HER
THAT NOW SHEE LIVES WITH HIM A MAID OF HONOUR
HER STAGE WAS SHORT HER THREAD WAS QUICKLY SPUNN
DRAWNE OUT, AND CUTT GOTT HEAVEN, HER WORKE WAS DONE
THIS WORLD TO HER WAS BUT A TRAGED PLAY
SHEE CAME AND SAW’T DISLIK’T AND PASS’D AWAY.

The second was where Shakespeare buried his younger brother Edmund, an actor aged just twenty-seven in 1607, at the cost of twenty shillings ‘with a forenoone knell of the great bell.

Thirdly, this child’s parents wanted to record the exact duration of her short life …

And finally, an unflinching portrayal of death with a very succinct epitaph …

William Emerson, who ‘lived and died an honest man’ in 1575 aged 92. He is said in some guides to be an ancestor of Ralph Waldo Emerson. You can read more about the Emerson family in the great London Inheritance blog entitled Emerson Stairs, Bankside.

Now something much more flamboyant, a memorial to Joyce, Lady Clerke, paid for by her son William, from her first marriage to James Austin. …

Carved along the bottom on the pediment are the words Vos Estis Dei Agricultura (You are the Agriculture of God). The central section shows standing corn behind which rises a rock on which a golden angel stands, pointing upwards to a golden sunburst on the wall above. Down the rock a stream runs, and a serpent twines itself around the rock. On either side sit life-sized figures of harvesters in attitudes of mourning, wearing smocks and wheaten hats; a rake and pitchfork are propped against their knees. Click here for a more complete description and notes on the symbolism.

This monument shows Alderman Richard Humble, and his two wives Elizabeth and Isabel, kneeling in prayer …

It’s is a typical example of the ‘Southwark School’ of monuments made by a group of Flemish refugee sculptors who lived and worked on Bankside. The area around the Cathedral has a long tradition of accepting refugees into the community. Incidentally, the banner in the background is an art installation by Mark Titchner which declares ‘Please believe these days will pass‘.

A generous epitaph: Had Kings a power to lend their subjects breath, Trehearne thou shouldst not be cast down by death …

So Trehearne, who died in 1618, was obviously a much respected servant of King James I, whose loss was keenly felt. The role of Gentleman Porter to the King was one of great responsibility and honour. It meant that John Trehearne kept the ‘keys of the castle’ and was responsible for opening and closing the gates and for the safe passage of all those that passed through. He and his wife Mary are ‘supported’ by their children …

John Bingham, saddler and Vestryman, was instrumental in founding the parish school. He died in 1625 …

Sir Frederick Wigan was a wealthy hop merchant and the first Treasurer of the newly created Cathedral in 1905 …

You may recall that I wrote about the hop trade in last week’s blog.

Richard Blisse wears a fine full-bottomed wig ..

… a most affectionate husband, his wife Elizabeth, out of a just sense of her loss hath caused this monument to be erected as ye lasting testimony of her love. He died suddenly ye 4th of August and was buried underneath ye 12th of the same month Anno Dom 1703 aetat 67 …

Amongst all the men, there is this cameo of a lady …

Isabella Gilmore (née Morris) oversaw the revival of the Deaconess Order in the Anglican Communion. She served actively in the poorest parishes in South London for almost two decades and was the sister of William Morris.

Incidentally, some time ago two patches of Roman mosaic were discovered in the churchyard and they are now incorporated into the Cathedral floor. See if you can spot them – this is one of them …

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Shakespeare, a quack doctor and a cadaver – my visit to Southwark Cathedral.

Last Saturday I popped in to the wonderful Southwark Cathedral, paid £2 for a photography licence, and walked around entranced.

A few feet from the door is the magnificent Shakespeare Memorial Window, Designed by Christopher Webb, it was created in 1954 to replace another destroyed in enemy action. It shows characters from the Bard’s plays …

The design uses the concept of the Jesse Tree. Prospero in the central light forms the trunk, with Ariel above and Caliban at his feet …

I’m sure you can spot Falstaff …

In the right hand window we find Lady Macbeth ,,,

Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee …

and Hamlet …

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy …

At the base, the last two of the Seven Ages of Man … …

The sixth age slips into the lean and slippered pantaloon, with spectacles on nose … and his big manly voice turning again toward childish treble … Last scene of all, is second childishness … sans teeth, sans eyes sans everything.

All the characters portrayed in the window are identified in this short article.

Below the window is an alabaster sculpture. Made by Henry McCarthy in 1912, it shows the world’s most famous playwright resting outside the Globe Theatre. He usually has a sprig of rosemary in his hand. The aromatic herb rosemary, as Ophelia says to her brother Laertes in Hamlet, is for remembrance; ‘pray, love remember’ …

I was very taken with this remarkably lifelike bust …

This is Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 25 September 1626), the English bishop and scholar who oversaw the translation of the King James Version of the Bible …

Most importantly, I live in a block of flats named after him.

This effigy of an unknown knight is one of the earliest monumental wooden effigies in England, his mail coat and coif dating him to around 1280. He is believed to be a member of the de Warenne family who were benefactors of the priory …

Thomas Cure was a very important person in Southwark and London. He was the MP locally, and in East Grinstead, as well as the Master Saddler to King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I. He founded almshouses for the poor and these stood for nearly 300 years in Park Street, until the new railways forced their move to West Norwood. Eventually they were relocated, in the form of modern sheltered flats, to Purley, Surrey in 2006. Cure died in 1588 and this is a ‘cadaver tomb’, reminding us all of our mortality …

Is there anywhere in the world a more impressive monument to a quack ‘doctor’? Lionel Lockyer never qualified as a doctor (he was originally a tailor and a butcher) but became famous for his miracle pills that he claimed included sunbeams as an ingredient …

His tomb has an amusing inscription which includes the words …

His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known…
That envy can’t confine them vnder stone.
But they’ll surviue his dust and not expire
Till all things else at th’universall fire.

The man himself …

Lionel Lockyer. Line engraving by J. Sturt. Wellcome Library collections.

Following Lockyer’s death in 1672, his pills continued to be sold by his nephew, John Watts, in partnership with Thomas Fyge, an apothecary. The pills were sold wholesale in tins of 50 or 100 at a price of 4 shillings for 100. That equates to about two weeks’ wages for a skilled tradesman.

This is the tomb of John Gower. He was the Poet Laureate to Richard II and Henry IV and his head rests on his three best known books, Vox Clamantis in Latin, Speculum Meditantis in French, and Confessio Amantis in English. He died in 1408 …

I finished my short visit looking at a collection of medieval roof bosses. In 1469 the roof of the priory church collapsed and the stone vaulting was replaced by a carved wooden ceiling. This is one from that ceiling and shows the Devil swallowing Judas Iscariot …

There was, of course, lots more to see at Southwark, so I shall return. I went on to have a wander around the area and will report back on that next week.

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More City gardens and a churchyard mystery.

I must admit I thought I’d visited all the City gardens but I was wrong and had missed one of the most interesting.

In Pancras Lane, just off Queen Street, is the St Pancras Church Garden (EC2R 8JR). I was intrigued straight away by the carving of two devils cooking some poor condemned souls in a pot …

The garden is on the site of St Pancras Church, a late 11th century church destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church was never rebuilt, and the site was used first as a burial ground, but then lay basically abandoned until in 2010 the City of London acquired the leasehold of the site in order to turn it into a public garden.

