Walking the City of London

Category: Wartime Page 1 of 2

Another visit to St Bride’s – lockable coffins and snoring churchgoers.

Walking down Ludgate Hill the other day I grabbed this quick picture of St Bride’s because there were also some nice fluffy clouds in the frame …

It occurred to me then that the church, with its famous ‘wedding cake’ steeple, had been extremely fortunate not to be now obscured by the extensive post-war development that took place in the City as it very gradually recovered from the War. Someone working in the City at the turn of the 20th century would have recognised both the church and the building in front of it.

This sent me in search of some other images. Here’s the view from a bit further up Ludgate Hill …

Here is a view from the hill in the 1940s from a postcard series called London Under Fire

I decided to visit St Bride’s again taking this picture as I approached the entrance door …

The church is surrounded by buildings so this print from 1753 is interesting since one can get a sense of its full scale as seen from the outside and its position relative to St Paul’s Cathedral …

I crossed St Bride’s Avenue, a narrow passageway that runs between the church and the buildings on the southern side of Fleet Street …

This is the view from the east end. The Old bell Tavern dates from the 1670s …

The church was gutted in the Blitz but was very sympathetically restored and reopened in 1957. Here are the ruins shortly after the bombing …

The interior we see today is loyal to Wren’s core design. Everything, however, including floor, all wooden structures, roof etc. is from the 1950s and later refurbishments …

Looking west, St Bride is commemorated in the statue on the left …

She was born in AD 453, a contemporary of St Patrick. The church’s association with St Bride (St Brigid of Kildare) may date back to the sixth century and is the only church on the east side of England to bear this dedication. She died on 1st February AD 525, and was buried with the remains of Ireland’s two other patron saints, Patrick and Columba. Her saint’s day continues to be celebrated on this date. You can read more about her and the church’s history here.

The royal arms weigh two tons and are carved from a block of Beer stone …

The eagle lectern was, according to tradition, rescued from the medieval church during the Great Fire of London in 1666 …

There are two ‘charity scholars’ tucked away in a corner . They originally stood outside St Bride’s Charity School in Bride’s Lane. …

Just above their heads is a small bust carved by Clare Waterhouse, replacing an earlier marble carving by Marjorie Meggit …

It represents Virginia Dare, the first recorded European child to be born in North America. Her parents had been married here before sailing to Roanoke in 1587 but what became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery.

St Bride’s has a long association with the print trade and journalism, dating back to around 1500 when the printing press of Wynkyn de Worde was established near the church. This association grew with the rise of Fleet Street as a centre of journalism and the newspaper industry. There are a number of memorials to journalists killed, imprisoned or just missing in conflicts around the world and I have written more extensively about these in last week’s blog.

I headed downstairs to the fascinating museum in the crypt …

As I descended I remembered that the crowded burial chambers below the church were rediscovered by preparatory excavations in 1953. The crypts were found to contain the remains of 227 individually identified people interred since the 17th century, as well as an estimated 7000 human remains in the more communal charnel house, where bones removed from the cemetery during the Middle Ages (in order to make room for new burials) were arranged according to type (skulls with skulls, femurs with femurs, etc.) and laid out in a checkerboard pattern to an as-yet unknown depth …

There are guided tours to see the charnel house but I’ve decided to pass on that for the time being.

And so to the museum.

Until well into the 18th century the only source of corpses for medical research was the public hangman and supply was never enough to satisfy demand. As a result, a market arose to satisfy the needs of medical students and doctors and this was filled by the activities of the so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘body snatchers’. Some churches built watchtowers for guards to protect the churchyard, but these were by no means always effective – earning between £8 and £14 a body, the snatchers had plenty of cash available for bribery purposes.

One answer was a coffin that would be extremely difficult to open and such an invention was patented by one Edward Bridgman of Goswell Road in 1818. It was made of iron with spring clips on the lid and the coffin on display fulfils the patent …

A contemporary advertisement – secure coffins were not cheap …

As a nearby information panel points out, the idea was not popular with the clergy and in 1820 the churchwardens at St Andrew’s Holborn refused churchyard burial to an iron coffin. The body was taken out and buried, which led to a law suit. The judgment was that such coffins could not be refused but, since they took so much longer than wooden ones to disintegrate, much higher fees could be charged. This no doubt contributed to the relatively short time iron coffining was used.

A collection of grave markers …

Early walls and foundations …

I think some of the explanatory panels are little works of art in their own right …

Terrifying times …

An amusing anecdote …

There are some interesting inscriptions at the east end of the church. 1702 was when the steeple was being completed …

Presumably these people are interred in the vaults below …

I hope you enjoyed today’s effort. I am indebted to the London Inheritance blog for some of the illustrations.

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A quick visit to St Bride’s. A tribute to the bravery of the men and women who bring us the news.

St Bride’s Fleet Street is a lovely church, particularly recognisable by its ‘wedding cake’ steeple …

It was totally gutted during the war …

But beautifully restored in the 1950s in a way which closely resembled Sir Christopher Wren’s original design …

St Bride’s has a long association with the print trade and journalism, dating back to around 1500 when the printing press of Wynkyn de Worde was established near the church. This association grew with the rise of Fleet Street as a centre of journalism and the newspaper industry and the association remains strong despite the exit of the profession from the area.

If you watch TV news today, or listen to a radio report, chances are these will be from a journalist and their support staff in Ukraine, kitted out in protective gear. Those who report from war zones run a very real risk of injury or death, and those who have been lost in previous wars are commemorated in St Bride’s, including this memorial to those who lost their lives whilst covering the 2003 Iraq war …

Particularly moving is the Journalists’ Altar, commemorating those within the profession who have died, are held hostage or have an unknown fate …

Unfortunately, there are too many to display at any one time, so the photos are rotated …

As I write, at least seven journalists have been killed while covering the war in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24. A record is kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists whose website gives full details.

There is a lot more to see at St Bride’s, including a great little museum, and I shall report back next week. I felt that this week’s blog should just be a thoughtful one.

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St Dunstan-in-the-East – a peaceful place named after an extraordinary man.

I’ve already written in some detail about the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West so I thought it would be good, given last week’s lovely weather, to visit the ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East. Dunstan (c. 909 – 19 May 988) was an extraordinary man being successively Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s not surprising, therefore, that in Greater London there are seven churches dedicated to him as well as seventeen roads and three educational establishments.

His work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church. His 11th-century biographer states that Dunstan was skilled in ‘making a picture and forming letters’, as were other clergy of his age who reached senior rank. At least one example of his work survives …

This is from the manuscript known as the Glastonbury Classbook. It’s a portrait of Christ, and the monk kneeling beside him may be a self-portrait of Dunstan.

He served as an important minister of state to several English kings and was the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least among which were those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the Devil by grabbing his nose in a pair of hot tongs …

If you want to read even more about St Dunstan I highly recommend The Clerk of Oxford blog.

And so to the remains of the church named after him.

The original church (dating from around 1100) was severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 after which it was patched up and a steeple with a needle spire added, to the design of Sir Christopher Wren, between 1695 and 1701. In 1817, structural problems were identified and these led to the church being demolished. Wren’s tower was considered safe and was retained and incorporated into the new building which was completed in 1821.

Here’s St Dunstan’s in 1910 …

The church was partly destroyed in the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s tower and steeple survived the bombs’ impact but of the rest of the church only the north and south walls remained …

Following the War it was decided not to rebuild St Dunstan’s and in 1967 the City of London Corporation chose to turn the ruins into a public garden which opened in 1971. A lawn and trees were planted in the ruins, with a low fountain in the middle of the nave which is still happily bubbling away …

It’s a lovely, serene location to visit. Here are the images I took last Friday when I had the place almost entirely to myself …

You can get an idea of the ferocity of Blitz fires from the scorch marks on some of the church’s stone walls. Incendiary bombs were dropped in conjunction with high explosives …

Three old headstones have survived with inscriptions that are partially legible along with a flatstone. I have identified them from the excellent audit of churchyard inscriptions carried out by Percy Rushen in 1911.

