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23 May 2013
If ever there was a place in London which encapsulates 'Englishness' the Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is it, hidden away down an alleyway between numbers 8-9 Hatton Garden. The first Mitre Tavern was built a few yards away in 1546 as the boozer for servants working in the Palace of the Bishops of Ely.
This small area is still technically under the control of the Diocese of Ely, Cambridgeshire and until the last century the pub licence was issued from Ely. The City police at that time had no jurisdiction within its bounds.
The Palace, before being demolished in 1772 was the magnificent residence used by the Bishops when they came to town, boasting a vineyard, orchard, gardens, fountains and ponds, all surrounded by a wall to keep out the locals. The community inside was then declared part of the mother county which became a corner of some foreign city that would be forever Cambridge.
If you believe Shakespeare's opinion on soft fruit, the strawberries grown there were the finest in London. The Duke of Gloucester speaking to the Bishop of Ely in Act 3 of Richard III declares:
When I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there: I do beseech you, send for some of them.
A strawberry fayre is still held in Ely Place every June in aid of charity.
Ely Place was the centre of religious and political power, John of Gaunt's famous speech from Act 2 of Shakespeare's Richard II is staged here:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
After the Reformation Queen Elizabeth forced the bishops to rent some of their land to Sir Christopher Hatton, one of her courtiers, the area then became known as Hatton Garden, which now of course is the centre of London's diamond trade.
The Virgin Queen seems always to have a liking for trees. In the front bar of the Mitre is the preserved trunk of a cherry tree around which she is said to have danced the maypole. Likewise at Hatfield House, until recently their gift shop had leant against the wall the trunk of the oak she was reputed to have been sitting under when she received news that she was now Queen.
The Mitre today claims to be the oldest pub in London, which although rebuilt in 1772 it is technically still part of Cambridgeshire, so it should lay claim to be the oldest boozer in Cambridge.
Soon after its rebuilding Dr. Johnson was a regular - Is there any 18th century public house without that claim? - and much of the interior would be familiar to the grumpy lexicographer. If you want to be transported back to Georgian London a trip to the outside gents toilets will give you that questionable experience. The only hand basin in the men's is in the cubicle so be weary of pissing on your hands if somebody is taking a dump there. The women's toilets are upstairs in the Bishop's Room it would be too tempting to have the men's toilets in the Bishop's Room for fear of jokes about bashing it.
Beware of head and body injuries in Ye Olde Mitre, as the ceilings are low and the rooms are small, dark and crammed with furniture and people, particularly is a tour group have just turned up. There is a coffin-sized cubby-hole off the back room that is large enough for a single table and four very close friends. The furniture comprises of harsh wooden upright seats and solid wooden tables that look as though they were used to lay-out dead bodies in the local mortuary. A sign requests that furniture is not moved away from the authentic wood-panelled walls. With no TV's, gaming machines or piped music, just the murmur of polite conversation Ye Old Mitre is a hidden gem.
More information on Ye Old Mitre can be found at London Details. The picture of the stone mitre that came from the gatehouse of the nearby Palace of the Bishop of Ely (demolished in 1772) by Mike Quinn.
20 May 2013
It's that time of year when the tourists start migrating to London.
Thousands of them descend on the streets forming long conga-lines each one of them intent on following the leader, but unlike native Londoners they tend to stick rigidly to the designated crossing points in the road.
Those crossing points are the fault of the gloriously named Leslie Hore-Belisha (1st Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon) who in 1934 as Transport Minister was appalled by the statistics that in one year 7,343 died and 231,603 were injured on Britain's roads.
Soon after being appointed to the post he nearly became a statistic as he used a pedestrian crossing. His brush with death came as he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot up - or was that down? It was two-way then - the street narrowly missing the good Baron. This is not different from today's Camden High Street except nowadays you have a choice in which car to select to hit you, in 1934 probably only two cars an hour drove up the street.
