Agatha_ChristieToday marks 125 years since the birth of the world’s best-selling novelist, Agatha Christie, subject of this memorial which was unveiled in Covent Garden in 2012.

Standing at St Martin’s Cross – the intersection of Cranbourn and Great Newport Streets, the memorial – which also marks 60 years and 25,000 performances of her record breaking long-running London play The Mousetrap – is the work of sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies.

It takes the form of a 2.4 metre high book with a bust of Christie in profile and features a series of motifs from Christie’s works as well as a ‘bookshelf’ of her best sellers in English and other languages, the titles of which were selected in a competition involving fans.

Christie, who was born on 15th September, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, and died on 12th January, 1976, is famous for the scores of detective novels she wrote – featuring the likes of detectives Miss Marple and London’s own Hercule Poirot – which have gone on to sell more than two billion copies around the world.

The memorial was unveiled on 18th November, 2012, by Christie’s grandson, Matthew Pritchard, along with Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, chairman of Mousetrap Productions, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Angela Harvey.

For more on the memorial, see www.agathachristiememorial.co.uk. For more on events surrounding the anniversary, see www.agathachristie.com.

PICTURE: Diagram Lajard

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Florin-Court

Since we’re talking about the homes of detectives, we’ll continue on that trend with a look at the home of Agatha Christie’s creation Hercule Poirot as it appears in the TV series of the same name (now in its 13th and final season).

The Belgian-born detective, who featured in some 33 novels and 65 short stories, rose to the rank of the police chief of the city Brussels before the outbreak of World War I forced him to leave his home for England. There he met up with his friend Captain Arthur Hastings – they had apparently previously met – and undertakes some government work before eventually embarking upon his new career as a private detective.

He subsequently moves into an art deco flat which becomes his workplace and home at 56B Whitehavens Mansions (he apparently chose the building based on its symmetry).  In the TV show, the art deco block chosen to represent this building is the Grade II-listed Florin Court, located on the eastern side of Charterhouse Square in Smithfield.

Actually built in 1936 – well after Poirot apparently moved in – the nine floor building has a curvaceous facade and boasts some 120 flats along with a basement swimming pool and rooftop garden. Interestingly, last July there was a fire in a first floor flat causing the entire building to be evacuated.

Poirot apparently lived in a couple of different apartments in the building and was also known at times to reside in The Savoy Hotel and The Park Lane Hotel.

PICTURE: Goodwillgames/Wikimedia Commons

This strangely named church has its origins at least as far back as the 12th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury. 

The name St Vedast is in itself unusual – St Vedast (known as St Vaast elsewhere) is said to have been the Bishop of Arras in northern France during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. How his name came to be associated with a church in London remains a matter of speculation but one plausible explanation is that the church was founded in the twelfth century by a small group of French merchants who had emigrated from Arras.

The ‘alias Foster’ part of the name is perhaps easier to explain although it has led to considerable confusion over the years. While some have in the past suggested the name refers to a different obscure saint – that is, the church is dedicated to St Vedast and St Foster – Foster is actually just an corrupted Anglicised version of Vedast.

But back to the church’s history. The medieval building was apparently replaced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and in the early 1600s this was enlarged and “beautified”. It escaped total destruction during the Great Fire of London but was badly enough damaged to require restoration and this was carried out, albeit not very well, so that in the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren was asked to rebuild it.

Given the demands of Wren’s time elsewhere, it’s not known if he personally designed the resulting church (the spire is possibly the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor), but the church was rebuilt and stood until 194o when the body of the building was ruined in the Blitz. The spire, however, survived and the restoration of the remainder of the church was completed in 1962.

It was also after World War II that the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – St Alban Wood Street, St Anne & St Agnes, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Michael-le-Querne, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Chepe, St Olave Silver Street, St Michael Wood Street, St Mary Staining, St Mary Magdalene Milk Street, St John Zachary, and St Michael Bassishaw, of which only the buildings of St Lawrence Jewry and St Anne and St Agnes remain along with the tower of St Alban Wood Street).

Although the bulk of the building of St Vedast-alias-Foster is modern, the church does retain its seventeenth century Great West Doors and the font also comes from that century, having been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons for the church of St Anne and St Agnes. The reredos which stands behind the altar, meanwhile, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed, and originally stood in St Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street. Other features to come from other churches include the seventeenth century pulpit (All Hallows, Bread Street) and swordrest (St Anne and St Agnes).

The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under St Matthew Friday Street and a stone (actually baked brick) upon which is inscribed cuneiform writing. The latter, which comes from a Zigurrat in modern Iraq built in the 9th century BC, was presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, marking his work with novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and was found during his 1950-65 dig on the site. The lump of stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC.

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Thomas Rotherham, rector of the church from from 1463-48 and later Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

WHERE: 4 Foster Lane (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 8am to 5.30pm weekdays/11am to 4pm Saturday (Mass is held between 12.15 and 12.45 weekdays and a sung Eucharist at 11am on Sundays) COST: Free but a donation of at least £1 per head is asked; WEBSITE: www.vedast.org.uk.

Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair (now officially the Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel) is generally awarded the accolade of being London’s oldest hotel. 

The hotel, which initially fronted on to Dover Street, was founded in a series of former Georgian townhouses in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, formerly valet and maid to Lord and Lady Byron.

After being sold to the Ford family in 1859, the hotel was extensively modernised with electricity, the installation of permanent bath tubs, lifts, and in first for London hotels, an on-site restaurant. The building itself underwent a major expansion in the late 1890s when the family bought the St George’s Hotel which backed onto Brown’s and fronted onto Albemarle Street. The two buildings were merged into one, an extra floor added, and a new facade built for the hotel facing out onto Albemarle Street (pictured right). Three further townhouses were incorporated into the building in the early 1900s.

Possibly the most notable event to take place at the hotel was in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call there. Other visitors included authors Rudyard Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book while resident) and Agatha Christie (At Bertram’s Hotel is said to be based on Brown’s), royalty such as Queen Victoria and the French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie (they stayed in 1871), and world leaders like US Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (said to count the bar among his favorities), Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia, and Emperor Haile Selassie, who took refuge there in 1936 after the Italians invaded Ethiopia.

The hotel, which now features 117 guestrooms, underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment in the mid-Noughties after becoming part of the Rocco Forte Collection of hotels. As well as The Albemarle restaurant and The Donovan Bar, it also serves award-winning afternoon teas at The English Tea Room.

For more about Brown’s Hotel, see www.brownshotel.com.