Here are the entries in Percy’s book :

And here are the stones. First Thomas Sanders …

Then his mum and dad, Thomas and Elizabeth …

And then the Taynton family …

This is the flatstone, and I assume that it doesn’t appear in Percy’s audit because it was originally inside the church …

The pigeons and the weather have not been kind to it but I believe it reads as follows:

‘Here lies the body of Capt. NICHOLAS BATCHELER late of this parish who departed this life December 31st 1722 (possibly 1732) aged 60 years also three children, two sons one daughter, Thomas, William and Anne.

And also Anne a granddaughter of Elizabeth Batcheler.

Also the body of Mary his wife who departed this life July the 20th 1723 aged 58 years.

Also here lyeth the body of Anne Blackall a Beloved Relation.’

I have been able to identify most of the inscription because it appears in a lovely little film about the garden which you can access here on YouTube.

I find it very satisfying bringing these old stones to life and paying a kind of respect to their subjects, even though their mortal remains are long since gone.

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St Olave’s memorials – from Samuel Pepys to the great sacrifices made by the employees of Wm Cory in both World Wars.

I love visiting St Olave Hart Street. It’s tiny and wonderfully atmospheric, being one of the few surviving Medieval buildings in London. It was badly damaged during the War but many of its treasures had been removed to safety and others have been beautifully restored.

I first visited with my camera some years ago when I was writing about Samuel Pepys and I was immediately captivated by this sculpture of his wife Elizabeth. She died of typhoid fever at the age of 29 and, despite his dalliances with other women, Pepys was devastated by her death at such a young age. He commissioned this bust in white marble from the sculptor John Bushnell …

She is shown with her gaze directed towards the location of the Navy Office Pew where her husband would have sat, her mouth open as if in conversation.

His pew was in the gallery he had had built on the south wall of the church with an added outside stairway from the Royal Navy Offices so that he could go to church without getting soaked by the rain. The gallery is now gone but a memorial to Pepys marks the location of the stairway’s door …

Pepys never married again and arranged to be buried in St Olave’s next to Christine. Now they face one another across the aisle for eternity.

Although small, the church is packed with other items of interest and I shall write about a few of them this week.

Sir James Deane has an impressive tripartite monument showing him and his three wives kneeling in prayer …

Two of the women carry skulls indicating that they died before their time. Three of his children died in infancy and their swaddled bodies are included in the monument with their little heads resting on skulls, again indicating mortality (images copyright Carole Tyrrell) …

Deane was knighted on 8 July 1604 and was a very wealthy man. He made his fortune as a merchant adventurer to India, China and the Spice Islands and was very generous to the poor in every parish in which he lived or owned property. He also built almshouses in Basingstoke that survive to this day …

There is a picturesque monument to two brothers, Andrew and Paul Bayning. They are shown in the red robes of Aldermen and were both closely involved with the Levant Company …

There are memorials with touching inscriptions. ‘Her noble soul and lovely body joined, were once the wonder and the joy of mankind’ …

Sir William Ogborne was ‘A most tender husband, loving parent and a sincere and kind friend’ …

In his will he left all his property (which included several houses) to his wife, Lady Joyce, along with his ‘coach, his chariot horses, plate, hay and corn’.

The pulpit came to St Olave’s from St Benet Gracechurch when it was demolished in 1868 …

Once thought to be the work of Grinling Gibbons, it is certainly a fine example of 17th century wood carving …

The monument of Dr Peter Turner. It was looted from the bombed out church in 1941 but was finally returned in 2011 having spent some time in the Netherlands! A curator at the Museum of London found out about an upcoming auction listing the statue in 2010, the Art Loss Register investigated, and the bust was removed from the sale …

He was an eminent physician and botanist.

All prewar windows were lost in the bombing and the new windows which replaced them were specially designed to take into account the tall buildings that were springing up in the rebuilding of the City.

Two other churches have parishes which have been joined with that of St Olave to form a united benefice and the Lady Chapel Window on the north side of the church has three lights representing them.

St Olave’s is in the centre and depicts the Virgin and Child. On the left, All Hallows Staining is represented by Queen Elizabeth I with the bells of the church at her feet …

Painstaking work was needed in order to create the gradient of colour from left to right across her dress.

On the right St Katharine of Alexandria represents the former parish of St Catherine Coleman …

Above, in the four tracery lights are depicted more modern types of Christian womanhood : Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Josephine Butler and Edith Cavell

As I left by the north door this memorial reminded me of the tremendous sacrifices made during both World Wars by the employees of Wm Cory & Son …

At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, Cory had a large workforce, many of them skilled as engineers, mechanics, bargees and physically fit labourers. Before conscription was introduced, Cory encouraged its workers to enlist in Kitchener’s Army – an all-volunteer force of the British Army – and guaranteed to keep their jobs open for them. The company also undertook to look after the family of anyone who joined up, setting aside a sum of £25,000 (equivalent to £3 million today) to care for the men and their dependents.

Within a few days of the appeal there were enough men to form the entire D Company of the 6th Battalion of the Buffs – also known as Cory’s Unit. Most of these men came from places like Greenwich, Erith and Plumstead.

There is a photograph of Cory’s Unit which was taken at Aldershot shortly before their departure for France on the 1st of June 1915. Within six months, so many of these young men would be a name on a memorial or buried in a battlefield grave in Belgium or France …

Cory also mobilised its boats in support of the war eff­­ort in both World Wars, losing 17 boats in WWI and 13 in WWII (usually due to German mines, submarine attacks or aerial bombardment).

There is a plaque on the Tower Hill Maritime Memorial relating to one of the boats lost in WW1 – the Sir Francis …

She was torpedoed 4 miles off Ravenscar, North Yorkshire, on a ballast run to the Tyne to pick up coal on 7 June 1917. You may be interested in the diversity of nationalities among the crew :

Wanless, A, master, whose place of birth, residence, and family is not recorded;

de Boer, J, seaman, born in Holland;

Jonsson, John, born in Iceland, resident in South Shields and married to an Englishwoman;

Kato, T, fireman, born in Japan;

Nishioka, B, fireman, also born in Japan;

Poulouch, N, fireman, born in Greece;

Sharp, Joseph, steward, of South Shields;

Talbot, Alfred, engineer’s steward, of Penarth;

Tippett, Albert, engineer, a Yorkshireman resident in Tyneside;

van der Pluym, Johannes Cornelis, seaman, a resident of Amsterdam.

A further 12 crew members survived.

Not all their names appear on the St Olave Memorial, presumably because not all of them were directly employed by the company.

You can read more about the Cory company’s involvement on both World Wars here and here. There is a great blog dealing with colliers and multi-national crews here – it’s also the source of my information about the crew of the Sir Francis.

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

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

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

Although able to hide when submerged, once struck the vessels were often unable to rise to the surface and became effectively underwater coffins. In the First World War fifty four boats were lost and with them the lives of 138 officers and 1,225 men. At the inauguration in 1922 Rear Admiral Sinclair, the Chief of the Submarine Service, reminded those present that, during the Great War …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neptune also makes an appearance …

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

Further along the lamps repay detailed study …

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

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

… and its ornate gate …

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

A sub-officer directs others to assist. There are clues to the identity of this figure scattered among the debris at the figures’ feet: the letters CTD for C.T. Demarne. At the unveiling, his colleagues from the fire service claimed that there was no need for such clues. One who was interviewed by the Telegraph stated: ‘You can tell it’s Cyril by the way he’s standing…he always waved his arms about like that when he was ordering us about’.

Officer Demarne in full flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An exhumed poet, a proud Mayor and a very modest attorney. Stories from St Giles.

From where I live I have a nice view of my local church, St Giles Without Cripplegate. This image gives a good impression of where this wonderful old church is located within the strikingly modern Barbican Estate …

I am always pleased to come across old images of the area, particularly those taken in the three decades after the Second World War. I am indebted to the author of the splendid London Inheritance blog for this view from 1947 showing the devastated landscape …

The building on the left is the Red Cross Street Fire Station.

Another image showing nearby destruction …

The following photo taken in the days following the raid on the 29th December 1940 shows the damage to the interior of the church …

St Giles Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: m0017971cl

Since the walls and tower survived a service was possible with the parishioners able to look straight up to the sky …

The inside of the church today. I was fortunate enough to visit when a lady (on the left in the picture) was practising beautifully on the organ …

Here’s an aerial view from the 1960s and the church now has a roof. The more modern looking building on the right is Roman House which has recently been converted into apartments …

In this 21st century aerial image you can just make out the church’s green roof …

Some monuments remain from the old pre-Blitz building.

