• Cambridge took the line honours over Oxford in this year’s Boat Race on the Thames in what has been billed as one of the most dramatic races in its 158 race history. The race was interrupted when a swimmer, described as an anti-elitist protestor, was spotted in the water and, following a restart near the Chiswick Eyot, the boat crews clashed oars and one of the Oxford crew lost his oar’s spoon. Cambridge pulled steadily ahead with Oxford an oar down and was declared the winner by four and a quarter lengths. The presentation ceremony was subsequently not held after Oxford’s bow man collapsed and was rushed to hospital where was reported to be recovering well. The win takes Cambridge’s victories to 81 compared to Oxford’s 76. For more, see http://theboatrace.org. (For more on the history of the Boat Race, see our entry from last year).

Epping Forest’s bluebells are out in force and to celebrate the City of London Corporation is holding a series of events including an art exhibition at The Temple in Wanstead Park. The exhibition, Out of the Blue, celebrates the bluebells of Chalet Wood and features a “miscellany of bluebell images, artwork, folklore and fairies”. A free event, it runs until 27th May. This Sunday the Temple will also host an art afternoon with local artist Barbara Sampson and on 29th April photographer Robert Good will hold a course on photography around the forest. Both are free events. For more details, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/epping.

• “Porky pies” (lies) is the most used Cockney phrase, according to a survey of Britons on their knowledge and use of Cockney. The Museum of London survey of 2,000 people, including 1,000 from London, also found that “apples and pears” (stairs) was the most well-known Cockney phrase and that while a majority of people knew what common phrases like “brown bread” meant (in this case dead), only small percentages of people used them. And while 63 per cent of respondents believed Cockney slang was crucial to London’s identity, 40 per cent were convinced it is dying out and 33 per cent were sad at its passing. Strictly speaking, a ‘Cockney’ is someone who was born within the sound of bow bells at the church of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, but according to Alex Werner, head of history collections at the museum, “people from all corners of London identify themselves as being Cockney”. He said that while for many people “Cockney rhyming slang is intrinsic to the identity of London”, the research the Cockney dialect “may not be enjoying the same level of popularity”. The research found that among the least known Cockney rhyming slang phrases included “white mice” (ice), “donkey’s ears” (years), and “loop de loop” (soup). For more from the museum, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• The life of influential newspaper editor and Titanic victim, William Stead, will be celebrated at a two day conference next week. Hosted by the British Library, in association with Birkbeck College and the University of Birmingham, the conference will feature 40 speakers from around the world. Stead, who was editor of The Pall Mall Gazette, was a controversial figure who is credited with being one of the inventors of the modern tabloid. He died on the Titanic‘s maiden voyage – the 100th anniversary of which is being marked this month. W.T. Stead: A Centenary Conference for a Newspaper Revolutionary takes place from 16th to 17th April, 2012. Tickets (£45 for one day or £85 for two days) can be booked by visiting the box office in the St Pancras building or phoning 01937 546546. The programme for the conference can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/stead2012/.

• On Now: Titian’s First Masterpiece: The Flight into Egypt. The National Gallery is hosting a new exhibition focused on the then young artist’s creation of the magnificent painting The Flight into Egypt in the 16th century. The artwork, lent to the National Gallery by the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, has recently been restored and the exhibition represents the first time the painting has been seen outside Russia since 1768 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased it in Venice. Admission is free. Runs until 19th August. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

We’ve already touched on the history of St Mary-le-Bow in our earlier series on Sir Christopher Wren but thought it was worth revisiting in a bit more detail. 

Another of Wren’s churches (after all, remember he designed more than 50 in the city), St Mary-le-Bow, on the corner of Cheapside and Bow Lane, has a history dating back at least to the Norman Conquest (although it is thought it may stand on the site of an earlier Saxon church) when it was constructed of Caen stone on the orders of Lanfranc, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and was perhaps seen as a symbol of Norman oppression.

The name ‘le Bow’ is said to come from the Norman arches (it was apparently initially known as St Mary de Arcubus) which stand in what is now the crypt – this would have only been partially underground when built. From 1251, it hosted one of the church’s most important courts, which, thanks to its location, was known as the Court of the Arches. There is now a cafe in the crypt.

Like many other churches in the City, St Mary-le-Bow has been repeatedly repaired and rebuilt – following damage in a tornado in the late 11th century, the collapse of its tower in 1271, and, of course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 – Wren’s subsequent rebuilding included the construction of the fine great tower (pictured here against the backdrop of more modern City buildings, it was his second tallest structure after St Paul’s and was built to accommodate the Bow bells ). The church’s most recent remodelling was in 1964 after it was almost completely destroyed during bombing in May, 1941.

