December 7, 2015
This Fleet Street pub has an intriguing history. Its name comes from the fact it is housed in what was, until 1975, the former Law Courts branch of the Bank of England.
Sold to a building society, it was transformed into a rather spectacular pub after it was purchased and refurbished by Fuller, Smith and Turner in 1994.
They were both demolished in 1888 to make room for the new bank branch, located, as the name suggests, just up the street from the Royal Courts of Justice.
While it’s been reworked to suit a pub instead of a bank, the remains of the opulent “High Victorian” interior of the bank can still be seen when you step through the doors – no more so than from the upstairs gallery which overlooks the pub.
It also plays a role in the story of legendary 18th century figure Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber’ of Fleet Street.
The site stands between Todd’s barber shop at number 186 Fleet Street and the pie shop on Bell Yard owned by his lover, Mrs (Margery) Lovett. As such, it’s said that it was in tunnels below the building on the site that the bodies of Todd’s victims were dismembered and used for pie filling before the pies were sold by Mrs Lovett.
The basement now contains what’s left of vaults which were formerly used to store gold bullion – they were also apparently briefly used to store the Crown Jewels during World War I.
The pub is located at 194 Fleet Street. For more on the pub – which also has an outdoor eating area, see www.oldbankofengland.co.uk.
November 17, 2015
View looking west from St Paul’s Cathedral down Fleet Street.
This Week in London – Lord Mayor’s Show marks 800 years; Dutch masters and Thomas Rowlandson at Queen’s Gallery; and, Alexander Calder on show at Tate…
November 12, 2015
• The Lord Mayor’s Show will mark its 800th anniversary on Saturday as the newly elected Jeffrey Mountevans – the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London – makes his way through the City to Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. The procession of 7,000 people, some 180 horses and 140 vehicles will set off on its way along a three-and-a-half mile route at 11am, starting at Mansion House and traveling down Cheapside to pause at St Paul’s Cathedral (which is open for free all day) before heading on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning the City via Queen Victoria Street from 1.10pm. In a special nod to the 800th anniversary, the famous bells of St Mary-le-Bow will ring out a special 800-change at noon. The day will conclude with fireworks over the River Thames kicking off at 5.15pm (for the best view head down to the riverside between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges, either on Victoria Embankment or on the South Bank). The show’s origins go back to 1215 when, in exchange for a Royal Charter granting the City of London the right to elect its own mayor, King John insisted the newly elected mayor travelled to Westminster each year to swear loyalty to the Crown. For more (including a map to print out), see https://lordmayorsshow.london. PICTURE: From a previous show.
• Vermeer’s The Music Lesson is among 27 of the finest 17th and 18th century Dutch paintings in the Royal Collection which will go on display in a new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer also features works by the likes of Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen, all produced during what is known as the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. The exhibition is being shown alongside another display – High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson – which will focus on the work of 18th and early 19th century caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson. Around 100 of Rowlandson’s works feature in the display with highlights including The Two Kings of Terror featuring Napoleon and Death sitting face-to-face after Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813, The Devonshire, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes depicting Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, kissing a butcher (it was claimed she had claimed kisses for votes in the Westminster election of 1784), and A York Address to the Whale. Caught lately off Gravesend in which the Duke of York thanks a whale for distracting attention from accusations that his mistress was paid by army officers to secure promotions from the Duke. Admission charge applies. Both exhibitions run until 14th February, 2015. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The first major UK exhibition of the works of kinetic sculpture pioneer Alexander Calder opened at the Tate Modern this week. Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture features more than 100 of the ground-breaking 20th century artist’s works which trace how Calder turned sculpture from the idea of a static object to a continually changing work to be experienced in real time. Works on show include figurative wire portraits of artists – Joan Miró and Fernand Léger (both 1930), works exploring the idea of forms in space – Red Panel, White Panel and Snake and the Cross (1936), motorised mobiles such as Black Frame and A Universe (1934), and chiming mobiles such as Red Gongs (1950) and Streetcar (1951). It closes with the large scale Black Widow (c.1948), shown for the first time ever outside Brazil. Runs until 3rd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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April 20, 2015
Located in a former bank at the corner of Chancery Lane and Carey Street, this pub takes its name from the Crusader order known as the Knights Templar who once owned the land upon which the lane was constructed.
The Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims and took its name from the Temple of Solomon upon the remains of which its headquarters in Jerusalem was built.
The order arrived in London later that century and Chancery Lane was created to connect the site of their original headquarters in Holborn with their subsequent home which lay between Fleet Street and the Thames – with the latter centred on a chapel (consecrated in 1185) which still stands and is now known as the Temple Church.
The pub, which opened in 1999, was formerly the home of the Union Bank of London Ltd, built in 1865 to the design of architect FW Porter.
Original features inside the Grade II-listed building – built in the ‘high Renaissance’-style – include cast iron columns and ornate detailing.
It is now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain. For more information, see www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/the-knights-templar-chancery-lane.
October 17, 2014
Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.
Located at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).
As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.
A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).
The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.
It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.
PICTURE: Open Plaques
October 6, 2014
This central London street, which runs between Fleet Street and High Holborn, has long been associated with the law and government, and still is so today with the Royal Courts of Justice standing close to its southern end and Lincoln’s Inn – one of the four Inns of Court – located on the lane’s western side.
Its name is a corruption of the original Chancellor Lane – a moniker which apparently dates back to at least the 14th century – and which referred to the buildings where the official documents of the Lord Chancellor’s Office, known as the Rolls of the Court of Chancellory (Chancery), were stored.
The street was apparently first known as New Street and later as Converts Lane; the latter in reference to the House of Converts (Domus Conversorum) King Henry III founded here in the 1272 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.
When King Edward I expelled all the Jews from the kingdom in 1290, the ‘house’ continued in use as such for foreign-born Jews, albeit with very small numbers of residents until the early 17th century.
In the meantime, in 1377 King Edward III gave orders that the complex of buildings used by the Domus Conversorum also be given over to the Master of the Rolls for the storage of chancellory documents and it was this move which led to the lane gaining its new name.
The buildings – which included a chapel which had become known as the Chapel of the Master of the Rolls or the simply the Rolls Chapel which had been rebuilt several times including to the designs of 17th century architect Inigo Jones – were finally demolished around the turn of the 20th century and subsumed into the Public Records Office complex on Chancery Lane (this was formerly housed in what is now the Maughan Library of King’s College London).
The lane these days is also home to such august institutions as The Law Society and the London Silver Vaults. It also lends its name to an Underground Station located to the east of the lane entrance in High Holborn.
June 9, 2014
Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe was, like him, one of the foremost dramatists of the Elizabethan era.
Born in Canterbury the son of shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Catherine in 1564 (he was baptised on 26th February and likely to have been born a few days before), Marlowe attended the King’s School in the city and went on to study at Corpus College in Cambridge, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1584 and a Master of Arts in 1587. It is believed that at around this time, he was also working secretly for the government of Queen Elizabeth I, although what the nature of that work was remains unknown.
While Marlowe’s first play was Dido, Queen of Carthage, he first found theatrical success in 1587 with Tamburlaine the Great, later followed with a second part. His other four plays included The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second, The Massacre at Paris about the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, and Doctor Faustus.
The plays served as key works for the Admiral’s Men, the company of Edward Alleyn who performed many of the key roles in the plays, and who is strongly associated with the Rose Theatre – indeed it was here that Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus premiered (you can see our earlier post on the theatre here).
Marlowe, who is known to have lived in Shoreditch, also completed other works included poetry and translations and while there is little evidence about his personal life, there is much speculation including that he was, as aforementioned, a spy as well as a carouser (he is known to have frequented taverns in London including Ye Olde Cock in Fleet Street), a homosexual and/or a heretic. It has also been suggested he was a tutor to noblewoman Arabella Stuart.
It is known that he was arrested in 1592 in Flushing in The Netherlands for counterfeiting coins and was sent back to England but no further action was taken.