There is this touching memorial to a favourite character of mine, Sir William Staines …

And here is the man himself …

Staines had extremely humble beginnings working as a bricklayer’s labourer, but eventually accumulated a large fortune which he generously used for philanthropic purposes. He seemed to recall his own earlier penury when he ensured that the houses he built for ‘aged and indigent’ folk would have ‘nothing to distinguish them from the other dwelling-houses … to denote the poverty of the inhabitant’.

British History Online records an encounter he had with the notorious John Wilkes who referred rather rudely to Staines’ original occupation …

The alderman was an illiterate man, and was a sort of butt amongst his brethren. At one of the Old Bailey dinners, after a sumptuous repast of turtle and venison, Sir William was eating a great quantity of butter with his cheese. “Why, brother,” said Wilkes, “you lay it on with a trowel!”

Incidentally, Wilkes is also commemorated in the the City in Fetter Lane where a striking statue of him honestly portrays his famous squint …

John Milton (1608-1674), the poet and republican, is perhaps the most famous former parishioner of St Giles and his statue stands by the south wall of the church …

It’s made of metal, which means it is one of the few memorials in the church that survived the bombing in the Second World War. It is the work of the sculptor Horace Montford (c1840-1919) and is based on a bust made in about 1654.

He used to be outside and was blasted off his plinth during the bombing …

There is also this commemorative plaque …

And a bust which clearly indicates his later-life blindness …

Milton was buried in the church next to his father, however he was not allowed to rest in peace.

British History Online reports the shocking event as follows …

‘A sacrilegious desecration of his remains, we regret to record, took place in 1790 … The disinterment had been agreed upon after a merry meeting at the house of Mr. Fountain, overseer, in Beech Lane, the night before, Mr. Cole, another overseer, and the journeyman of Mr. Ascough, the parish clerk, who was a coffin-maker, assisting’.

Having identified where they thought Milton’s grave was, they dug down almost six feet, found a coffin, and removed the lid. The report goes on …

‘Upon first view of the body, it appeared perfect, and completely enveloped in the shroud, which was of many folds, the ribs standing up regularly. When they disturbed the shroud the ribs fell. Mr. Fountain confessed that he pulled hard at the teeth, which resisted, until some one hit them a knock with a stone, when they easily came out. There were but five in the upper jaw, which were all perfectly sound and white, and all taken by Mr. Fountain. He gave one of them to Mr. Laming. Mr. Laming also took one from the lower jaw; and Mr. Taylor took two from it. Mr. Laming said that he had at one time a mind to bring away the whole under-jaw with the teeth in it; he had it in his hand, but tossed it back again’.

As if that wasn’t undignified enough,’Elizabeth Grant, the gravedigger … now took possession of the coffin; and, as its situation under the common councilmen’s pew would not admit of its being seen without the help of a candle, she kept a tinder-box in the excavation, and, when any persons came, struck a light, and conducted them under the pew; where, by reversing the part of the lid which had been cut, she exhibited the body, at first for sixpence and afterwards for threepence and twopence each person’.

The body was reburied but rumours spread that it wasn’t Milton in the coffin, but a woman. So Milton was dug up a second time and the surgeon in attendance examined the bones — what were left of them — and pronounced them to be masculine. Only then was Milton, at last, allowed to rest only to be permanently obliterated in the bombing.

Notwithstanding the generous memorials to the great and the good, I was captivated by this modest plaque on the south wall …

An attorney at law who obviously believed in brevity. No Latin exhortation of his virtues, no figures of a grieving widow and children, only the important facts and the bald, concluding statement ‘That is all’.

There is a lot more to see at St Giles such as modern stained glass …

And intriguing inscriptions, both inside …

And outside …

But for the moment ‘that is all!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kentish ragstone wall is fantastic …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture: National Portrait Gallery, photographer unknown.

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

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

Nearby stalls …

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some, er, rather eccentric signage …

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Reasons to be optimistic

Occasionally, when I feel the dark, heavy hand of doom tapping me on the shoulder (Covid, Lockdowns, Brexit, Trump etc) I cheer myself up by looking back at times past when things looked very grim but from which we eventually recovered. One way I do this is to look at some of the images of the terrifying days of the early 1940s and compare them to the same scene today.

The following Aerofilms photo from before the war shows how St. Paul’s was surrounded by the dense city streets with buildings much closer to the cathedral than they are now. These were not only offices, but also plenty of warehouses with one of the major publishers / book distributors having their office and warehouse just north of St. Paul’s in Paternoster Square. The spires of the city churches still stood clear of their surroundings, but St. Paul’s dominated the area …

EPW055297

Christmas 1940 had been relatively quiet, however on the evening of the 29th December a large bomber force appeared over the City just after 6pm and for just over the next three hours incendiary bombs rained down on the City along with high explosive bombs. This combination caused maximum damage. High explosive bombs would rip buildings apart, exposing their contents to the impact of the incendiaries. During the peak of the raid over 300 incendiary bombs a minute were falling across the City and St. Paul’s quickly became surrounded by a sea of flame, fire crossing over the small streets and debris falling all around. These pictures show what was considered to be the almost miraculous survival of St Paul’s Cathedral …

Two things strike me about the lower photograph. Firstly how dirty the cathedral stonework had become after over 300 years of London pollution. Secondly, two of those shrapnel marks that stand out so clearly against the soot-stained cathedral are still preserved today …

You can see where other scars from the bombing have been repaired.

This aerial view shows how close the Cathedral came to destruction …

Copyright : Popperfoto – Getty Images.

The view today …

As a result of the bombing, many of the narrow alleys nearby dating from medieval times simply disappeared as did Paternoster Row (although the name still lives on) …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

This picture is entitled ‘Prince Albert raises his hat as Holborn Circus burns behind him‘ …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

And he is still there in the same jaunty pose, albeit relocated a few yards to the east. You can read more about the statue here

St Clement Danes was seriously damaged …

Copyright : Associated Press.

But eighty years later Dr Johnson carries on nonchalantly reading his book. He is no longer imprisoned behind railings and has a fully restored church behind him …

The building still bears its Second World War scars …

In the book I consulted for these photographs the good Doctor gets a further mention …

Copyright : Guildhall Library.

Nothing much has changed. The photograph above is looking south from Fleet Street, this is the view today looking north …

St Mary-le-Bow was completely gutted. I was moved by this poignant picture of a service being conducted in the roofless building in 1941 …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

I am pretty sure that the window behind them that gives the unusual view of St Paul’s has now been filled with this beautiful stained glass work by John Hayward. Here the Virgin Mary cradles the church named after her as if it were a child, surrounded by church spires that survived the Blitz …

St Lawrence Jewry was also terribly damaged with only the walls and steeple remaining. This picture was taken on 30th December 1940 …

Copyright : Media Storehouse.

Now fully restored, it contains some of my favourite stained glass by Christopher Webb. In one window an angel holds the roofless, windowless church filled with rubble. In the background St Paul’s is illuminated by flames and searchlights pierce the sky as buildings burn …

In another the angel holds the restored building …

I have written previously about the lovely stained glass that can be found in the City and you can access the blog here : Dick Whittington, Hipster, City Stained Glass.

London Wall on the morning after the big December 1940 attack …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

A scene typical of what Londoners faced on returning to work after an air raid. Fire hoses snake across the rubble filled street.

In this image a War Artist records the damage in Cannon Street …

The view today, as close as I can get it without being run over …

Christ Church Greyfriars, Newgate Street, could not be saved …

Copyright : PopperfotoGetty Images.

It’s now laid out as a garden …

Image courtesy of Jenikya’s Blog.

It’s impossible to consider the history of London without referencing some of the great disasters which have befallen it in the past and last year, living in Covid times, I published a piece about the terrible pestilence of 1665 : Samuel Pepys and the Plague – ‘God preserve us all.

