Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Potato Heads on Whitecross Street (and some Street history)

It was a lovely sunny day last Saturday so I wandered along Whitecross Street to gaze at some of the wonderful art works. Many of these have been produced over the years at the famous Whitecross Street Party. Who wouldn’t smile at this splendid pair of potato heads …

Work by Keith Jive.

Then there’s a crazy cat with a bird standing on his paw tweeting his love …

Work by Roo.

A pretty green-eyed lady being created …

And now finished and ‘hung’ …

Laughing heads … Ho ho ho ho ho!

I love the colours in this abstract work …

Spot the bee …

A young girl holding a spirit animal over her head and shoulders by Goya Torres (based on her Children of the Sun series). Read more about this fascinating artist here

Not sure what this represents but I still like it, dynamic and colourful …

Work by Will Vibes.

Looking north up the street you get a good view on the right of a mural by Conor Harrington, an Irish artist living and working in London. Incidentally, the church in the background is St Luke Old Street and the unusual obelisk spire is by Nicholas Hawksmoor …

Here is Harrington’s work in more detail. It has weathered quite well considering it was created in 2012 …

Below is a pretty, tattooed winged angel

Stencil by DS Art.

‘Oi, are you lookin’ at my bird?’ …

You can view more pictures and activity here on Instagram.

This year’s party is scheduled for 10th and 11th July, mid-day to 6:00 pm. Read more on the official website.

The street boasts a number of blue plaques placed there by ‘English Hedonists’ and ‘Mad in England’ …

I have written about the Debtors Prison before but here it is again for those of you who missed it the first time around.

British History Online confirms the Nell Gwynne story mentioned on the plaque but I cannot find another source. It also tells us that …

A man may exist in the prison who has been accustomed to good living, though he cannot live well. All kinds of luxuries are prohibited, as are also spirituous drinks. Each man may have a pint of wine a day, but not more; and dice, cards, and all other instruments for gaming, are strictly vetoed.”

A pint of wine a day doesn’t sound too bad.

The prison was capable of holding up to 500 prisoners and Wyld’s map of London produced during the 1790s shows how extensive the premises were …

Prisoners would often take their families with them, which meant that entire communities sprang up inside the debtors’ jails, which were run as private enterprises. The community created its own economy, with jailers charging for room, food, drink and furniture, or selling concessions to others, and attorneys charging fees in fruitless efforts to get the debtors out. Prisoners’ families, including children, often had to find employment simply to cover the cost of the imprisonment. Here is a view of the inside of the Whitecross Street prison with people meeting and promenading quite normally …

‘Inside the Debtors’ Prison, Whitecross Street, London’ by an unknown artist : City of London Corporation, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Creditors were able to imprison debtors without trial until they paid what they owed or died and in the 18th century debtors comprised over half the prison population. Prisoners were by no means all poor but often middle class people in small amounts of debt. One of the largest groups was made up of shopkeepers (about 20% of prisoners) though male and female prisoners came from across society with gentlemen, cheesemongers, lawyers, wigmakers and professors rubbing shoulders.

It’s over two years since I wrote about this second plaque so here it is again.

It tells us that there once lived here a lady called Priss Fotheringham who had been ranked ‘the second best whore in the City’. This description appeared in 1660 in a serial publication called The Wandring Whore by John Garfield, which described in some detail the antics of London’s prostitutes.

Described when young as a ‘cat-eyed gypsy, pleasing to the eye’, Priscilla Fotheringham (nee Carswell) was a colourful character very famous in her time. It is thought she was born in Scotland around 1615 and little is known of her early life. What we do know is that in 1652 she was sent to Newgate Gaol having been found in a house of ill-repute …

… sitting between two Dutchmen with her breasts naked to the waist and without stockings, drinking and singing in a very uncivil manner.

In 1658 she was still misbehaving and was bound over by a Middlesex Justice of the Peace for …

… being a notorious strumpet … that had undone several men by giving them the foul disease … and for keeping the husband of Susan Slaughter from her and for also threatening to stab said Susan Slaughter … and also for several notorious wickedness which is not fit to be named among the heathen.

She had married Edward Fotheringham, an odious character from a brothel-owning family, in 1656 and he set her up as a madam at the Jack-a-Newberry Tavern on the corner where her plaque now stands. As her looks faded with time she became more ‘creative’ in the way customers were entertained – you can read more detail in her Wikipedia entry. She made enough money to set up her own brothel and died (of syphilis) a wealthy woman around 1668.