The poetic idea behind the design, by Studio Weave, is that the church has somehow re-emerged, sprouting from the earth in the form of beautifully carved Romanesque wooden benches.

On the right Eve accepts an apple from the serpent – and we know it all turned out badly for her and Adam after that …

City & Guilds of London Art School was commissioned to produce the benches, which were individually carved during Summer 2011 by a team of tutors and students. The students based the design of the benches on historically referenced Romanesque church carvings …

I then headed north to walk around the London Wall Place area, which is looking really nice now that development has been completed. My first stop was St Alphage Gardens (EC2Y 5DE) …

You can see the north side of the wall from the Salters’ Hall garden – now usually open to the public (EC2Y 5DE) …

The St Alphage parish bought the church of the dissolved hospital of St Elsyng Spital in 1536. The tower is still there today just to the south of the wall …

From London Wall to lush green wall at Number 2 London Wall Place (EC2Y 5AU) …

And now a mystery. In the churchyard of St Mary Aldermary are two tombstones several feet apart (EC4M 9BW). One denotes the resting place of ‘Mary, wife of William Couthit. Entered into rest 29th January 1775 aged 43 years.’ William is also there – he died on 18th February 1808 aged 63. Beneath the William and Mary inscriptions are the words ‘Also Elizabeth Couthit …’ with the rest tantalisingly buried.

I have checked out this stone with a really useful resource, the audit of ‘Churchyard Inscriptions’ in City churchyards carried out by a man called Percy C. Rushen in 1910. He describes the stone exactly as it is now but records no date of death for Elizabeth. Here’s the actual page from his audit – the Couthits are recorded about half way down …

Now the mystery.

This is the other stone …

It claims to commemorate ELIZABETH, the wife of William COUTHWAITE, (so at first glance this is a different couple) and also William himself. However, she died on the same day as Mary Couthit (29th January 1775) and her William the same day as William Couthit (18th February 1808). As well as these anomalies, the ages at date of death on the second stone differ by one year. Elizabeth is shown as 42 at death rather than 43 and William as 62 instead of 63. Crucially, this stone does not appear in Rushen’s audit and he was obviously very meticulous.

My theory is that, many years after the Coutits had died, their descendants (now called Couthwaite) had traced their ancestors. Not realising for some reason that there was already a memorial, they erected another one with incorrect information.

In 1910 there were only three headstones and there are only three today. As we know, the Coutit one is still in the churchyard, and the other survivor is the one for Loudonsack and Widders …

The third stone still there is so weathered I couldn’t read it …

The last two words on the top line seem to be ‘…remains of …’ which would rule it out being the Thomas Hill stone mentioned in the audit.

Rushen listed 27 flatstones and there are nine in the churchyard now (all on the path leading to the door) …

One gives a remarkably detailed time of death along with Mrs Schneider’s exact age …

I have done some research about this stone and the people it commemorates in an earlier blog entitled Some of my favourite tombs, gravestones and memorials.

If you get the chance do visit the church. A former medieval church, largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, it was rebuilt in 1679-82 by Sir Christopher Wren’s master craftsmen. It is the only surviving late 17th century Gothic church in the City of London and is especially notable for its unique plaster vaulting. Here’s what you see when you look up …

… and finally, a lady duck update.

Last week I published this picture of Ms Duck being pursued by two enthusiastic suitors …

I saw this scene a few days later and it seem she has shaken one of them off!

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Resurrection Stones – spiritual optimism in frightening times?

For centuries images of The Last Judgment were commonplace – particularly on church walls and in paintings. This is a typical example by Fra Angelico which is thought to have been painted between 1435 and 1440 …

Jesus sits enthroned in glory calling up the dead for judgment. He is surrounded by Saints and Apostles, his right hand pointing towards Heaven and his left to Hell. On one side people wearing their everyday clothes are led up to Heaven by winged angels …

But things are a bit grim on the bottom right. Demons prod and drag the condemned off to Hell where a horned Satan supervises a variety of terrible punishments. Look closely at the damned and you’ll see at least two monks and a bishop wearing a mitre …

The depictions of the Last Judgment I am going to write about are carved in stone and differ from the Fra Angelico composition in a number of ways. The first is in the narthex of St Mary-at-Hill on Lovat Lane (EC3R 8EE) …

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

It 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 more recently.

In close up …

You can see open coffins as individuals respond to the call.
The winged Archangel Michael helps people rise again.

The main difference here from the traditional representations is the absence of Hell, so it’s a more optimistic portrayal. Also, people appear naked or just wrapped in a shroud rather than being differentiated by their clothing. Perhaps this signifies everyone is equal when the last judgment comes.

The second stone is just visible from Holborn Viaduct if you look down the steps of the church of St Andrew Holborn (EC4A 3AF) …

Although a bit more weather-beaten that the St Mary-at-Hill version, the figure of Christ’s head has not been damaged and he gazes serenely down as angels sound trumpets to summon the dead. He’s surrounded by little winged figures or putti …

Open coffins lie amongst the chaos as the angels do their work. Under his feet Christ is crushing a dragon-like creature with a long tail, again probably representing Satan …

People emerge, crawling towards the light …

One of the figures here is clinging to an angel and another holds his hands in prayer or supplication …

Once again, apart from Christ and the angels, everyone is naked and there is no representation of Hell. The stone once stood over the paupers’ cemetery in Shoe Lane and was maybe intended to give some succour and hope to those attending the burial of loved ones. It’s thought that this stone also dates from the 1670s but again the carver is unknown.

I am tempted to assume that, after the horrors of the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, portrayals of the resurrection were represented more positively by removing threats of Hell and damnation.

I’m always looking out for great London blogs and my publication this week was inspired by the Flickering Lamps blogger Caroline who has written on the same subject. Click here for a link to her website.

By way of light relief in our own difficult times, if you have the chance check out the Herd of Hope elephants at Spitalfields Market …

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City churches – 100 years ago and now.

The black and white pictures in today’s blog are old glass slides and were taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society. They are held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

First up is St Mary-le-Bow, built by Christopher Wren between 1670 and 1680 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was gutted in the Second World War bombing (all that remained was the bell tower and the walls) but was rebuilt between 1956 and 1964. Incidentally, the church’s predecessor witnessed other dramas, apart from the catastrophic Great Fire.

In 1091 the roof blew off and in 1271 the steeple collapsed, in each case killing several parishioners. In 1284 Lawrence Duckett, an alleged murderer, sought sanctuary in the church, but a mob burst in and lynched him. In punishment for this act of sacrilege, sixteen men were hanged, drawn and quartered and one woman was burned at the stake. In 1331 a balcony collapsed during a jousting tournament casting Queen Philippa and her attendants into the street. Wren placed an iron balcony on the tower to celebrate the event. Next time you walk down Cheapside think of jousting horses galloping past and the rattle of knights’ armour.

Here’s the church in 1910 …

And the present day …

St Andrew Undershaft was so called because the maypole alongside it was taller than the church. The pole was set up opposite the church every year until Mayday 1517 when the tradition was suspended after the City apprentices (always a volatile bunch) rioted against foreign workers. Public gatherings on Mayday were therefore to be discouraged and the pole was hung up nearby in the appropriately named Shaft Alley. In 1549 the vicar of St Catharine Cree denounced the maypole as a pagan symbol and got his listeners so agitated they pulled the pole from its moorings, cut it up and burned it.

