This rather unremarkable obelisk on Putney Heath actually commemorates the invention of ‘Fireproof House’ and was erected, not coincidentally, on the 110th anniversary of the great conflagration.

hartley-obeliskThe rather eccentric David Hartley, an inventor and MP, came up with the idea of sheathing joists under floorboards with thin layers of what were initially iron and later iron and copper plating to prevent the spread of fire in homes and ships and was granted a patent for his system in 1773.

Known as ‘Hartley’s Fire Plates’, he claimed in a pamphlet that a single fireplate might have prevented the Great Fire – a claim which got other MPs excited and led them to grant him cash – £2,500 – to continue his experiments as well as an extension on his patent, from the usual 15 to 31 years.

His experiments included building homes for the express purpose of setting them alight to test his invention, one of which he built on Wimbledon Common. Known as the ‘Fireproof House’, the property was repeatedly set alight in front of prominent witnesses.

These included MPs, the Lord Mayor of London and Aldermen of the City of London – who granted Hartley the Freedom of the City and encouraged fire plates to be included in all new buildings in London – and, of course, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. One of the tests was apparently carried out while the royal family was eating breakfast in an upstairs room inside (they survived unscathed – one hates to think of Hartley’s fate should they not have).

The house is now gone but the Hartley Memorial Obelisk, erected just off Wildcroft Road in what were formerly the grounds of Wildcroft Manor, remains.

The red brick and stone Grade II-listed structure was erected by the City of London Corporation in 1776, the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, to commemorate Hartley’s invention of fire plates. The first stone in the monument – which is attributed to George Dance – was laid by the then Lord Mayor, John Sawbridge.

PICTURE: David Antis/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

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A covered – and splendidly decorated – Victorian-era market located just off Gracechurch Street in the heart of the City of London, Leadenhall Market might go un-noticed by many but visit at lunchtime on a weekday and you’ll to fight for space among the besuited City workers looking for sustenance there.

The history of a market on this site goes back to Roman times for it was under the current market that the remains of Londinium’s basilica and forum – the Roman marketplace – can be found (there’s apparently a part of the basilica wall in the basement of one of the Leadenhall shops).

This fell into disuse following the Roman period, however, and the origins of the current market are generally agreed upon as emerging in the 14th century when it occupied the site of a lead-roofed manor (hence “leaden hall) which was at one stage leased by the famous Lord Mayor Richard “Dick” Whittington before it burnt down in the late 1400s. The subsequent market was initially associated with poultry and then with cheese and other foodstuffs (it remained known for game and poultry) and separate areas were later developed for trade in wool, leather and cutlery.

In 1666, a small section of the market was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but it was rebuilt shortly after – for the first time under cover – and was divided into three sections: the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market.

In 1881, after the existing building was demolished, a new structure boasting wrought iron and glass was designed by Sir Horace Jones (architect for the Corporation of the City of London, he also designed Billingsgate and Smithfield Markets – see our earlier entries here and here). The market is now one of the City’s five principal shopping centres and, as well as fresh food and flowers, hosts a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The Grade II* listed building was extensively restored in 1991. It has since starred in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as well as other films including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Before we finish, we would be remiss not to mention Old Tom. A celebrated gander, he managed to avoid the axe for years and became a favorite of traders and customers (even being fed by local innkeepers) – so much so, that when he died at the age of 38 in 1835, his body lay in state before he was buried on site. There’s a bar in the market named for him.

WHERE: Gracechurch Street, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: Public areas are generally open 24 hours a day with core trading hours between 10am and 5pm weekdays (check with individual shops for opening hours); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk

PICTURE: DAVID ILIFF. Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia.