Where’s London’s oldest…livery company?

There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.

What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).

Saddler’s Hall in Gutter Lane where the Worshipful Company of Weavers is based out of.

In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.

By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.

After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.

For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.

The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.

For more, see www.weavers.org.uk.

This Week in London – Astronomical wonders; Lambeth Mayor’s homemade chain; a gift for conservation; and, a Darwinian donation…

Winner of the People’s Choice Awards 2020 – The Cave of the Wild Horses © Bryony Richards (Winner)

A photograph of the Milky Way taken from the Cave of the Wild Horses in the southern Utah desert has won the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year: People’s Choice Awards 2020. The stunning image by Bryony Richards was captured in the cave after a long hike through the desert. It was selected from 25 images short-listed by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. ‘Reflection of the Stars’ by Linh Nguyen won second place award and Qiqige (Nina) Zhao won third for ‘Anniversary of Apollo 11 Mission’. Meanwhile, the deadline for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 13 competition run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine is looming – photographers need to have submitted their images by 12pm on 5th March. The overall winner of the competition will take home a top prize of £10,000 and see their image in the accompanying exhibition, which is scheduled to open at the National Maritime Museum on 18th September. For more details, see www.rmg.co.uk/astrocomp.

The Mayor of Lambeth’s homemade ceremonial chain has been acquired by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ initiative. The chain was made by the mayor, Councillor Philip Normal, for the virtual ceremony in which he was created mayor on 22nd April, 2020, during the first national lockdown. Made of card and plaited t-shirt fabric, it features Lambeth’s coat of arms painted within a fluorescent pink oval with the words ‘Spectemur Agendo’ meaning, ‘Let us be judged by our acts’. For more on ‘Collecting COVID’, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

An oil painting of Sir John Maitland by an unknown Anglo-Dutch artist, part of the art collection at Ham House in London’s south-west, is among artworks which are to undergo restoration thanks to a £3 million gift to the National Trust from American charity, the Royal Oak Foundation. The gift will support the Trust’s conservation work for the next five years mainly based at its specialist conservation studio in Knole, Kent. It was made in honour of the 125th anniversary of the National Trust, which cares for more than 200 historic properties containing more than a million objects – everything from artworks to furniture, textiles and ceramics. The painting of Sir John came to public attention in 2017 when X-ray analysis revealed what is believed to be an unfinished portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, hidden underneath it. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

• Looking further afield and a keepsake box containing mementos associated with Charles Darwin – including shells gathered on his famous voyage in the HMS Beagle – have been donated to English Heritage. The charity announced the gift this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1871 publication of his book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. The red leather box and its contents will go on display at Down House in Kent later this year following conservation work. Charles and Emma Darwin initially gave the box to their eldest daughter Annie but, following her death at the age of 10 in 1851, it passed to her sister Henrietta, known as “Etty”. Among the souvenirs placed in it were locks of hair belonging to different members of the Darwin family (including Emma and Henrietta), a silk handkerchief embroidered with Charles’ initials CD, and the shells which his daughters later carefully labelled using scrap paper from the naturalist’s draft manuscripts. English Heritage is appealing for donations for the care and display of the box. To support the work, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/support-us/.

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LondonLife – Shoreditch High Street…

PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash.

LondonLife – Signs of the Times (VI)…

Seen in Oxford Street. PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)

The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.

The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.

The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.

One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.

The station is now Grade II-listed.

LondonLife – Signs of the times (V)…

COVID vaccination stickers seen in Putney. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

This Week in London – Behind the scenes at the Tate; keep the Christmas tree up, says English Heritage; and, a new mineral found at Natural History Museum…

Take a behind the scenes look at how Tate gallery curators have been looking after their art during the coronavirus period. A new film released by the Tate just before Christmas features art handlers, conservators, archivists and registrars discussing the challenges of transporting, installing and preparing artworks during this unprecedented time.

