Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Water

Down by the River – wharves, beaches and desperate immigrants

Once upon a time, access by foot to the River Thames was absolutely essential since it was London’s main highway. These ‘Watermen’s Stairs’ were also of great benefit if you were unfortunate enough to fall into the river. A Waterman would usually be nearby plying for hire and might be inclined to rescue you (and the stairs were often adjacent to a public house, where such accidents could be more likely to happen!).

Although wharves and later rudimentary docks began to be used to offload goods, most ships simply moored in lines in the middle of the river and their cargo was rowed to shore and carried up shoreline stairs.

John Rocque’s London Map of 1756 showed literally dozens of such access points and last Sunday I decided to go in search of what was left of them, starting at the east side of the Millennium Bridge. These are the steps leading to the foreshore …

This is the exact spot where the ancient Trig Lane access to the River was located and back in the 1970s redevelopment work revealed a 14th century wharf. Here is a picture of some of the site taken in 1974, now totally covered by riverside office development …

Read more on Adrian Procter’s blog

There was some amateur excavation taking place when I visited …

Looking all around you see lots of pieces of pottery, tiles and bricks along with lumps of chalk …

Large chalk beds were once laid down to provide a soft settling place for barges at low tide.

It’s rather a strange feeling standing on the river bed and gazing along the foreshore …

As I walked east I looked back and spotted a sandy beach. You can see the Trig Steps in the distance …

My next stop was the Cousin Lane steps next to Cannon Street railway station …

As is common along the River, you can see the remains of old wharves …

And a barge resting nearby …

I got a distinct feeling that I was trespassing.

These steps at London Bridge are no longer open to the public. Again the remains of old wharves are visible at low tide …

Further along the Thames Walk a capstan reminds us of the days when this part of the river was a major commercial shipping hub …

Looking over the riverside wall, lots more lumps of chalk are clearly visible …

Next on my list was Custom House Stairs – here is how they appear in Roque’s Map of 1746 …

And here they are today …

I encountered lots of oyster shells on my walk, once a very cheap source of food for Londoners …

An old winch still decorates the pedestrian walkway …

As I walked past the Tower I was reminded of pictures I had seen of the beach there that was opened up in July 1934 for the use of people who couldn’t afford to go to the seaside. Apparently 1,500 bargeloads of sand were used to create it …

It was finally closed in 1971 due to river pollution. There is a nice blog about it here.

My final set of stairs were located just past St Katharine Dock along St Katharine’s Way. The entrance is easy to miss since the signage is quite high up …

Here I hesitated …

It’s all a bit slimy and slippery …

When you reach the bottom it’s clear you are definitely below the level of high tide …

The view looking west …

As I looked back up the steps I was reminded of a story in the London Inheritance blog.

On the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman’s Stairs …

IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.

I hope these steps led to a better life for some of those poor souls, many surely victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849.

The scene at Skibbereen during the Great Famine, by Cork artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by The Illustrated London News.

The bridges of London Bridge – Part 2

For the first half of the 18th century the river remained London’s main thoroughfare. The watermen’s cry of ‘Oars! Oars!’ as they looked for customers constantly rang out in riverside streets. One Frenchman, who hadn’t quite mastered the language but had heard of London’s immoral reputation, thought this an invitation to try a quite different service.

But things were about to change.

By the mid-1750s the bridge was clearly failing in its purpose to provide an adequate river crossing, but the building of a new bridge nearby was constantly blocked by the strong waterman lobby and riverside businesses. Bridge residents showed their objection to a nearby temporary wooden bridge by persistently trying to burn it down.

But something had to be done, the bridge being …

Narrow, darksome, and dangerous … from the multitude of carriages … with frequent arches of strong timber crossing the street from the tops of houses to keep them together and stop them falling into the river.

Thomas Pennant writing in 1750.

A compromise was reached in 1757 by pulling down all the houses on the bridge as well as the chapel of St Thomas the Martyr. The bones of the cleric who oversaw the earliest building of the bridge in the 12th century, Peter de Colechurch, were interred there and some accounts say that, when they were uncovered, the workmen unceremoniously tossed them into the Thames.

St Thomas’s chapel is commemorated with a stained glass window in St Magnus-the -Martyr church. I like the sleepy monk on the right …

But the bridge continued to be congested and, for a growing port, increasingly seen as an obstacle to trade. The momentum for change was unstoppable and the old bridge was doomed …

Demolition of Old London Bridge as seen from the Southwark side 1832 Guildhall Art Gallery

Few tears were shed over its destruction. As Bernard Ash writes in his fascinating book The Golden City : ‘This was not a sentimental generation. It looked forward not backward. It saw no picturesqueness in the narrow, inconvenient ways of its forebears or in the narrow, inconvenient and often makeshift things they had built’.