Here is a picture of the church around 1910 …

The view today, literally in the shadow of the Gherkin …

St Margaret Pattens is another Wren church, completed in 1702. The dedication is to St Margaret of Antioch and ‘pattens’ refers to wooden clog-like footwear which, strapped to the feet of medieval Londoners, enabled them to wade through the debris of the City with minimal damage to their shoes. The artisans who made them worked nearby in Rood Lane and a pair of pattens were on display at the Museum of London Secret Rivers exhibition in 2019 …

Here’s the church in 1920 …

And today …

St Mary Woolnoth is the only remaining complete City church by Wren’s gifted assistant, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is also the only City church to have survived the Second World War unscathed. Built between 1716 and 1727 its exterior, with its flat topped turrets, is often regarded as being the most original in the City. Definitely worth visiting if only to see the memorial to the reformed slave trader John Newton whose preaching (from the pulpit still in the church) inspired William Wilberforce. You can read more about him and the church here.

This picture was taken around 1920 …

And here’s how it looks today …

St Stephen Walbrook was rebuilt by Wren in 1672-80 and was one of his earliest and largest City churches. The pains taken with the church are perhaps partly explained by the fact that he used to live next door. The beautiful dome was one of the first of its kind in any English church – a forerunner of Wren’s work on St Paul’s Cathedral. It is not known whether the wonderfully named Mr Pollixifen, who lived beside the church, was placated by the beauty of the building having, during its construction, complained bitterly that it was obstructing the light to his property. You can read more about what can be found inside the church here.

In 1917, when this picture was taken, a bookshop abutted the building …

The same view today from outside the Mansion House …

The dome – a Wren masterpiece …

St Alban Wood street was dedicated to the first English martyr who died in the fourth century. By the 17th century the original medieval church was in a very poor state of repair and was demolished and rebuilt in 1634 only to be destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Christopher Wren undertook its second rebuilding which was completed in 1685.

The church was restored in 1858-9 by George Gilbert Scott, who added an apse, and the tower pinnacles were added in the 1890s. It was destroyed on a terrible night, 29 December 1940, when the bombing also claimed another eighteen churches and a number of livery halls. Some of St Alban’s walls survived but they were demolished in 1954 and now nothing remains apart from the tower – not even a little garden to give it some cover from the traffic passing on both sides. I’ve often been told someone lives there but I have never seen any evidence of it.

Here’s the church in its Wood Street setting around 1875 …

And in splendid isolation today …

I think that’s probably enough for the time being. I will return to the ‘then and now’ theme in a future blog. I am indebted to the wonderful little book London’s City Churches by Stephen Millar for the source of much of today’s information. Many thanks also to the Spitalfields Life blog for the old pictures – you can see them and more here.

Finally, some ‘reasons to be cheerful’.

The Magnolia is in bloom at St Giles …

And the wonderful City gardeners have continued to work tirelessly to keep the City looking its best …

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A hair merchant, a weeping statue and a Damien Hirst – my visit to St Bartholomew the Great

You approach the church via the Tudor Gatehouse. It dates from 1595 and was fortuitously revealed when a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin in 1915 tore off later accretions as these ‘before’ and ‘after’ images illustrate …

Much of the late 19th and early 20th century church restoration work was carried out by Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930). His son, Philip, was killed in action on 25th September 1916 and his name appears on the memorial to the right of the entrance …

There is a plaque just behind the gate commemorating Sir Aston Webb’s work. It includes his coat of arms (which incorporates a spider, a playful reference to his name) …

You get a nice view of the flint and Portland Stone western facade of the church from the raised churchyard. An old barrel tomb rests in the foreground …

Bear in mind that the original church was vast and also covered the area now occupied by the graveyard and the path. This used to be the nave, as illustrated in this plan on display in the church …

Stepping into the church seems to transport you to another time and place …

The patchworked exterior gives no hint of the stunning Romanesque interior, with its characteristic round arches and sturdy pillars. It’s a rare sight in London; indeed, this is reckoned to be the best preserved and finest Romanesque church interior in the City.

Just to shock you back into the present, the south transept contains this sculpture …

Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin St Bartholomew also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. The second surprise, to me anyway, was that this work was by Damien Hirst, the modern artist known particularly for his spot paintings and the shark swimming in formaldehyde. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of Doctors and Surgeons and Hirst has said that this 2006 work ‘acts as a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development and that depictions of Saint Bartholomew were often used by medics to aid in anatomy studies’. He went on to say that the scissors were inspired by Tim Burton’s film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) to imply that ‘his exposure and pain is seemingly self- inflicted. It’s kind of beautiful yet tragic’. The work is on long-term loan from the artist …

Just behind Hirst’s work is a rare pre-Reformation font (1404) in which William Hogarth was baptised on 28 November 1697 …

I paused at the monument to Edward Cooke who died in 1652 and read the curious rhyme inscribed on it …

Vnsluce yor briny floods, what can yee keepe

Yor eyes from teares, & see the marble weepe

Burst out for shame: or if yee find noe vent

For teares, yet stay, and see the stones relent.

It was known as the ‘weeping statue’ because the moisture in the atmosphere used to be soaked up by the soft marble and miraculously released again as ‘tears’ from time to time. Alas, the Victorians installed a radiator under the monument which put a stop to the moisture releasing properties of the stone and, sadly, it wept no more.

This is the spectacular tomb of Sir Walter and Lady Mary Mildmay. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I and the founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His wife was the sister of the Queen’s ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham. Sir Walter died in 1589 and Mary in 1576 …

It’s thought that the tomb does not contain religious figures or Christian symbols because Sir Walter had strong Puritan leanings.

This is the monument to James Rivers who died of the plague in 1641 …

The inscription refers to a disease as malignant as the time referring, no doubt, to the English Civil War. Rivers was a prominent Puritan MP and took his seat in Parliament in 1640.

In a number of places around the church you will find these beautiful sculptures in glass by Sophie Arkette …

They are entitled Colloquy and are etched with literary or poetical text. These are illuminated and distorted by the effects of light (from either candles within the work or from around the building) and water (included within parts of the work).

Under the oriel window there is a nice example of a rebus, in this case a representation of a person’s name using a picture. Here Prior Bolton’s name is neatly implied by a crossbow bolt piercing a tun (a type of cask). Bolton was Prior of St Bartholomew the Great between 1505 and 1532 and carried out repair and construction work across the church …

There is also a version in 16th century stained glass at the eastern end of the church …

I was intrigued by this tombstone in the north transept …

To be buried inside the church indicated that he was a wealthy man and this was no doubt because, in the 18th century, wigs of all varieties were tremendously fashionable. Good hair was seen as a sign of health, youth and beauty and merchants like Mr Thornell often travelled the country looking for supplies (even buying it off the head of those needy enough to sell it).

As I walked down the transept I glanced to my left and glimpsed this reclining figure …

It is of course, the tomb of Prior Rahere, the founder of the Priory and hospital …

He wears the habit of an Augustinian canon and the angel carries a shield with the arms of the priory.

