To end our series on memorials in London commemorating the Great Fire of 1666 – marking the event’s 350th anniversary – we’re taking a look at what is one of the smallest monuments in the City (and, despite all rumour, possibly not a memorial to the Great Fire at all).

philpot-lane-miceMidway up the wall of a building at the corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane, not far from The Monument (for more on its history, see our earlier post here), can be seen two brown mice fighting over a piece of cheese.

The mice are commonly said to be a memorial, not to anyone who died during the fire, but to two men who died while building The Monument itself.

The cheese apparently relates to the story in that the two men fell to the deaths while fighting after one accused the other of eating his cheese sandwich. The two mice, one for each of the men, relate to the fact that it was apparently mice who were later found to be the culprits.

But we need to point out that not all agree on the memorial aspect of the mice, which have apparently been decorating the building’s cornice since the mid-1800s – and there are legitimate questions: why, for example, would the Victorians when constructing the property commemorate two long dead workers and how had the story even reached them of their deaths?

One theory is that the mice do commemorate two men who died in the circumstances described, but while building the property they are located upon and not The Monument at all.

The building, meanwhile, is said to have been constructed as offices and warehouses for spice merchants Hunt & Crombie – it’s been suggested the mice were merely part of the decorations made for the building and not a memorial at all.

Whatever the origins of the mice – and whether they represent a memorial or not – we thought they were a nice way to close out the special series on Great Fire of London commemorative sites. We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series shortly.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This year marks 350 years since the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City of London and to mark the anniversary, we’re today launching a new special series looking at some of the lesser known – and, in some cases, more unusual – memorials and plaques commemorating the event.

Thomas-Farriner-plaqueSure, everyone knows about The Monument near London Bridge erected to commemorate the event (see our earlier post on it here). But often overlooked is the plaque located in nearby Pudding Lane commemorating the site where the fire began in the early hours of 2nd September, 1666 – the bakery of Thomas Farriner (also variously spelt Faryner or Farynor).

The plaque, located close to the corner of Pudding Lane and Monument Street, was erected in 1986 by the Worshipful Company of Bakers to mark the anniversary of their Royal Charter being granted by King Henry VII some 500 years earlier. It reads (in part): “Near this site stood the shop belonging to Thomas Faryner, the King’s baker, in which the Great Fire of September 1666 began.”

While that fits with the long-held idea that the location of the bakery was 202 feet (61 metres) from the where the Monument stands, the same height of the memorial column itself, new research claims that the site of the bakery was not actually where Pudding Lane now stands but in nearby Monument Street instead.

Drawing on a planning document dating from 1679 and found within the London Metropolitan Archives, academic Dorian Gerhold reportedly cross-referenced the document with later maps and concluded that the baker’s oven was actually located on what is now Monument Street, 60 feet to the east of the intersection with Pudding Lane.

Farriner, meanwhile, was, as a king’s baker, a supplier to the Royal Navy. During the fire, the widower managed to escape the flames along with his three children (although their housemaid, unable or unwilling to escape out a window, perished). He was later able to rebuild the bakery and his home and when he died only a few years after the fire, left considerable sums to his children.

Incidentally, Farriner, his daughter Hanna and his son Thomas were all in the jury which convicted Frenchman Robert Hubert of starting the fire in their bakery by tossing a grenade in through the window (Hubert had confessed and, despite the fact that it’s believed few thought him actually guilty, he was convicted and hanged at Tyburn on 27th October, 1666, for the crime of arson.)

PICTURE: Steve James/Flickr/CC BY_NC-ND 2.0 (cropped and straightened)

The playwright is believed to have lived in several different locations in London and is also known to have invested in a property. Here we take a look at a couple of different locations associated with him…

St-Helen'sBishopsgate: Shakespeare is believed to have lived here in the 1590s – in 1596 tax records show he was living in the parish of St Helen’s. The twin-nave church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (pictured), which would have been his parish church, still stands. In fact, there is a window to Shakespeare’s memory dating from the late 19th century.