His death is one of the big mysteries of his life. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest over some heretical tracts which were found in the lodgings of his colleague Thomas Kyd (who when questioned apparently implicated him) and he appeared to answer to the Privy Council on 20th May, 1593. They weren’t sitting and he was apparently instructed to appear daily until further notice. He was dead 10 days later.
The exact circumstances of his death remain a matter of speculation. It is often said he died in a drunken brawl with one early source suggesting this was over a homosexual love affair and another, more recent, theory suggesting he even faked his own death to avoid being executed for heresy (an extrapolation of this theory goes that after his fake death he continued writing plays under the name of William Shakespeare but this is generally deemed fairly far-fetched). The official account recorded at the time was that he was stabbed to death in a brawl over payment of a bill with men at a house in Deptford.
He was buried in an unmarked grave at St Nicholas’ Church in Deptford. There is a memorial window to him in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. A gift of the Marlowe Society, it was unveiled in 2002 and controversially included a question mark after the generally accepted date of his death. There is a portrait, dated 1585, generally believed to be of Marlowe at Cambridge.
PICTURE: Title page of the earliest known edition of Edward II (1594)/Wikipedia
March 3, 2014
Known as the “Father of Fleet Street”, Wynkyn de Worde was key figure in the early use of the printing press in England.
Born on the continent (candidates include Wœrth in Alsace in north-east France and Wœrden in The Netherlands), Wynkyn – whose name comes in various spellings, although it is said to have originally been Jan van Wynkyn – is believed to have become apprenticed to a printer in Cologne before meeting with famed pioneering English printer William Caxton in the early 1470s.
He apparently accompanied Caxton from Cologne to Bruges and then back to London in the late 1470s or early 1480s where he started working with Caxton at his premises in Westminster. During this period he is said to have lived with his English wife Elizabeth in a premises located with the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey (they are known to have attended St Margaret’s Church and even rented a pew there until Elizabeth’s death in 1498, after which Wynkyn is believed to have remarried.)
After Caxton’s death in 1492, Wynkyn took over his printing business and, around 1500, he relocated his office from Caxton’s Westminster premises to the “sign of the Sun” in Fleet Street near Shoe Lane – in fact, he is credited as being the first printer to locate in the street which becomes famously associated with publishing. There’s a plaque (pictured below), on the wall of the hall of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, located off Ave Maria Lane near St Paul’s Cathedral, commemorating the move (although Shoe Lane is located some distance away). Wynkyn later also ran a shop in St Paul’s Churchyard.
While Wynkyn, like Caxton before him, relied on the patronage of the rich and famous (Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII among them), he also printed relatively inexpensive books in a bid to capture a wider market. In all he published more than 400 different books in at least 750 editions ranging from religious texts and poetry to fictional romantic works, educational textbooks and books aimed at children. He is noted for his use of woodcuts illustrations while his other claims to fame include being the first English printer to use italic type and the first to print music from moveable type.
De Worde died around 1534 but his legacy lives on through the mass media publishing of today (albeit not longer from Fleet Street). There is a Wynkyn de Worde Society based in Suffolk which is aimed at furthering the printing industry.
January 27, 2014
The name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.
Rather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.
The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.
Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).
It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)
And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).
November 25, 2013
Often noted as the second greatest English dramatist of his generation (after that Shakespeare guy), the playwright Ben Jonson stands tall in his own right as one of the leading literary figures of the late 16th and early 17th century.
Born in 1572, Jonson was educated at Westminster School in London and possibly went on to Cambridge before he started work as a bricklayer with his stepfather and later served as a soldier, fighting with English troops in The Netherlands.
It was on his return to London that he ventured into acting – among his early roles was Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie – and by 1597 he was employed as a playwright.
While one of his early play-writing efforts (The Isle of Dogs, co-written with Thomas Nashe) led to a term of imprisonment in Marshalsea Prison in 1597 (he was also briefly imprison about this time for killing another actor in a duel, escaping a death sentence by pleading “benefit of the clergy”), the following year – 1598 – the production of his play Every Man In His Humour established his reputation as a dramatist. Shakespeare, whom some suggest was a key rival of Jonson’s during his career – is said to have been among the actors who performed in it.