I’m not making direct comparisons between these past disasters and the current pandemic – just reminding myself that even after terrible events a kind of normality usually returns, although life is never exactly the same as before. What seems to be unchanging, however, is people’s resilience and a spirit of helping others that I find positively uplifting.

I am indebted to the author of this book for some of the wartime photographs. It also contains a fascinating commentary …

I have also used quotations and pictures from from the excellent London Inheritance blog which you can access here.

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What do pigeons do all day? And why was one awarded the Croix de Guerre?

I was visiting Bunhill Fields burial ground last week with a view to writing about it again for a New Year blog. Whilst focusing my camera on an interesting tombstone I was photobombed by this cheeky fellow …

Although anthropomorphism is frowned upon by some, I do tend to indulge every now and then and felt the pigeon was definitely sending me a message along the lines of ‘why are you writing about boring bits of stone when you could be writing about me?’ So I took the hint and this week’s blog is the result.

Obviously I started with some serious research. Have you, for example, ever wondered what pigeons do all day? Wonder no more – here is a breakdown of their typical activity over 24 hours …

Pie chart of pigeon activity over a 24 hour period (n=12) | © www.londonpigeons.co.uk

Just how smart are they?

From my own observations it is obvious that the pigeon population has become aware of the Covid risk and birds are now practising social distancing as a matter of course …

With total isolation for the particularly vulnerable …

Sadly, however, they tend to lose all self-control when presented with food (just like some humans do when presented with alcohol and the opportunity to party) …

A kind lady has just distributed a handful of bread!

It has been difficult to establish the average pigeon’s IQ. As an expert in this field has written …

‘Pigeons have a very high brain to body mass ratio. The academic literature on pigeon intelligence is fairly non-existent. This is partly due to the difficulty in administering traditional IQ tests to pigeons: they have a notoriously short attention span and furthermore find it difficult to hold a pen’.

An MRI scan reveals a very large brain relative to body size …

Pigeon brain cross-section| © www.londonpigeons.co.uk

City of London pigeons, again according to my observations, spend a lot of time walking rather than flying and there would appear to be two reasons for this. Firstly, our fondness for eating ‘on the go’ due to our busy lifestyles which results either in accidental food distribution or occasional bursts of generosity where we share our snacks with our feathered companions. I have also witnessed acts of intimidation where rougher elements of the pigeon community hang around in an intimidating fashion in parks and outside supermarkets giving humans the ‘feed me or else’ glare …

The second reason, I believe, is the presence of a number of pairs of peregrine falcons that nest on Tate Modern and on the towers of the Barbican. A pigeon represents a tasty meal …

Photograph David Tipling/Getty Images.

Pigeons are monogamous and mate for life and their mating ritual is quite cute. A single male will nod his head at the female which takes his fancy and spread his tail feathers to communicate his interest. The birds look directly at each other, and if the hen likes what she sees, she will nod back. The male will then prune his feathers, leaving the next move to the female. If interested the hen will hold out her head and move closer to the male and fan her tail feathers.

Things get spicy when the male offers his beak and indulges in a pigeon kiss (rubbing their beaks together) …

The hen will feed the male from her beak and together they will coo. Once she demonstrates she is ready, four seconds later its all over …

After mating the first egg will be laid within 10 days, with a second arrival following a couple of days later.

When it comes to food they don’t seem to be that fussy. I have observed them eating …

  • Bread
  • Chips
  • Biscuits
  • Cooked rice
  • Crisps
  • Pizza

I think it rather sad they get called flying rats. They often seem to me to be positively fastidious, especially when there are pools of water around that they love to splash about in, like this one I spotted making sure to wash under his wings …

And lots of mutual grooming takes place too – occasionally leading to energetic bouts of hanky-panky.

A quick question for you. Who wrote the following to friends who were coming to visit him …

‘I hope Lady Lyell & yourself will remember whenever you want a little rest & have time how very glad we should be to see you here. I will show you my pigeons! Which is the greatest treat, in my opinion, which can be offered to human beings’.

It was the man whose writings brought about one of the most fundamental and controversial changes in the way we viewed the world – Charles Darwin …

Although he never wrote On the Origin of Pigeons he clearly became very fond of them after he started studying and breeding them for scientific purposes in 1856. He wrote to another friend about a trip to London ‘where I am going to bring a lot more pigeons back with me on Saturday, for it is a noble and majestic pursuit, and beats moths and butterflies, whatever you may say to the contrary’. Although his study of pigeons informed On The Origin of Species, Darwin’s real ‘pigeon book,’ The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, did not come out until 1868. Its long and beautifully illustrated section on pigeons is still readable and relevant to both naturalists and pigeon fanciers today …

Here’s one of his illustrations …

And let’s not forget pigeon bravery in two World Wars. Here’s a picture of a carrier pigeon being released from a port-hole in the side of a tank near Albert in the Somme on 9th August 1918. The Tank Corps often used carrier pigeons to relay information during an advance …

One of the bravest military birds was Cher Ami, who now poses stuffed in the Smithsonian Institution …

On 13th October 1918, despite being seriously wounded, she successfully delivered the following message which effectively saved the lives of almost 200 men …

‘We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it’.

Military vets made Cher Ami a prosthetic limb and sent her home to well earned retirement. For her part in saving the 77th Division, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest military honours for her gallantry in the field. General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said ‘There isn’t anything the United States can do too much for this bird.’

Capt John Carney, Cher Ami’s trainer, holds the feathered hero.

Pigeons continued in service during the Second World War. In the early 1940s, the American Signal Pigeon Corps consisted of 3,150 soldiers and 54,000 birds. Some 90 per cent of the messages got through. And these avian secret agents saved countless lives, too – of 54 Dickin Medals (the animals’ Victoria Cross) awarded in World War II, 32 went to pigeons.

One of its most famous recipients in World war II was a pigeon called Commando – read more about him here.

So next time you are tempted to frighten a pigeon or shoo it away remember this – they may be a distant relative of a war hero or descended from one of Charles Darwin’s feathered pals. And maybe look a bit more closely at them too – their colouring can be very attractive …

Who’s a pretty boy then?

I hope you enjoyed this little pigeon journey. For help with this blog I am indebted to the informative and occasionally hilarious London Pigeons website which provided some of the data.

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‘Spot the grasshopper’, enemy cannon from Waterloo, fascinating men and a Native American lady

I think this picture tells a story. The Gresham grasshopper on the roof of the Royal Exchange is dwarfed by the new monster office block on Bishopsgate and, to a lesser extent, the Cheesegrater. Will these buildings now ever be full?

Outside the Exchange is this handsome chap, sitting without saddle or stirrups, on his fine steed …

Erected in 1844, it is, of course, the Duke of Wellington but the statue was not created to celebrate just his military achievements. On 19th July 1838 the Court of Common Council of the City of London agreed to a contribution of £500 towards its cost in appreciation of his efforts in assisting the passage of the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827. This Act led to the creation of King William Street. The government donated the metal, which is bronze from captured enemy cannon melted down after the Battle of Waterloo …

Not everyone approved. A writer to The Times declared …

…did his Grace ride at Waterloo without a saddle, without boots, without a hat and carrying his own despatches? … Is the charger supposed to be neighing to a blast of trumpets, or whinnying to the mare in the Mansion House?

Nearby is the war memorial to the London Troops …

Standing on either side of the plinth are two soldiers of the London regiments, one middle-aged the other more youthful. It was unveiled on 12 November 1920 …

A leader in The Times was entitled ‘Our London Soldiers’ and extolled the bravery of the men who came …

… from counting-house and shop, from the far-reaching suburbs and the thronged centres … it will serve as a stimulus to the sense of unity and to the sense of duty now growing in our vast and diverse population.

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

When visiting the Imperial War Museum I came across a postcard of this splendid recruitment poster from 1912. It is poignant to look at this picture with its pretty village setting and then think of the industrial age war of slaughter, mud and filth, that was soon to follow …

Often described as ‘standing at the back’ of the Royal Exchange, is a statue to a remarkable man – Paul Julius Reuter. The rough-cut granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates the 19th-century pioneer of communications and news delivery. It is a fitting place for the statue because the stone head faces the Royal Exchange which was the reason why Reuter set up his business in the City. He established his offices in 1851 on the opposite side of the walkway to the Royal Exchange – in other words, they were to the east of the Royal Exchange. The stone monument was erected by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation. It was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976 …

The life of Reuter was most interesting. Having started his career as a humble clerk in a bank, he went on to ‘see the future’ of transmitting the news – regardless of whether it was financial or world news. If the ‘modern’ technology of telegraphy – also known then as Telegrams – was not in place, Reuter used carrier pigeons and even canisters floating in the sea to convey news as fast as possible. Such was his ambition to be the first with the news.

