Saturday, February 6th 2016
This is a geotagger map of our exploratory ramble today:
As presented here, it’s a static map,so you can’t expand it to see details. This Google Map covers roughly the same area if you want to dig deeper.
We came down onto the scene on the left and went home on the right. You can ignore the ‘spike’ that shoots right from St Paul’s to Eastcheap, passing between Bank and Monument Stations because it is spurious. We went into Café Rouge opposite St Paul’s Cathedral for coffee and if you sit still for any length of time, the geotagger ‘wanders’ and creates a mare’s nest of false trails. It’s one of its endearing little traits that you get used to.
Our first port of call was the Barbican’s Rotunda and the Museum of London that lives there. We didn’t visit the museum today, attractive as it always is, but gave our attention to an outdoor exhibition beside it.
In front of the museum entrance is the Rotunda Garden and around this is a walkway partially covered with a projecting roof. The walls, being protected from the weather, make a good exhibition display space. You can perhaps just make out some of the exhibits in the photo on the right above the garden. The exhibition is entitled Under London and is by photographer Simon Norfolk. He has taken 10 objects discovered by archaeologists and photographed them in locations near where they were found.
I didn’t take any photos of the exhibition as there seems little point in photographing photographs and, to tell the truth, I didn’t find the exhibition all that exciting. I would rather look at the objects themselves than photos of them and pictures of them near were they were seemed about as interesting as those plaques you see on walls reading ‘John Bunyan lived in a house near here’. Still, that’s just me; others might find the exhibition worth seeing.
Much more interesting was the curious object affixed to the wall of the garden and just about visible in the garden photo. Here is a closer view. On top is a bust, apparently representing Edward VI. Below, in the main part, you can plainly see a bull but what might not be obvious is that the bull is standing in a gigantic human mouth. Underneath this is a text, citing the event that the picture encapsulates. The inscription reads as follows:
MILO THE CRETONIAN
AN OX SLEW WITH HIS FIST
AND ATE IT UP AT ONE MEAL.
YE GODS WHAT A GLORIOUS TWIST.
This refers to the Ancient Greek wrestler, Milo of Croton, whose wide fame led to many stories and legends being told about him.
But why does it exist at all? One thing is certain, namely that it commemorates the Bull and Mouth Inn. This was a coaching inn in St Martin’s Le Grand. When it was first built is unknown though it was burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt. Some say that the name is a corruption of ‘Boulogne Mouth’ (‘mouth’ in the sense of ‘harbour’), though why it would have been called that seems uncertain. Around 1830, the inn was rebuilt and renamed the Queen’s Hotel. This in turn was demolished in 1887 or 1888 to make way for the new General Post Office Buildings. At some time between the 1830s and the 1880s, the plaque or memorial in honour of the old inn was made and attached to the front of the Queen’s Hotel. We don’t know who made it but a possible clue is given in the monogram at the bottom which features the letters ‘I’ and ‘S’, though in what order we should take them is unknown.
We left the museum by a stairway that overlooks Aldgate High Street and provides this view of the Church of St Botolph. This structure, with its neat and restrained design, was built in the 1740s, the architect being George Dance the Elder. The interior was much remodelled in the 19th century which may explain why such an historic church has only a Grade I listing.
We next moved to Wapping, with the aforementioned diversion via St Paul’s. Wapping is part of the old docklands and is full of wharf buildings and warehouses. Now that the docks are closed, these buildings are being demolished, remodelled or adapted to new purposes. Many have been turned into apartment blocks, leaving only the exterior façade as a witness to their history. Dangerous full-length doors used for receiving and dispatching goods by hoist have usually been converted into safer windows but the hoists often remain in place to give the place an air of authenticity. This has led to the concept of façadism, about which there is much controversy.
(Note: this and the next photo were stitched from frames taken separately but close to the subject, leading to a degree of perspective distortion.)
Our destination was a large pumping station, to be precise station 37 of the London Hydraulic Power Company. This remarkable institution, the LHPC, was founded in 1884 when it merged two other companies that had started up a few years earlier (see the Wikipedia article, London Hydraulic Power Company for details). Hydraulic power at 800ppi was piped by this and other pumping stations to users who could make use of it to run machinery, including lifts. First powered by steam, the pumps were later converted to electricity. Of course, if hydraulic pumping stations could be run by electricity, then so could the machines of their customers. As the use of electricity spread, the hydraulic power industry went into decline but closed finally only in 1977.
The remaining stations are of architectural and historic interest and this one, built in 1890, has received a Grade II* listing.
We had come, however, for other reasons than to study industrial archaeology. The station was currently hosting a photographic exhibition entitled WOMEN: NEW PORTRAITS by Annie Leibovitz. This is the exhibition’s final weekend here, after which it moves to Tokyo.
Unfortunately, there was a long queue of people waiting to enter. Moreover, the queue was not moving. If we joined the queue, we would obviously have to wait a very long time in the cold before we had any chance of seeing the exhibition. Reluctantly,then, we gave up on the project and consoled ourselves by taking a few photos of the exterior.