At the time every vehicle was subject to mandatory speed limits except perversely motor cars, so after his Camden High Street incident he introduced the 30mph speed limit in built up areas to all vehicles. Many said that it was the removal of 'an Englishman's freedom of the Highway' but undeterred he also brought in law mandatory driving tests.
His most visible legacy - which actually is the subject of this post - was the pedestrian crossing with their familiar black and white striped poles surmounted by an orange flashing light, nicknamed at the time 'Belisha Beacons', the familiar zebra stripes on the road were only introduced on 31st October 1951.
The most famous of these zebra crossings is at Abbey Road made famous by The Beatles which has been given heritage listing ignoring the fact that the crossing has been moved from its original location. Tourists daily risk life and limb being photographed as frustrated drivers push their way across as the tourists stand in the middle having their picture taken.
Nearly 80 years have passed since Belisha's blinking invention was introduced and apart from a zebra we have had a few pelican crossings, the occasional panda and now at Oxford Circus one straight from Tokyo the Shibuya crossing with its countdown timers.
Most crossings are still the originals with the stream of tourists patiently holding up traffic as they hesitantly negotiate the West End's roads. You know they are from out of Town as the locals obstinately refuse to cross at the designated points choosing to jay walk instead.
Two years ago a fellow cabbie put out a question. What are London's worst crossings? Despite the advances in traffic control the top five - as if they were listed heritage sites - remain as Hore-Belisha would recognise.
5th - Abbey Road. I know I've already mentioned this one, but what I can't understand is why people who weren't even born when that 'iconic' shot was taken want to pose on a crossing when Sir Paul McCartney who lives nearby could be walking past with a bemused look on his face. I often see idiots taking their photos on the crossing further north by Abercorn Place.
4th - St Paul's Churchyard. Everybody around here seems so terribly polite. But with the exaggerated bonhomie there is always a tourist running across at the last minute. The view of St. Paul's west door is great though.
3rd - Bow/Russell Street. Situated right by the Royal Opera House and a junction where cabs are constantly trying to turn into the main flow of traffic. The tourists seem to queue up here to jaywalk.
2nd - Endell/Bow Street/Long Acre. Within a few hundred yards of our 3rd placed entry. This one is on the turn of the road that's littered with rickshaws. It is crying out to be converted into one of those new fanged pelican or is that panda crossings?
16 May 2013
The Levenson inquiry recently published into the conduct of Britain's free press made recommendations of curbs, that should be placed upon the newspapers.
Nothing new then. In 1495 Sir Roger L'Estrange, the booming, bewigged licensor of the press, tried to ban pamphlets "throbbing with sedition" that were in circulation at that time.
At that time it was Caxton's apprentice, the appropriately named Wynkyn der Worde, who first set up shop in the area of Fleet Street. William Caxton (the first Englishman to print books in London) had worked in Westminister working for rich patrons. Wynkyn after a little legal wrangling inherited the business upon Caxton's death and in 1500 decided to build up business producing relatively inexpensive books for a mass market, declaring:
"I am going to make a torrent of ink run through ze streets of London. I will drown out all ignorance . . . I will be ze father of Fleet Street!"
And so he did.
By the time of his death in 1534/5, Wynkyn had published more than 400 books in over 800 editions, though some are extant only in single copies and many others are extremely rare.
Fleet Street was to become synonymous with print and publishing, but broadsheets as we know them were still a long way off. Politics and religion were a no-no for the presses, so 'execution prints' (gory details of hangings, drawings and quarterings) and quasi-scientific pamphlets thrived.
After 1695, journalists were free to criticise government policy or satirise the Church without ending up pilloried, gaoled, or having various body parts chopped off.
The Daily Courant was first published on 11th March 1702 by Edward Mallet from his premises "against the Ditch at Fleet Bridge". This is now Ludgate Circus beneath which lie the buried waters of the Fleet, once clogged up with dead dogs, raw sewage and suicide victims. This is the primordial ooze out of which the Gutter Press arose, an irony probably not lost on Levenson witnesses seeking newspaper restrictions.
