Sunday, February 2nd 2014
The weather yesterday was a bit miserable and cold, so we did our shopping and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the Tiger’s Den. (Do tigers have dens? These tigers do… ). Today, though the air was cold, the sun was shining and so we decided we really should get out and about. There was something we wanted to see but, first of all – breakfast!
We had our breakfast at Hamilton Hall, a Wetherspoons pub that offers an adequate vegetarian breakfast – something that has been useful to us on many of our trips away from home. The pub is set in the Bishopsgate entrance of Liverpool Street station and its point of interest is the magnificent styling of the decor. It is named after Lord Claud Hamilton who was chairman of the Great Eastern Railway company that originally built the station and the Great Eastern Hotel that accompanied it. The hotel was built in 1884 (though later expanded and modified) and the pub today occupies what was once its glittering ballroom – hence the elaborate, 18th-century-flavoured decorative scheme.
After breakfast, we made our way to the Barbican and, more specifically, to the Museum of London that resides there. This is worth visiting at any time but today we had come to see a special exhibition: the Cheapside Hoard.
The Cheapside Hoard is a remarkable and beautiful collection of jewellery dating from the Tudor and Elizabethan periods. Its owner is unknown, and the rich cache of gems and precious metals remained hidden in a cellar until discovered by builders in 1914. Why it was hidden and why it was never reclaimed remains a mystery. The Hoard provides a unique opportunity to study, not only Tudor and Elizabethan jewellery designs but also a complete range of actual artefacts. While the jewellery expert may view these objects with professional interest, all of us are arrested by their beauty and the intricate skill with which they were made.
Photography was, of course, prohibited within the exhibition. That’s not all: to be admitted we had first to leave our coats, hats, cameras and bags in one of the lockers. Being unused to such stringency, I made an unfortunate mistake: I left my spectacles in my bag in the locker. By the time I realized this, I was in the exhibition and it was too late to recover them. Fortunately, in order to help examine the details of the jewellery, large magnifying glasses are provided. These helped me see and Tigger kindly read me many of the information panels accompanying the exhibits.
Had photography been allowed, making pictures of the exhibits would have presented a challenge, though I would have tried. This was not allowed, however, but if you have a chance to see the collection for yourself, I would recommend it to you.
Leaving the museum, we went first to a nearby branch of Costa for hot chocolate before setting out to ramble through the area to see what we might see. Because of the low winter sun, the scene was all of tall buildings picked out in sunlight with canyons of deep shadow around them, as you can see from the photos.
Braving the cold and enjoying the patches of sunlight, we eventually reached Bartholomew Close.
Here I was a little surprised to come upon Butchers’ Hall, the headquarters of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, one of London’s ancient Livery Companies. In fact, there is nothing strange about its location as there are other livery halls in the area and this one is well placed for that other landmark of butchery, Smithfield Market, which is nearby.
Like most livery companies, the Butchers’ has had several halls, one of which was lost in the Great Fire of 1666, and moved here to a new hall, built in 1884-5. This new hall was damaged in the both of the World Wars and the present one was raised in 1959. Over the door is to be seen the company’s coat of arms, featuring various symbols, including mythical winged bulls, and a motto in Latin, OMNIA SUBIECISTI SUB PEDIBUS, OVES ET BOVES (“Thou Hast Put All Things Under His Feet, All Sheep and Oxen” – quoted from Psalm 8).
The building features stained glass windows, though it is hard to appreciate them from outside where they appear dark. Tigger pointed out one of them in which you can see a pair of rather modern-looking butchers, one of whom is wearing the traditional striped apron and sharpening his knife.
Soon after, we passed in front of the picturesque gateway of the priory church of St Bartholomew the Great. Adjoining St Bartholomew’s Hospital, it too is often known by the shorter name of St Barts. The Augustinian priory to which this was the church was founded in the 12th century under those pesky Normans. It became a virtual ruin by the 18th century and was restored and rebuilt in the 19th. Today, it is one of the jewels of the neighbourhood. (If, as a vegetarian, I can speak dispassionately about Butchers’ Hall, then I think that, as an atheist, I can speak dispassionately about a church… Their historic importance belongs to us all.)
Thus we came to Smithfield Market, for centuries London’s main market for meat. The name is said the derive from Smooth Field, dating from when this was an open space, suitable for holding fairs, meetings, riots and executions. Uncountable numbers of sheep and cattle have wended their weary way down the centuries and along dusty roads to meet their fate at the blade of a knife here. (Yep, still trying to be dispassionate…)
In the picture you can see a large lorry parked. It is locked up and curtains have been drawn, covering the windscreen and side windows. We found several lorries in the same state all around the market. I assume this is because TfL (Transport for London) has made rules restricting the movement of heavy lorries over the weekends and that these drivers, caught here after unloading, have to stay put until Monday when they can once again take to the road.
What is today the main building attracts most attention but the outlying buildings are not without interest. In them we catch glimpses of the history of the market and of its importance to the capital. This building, built in 1899 and Grade II listed, has a cartouche saying it is “THE CENTRAL COLD STORAGE”, though there are other cold storage units of a similar age dotted around. The cartouche has glazed tiling typical of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras and the design is, I think, rather unusual with its trailing plant motifs breaking away from the serious rectangular form that is more common.
Next door to the cold store stands a building bearing the name of the PORT OF LONDON AUTHORITY and the date 1914. Also displayed is the Authority’s Latin motto, FLOREAT IMPERII PORTUS (“May the Imperial Port flourish”).
