Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

The Shard and Tower 42 at Christmas plus some nice costumes

Both buildings are putting on their Christmas displays and I thought you might enjoy seeing the one from Tower 42 and the Shard sequence.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers – thank you so much for following the blog.

Tower 42 has gone for a Christmas tree …

I think this year’s tree is better than last year’s which looked like this …

The Shard display sequence is great again, still images don’t really do it justice …

I have a great camera but it is a bit heavy and in these final two pictures my hand wobble is evident!

If you are interested here’s a link to my last Christmas blog about the lights. London Wall Place didn’t put up any this year which is a great shame.

And finally, I liked these costumes from a production of Grease on display at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in Silk Street …

Greetings from our home to your home. Keep well and stay safe …

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The Christmas Quiz!

Hello, friends, Happy Christmas!

It’s time again for the Christmas Quiz based on my blogs from 2020. I trust you are all OK in these difficult times and send you my very best wishes for 2021. I am sure that, like me, you hope that it will bring happier times for everyone than the year gone by.

  1. This magnificent statue of the Duke of Wellington stands outside the Royal Exchange. What is it made from?

2. This beautiful clock is sited alongside the church of St Magnus the Martyr and dates from a time when the church was clearly visible from the ‘old’ London Bridge. It was the gift of a Lord Mayor, Sir Charles Duncombe. What’s the story behind his generosity?

3. This extraordinary sculpture of St Bartholomew is, appropriately, on display in the church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield. Entitled Exquisite Pain, as well as his skin the saint also holds a scalpel in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. Who was the sculptor?

4. The Auroch is 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.

Where must you go to see it?

5. This brave policeman sacrificed his life saving warehouse workers from a First World War bombing raid. Where can you find this memorial to him?

6. In what way is this church in Eldon Street unique? It’s called St Mary Moorfields.

7. If you visit St Sepulchre-without-Newgate you can admire this font cover with its beautiful craftmanship. 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. Until 1940 it belonged in Christchurch Newgate Street, so how did it come to reside in St Sepulchre’s?

8. Look at this extraordinary statue at 193 Fleet Street now, sadly, somewhat weathered. Is it a man dressed as a woman or a woman dressed as a man?

9. This cross-section shows the layers of paint from a lamp standard on a famous City landmark. What landmark is it?

10. These figures, called Atlantes, support a balcony overlooking Farringdon Street. Do they date from 1814, 1914 or 2014?

11. This is known as The Dean’s Door and the carver was stonemason and architect Christopher Kempster (1627-1715), one of Wren’s favourite craftsmen. His work on the cherubs’ heads and foliage was considered so good Wren awarded him an extra £20 for ‘the extraordinary diligence and care used in the said carving and his good performance of the same’. Where is The Dean’s Door?

12. This churchyard survives from the 17th century, its banked-up top surface a reminder that it is still bloated with the bodies of victims of the Great Plague of 1665. Three hundred and sixty five were buried there including Mary Ramsay, who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to London. What is the name of the church and what famous civil servant and diarist lived nearby and frequently worshipped there?

13. At the church of St Martin within Ludgate on Ludgate Hill rests this very unusual font. The bowl is white marble and the wooden supporting plinth is painted to look like stone. It dates from 1673, predating the church, and was previously located in a ‘tabernacle’ used by the congregation during the rebuilding. The inscription on it reads Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin (which translates as ‘Cleanse my sin and not my face only’). There is something unusual about the Greek wording – can you tell what it is?

14. In St Bartholomew the Less, high up on the south wall, is the memorial to Robert Balthrope, Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I …

The inscription reads …

Here Robert Balthrope Lyes intombed,
to Elizabeth Our Queene
Who Sergeant of the Surgeons Sworne,
Neere Thirtye Yeeres Hathe Beene
He Died at Sixtye Nine of Yeeres,
Decembers Ninthe The Daye
The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice

Deductinge Nine A waye.
Let Here His Rotten Bones Repose
Till Angells Trompet Sounde
To Warne The Worlde of Present Chaunge
And Raise the Deade From Grounde.

Can you do the maths and calculate the year he died?

15. What famous cat is this and who lived for a time in the house he is staring at?

16. Here a lady, her head bowed, strains hard to control a gigantic horse (and there is a similar male figure at the other end of the building). The sculpture, called Controlled Energy, dates from 1932 and the sculptor, William Reid Dick, was asked why he included female figures in the work.

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’.

What building was he working on?