Fleet Street was an ideal location for the London press. Ever since Tudor times the street was renowned for its profusion of ale-houses and taverns and by 1700 there were 26 coffeehouses. Little changed for over 250 years and a contemporary account by Bill Hagerty a former Fleet Street editor can be found here.
Because Fleet Street was one of London's main arteries transporting people and mail between Westminster and the City, these became lightning rods for political, financial, and overseas news. Journalists capitalised upon this and would mingle and eavesdrop in local establishments, returning to their offices with fresh gossip.
In 1862 Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand Book of London described a visit to The Times as:
"A visit to the office during the time the huge machine is at work, casting off its impressions at the rate of 170 copies a minute, will present a sight not easily to be forgotten. From five till nine in the morning this stupendous establishment, employing nearly 300 people daily on its premises is to be seen in active operation."
By 1900 most of the national newspapers were located in or near Fleet Street, alas today Fleet Street is a pale imitation of its former self. The printing offices have been replaced by blue plaques, including one for the Courant.
It's a testament to the impact of what was started by Wynkyn der Worde over 500 years ago and evolved into an uncensored press that 'Fleet Street' endures in the British lexicon as a metaphor for the newspaper industry - even though one of the few publishers still left on Fleet Street is the London office of D.C. Thomson & Co., creator of the Beano.
13 May 2013
The Café Royal has reopened with much of its original features still intact. If any of its early customers chose to revisit the hotel after nearly 100 years they would immediately recognise it.
Unfortunately Regent Street the road it occupies would be unrecognisable to its architect John Nash.
When in 1929 the new Regent Street was proposed the architects had every intention of building a new Café Royal and they were astonished when there was an outcry from across the world at the prospect of the beautiful Café Royal being destroyed. After a long campaign, which included representations from the Royal family, a compromise was reached - the interior of the dining room, with its magnificent decorative scheme, would be carefully removed and then when a room the exact size of the old room had been built in the new Café Royal the old interior would be slotted back into place.
The hotel was originally conceived in 1865 by Daniel Nichole-Thévenon, a bankrupt French wine merchant fleeing his creditors with just £5 in his pocket.
Later the Café Royal would flourish under the ownership of his son and at the time was considered to have the greatest wine cellar in Europe. By the turn of the 20th century it was the centre of fashionable London, numbering amongst its guests dining at the hotel's Grill Room or Empire and Napoleon Suite: Winston Churchill, Graham Greene and Elizabeth Taylor.
Some of the first boxing rules were written down in the hotel by the National Sporting Club, which held black-tie dinners before fights held there. A 1950's boxing ring complete with blood stains was auctioned by Bonham's prior to the hotel's recent refurbishment.
Over the years the Café Royal has seen its fair share of scandal. In 1894 the night porter was found with two bullets in his head, a murder which was never solved.
The hotel's most famous scandal arose between a conversation (the last civil one both men should engage with each other) between Oscar Wilde and The Marquess of Queensberry.
The Marquess, who instigated the hotel's boxing matches, and whose name is associated with the sport's rules, confronted Oscar Wilde and his friendship with the Marquess' son.
Wilde, a serious absinthe drinker would enjoy liquid lunches at the Café Royal, and the dining room would set the scene for the early 20th century's biggest scandal and the eventual demise of its most popular playwright.
The Marquess confronted Wilde about his dalliance with his son, the spoilt neurotic Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas.
For once Oscar Wilde could not charm his way out of his predicament as he had on numerous occasions. The Marquess of Queensbury stormed out to leave a misspelt card at Wilde's club:
'For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite'
For a playwright of Wilde's stature the misspelling must have been almost as serious affront as the accusation.
Wilde held a council of war at the Café Royal with among others George Bernard Shaw who urged him to let the matter drop.
