Treasures of London – Chiswick House Conservatory…

While the lockdown means buildings are now closed, we continue with our regular series for visits at a later time…

This 300 foot long, now Grade I-listed, conservatory was constructed on the orders of the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of the neo-Palladian Chiswick House to the west of London and completed in 1813.

Then one of the largest of its kind in the world, the conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware (he also designed the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly) and while its east and west ranges are of a conventional design, its centre features an unusual domed roof.

The conservatory, which was built on land which the duke had acquired by buying a neighbouring estate, is seen as a forerunner to Decimus Burton’s famous building at Kew Gardens as well as Joseph Paxton’s conservatory at Chatsworth and even the Crystal Palace itself.

In 1828, the Duke filled it with his exotic collection of camellias. The glasshouse now stands at the heart of Chiswick House’s annual Camellia Festival.

The collection of camellias is, of course, a treasure in its own right. It was first created by the 6th Duke and his gardener, William Lindsay, with plants acquired from Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall.

The collection includes 33 different varieties, including some of the earliest introduced to the UK, and one of the rarest plants in the world – a deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherds Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, and apparently presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823.

For more, see www.chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk.

Treasures of London – The Diana Fountain…

No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.

Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).

While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.

The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.

The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.

In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.

The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

PICTURE: The Diana Fountain. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 56 and 55…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

56. Treasures of London – The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace

55. 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London…A recap…

Our new special Wednesday series will launch next week!

Treasures of London – Ropers Garden and ‘The Awakening’…

Newly awarded upgraded heritage status, Ropers Garden in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, was created in the wake of World War II.

The buildings which had formerly stood here were destroyed on 17th April, 1941, thanks to a parachute mine.

The first gardens were planted on the site by the Chelsea Society but these were then redesigned by Peter Shepheard in 1960.

Shepheard used the basements of the terraced housing previously on the site to create a sunken garden, maintaining a link with the history of the site and reducing the noise of traffic from nearby Chelsea Embankment.

The centrepiece of the now Grade II-listed gardens – which were recently added to the Register of Parks and Gardens – is a sculpture called “The Awakening”. The work of Gilbert Ledward, who lived and worked in the area, it depicts a bronze standing nude figure of a woman (apparently modelled on the artist’s wife and cast in the 1920s).

The sculpture (pictured at the top with Chelsea Old Church in the background) was recently added to the garden’s Grade II listing.

Other features of the garden include an unfinished stone relief by Jacob Epstein (pictured, right) who had a studio nearby in the early 20th century (the sculpture was unveiled in 1970) and a cherry tree which commemorates Gunji Koizumi the father of British Judo (1885-1965).

And the garden’s name? That comes from the history of the land on which it lies – once an orchard and part of the marriage gift of Sir Thomas More to his daughter Margaret and son-in-law William Roper in 1521.

PICTURES: Top – David Adams; Right – Andy Scott (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Treasures of London – King Henry’s Mound…

Having recently been granted protection as a scheduled monument, the landscape feature known as King Henry’s Mound is located in Richmond Park in south-west London.

It is believed to be a prehistoric round barrow, possibly dating from between 2,400 and 1,500 BC – a period spanning the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

Its name, however, comes from the legend that King Henry VIII waited on top of the mound on 19th May, 1536, watching for a rocket to be launched from the Tower of London that would confirm his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed for treason (and so allow him to marry Jane Seymour).

The truth of that is unlikely – although it is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the mound (it’s a view that is protected, as well as, to the west Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley), King Henry VIII was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

The mound, however, was linked to kings as far back as 1630 when a map was published listing it as ‘Kings Standinge’, ‘standinge’ being a reference to a platform on which those not involved in a hunt could stand and watch.

Both King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I are known to have hunted here – in fact, it was King Henry VIII’s father, King Henry VII, who built a royal palace at Richmond and named it after his estate in Yorkshire.

The mound was later incorporated into the gardens of Pembroke Lodge in the 19th century, during much of the latter half of which the property was home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell.

Today the Grade I-listed Richmond Park is managed by the Royal Parks.

For more on Richmond Park, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

PICTURES: The Royal Parks

Treasures of London – Berlin Wall segment…

Located in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in Kennington outside the Imperial War Museum, this segment of the Berlin Wall was taken from near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The concrete and steel wall is covered with graffiti, attributed to an artist ‘Indiano’, including an image of a giant mouth containing the words ‘Change your life’ (which may have come from a German poem).

The wall, which separated East and West Germany, was erected by East German forces in 1961 and finally fell in November, 1989. More than 80 people died attempting to cross the wall from East Germany before it was torn down.

This segment was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in January, 1991. It’s not the only part of the wall in London, among others is a fragment in Grosvenor Square.

