Whittington-Garden

The history of this City of London garden can be immediately spotted in the garden’s name.

It’s named for Richard (Dick) Whittington, a four time medieval mayor of London whose name (and cat) has been immortalised in stories and rhymes which continue to be retold in Christmas pantomimes every year (you can read more about the real Dick Whittington in our earlier post here).

Whittington-Garden2The reason for the garden’s name is in its proximity to the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal – it stands on the other side of College Street – which he poured money into rebuilding during his lifetime and where he was buried (you can read more about the building here). You can also see a Blue Plaque on the former site of Whittington’s house further up College Hill.

The garden (pictured above looking across to the church) stands on what was the river bank during the Roman era at the bottom of College Hill. It was previously the site of buildings connected with the fur trade but these suffered bomb damage during World War II and were subsequently demolished.

The City of London Corporation acquired the site in 1955 and laid out the gardens in 1960 and the small fountain now found there dates from later that decade.

The gardens, which contain some substantial trees and lawn areas as well as hedges and flower beds, were refurbished in 2005. Features include two granite plinths upon which sit two horsemen (pictured). Sculpted by Italian sculptor Duilio Cambellotti, they were presented to the City of London by the Italian President during a state visit in 2005.

WHERE: Whittington Garden, between College Street and Upper Thames Street, City of London (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Whittington-Garden.aspx.

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A late 17th and early 18th century wood carver and sculptor, the curiously named Grinling Gibbons is remembered for his magnificent carvings in numerous English buildings including such London icons as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.

Not much is known about Gibbons’ early life. The son of English parents (his father was apparently a draper), he was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 4th April, 1648, and, as a young man, is believed to have undertaken an apprenticeship as a sculptor in that country.

Around the age of 19, he moved to England – first to York and to Deptford in the south. It was the quality of his work which led diarist John Evelyn, having discovered Gibbons working on a limewood relief of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion in a small cottage near Deptford in early 1671, that led him to introduce him to Christopher Wren, the architect of the age, and fellow diarist Samuel Pepys and to eventually present him (and his relief) to King Charles II at Whitehall Palace on 1st March the same year.

But Gibbons’ work apparently failed to initially impress at court and it was only following his ‘discovery’ later that year by the court artist Sir Peter Lely that he began to receive major commissions.

It’s apparently not known when Gibbons married his wife Elizabeth and moved to London they were living there by 1672 and were having the first of their at least 12 children (while at least five of their daughters survived into adulthood, none of their sons did).

In 1672, they were living in an inn, called La Belle Sauvage or The Bell Savage, located on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s, and, while Gibbons continued to maintain a workshop here into the 1680s, the family moved to Bow Street in Covent Garden around the end of the 1670s (the house here apparently collapsed in 1702 and was subsequently rebuilt in brick).

Gibbons, who was admitted to the Draper’s Company in 1672 and held various posts within it over ensuing years, reached the pinnacle of his success when he was made master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III in 1693, and was later made master carpenter to the king, then King George I, in 1719.

Having worked mostly in limewood, Gibbons, recently called the “British Bernini”, is known for his distinct and exuberant style which features cascading foliage, fruit, animals and cherubs. While he worked on numerous important buildings outside of London – including carvings in the Chapel Royal and king’s dining room at Windsor Castle, in a chapel at Trinity College in Oxford, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and a famous ‘carved room’ at Petworth House in Sussex – and beyond (he also created two presentation panels – known as the ‘Cosimo’ and ‘Modena’ panels which were sent to Italy as royal gifts), Gibbons is also noted for his work on a number of prominent buildings in London.

Among the buildings he worked on or in around London are the churches of St James’s in Piccadilly, St Mary Abchurch, St Michael Paternoster Royal and, famously, St Paul’s Cathedral (where he carved choir stalls, the bishop’s thrones and choir screen) as well as Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

While he is primarily remembered for his limewood carvings, Gibbons’ workshop was also responsible for sculpting statues, memorials and decorative stonework. A couple of the workshop’s statues can still be seen in London – one of King Charles II in Roman dress at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and another of King James II outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – while the magnificent Westminster Abbey memorial to Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell is also attributed to him.

Gibbons died at his Bow Street home on 3rd August, 1721, and was buried in St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (his wife had been buried there several years before).