Rahere was a courtier and favourite at the court of Henry I who reigned from 1100 to 1135. After falling dangerously ill whilst on pilgrimage to Rome, Rahere had a vision of St Bartholomew, who told him to found a hospital. He duly got better, and when he returned to London he founded a hospital and an Augustinian priory in 1123 (dedicating them to St Bartholomew to give thanks for his recovery). He was the institution’s first prior and remained in this role until his death in 1144 (the tomb is later and dates from 1405). You can still see some of the original paintwork …

Incidentally, I came across this great 1915 picture of how the tomb was protected during wartime bombing …

There is much more to see in this beautiful place and so I strongly recommend a visit. Entrance is free but the church has been hit hard by the pandemic so, if you can afford it, do make a donation to help support it. Opening times are on the website which you can access here.

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‘Smooth Field’ – a wander around Smithfield

Smithfield has a rather gruesome history.

For example, on 16 July 1546 Anne Askew was burnt at the stake along with John Lascelles (a lawyer and Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber), John Hadlam (a tailor from Essex) and John Hemsley (a former Franciscan friar). A great stage was built at Smithfield for the convenience of Chancellor Wriothesley, other members of the Privy Council and City dignitaries, to watch the burning in comfort …

The execution of Anne Askew and her companions – 1563 woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Anne herself, having been illegally broken on the rack, was unable to stand, and was chained to the stake in a sitting position. You can read more about this fascinating, brave lady here.

Every burning was different; if the fire ‘caught’, it could be over relatively quickly, but on damp days, or when the wind persisted in blowing the flames away from the body, it could take up to an hour for the condemned person to die, an hour of excruciating agony.

Their crime was heresy and of the 288 people estimated to have been burnt during the five year reign of Mary Tudor, forty eight were killed in Smithfield. ‘Bloody Mary’ was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and the burnings were part of her campaign to reverse the English Reformation.

The ‘Marian Martyrs’ are commemorated with this plaque erected by the Protestant Alliance in 1870 …

The gilding is a little faded in this picture. It reads …

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. The noble army of martyrs praise Thee! Within a few feet of this spot,

John Rogers,

John Bradford,

John Philpot,

and other servants of God, suffered death by fire for the faith of Christ, in the years 1555, 1556, 1557

This had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive there. It was here that the Scottish hero and patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1315 and has two memorials. This one in West Smithfield (EC1A 7AQ) …

There are often fresh flowers left here in his memory.

And another just inside the entrance to the St Bartholomew the Great churchyard …

This slate triptych, also in West Smithfield,was unveiled by Ken Loach in July 2015 and commemorates the Great Rising of 1381 (more commonly known as the Peasants’ Revolt) …

The Revolt was led by Wat Tyler and on June 15th 1381 he had the opportunity to speak directly to the 14-year-old king, Richard II. Accompanying the King was the Lord Mayor of London William Walworth and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Walworth ran Tyler through with his sword. Badly wounded, Tyler was carried into nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital but, rather unsportingly, Walworth had him dragged out and decapitated. Poll Tax protesters were dealt with very ruthlessly in those days!

The Mayor is commemorated with a statue on Holborn Viaduct

His trusty sword is in a scabbard at his side.

Here is a 15th century depiction of Walworth in action …

The death of Wat Tyler. From a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart, created in 1483.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Queen Mary’s dad, Henry VIII, has a statue nearby over the main entrance to the hospital. If you have seen and admired the famous Holbein portrait, the king’s pose here is very familiar. He stands firmly and sternly with his legs apart, one hand on his dagger, the other holding a sceptre. He also sports an impressive codpiece …

Founded in 1331, the hospital was put seriously at risk in 1534, when Henry VIII commenced the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The nearby priory of St Bartholomew was suppressed in 1539 and the hospital would have followed had not the City fathers petitioned the king and asked for it to be granted back to the City. Their motives were not entirely altruistic. The hospital, they said, was needed to help:

the myserable people lyeing in the streete, offendyng every clene person passyng by the way with theyre fylthye and nastye savors.

Henry finally agreed in December 1546 on condition that the refounded hospital was renamed ‘House of the poore on West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London, of King Henry’s foundation’. I suspect people still tended to call it Bart’s. Henry finally got full public recognition when the gatehouse was rebuilt in 1702 and his statue was placed where we still see it today. The work was undertaken and overseen by the mason John Strong, who was at the same time working for Sir Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral. Such were the masons’ talents, no architectural plans were needed to complete the work.

By the way, you can see the agreement, with Henry’s signature, at the lovely little St Bartholomew’s Museum when hopefully it reopens next year. Here’s a picture of the document I took a few years ago …

It also bears the Henry’s seal, the king charging into battle on horseback accompanied by a dog …

The hospital was founded, along with the Priory of St Bartholomew, in 1123 by Rahere, formerly a courtier of Henry I, and if you pop into the church of St Bartholomew the Great you can see his tomb …

Rahere died in 1143 and his tomb dates from 1405.

I found this great picture of how the tomb was protected from bomb damage during the First World War …

There were several near misses from bombs dropped by Zeppelin airships and you can still see shrapnel marks on the hospital’s walls …

As you leave the hospital, pause for a few moments at the little War Memorial commemorating those who lost their lives in the ‘Great War’ . I took these pictures just after the Armistice Day ceremony …

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This touching message commemorates a Second World War sailor …

If you want to know more about the Smithfield burnings here is a link to one of my sources and a book entitled The Burning Time – The Story of the Smithfield Martyrs.

I have discovered a lot more to write about relating to Smithfield and will return there in a future blog.

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The only Catholic church in the City

I have been researching the history of St Mary Moorfields in Eldon Street (EC2M 7LS) and Catholic worship in the City generally.

For over two hundred years, after the 1559 Act of Uniformity, Catholics were forbidden to worship in public until the Catholic Relief Act of 1791. A chapel was opened in 1686, but had to be suspended in 1689. From 1736 there was a chapel in Ropemaker’s Alley but its altar, fittings and crucifixes were ripped out and destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780. This was succeeded by a chapel in White Street. Its replacement in 1820 by a large Classical church in Finsbury Circus sponsored by laypeople marked a turning point in the size and stylistic aspirations of Catholic churches. The final church of the first wave of building that succeeded the Relief Act, it was probably the finest in structure and decoration and also the largest Catholic church in London. It was called St Mary Moorfields after its location …

‘Celebration of High Mass on Christmas Day’ – Picture: Wikimedia Commons

In 1884 the Church acquired a huge site off of Victoria Street in west London. The construction of what would be Westminster Cathedral commenced in 1895 and in 1899, when parts of the new building became usable for worship, the Moorfields church was sold and demolished. It was replaced by the present building in Eldon Street which was designed by George Sherrin and opened on 25th March 1903. The name remained the same even though it was no longer in Moorfields.

The entrance is squeezed in between two shops and if you are walking along the north side of Eldon Street it is easy to miss it completely unless you look up and see the Papal tiara over the doors …

View from the South side of Eldon Street.

The facade is of Portland stone with some intricate decoration either side of the entrance. Note the hammer, pliers and three nails representing the crucifixion. Further up there is a scourge and a crown of thorns …

Alongside are scenes from the life of the Virgin by J Daymond …

These two represent the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Above them is a statue of the Virgin and child being crowned by cherubs …

I think the interior is magnificent. The classical como marble columns around the altar come from the old church …

As does the High Altar itself …

It is modelled in the form of a sarcophagus to recall the ancient practice of celebrating Mass on the tombs of martyr-saints in the catacombs of Rome.