PICTURE: K.ristof (licensed under CC BY SA 3.0)

 

Treasures of London – The Gayer-Anderson Cat…

This stunning hollow bronze figure from ancient Egypt depicts the goddess Bastet in the form of a seated (domestic-sized) cat and dates from around 600 BC.

Its name comes from Irish-born military man Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, who was a keen collector of Egyptian sculpture, jewellery and pottery which he showcased as his Cairo home, now known as the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Gayer-Anderson donated the cat to the British Museum in 1939 (there’s a copy in the Gayer-Anderson Museum).

The 14 centimetre tall figure, which wears a silver protective pectoral and golden earrings and nose ring, was probably housed in a temple. The scarab beetle on the cat’s head and chest symbolises rebirth and the silver wedjat-eye on the pectoral was supposed to invoke protection and healing.

The cat, which a particularly fine example of a cat sculpture from the period, can usually be seen in the Egyptian sculpture gallery in Room 4 of the British Museum but given its closure because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may like to take a look at a 3D model of the cat which is on the museum’s website here.

PICTURE:  © the Trustees of the British Museum

Treasures of London – Thomas Tuttell’s celestial globe…

Dating from 1700, this celestial globe was made by Thomas Tuttell, hydrographer and mathematical Instrument maker to King William III in the year 1700.

The globe, a unique survivor of its age, is identical to a celestial globe made by Joseph Moxon in 1653, except for one additional constellation in the northern hemisphere named the ‘Cor Caroli’ (Heart of Charles), a reference to King Charles I (the constellation was named by Sir Charles Scarborough to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and it was first published on a star map in 1673).

It is one of 10 historic globes which have been made available for close-up inspection, including using an augmented reality tool which allows you to spin and zoom in at will, on the British Library’s website.

The 10 are the first tranche of globes to go online in a project involving British Library staff and digitisation company Cyreal that will eventually involve 30 globes.

Others among the first 10 include what is possibly the earliest miniature ‘pocket’ globe – dating from 1679, it was made by Joseph Moxon, two globes made by Willem Janszoon Blaeu – a terrestrial globe and a small table star globe – which date from 1606, and Johann Doppelmayr’s terrestrial and star globes from 1728.

There’s also Richard Cushee’s 1730 terrestrial globe with its unusually late inclusion of the island of California, Charles Price’s 1715 globe containing unusual annotations, and Gabriel Wright and William Bardin’s 1783 globes.

The globes, which are part of the library’s map collection, can be found at www.bl.uk/maps/articles/european-globes-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries.

PICTURES: © British Library (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Treasures of London – Millicent Fawcett’s ‘Steadfastness and Courage’ brooch…

Going on permanent display at the Museum of London from today, Millicent Fawcett’s brooch is a unique symbol of the long struggle for the right of women to vote in parliamentary elections. 

The brooch given to Fawcett by members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies – which Fawcett was president of between 1907 and 1919.

Made of of gold and enamel, it features gems in the white, red and green colour scheme of the NUWSS. It also bears the message “steadfastness and courage” – a quote taken from a speech Fawcett made in 1913.

Fawcett often wore the brooch, usually as a pendant and it is featured on Gillian Wearing’s recently unveiled statue of her in Parliament Square.

The brooch, which can be seen in the People’s City Gallery, is on long-term loan from the Fawcett Society.

WHERE: People’s City Gallery, Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest Tube stations are Barbican Station, St Paul’s and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

PICTURE: © The Fawcett Society

Treasures of London – King George III’s military maps…

King George III’s massive collection of military maps, views and prints forms a key part of the Royal Collection and to mark the 200th anniversary of the King’s death, more than 3,000 of which have been published online.

The publication of the selection from the more than 55,000 items in the collection marks the culmination of 10 years of research by Dr Yolande Hodson who has catalogued the contents of the collection which dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries and provides a contemporary account of theatres of war in Britain, Europe and America.

The collection includes everything from so-called “presentation maps” of sieges, battles and marches to rough sketches drawn in the field, depictions of uniforms and fortification plans.

Highlights include two-metre-wide maps of the American War of Independence (1775–83) which designed to hang on purpose-made mahogany stands in Buckingham House – among them is a map of the final British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, the only known copy to survive outside the US.

There’s also a memorandum written by Scottish military engineer William Roy to the king in 1766 in which Roy proposes a national survey of Britain based on his map and survey experience during the Seven Years War (1756–63) – it’s regarded as the founding document of the Ordnance Survey.

And there’s a rare engraving of the Siege of Malta (1565) showing how the Fort of St Elmo was overrun Turkish forces, resulting in the death of 1,300 Christian knights, captains and soldiers (pictured).

The collection can be found at militarymaps.rct.uk.