•  Bankside: In the late 1590s, Shakespeare apparently moved across the Thames to Bankside where he lived at a property on lands in the Liberty of the Clink which belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. The exact address remains unknown.

Silver Street, Cripplegate: It’s known that in 1604, Shakespeare moved from Bankside back to the City – it’s been speculated outbreaks of plaque may have led him to do so. Back in the City, he rented lodgings at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy in on the corner of Monkwell and Silver Streets in Cripplegate, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. Mountjoy was a refugee, a French Huguenot, and a tire-maker (manufacturer of ladies’ ornamental headresses). The house, which apparently stood opposite the churchyard of the now removed St Olave Silver Street, was consumed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the church was also lost in the Great Fire). The former church site is now located on the south side of London Wall. Silver Street itself was wiped out in the Blitz and is now lost under the Barbican redevelopment but the house lives on in a representation found on a late 16th century map created by Ralph Agas.

Ireland Yard, Blackfriars: In 1613, Shakespeare purchased the former gatehouse of the Blackfriars Priory located here, close to the where the Blackfriars Theatre was located. It is believed the property was purchased as an investment – there’s no evidence he ever lived there but it was passed to his daughter Susanna after his death. Incidentally, there is some speculation that Shakespeare may have lived in Blackfriars when he first came to London – a man believed to have been a boyhood friend from Stratford, Richard Field, who was known to have lived there.

For a more in-depth look at Shakespeare’s time in Silver Street, see Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street.

St-Dunstan-in-the-East

The ruins of this medieval church can still be found in the eastern end of the City of London and now play host to a rather delightful little park.

Originally built around 1,100 in the Gothic style, the church – which stands between St Dunstan’s Hill and Idol Lane (off Great Tower Street) was enlarged and repaired in ensuing centuries before suffering severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not enough to destroy the church, however, and it was repaired in the late 1660s with a new steeple and tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren to fit with the existing structure, was added in the late 1690s. Inside were carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

St-Dunstan-in-the-East-smallBut by the early 19th century, however, the weight of the roof had pushed the walls dramatically out of line and, after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the church, it was decided to demolish it (with the exception of Wren’s tower) and rebuild.

Built in the Perpendicular style to the designs of David Laing, the new church reopened in 1821.

The church lasted for more than 100 years before it was again severely damaged, this time during the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s spire and tower thankfully remained but other than that it was a shell with only the north and south walls remaining.

The Anglican Church decided not to rebuild – the parish was incorporated into that of All Hallows by the Tower – and the City of London Corporation opted to turn the (now) Grade I-Iisted remains into a public park. It was opened in 1971 by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd.

It remains there today, with beautiful climbing foliage – including many exotic plants – and a fountain in the nave. The tower, meanwhile, is used by a complementary medical centre.

A great place to pass a lunch hour!

Ye-Olde-WatlingThis pub, located in the City, takes its name from the street upon which it stands – Watling Street.

The street, which is just 180 metres long, bears the same name as a great Roman road which ran all the way from Dover through London to the long gone Roman town of Viroconium (now known as Wroxeter in Shropshire).

The Roman road followed, to some extent, the route of an ancient Celtic pathway. But while the Celtic pathway crossed the Thames at Westminster, the Roman road, once the bridge was constructed, crossed at London Bridge and headed through London, apparently taking in this surviving piece.

The building itself – located on the intersection with Bow Lane – is said to have been constructed from old ship’s timbers by none other than Sir Christopher Wren in 1668. The upstairs rooms were said to have been used as a drawing office during the construction of Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. It may have also been used as  pub by the workmen building the cathedral – in fact it’s said to have been the first pub built after the Great Fire of 1666.

The pub is part of the Nicholson group. For more on it, check out www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/yeoldewatlingwatlingstreetlondon.

