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

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In this, the final in our series looking at Shakespeare’s London, we take a quick look at some of the plethora of London locations mentioned by the Bard in his historical plays. Some we have already covered, but here are a few more…

Westminster-AbbeyWestminster Abbey (pictured): We’ve already talked about Poet’s Corner but Shakespeare himself makes mention of Westminster Abbey in his plays, notably in Henry VI, Part I, when it’s the scene of Henry V’s funeral. The Jerusalem Chamber, principal room of Cheyneygates, the medieval house of abbots of Westminster is mentioned in Henry IV, Part II.

The Houses of Parliament: True, the buildings have changed somewhat since Shakespeare’s day but the former Palace of Westminster is the site of scenes in numerous plays including Richard IIHenry IV, Part II and Henry VI, Part III are set. Among rooms mentioned is Westminster Hall which survives today from the original building.

The Tower of London: As one would expect, this prominent London landmark pops up in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Henry VI, Part I and Richard III where its plays a rather central role – among the events recorded in the latter play are the infamous drowning of Richard III’s elder brother George in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Ely House: The London residence of the bishops of Ely, this long gone building is mentioned in Richard II (for more on Ely House see our earlier posts on Ye Olde Mitre Tavern here and St Etheldreda’s Church here ).

The London Stone: Now at 111 Cannon Street, the London Stone originally was located at another location in Cannon Street and its here in Henry VI, Part II, that rebel Jack Cade stops to strike his sword upon the stone (for more on the London Stone, see our earlier post here).

Other London sites mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays include generic “London Streets” (mentioned in a number of plays), “Eastcheap, near the Boar’s Head Tavern” (Henry IV, Part II), the Temple Garden (Henry VI, Part I) and Blackheath (Henry VI, Part II).

This central London thoroughfare runs through the heart of the City of London and has been a main thoroughfare since Roman times.

Gracechurch-StreetStretching from Eastcheap (near the Monument) to Leadenhall Street, the street runs over the site of what was Roman London’s forum and basilica (see our earlier post on the Roman buildings here).

The name, meanwhile, comes from the former medieval church of St Benet Gracechurch which was once located on the corner of Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets.

The church, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren before finally being demolished in 1876, was named for St Benedict (St Benet is a short form) while Gracechurch – which was used after the Great Fire – was a corruption of Grasschurch, a reference to it being located near a hay market (in fact, the church was also known as St Benet Grass). The street was also known as Gracious Street.

Landmarks along Gracechurch Street including the Leadenhall Market (see our earlier post here) and a 30s-inspired modern building of note which stands at number 20.

PICTURE: Looking down Gracechurch Street toward the Monument.

For more on London’s Wren churches, see John Christopher’s Wren’s City of London Churches.

Where is it?…#46

October 12, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Carol Stanley – this is indeed located at 20 Eastcheap in the City of London. The building on the facade of which this relief of a camel train sits was formerly the offices of Peek Bros & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices. Peek House was built in 1883 after the previous structure, along with others on this side of Eastcheap, was demolished to make way for the Underground’s Metropolitan Line. The picture was carved by William Theed the Younger, who also sculpted the Africa group – including camel – on the Albert Memorial.

One of the major thoroughfares of the City of London, Cannon Street’s name has nothing at all to do with artillery or religion. In fact, the street, which runs from St Paul’s Churchyard in the west to Eastcheap in the east, owes its name to the industry that once took place there.

Like many other streets in the City connected with the occupations of past residents, Cannon Street is a corruption of a street formerly known as Candelwichstrete (one of many various spellings of which the modern English version is Candlewick Street) which relates to the candlemakers and wax chandlers who lived and conducted their trade along the street in the Middle Ages (the Tallow Chandlers Company, involved in regulating candle-making, has been located in adjoining Dowgate Hill since 1476, although the current building dates from 1672).

The name was gradually corrupted into Cannon Street (apparently the corruption was at least partly due to its pronunciation in the Cockney dialect), which is what it was known as by the late 17th century when the seemingly ever-present Samuel Pepys was writing his diary.

Cannon Street – which was only extended to its current length in the mid-1800s under the supervision of architect JP Bunning, having formerly been a narrow lane which stopped at Dowgate Hill in the east – apparently later become known for the number of drapers based there and was also home to the Steelyard or Stalhof, the trading base of the German Hanseatic League in London in the 13th and 14th centuries (a plaque commemorating this was erected at Cannon Street Station in 2005).

Now lined with office buildings including some former warehouses from the Victorian era, the street is also home to a recently redeveloped above ground train station and Underground station- both of which were opened in the late 1800s (the station, which built was on the site of the Roman governor’s palace, was originally located behind the Cannon Street Hotel, birthplace of the British Communist Party). Cannon Street is also the location of the mysterious London Stone – formerly located at the now long-gone St Swithin’s Church, it can be found behind a grill at number 111 – for more on it, see our earlier post here).

It’s not often you’d come across a church named after a type of shoe, but that’s the case with the church of St Margaret Pattens.

Located in Eastcheap, a church dedicated to St Margaret – a saint who was martyred in Antioch in the Middle East – has stood on the current site for at least 900 years. The earliest reference dates from 1067 and the church was rebuilt at least once in the medieval period, with the costs of construction apparently partly funded out of gifts presented to a crucifix or rood which stood in Rood Lane close to the church.

It’s only since the 17th century, however, when the church was rebuilt to the design of Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, that it took on the name ‘Pattens’ to distinguish itself from other churches dedicated to St Margaret.

Pattens were wooden undershoes which were trapped beneath normal footwear and raised the wearer above the street, allowing them to walk across muddy roads and still arrive at their destination cleanshod. This footwear was apparently made and sold near which the church was located.

The trade of pattenmaking, incidentially, died out as streets became paved – according to the church’s website, the last pattenmaker died in the 19th century. There’s still a sign in the church asking women to remove their pattens before entering.

It’s worth noting before we move on that there is an alternative theory as to the origins of the name – this is that it commemorates a benefactor, possibly a canon at St Paul’s named Ranulf Patin – but it’s the former interpretation which is more widely accepted.

St Margaret Pattens, which was united with that of St Gabriel Fen after the latter was destroyed in the Great Fire, was damaged by bombing in World War II but was restored in the mid 1950s.

While the church lost many of its valuables during the Reformation (with the exception of a silver gilt communion cup dating from 1545 – on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum), notable features inside include a memorial to King Charles I (since 1890, the king has been remembered in a special service each year held on the nearest Thursday to the date of his execution – 30th January) and a Royal Stuart Coat-of-Arms believed to be those of King James II.

There’s also a reredos containing a painting by Italian Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), two unusual canopied pews reserved for churchwardens, an hourglass dating from 1750 used to time the sermons, and a bell which dates from before the Great Fire. It’s also possible to view a set of pattens.

Among those who have been associated with the church is famed medieval Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington, apparently at one time the church’s patron (you can see our earlier post on him here), as well as livery companies including, as one would expect, the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers, and the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers.

WHERE: Corner of Eastcheap and Rood Lane (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Tower Hill). WHEN: Weekdays from 10.30am (check website for services)COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmargaretpattens.org.

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.