The wide becherubed font also made the journey from Moorfields but the cover is from around 1900 …

The church enjoys very little natural light. In fact when the building was erected the floor had to be lowered three feet to protect adjoining buildings’ ‘ancient lights’. As a result the stained glass window is artificially illuminated …

It depicts the Assumption.

One of the side chapels …

The oak wood carving in the church is very attractive and is also by Daymond …

The tympanum above the shrine to St Thomas More at the south end of the aisle portrays his execution in 1920s mosaic style …

It is a lovely little church to visit and when I have popped in occasionally pre-Covid there was a very atmospheric whiff of incense.

You can find details such as mass times on the website.

Incidentally, there were other survivors from the 1899 demolition, four stained glass windows which found their way to St Joseph’s Lambs Passage (EC1Y 8LE), a small chapel in the basement of a former school of 1901. Despite what the sign on the building says, it is not actually a church but a ‘chapel of ease’ to St Mary’s. Such chapels were built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who could not reach the parish church conveniently …

As a result of wartime damage only two windows survive and this is one of them (The Agony in the Garden). I wasn’t able to access the building to take pictures so the image comes from the internet …

Details of the chapel, its history, services and place in the community can be found here.

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Rescued! Church artifacts saved from destruction (and a fascinating story of resurrection)

On the night of December 30th 1940, when Christchurch Newgate Street was a blazing inferno, an unknown postman rushed into the building, grabbed this font cover and carried it to safety …

Made of oak, it was created about 1690 and is typical of many such covers made for City churches after the Great Fire of 1666. You can admire its beautiful craftmanship if you visit St Sepulchre-without-Newgate where it rests on a new font, the original having been destroyed in the bombing (EC1A 2DQ).

Another survivor of the Blitz can be found in St Botolph Without Aldgate (EC3N 1AB). This intricately 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 …

St Giles Cripplegate was severely damaged during the Second World War and there was a direct hit on the north door in the summer of 1940. The following December the church was showered with so many incendiary bombs that even the cement caught alight. You can still see scorch marks …

All that remained was the shell, the arcade in the chancel, the outside walls and the tower and that these survived says much for the medieval architects. It wasn’t just bombing that resulted in church furniture being moved. When nearby St Luke’s was closed due to subsidence in 1959 St Giles was a beneficiary, acquiring the closed church’s pews …

Altar …

And a lovely 18th century font …

A tablet recording the Rectors of St Luke’s since 1733 also made the move …

St Swithun London Stone was also damaged in bombing but unfortunately was beyond repair and eventually demolished. It’s pulpit fortunately survived and is now used at All Hallows by the Tower …

It dates from around 1670 and is carved in the style of Grinling Gibbons. Above it is the tester, or sounding board, designed to represent three pilgrim shells associated with the pilgrimage of St James Compostella in Spain.

However, the greatest cause of church destruction after the Great Fire was not the Blitz but The Union of Benefices Act of 1860. In order to reflect the dramatic drop in the City’s population, it allowed the London diocese to sell churches and built new ones in the suburbs with the proceeds. This accounted for the loss of some 22 churches and the last of these – All Hallows Lombard Street – was demolished as late as 1938, despite the contemporary reverence for Wren.

I have been tracking where some of these churches’ belongings ended up.

The church of St Matthew Friday was demolished in 1888 but the Wren Pulpit found its way to St Andrew by the Wardrobe …

As did the font cover …

The baptismal font in St Margaret Lothbury, believed to be by Gibbons, came from St Olave, Old Jewry, after that church was partially demolished in 1887 except for the tower and west wall, which remain today. The font is a carved bowl with cherub heads at each corner and the four sides are decorated with Adam and Eve, the dove returning to the ark, the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip …

One of my favourite churches, St Vedast-alias-Foster, has been particularly fortunate in its acquisitions (EC2V 6HH).

The Gibbons font cover came from St Anne and St Agnes after that church was damaged by bombing …

The exquisite 17th-century wineglass pulpit was made for All Hallows, Bread Street (demolished 1878). It’s also by Gibbons …

Legend has it that incorporating a peapod was one way that Gibbons ‘signed’ his work. If the peapod was open he had been paid – if it was closed he had not. If this is true, he was properly remunerated for his work on this pulpit …

The reredos came from St Christopher-le-Stocks (demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension to the Bank of England) …

And finally, a tale of resurrection.

St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, was severely damaged and gutted in the Blitz …

After the war, however, it had the unique distinction of being taken apart, shipped to Fulton, Missouri in the USA in 1965, and rebuilt to mark the visit of Churchill to Westminster College in 1946. The church now sits above the National Churchill Museum. Westminster College was the location of Churchill’s speech that included the famous phrase ‘An iron curtain has descended across the continent’.

Here’s how it looks today …

You can read more about the church and the Museum here.

The old site of the church in Aldermanbury is now a garden …

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A famed swordsman, a tragic drowning and an honest lawyer – exploring St Dunstan-in-the-West

I had a great stroke of luck last Friday when I wandered into St Dunstan’s and met by chance two of the lady administrators who kindly took the trouble to show me around. The church is on Fleet Street (EC4A 2HR).

In a niche in one of the side chapels is a marble bust of a youth with fine features, Edward James Auriol lying on a pillow, hand on heart, as if asleep …

In fact, he died tragically at the age of 17 when he drowned in the Rhône river in Geneva one bright morning on 19th August 1847. A student at King’s College London, he was the ‘tenderly beloved and only child’ of the Rector of St Dunstan’s Edward Auriol and his wife Georgiana.

Nearby is this fascinating memorial to ‘ye fam’d swordsman’ Alexander Layton who died in 1679 and who rests ‘not far from this place’ …

Erected by a grateful scholar of Layton’s, ‘John Brewer of Grays Inn Road’, at the foot of the tablet are the following words suggesting Layton’s final opponent was death itself …

His thrusts like lightning flew, more skilful Death

Parried ’em all, and beat him out of breath.

There was nothing the ‘Master of Defence’ could do.

There’s a memorial bust to Cuthbert Fetherstone (1537-1615) …

He served as the Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth I, and as such was her trusted friend. Cuthbert and his wife Katharine lived in London but the housing conditions in the city were poor and they eventually left their home in Chancery Lane. They purchased Hassingbrook Hall, an ancient manor near the banks of Hassinbrook at Stanford-le-Hope, twenty-five miles downstream from London. After Elizabeth’s death he became Usher and Crier to King James I.

Here he is, painted in oils around 1598 …

Copyright: National Trust Uppark House and Garden, West Sussex

The earliest monuments in the church are these two brass kneeling figures …

The plaque reads as follows …

Here lyeth buryed the body of Henry Dacres, Cetezen and Marchant Taylor and Sumtyme Alderman of London, and Elizabeth his Wyffe, the whych Henry decessed the … day of … the yere of our Lord God – and the said Elizabeth decessed the xxii day of Apryll the yere of our Lord God MD and XXX.

Elizabeth died in 1530 and Henry nine years later. His will tells us that the brass was already made before he died and ‘made at myn owne costes to the honour of almighty god and the blessed sacrament’. He also left 20 shillings to be used for the annual purchase of coal for the benefit of poor parishoners.

I am sure there are very few dishonest solicitors nowadays, but there seems to have been a time when an honest one was rather unusual, and this virtue was so exceptional that his clients paid for a memorial plaque saying so. It reads ‘Hobson Judkin, late of Clifford’s Inn, THE HONEST SOLICITOR who departed this life June 30th 1812’.

