Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Wine and Oxo cubes

It has been many years since I crossed Southwark Bridge and then I wasn’t taking much notice of the buildings in Queen Street Place as I headed towards the bridge and out of the City. When I took the trouble to look last week I was absolutely captivated by this delightful but rather strange Art Deco sculpture by H W Palliser …

One writer called it ‘the sexiest sculpture in London– I couldn’t possibly comment.

Built by the Vintners’ Company in 1928, at the centre stands a nude woman clutching to herself bunches of grapes which grow on vines at her side. She is a Bacchante, the ‘spirit of the harvest’, and two goats look up at her adoringly as four doves descend above her head. Two swans are also in attendance, reminding us that the Vintners’ Company is one of the three owners of all the swans on the upper Thames, the others being the Dyers and HM the Queen. The model for the woman was Leopoldine Avico who was also, I believe, the model for The Queen of Time above Selfridges.

You get a nice view of Vintners’ Hall from the Bridge …

Immediately next door is Thames House (1911-12). It was built for the Liebig Extract of Meat Company whose product was imported from a huge plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. There is a clue as to what they made over the central entrance …

Yes, the two stone horns symbolise the South American herds that provided the meat for the famous and successful Oxo cube (or ‘boiled up cow’, as one commentator rather unkindly called it). The other carvings represent Abundance – a nude youth pours water from a vase and a nude maiden pours flowers from a cornucopia.

In the pediment on the North Pavilion a pair of nude figures hold a strop to tame the winged horse Pegasus, who beats the cloud with his hooves in his struggle …

This may allude to the alleged energising qualities of the product.

On the South Pavilion pediment a female figure with fruit and flowers represents the fruits of the land with Neptune, holding his trident and a rope for his net, signifies the fruits of the water …

Between them is the figure of a boy standing on two winged wheels symbolising Trade..

Directly over the door is this group …

It’s a particularly lavish doorway surmounted by an arch over a circular window or oculus. The spandrels over the arch contain bas reliefs of women denoting Commerce (left) and Wisdom (right), by Richard Garbe. Commerce holds a caduceus and brandishes an oak branch, symbol of endurance and fortitude. Wisdom holds a torch and proffers a laurel branch, symbol of victory. Above, a dove with an olive branch in her beak brings peace.

In front of the window is a bronze galleon by the metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds …

The ship is flanked by some rather grotesque fish which look like they are gasping for air. Maybe Neptune has just caught them.

Here’s the full frontal view …

Further along to the north I admired some elaborate doors …

The old doorway to Thames House at the junction with Upper Thames Street is now an entrance to Five Kings House, the interior of the building having now presumably been segmented in some way (EC4R 1QS) …

Above the door the male figure, with a helmet and wings at his heels, is clearly Mercury as God of Commerce. It’s not clear what the lady represents – possibly agriculture. Two seated putti support a cartouche

Queen Street Place was a wonderful surprise to me. I have often been asked if I am ever going to run out of things to write about but I can’t imagine this ever happening. The City seems to have something new to offer me every day I walk around it.

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Some great beards and a need for TLC – another visit to Holborn Viaduct

I know I’ve already written about the Viaduct twice this year but I found myself drawn back to it one more time since I hadn’t explored it from ground level in Farringdon Road.

Looking up at the sky on the north east side there are some great beards on display …

And in close-up …

This is one of the Atlantes holding up the balcony. They date from 2014 when the north east pavilion was rebuilt …

In 2013 the Viaduct was repainted and re-gilded with, at the request of the City Conservation Officer, ‘maximum bling’.

You get an idea of how well this was accomplished in this picture. It shows the re-gilded base of one of the lamps, a knight’s helmet and a City dragon …

Here’s a view looking up from Farringdon Street …

There are also some elaborate metal gates …

Walking up the stairs, this old light has lost its top …

Four splendid City dragons …

This functioning light is in the rebuilt North East stair …

Attractive carvings at the South East entrance …

The North Western stair has a giant mural illustrating the Viaduct’s construction …

Work was started in 1863 and the mural reminded me of this photograph of the work in progress looking west …

Further west there is a smaller, more modest bridge over Shoe Lane and this is in grave need of some TLC. Compare this with the restored parts of the main bridge …

It illustrates what time, weather and pollution can do to the most robust of structures.

If you want to read my two previous blogs about Holborn Viaduct they can be found here and here.

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Horses, mermaids and memorials – more City Ladies

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

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

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

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

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

There are a number of female head keystones …

… and a pretty mermaid sculpted by Gilbert Ledward …

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the panel opposite …

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

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

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

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

A young couple look expectantly towards the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This lady holds a seagoing vessel, representing the Navy …

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

The bi-plane represents the Air Force …

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

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

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

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

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From a girl dressed as a pageboy to the Recording Angel – City Ladies in stone

Having written about City Children a few weeks ago I though it was time to look at some of the ladies portrayed in sculpture around the City. I found enough for several blogs so this is the first instalment!