Just across the road is another bearded gentleman, studiously studying some plans. James Henry Greathead was a South African engineer (note the hat) who invented what was to become known as the Greathead Shield. He came to be here on Cornhill because a new ventilation shaft was needed for Bank Underground Station and it was decided that he should be honoured on the plinth covering the shaft …

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

What about this fine fellow dominating the small courtyard outside St Mary-le-Bow (sporting another great beard) …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_8164-668x1024.jpg

This is Captain John Smith. A colonial adventurer, Smith was a Citizen and Cordwainer, and set sail from Blackwall to found the colony of Virginia in 1606. Following a period as the prisoner of the native Americans he became head of the settler’s colony before returning to London in 1609-10. He later claimed that during his captivity his life had been saved by ‘Princess’ Pocahontas who pleaded with her father, the paramount Chief, that he be spared execution. Doubt has been cast on this story but early histories did establish that Pocahontas befriended Smith and the Jamestown colony. She often went to the settlement and played games with the boys there. When the colonists were starving, ‘every once in four or five days, Pocahontas with her attendants brought him [Smith] so much provision that saved many of their lives that else for all this had starved with hunger’.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother unveiled the statue on 31st October 1960 and you can watch a Pathe News film of the event here.

Incidentally, Pocahontas went on to marry an Englishman, John Rolfe, visited London, and became quite a celebrity. Sadly she died on the return journey from causes unknown and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend. Her grave has since been lost.

This is a 1616 portrait engraving of her by Simon de Passe. What a super hat …

She was also commemorated on a 1907 postage stamp, the first native American to be honoured in this way …

Now another adventurous gentleman.

A memorial to Admiral Phillip was originally erected at St Mildred’s Church Bread Street. Although the church was destroyed by enemy action in 1941 the bronze bust was salvaged from its ruins. This modern copy can now be found on the south side of the New Change shopping centre, the original is in St Mary-le-Bow church …

The plaque makes interesting reading …

And now a woman and a man dressed somewhat… er … unconventionally.

Let’s start with this extraordinary statue at 193 Fleet Street now, sadly, rather weathered …

I always thought that it resembled a rather effeminate youth but it is in fact a woman disguised as a pageboy, her name, Kaled, appears just under her right foot.

It is by Giuseppe Grandi, and dates from 1872. The shop owner, George Attenborough, had a niche created specially for it over the front door. Kaled is the page of Count Lara in Bryon’s poetic story of a nobleman who returns to his ancestral lands to restore justice. He antagonises the neighbouring chieftains who attack and kill him. Kaled stays with his master and lover to the end, when it is revealed he is in fact a woman. (Spoiler alert) She goes mad from grief and dies.

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.

Also in the gallery is this David Wynne sculpture of Prince Charles …

He just doesn’t look happy, does he? Maybe he wasn’t too keen on the rather spiky modern version of a coronet that he is wearing here at his 1969 Investiture as Prince of Wales. It was designed by a committee chaired by his auntie Princess Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon). The globe and cross at the top was originally intended to be solid gold but the committee concluded that this would be far too heavy. The solution was to use a gold plated ping-pong ball – which is why I always smile at this portrayal of the Prince (and possibly why he doesn’t appear to have ever worn the item again).

Just by way of further light relief I have found another spooky clothes model to add to my collection (see last week’s blog) …

And these ‘eyebrows’ in the Cheapside Sunken Garden made me laugh. Part of the London Festival of Architecture, they entitled Look Up and are by Oli Colman …

Finally, I loved this joyful Hermes shop window at the Royal Exchange …

As is often the case I am grateful to Philip Ward-Jackson for much of the detail about the sculptures. I highly recommend his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, still available at Waterstones.

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From Sam Pepys’s dinner plate to the Essex Auroch

Yes, I have again been taking advantage of the wonderful fact that the Museum of London has reopened and is free to enter with a timed ticket.

I was thrilled to see a new exhibit connected to my hero Samuel Pepys – naval administrator, Member of Parliament and, of course, famous diarist. The item is a silver dinner plate made in 1681/82 and engraved with his coat of arms. Scratched by knives and forks, it is one of only three that now survive of the full dinner service …

By the time he commissioned this he was already a wealthy man and took great pleasure in entertaining at home. I like this boast from his diary dated 8th April 1667 and his remark about Mrs Clarke made me laugh out loud …

We had with my wife and I twelve at table and very good and pleasant company, and a most neat and excellent, but dear dinner; but, Lord, to see with what envy they looked upon all my fine plate was pleasant, for I made the best show I could, to let them understand me and my condition, to take down the pride of Mrs Clarke, who thinks herself very great.

Being a man of intense curiosity, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Pepys would almost certainly have heard of this discovery made during the rebuilding of St Martin’s Church on Ludgate Hill in 1669 …

It’s the third century tombstone of a Roman centurion wearing a tunic, a military belt and a long cloak draped over his left shoulder.

Amazingly, the inscription is still legible …

To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina his most devoted wife set up this memorial.

I think modern illustrations like this are mainly for the benefit of children, but I love them …

Incidentally, and still on a Roman theme, nearby is a fine mosaic floor dating from AD 300 and discovered in Bucklersbury in 1869 …

Pepys witnessed and wrote about the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Museum has a rare depiction of the City before the fire. It dates from around 1630, three years before he was born …

Nearby is a dramatic oil painting of the conflagration at its height …

The view is taken from the west with the Cathedral, fiercely ablaze, dominating the scene. John Evelyn described what happened when the fire reached St Paul’s …

The stones of St Paul’s flew like grenades, the lead melting down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements of them glowing with fiery redness.

The cathedral was thought to be safe and the nearby printers and booksellers stored their entire stock in the crypt. Unfortunately the fire caught hold of wooden scaffolding put up for repairs and the cathedral and all its contents were consumed.

Since his home was at risk, Pepys hired a cart ‘to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things’ and buried his valuable Parmesan cheese in the garden.

Such was the intensity of the blaze that these two iron padlocks and key melted together in a lump. The owner of the premises, an 80-year-old watchmaker, chose to hide in his cellar rather than flee (presumably to protect his stock from looters). These items were found beside his body …

Referring to a giant who was supposed to have lived in the building, this figure, known as Gerald the Giant, stood in a niche on the front elevation of Gerard’s Hall in Basing Lane and dates from around 1670 …

I like his daintily decorated shoes …

There is also some lovely stained glass dating from 1660 – 1700 …

Dragging myself away from the 17th century, there were two paintings I really enjoyed studying. The first is entitled Eastward Ho! and was painted by Henry Nelson O’Neil in 1857. It became his most popular work …

Soldiers are shown boarding a ship at Gravesend, leaving to fight in the ‘Indian Mutiny’ – the first Indian war of independence. In a poignant scene they are saying farewell to their loved ones and it is a very emotionally charged picture. For the men we can only see in their faces optimism and patriotism whilst in the faces of the women we see fear and a sense of foreboding.

The Times newspaper commented …

Hope and aspiration are busy among these departing soldiers, and if mothers and wives, and sisters and sweethearts, go down the side sorrowing, it is a sorrow in which there is no despair, and no stain of sin and frailty…

A year later he painted Home Again

The soldiers are seen coming down the gangway of their troop ship. The main character appears to be the bearded soldier in khaki uniform with his Kilmarnock ‘pork-pie’ cap under a white cotton Havelock, which was worn to afford the wearer’s neck protection from the blazing and merciless Indian sun.

When the paintings were exhibited together in London thousands of Victorians queued to see them.