But the river was no longer the highway of London – private carriages and hackney coaches were taking over. As Ash eloquently points out, all the watermen’s traffic had ‘run away on wheels’.

A new bridge designed by the Scottish engineer John Rennie (1761-1821) was decided upon. The work went ahead in 1824 under the supervision of his sons, John Rennie the Younger and George. In order to keep the old bridge open for traffic during construction it was decided that the new one should be on a different alignment, about one hundred feet upstream.

Construction took seven and a half years at a cost of two and a half million pounds and the lives of forty workmen, many perishing in the fast flowing water caused by the continued existence of the old bridge.

The opening (depicted below) was described in The Times as …

the most splendid spectacle that has been witnessed on the Thames for many years.

The opening of London Bridge by William IV on 1st August 1831 by Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867) – Guildhall Art Gallery

The King arrived at about 4pm and the red carpeted stairs where he landed can be seen leading up to the bridge on the far side of the river. A huge pavilion where a sumptuous banquet was held had been erected on the bridge. The royal standard can be seen flying from the pavilion at the north end. The King was accompanied by his wife Adelaide – hence the name of the 1925 Art Deco office block on the north east side of the bridge that you can see today.

Here’s a view of Adelaide House from the Thames path …

London’s growing prosperity led to increased traffic and more congestion problems for the bridge …

London Bridge circa 1870. Taken from a stereocard in the B E C Howarth-Loomes Collection [Ref BB83/05717B]

By 1896 the bridge was the busiest point in London, and one of its most congested – on average 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour. Subsequent surveys showed that the bridge was sinking an inch every eight years, and by 1924 the east side had sunk some three to four inches lower than the west side. Clearly the bridge would eventually have to be removed and replaced.

The bridge in the 1930s – Adelaide House is on the right

In 1967, to many people’s astonishment, Rennie’s bridge was put up for sale and, to more astonishment, was bought on 18th April 1968 by the Missourian entrepreneur and oilman Robert P McCulloch for $2,460,000. Under no illusion that he had bought Tower Bridge (as some papers mischievously reported) he moved it piece by piece to Lake Havasu City Arizona – all 10,276 granite blocks individually numbered.

The bridge is dedicated in its new home in 1971

I think it looks great …

You can read more about Lake Havasu here along with the 50th anniversary last year of the bridge’s purchase.

The London Bridge we see today was constructed between 1967 and 1972 and opened by Queen Elizabeth on 17th March 1973. I like this nighttime picture …

Now there are security blocks in place as a result of the terrorist attack in June 2017…

I hope you have enjoyed these short histories of the bridges that have been known as ‘London Bridge’. Incidentally, if you do a Google search for ‘London Bridge images’ you will see that, on most American sites, you’ll be shown pictures of Tower Bridge!

The bridges of London Bridge – Part 1

When I discovered that, at one time, the London Bridge authorities employed a Keeper of the Heads I was inspired to write about the many reincarnations of London Bridge since the Romans built the first crossing about AD 50. The relationship between the bridges and London is fascinating and so I want to do it justice with two blogs.

There is an artist’s impression of Roman London, including the bridge, on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery …

The picture reflects the fact that the river was very much wider then (about five times what we see today) and consequently much shallower. The bridge was probably built of oak and, being the only fixed crossing below Staines, it became a major contributor to the prosperity of London which soon replaced Colchester as the Roman capital.

The earliest written reference to the bridge (Lundene brigce) appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of AD 984 when mention is made of a woman being taken there to be drowned for witchcraft. From 1176 a new stone bridge was constructed under the leadership of a cleric, Peter of Colechurch, and was to last for well over 600 years.

This painting by Samuel Scott (1702-1772) gives some idea of what the bridge looked like around the middle of the 18th century. People in the houses had a magnificent view and could fish from their windows as the buildings overhung the water by several feet. In the mid-1750s, the naturalist Thomas Pennant also observed that …

People living on the Bridge soon grew deaf to the noise of the falling waters, the clamours of the watermen, or the frequent shrieks of drowning wretches.

Copyright Corporation of London – Guildhall Art Gallery

Do pop into St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street (EC3R 6DN) and have a look at this splendid model of the Bridge (a photo really doesn’t do it justice) …

The bridge was supported by 18 boat-shaped ‘starlings’. These effectively blocked half the river and tidal surges and the build up of waste made the current notoriously uneven. The drop in water level could be as much as eight feet and navigating the arches was known as ‘shooting the bridge’. Wary passengers would alight on one side and be picked up by their boat on the other – assuming their waterman had not drowned, which many of them did, hence the 1670 saying …

London Bridge was made for wise men to pass over, and fools to pass under.