In court Queensberry could avoid conviction for libel only by demonstrating that his accusation was in fact true and furthermore that there was some 'public benefit' to having made the accusation openly. Queensberry's lawyers hired private detectives to find evidence of Wilde's homosexual liaisons to prove the fact of the accusation. The libel trial became a cause célèbre as salacious details of Wilde's private life with blackmailers, male prostitutes, cross-dressers and homosexual brothels appeared in the press.
Wilde would lose the case and be himself arrested at the Cadogan Hotel (you now pay a premium to sleep in the same room); put on trial and served two years hard labour for gross indecency.
He would be released a broken man and never return to writing plays to such critical acclaim.
9 May 2013
"My mobile will not work once I've reported it as lost." His inference as to my honesty couldn't have been made clearer.
It was 1.30 am and the lad slouching in the back of my cab had lost his brand new Blackberry as it slipped unnoticed unto the back seat.
Stopping to fill up with diesel on my way home I had found his property and then ignored its incessant urgent ringing as I was driving home. Once in a position to legally talk to its owner, it transpired that he regularly mislaid his firm's phone, and if he should mislay this one, he would be shown the door.
"Can you deliver it later today?" I explained this was Sunday, and not only was I unprepared to work 7 days that week, I had a lunch engagement, while giving him the address where he could find me as I eat my Sunday dinner.
His surprise was palpable as I opened the door of the vicarage for him, insisting that a contribution to the church roof fund, for the inconvenience caused to our friend, the vicar, wouldn't come amiss.
Mobiles seem to be the most common property left in cabs these days, and usually they can be reunited with their owners easily without going through the rigmarole of London's lost property department.
Go back 15 years and returning property to its owner was an elaborate ritual between the hapless cabbie and the Metropolitan Police.
"Does anybody know where the lost bloody property book is?" Were usually the first words spoken by the constable, clearly annoyed at this civic duty of recording 'Property left in a licensed taxi'. Next not one but two sheets of carbon paper had to be found and carefully aligned within the book's pages everything HAD to be in triplicate.
The offending property was examined in forensic detail before recording. An elaborate lick of the pencil's end and a bored sigh, the process could begin. DCI Jane Tennison gave suspects an easier ride. "Name?" "Badge number?" "Cab plate?" "Journey undertaken by the property owner?" "Time of journey?" "Date of journey?" - Never admit that 48 hours have elapsed before handing in the aforementioned property, you faced a stern reprimand.
Each item's description committed to paper in triplicate you signed and dated the record. Next a plastic evidence bag had to be found from within the stationery cupboard and the property with the appropriate page from the book ceremoniously sealed within.
You walked out of the police station after 30 minutes clutching a slip which informed you that a reward was yours for the asking should the property be claimed.
Three months later you could get your 'reward' when you reluctantly entered the portals of the Public Carriage Office, a brutalist white building with memories of the days when an appearance would induce a loosening of one's bowels.
You then proffered the little slip to the man behind the counter, who judging by his size and demeanour, was used to being treated with respect.
Your reward was carefully doled out onto the counter which had a small slot in it, just about where your left elbow now rested. Its inscription read 'Police Widows and Orphans Fund'.
The parting gesture from the man behind the counter, looking at you with an unblinking stare, a look that they had taught him at Hendon Police College, was to tap the counter close to be charity box, its inference couldn't be clearer.
6 May 2013
By the beginning of Victoria's reign such was the fervour to build railways over 150 companies operated the thousands of miles of track that criss-crossed Britain. Greenwich Mean Time had established a uniform time across the rail network (before each town ran to its own version of time), but travelling across Britain trying to connect with different trains operated by separate companies had become well neigh impossible.
One publication, Bradshaw's would become the indispensable companion for the traveller, giving timetables for every operator, to the extent that a 'Bradshaw' entered into common usage as the name for a reliable timetable.