PICTURE: Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, A view of the Turkish assault on the Fort of St Elmo, Malta, on 23 June 1565. From the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)

 

Treasures of London – “Graffito” in the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower…

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 96 and 95…

The next couple in our year-long countdown

96. Treasures of London – Swiss Court…

95. Lost London – The Roman basilica and forum…

Treasures of London – One of the world’s first stethoscopes…

Now found in the newly opened Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries at the Science Museum in South Kensington, this stethoscope was made by the French physician René Laennec in about 1820.

Several years earlier, Laennec, working in a hospital in Paris, wanted to listen to a young woman’s heart beat but, for the sake of propriety he didn’t want to put his ear to her chest as was common practice. In sudden inspiration, he used a rolled up piece of paper with one end placed over her heart and his ear on the other open end.

It proved a good way to amplify sound and Laennec was so impressed he followed up by making brass and wooden versions like the one at the Science Museum., drawing on the skills he used, no doubt, he had previously used in making flutes.

Laennec called his invention the “stethoscope” (from the Greek word for chest, “stethos”). His invention was succeeded in the following decades by the creation of the modern binaural stethoscope with its two earpieces and dial for listening.

The Science Museum stethoscope is labelled. It reads: “This is one of Laennec’s original stethoscopes, and it was presented by him to Dr Bégin a French Army surgeon whose widow gave it to me in 1863.”

WHERE: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube is South Kensington); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

PICTURE: Laennec stethoscope made by Laennec, c1820. Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Treasures of London – Beckenham’s ‘Bowie Bandstand’…

Built in 1905, this south London bandstand, which was recently awarded Grade II heritage status, is famous for being the site where David Bowie performed at the Growth Summer Festival in August, 1969. Bowie and friends had organised the free festival soon after his first hit single, Space Oddity, and the bandstand, located in Croydon Road Recreation Ground, was used as the stage for the day. As well as compering the festival, Bowie was among the performers who played here to a crowd of several hundred people. The festival, which was inspired by the feel of Woodstock and is believed to have been the first of its kind in Britain, inspired Bowie to write the seven minute long Memory of a Free Festival for his second album which was released later that year. It’s also suggested that he may have penned the lyrics to Life on Mars from the bandstand steps. The ironwork bandstand, which is referred to locally as the ‘Bowie Bandstand’, is thought to be the last bandstand from the foundry of Glasgow’s McCallum and Hope Iron Foundry still standing in Britain today. The Borough of Bromley, which owns the bandstand, is currently raising funds for its restoration.

PICTURE: Graham C99 (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

Treasures of London – Queen Victoria outside Kensington Palace…

This statue in Kensington Gardens, just to the east of Kensington Palace, is one of numerous depicting the Queen located around London. But what sets this one apart is the sculptor – none other than the Queen’s daughter, Princess Louise.

The statue was erected in 1893 and funded by the citizens of Kensington – officially the Kensington Golden Jubilee Memorial Executive Committee – to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (actually held in 1887).

Kensington Palace was, of course, where the Queen was born and lived until her accession to the throne.

Made of marble, the statue depicts Victoria, seated and wearing her coronation robes in 1837 at the age of just 18. It sits on a plinth in the middle of a small ornamental pond.

Princess Louise, the Duchess of Argyll, had been taught by sculptor Mary Thornycroft and and Sir Edgar Boehm and was widely known among artists. She was apparently approached by her friend, painter Alma Tadema, about making the work and initially refused before later agreeing to make it.

Other works she created include a memorial commemorating those who fought in the South African War in St Paul’s Cathedral and another statue of Queen Victoria, this one located in Montreal, Canada.

Princess Louise married John, Marquess of Lorne, heir of the Duke of Argyll, who went on to serve as Governor-General of Canada from 1878-1884.

PICTURE: David Stanley (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Treasures of London – The Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass…


Originally installed over a staircase in the Baltic Exchange in 1922, this World War I memorial commemorates exchange members who were killed during the conflict.

Designed by John Dudley Forsyth, the memorial takes the form of a three metre high half dome depicting the winged Victory stepping from a boat into a Roman temple where she is greeted by various Roman figures. Shields and badges of colonies and dependencies of the British Empire are incorporated into the image with the Royal Coat of Arms at the centre.

Below the half dome are five two metre high ‘Virtue Windows’ with representations of the virtues – truth, hope, justice, fortitude and faith. Two panels on the sides list key battles from World War I.

The windows were originally accompanied by marble panels listing all those who had died.

The memorial was unveiled by General Sir Herbert Alexander Lawrence on 1st June 1922, and dedicated by the Bishop of Willesden, William Perrin.

It survived World War II’s Blitz intact but in 1992 was badly damaged when an IRA bomb significantly damaged the building. Of the 240 panels in the memorial, only 45 were completely intact.