Such was the proliferation of buildings, people crossing the bridge for the first time (which could take an hour) often did not realise they were not in a normal street. At some points it was only twelve feet wide.

I have to mention the heads.

Beheading was a common form of execution at the time and reserved for higher-born individuals since it was swifter and less barbaric than hanging or burning at the stake. Heads also became available when individuals suffered the terrible death of being hanged, drawn and quartered (usually for high treason).

From ‘Visscher’s Panorama1616

Between 1305 when the first head was placed atop a pike over the Drawbridge Gate, and 1678 when the practice was stopped, there was a near-permanent display of decapitated heads grinning down from their spikes that pedestrians would have passed beneath. There was a plentiful supply, a visitor in 1592 counted 34 ‘heads of persons of distinction’.

The first head to be displayed in this way was the Scottish patriot and rebel William Wallace in 1305 after he had been hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield. The Bridge authorities employed a Keeper of the Heads who maintained security since relatives of the deceased were often desperate to reclaim the head in order that it could be reunited with the body (thereby restoring the immortal soul). When the flesh had rotted away the Keeper usually tossed the skull into the river.

I am indebted to the historian Heidi Nichols for her research – read her full article here.

The width of the river, its slow current, and the obstruction caused by London Bridge all contributed to the river frequently freezing over for two months at a time. This enabled the famous Thames Frost Fairs whose heyday was during the Little Ice Age between the 17th and early 19th Century (although the river had frozen before – Henry VIII travelled the river from Westminster to Greenwich by sleigh in 1536).

This picture, The Thames During the Great Frost of 1739, shows the Frost Fair in the foreground and figures inspecting the incomplete piers of Westminster Bridge on the right. In the distance is a view of the City of London including St Paul’s Cathedral and spires of the City churches …

Painting by Jan Griffier the Younger (1688-1750) at the Guildhall Art Gallery. It was reported that ‘The Thames floated with rocks and shoals of ice; rising everywhere in hillocks and huge rocks of ice and snow‘.

Between 1607 and 1814 there were a total of seven major fairs. There were football pitches, bowling matches, fruit-sellers, shoemakers, barbers… even a pub or two. To keep the shopkeepers warm, there were even fires within their tents. During the four days of the final 1814 Fair an elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.

A Frost Fair in full swing (from the Londonist blog) …

The fairs ended as the weather became warmer and their possibility finally eliminated when the old London Bridge was demolished in 1831.

Demolition of Old London Bridge as seen from the Southwark side 1832 Guildhall Art Gallery

I will write about the bridges that subsequently replaced it next week.

In the meantime, if you visit St Magnus, pause outside for a few minutes. Firstly, you will be standing on the pedestrian approach to the old bridge …

And under the arch you will see this piece of wood …

Two remnants of the medieval bridge sit within the church gardens; originally part of the bridge’s northern archway, these stones now lie unmarked …

My next blog about the bridges will take us up to the present day.

Fun and Miscellany – my 100th blog!

Thank you so much for subscribing to my little publication – especially those of you who have been with me since the very beginning almost two years ago.

For the first anniversary I included things that I had come across that had made me smile and I want to do that again this week. I want as well, however, to include a few items that I thought were interesting but didn’t fit under any broad heading.

One of the great pleasures of doing research is the occasional joy of serendipity. I recently discovered that encouraging people to cycle to work is nothing new and magazines were being published almost 40 years ago which included maps to help cyclists navigate.

I came across this persuasive cover of On your bike! magazine from 1982 …

And now something a bit more surreal, a piece of art that was on display at the Guildhall art Gallery until a few weeks ago …

Marcello Pecchioli’s eye-catching stained glass Alien Priest was part of the Gallery’s ‘Visionary Artists’ exhibition. I like the flying saucers in the background.

Next up is this picture in the Gallery entitled Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1860-1956). Painted in 1901, it depicts a young man and girl walking in a misty, wet park with a horse-drawn cab rank in the background.

I like it because to me it’s one of those pictures that immediately gets you making up a back story to the characters. Surely this is an assignation – a secret lovers meeting, he clasping her hand and she gazing lovingly into his face. Then it struck me: Garden of Eden! A place of dangerous temptation and banishment!

Apparently guides point out that this picture is actually about a mismatch between a wealthy woman who has fallen for a man much below her station: note his clumpy shoes, lack of gloves and his rolled up trouser bottoms. Also the way he’s carrying not one but two umbrellas, intertwined like the two lovers. There are tiny raindrops hanging from the black branches. Surely they represent tears to come? Or am I getting completely carried away? Another commentator has said that she is simply a smartly dressed maidservant on her day off, out walking with her beau.