As late as between the two world wars, the verb 'to Bradshaw' was a derogatory term used in the Royal Air Force to refer to pilots who could not navigate well, perhaps related to a perceived lack of ability shown by those who navigated by following railway lines.
Recently Michael Portillo in his television series 'Great Rail Journeys' has revived this one-time handy companion and reproductions of this book back on to booksellers' shelves.
So it was recently that I picked up a copy of the original Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs 1862 published by Conway.
The original volume was produced for visitors coming to the capital for the Great International Exhibition of 1862 and is written as a series of walking tours.
It gives an insight to a London unrecognisable to us today:
Newgate Market, which is productive of considerable inconvenience to the public, from its ill-chosen situation. On market-days it frequently happens that the streets in the vicinity are completely blocked up by the butchers' carts. In thirteen slaughter houses here, there are as many as 600 sheep, and from 50 to 110 bullocks slaughtered every day. It will, certainly, be a great public convenience, of Old Smithfield, which is close at hand, as suggested, be converted into a dead meat market.
Bridewell a City house of correction . . . the prison affords accommodation for seventy male and thirty female prisoners, who are incarcerated in single cells. The sentences vary from three days to three months. The treadmill is kept in active operation.
Regent Street . . . A new building called the London Crystal Palace, to form a Bazaar, is just completed . . . there is a conservatory, aquarium, and aviary attached.
Soho Square . . . is chiefly tenanted by music publishers and those connected with the music profession. In the centre is a stable of Charles II, in whose reign the ground was principally built upon.
There is also advice for tourists on coping with London smog, avoiding pickpockets, dealing with London's muddy streets and ferocious din, and many other topics including advice on the hiring of cabs.
Speed and Distance - When hired by distance the driver is bound to drive at a proper speed, not less than six miles an hour, except requested by the hirer to drive at a slower pace, or in cases of unavoidable delay. When hired by time to drive at the rate of four miles an hour, or if desired to drive at a greater speed, the driver shall be entitled to an additional fare of sixpence per mile over and above the four miles per hour.
But the biggest revelation is the table of cab fares:
Leicester Square to the Tower of London - 1s 6d
St. Paul's Church to the Strand - 6d
Paddington Station (Great Western) to the Lyceum Theatre -2s 6d
This meticulously detailed and comprehensive book makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in London's rich history.
2 May 2013
No matter how glum I may feel driving around London the sight of a Pimlico Plumbers' van with their amusing number plates: W4TER, DRA1N, BOG 1 or my favourite 701LET is guaranteed to put a smile on my face, and if you want one for your home they have now even produced a diecast model of their iconic blue and white livered vans that you can buy. I doubt if these miniatures announce "This Pimlico Plumbers van is reversing" as the full sized version does but I guarantee that when you purchase the model it will be as immaculately clean as the originals are maintained.
The company's founder and Managing Director, Charlie Mullins, is the archetypical London boy made good. Bunking off school at the age of nine to help a local plumber, he couldn't wait to stop his education early to become an apprentice plumber.
Once he became a journeyman plumber, and after a couple of false starts, he founded Pimlico Plumbers. His the success, and this should be memorised by every aspiring business leader, isn't through any special business plans, strategies or forecasts, the core values established from the outset are still the key drivers to the business' success today. Quality of service.
Charlie looked at all the bad things people think about the plumbing industry: the ripping off, looking scruffy, dirty old van, making out that you can't get the part, not finishing the job, never turning up on time. He reckons that if you just do the opposite to all the bad things you can't fail.
Another unusual aspect of Pimlico Plumbers is their willingness to employ older staff; something that many of my generation have found to their cost, that employers are unwilling or unable to take on middle aged staff. Pimlico's have gone way beyond that age demographic. George Gibbs, aged 83 of Snodland, sent an appeal out in his local newspaper and some of Pimlico Plumbers employees who lived in the area brought the paper in for Charlie to read. The boss, who has appeared on Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire, was impressed and hired Gibbs as a van driver. Pimlico's have in the past employed even older staff, Buster Martin, who sadly passed away in April, was Britain's oldest employee at 104.