The Tate has also released a range of online resources through which people can experience exhibitions online – check the Tate’s YouTube channel for artist interviews and exhibition guides as well as in-depth exhibition guides available on the Tate website.

English Heritage has urged people to keep their Christmas decorations up until February to “bring some cheer” into the dark winter months. The organisation says Candlemas, which falls exactly 40 days after Christmas, was observed as the official end to Christmas during the medieval period. More formally known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas was so called because the candles which would be used in churches in the coming year would be blessed on that day. Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s senior properties historian adds: “The tradition that it is bad luck to keep decorations up after Twelfth Night and the Epiphany is a modern invention, although it may derive from the medieval notion that decorations left up after Candlemas eve would become possessed by goblins! I’m of the opinion that, after the year we’ve all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.”

A new mineral, named kernowite after the Cornish name for Cornwall where it was originally found, has been discovered in the collection of the Natural History Museum. The mineral, which was probably collected in the 1700s and which entered the museum’s collection in 1964, was previously believed to be a green variety of the traditionally blue liroconite. It was only when the museum’s principal curator of minerals, Mike Rumsey, decided to investigate colour variation in liroconite that it was recognised as a new species. “Although many liroconites are greenish, with this unusually dark-green ‘liroconite’ specimen in question my colleagues and I discovered a subtle difference in its chemistry,” he said. “Overall, one part of its internal structure was dominated by iron instead of aluminium, so we found it worthy of a new name, kernowite.”

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Four unusual London Christmas traditions…4. The Boy Bishop of St Paul’s…

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This tradition is actually one which is no longer observed – but we thought it worth a mention to finish this short series.

The creation of temporary of ‘boy bishops’ was relatively widespread at greater churches in Middle Ages (and several other churches in London also observed the tradition apparently including Westminster Abbey).

At St Paul’s, it involved one of the choir boys being elected to be the ‘boy bishop’, usually on 6th December, for a role that would run through until Holy Innocents Day on 28th December.

Dressed in child-sized bishop’s robes, the ‘boy bishop’ performed various ceremonial duties throughout the season, culminating with them delivering a sermon and leading a procession through the city.

The tradition apparently became more raucous as time went on, so much so that eventually it was abolished during the Reformation by King Henry VIII, revived by his successor Queen Mary I, and then abolished again by Queen Elizabeth I.

Since then, the idea of a ‘boy bishop’ or ‘youth bishop’ has been revived in a somewhat updated form in certain cathedrals including those in Salisbury and Hereford.

We’ll start a new Wednesday series next week.

Merry Christmas (and the next four in our countdown!)…

Christmas tree outside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: Alex Liivet
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In what has been, and continues to be, such a hard year for so many, we at Exploring London hope you’re still able to celebrate Christmas in some form this year…

Meantime, here’s the next four in our countdown of the 100 most popular posts of all time…

22. Lost London – The Savoy Palace…

21. What’s in a name?…St Mary Overie…

20. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral

19. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…3. The Peter Pan Cup…

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Peter Pan Cup is a swimming event that usually takes place on Christmas Day in Hyde Park’s Serpentine.

The bracing 9am event, which is only open to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club, is a handicapped race across a 100 yard course.

While the tradition of a Christmas Day swimming event goes back to 1864, it became the ‘Peter Pan Cup’ in 1904 when JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and a member of the club, presented the first cup to the winner. It was the same year Peter Pan debuted on the London stage (and Barrie would continue to present the cup to the winner until 1932).

Club members have to complete a certain number of winter races to be eligible to swim on Christmas Day. These days the race, which usually starts and ends on the southern bank of the Serpentine, is usually quite a spectacle with hundreds turning out to cheer the swimmers on.

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…2. The Smithfield Meat Auction…

Reportedly cancelled for this year, the boisterous Christmas Eve meat auction at Smithfield usually draws a considerable crowd eager to snag a bargain.

The origins of the tradition, which apparently started at least 30 years ago, stems from the fact that most of the market butchers take at least a week off over Christmas, generally not returning to their stalls until the new year.