In Cullum Street I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning sculpture by Sarah Lucas entitled Perceval

Part of the ‘Sculpture in the City’ initiative – EC3M 7JJ

It’s a large-scale replica of a traditional china ornament of the kind that took pride of place on many British mantelpieces forty years ago. Perceval was a knight of the Round Table and apparently there is fertility symbolism in the giant concrete marrows on the cart. You can read more about this work here.

Also for us to admire as part of the Sculpture in the City project is this example entitled Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins at 1 Undershaft (EC3A 6HX). I love it because it’s completely bonkers …

See how many animals you can spot

I keep meaning to spend some time in the Blackfriar pub on Queen Victoria Street recording the brilliant brasses there (EC4V 4EG) but I still haven’t got around to it. So in the meantime, here is the advice on one of them …

‘Don‘t advertise – tell a gossip

Don’t forget to look down when crossing the Millennium (‘Wobbly’) Bridge and see if you can spot some of the witty work by the artist Ben Wilson. He has painstakingly painted literally dozens of pieces of discarded chewing gum …

I have written more about him in my earlier blog Tales from City Bridges.

There is a Banksy rat painting in Chiswell Street that has been altered by another artist. Banksy’s piece originally depicted a stencilled ghetto rat holding a placard which read ‘London doesn’t work’ …

Photograph taken by ‘Noodlefish’ 26 August 2006

However, Robbo, Banksy’s rival graffiti artist, reworked the placard by adding his name in red letters. Robbo was known for leaving his mark on many Banksy pieces but I read in the interesting Londonist blog that Robbo died in 2014, bringing the rivalry to an end.

I haven’t been able to find out more about the strange ‘Life is beautiful’ figure next to it.

It is hard to imagine now but many of London’s roads were once paved with wood. However a map of London by Bartholomew’s in 1928 shows clearly the expansive reach of the wooden block road paving method. In the map excerpt below, the yellow roads are all paved with wooden blocks …

Read more in the excellent blog ‘Ian Visits’

Many were destroyed in wartime bombing and many also dug up by local residents for burning as heating. Since they were impregnated with tar they burnt furiously and, of course, made a major contribution to London’s filthy air.

For some people this was an entrepreneurial opportunity. This is Alan Sugar being interviewed for the Daily Express in 2010 about when he noticed old blocks being uncovered when roads were being resurfaced …

The workers showed me the blocks, which were impregnated with tar, and they chucked a couple onto the fire – they burned like a rocket. Bingo! It occurred to me that these discarded wooden blocks could be made into fire-lighting sticks. I could cut them up into bundles of sticks and flog them.

And you can still see a section of wooden road today at the junction of Chequer Street and Bunhill Row EC1 …

Looking over the wall on the Embankment one day I noticed these lions heads with mooring rings …

They were sculpted by Timothy Butler for Bazalgette’s great sewage works in 1868-70 and it is said that, if the lions drink, London will flood.

And to end with, two more items with watery themes that make me smile.

Firstly, a famous satire on the quality of the Metropolitan water supply in 1828. An elderly lady displays her horror and shock on looking at a speck of Thames water through a microscope …

Copyright: British museum

It’s by the artist and caricaturist William Heath (1795-1840) and is entitled Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us! You can read more about the efforts made to get fresh water to Londoners in my blog Philanthropic Fountains.

And finally I always say hello to this miserable dolphin on The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB). I also tell him to cheer up – the pub is a listed building and therefore so is he …

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Sculptures with striking poses

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

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

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

She is outside Royal Exchange Buildings EC3V 3NL.

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

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

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

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

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

The Ornamental Passions website gives the following description :

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

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

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

Churchill memorably called them ‘Heroes with grimy faces’.

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

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

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

Officer Demarne in full flow …

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of London Ships (and a few boats)

Last year London was voted ‘the world’s leading financial maritime city’. The City, the judges said, ‘is home to world leading institutions such as Lloyd’s for insurance, and English law is the most widely applied in shipping disputes.’ The maritime connection does, of course, go back centuries and I have found some of the ways it has been represented for this week’s blog.

What better place to start than the Lloyd’s Register building at 71 Fenchurch Street EC3M 4BS.

It became apparent as the 17th century progressed that a central register of ships was needed to record their size, condition and other qualities. As Lloyd’s of London flourished this information would be valuable not only for underwriters but also merchants. Original regularly published ‘ship lists’ eventually became Lloyd’s Register of Ships in 1760 and, when a ship owners list merged with it, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping was formed in 1834 (and still exists today). The building, by acclaimed architect Thomas Colcutt (1840-1924), was completed in December 1901 and has been described as an ‘impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th Century Italian manner’.