‘Go reader’ we are commanded ‘and imitate Hobson Judkin’.

The kneeling figure next to the war memorial is said to represent Sir Roger North (1577-1651) …

This plaque celebrates the virtues and generosity of James Chambers, a ‘Citizen and Goldsmith … Eminent Banker … A man courteous to his neighbours … a Loving Husband, a Tender Father and a Sincere Friend’ …

He was also incredibly generous, being …

Very benificent to his Relations to whom he parted with upwards of £20,000 in his lifetime.

That would be getting on for two million pounds in today’s money.

The front right-hand pew has a seat reserved for the Lord Mayor, dramatically marked by an iron sword rest, dating from 1745, and commemorating the English victory over the Jacobite Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, at Culloden. My photograph doesn’t really do it justice …

Sword rests, or sword stands, were originally installed in City churches to hold the Lord Mayor’s sword of state when he visited different churches every Sunday, a practice which ceased in 1883.

Dedicated to a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury and Benedictine monk, St Dunstan’s survived the Great Fire but was demolished and rebuilt between 1830 and 1833. The octagonal interior is wonderfully atmospheric …

I took a close look at the remarkable Christian Orthodox screen (or iconostasis) which came from Romania in 1966 …

The screen is over 100 years old and was originally created for the Monastery of Antim in Bucharest. I also spotted various individual icons …

These and the screen are clues to the fact that, although this is a Church of England church, it also hosts Romanian Orthodox Church services.

There is more to see in St Dunstan’s and I intend to return. If you are interested in churches, this is definitely one to visit. It has just reopened for private prayer and you can find opening times on the website.

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Aimless wandering!

I think the lockdown is finally getting to me. I usually don’t have much trouble thinking of a theme for the blog but this week I have failed. So instead, I just wandered around a still quiet City with my camera waiting to see what caught my eye. These are the results – I hope you find some of them interesting.

Now the pavements are deserted, it’s easier to look upwards as you walk and see what you might have missed on previous occasions.

The Victorians paid a lot of attention to decorative detail and I really liked these two faces, carved into bricks, looking out over London Wall. I’ve nicknamed them Beauty …

… and the beast …

And while on the subject of beauties and beasts, take a look at this view from Gresham Street …

The church is St Lawrence Jewry and behind it some modern buildings that I like, the Cheesegrater and the Scalpel, and one I don’t, a characterless glass monster growing on Bishopsgate.

There’s a nice little pond in front of the church …

It’s home to these Arum Lilies and Irises …

I have written before about Thomas Gresham and the college he founded was once based here at 90 Basinghall Street until 1991 (EC2V 5AY) …

Above the coat of arms rests the symbolic Gresham grasshopper …

The sun was perfectly placed to illuminate Ariel or The Spirit of the Winds by Charles Wheeler. She’s positioned on a cupola above the Bank of England on Tivoli Corner …

When she was unveiled in 1937 the Bank’s magazine stated …

It is the symbol of the dynamic spirit of the Bank which carries Credit and Trust over the wide world.

Ariel was, of course, the Spirit of the Air in Shakespeare’s Tempest, who by Prospero’s magic could ‘put a girdle around the world in forty minutes’.

I’m fascinated by this old Wall on London Wall. I can’t find out more about it but it looks Medieval to me (EC2M 5ND) …

London Wall has lots of examples of the wonderful work the small team of City gardeners do to keep beds and parks looking good all year round …

Austin Friars (off Old Broad street) was once the location of an Augustinian Friary until its dissolution in 1538. Walk in through an atmospheric doorway with its charming ghost signs …

When I visited the sun was in exactly the right place to illuminate the slightly spooky friar who reminds us of the area’s original purpose …

He resides at 4 Austin Friars, was sculpted by T Metcalfe and dates from 1989 (EC2N 2HA).

Near St Giles Cripplegate, the Columbarium is known as ‘one of London’s secret gardens.’ It lies to the east of the church down a flight of stairs. There are some niches on an outside wall and others are in a covered area enclosed by a gate …

And finally, two of the City of London Police’s finest …

… and their riders.

I really enjoyed my little walk and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

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St Sepulchre’s Church and Newgate Gaol

For centuries there was a close connection between the church and the notorious prison just across the road from it (EC1A 2DQ).

Demolished in 19o2 and standing where the Old Bailey is now, there had been a prison on the site since the 12th century. Over time the building had been consistently altered physically, but what did not change was its reputation for brutality, filth, sickness and death.

Newgate Gaol shortly before demolition.

The gallows loomed over the justice system. The first permanent version was set up at Tyburn in 1571 (roughly where Marble Arch is today) and prisoners were taken there through the streets from Newgate attracting vast crowds of spectators. The journey could take up to three hours with the carts stopping at taverns on the way where popular convicts were treated to drinks – sometimes the condemned men shouted ‘ I’ll buy you a pint on the way back’.

Getting ready for Tyburn ‘customers’. The Tyburn Tree by Wayne Haag from the Hyde Park Barracks Mural Project, Sydney, Australia.

After execution, which was often more like slow strangulation, fights frequently broke out over ownership of the body with relatives and friends fighting surgeons who were promised ten bodies a year for dissection.

While researching I came across this poem by John Taylor (1578-1653) …

I Have heard sundry men oft times dispute
Of trees, that in one year will twice bear fruit.
But if a man note Tyburn, ‘will appear,
That that’s a tree that bears twelve times a year.
I muse it should so fruitful be, for why
I understand the root of it is dry,
It bears no leaf, no bloom, or no bud,
The rain that makes it fructify is blood.
I further note, the fruit which it produces,
Doth seldom serve for profitable uses:
Except the skillful Surgeons industry
Do make Dissection of Anatomy.

To stamp out disorders, the Tyburn gallows was demolished in 1783 and executions moved to a spot outside Newgate itself …

A hanging outside Newgate in the early 1800s – Wikipedia.

Remarkably, a part of the old prison wall can still be seen at the end of the beautifully named Amen Corner, off the equally prettily named Ave Maria Lane (EC4M 7AQ) …

Amen Corner is now private property so this picture comes from the Internet.

Also, one of the doors condemned prisoners walked through to their execution is kept at the Museum of London …

Picture copyright Museum of London.

St Sepulchre’s Church today …

Look out for the sundial …

It is on the parapet above south wall of the nave and is believed to date from 1681. It is made of stone painted blue and white with noon marked by an engraved ‘X’ and dots marking the half hours. I wondered if the Newgate executioner might have taken the time from this dial to help him decide when to start the journey west to the gallows.

Incidentally, I have written about City Sundials before in a blog entitled We are but shadows. Also, on the corner of the churchyard, there is a famous drinking fountain which you can read about here.

Carts carrying the condemned on their way to Tyburn would pause briefly at the church where prisoners would be presented with a nosegay. However, they would already have had an encounter with someone from the church the night before. In 1605, a wealthy merchant called Robert Dow made a bequest of £50 for a bellman from the church to stand outside the cells of the condemned at midnight, ring the bell, and chant as follows:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre’s bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.

And you can still see the bell today, displayed in a glass case in the church …

Includes my reflection … whoops!

Adjacent to the bell is this helpful notice …

The last public hanging in England took place outside Newgate on 26 May 1868, the condemned man being the Fenian Michael Barrett who had been convicted of mass murder.