The Whitecross Street area was at one time rather notorious, as this 17th century ballad records …


In Whitecross Street and Golden Lane
Do strapping lasses dwell,
And so there do in every street
‘Twixt that and Clerkenwell.
At Cowcross and at Smithfield
I have much pleasure found,
Where wenches like to fairies
Did often trace the ground.

Nowadays the big attraction is Waitrose.

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My pictures of St Paul’s Cathedral

Since many of the places I visit in order to get inspiration for my blog are temporarily closed I was beginning to get rather worried. However, an idea came to me just sitting at my desk and looking around the room. Regular readers will know how fond I am of St Paul’s and a number of pictures of the Cathedral hang on the study wall, so I decided to write about those.

The largest by far is this one, a signed limited edition print entitled Pencil drawing of London and St Paul’s of the 18th Century by Roger Withington used on the reverse of the £50 note issued from 1981

I love the detail like the little figures manning the boats …

On the quayside barrels are being unloaded, wood is being stacked in the wood yard and in the foreground two ladies are being rowed to their destination. The lady in the boat on the left is wearing a pretty bonnet and the one in the boat on the right is holding an open parasol …

Here is how the drawing was used on the actual £50 note, with Sir Christopher Wren in the foreground …

This is a signed etching entitled A City Lane. St Paul’s by Leslie Moffat Ward RE SGA (1888-1978) …

The picture isn’t dated but is obviously pre-Second World War. There is a lady standing on the corner and her clothes suggest the early years of the 20th century …

I have been trying to identify where the artist was at the time and I am pretty sure he was looking north up Black Swan Court, perhaps positioned at its junction with Carter Lane. Here’s the location in the 1873 Ordnance Survey Map with my pencil indicating where I think the lady was standing …

By 1895 the northern entrance had been built over and access converted into a covered alley way. I think that’s the arch you can see behind and to the right of the lady.

Black Swan Court is still shown in the Survey’s 1914 edition (although too small to be named) …

It looks like the southern entrance has now also been converted into a covered alley which suggests that, if he was standing on Carter Lane, Ward was working there before 1914 (when he would have had his 26th birthday).

The area was very badly damaged in the Blitz and Black Swan Court disappeared for ever. The Black Swan Tavern (which was actually on Carter Lane) was also destroyed and you can see an image of it in ruins here in the London Picture Archive.

I really like this depiction of Ludgate Hill in 1928 (or thereabouts), especially the stout City policeman and the classic open-topped red omnibus …

I’m sure about the dating because of the label on the back, which made me feel a bit sad. I wonder what Lizzie, Pollie and nephew Will would think of the fact that their thoughtful present would end up in a Kent bric-a-brac shop almost 90 years later, which is where I bought it for £20 …

This picture is entitled Eng. by J. Storer from a drawing by H.S. Storer N. East View of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The label on the back describes it as Date circa 1817 – copper engraving hand coloured in watercolours. It’s nice that there is a stagecoach in the picture since this was their golden age. For example, in 1750 it took around 2 days to travel from Cambridge to London but by 1820 the journey time had been slashed to under 7 hours. I also like the chap galloping off on his horse, obviously on urgent business.

And last, but by no means least, a painting by my friend Chris (on a Christmas card) …

Finally, a picture to cheer everyone up, the little daffodils are out …

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City Pumps – more tales of the City’s water

Back in 2012 this magnificent late 18th century pump on Cornhill was in a very sorry state, slowly rusting away …

Copyright: Coal Holes of London.

The pump in 1800 …

Credit: The water pump in Cornhill designed by Nathaniel Wright. Engraving by S. Rawle, 1800. Wellcome Collection.

Now it has been restored to its former glory (EC3V 3LL) …

I didn’t notice the cyclist waving at me when I took the picture!

Two sides of the pump record its history. This is the side facing the pavement …

The ‘neighbouring fire offices’ were insurance companies who made sure that passers-by learnt of their generous contributions by incorporating their emblems into the pump’s design. It was, of course, also in their own interest to have a reliable source of water should there be an outbreak of fire. There had been a particularly ferocious fire in nearby Change Alley in 1748 with many buildings destroyed. You can read more about it in my blog More City Courtyards and Alleys – Change Alley.