One of the church’s most important claims to fame is its bells. These included the city’s principal curfew bell, rung at 9pm each day since at least as far back as 1363. It is said that ‘true Londoners’ or ‘Cockneys’ must be born within hearing of the Bow bells and it was the pealing of the Bow bells (or what may have only been one bell at the time) which, of course, caused thrice-mayor Dick Whittington to turn back when leaving London. The church (in particular, its curfew bell) is also among a number of City churches mentioned in various versions of the rhyming song, Oranges and Lemons.

Features inside include a memorial to the first British Governor of New South Wales in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born nearby, and a bronze relief of St George and the Dragon given by Norway in commemoration of the work of the Norwegian Resistance during World War II. The churchyard outside contains a statue of Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia, and former parishioner.

For an indepth history of the church, you can’t go past the rather comprehensive St Mary-le-Bow: A History.

WHERE: Cheapside (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 7.30am to 6pm Monday to Wednesday (closes 6.30pm Thursday and 4pm Friday and not usually open on weekends or bank holidays)COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylebow.co.uk.

What’s in a name?…Cheapside

September 12, 2011

One of the major thoroughfares of the City of London, the name is reflective of its role as a marketplace with the medieval English word ‘cheap’ generally been taken to mean market.

Starting from the intersection of Newgate Street and St Martin’s Le Grand through to where it runs into Poultry, the street was apparently originally known as Westcheap – Eastcheap is still located down near the Monument. Cheapside’s surrounding streets – including Poultry, Milk Street, and Bread Street give indication of the sorts of goods that were once sold in the area.

Cheapside was, in medieval times, an important street and was on the processional route royalty would have taken from Westminster to the Tower of London. It is the site of St Mary-le-Bow Church (it’s said that if you’re born within hearing of the Bow bells you’re a true Londoner), and, until the Great Fire of 1666, the eastern end of Cheapside was the site of the end of the Great Conduit where water arrived after being piped in from the Tyburn River in the west.

Key figures associated with Cheapside include slain Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, born there in 1118, poet John Milton, born on the adjoining Bread Street in 1608, and writer Geoffrey Chaucer. A glimpse into the street’s past was found in 1912 when the Cheapside Hoard was unearthed during the demolition of a building there (you can see our earlier post on that here).

The area was heavily bombed during World War II.

Lined with shops, restaurants and office buildings, Cheapside today remains close to the heart of the city and is currently undergoing significant redevelopment, the recently opened swanky shopping centre at One New Change being an example.

Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for designing more than 50 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. We’ve already touched on a couple in this series – St Paul’s, of course, and St Bride’s in Fleet Street – and while we won’t be looking at all of rest in detail, here are three stars that have survived…

• St Stephen Walbrook, which is the parish church of the Lord Mayor and was that of Wren himself, is a little gem of a church and is generally thought to be the finest of Wren’s city churches from an architectural perspective. Tucked away behind Mansion House in Walbrook, the church as we know it was built between 1672-79 (although there may have been a Christian church on the site as early as 700 AD) and features a beautiful coffered dome (a sign of what was to come when Wren built St Paul’s). These days the chairs are arranged around white altar stone by sculptor Henry Moore which has been placed under the centre of the dome. Other features worth noting are Wren’s original altar screen and a glass-encased telephone which was the first dedicated help-line in London for the suicidal established by the charity Samaritans. These days the church is home to the London Internet Church. For more information, see http://ststephenwalbrook.net.

• St Mary-le-Bow, which is named for the bow-shaped arches in the Norman-era crypt, was rebuilt by Wren in 1670-80 after the Great Fire. In keeping with the church’s name, he designed a steeple with arches resembling the ‘bows’ below. While the church, located in Cheapside, was badly damaged when bombed in World War II, the steeple – topped by an original 1674 weathervane shaped like a dragon – remained standing along with the outer walls. The church was restored in the mid-Twentieth century and the bells, destroyed in a German air raid, rehung. It’s said that only those born within the sound of St Mary’s bells can be said to be true Cockneys (the Bow bells were also those Dick Whittington apparently heard when leaving London, leading him to turn around and embrace fame and fortune). For more information, see www.stmarylebow.co.uk.

• St Mary-at-Hill, which has served the parish of Billingsgate for almost 1,000 years, was one of the first to be rebuilt after the Great Fire. Both Wren and his assistant Robert Hooke were believed to have been involved in building the church, which was completed in 1677 and lies in Lovat Lane, just off Eastcheap. It was designed as a Greek cross with a dome at its centre  – Wren later put forward a similar design for for St Paul’s which was rejected. Overhauled in the late 1700s and a couple of times in the 1800s, it survived World War II only to be damaged extensively by fire in 1988 after which it was restored. The church’s connection to Billingsgate – the site of London’s former fish market lies just down the road – means that the fish harvest is still celebrated here every October. For more information, see www.stmary-at-hill.org.