The building boasts not one but two ship weathervanes.

Galleon under sail.

Around the building elegant ladies protectively support various vessels …

 

The interior was also designed to impress. I love this picture of the General Committee meeting in what was then their brand new building …

The great and the good of Lloyd’s Register.

The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was considered a necessary piece of legislation to reduce the number of parishes in the City of London as the residential population declined. Between 1872 and 1926 twenty churches (some by Sir Christopher Wren) were demolished and the land sold for construction projects.

Artifacts from some of these churches were moved elsewhere and the pretty galleon weathervane from St Michael Queenhithe (demolished in 1875) can now be seen on St Nicholas Cole Abbey …

114 Queen Victoria Street EC4V 4BJ .

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

This square rigged ship once sailed above St Mildred’s Poultry (demolished in 1872) and can now be seen atop St Olave’s Old Jewry, now inhabited by a firm of lawyers …

St Olave’s Court EC2V 8EX. Photo again by Hornak.

The Corporation of Trinity House was founded in 1514 and is now responsible for navigational aids (such as lighthouses), deep sea pilotage and a seafarers charity. The building was seriously damaged in the war but was beautifully restored in the 1950s and in the process acquired this elegant weathervane …

Trinity House, Trinity Square EC3N 4DH.

What about these jolly ships bouncing around in choppy seas on the front of The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

The facade includes a rather grumpy looking blue dolphin …

And now a few boats. If you want to know the difference between a ship and a boat I suggest you access Professor Google since there seem to be a number of definitions.

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

A plaque gives more information …

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was formed in 1555 – watermen carry passengers whilst lightermen carry goods and cargo. Tucked away down St Mary at Hill (EC3R 8EF) is their hall, the only original Georgian Livery Hall in the City. Their coat of arms portrays a skiff (a light rowing boat), crossed oars and two cushions for the comfort of passengers. And more dolphins …

I have written about this ship before. If you go to Holland House in Bury Street (EC3A 5AW), just opposite the Gherkin, just walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively …

It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’. It is very different from Mendes da Costa’s work, isn’t it?

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Finally, let’s not forget the brave souls who protected the City and the country in time of war and the monuments to their memory.

On Tower Hill there are two memorials. The first, the Mercantile Marine War Memorial, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was for the the First World War …

The Lutyens Memorial, opposite Trinity House, EC3N 4DH.

Alongside is the second, the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was for the Second World War. This is a feature from it …

In both wars more than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives  and on Tower Hill are commemorated the more than 35,800 casualties who have no known grave.

The National Submariners’ War Memorial is on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ) and the bas relief shows the claustrophobic interior of a submarine. On the left hand side is a list of 50 submarines lost during the First World War, and on the right a list of 82 submarines lost during the Second World War. A photograph really does not do it justice …

The monument was designed by the architect A H R Tenison and the bronze sculpture is by F B Hitch.

And as we all know, a real ship now stands guard over the City. The most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship, HMS Belfast played a key role in the Arctic Convoys, the Battle of North Cape and D-Day …

You get a great view of her from the north bank.

 

 

Fish tales – a walk along the river

I started my westward walk at the old Billingsgate Market on Lower Thames Street. Once the centre of London’s fish trade, it has been comprehensively smartened up and no trace remains of its pulsating, pongy past, its interior now a soulless ‘event space’.

The market in its 20th century heyday.

Billingsgate was originally a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish and miscellaneous goods and does not seem to have become associated exclusively with the fish trade until the sixteenth century.

In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed making it ‘a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever’. The only exception to this was the sale of eels which was restricted to Dutch fishermen whose boats were moored in the Thames. This was because they had helped feed the people of London during the Great Fire.

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

The south side of the old market today.

I love the weathervanes …

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

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

As you walk westwards you will see on your right a view of both the tower of St Magnus-the-Martyr and Wren’s monument to the Great Fire of 1666 …

The fishy environment is enhanced by the lamps that illuminate the path at night …

And, amazingly, I think the cloud formation behind is the beginning of what is known as a ‘mackerel sky’.

‘Hello, there!’ : Face-to-face with a fish at eye level.

Further along Adelaide House looms above you …

Built in 1925, it was then the City’s tallest block and is now Grade II listed. The building was named in honour of King William IV’s wife Adelaide who, in 1831, had performed the opening ceremony of London Bridge. Office workers there could once access an 18-hole mini-golf course on the roof. When I discovered this an image came to mind of an errant golf ball flying over the parapet and bonking a London Bridge commuter on the head.