The Times had this to say about Home Again

The crowd round the picture delight to spell out the many stories it includes – its joyous reunitings, its agonies of bereavement; the latter kept judiciously down …

And, of course, I mustn’t forget the Aurock. Its colossal skull confronts you soon after you enter …

A beast that’s been extinct for nearly 400 years, this particular skull dates from the Neolithic period (4,000 -2,200 BC) and was discovered in Ilford, East London, where herds of this creature once roamed.

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A more cheerful wander around Smithfield

Last week’s blog was largely concerned with the rather gruesome events that took place in this historic area so I’m aiming to be a bit more lighthearted this week.

Looking up as you walk can be very rewarding. Just opposite Smithfield Central Market on Charterhouse Street I spotted this frieze at the top of one of the buildings …

Here is a close up of the panel on the left …

And here’s the one on the right …

Aren’t they wonderful! I’m pretty sure that’s a bull in the foreground.

And, whilst in livestock mode, if you look just around the corner in Peter’s Lane you will encounter this sight (EC1M 6DS) …

Now look up …

Here’s the bull at the very top …

Surprisingly, they only date from the mid-1990s and are made of glass reinforced resin. The bovine theme was used as a decorative motif because for centuries the appropriately named Cowcross Street was part of a route used by drovers to bring cows to be slaughtered. The tower forms part of The Rookery Hotel and also dates from the mid-1990s, although it looks much older due to the use of salvaged bricks.

I reckon this is a top class piece of sympathetic redevelopment by the architects Gus Alexander. Read all about how they approached the work here.

I’ll say a little about Smithfield’s history.

It appears on some old maps as Smooth Field …

In the Braun and Hogenberg map of 1560/72 it’s Smythe Fyeld …

In the Agas Map of 1633 it’s Schmyt Fyeld …

By the twelfth century, there was a fair held there on every Friday for the buying and selling of horses, and a growing market for oxen, cows and – by-and-by – sheep as well. An annual fair was held every August around St Bartholomew’s Day and was the most prominent and infamous London fair for centuries; and one of the most important in the country. Over the centuries it became a teeming, riotous, outpouring of popular culture, feared and despised like no other regular event by those in power… ‘a dangerous sink for all the vices of London’. This image gives a flavour of it …

In the foreground, a man digs deep into his pocket. It looks like he’s just about to place a bet on a ‘find the pea’ game – a notorious confidence trick being operated here by a distinctly dodgy looking character. In the background musicians play and people dance.

Here’s another view that captures the sheer exuberance of the event …

Bartholomew Fair by Augustus Pugin & Thomas Rowlandson, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

In this 1721 image the behaviour looks more sedate …

In 1815 Wordsworth visited the Fair and saw …

Albinos, Red Indians, ventriloquists, waxworks and a learned pig which blindfolded could tell the time to the minutes and pick out any specified card in a pack.

Alongside the entertainment of the Fair there was an undercurrent of trouble, violence and crime. In 1698 a visiting Frenchman, Monsieur Monsieur Sorbière, wrote …

I was at Bartholomew Fair… Knavery is here in perfection, dextrous cutpurses and pickpockets … I met a man that would have took off my hat, but I secured it, and was going to draw my sword, crying, ‘Begar! You rogue! Morbleu!’ &c., when on a sudden I had a hundred people about me crying, ‘Here, monsieur, see Jephthah’s Rash Vow.’ ‘Here, monsieur, see the Tall Dutchwoman’ …

After more than 700 years the Fair was finally banned in 1855 for being …

A great public nuisance, with its scenes of riot and obstruction in the very heart of the city.

As far as livestock trading was concerned it had always been a place of open air slaughter. The historian Gillian Tindall writes: ‘Moo-ing, snorting and baa-ing herds were still driven on the hoof by men and dogs through busy streets towards Smithfield, sometimes from hundred of miles away. Similarly, geese and ducks were hustled along in great flocks, their delicate feet encased in cloth for protection. They were all going to their deaths, though they did not know it – till the stench of blood and the sounds of other animals inspired noisy fear in them’.

In Great Expectations, set in the 1820s, young Pip comes across the market and refers to it as ‘the shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam [which] seemed to stick to me.

Eventually slaughtering was moved elsewhere and the open air market closed in 1855 …

Smithfield Market’s last day.

The present meat market on Charterhouse Street was established by an 1860 Act of Parliament and was designed by Sir Horace Jones who also designed Billingsgate and Leadenhall Markets. Work on Smithfield, inspired by Italian architecture, began in 1866 and was completed in November 1868. I think this picture was taken not long after construction …

The buildings were a reflection of the modernity of Victorian city. Like many market buildings of the second half the nineteenth century, they owed a debt to Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in their creative use of glass, timber and iron …

One aspect of the London Central Markets, as the Smithfield buildings were known, was particularly revolutionary, though largely hidden. All the buildings were constructed over railway goods yards. For the first time ever, meat was delivered by underground railway direct to a large wholesale market in the centre of a city. In this picture, an underground train whizzes past where the old tracks used to be …

The spectacular colour scheme today replicates what it was when the market opened …

The church of St Bartholomew the Great is always worth a visit but today I’ll just mention the Gatehouse entrance. These pictures show the site before and after the first world war …

The Zeppelin bomb that fell nearby in 1916 partly demolished later buildings revealing the Tudor origins underneath and exposing more of the 13th century stonework from the original nave. By 1932 it was fully restored.

Looking out towards Smithfield you can see the 13th century arch topped by a Tudor building …

Finally, in the Great Avenue (EC1A 9PS), there is this monument commemorating men, women and children who perished both overseas and nearby …

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crest translates as : ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all Sheep and Oxen’.

Plans have been made for the market to be moved, along with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields markets, to Barking Reach power station, an abandoned industrial site at Dagenham Dock earmarked for redevelopment. The Museum of London will relocate to part of the old market site.

If you want to read more about Smithfield and its history, here is a link to some of my sources:

Smithfield’s Bloody Past by Gillian Tindall.

Today in London’s festive history – The opening of Batholomew’s Fair.

St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse | A rare survivor of 16th century London.

Underneath Smithfield Market – The Gentle Author.

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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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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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Horses, mermaids and memorials – more City Ladies

My first stop was Unilever House where a lady, her head bowed, strains hard to control a gigantic horse (EC4Y 0DY) …

The sculpture, called Controlled Energy, dates from 1932 and the sculptor, William Reid Dick, had a real horse model for him. Dr Philip Ward-Jackson, in his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, tells us …

This was no ordinary horse. A light bay gelding called Victor, it was a little over 18 hands high and, when shown at Olympia, had been described as ‘the biggest horse in the world’. The sculptor later told a reporter ‘I am sorry to say it died shortly after I finished with it’.

There is a similar male figure at the other end of the building and, when asked why he had included female figures as well as male ones, this was the sculptor’s interesting reply …

These days women are controlling affairs nearly, if not quite, as much as men. They begin to take control in some respects … as soon as they are out of their cradles, and the idea would have been incompletely carried out if only men had been used.

There are a number of female head keystones …

… and a pretty mermaid sculpted by Gilbert Ledward …

Just in case you are not familiar with the building here it is, opposite Blackfriars Station …

Ledward’s sculpture reminded me of the mermaid combing her hair at the Merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill …

In last week’s blog I wrote about the numerous female figures decorating the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping’s offices in Fenchurch Street. Here a group of maidens hold models of ships …

In my 2nd April blog, Moorgate and the Goddess of Electricity, I wrote about the impressive building called Electra House. I didn’t, however, venture into the entrance hall. If I had I would have seen two allegorical panels by F.W. Pomeroy who did much work on the Central Criminal Court, including the statue of Lady Justice. Again, there is more in last week’s blog.

The panel to the left has a seated figure, which may be Britannia, holding a rudder in one hand and a loop of cable in the other …

The cable encircles a globe and the figure to the right holds up two batteries on a tray.

This is the panel opposite …

The female figure holds a distaff in one hand and a weaving shuttle in the other. Standing to her left is Mercury, holding his caduceus and a bag of money. The lady on the right writes in a ledger whilst in the background is a telegraph pole. The panel probably represents the advantages to trade and industry of the telegraph.

And now south, to Number 1 Moorgate which was once the Banco di Napoli. Created in the 1980s, the bronze doors portray two ladies in peasant costume …

The woman on the left is sowing seeds and the one on the right holds a sickle and a sheaf of cut corn.