Further plays followed including Every Man Out Of His Humour (1599), his only tragedy Sejanus (1603), the popular Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and it was during these years, particularly following the accession of King James I in 1603, that he became an important figure at the royal court).
His political views continued to cause trouble at times – he was again imprisoned in the early 1600s for his writings and was questioned over the Gunpowder Plot after apparently attending an event attended by most of those later found to be co-conspirators – but his move into writing masques for the royal court – saw his star continue to rise.
All up he wrote more than 20 masques for King James and Queen Anne of Denmark including Oberon, The Faery Prince which featured the young Prince Henry, eldest son of King James, in the title role. Many of these masques saw him working with architect Inigo Jones, who designed extravagant sets for the masques, but their relationship was tense at times.
In 1616 – his reputation well established – Jonson was given a sizeable yearly pension (some have concluded that as a result he was informally the country’s first Poet Laureate) and published his first collection of works the following year. Noted for his wit, he was also known to have presided over a gathering of his friends and admirers at The Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil’s Tavern at 2 Fleet Street (Shakespeare was among those he verbally jousted with).
Jonson spent more than a year in his ancestral home of Scotland around 1618 but on his return to London, while still famous, he no longer saw the same level of success as he had earlier – particularly following the death of King James and accession of his son, King Charles I, in 1625.
Jonson married Anne Lewis – there is a record of such a couple marrying at St Magnus-the-Martyr church near London Bridge in 1594 – but their relationship certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for they spent at least five years of their marriage living separately. It’s believed he had several children, two of whom died while yet young.
Jonson, meanwhile, continued to write up until his death on 6th August, 1637, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (he’s the only person buried upright in the abbey – apparently due to his poverty at the time of his death).
For an indepth look at the life of Ben Jonson, check out Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life.
November 13, 2013
OK, so the debate may continue over whether Sweeney Todd was an actual person (according to author Peter Haining, the real Todd, born in Brick Lane, is supposed to have been hanged in 1802) or a fictional character, but, suspending that debate for the moment, we’re including the infamous Fleet Street barber in this list.
Known as the “demon barber of Fleet Street”, Todd first appeared in literature as a murderer in the Victorian serial, The String of Pearls: A Romance, published in a weekly periodical, and soon became a staple of the Victorian theatre, later appearing in numerous plays and films including the 2007 Johnny Depp vehicle, Sweeney Todd.
His MO usually involved cutting his unsuspecting victim’s throat and then, using a specially constructed barber’s chair, dropping the body into the cellar. There, he and his associate, Mrs Lovett, would rob them (alternatively, other versions have him dropping the customers into the cellar first and then, if needed, finishing them off).
Mrs Lovett would then dispose of the remains by baking them into pies and selling them via her pie shop located nearby in Bell Yard. The story goes that the cellar was linked to nearby Bell Yard via tunnels.
Sweeney Todd was supposed to have terrorised London in the late 18th century and his barber shop was apparently located at 186 Fleet Street in London – right next to St Dunstan-in-the-West. The site is now occupied by a former newspaper office – that of the Dundee Courier (pictured above, left).
For Peter Haining’s book on Sweeney Todd, see Sweeney Todd: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
July 22, 2013
Built on land which once formed part of ‘White Friars’ (Carmelite) monastery, this Fleet Street institution is the latest incarnation in a string of pubs which have occupied the site since at least the early 17th century.
A pub was built on the site in about 1605. Made of stone rather than wood (the stones apparently plundered from the monastery), the property – which stands over the top of what’s left of the River Fleet – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666.
While there seem to be a few competing versions of the pub’s history, it was apparently first named the Bolt-in-Tun (the sign of which showed a barrel pierced by a crossbow quarrel or bolt) and became a popular coaching inn (an alley opposite still bears the name Bolt Court). It was apparently later renamed The Boar’s Head.
The pub – located at 66 Fleet Street – was at some stage – the sign outside says in 1700, others suggest it was in the late 1800s – it was bought by Dublin-based brewery SG Mooney & Son (the Mooney name is still on the doorstep). It was after this purchase that it was transformed into what is claims was the first Irish pub outside of Ireland and, perhaps more importantly, the first pub outside Ireland to serve Guinness (first bottled and later draught).