Glance across the river for an interesting contrast of old and new …

On the right, the 16th century tower of Southwark Cathedral peeps over London Bridge. In the distance the Strata tower block at Elephant & Castle, with its three wind turbines, stares back at you. The turbines were supposed to generate electricity but I have never seen them move. I am told that locals have nicknamed the building Mordor.

The Fishmongers’ Livery Company is one of the most ancient of the City Guilds and you encounter the river frontage of their hall as you continue to walk westwards. You will also spot more fish motifs both on the lamps and on the railings …

The south side of Fishmongers’ Hall.

Glance across the river and there, perched in a dry dock, is a replica of a very famous Elizabethan vessel …

The Golden Hinde, under the captaincy of Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580. It is open to visitors at St Mary Overie Dock SE1.

And now some bollards …

After the Battle of Trafalgar, it was discovered that the captured French cannons could not be retrofitted to British ships, and many of them were taken to London and erected as bollards. A cannon ball too large for the barrel was welded into the muzzle to give a distinctive shape. Most have disappeared, or are actually modern replicas, but I do think these fat black and white ones have an authentic look.

Further on, another fish lamp …

This one dates from 1998 when this part of the Thames Path was opened.

You will now pass under Cannon Street Station through the atmospheric Steelyard Passage which I wrote about in last week’s blog about Cannon Street Station.

One feature I didn’t mention was these blue lights built into the path …

The lights illustrate the edge of the River Thames at high tide before the Embankment was built in the 19th century. Shame about the skip.

At the end of the path turn left and you can look down onto the River …

You are standing above the old Walbrook River which entered the Thames at approximately this point. Now totally covered over, it was once quite a torrent. The historian John Stow wrote that it had …

Such a swift course that in the year 1564 a lad of eighteen years, minding to have leapt over the channel, was borne down that narrow stream towards the Thames with such violent swiftness as no man could rescue or stay him.

If you turn round now and walk up Cousin Lane you follow the course of the old Walbrook. On the north side of  Cannon Street it is commemorated in this sculpture entitled Forgotten Streams by the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias …

Terminus tales – Blackfriars Station

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

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

The destinations are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf …

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

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

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

There are these columns rising out of the river …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sculptor Wills Bros.

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

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

A shop, a tree and a poem

Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside is a little historical treasure trove. Here it is today, a card shop, a tree and a bit of open space – and all offer a fascinating sense of continuity with the City’s past.

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

Cheapside had originally been known as West Chepe to distinguish it from East Chepe at the other end of the City and the name comes from the Saxon Ceap, meaning market. For centuries it was a scene of medieval pageantry, being wide enough for horse racing and jousts. It was also a place of grisly executions and the punishment of the likes of errant tradesmen and apprentices, usually utilising the permanent pillory and stocks. Facing Wood Street was the Eleanor Cross, one of a dozen lavish monuments erected by Edward I between 1291 and 1294, in memory of where the coffin of his wife Eleanor of Castile rested overnight as her body was transported to London.

The Cheapside Cross, with the Great Conduit to the right of it. Illustration: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty

Before its demolition in 1643, the Cross was adjacent to a conduit, one of three providing fresh water piped from the River Tyburn, giving the citizens of London an alternative to the foul water from the wells and the Thames. It was the custom, on days of celebration, for the conduits to run with claret. The historian Bernard Ash observed that it was …

‘Claret undoubtedly as coarse and bloody as the mob which drank it’.

By the beginning of 1666 the street was dominated by traders: mercers, drapers, haberdashers, furriers and also Cheapside’s ‘greatest treasure’, the goldsmiths. Most of the messy, smelly trades had migrated to London’s rim.

As the Great Fire fire spread, people dug desperately into the earth to puncture the conduit’s water supply, hoping the water might quench the flames – in vain – and the Great Conduit itself was razed to the ground along with Cheapside on Tuesday 4 September 1666. A post-fire visitor declared in amazement …

‘You may stand in Cheapside and see the Thames!’

I would like to start my story with the little shop on the corner, which I have been tracking through time …

An anonymous drawing from the 1860s.

The 1920s – From ‘Spitalfields Life’ – pictures selected from the three volumes of ‘Wonderful London’ edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

As I remember it in the 1970s through to the late 1990s. Sadly the lovely glass door engraved with the words ‘L R Woderson under the Tree’ has disappeared and been replaced with plain glass and a security grille.

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. According to Peter Ackroyd, in his London, the Biography, many trades have operated there since the stores were built in 1687. These included silver-sellers, wig-makers, law stationers, pickle- and sauce-sellers, fruiterers, florists and, as can be seen above, shirt-makers. The shop now sells greetings cards.