17. What notorious prison is this? Now demolished, where it once stood is now the site of the Central Criminal Court or Old Bailey.

18. What children are represented in this sculpture outside Liverpool Street Station?

19. A friar carrying his missal stands in an alcove in an area named after an order of monks that were finally expelled in 1538 as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. What is the area called?


20. Tucked away in a corner at Liverpool Street railway station is this plaque directly underneath the main memorial to the First World War dead. Within two hours of unveiling the memorial Sir Henry Wilson was dead. What happened to him?

Answers to the Quiz:

  1. The statue is made of bronze from captured enemy cannon melted down after the Battle of Waterloo. You can read more here.
  2. The story goes that when he was a young apprentice, and rather poor, he missed an important meeting with his master on London Bridge because he had no way of telling the time. He vowed that, if ever he became rich, he would erect a clock in the vicinity and this magnificent example of the clockmakers’ art was the result. Read more here.
  3. It’s by Damien Hirst. Read more about my visit to the church here.
  4. The Museum of London.
  5. He is commemorated on the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park. Read about him and three other brave policemen here.
  6. It’s the only Catholic church in the City of London. You can read more about its history here.
  7. When Christchurch was a blazing inferno as a result of the Blitz a postman ran into the building and rescued the font cover. Read more about this and other rescued artifacts here.
  8. It’s a woman dressed as a man, 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.
  9. It comes from a lamp standard on Holborn Viaduct. Read more about it here.
  10. 2014, when the staircase to the north east pavilion of Holborn Viaduct was rebuilt in Victorian style. Read more about the history of the viaduct and its statues here.
  11. It is situated on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral.
  12. The church is St Olave Hart Street and the famous civil servant and diarist Samuel Pepys. Read more about him and the terrible plague of 1665 here.
  13. The Greek words are a palindrome copied from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople. Read more about unusual church artifacts here.
  14. Here is the inscription again and the answer to the maths:

Here Robert Balthrope Lyes intombed,
to Elizabeth Our Queene
Who Sergeant of the Surgeons Sworne,
Neere Thirtye Yeeres Hathe Beene
He Died at Sixtye Nine of Yeeres,
Decembers Ninthe The Daye
The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice

Deductinge Nine A waye.
Let Here His Rotten Bones Repose
Till Angells Trompet Sounde
To Warne The Worlde of Present Chaunge
And Raise the Deade From Grounde.

He died in 1591, but the poet who devised this eulogy presumably had a problem getting 1591 to rhyme with anything. So he chose the frankly odd solution of asking the reader to do some mental arithmetic – ‘The Yeere of Grace Eight Hundred Twice’ (i.e. 800 x 2 = 1600) Deductinge Nine A waye (1600 – 9 = 1591).

15. The famous cat, Hodge, is remembered by this attractive bronze by John Bickley which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, no less, in 1997. Hodge belonged to Dr Johnson, who lived for a while in the house opposite. Hodge sits atop a copy Johnson’s famous dictionary and alongside a pair of empty oyster shells. Read more here.

16. Unilever house at Blackfriars. You can read more here.

17. It was Newgate Gaol. Read more about it here along with its connection to St Sepulchre’s church including the bell that was rung outside the cells of condemned prisoners the night before their execution.

18. It is the Kindertransport commemorative statue. In 1938 and 1939, nearly ten thousand unaccompanied Jewish children were transported to Britain to escape persecution in their hometowns in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. These children arrived at Liverpool Street station to be taken in by British families and foster homes. Often they were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

19. Austin Friars (off Old Broad street), once the location of an Augustinian Friary. Read more here.

20 Wilson was assassinated outside his house in Eaton Place at about 2:20 pm. Still in full uniform, he was shot six times, two bullets in the chest proving fatal. The two perpetrators, IRA volunteers Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, shot two police officers and a chauffeur as they attempted to escape but were surrounded by a hostile crowd and arrested after a struggle. Interestingly both were former British army officers and O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, his subsequent disability hindering their escape. After a trial lasting just three hours they were convicted of murder and hanged at Wandsworth gaol on 10 August that year – justice was certainly delivered swiftly in those days. No organisation claimed responsibility for Wilson’s murder. Read more and view other interesting memorials here.

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Christmas Lights and Trees!

I love Christmas, and one of its features that I like best is the efforts made in the City to celebrate the season using lights and trees.