The Gentleman’s Magazine of 16 March 1799 tells the pump’s story in a little more detail …

By the sinking of the pavement nearly opposite the front gate of the Royal Exchange a very large deep well of great antiquity has been discovered. The water is of excellent quality, and the ward of Cornhill propose erecting a pump near the spot… What is remarkable, the top of the well was not secured by either arch or brickwork, but only covered with planks.

The emblem of the Sun Fire Office.
The emblem of the Phoenix Fire Office.
The emblem of the London Fire Office.
The emblem of the Royal Exchange Fire Office.

This is the inscription on the side of the pump facing the road …

It refers to a well and a ‘House of Correction built thereon by Henry Wallis Mayor of London in the year 1282’. Also known as Henry le Walleis and Henry le Waleys, he was elected Mayor an impressive five times and was an incredibly active and creative individual. You can read more about him here and here.

The House of Correction was, according to one chronicler …

… to be a Prison for Night-walkers, and other suspicious persons, and was called the Tunne upon Cornhill; because the same was builded somewhat in fashion of a Tunne (barrel), standing on the one end.

Anyone walking about the City at night came under suspicion since at sunset all fires and lights were extinguished and great peals of bells heralded the closing of the gates in the city wall until dawn. Night air was known to be unhealthy. It was therefore believed that those who walked in it were, at best, eavesdroppers at neighbours’ windows or at worst potential burglars, murderers or prostitutes. They would be held at the Tunne until morning and then brought before a judge. For further reading on the subject I recommend Matthew Beaumont’s fascinating book : Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. You can read more about the Tunne here in British History Online including details of the nasty punishments meted out to women ‘taken in fornication or aduouterie (sic)‘.

I suppose the spikes on the spout are there to stop people resting their bottoms on it …

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I am indebted to Metro Girl’s blog for this piece of fun trivia. The pump in it’s original blue state can be seen in the climax of the first Bridget Jones’s Diary movie, where Renee Zellweger’s Bridget enjoys her first kiss with Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy after he buys her a new diary from the Royal Exchange …

Copyright : Working Title Films (2001).

In the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral this old Parish Pump, dated 1819, bears the name of St Faith’s Parish despite the fact that the church after which it was named was demolished in 1256 (yes, over 700 years ago) to allow for the eastern expansion of St Paul’s.

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That’s Paternoster Square in the background. The pump is in St Paul’s Churchyard.

From the 1250s until the reign of Edward VI, the parish known as St Faith under St Paul’s literally worshiped beneath St Paul’s Cathedral, using a space the end of the west crypt under St Paul’s Quire. After the Great Fire of 1666 the parish was united with St Augustine Watling Street. The pump was once situated against railings of St Paul’s Churchyard close to St Paul’s Cross, but was moved to its present position in 1973.

The old parish still has a boundary marker on the wall of St Paul’s Cathedral School …

You can read my blog about parish boundary markers here.

I’m very fond of Aldgate pump and its wolf’s head spout so, although I wrote about it just over a year ago, I hope regular readers will forgive me for writing about it again. At the junction of Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street people usually hurry past it without a second glance, not knowing anything about some gruesome aspects of its history …

There was a well here for centuries and one appears to be shown on the Agas map of 1561 …

Look under the ‘A’ of Aldegate

After a pump was installed in the sixteenth century the water gained a reputation for being ‘bright, sparkling, and cool, and of an agreeable taste’. In the early 1870s, however, people started noticing the taste deteriorate and become foul. Then people who had drank the water started dying in great numbers in a tragedy that became known as the Aldgate Pump Epidemic.

It was known that Thames water was dangerous as illustrated by this 1850s drawing entitled The Silent Highwayman

But Aldgate water originated in the healthy springs of Hampstead and Highgate and flowed underground – so it should have been safe.

The bad news broke publicly in April 1876 …

An investigation by the Medical Officer of Health for the City revealed the terrible truth. During its passage from north London it had passed through and under numerous new graveyards thereby picking up the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies. The pump was immediately closed and eventually reconnected to the safer New River Company’s supply later in 1876. You will find a fascinating history of the New River Company if you access the splendid London Inheritance blog.

The epidemic was obviously a distant memory by the nineteen twenties when Whittard’s tea merchants used to

… always get the kettles filled at the Aldgate Pump so that only the purest water was used for tea tasting.

I have discovered a few old pictures …

The pump in 1874- picture from the Wellcome Collection.