St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, to give it it’s full name, has other fascinating features which I shall write about in a future blog.

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At the Charterhouse

Doing photography for my blog isn’t an essential journey, so I hope you won’t mind if I republish an earlier edition, the one reporting on my visit to the Charterhouse. The buildings are in Charterhouse Square (EC1M 6AN) 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.

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Some unusual artifacts in City Churches

I find great pleasure visiting the City churches and often come across unusual artifacts that spark my curiosity and I have put a selection together for this week’s blog. Incidentally, there are still an amazing 47 churches within the Square Mile and I have not yet visited all of them!

As you approach the door to St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street you are walking on the paving that once led to the original London Bridge between 1171 and 1831 (EC3R 6DN). Inside is this beautiful scale model of the bridge …

Over nine hundred tiny people are crammed onto the bridge, amongst them a miniature King Henry V, who can be seen processing towards the City of London from the Southwark side of the bridge …

Read more on the excellent London Walking Tours blog from which these pictures were taken.

As an added bonus you can check out the 17th century parish fire engine just inside the main entrance …

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 fascinating 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 find yourself in St Paul’s Cathedral do seek out the only statue to survive the ravages of the Great Fire of 1666 which totally destroyed the Cathedral’s predecessor.

Nicholas Stone’s effigy of the poet and preacher John Donne is a remarkable survival of seventeenth-century English sculpture. Donne is shown standing, perched on a funerary urn, and enveloped in a body-hugging burial shroud which has been gathered into two decorative ruffs at the head and feet. Based on a drawing done when he was dying, and at his request, consider the face, with its shuttered eyelids, raffish beard, and benign, half-smiling expression.

The urn still shows scorch marks from the fire …

I haven’t had a proper long look at St Mary Abchurch yet but did manage to call in for a few minutes to take a (rather hurried) picture of this unusual Poor Box …

You need three keys to open it, one being inserted horizontally.

And I like this old box outside the little museum at St Bartholomew’s Hospital …

Rather a strangely placed apostrophe, I think.

And now on to one of my favourite churches, St Vedast-alias-Foster (EC2V 6HH).

You enter through early 17th century oak doors that have remarkably survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz. Beyond the foyer you find yourself facing the font and its beautifully carved wooden cover. Originally from St Anne and St Agnes, the font was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the cover is by Wren’s frequent collaborator, the master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons

Inside St Martin within Ludgate on Ludgate Hill (EC4M 7DE) I found both a fascinating chandelier and a very unusual font. There is a large entrance lobby (designed to reduce traffic noise inside the church) and you then enter one of Sir Christopher Wren’s least altered interiors (1677-1686) with fine dark woodwork which largely escaped the Blitz.

Look up and you will see this beautiful chandelier or candelabrum …

It’s still lit by candles.

As one commentator has noticed, it looks more like something you would find in a country house or a ballroom. The candles were not lit when I visited but I am sure that when they are, on a dark morning or evening, one must get a real feel for what it was like to worship here in earlier centuries. It came to the church via St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies, probably in 1777: a reminder of the links between the City’s trading economy and the British Empire overseas.

And now to the very unusual font …

The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding.

It contains a Greek palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople:

Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin

(Cleanse my sin and not my face only)

And I am indebted, as I often am, to the blogger A London Inheritance who pointed out in his latest publication something I missed.

The plaque records a charity set up by Elizabethan fish monger Thomas Berry, or Beri. He is seen on the left of the plaque, and to the right are ten lines of text, followed by two lines which describe the charity:

“XII Penie loaves, to XI poor foulkes. Gave every Sabbath Day for aye”

The plaque is dated 1586, and the charity was set up in his will of 1601 which left his property in Edward Street, Southwark to St Mary Magdalen, with the instruction that the rent should be used to fund the loaves. The recipients of the charity were not in London, but were in Walton-on-the-Hill (now a suburb of Liverpool), a village that Berry seems to have had some connection with. The charity included an additional sum of 50s a year to fund a dinner for all the married people and householders of the town of Bootle.

The interesting lines of text are above those which describe the charity. Thomas seems to have spelled his last name either Berry or Beri and these ten lines of anti-papist verse include his concealed name.

St Martin Ludgate

And finally, why would a church display an old-fashioned telephone under a glass case?

One day in 1936 a young priest officiated at his first funeral – a 14 year old girl who had killed herself because, when her periods started, she thought it was a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. That there seemed to have been no one she could talk to had a profound effect on him, but it was not until 18 years later that, as he put it,

I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker … ? What sort of a someone might they want?

He looked at his phone, ‘DIAL 999 for Fire, Police or Ambulance’ it said …

There ought to be an emergency number for suicidal people, I thought. Then I said to God, be reasonable! Don’t look at me… I’m possibly the busiest person in the Church of England.

When the priest, Chad Varah, was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen Walbrook in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a ‘999 for the suicidal’. He was, in his own words, ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. The first call to the new service was made on 2nd November 1953 and this date is recognised as Samaritans’ official birthday.

And this is the original telephone …

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A man in a silk dress and a gallant rescue

There seems to be no end to the wonderful paintings to be found at the Guildhall Art Gallery. This one is a representation of a famous Greek myth – the murder by Clytemnestra of her husband Agamemnon. Here she stands, wild-eyed in the Mediterranean sunlight, outside the room where she has committed the deed. In the background behind her we can just make out the outline of a dimly lit body …

‘Clytemnestra’ by John Collier (1882)

Agamemnon had commanded the Greek forces which besieged Troy during the Trojan Wars. Before setting sail for home, he sacrificed their youngest daughter Iphigenia to ensure a favourable wind for his fleet. To make matters worse, he returned with his lover, the prophetess Cassandra, the captured daughter of King Priam of Troy. Enraged and grieving, Clytemnestra and her son murdered them both in revenge

Collier was famous for his close attention to detail. There is light etching on the axe blade and the blood drips and runs authentically. All the little roundels we can see in the picture are different …

One has to say, however, that the more you study the figure the more it looks like a man. There is a pure physical dominance – and look at the muscular arms and large hands gripping the axe handle and holding back the curtain …

Collier brings extraordinary attention to detail in her blood-spattered garments.

It is now thought that Collier took his inspiration from an 1880 performance of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon at Balliol College, Oxford in which Clytemnestra was played by a male student, one Frank Benison.

On a much lighter note, here is a pretty little girl attending her first sermon …

My First Sermon’ by John Everett Millais

She obviously knows this is an important occasion in her life and sits with her back straight, eyes attentively focused looking ahead. She is the artist’s 5 year old daughter Effie. On seeing it the Archbishop of Canterbury commented …

… our spirits are touched by the playfulness, the innocence, the purity, and … the piety of childhood

In 1864 the artist produced a sequel entitled ‘My Second Sermon’ …

The Archbishop, Charles Longley, was obviously a rather good sport, and when he saw the later picture commented …

… by the eloquence of her silent slumber, (she has) given us a warning of the evil of lengthy sermons and drowsy discourses. Sorry indeed should I be to disturb that sweet and peaceful slumber, but I beg that when she does awake she may be informed who they are who have pointed the moral of her story, have drawn the true inference from the change that has passed over her since she has heard her “first sermon,” and have resolved to profit by the lecture she has thus delivered to them.