The pub’s name was changed to the Tipperary after World War I when, as one story goes, returning Irish soldiers made it a favourite of theirs and christened it in honour of the song It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.
Bought by Greene King in the 1960s, the pub underwent a restoration which took it back to the style it would have been during Mooney’s days.
The pub apparently once featured a clock by renowned Fleet Street clockmaker Thomas Tompion, known as the “father of English clockmaking”. A replica now sits in the pub thanks to the original being stolen.
April 19, 2013
Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.
First sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).
The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.
While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.
Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield.
For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.
Around London – Margaret Thatcher’s funeral; telling the Jewel Tower’s story; depot open weekend; and, Designs of the Year…
April 11, 2013
• Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will be held next Wednesday at St Paul’s Cathedral from 11am with Queen Elizabeth II among those attending (the first time she has attended the funeral of a British politician since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965). The funeral procession of the former Prime Minister, who died on Monday aged 87, will start at the Houses of Parliament and make its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before moving down the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Baroness Thatcher’s coffin will carried in a hearse for the first part of the journey and will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at St Clement Danes church on the Strand for the final part of the journey. There will be a gun salute at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, a Book of Condolence has opened at St Margaret’s Church, beside Westminster Abbey, this morning and will be available for people to pay their respects until 17th April, during the church’s opening hours. St Margaret’s – which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – is commonly known as the parish church of the House of Commons.
• The story of the Jewel Tower – one of the last remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster – is told in a new exhibition at the historic property. Now in the care of English Heritage, the tower – located to the south of Westminster Abbey, was built in 1365 to house King Edward III’s treasury, later used as King Henry VIII”s ‘junk room’, the record office for the House of Lords, and, from 1869, served was the “testing laboratory” for the Office of Weights and Measures. The exhibition, which opened this month, is part of the English Heritage celebrations commemorating the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. The Jewel Tower is open daily until November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.
• See some of the earliest underground trains, a Lego version of Baker Street station and ride the Acton Miniature Railway. The London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton is holding it’s annual spring open weekend this Saturday and Sunday and in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary, attractions will include the Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the recently restored Metropolitan Carriage 353 along with model displays, rides on the miniature railway, film screenings, talks, and workshops. Wales’ Ffestiniog Railway team – celebrating their own 150th anniversary – will also be present with the narrow gauge train, Prince. Open from 11am to 5pm both days. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• Now On: Designs of the Year. The Design Museum has unveiled contenders for the sixth annual Designs of the Year competition and you can what they are in this exhibition. Consisting of more than 90 nominations spanning seven categories, the nominated designs include the Olympic Cauldron by Heatherwick Studio, The Shard – western Europe’s tallest building – by Renzo Piano, a non-stick ketchup bottle invented by the Varanasi Research Group at MIT, and Microsoft’s Windows phone 8. The exhibition runs until 7th July – the winners will be announced this month. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.
December 10, 2012
Regular watchers of London’s Lord Mayor’s Show parade will be familiar with the two giants Gog and Magog who for centuries have been an integral part of the procession. But just who are the two stern figures who strike fear into the hearts of all they pass (well, perhaps not so much the fear)?
While the names Gog and Magog appear several times in different contexts in the Bible came t0 epitomise the enemies of God, legend has it that the Gog and Magog seen in this context were leaders of a race of giants who inhabited Britain in times of prehistory.
Defeated by Brutus, a descendent of the Trojan Aeneas and the founder of London and first king of Britain, they were then chained to the gate of his palace which stood on the site of where Guildhall – home of the City of London Corporation – now stands.
Seen as guardians of the City of London, figures of the giants have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show – the annual procession surrounding the election of the new Lord Mayor – since as far back as the reign of King Henry V (originally made of ‘wickerwork and pasteboard’, they were later replaced with wooden ones).
The seven foot high wicker versions of the giants which are now carried in the parade were donated by the Worshipful Company of Basketweavers in 2006 (pictured here in the 2010 parade) and are the just latest in a series of effigies and statues of the two giants which have been associated with Guildhall.