I must admit, I was a bit worried that this year would be a bit of a disappointment in view of the fact that significantly fewer people are travelling here for work or leisure. However, this was not the case and I have been wandering around taking in the work organisations have put in to cheer us up and this week’s blog aims to recognise their achievements.

I’ll start outside one of my favourite places, St Paul’s Cathedral …

Thousands of little lights are embedded in Christmas tree foliage attached to a cone-shaped infrastructure.

One New Change has done a great job with ceiling lights …

And a magnificent ‘tree’ …

If you’re going to advertise Covid tests you might as well make the message more cheerful by surrounding it with decorations …

Moor House on London Wall seen from the Barbican Highwalk …

The Dion Bar and Restaurant at St Paul’s has put together a nice display …

‘Welcome to 88 Wood Street’ …

This one cheers you up when you go shopping …

The folk at 5 Aldermanbury Square have gone to town with four trees, these are two of them …

I like this display too …

Look at that seat on the left. There must be a company that specialises in manufacturing ‘odd looking uncomfortable seats for Reception areas’. This is the ‘Victorian bathtub’ look.

Trees always appear nicer if there are a few parcels scattered around their base. This one is at number 10 Gresham Street …

I thought this new Reception area at 91 Gresham Street looked very smart, even though their tree is a bit tucked away at the back on the right …

This one at City Point looked a bit sad, standing on its own with no other furniture …

The Shard is currently blue in honour of NHS workers …

I think this will change tomorrow (Friday 11th) to a more traditional display.

And finally three from the Barbican Estate. Reception at Cromwell Tower …

At Lauderdale …

and at Shakespeare (I love the little figures) …

Have your thinking caps ready because next week’s blog is the CHRISTMAS QUIZ!

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My attempt to cheer you up if you’re a bit fed up!

These really are strange times and so this week I have been browsing my photo library for images that made me smile. Apologies to Instagram followers since some of them have appeared there already.

First of all, a reminder that there is a market for almost anything …

A tattooed angel has appeared in Whitecross Street …

She replaces the cherubs that were assembling a bazooka …

I wonder what was special about these girls …

I remember when many schools had one of these living on the premises …

I always think ‘man struggling with golf umbrella’ …

Incidentally, this one either means watch out for elderly people or beware of pickpockets …

Cute garden furniture …

And more – even the dustpan is smiling …

Eclectic windowsill collection …

If you are looking for smart garden furniture there is this great stall in Kings Lynn. What about the duck pushing a wheelbarrow? …

Sadly poetic closure notice …

Coffee shop humour …

A witty licence plate from Pimlico Plumbers …

And another …

And yet more …

Suited and Booted tailors in Moorgate. ‘It’s all gonna end in tiers (or with a vaccine)’ …

But this chap seems to be doing OK. I wonder what he advises on …

A sealed door on St John’s Gate Clerkenwell. I don’t think the monks were tiny, just that the level of the street has risen …

The Stag at The Jugged Hare bar and restaurant is very angry about being in Tier 2 …

I have never, ever seen a dog dressed like this. ‘Please mum, I need to go to the loo’ …

Rainbow and red crane combo …

Yet another spooky clothes model to add to the collection …

Finally, I make no apology for including this picture again. It had been raining and this pigeon was drying his feathers and warming his bottom on a spotlight. He is doing this whilst half asleep and balanced on one leg …

Hope these cheered you up a bit if you needed it – I enjoyed putting the selection together.

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City ladies, a magic square and some gentle amusement

Women feature on many City sculptures (often in an allegorical role) and I have been on another sculpture safari to see how many I can identify. I have written about female sculptures twice before and you can find links here and here.

In quite a few cases they are located high up on buildings and so are easily missed.

A good example is this pediment group on what once was the Cripplegate Institute building on Golden Lane (EC1Y 0RR) …

Education is seated in the centre, whilst Art and Science recline at either side. Although the building opened in 1896 the pediment was only added in 1910-11 when the upper stories were modified to provide, among other facilities, a rifle range.

You can read much more about the Institute in the excellent London Inheritance blog which also contains this 1947 photograph highlighting the vast extent of the wartime bomb damage. The Institute building is circled in red …

If you stand outside the Royal Exchange you will be rewarded with two more female figures along with the mysterious Magic Square, but again you have to look up.

The first lady is sited in a pediment above the Bank of England and is known as The Lady of the Bank …

Sculptor Charles Wheeler 1929-1930.