We walked west(ish) along a street called Wapping Wall which debouches into Garnet Street. Where this joins onto Wapping High Street, an alley called New Crane Place leads off towards the river. At its end is a flight of steps descending to the water. These are called Wapping Stairs and are one of the many such ‘stairs’ dotted along the bank of the river. These stairs are part of an ancient transport system consisting of boats rowed by watermen, a veritable system of waterborne cabs. Before London grew to its present gigantic proportions, the river provided an efficient way of getting about. Watermen would put in at the stairs to land or take on passengers.
The above is a view upriver from a spot near the Wapping Stairs.
We now hurried on to our next assignment, passing through St Katharine Docks on the way. Where we were heading was a vantage point at Tower Bridge.
The event we hoped to witness would take place at the Tower of London but the area under the bridge was sheltered – no small consideration in this weather – and would still allow us to see something…
…well, just about. We had come to witness the Royal Gun Salute. February 6th is the date of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II and it is one of the occasions on which it is customary to fire guns as a royal salute. There are a number of places where salutes can be fired and the Tower of London is one of them.
62 rounds were fired. Why 62? We heard a passer-by hazard the suggestion that this was the 62nd year of the Queen’s reign. Good guess but wrong (it’s her 64th year). The number of bangs per salute depends on the place and the occasion. Most salutes from the Tower comprise 62 bangs but there can also be 41 (for non-Royal occasions) and on June 10th, 124. June 10th is both the Queen’s official birthday and the birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh, and so they get 62 bangs each.
The Tower’s 62 bangs are composed of 1. the usual 21 gun salute, 2. 20 for it being a Royal Park and 3. 21 ‘for the City of London’.
From where we stood, each shot comprised a puff of smoke followed by a bang. We didn’t actually stay for all 62 bangs but after the first half a dozen or so, decided that, as the remaining 56 would be very much the same (puff-bang, puff-bang, etc), it was reasonable to continue on our way. This took us to Spitalfields. Waves of immigration – Huguenots, Jews, Bangladeshis, to mention but a few – have all left their traces on this neighbourhood, making a fascinating area to explore and decode.
Off Bishopsgate is a minor road called New Road which, at its other end, meets Cock Lane. Facing you as you walk down New Street is an imposing gateway, surmounted by a carved ram. I at first thought this might indicate an old brewery but on investigation that seems unlikely and I don’t know why there is a ram here. The gateway was built in the mid-19th century but it is considered fine enough to be awarded a Grade II listing.
And so to Cock Lane. If you harboured suspicions about the name of this narrow thoroughfare, you would be right. It was anciently a place of licensed prostitution. That is no longer so but in any case, the lane became famous for something else entirely – a ghost. This attracted so much interest in the 1760s that on occasion the lane was reported to be impassable because of the crowds trying to obtain sight or sound of the ghost.
The ghost was thought to be Fanny, mistress of William Kent, rumoured to have murdered her. Eventually, the ‘ghost’ was found to be a fraud perpetrated by Fanny’s father and sister. (For more details of the story, see Wikipedia’s Cock Lane ghost.) We neither saw not heard any ghosts but did photograph this cock made with tiles.
In Brune Street we found the Jewish Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen was founded in 1854 in Leman Street for the support of impoverished Jewish individuals and families. It moved to this site in 1902 and continued its good work for the next 90 years. I was struck by the elegant design and the ceramic facings whose decorative elements and lettering, show high-quality finish. No one was cutting corners on this project. I also noticed that two of the doors are labelled ‘Way In’ and ‘Way Out’, respectively. Those emerging with their ration of soup and bread would not collide with those hurrying in, anxious to secure their share.
Although 114 years have passed since the soup kitchen was built, the finish is still as sharp as when it was first made, even allowing for a later of London grime. (Further information here and here.) The building has now been converted to residential use.
To photograph the Jewish Soup Kitchen, I was standing with my back to a block of flats, not taking any notice of it. Not, that is, until Tigger pointed something out of historical interest to me. It is to the left of the doorway, a little above average eye-level. Can you see it? Here is a close-up.
The lettering is already rather faint and will gradually fade away. It reads ‘ENTRANCE TO SHELTER’ with an arrow pointing the way. During the Second World War, air raid shelters were provided so that people out in the street when the sirens sounded could quickly take refuge. Some were purpose-built but others were existing structures that might withstand nearby bomb blasts. Notices like the above were displayed to help people find a shelter. I don’t know exactly where this shelter was; perhaps it was a cellar in this block of flats. These days, such signs are merely of historical interest but when they first appeared, they could mean the difference between life and death for anyone caught out in the open during an air raid.
We now made out way to Commercial Street to catch a bus home. While waiting at the bus stop, I photographed this familiar Spitalfields landmark, Christ Church. It was designed by the famous architect of churches, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and was built in 1823-9. Since then, it has known mixed fortunes, being greatly altered inside during the 19th century and becoming nearly derelict by 1960. It was reclaimed, however, and is now Grade I listed, so its future seems safe, at least for now.