PICTURE: Duncan Harris/Wikipedia

Paternoster-Square

Looking down on Paternoster Square from St Paul’s Cathedral. The 23.3 metre tall pillar at the centre of the square is the  Paternoster Square Column. Designed by architects Whitfield Partners (responsible for the square’s redevelopment in the early 2000s) and topped by a gilded copper urn with flames coming out of the top, it serves as a ventilation shaft for a carpark underneath. The redevelopment of the square – home to the London Stock Exchange since 2004 – followed an earlier redevelopment in the 1960s (needed after aerial bombing destroyed the area in World War II, the second time the area had been destroyed – the first was when the Great Fire of London swept through in 1666). The square takes it name from Paternoster Row which once ran through it. For more, see www.paternostersquare.info.

PICTURE: David Adams

We’re yet to take an in-depth look at Old St Paul’s Cathedral – that is, the building that stood on the existing site before being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 – but today we thought we’d focus on just one aspect of the former church – the old chapterhouse. 

Located in the South Churchyard on the Thames side of St Paul’s Cathedral, the location of the chapterhouse is today marked out by raised stonework (the actual building remains lay a few feet below) which can be freely accessed from the street.

The octagonal chapterhouse, which replaced an earlier chapterhouse, stood in the middle of a 100 foot square arcaded cloister, both of which were designed by the royal mason, William Ramsay, in 1332 during the reign of King Edward III, in one of the first known examples of what is referred to as the ‘Perpendicular Gothic’ style.

Designed as a two-storey building for better air circulation, the actual chapter room was located on the second floor of the chapterhouse over an undercroft below and it was here the monks would meet daily to discuss affairs relating to the cathedral (the word chapterhouse comes from the fact that it was while in this room the monks would be a read a daily chapter from the body of rules governing them).

The marked out chapterhouse (pictured above – the chairs are standing inside the chapterhouse) was unveiled in 2008 following a £3.8 million redevelopment of the South Churchyard, itself part of the bigger, recently completed, overhaul of the entire cathedral).

WHERE: South Churchyard, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: Anytime;  COST: Free  (to go inside the cathedral costs £15 an adult/£14 concessions and students/£6 a child (6-18 years)/£36 a family of four); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk

Lost London – Queenhithe…

September 7, 2012

Not, strictly speaking, lost, Queenhithe – a dock on the north bank of the Thames – is nonetheless these days merely a shadow of its former self.

There has been a dock here since Saxon times when it is recorded that King Alfred (he of ‘The Great’ fame), established a harbour here in 883. It was then known as Ethelred’s Hythe (the Ethelred being that of his brother-in-law and ‘hythe’ being a Saxon word for a trading shore where goods could be traded directly out of boats).

Queenhithe took its name from Queen Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, who was granted dues from goods being traded at the dock in the early 1100’s – a right which was later inherited by future English queens.

The dock reached the peak of its popularity in the 13th century when it became the principal site for the landing of grain and other food supplies to feed London but in the 15th century, the dock’s importance waned as other docks downstream, better suited to larger watercraft, took over much of its trade.

Remains of the wooden timbers which in medieval times lined the Thames waterfront have been found here. The inlet for Queenhithe’s harbour (pictured above) is one of few left on The Thames.

The name these days gives itself to Queenhithe street (which leads to the inlet) and the Queenhithe Ward, one of 25 wards in the City of London. There was also a former church known as St Michael Queenhithe – it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and then demolished in the late 19th century.

A new bust of priest and poet John Donne was unveiled outside St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this year. Donne was made  Dean of St Paul’s in 1621, a position he held until his death 10 years later. He was subsequently buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral and a memorial to him – a likeness apparently based on a drawing of him in his shroud – was the only monument to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666. It’s still inside the cathedral. The new bronze bust, located in the garden to the south of the cathedral, was the work of artist Nigel Boonham and has Donne looking east towards his birth place in nearby Bread Street. The text “Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West/This day, when my Soul’s form bends to the East” – taken from the poem Good-Friday, 1613, Riding Westward – is inscribed underneath the bust. Commissioned by the City of London, the sculpture was unveiled in June by the artist and Professor Peter McCullough, one of the cathedral’s Lay Canons. For more on St Paul’s, see www.stpauls.co.ukPICTURE: Graham Lacdao / The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.