She is seated on a globe and her right hand holds a cloak which billows out to her left. Her left hand holds a temple-like building which contains a miniature relief of the Lady herself and beside her right leg is a cascade of coins. She is a replacement for the original ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, which resembled Britannia, since it was considered stylistically incompatible with the new building. She is intended to represent ‘the stability and security of the Bank of England’. Inside the wreath on the right is the date of construction in Roman numerals, MCMXXX.

On the corner across Bank junction is the impressive NatWest building and if you look up you will see this (rather grubby) allegorical group …

Sculptor Ernest Gillick – 1931-2.

Britannia rises on a winged seat, flanked by Mercury (representing Commerce) and Truth with his torch. At Britannia’s knees are crouching nude females representing Higher and Lower Mathematics. Higher Mathematics, on the left, holds a carved version of Dürer’s Magic Square, a numerical acrostic whose numbers add up to 34 when added horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Lower mathematics holds a pen and a book whilst beside her two owls sit on piles of books.

The square is not very clear now due to the dirt on the carving so here are the numbers it contains …

Innovation Factory — Magic Squares

Dürer included it in an engraving entitled Melancholia I

It can be seen in the top right hand corner and you can read more about it here and here.

Nearby in Prince’s Street, on the same building, you can view this elegant lady at street level …

Sculptor Charles Doman – 1931.

Representing Prosperity, she holds a basket with a rich assortment of fruit and corn.

You have to stretch your neck if you want to examine this relief sculpture at 7 Lothbury (EC2R 7HH) …

Sculptor James Redfern – 1866.

It is rather unusual and is intended as a pastiche of a late medieval Venetian palace. A crowned female figure at the centre sits on a padlocked strong-box and writes in a ledger held up for her by a standing woman with a bunch of large keys suspended from her girdle. Other figures include a woman holding a model steam engine and another figure holding a model boat.

It’s a fascinating building and you can read more about it here.

The frieze on the Institute of Chartered Accountants is magnificent and was intended as a grand symbolic depiction of all the areas of human activity which have benefited from the services of accountants (EC2R 7EF). Groups of figures represent the arts, science, crafts, education, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, mining, railways, shipping and India and the Colonies. I have chosen a few with female figures and the first is entitled ‘Crafts’ …

The shield in the tree is inscribed Laborare est Orareto work is to pray. To the left, two women represent ‘workers in metal’, the one on the left is holding a sword. On the other side of the panel are ‘Pottery’, a woman with a two-handled vase, and ‘Textiles’, a woman with a weaving frame.

Next is ‘Education’ …

The group on the left represents ‘Early Training’. A mother leads her son, who is carrying a cricket bat, towards a schoolmaster wearing a gown and carrying a textbook. On the other side is a student ‘in collegiate dress’ and holding a book, and a ‘College Don’ wearing a mortar-board and gown.

Onward to ‘Manufactures’ …

Behind the allegorical lady, and just about visible, are beehives ‘betokening industry’. The two women on the left represent ‘Fabrics’ – one holds a bolt of cloth and the other a shuttle and a spool of yarn. The two men on the right represent ‘Hardware goods’. The smith has his shirt open and stands next to an anvil. The other is ‘a Sheffield Knife Grinder’ feeling a chisel blade.

Another example is ‘Agriculture’ …

On the left are two men – a sower and a mower. On the other side are two girls – one reaping and the other carrying a basket of fruit.

In my favourite sculpture from the building Lady Justice looks like she has stepped out of her niche in order to upstage the accountants number-crunching away behind her …

She appears frequently in allegorical representations around the City and I have written about them before. If you are interested you can find my blog here.

You can see her again on the Old Bailey behind my final sculpture, the Peace drinking fountain in the Smithfield Rotunda Garden (EC1A 9DY). She is depicted with her right hand raised in a gesture of blessing while her left holds an olive branch …

Sculptors John Birnie Philip and Farmer & Brindley – 1871-3.

The structure was erected by the Corporation’s Market Improvement Committee in 1873 a few years after the armistice between France and Prussia was signed in 1871. The 11m-high fountain originally comprised a huge stone canopy in an eclectic style with four corner figures of Temperance, Hope, Faith and Charity but the structure fell into disrepair and was taken down. The illustration below appeared in The Builder magazine in 1871 …

I thought I’d add some light relief in these difficult times.

Happy Clerkenwell gnomes …

Santa’s elves, with appropriate face coverings, seconded for Covid prevention duty …

An optician on London Wall goes for the ‘minimalist’ window display approach …

And finally, more spooky clothes models to add to the collection …

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