For more on Grinling Gibbons, check out David Esterly’s Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.

This triple-monikered church was first recorded in the 1200s. Far from unique in its dedication to the Archangel St Michael (there were apparently seven churches which were dedicated to him before the Great Fire), it was distinguished from the others by the name Paternoster Royal.

Surprisingly, the name has nothing to do with royalty or the clergy, at least not directly. The name Paternoster comes from the church’s location on what was Paternoster Lane (it’s now College Hill) – it was named for the number of paternoster or rosary seller that were based there.

The name Royal, meanwhile, is a little bit more obscure. First applied in the 1300s, it apparently comes from the close proximity of another street called Le Ryole which was itself a corruption of the French town of La Reole in the wine districts near Bordeaux. The street is believed to have been given the name thanks to the number of wine merchants who traded there.

Like other London churches, this one has been rebuilt several times – notably after the Great Fire of London (to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren) and again after World War II during which the church was all but destroyed by a V1 flying bomb. Since its reopening in 1968 it has served as the international headquarters of the Christian organisation, the Mission to Seafarers, which supports chaplains working in ports around the world.

The walls date from Wren’s time and the stone steeple, which wasn’t completed until 1717, is the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor. The interior features carved figures of Moses and Aaron which stand before the reredos – these apparently came from All-Hallows-the-Great (demolished in 1894) as did the chandelier which bears the words ‘Birmingham 1644’).

High profile parishioners over the years have included the four time Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington (see our earlier post on him) – he paid for a substantial extension of the church and founded a college of priests there (it’s from this college, which was dissolved in the mid-1500s and then re-established soon after, that College Hill is believed to have derived its name) as well as an almshouse next door.

Whittington and his wife were both buried inside but he was apparently exumed since several times and the location of his body is now unknown. There’s a stained glass window depicting Whittington and his famous cat inside and the gardens just outside also bear his name.

So we come to the final in our series on Wren’s London. This week we take a quick look at some of Wren’s remaining London works (keep an eye out for our upcoming ‘daytripper’ on Oxford for some detail of his works there)…

• The Monument. Built between 1671-77 to commemorate the Great Fire of London, it was designed by Wren and Dr Robert Hooke. For further information, see our previous post.

The Temple Bar. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672 to replace a crumbling wooden predecessor, it’s only recently been returned to the City and now stands adjacent to St Paul’s. For further information, see our previous post.

Churches. We’ve only looked in depth at a few of the existing churches Wren designed in London. But here are some of the others among the more than 50 he designed that still stand:

St Benet Paul’s Wharf. Originally completed in 1685, it claims to be the only “undamaged and unaltered” Wren church in the city, having survived World War II intact. Now the Welsh church of the City of London. See www.stbenetwelshchurch.org.uk.

St James Garlickhythe. Built according to Wren’s design, it was completed in 1682 (the tower not until 1717). It is known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’ due to its light interior. See www.stjamesgarlickhythe.org.uk.

St Margaret Pattens. Built between 1684 and 1687 after the previous church was destroyed in the Great Fire, the church gets its unusual name of ‘pattens’ from wooden undershoes that were worn to elevate people out of the mud, and were sold nearby. See www.stmargaretpattens.org.

• St Margaret Lothbury. Completed in 1692, it now incorporates seven adjacent parishes thanks to losses in the Great Fire, World War II and building projects and is now officially known as the parish church of “St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Coleman St with St Christopher-le-Stocks, St Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange, St Olave Old Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy, St Mildred Poultry and St Mary Colechurch.” See www.stml.org.uk.

St Martin-within-Ludgate. Rebuilding was largely completed by 1680. The previous church on the site was where William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was married. See www.stmartin-within-ludgate.org.uk.

Others, some of which have been rebuilt since Wren’s day, include St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, St Andrew Holborn, St Anne and St Agnes (Now St Anne’s Lutheran Church), St Clement Eastcheap, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Abchurch, St Mary Aldermary, Mary-le-Bow, St Michael, Cornhill, St Michael Paternoster Royal, St Nicholas Cole Abbey (being redeveloped as a centre for religious education), St Peter upon Cornhill, and St Vedast alias Foster. (We’ll be featuring some in more detail in later entries).