Continuing with the imperial theme, we spotted this business house at 6-7 West Smithfield. As it stands today, the building dates from 1888 or 1889 when it was rebuilt by the firm of Thomas Herbert and Sons, manufacturers of scales and cutlery. The ground floor was used as showroom while the factory was in the basement. The company continued to occupy the premises until 1960. Scale making and cutlery already had a long history on the site, although they had at first been practised separately, scales at number 6 and cutlery at number 7. In 1810, the cutler, William Williams, became bankrupt and the partnership of John Wynn and Richard Wood at number 6 were able to buy his property and combine it with theirs. The Wood family continued with the business, John Wynn dying in the meantime, until 1867, when it failed and the property was bought by Thomas Herbert. Their proudly displayed trademark incorporates the Imperial lion, and the equally imperious motto, JUSTICE AND STRENGTH, quite fitting, I suppose, for a manufacturer of scales to weigh heavy loads. (For more details of the Herberts and the history of the site, see the excellent Herbert & Sons Web pages.)
We now left Smithfield, with its butchers and executioners, and entered Holborn. Here we find the bridge I mentioned in the title or, to give it its official name, Holborn Viaduct. From the west, you arrive at the viaduct along Newgate Street and, having crossed this, continue eastwards along Holborn, that is, the street of that name. Below you, as you cross the bridge or viaduct, is what today is Farringdon Road but was once a river, the Fleet. Holborn Viaduct, built in 1863 to 1869, replaced an earlier bridge, but even in the days of this previous bridge, the poor old Fleet had been forced underground.
Incidentally, though we now pronounce the name of the street and the area as “HOH-b’n”, it derives from the Holebourne, a tributary of the Fleet which, like the bigger river, has also long since disappeared beneath masonry and road surfaces.
I have to say that, though it is not large, Holburn Viaduct is a magnificent piece of work. It is every inch a bridge fit for a river, even if that river no longer visibly flows and its waters have been replaced by motor vehicles. Recently repainted in what the Chinese would recognize as the auspicious colours of red and gold, it brightens up the cityscape and invites close study.
Do drivers – or for that matter, pedestrians – look up as they pass under the viaduct? If they do, they are no doubt disappointed for here, in contrast to the exterior, all is cold grey, although the decorative themes are repeated. Only a little gilding brightens the dullness.
Griffins are a repeated motif on the viaduct. Griffins are used as a symbol for the City of London and you will find a pair of these mythical beasts at each entrance to the City, facing out as though to challenge whoever approaches. They are a different kind of griffin, however, and not at all like these griffins. These have a whiff of the Chinese about them… or is that my imagination? Either way, I do not know if they are symbolic and if so, what they represent. Nor do I know who designed them.
The other mythical beasts, the winged lions, are easier. They are symbols of the Empire and the Victorians were so proud of their Empire. Other nations copied the Romans and took the eagle as their symbol but the British have always preferred the lion, winged or not. He is everywhere in London, from Nelson’s column to door knockers. The lions on the viaduct were made by Farmer & Brindley, a firm of architectural sculptors, William Farmer (1825-79) and William Brindley (1832-1919).
There are four more or less life-size allegorical figure sculptures on the bridge. On the north side are Science and Fine Art by Farmer & Brindley, with Commerce and Agriculture on the south side by Henry Bursill (c1833-1871). Bursill seems relatively obscure as a sculptor but much better know for his books on “shadowgraphy”, the art of projecting shadows of figures by use of the hands. (His books are still available from Amazon, should you wish to try his techniques.)
At each end of the viaduct are buildings known as step-houses, because they accommodate staircases that provide pedestrians to move between the upper and lower levels.
The sculptures on these buildings are also by Henry Bursill and represent people famous in the history of London. The one shown is Sir Hugh Myddelton who constructed the New River and brought much needed water to London.
Although the sun was still catching to tops of taller buildings, it would soon depart and the air was getting colder, so we made for a nearby bus stop. Pictured above is the tower of the City Temple, opened in 1874. It suffered badly in the Second World War and much of it had to be reconstructed, though I think the tower is original.
It’s hard to believe, in these days when falling attendance is causing churches to close down, that the high density of churches in London was ever necessary. But apparently it was in past ages when people were more religiously inclined or perhaps when the strictures of convention made it harder to admit disaffection. Just a few yards from the City Temple is St Andrew’s. This church escaped the Great Fire when the wind changed direction. Nonetheless, Christopher Wren still built a replacement. This is it… and it isn’t. Wren’s church was virtually destroyed in wartime bombing but was rebuilt in 1961 to Wren’s original design. The clock face still bears the date 1752.
St Andrew’s Bluecoat Parochial School was founded in 1696 but in 1721 was moved to Hatton Garden, where traces of it can still be found. The figures of a boy and girl were brought back to St Andrew’s when it reopened. The figures are, I think, rather charming, if a little scarred by time. It’s hard to know whether the boy is holding a Bible or a prayer book but the girl is holding a board with the date MDCXCVI (1696) inscribed on it. I read somewhere that the uniforms of the Bluecoat schools were blue because blue was the cheapest dye and charity schools of course needed to economize. For pictures of the Hatton Garden school, see here.
The bus stop was right opposite Holborn Bars, the beautiful headquarters built for the Prudential Assurance Company in 1876. I could not resist taking yet another photograph of this combination of beauty with Victorian confidence and pride.