Just off Aldermanbury and to the north of the Guildhall is this 1972 bronze by Karin Jonzen called Beyond Tomorrow

A young couple look expectantly towards the future.

During the Second World War almost a thousand firefighters sacrificed their tomorrows trying to save property and lives during the intense bombing. On Sermon Lane opposite St Paul’s Cathedral can be found The National Firefighters’ Memorial (1991). On the north side is this representation of the women members of the National Fire Service and a list of those killed whilst on duty …

The lady on the right is a Dispatch Rider and the one on the left an Incident Recorder. Although not meant to actually fight fires, a former wartime firefighter declared …

The reality … was that firewomen were more widely involved in active work than is generally acknowledged, and they could often be found in the midst of things during the blitz, whether helping out on the pumps, in control rooms close to the centre of the severest raids or delivering supplies to firefighters.

Twenty-one-year-old Gillian Tanner was awarded the George Medal for bravery when she delivered petrol to fire pumps around Bermondsey while the docks were being bombed during the height of the Blitz.

Their pay was set at two thirds of that of the men, the Home Office having turned down their union’s request for equal pay in 1943.

Four ladies adorn the memorial to the 786 employees of the Prudential Assurance Company who gave their lives in the First World War. It can be found in the courtyard outside their old headquarters in Holborn and you can read more about it here.

This lady holds a seagoing vessel, representing the Navy …

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

The bi-plane represents the Air Force …

And this one holds a field gun and represents the Army …

I like the Queen’s Assurance sign from 1852 at 42-44 Gresham Street …

And finally, she may be the oldest City Lady I have found but she still looks beautiful and serene …

Dated 1669, she must have witnessed much of the rebuilding of the City after the great fire of 1666. She now resides in a sheltered spot in Corbet Court (EC3V 0AT). I have written about Mercer Maidens like her in an earlier blog entitled Dragons and Maidens.

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

First of all, some great news! You can now follow me on Instagram at :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Donne 1572 – 1631 by Nigel Boonham (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amicale (2007)

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

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

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

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

Or this abundance of cherubs …

And this meticulous carving around the Dean’s Door …

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

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

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

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My Barbican Architecture Tour Part 2

In last week’s blog I talked about cruise liners and curves. This week it’s castles, crenellations and concrete (I am familiar with the rule ‘always avoid annoying alliteration’ but I just couldn’t help myself).

‘Barbican’ used to be the name of a street in a bustling commercial area in the ward of Cripplegate. By the end of the 19th century it was the centre of the rag trade and was home to fabric and leather merchants, furriers, glovers and a host of other tradesmen. You can see it on the so-called Agas map of 1633 …

On the 29th December, 1940, at the height of the Second World War, an air raid by the Luftwaffe razed virtually the entire surrounding area to the ground.

The word (from Old French: barbacane) means a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes. And it’s easy to spot the architects’ references to that function as you walk around the 35 acre estate.

What about this entrance to the art gallery …

Those steps look formidable, and those crenellations (aka battlements) look like they are there to house a castle’s defenders.

Inside the walls are thick and the gates ready to be clanged shut against intruders …

More battlements look down on the Sculpture Court …

Where you can also spot some slits for archers to use …

Along the highwalk the archers’ reference is even more obvious …

It can also be seen on the extraordinary pyramid-topped entrance on Aldersgate, and even the bridge looks like a defensive structure (I’m thinking World War 2 pill boxes) …

Interesting shadows form at certain times of day …

The architecture responds very well to being photographed in monochrome, for example these crenellations at the top of the towers …

And this vertiginous view …

There are three flats per floor arranged within a triangular plan. Entrances, circulation spaces, lifts and escape stairs are in the centre of the tower.

These classical looking columns appear to support the structure …

The Barbican is the best surviving example of the post-war plan to separate pedestrians and traffic using raised pavements, rather clumsily called ‘pedways’. The plan failed due to a combination of the need to protect listed buildings, lack of coordination and the public’s reluctance to climb away from street level and embrace a new elevated world.

You can observe this part of the highwalk stopping in mid-air, its further progress into the City impeded by the wall of the Museum of London …

The often-derided yellow line was painted to help visitors navigate their way to the Centre …

Gilbert Bridge

It reminds me of a drawbridge over a moat since I saw it from the east end of the estate …

There was a plan at one time to run a road through the development roughly where Gilbert Bridge is now in order to preserve the north-south access lost in the bombing. Needless to say the architects objected and their argument prevailed.

The architecture here is often described as Brutalist, the term being derived from the French béton brut, meaning raw or unfinished concrete. Although the concrete at the Estate was left exposed, it was not unfinished, having been pick-hammered to give it a rough, rusticated appearance implying a sense of monumentality. You can see examples of raw and pick-hammered concrete side by side at the entrance to the Conservatory …

Getting the desired effect was incredibly labour intensive. After the concrete had dried for at least 21 days, workers used handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate …

We were told that the hammering needed for the entire Estate, including the towers, was carried out by a team of only six men.

Our tour guide not only imparted information about the architecture but also lots about the history of the Estate and the surrounding area. Highly recommended! It’s free and you can book on the website.

Cruise liners and curves – my Barbican architecture tour Part 1

Last week I finally went on a Barbican architecture tour and boy was it fascinating, and as an added bonus has given me enough material for two blogs. If you live or work near the estate, or attend performances here, do please have a look and hopefully you will find it interesting enough to make you want to come and explore. The architects were Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and the Barbican was their Utopian vision and masterpiece.

Standing on the terrace by the lake, our attention was drawn to the fact that Defoe House bore a distinct resemblance to a cruise liner bearing down on us …

A comparison that became even more apparent as we viewed the building from the north side …

Do you see what I mean?

In another maritime allusion, the elegantly curved tips of the cantilevered balconies resemble the hull of a ship …

And don’t these ventilation shafts look like classic ocean liner funnels …

The layout of the apartments was designed to maximize the amount of natural light in the rooms that would most benefit from it. Bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms are therefore positioned along external walls, while kitchens and bathrooms are placed against inner walls.

In 1963 this ran into a technical problem. The London County Council had recently passed bye-laws requiring all kitchens to have windows or equivalent ventilation. Many of the Barbican kitchens did not have ventilation so a deal was struck. Approval was gained when what had previously been called ‘kitchens’ were instead renamed as ‘cooking areas’ and designated part of the living room. You can read the full fascinating story here in Barbican Living.

There is another maritime connection. To make the kitchens as efficient and space-saving as possible, the architects took their cue from the compact design of boats and brought in Brooke Marine, a firm of yacht designers. A full-size mock-up of a kitchen was erected by the Gas Council, Watson House Research Centre, and was tested by going through the motions of preparing several different kinds of meals.

Very good quality hardwood was used for the windows and their surrounds and the wood was painted with clear varnish. The overall effect from a distance is to give a warm honey colour to the buildings …

This fragment of the Roman and Medieval wall survived the Blitz …

Note the barrel vault roofs of the top floor flats, a feature widely employed in Roman architecture …

I noticed these curving stairs complementing one another …

Part of the site was occupied by railway yards before the wartime destruction. The architects have acknowledged this by inverting the curved brick arches that were once a feature of the area and using them to frame the windows …

The architects loved Venice and cited the canals, bridges and pavements of that city as the model for the pedestrian systems of the Barbican, describing it as ‘the best example of a city where foot and service traffic is completely segregated. This segregation,’ they continued, ‘has worked admirably for many centuries and there is no good reason why the principle should not be applied equally effectively in the City of London’.

There is lots of water, interesting reflections and great views, like this one from Gilbert Bridge as you approach the Centre entrance. Note the pretty circular ‘igloos’ covered in their Summer plumage …

And the wooden shutters on Frobisher Crescent look like they belong in more sunny climes …

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s original plans featured five tower blocks of twenty stories. These designs were rejected by the planning authority, primarily on the grounds that the scheme had insufficient outdoor space. In response, the architects reduced the number of tower blocks to three in order to minimize the buildings’ footprints. At the same time, they more than doubled their height to maintain housing density, making them for many years the tallest residential towers in Europe.