And in August 1908 a little bare footed East End boy refreshes himself using the cup attached to the pump by a chain …

In the full picture his pal is doing the pumping …

The wolf’s head spout is said to reference the last wolf killed in the City of London …

Nice that it has survived intact into the 21st century.

Outside Tesco’s on Cheapside is this intriguing manhole cover …

For a fascinating talk by Chris Dyson about this and other aspects of the City’s water supply history click here : This City is Made of Water.

Also worth reading is this article in Square Mile Health Walks and the Gentle Author’s blog entitled The Pumps of Old London.

And there’s my blog from almost four years ago: Philanthropic Fountains.

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Some of my favourite tombs, gravestones and memorials

Since I started this blog almost four years ago I must have looked at hundreds of tombs, gravestones and memorials and I have been out again recently adding to my collection. These are some of my favourites with my reason for choosing them. I know times are tough at the moment but although this week’s blog is about dead people I will try to keep it interesting, positive and even maybe a little upbeat!

First up is this stone in the Bow Lane churchyard of St Mary Aldermary. It wins my award for attention to detail. I have never seen actual time of death recorded before …

There is a well preserved coat of arms which seems to include four beavers suggesting involvement in the fur trade which was flourishing at the time.

Under the coat of arms the inscription reads as follows …

Mrs Anna Catharina Schneider. Died 15th of June 1798 at half past Six O’clock in the Evening. Aged 57 Years, 3 months and 9 Days

Her husband’s details, also on the stone, are more basic …

Also John Henry Schneider, Husband of the above Anna Catharina, Died 6th of October 1824 in the 82nd year of his age

I have been trying to find out a bit more about them and I came across a few tantalising details. The London Metropolitan Archives of the City of London have a record of a John Henry Schneider & Company, Merchants, in Bow Lane – surely the same person. It records the company insuring its premises on 29th October 1791. A Wikipedia search throws up a John Henry Powell Schneider (circa 1768 – 1862) and describes him as a ‘merchant of Swiss origin’. I can’t help but speculate that he was Catharina and John Henry’s son. He certainly enjoyed a long life.

From a memorial displaying extraordinary accuracy to one where the date of death is not recorded at all. This gets my ‘oh dear, what happened there’ award.

The earliest memorial in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West consists of these two brass kneeling figures commemorating Henry Dacres and his wife Elizabeth …

Elizabeth died in 1530 and Henry nine years later. His will tells us that the brass was already made before he died and ‘made at myn owne costes to the honour of almighty god and the blessed sacrament’. Unfortunately it seems he made no arrangement for his actual date of death to be included later and so the date on the plaque is blank and it reads …

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

My award for the most interesting medical history must go to Dame Mary Page who has one of the most impressive tombs in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground

It appears that Mary Page suffered from what is now known as Meigs’ Syndrome and her body had to be ‘tap’d’ to relieve the pressure. She had to undergo this treatment for over five years and was so justifiably proud of her bravery and endurance she left instructions in her will that her tombstone should tell her story. And it does …

When I pointed this out to a friend he remarked ‘for me, that’s a bit too much information’.

Again located in Bunhill, my award for the most uplifting gravestone story goes to the Blake Society. Until recently the only stone recording the last resting place of William Blake was the one below …

It was originally placed over his actual grave by The Blake Society on the centenary of his death (1927) but it was moved in 1965 when the area was cleared to create a more public open space. Considered mad by many of his contemporaries, he is now regarded as one of Britain’s greatest artists and poets, his most famous work probably being the short poem And did those feet in ancient time. It is now best known as the anthem Jerusalem and includes the words that  are often cited when people refer to workplaces of the Industrial Revolution …

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

The present day Blake Society finally traced again where he was actually buried and in August 2018 a beautiful stone was placed over his final resting place exactly 191 years after his death …

Lots of memorials attempt to draw attention to the key characteristics and achievements of the person immortalised. My award for most interesting life history goes to this gentleman commemorated in the church St Mary Woolnoth where he served as rector, John Newton …

Born the son of a master mariner in Wapping, he spent the early part of his career as a slave trader. From 1745-1754 he worked on slave ships, serving as captain on three voyages. He was involved in every aspect of the slaver’s trade, and his log books record the torture of rebellious slaves. Following his conversion to devout Christianity in 1748 he eventually became rector at St Mary’s in 1780. In the church is his memorial tablet, which he wrote himself beginning …

John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa …

In 1785, he became a friend and counsellor to William Wilberforce and was very influential himself in the abolition of slavery. He lived just long enough to see the Abolition Act passed into law. Think of him also when you hear the hymn Amazing Grace, which he co-wrote with the poet William Cowper in 1773.