The little garden at the back of the shop used to be the churchyard of St Peter Westcheap (also known as St Peter Cheap) which was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. Three gravestones survive as do the railings which date from 1712.

The railings and the names of the Churchwardens who probably raised the money for them.

The railings incorporate an image of St Peter. In his lap and above his head are the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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

And finally to the magnificent London Plane tree that you can see in most of the pictures. It stands 70 feet high and is protected by a City ordinance which also limits the height of the shops.

No one knows precisely how old it is but what we do know is that it was there in 1797 when its presence inspired the poet Wordsworth to compose a poem ‘where the natural world breaks through Cheapside in visionary splendour’. The poem, The Reverie of Poor Susan, records the awakened childhood memories of a country girl now working in London, possibly as a servant. I think it is rather sad. An excerpt is displayed in the churchyard, but here is the complete version:

At the corner of Wood-Street, when day-light appears,
There’s a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years.
Poor Susan has pass’d by the spot and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripp’d with her pail,
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The only one dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in Heaven, but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade;
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all pass’d away from her eyes.

As Ackroyd declares, in his unique, poetic style …

Everything about this corner of Wood Street suggests continuity … on every level, human, social, natural and communal.

I thought this picture was worth including. Sir Robert Peel looks east down Cheapside around the turn of the 20th century (and a uniformed ‘Peeler’ stands beneath the lamp post). The shops gradually disappeared for a while as commerce took over but now they are back in abundance, especially with the new development at New Change.

Sir Robert was moved in 1933 to reduce traffic congestion. He is now outside the Peel Centre in Barnet (more familiarly known as Hendon Police College).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and The Games

My two Roman London blogs this month are in celebration of the opening of the London Mithraeum in Bloomberg Space, Walbrook, which I enjoyed tremendously when I visited last week.

If you want to immerse yourself more completely in the Mithras Temple story, you might like to call in to the Museum of London beforehand and view the treasures there from the Walbrook excavation. I have put together a small selection.

There is this head of Mithras …

Head of Mithras, marble, late 2nd century

He is shown as a handsome youth, the head probaly part of a large sculpture forming a focal point at the apse end of the Temple.

Serapis, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, was also represented …

Head of Serapis, marble, late 2nd – early 3rd century

He carries a corn measure on his head symbolising the wealth and fertility of the earth.

And Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom …

Head of Minerva, marble, early 2nd century, possibly AD 130

Again, the head was probably originally part of a larger statue.

So now on to the Mithraeum itself at 12 Walbrook. Entry is free but you must book a time slot in advance using the website.

The first thing you see is this stunning tapestry by Isabel Nolan …

Another View from Nowhen, 2017

There are helpful guides ready, and very willing, to introduce you to the Mithraeum, explain the tapestry and an accompanying sculpture, and hand you an excellent printed guide. There is a well organised display of Roman artefacts which can be explored using your own mobile device, a tablet that they provide, or just by reading the labels. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good enough photograph of these for the blog – please take my word for it that they are fascinating.

Then you are ready to descend through time, seven metres or so, from modern London to the very last days of the Romans in Britain, about AD 410.

Various levels of history are inscribed on the wall as you descend – there is also step-free access

At mezzanine level there is a further exhibition consisting of a reproduction of artefacts from the site including, of course, the head of Mithras, and a helpful commentary.

You then descend further to see the Temple itself. Initially it is dark and shrouded in mist but, as this gradually clears to the sound of evocative chants, you will see an accurate reconstruction of the ruin as it was on the last day of excavation in October 1954.

All the stone that you see and most of the bricks are from the original structure

The central icon of the cult is Mithras killing a bull

All I can say is ‘well done Bloomberg’.

The Walbrook stream played a very important part in the establishment of Roman London. Originating in what is now Finsbury Park, it carried fresh water in to the walled City and carried waste away to the River Thames. As the City developed it became imprisoned underground.

The stream lives on in the name of the street

The area has been difficult to access lately because of construction work, but is now a new open space and I took the opportunity to explore.

What a wonderful surprise! It looks like the Walbrook is flowing again above ground through the City…

Alongside Cannon Street

Parallel to Queen Victoria Street

Entitled Forgotten Streams, and cast in bronze, the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias took as her inspiration the ancient Walbrook itself. It looks very authentic and quite beautiful.

And finally, to complete a Roman London experience, you might want to visit the Guildhall Art Gallery, in the lower level of which you will find Roman London’s Amphitheatre. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area of the Amphitheatre, the site of the famous Roman ‘Games’ …

An outline of what existed about 8 metres below

The site of the Amphitheatre

Once inside you will see the remains of the original walls, the drainage system, and a rather impressive digital projection that fills in the gaps in the ruins.