These include pair of nine foot high limewood statues of the giants which currently stand in Guildhall – carved in 1953 by David Evans, they replaced two earlier, 14 foot high oak versions made by Richard Saunders in the early 1700s which were destroyed in the Blitz during World War II. They, in turn, were created to replace earlier papier mache versions.
As well as being found in numerous cities around the world, figures of the two giants also famously feature as the clock’s bell ringers on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. The clock, incidentally, was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand.
Around London – Lord Mayor’s Show; Remembrance Sunday; Ansel Adams at the NMM; and, Mughal India at the British Library…
November 8, 2012
• The 2012 Lord Mayor’s Show is just about upon us and while you may not have a grandstand seat, there’s still plenty of places you can stand and watch the parade of more than 6,500 people pass by. Saturday’s parade – which celebrates the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – leaves Mansion House at 11am and travels via Poultry and Cheapside to St Paul’s Cathedral where it pauses for the Lord Mayor and his officials to receive a blessing – before continuing on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice, arriving there at about 12.30pm. There the Lord Mayor gives his oath of loyalty to the Crown (while in the surrounding streets the participants and 125 horses are fed and watered) before the parade reassembles and sets off from Embankment at 1pm, heading back to Mansion House via Queen Victoria Street – the Lord Mayor arrives sometime between 2pm and 2.30pm. (The website has a terrific one page map of the route you can download and print). There’s no fireworks display after the parade – although there’s a host of other activities taking place in the City of London – but if you’re up and about early enough, you may want to watch the Lord Mayor as he boards the barge QRB Gloriana at the Westminster Boating Base in Vauxhall at 8.30am and, escorted by a flotilla, makes his way up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, arriving at about 9.35am after Tower Bridge opens in salute. For more, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.
• The annual Remembrance Sunday service – commemorating the contribution of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts – will take place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am this Sunday. While no tickets are required to watch the event, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who organise the service, advise arriving early if you wish to secure a good viewing space (and leave time for security checks at the entrance to either end of Whitehall). Whitehall opens at 8am. For more details, see www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/3333.aspx.
• A new exhibition of the work of US photographic pioneer Ansel Adams opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow (Friday). Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, which comes from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, will feature more than 100 original prints, many of which have never been exhibited before in the UK. It is said to be the first exhibition to focus on his “lifelong fascination” with water and the display features some of Adams’ finest images based on this subject including what are some of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Highlights include the first photograph Adams’ ever image – taken at age 14 – which features a pool located at the Panama Pacific Exhibition at the 1915 World’s Fair, the three American Trust murals produced in the 1950s on an “unprecedented scale”, Adam’s favorite work – Golden Gate before the Bridge – which hung above his desk, and iconic images such as Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite and Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Country, California. There is an admission charge. Runs until 28th April. For more details on the exhibition, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• Also opening tomorrow (Friday) is the British Library’s major autumn exhibition – Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. The exhibition focuses on the Mughal dynasty – which once ruled over much of the Indian sub-continent – and is the first to document the period spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. Featuring more than 200 manuscripts and paintings, most of which come from the library’s own collection, highlights include Akbar ordering the slaughter to cease in 1578 – a work attributed to the artist Miskina in 1595, Abu’l Hasan’s early 17th century painting Squirrels in a plane tree, the historically important illustration Prince Aurangzeb reports to the Emperor Shah Jahan in durbar, and a portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh, favorite son and heir-apparent of 17th century Emperor Shah Jahan. Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more on the exhibition and accompanying events, see www.bl.uk.
August 24, 2012
A mythical figure from early Britain, King Lud is said to have been a pre-Roman king of Britain who rebuilt London (which according to legend had been originally founded by the exiled Trojan Brutus) and from whom London derives its name.
Lud is said by some to have given his name to the gateway known as Ludgate (although others say it comes from an Old English term meaning swing or postern gate – see our earlier post here for more on Ludgate).
This series of badly weathered statues – depicting King Lud and his two sons, apparently named Androgeus and Theomantius – was originally located on the gate. In fact, the legend goes, the king was buried under it.