My award for being absolutely spectacular must go to Thomas Sutton’s tomb in the chapel at the Charterhouse

A relief panel shows the Poor Brothers in their gowns and a body of pious men and boys (perhaps scholars) listening to a sermon …

I love the plump figure, Vanitas, blowing bubbles and representing the ephemeral quality of worldly pleasure. The figure with the scythe is, of course, Time

The man himself …

His body rests in a vault beneath the monument

Incidentally, by way of contrast we can also see, in a darkened room lit by candles, this poor soul. Uncovered during the Crossrail tunneling, archeologists found it belonged to a man in the prime of his life, in his mid-twenties, when he was struck down by the Black Death. It’s believed he died at some point between 1348 and 1349, at the height of the pandemic …

Many memorials state the occupation of the deceased and my award for one of the most interesting as a reflection of the times is the tombstone of the hair merchant Mr Jonathan Thornell in St Bartholomew the Great

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

Finally, lots of brave deeds are recorded in city churches but one of the people I most admire is commemorated in St Stephen Walbrook, Dr Nathaniel Hodges …

His memorial is on the north wall and this is a translation from the Latin …

Learn to number thy days, for age advances with furtive step, the shadow never truly rests. Seeking mortals born that they might succumb, the executioner [comes] from behind. While you breathe [you are] a victim of death; you know not the hour which your faith will call you. While you look at monuments, time passes irrevocably. In this tomb is laid the physician Nathaniel Hodges in the hope of Heaven; now a son of earth, who was once [a son] of Oxford. May you survive the plague [by] his writings. Born: September 13, AD 1629 Died, 1o June 1688

Unlike many physicians, Dr Hodges stayed in London throughout the time of the terrible plague of 1665.

First thing every morning before breakfast he spent two or three hours with his patients. He wrote later …

Some (had) ulcers yet uncured and others … under the first symptoms of seizure all of which I endeavoured to dispatch with all possible care …

hardly any children escaped; and it was not uncommon to see an Inheritance pass successively to three or four Heirs in as many Days.

After hours of visiting victims where they lived he walked home and, after dinner, saw more patients until nine at night and sometimes later.

He survived the epidemic and wrote two learned works on the plague. The first, in 1666, he called An Account of the first Rise, Progress, Symptoms and Cure of the Plague being a Letter from Dr Hodges to a Person of Quality. The second was Loimologia, published six years later …

Above is a later edition of Dr Hodges’ work, translated from the original Latin and published when the plague had broken out in France.

It seems particularly sad to report that his life ended in personal tragedy when, in his early fifties, his practice dwindled and fell away. Finally he was arrested as a debtor, committed to Ludgate Prison, and died there, a broken man, in 1688.

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Flower therapy

One morning last week was really sunny so I set out to cheer myself up by looking at flowers.

I can’t resist starting with another picture from our car park …

The repurposed boxes will give you a clue as to nature of merchandise often delivered to our flats!

A walk around the Barbican podium revealed some lovely displays managed by the members of the Barbican Horticultural Society …

I’m really looking forward to Spring.

Meanwhile, a confused hollyhock thinks it’s June …

A reminder from last Summer …

Some pictures from Bunhill Burial Ground …

This fine bust of Shakespeare looks out over the St Mary Aldermanbury garden …

A Wren church gutted in the Blitz, the remains of St Mary Aldermanbury were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA in 1966. The restored church is now a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946. The plaque commemorates his fellow actors Henry Condell and John Heminge who were key figures in the printing of the playwright’s First Folio of works seven years after his death.

Some nearby flowers …

Outside St Paul’s Underground Station …

At the junction of Bread Street and Queen Victoria Street …

Massive thanks to the City of London gardening team who look after public spaces so enthusiastically throughout the year.

Outside the Dion Restaurant in St Paul’s Churchyard …

I did smile when I noticed this new mural in the Reception area at the City Point offices (EC2Y 9HT). Very cheerful …

You might also enjoy this post from the Gentle Author in Spitalfields Life : Winter Flowers.

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