I was reminded of this wonderful drawing of a Victorian congregation who are finding the sermon rather heavy going …

At the far end of the gallery, in a space specially designed for it, you look down on the action-packed painting by John Singleton Copley: ‘Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar 1782’ …

A Spanish attack on Gibraltar was foiled when the Spanish battering ships, also known as floating batteries, were attacked by the British using shot heated up to red hot temperatures (with wry humour, sailors nicknamed them ‘hot potatoes’). I have written about this picture in more detail in an earlier blog which you can find here.

However, there was a detail I missed and really should have pointed out. Fire spread among the Spanish vessels and, as the battle turned in Britain’s favour, an officer called Roger Curtis set out with gunboats on a brave rescue mission which saved almost 350 people. Here is the gallant officer and his men carrying out the rescue, tucked away at the bottom left of the picture. The British flag billows symbolically behind them …

Undoubtedly a very chivalrous act.

A rather distinguished looking man gazes towards a painting of the Grand Opening of Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894 …

He is the architect, Horace Jones, who designed the bridge but sadly died in 1887 before it was completed.

The painting is by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), the most distinguished marine artist of his day …

My eye was immediately drawn to the lady in the light blue dress and the man who looks like her companion sitting on his collapsible chair …

They were obviously important enough to bag a riverside view along with other folk who seem to have packed a wine-accompanied picnic. I know she’s looking through binoculars but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that she was taking a picture with her smartphone.

There are more treasures on display this week including Horace Jones’s original plans (but they don’t photograph very well through glass) …

I really can’t resist views of London that incorporate the river …

The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Today Leeds born Grimshaw is considered one of the greatest painters of the Victorian era, as well as one of the best and most accomplished nightscape, and townscape, artists of all time.

And finally, I paid a quick visit to the Roman Amphitheatre in the basement and took this picture of what is believed to be the opening used to allow wild animals to enter the arena. We can see two slots into which a gate may have been raised and lowered …

If you haven’t done so yet I highly recommend the free guided tours that take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – you can find out more here on their website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A generous benefactor paid for this extension in 1887 …

‘Erected for 400 children’

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

Across the road is this striking piece of street art …

‘Stop knife crime’.

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

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

Look up for the old Salvation Army Hostel ghost sign …

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

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

A plaque on the side commemorates a former resident …

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Caslon the Elder is buried in the churchyard. …

Caslon’s family grave. He died in 1766.

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

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

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

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

Number 116 used to be the Margolin Gramophone Company factory …

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

You could even buy a portable one!

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

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

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

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

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

2 Clerkenwell Road EC1M 5PQ.

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

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

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

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

The architect was Jo Hagan of USE Architects (2004)

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

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

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.

Weather vanes – cooked martyrs and valuable rodents

The longbow was a crucial English weapon of war and King Edward III’s second Archery law of 1363 made it obligatory for Englishmen to practise their archery skills every Sunday. Stray arrows proved to be extremely dangerous and the wind played a part in diverting arrows away from their intended targets. The answer they came up with was the weather vane, the word vane coming from the Old English word fana meaning flag. They were originally fabric pennants and lots of high buildings were fitted with them, not just churches. Compass points were added later.

The vanes developed into the more permanent metal structures we still see today, and I used one of the recent lovely sunny days to venture into the City and photograph a selection of them.

My first stop was the beautifully restored St Lawrence Jewry which took its name from a Jewish community that lived nearby during the early medieval period (EC2V 5AA). The Jews came to London at the time of the Norman Conquest and were expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. In the medieval period there were several churches dedicated to St Lawrence in London, and this one was named St Lawrence Jewry to distinguish it from other churches dedicated to the same saint. The nearby street called Old Jewry recalls the medieval Jewish presence here.

St Lawrence was martyred in San Lorenzo on 10 August 258 AD in a particularly gruesome fashion, being roasted to death on a gridiron. At one point, the legend tells us, he remarked ‘you can turn me over now, this side is done’. Appropriately, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs and comedians and the church weathervane consists of a gridiron …

If you were born within the sound of Bow Bells you were considered a true Cockney and the Wren church on Cheapside has a weathervane that consists of a copper dragon (symbol of the City) nearly nine feet long (EC2V 6AU). You can see the cross of St George under its wing (the cross was originally painted red but the weather has worn this away) …

The dragon is very old and dates back to the rebuilding of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1679 after the Great Fire. Records show that a sum of £4 was paid to Edward Pearce, Mason, for carving the wooden model on which the dragon was based; and that a further £38 was paid to Robert Bird, the coppersmith who made the dragon itself. It is said that when the dragon was raised to its pinnacle it was accompanied by the famous Jacob Hall, a noted trapeze artist of the time, who performed a high wire act to the astonishment of the watching crowd.

When the dragon was repaired and restored after the Second World War it was lowered into place by helicopter!

There is a fascinating story about the consequences of allowing the dragon to meet the grasshopper from the Royal Exchange and you can read it, and much more, here in the splendid History London blog.

The Royal Exchange grasshopper may be even older, dating back to the original Exchange built in 1567. You can read a fascinating story about its restoration here.

The grasshopper is the symbol of Thomas Gresham, the founder of the original Royal Exchange. 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’.

I have written an entire blog about Gresham and you can view it here and my blog about the Royal Exchange can be accessed through this link.

The beaver above 64 Bishopsgate (EC2N 4AW) is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was founded by a Royal Charter in 1670 and had its headquarters nearby. The Charter granted a group of investors a monopoly on trade in the Hudson Bay region of North America, known as Rubert’s Land, and for centuries was dominant in the fur trade. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly in the making of hats …

We are so lucky to still be able to admire the pre-Great Fire church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (EC3A 6AT) …

And I just managed to get a picture of its pennant weathervane with the beaver in the background …

Pennants are common on weathervanes, flat metal equivalents of the original fabric versions. This one is on the tower of St Giles’ Cripplegate and dates from 1682 (EC2Y 8DA) …

It is difficult to imagine churches built by Sir Christopher Wren being demolished, but that was what was happening in the 19th century as congregations declined and City land could be sold for substantial sums. One of the victims was St Michael Queenhithe, but its charming elaborate weathervane found a home atop St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street (EC4V 4BJ). Very appropriate as St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) is the patron saint of sailors …

This close-up picture, along with many others, appears in Hornak’s book After the Fire and more details are available here on the Spitalfield’s Life blog.

The old Billingsgate Market building dates from 1876 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones, an architect perhaps best known for creating Tower Bridge but who also designed Leadenhall and Smithfield markets. Business boomed until 1982, when the fish market moved to the Isle of Dogs.

The south side of the old market today.

I love the original weathervanes at each end…

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

Similar weathervanes adorn the new market buildings in Docklands but they are fibreglass copies.

This Bawley fishing boat  is situated across the road from the old market (EC3R 6DX) and commemorates Gordon V. Young, a well-known Billingsgate trader …

A plaque gives more information …

And finally, a weathercock.

The Church of St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall Street, one of the few to almost totally survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, has a rooster on its weathervane.

The St Katherine Cree weathercock with The Gherkin in the background

The Bible tells the story of St Peter denying Christ three times ‘before the cock crowed’. In the late 6th Century Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem of St Peter and also of Christianity generally. Later, in the 9th Century, Pope Nicholas decreed that all churches should display it and, although the practice gradually faded away, the tradition of rooster weathervanes survived in many places.

If you can avoid colliding with someone intent on reading their smartphone, looking up as you walk through the City can be very rewarding.

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 …


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