 

 

Philanthropic Fountains

It was a nice sunny day when I stood in front of this modest little drinking fountain outside St Sepulchre’s Church on Snow Hill near Holborn Viaduct and recalled a picture of the scene on 20th April 1859 when it was unveiled as the first public drinking fountain in London.

A stern reminder to ‘Replace the Cup’ common on many fountains

To me the fountain represents the coming together of some of the great influences on people’s lives in the 19th Century – the philanthropic initiatives of the Quakers, the gradual recognition that access to clean water was essential if London was to continue to flourish, and the temperance and teetotalism movements striving to combat drunkenness.

In the early 19th century water had become a valuable commodity and by 1860 the supply of drinking water to London was controlled by no fewer than eight private companies. It was generally acknowledged that its quality was unsatisfactory to say the least, as outbreaks of cholera earlier in the century had demonstrated. This, combined with a shortage of availability, contributed to a heavy consumption of beer and spirits, particularly among poorer citizens and the ‘labouring classes’ whose workplace was the London streets. Making available free, safe water was to enable a common cause to be established between those seeking to improve hygiene and reduce disease and the anti-alcohol campaigners.

If you look at the picture of the fountain, you might just be able to make out the inscription on the arch above the scallop shell which reads ‘The Gift of Sam Gurney MP 1859’. Gurney was a Quaker, and although Quakers numbered less than 14,000 people in Britain in 1861 their influence in business and philanthropy was disproportionately great – think, for example, of Cadbury, Fry, Barclay and Rowntree. They believed that good works were a sign of man’s sanctification and their economic and religious philosophies ran parallel to one another.

Gurney was present in spring 1859 for the inauguration of The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association. At the meeting the unveiling in two weeks time of his new fountain was announced along with the intention that it would be the first of many. The Earl of Albermarle got rather carried away and stated his hopes that the fountains would …

Check those habits of intemperance which caused nine-tenths of the pauperism, three-fourths of the crime, one half of the disease, one-third of the insanity, one-third of the suicide, three-fourths of the general depravity and (amazingly) one-third of the shipwrecks that annually occurred.

The opening of the fountain was an incredibly well attended event …

 Copyright Illustrated London News.

‘The Lady’ newspaper’s view was that the fountains would help by ‘providing an alternative to the public house and the low company found in those establishments’. To demonstrate the water’s purity the inaugural first sip at the opening was taken by a Mrs Wilson – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter, no less – who declared the taste excellent. Just for the removal of doubt, however, a final announcement was made that the fountain was for the special use of the working classes and was committed to their care. Incidentally, Mrs Wilson used a specially engraved silver cup which she was presented with after the ceremony.

Over the next six years 85 fountains were built, most using granite in order to keep the water supply cool. In summer 1865 the Association conducted a twenty-four-hour survey, which produced some very satisfying results. For example, 2,647 drinkers were recorded at the St Sepulchre’s site; at London Bridge more than 3000 people visited and at Bishopsgate an extraordinary 6,666. By 1867 it was estimated that up to 400,000 drinkers a day were using the amenities and by 1875 there were 276 fountains across the capital.

Charles Gilpin was another Quaker whose fountain can still be seen at St Botolph Without Bishopsgate

‘The Gift of C. Gilpin Esq. M.P. 1860’

Getting the fountains built was no easy matter with protracted negotiations often needed with, for example, local vestries, and of course the water companies themselves, who had to be paid for the water used unless they could be persuaded to become donors. Also, water was a precious commodity, and some objected on moral grounds to the wastefulness of the water flowing continuously when the idea of using taps was rejected, given the wear and tear involved. Before the end of its first decade the term ‘free’ in the Association’s title had been recognised as a misnomer and it was dropped. About the same time it elongated its name to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association to embrace public water provision for animals. Previously troughs had been sited outside public houses with free use only for patrons or on payment of a fee, as one poetic sign declared:

All that water their horses here
Must pay a penny or have some beer

At least one of the horse troughs has survived in the City – although many more can be found around London, usually adapted to accommodate flowers.

Trough and fountain for use by the public, and animals large and small, on London Wall

Remarkably, the cup is also still attached to this nice fountain in Love Lane at the junction with Aldermanbury, the gift of Robert H. Rogers, a Ward Deputy.

Robert H. Rogers’s gift dated November 1890

 

 

Love Lane fountain cup and chain

 

If you thirst for more knowledge about London’s water-related history get hold of a copy of the excellent book ‘Parched City’ by Emma M. Jones on which much of this post is based, including the title.

 

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