Following the gate’s demolition, the statues – said to date from 1586 with the name of the sculptor now lost to time – were moved here at some point to the vestry porch of St Dunstan-in-the West in Fleet Street.
July 23, 2012
Infamous, perhaps, rather than famous, Mr Punch (one half of Punch & Judy) this year celebrated the 350th anniversary of his first public appearance in London (which, in our view, makes him an honorary Londoner!).
The first documented appearance of the hook-nosed Mr Punch – known for his acrimonious relationship with his wife Judy – dates back to 9th May, 1662, when diarist Samuel Pepys recorded seeing a Mr Punch puppet performing as part of an Italian marionette show at Covent Garden (officially awarded a Guinness World Record title earlier this year for being the first recorded Mr Punch puppet show).
Mr Punch’s origins go back to Italy (Punchinello is thought to be an anglicised version of the character name of Pulcinella), typically wears a jester’s motley and tall, ‘sugarloaf’, hat with a tassel. Now generally a hand-puppet rather than a marionette, these days he usually performs in a mobile puppet booth with a cast of characters who as well as Judy can include a baby, a police constable and a crocodile.
Storylines – which were initially aimed at adults but are now generally aimed at children – vary but usually include references to current events (and perhaps also some mocking of public figures) and inevitably involve the unruly and often bawdy trickster, Mr Punch, doing away with his foes before uttering the line: “That’s the way to do it!”
Interestingly, Punch & Judy performers refer to themselves as “professors” – there’s a story, apparently apocryphal, that this title was granted to the performers by King Charles II thanks to his enjoyment of the show. Collecting money from an audience watching the show is known as ‘bottling’ and those who assist the professor by doing so as ‘bottlers’, thanks to the tradition of using a bottle for the task.
Mr Punch reached the height of his popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian ages and could typically be seen carrying on in seaside resorts across the country. The dramatic decline in his popularity since means it can be harder to find a Punch & Judy show today (and even when you do, much of his more brutal antics have been excised from plays so as not to offend modern sensibilities), but it’s still possible to see Punch and Judy performances in many places across the UK including, on occasion, at Covent Garden where there is a plaque (shown above) commemorating the performance seen by Mr Pepys.
Mr Punch is still celebrated every year at Covent Garden’s May Fayre and Puppet Festival (held close to 9th May – not only the day Mr Pepys saw the puppet but now regarded as Mr Punch’s ‘birthday’) and there is a fellowship of Punch and Judy performers – The Punch & Judy Fellowship – who aim to “preserve, promote and protect” the traditions of the puppet show. Punch can also be seen on the facade of the Punch Tavern in Fleet Street – the sign is pictured above (keep on eye out for our upcoming Pub Signs look at the pub’s history).
June 11, 2012
While it may not be the oldest (that remains a matter of some dispute), we can say that one of London’s oldest banks stands at 1 Fleet Street.
Child & Co’s origins go back to the mid-1600s when Francis Child entered into a partnership with Robert Blanchard to run a goldsmith’s business. In 1673, the business, now known as Blanchard & Child moved to the premises it now occupies.
Child later married Blanchard’s step-daughter and on Blanchard’s death in 1681, he inherited the entire company, renaming it Child & Co (knighted in 1689, Child later served as a Lord Mayor of London and as an MP) and in 1698 was appointed “jeweller in ordinary” to King William III.
Following Child’s death in 1713, his sons continued the business, transforming it into a bank. It’s first banknote was issued in 1729.
The bank passed into the ownership of the Earls of Jersey in the mid-1800s and in 1880, following the removal of the Temple Bar gate, rebuilt its premises.
The bank, which at one stage had a branch in Oxford, was later sold to London-based commercial bank Glyn, Mills, Currie, Holt & Co and this in turn was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland. They remain the current owners.
Interestingly, the bank is said to be the model for Tellson’s Bank in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
For a book on the financial history of the City of London, check out David Kynaston’s City of London: The History: 1815-2000.
London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…
• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.
• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.
• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.
• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.
• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.
• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.
• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.
There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.