As a result, they would auction off their remaining stock on Christmas Eve to those keen enough to brave the cold and come out.

There has been a market at Smithfield since the 12th century – the premises was rebuilt in the mid-19th century after being formally established by the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 32 and 31…

The next two in our countdown…

32. 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens – 5. Seven pubs associated with Dickens (including one he never visited)…

31. The Royal Wedding – Eight curious facts about Royal Weddings past and present…

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…1. The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses…

This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.

The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.

The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.

This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.

As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.

LondonLife – Signs of the times (IV)…

Taken at Bank Underground station. PICTURE: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash

This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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LondonLife – Lockdown sentiment…

PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash

This Week in London – JMW Turner’s world at the Tate; ‘Unknown Warrior’ centenary marked at National Army Museum; and, model making from the ‘age of railways’…

JMW Turner, ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ (c 1834-35), oil paint on canvas, Tate (accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856)

A landmark exhibition on the work – and times – of JMW Turner opens at the Tate Modern in Millbank today. Turner’s Modern World features some 160 works and attempts to show how the landscape painter found “new ways to capture the momentous events of his day, from technology’s impact on the natural world to the dizzying effects of modernisation on society”. Highlights include war paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8) and Field of Waterloo (1818), works capturing political events like The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835) and maritime disasters like A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (c1801), as well as works related to the industrial advances taking place such as Snow Storm (1842), The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839), and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th March (online booking required). For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

An exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea marks the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior being laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Using objects, paintings, photography and personal testimony, Buried Among Kings: The Story of the Unknown Warrior tells the story of the creation of this symbolic memorial dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who died during World War I. Highlights include a union flag on loan from the Railton family (it was Chaplain David Railton who conceived the original idea for an Unknown Warrior following an encounter in 1916 with a wooden cross on the Western Front which was inscribed ‘An Unknown British Soldier’), a Bible carried by Chaplain George Kendall during the selection of the Unknown Warrior, a fragment of the original wooden Cenotaph erected in 1919-1920, and Frank O Salisbury’s large scale painting, The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, which depicts the procession of the Unknown Warrior from Victoria Station to Westminster Abbey. In connection with the exhibition, Victoria Station is hosting a pop-up display between 9th and 16th November on the journey of the Unknown Warrior from the Western Front to Westminster Abbey (the coffin actually arrived in London on 10th November, 1920). Admission charge applies (at Chelsea). Runs until 14th February (online booking required). For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

Model steam locomotive, 1:12 scale, working, represents a standard passenger type locomotive c.1837, made by Mr. J. Dawson, District Superintendent at Southampton of the London & Southampton Railway.

Model making in the “age of the railways” is the subject of a free exhibition now on at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Brass, Steel and Fire features intricate models from the Science Museum Group Collection as well as stunning miniature locomotives and a display of almost 200 tools used by model-maker Keith Dodgson. Highlights include ‘Salamanca’, the world’s oldest model locomotive (on loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries), a model of ‘Fire King’ – made in the 1840s by apprentice Josiah Evans who used his experience to later build full size locomotives, and the world’s oldest working model steam engine, the Etherley winding engine model. The exhibition is free and runs until 3rd May. Online booking required. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/brass-steel-and-fire.

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10 London buildings that were relocated…6. The spire of St Antholin…

The St Antholin spire in Sydenham. PICTURE: IanVisits (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Of medieval origins,the Church of St Antholin, which stood on the corner of Sise Lane and Budge Row, had been a fixture in the City of London for hundreds of years before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, it survived until 1874 when it was finally demolished to make way for Queen Victoria Street.

But, while the building itself was destroyed (and we’ll take a more in-depth look at its history in an upcoming article), a section of Wren’s church does still survive – the upper part of his octagonal spire (apparently the only one he had built of stone).