All three tower blocks and the majority of the terrace blocks stand above the podium on piloti, enabling pedestrians to navigate the estate unimpeded by buildings …

Occasionally you can also catch some interesting reflections …

The architects admired, and I believe corresponded with, the Brutalist architect Ernő Goldfinger and liked his idea of separating lifts and services from the main body of buildings. Our guide pointed out this example on the Estate …

Sometimes I think taking images in monochrome works best.

By way of comparison, here is one of Goldfinger’s most celebrated buildings …

Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in Kensal Town west London – picture copyright ArchDaily

In 1964 the City of London Corporation presented the architects with a revised brief which demanded an expanded theatre and concert hall. The outcome of this was the Barbican Centre, a building which had to be shoehorned into the master plan after construction had already begun.

The theatre, to be used by the Royal Shakespeare Company, required a fly tower to accommodate scenery. The clever solution to disguising this feature above ground was the creation of the second largest conservatory in London after Kew …

Housing over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees it a great place to visit. Opening times are limited, however, and it is sometimes closed for private events, so it’s best to check the website first to make sure you can get in.

And finally, they might not be exotic, bit I did like the look of these tomatoes that are being cultivated by a resident …

If you want to read more about the architectural history of the Barbican here is a link to an article that I found extremely useful and quoted often in this blog. It’s called AD Classics: The Barbican Estate / Chamberlin, Powell and Bon Architects.

I will be writing more about what I learnt on my tour in next week’s blog, but in the meantime you can find lots more pictures here when I wrote about the Estate and toured the Conservatory in July last year.

If you want to go on a tour (it’s free) here is the link to the website.

City of London – Then and Now

In some respects, parts of the City of today look remarkably like they did decades ago whilst others are changed almost beyond recognition.

I shall start with the entrance to the Guildhall as painted in 1905 and attributed to William Luker Junior (1867-1947). I like the intimate family group with the little girl glancing back at the authentic flapping pigeons …

I felt I just had to write a few words about the painter.

The son of a famous artist who fell on hard times, young William (‘Willie’ to his doting mother) caused consternation when, in 1888 at the age of 21, he made a family servant pregnant. He did the honourable thing and married her, albeit secretly, which caused even more anguish to his poor mum. Records of the period show his new wife to be Margaret Stadowicka, a Polish immigrant eight years his senior. The greater responsibility seems to have prompted him to mature quickly as an artist and he became a very successful painter of animals.

This is the Guildhall entrance today …

The view from Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral was slightly improved by the removal in 1990 of the London Chatham & Dover Railway bridge that used to span Ludgate Hill. Here is the view at the turn of the last century …

This view (from Gillian Tindall’s book A Tunnel Through Time) shows the railway bridge in more detail …

And here is a more recent image. The bridge may have gone but modern buildings do intrude …

This is a photograph of the Wren church of St Alban Wood Street circa 1875 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is the view today. Only the church tower remains as the area was devastated by Second World War bombing …

The name Cheapside comes from the old English term for a market (ceapan – ‘to buy’) and the a street with this name was here long before the Great Fire of 1666. Here is a picture taken around 1890 looking east when there were about 11,000 hansom cabs and 500 horse-drawn buses in London. By 1910 they had all virtually disappeared to be replaced by taxis and motor buses …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and now held at the Bishopsgate Institute.

And here is a view from about the same point taken in May 2019 …

Apart from the tower of St Mary-le-Bow, the south side of Cheapside has changed dramatically with the construction of the office and retail space One New Change. On the north side at the junction with Wood Street, however, stands a little treasure …

The shop on the corner in an anonymous drawing from the 1860s

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

This is how the corner looks today …

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

You can read lots more about the little shop and its fascinating immediate surroundings in my earlier blog: A Shop, a Tree and a Poem. And even more here: Hidden Gems.

Some of Fleet Street has hardly changed at all. Here is a view of St Dunstan-in -the-West around 1910 …

Picture taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and held at the Bishopsgate Institute

And here is a picture taken in May this year. Some of the Journals changed their names – the Dundee Advertiser becoming the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Hours becoming the Sunday Post. The Post has now become famous as the last newspaper to leave Fleet Street. They turned off the lights for the final time on 5th August 2016.

I came across this fascinating picture whilst doing my research. It was published in 1975 in the book The City at War by Ian Grant and Nicholas Maddren. Looking west along Fleet Street towards the Strand, it was taken in 1944 and shows the smoke arising in the distance from a recent hit by a V2 rocket …

The caption in the book reads: ‘Passengers getting off the bus hardly break their stride’.

And finally, I am publishing again this painting by Harold Workman now on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery and entitled Chaos on London Bridge. It was probably painted some time in the 1930s or 1940s …

And here is a picture I found of London Bridge circa 1870 …

Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

I think London Bridge and its history might be worth a blog on its own and I shall explore this idea.

You can find more great ‘Then and Now’ pictures (including some of the above) here on the Spitalfields Life blog.

Post War plans for the City

My subjects are often inspired by what other bloggers have published and one of my blogging heroes is the author of the blog A London Inheritance. The author inherited a photographic archive from his father showing London scenes before, during and after the war. In the blog he follows up what those locations look like now along with beautifully illustrated stories of London’s history.

Recently he wrote about this Report published on behalf of the Corporation of London in 1951. It deals in detail with plans conceived by consultants in 1947 for the reconstruction of the City …

Published by the Architecture Press

I have taken some extracts from it that I found particularly fascinating but if you want to read the entire blog (and I recommend it highly) here is a link.

The first illustration that interested me was this Inventory of Accommodation within the City. The present day Barbican Estate falls firmly into section 9 …

The report then goes on to illustrate in this table the total floor space in 1939 along with the percentage destroyed during the War …

As you can see, the map highlights the considerable amount of damage caused by the early raids of 1940 / 41 when incendiaries caused significant fire damage in the areas around and to the north of St. Paul’s Cathedral as shown by the high percentage figures for blocks 2,7 and 9.

New roads and high and low level separation of pedestrians and vehicles was seen as the way forward for the City. The Barbican Highwalk is a present day example of what the new ‘pedways’ above the traffic might have looked like and there is an interesting article on the subject here.

The following drawing shows the proposed high level road in Lower Thames Street with the ground level occupied by a service road and a pedestrian area …

Lower Thames Street is not very nice to walk along nowadays, but the proposed high level road would probably not have had enough capacity

This drawing is of the proposed low level concourse at London Bridgehead, just to the west of the Monument …

I like the man getting a shoeshine and the Monument Tea Rooms

This is a clever piece of anticipation if you just swop the Sherry, Port and Madeira bar for a Wine bar and the Tea Rooms for a Cafe Nero. And nowadays men seem to be wearing hats again.

The following impression, also of the proposed London Bridgehead, is again (apart from the clothes) rather modern …

The report notes that the City is ‘chronically short of places to eat’ so no doubt the authors would be pleased to see how that situation has drastically improved.

The high level separation of traffic can be seen here as part of the large circulatory road system on the northern end of London Bridge …

Interesting that a pavement artist has been included

To the right is a glass sided entrance to the Monument Underground Station with the London Transport roundel on the side. This would have replaced the entrance on Fish Street Hill which today is an entrance directly on the ground floor of an office building rather than this rather nice, glass sided descent by escalator. I have to keep reminding myself that these ideas were being put forward over 70 years ago.

I really had to do a double-take when I saw this drawing entitled ‘An impression of a possible treatment of the proposed new approach to St. Paul’s from the river.’

What a great vision

And now we have a similar view after we cross the Millennium Bridge (however we are unlikely to spot a man in a top hat).

Just to show that not all the recommendations were attractive, a picture entitled ‘An impression of the suggested Cheapside Underpass, a proposal which has been postponed on grounds of cost.’

That’s the church of St Mary-le-Bow on the right

I think we had a lucky escape there.

And finally, a reminder of the utter destruction the War brought to some parts of the City. A photograph taken by the blogger’s father showing a very large pile of rubble following the demolition of bombed buildings in Aldersgate …

I hope you enjoyed today’s blog – apologies to those of you who already subscribe to the London Inheritance blog and have therefore seen these images before. If you don’t subscribe and are interested in London’s history I can’t recommend it more highly.

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