The Baltic Exchange was subsequently demolished (St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin, now stands on the site). The damaged memorial, meanwhile, was taken from the building and restored. It’s been displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 2005.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest station is Cutty Sark DLR); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

PICTURE: Top – The half dome of the memorial (image_less_ordinary (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)); Right –  One of the Virtue Windows (john.purvis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Treasures of London – ‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’…

Conservator Rachel Turnbull completes the conservation of the 15th century Madonna of the Pomegranate – a painting revealed to be a rare example by the workshop of Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) which is now on display at the Ranger’s House in Blackheath.

Long believed to be a later imitation of his work, the discovery of the painting’s true origins was made while it was undergoing cleaning and the work’s true colours – hidden under more than a century of yellow varnish – revealed.

The painting depicts the Madonna and Christ Child flanked by four angels while the Madonna holds a pomegranate – a symbol of the future suffering of Christ. The angels hold lilies – a symbol of Mary’s virginity and purity, garlands of roses – a symbol of Mary’s love of God, and books of prayer.

The assumption that it was a later copy arose because of its variations from the original – now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – and the varnish that had concealed its quality. X-ray testing, infrared studies and pigment analysis have now, however, revealed it to be from the same Florentine workshop where Botticelli created his masterpieces.

English Heritage conservators removed surface dirt, nineteenth-century overpaint and old varnish to reveal the painting’s original vivid reds, blues and golds. It is believed this “tondo”, a kind of circular painting, is the closest existing copy of the original.

The painting was purchased by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in 1897 and subsequently found among the more than 700 artworks in the Wernher Collection, elements of which are on display at the Ranger’s House.

WHERE: Ranger’s House Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath (nearest train station is Blackheath); WHEN: 11am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday; COST: £9.50 adults/£8.60 concession/£5.70 children (5-17 years) (members free; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/rangershouse.

PICTURES: © English Heritage.

 

Treasures of London – Festival Gardens…

Created as part of the City of London’s contribution to 1951’s Festival of Britain, these gardens are found just to the south-east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of a series of gardens located around the cathedral, they were created on the former site of the street known as Old Change in an area which had suffered considerable bomb damage in World War II.

Laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, the gardens feature a sunken lawn with a wall fountain at the west end which was a gift of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

The gardens, which are permanently open to the public, also contain Georg Erlich’s sculpture, The Young Lovers, which was erected on the garden’s upper terrace – above the water fountain at the west end – in 1973.

Some relandscaping took part in 2012 including the creation of a new garden to the west, called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gardens.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0/image cropped); Right – David Adams

Treasures of London – The Hibbert Gate…

Located at the western end of West India Quay in Docklands, the Hibbert Gate is a smaller scale replica of an original gate that stood at the main entrance to the quay for more than 130 years.

The gate was originally installed in 1803 and was topped with a model representing an East Indiaman, the Hibbert, which was named for George Hibbert, one of the principals of the West India Dock Company (and who apparently had a financial interest in the slave trade). The ship ran between London and the West Indies before later being used to transport convicts to Australia.

The gate, which became the emblem for West India Docks and was even incorporated into the Poplar Borough Council’s coat-of-arms, was removed in 1932 due to traffic measures. The model was initially preserved and moved to the Poplar Recreation Ground but vandalism and bomb damage saw it eventually fall apart.

The replica gate, commissioned by the Canary Wharf Group and topped with a replica model by artist Leo Stevenson, was installed in the year 2000, marking 200 years since the construction of the quay.

It was unveiled on 12th July by then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Part of the signage accompanying the gate reads that it was meant to be “memorial to the man – the replica in no way represents support for slavery”.

PICTURE: Prioryman (Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

Treasures of London – The Southwark Needle…

A 16 metre long splinter of stone sticking up in the air at the southern end of London Bridge, the Southwark Needle (its official name is actually the Southwark Gateway Needle) was erected in 1999.

Made of Portland stone and sitting on an angle of 19.5 degrees, it was designed by Eric Parry Architects as part of the Southwark Gateway Project which also included the creation of a new tourist information centre.

There’s been much speculation about what the pointed obelisk actually represents with some believing that the sharp spike is a kind of memorial to those whose heads were placed on spikes above the gateway which once stood at the southern end of London Bridge.

It seems, however, that the subject remembered in the monument is rather more mundane – it’s a marker and apparently points across the Thames the Magnus the Martyr church which marked the start of where London Bridge was formerly located (several metres to the east of the current bridge’s location). And for those trying to figure out how the needle points to that, word is that is the line of the base of the marker which points to the start of the old bridge – not the sharp end of the obelisk.

The needle is now commonly used as a meeting point.

PICTURE: Donald Judge (licensed under CC BY 2.0)