This was replaced at some stage in the 19th century – it has been suggested this took place in 1829 after the spire was damaged by lightning although other dates prior to the church’s demolition have also been named as possibilities.

Whenever its removal took place, the spire was subsequently sold to one of the churchwardens, an innovative printing works proprietor named Robert Harrild, for just £5. He had it re-erected on his property, Round Hill House, in Sydenham.

Now Grade II-listed, the spire, features a distinctive weathervane (variously described as a wolf’s head or a dragon’s head). Mounted on a brick plinth, it still stands at the location, now part of a more modern housing estate, just off Round Hill in Sydenham.

Lost London – The Tower Royal…

PICTURED: Not the Tower Royal, but a window from the Tower of London.

Dating possibly from as far back as the early medieval period, this royal lodging once stood in the City of London.

The building, which has been described variously as a palace as well as a strongly defended tower house, was located in the parish of St Michael Paternoster and gave its name – Tower Royall – to the street in which it was located (now long gone).

It has been suggested the property could date from as far back as the reign of King Henry I in the early 12th century and it has also been said that King Stephen is said to have lodged there later that same century (although some put the origins a bit later, possibly in the reign of King Edward I, who ruled from 1272 to 1307).

It was apparently in the possession of King Edward III in 1320 – he is said to have granted it to his wife, Queen Phillippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe there (hence it was sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen’s Wardrobe’).

On Queen Phillippa’s death, the king is said to have granted it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster but by 1371 it was apparently back in royal hands – Joan of Kent, the mother of the future King Richard II was living there at that time (Richard when king, apparently rode there to tell her of the suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381).

It is said to have been given to the Duke of Norfolk by his friend, King Richard III, in the 15th century, but, according to 16th century historian John Stow, by 1598 it had fallen into disrepair and was used for stabling the king’s horses.

The premises – believed to be located close to what is now Cannon Street, not far from Mansion House Tube Station – was among the buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was not rebuilt.

10 London buildings that were relocated…4. The tower of All Hallows Lombard Street…

One of the lost churches of the City of London, All Hallows Lombard Street once stood on the corner of this famous City street and Ball Alley.

Dating from medieval times, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London and, while the parishioners initially tried their own repairs, it was subsequently rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren and completed by 1679.

All Hallows Twickenham
All Hallows Twickenham on Chertsey Road. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0

The result was apparently a rather plan building but it did feature a three storey tower (in fact, so hemmed in by other buildings did it become that some called it the “invisible church”). The church also featured a porch which had come from the dissolved Priory of St John in Clerkenwell and had, from what we can gather, been part of the previous building.

Among those who preached in the rebuilt church was John Wesley in 1789 (he apparently forgot his notes and, after some heckling from the congregation, it’s said he never used notes again).

The parish of St Dionis Backchurch was merged with All Hallows when the latter was demolished in 1878 (All Hallows has already been merged with St Benet Gracechurch when that church was demolished in 1868 and St Leonard Eastcheap in 1876). Bells from St Dionis Backchurch were brought to All Hallows following the merger.

The declining residential population in the City saw the consolidation of churches and following World War I, All Hallows Lombard Street was listed for demolition. There was considerable opposition to the decision but structural defects were found in the building’s fabric and demolition eventually took place in 1937.

But there was to be a second life of sorts for the church. The square, stone tower, including the porch and fittings from the church such as the pulpit, pews, organ and stunning carved altarpiece, were all used in the construction of a new church, All Hallows Twickenham in Chertsey Road.

Designed by architect Robert Atkinson, it was one of a couple of new churches built with proceeds from the sale of the land on which All Hallows Lombard Street had stood.

Replacing an earlier chapel, the new Twickenham church was consecrated on 9th November, 1940 by the Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher (apparently with the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background).

The 32 metre high tower houses a peal of 10 bells, including some of those from St Dionis Backchurch, as well as an oak framed gate decorated with memento mori carvings – including skulls and crossbones – which came from All Hallows Lombard Street.