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

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

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

Walking further eastwards along the south side of Fleet Street you come across Serjeants’ Inn and these interesting keystones depicting a woman holding a baby, flowers and a bird (EC4Y 1AE) …

They date from 1958 and although the architects are known, Devereaux & Davis, the name of the sculptor is not (or, at least, I couldn’t discover it).

Over the original main door to the Old Bailey (EC4M 7EH) is a sinister figure, her face overshadowed by an ample hood. She is the Recording Angel, busy writing down all our deeds for God’s future reference …

To the left sits Fortitude, a female figure holding a massive and elaborate sword, and on the right Truth gazing into her mirror.

On the south pediment another woman holds a quill in one hand and in the other a closed book …

Both date from 1906 and are by the sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy as is Justice holding her symbolic sword and scales. She stands upon a globe because Justice straddles the world and although she is made of bronze not stone I couldn’t resist including her …

You may be surprised to see that she is not wearing a blindfold. I have written about her and the many other places she can be found in the City (often blindfolded) in an earlier blog entitled Lady Justice.

At 28-30 Cornhill can be found the old offices of the Scottish Widows Insurance Company (EC3V 3ND). High up the building, which dates from 1935, are two figures sculpted by William McMillan.

The one on the left holds a naked child between her knees …

… the other pours fruit and flowers from a cornucopia …

Dr Philip Ward-Jackson points out in his book Public Sculpture of the City of London that there is a striking resemblance both in iconography and style between these two figures and the so-called Lothbury Ladies. Charles Wheeler was sculpting them at the same time for the Lothbury front of the Bank of England. Here are two of them …

The children represent ‘the hope of the future of the renewed Bank and its ideals’.

The Lloyd’s Register of Shipping at 71 Fenchurch Street is worth a visit in its own right. I counted over two dozen female figures incorporated into the building’s design and here are just a few of them …

I can’t really do the sculptors justice in this blog so I will return at a later date.

Brewers’ Hall in Aldermanbury Square boasts a maiden keystone over its entrance (EC2V 7HR) …

She holds in either hand three ears of barley and forms the crest of the Brewers’ Company coat of arms. This is another work by Charles Wheeler and dates from 1960.

Walking around Finsbury Circus I looked up and saw this lady on the Lutyens designed Britannic House (EC2M 7EB). The building was originally the headquarters of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company …

Sculpted by Francis Derwent Wood in 1925, she’s a Persian Scarf Dancer.

Nearby is another work by him entitled Woman and Baby or Spring

My walk around the City looking for ladies in sculpture was really enlightening and I’ll return to the subject in a later blog.

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Summer’s coming!

The City has an abundance of window boxes and small gardens, the latter often the site of old churchyards. Here is a collection of pictures I took over the last few weeks whilst the weather was nice.

I have entitled this one ‘white tulip’ …

The remains of the old Roman/Medieval Wall is host to numerous Valerian plants …

That’s the 17th century tower of St Giles Cripplegate in the background.

This is the view from the raised pedestrian walkway …

Next to the Museum of London plants cling on in one of the last remaining World War II bomb sites …

Nearby is the Barbers’ Physic Garden, partly sheltered by another section of the Roman/Medieval wall and adjacent to the Barber Surgeons’ Hall …

This leopard’s head (the symbol of the Goldsmiths’ Company) guards the entrance to The Goldsmiths’ Garden, once the churchyard of St John Zachary, a building destroyed in the great fire of 1666. You’ll find it on Gresham Street (EC2V 7HN) …

There’s a good selection of flowers in the garden …

Callistemon Bottlebrush.
Roses and Clematis.
Osteospermum.

And a pretty little fountain with an Arum Lily …

Postman’s Park boasts a substantial banana plant with a big tree fern growing out from it (EC1A 7BT) …

… along with a thriving bed of Hostas …

… and some Hardy Geraniums …

Their fountain is not working and is covered in moss …

A nice corporate window box on St Martin’s le Grand, someone must be watering it during the shut down …

Christchurch Greyfriars was designed by Wren and completed in 1704. In 1940, Blitz incendiary bombs destroyed the body of the church and only the west tower now stands. The blue plaque in the foreground commemorates Christchurch School, which I have written about before in City Children

The 1989 rose garden reflects the floor plan of the original church and Clematis and climbing roses weave their way up 10 tall wooden towers which represent the pillars that once held the roof …

On the Barbican Highwalk I came across an army of Alliums, sadly a bit past their best …

I also encountered two ducks fastidiously socially distancing …

Water lilies are opening up on the Barbican Lakes …

And Barbican dwellers have been working hard on their window boxes …

I hope you enjoyed this little flower-filled excursion.

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