Now Pimlico Plumbers is on the search for classic 'Crappers' and plumbing icons for its new museum featuring bathrooms from the past 150 years; Victorian toilets, art-deco basins from the 1930s and of course Thomas Crapper originals.
Charlie Mullins whose client list includes Harry Hill, Jack Dee and Helena Bonham Carter is always keen to promote his trade, claims that plumbing is the world's second oldest profession and the skills and innovations of the industry have touched everyone's lives. His new museum intends to showcase a range of quirky exhibits that will demonstrate the ingenuity of pluming engineers and bring back memories for visitors.
Entry to the museum in Sail Street will be free with a collection box for nominated charities and it has to be near the top of London's most quirky museums.
29 April 2013
The name cab derives from the French, cabriolet de place and London cabbies have a surprisingly ancient heritage, the now defunct Corporation of Coachmen having secured a charter to ply for hire in London back in 1639.
Hackney Carriage is still the official term used to describe taxis and has nothing to do with that area in east London.
The name comes from hacquenée, the French term for a general-purpose horse, it literally means, 'ambling nag'.
In 1625 there were as few as 20 cabs available for hire and operating out of inn yards, but in 1636 the owner of four hackney coaches, a certain Captain Bailey a retired mariner, dressed his four drivers in livery so they would be easily recognisable and established a tariff for various parts of London and most important of all brought them into the Strand outside the Maypole Inn, and in so doing the first taxi rank had been established, this attracted the attention of other hackney coachmen who flocked there seeking work.
In 1636 Charles I made a proclamation to enable 50 hackney carriages to ply for hire in London, it was left up to the City's Aldermen to make sure this number was not exceeded.
After the Civil War, in 1654 Oliver Cromwell set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages by an Act of Parliament, and taxi driving became a profession; their numbers was allowed to increase to 200 hackney carriages. The Act was replaced in 1662 under Charles II by a new act, which required the hackney coaches to be licensed, and restricted their number to 400. In 1688 the number was increased to 600, and then again six years later by an Act of Parliament to 700.
Despite licensing they failed to attract the right sort of passenger, however, so that in 1694 a bevy of females in one cab reportedly behaved so badly in the environs of Hyde Park that the authorities responded by banning hired cabs from the park for the next 230 years.
Between 1711 and 1798 some 24 separate Acts of Parliament were passed dealing specifically with the cab trade and increasing the number of drivers who could ply for hire. In 1711 800 licenses were issued and by 1815 the numbers had reached 1,200.
In 1833 the number of drivers became unregulated, and there was no longer a restriction on the amount of taxis, the only limit was that the driver and vehicle be 'fit and proper', a condition that still applies today. This makes the licensed taxi trade the oldest regulated public transport system in the world, and it is the licensed cabbies in the trade that have demanded that it stays this way. With the passing of The London Hackney Carriage Act the Metropolitan Police gained control of the trade for the next 169 years.
In December 1834, Joseph Hansom of Hinckley, Leicestershire, registered his Patent Safety Cab, but sold the patient for £10,000 before he had it manufactured. Its design was improved by cutting away the body of the cab under the passenger's seat at an angle, inserting a slope in the floor where the passenger's feet rested, and raising the driver's seat some 7ft off the ground; this produced the perfect counterbalance and gave us the most famous Hansom carriage to ply London's streets. Because of London's congested streets modern London cabs average speed is now lower than the 17mph attainable by the 1834 Hansom carriage.
By mid-Victorian times the drivers had acquired a bit of a reputation, prompting a number of philanthropists - led by a certain Captain Armstrong from St. John's Wood, the editor of the Globe newspaper - to pay for the erection of London's distinctive green cab shelters, places where drivers could eat rather than drink alcohol, and where discussion of politics was strictly forbidden, 64 were built although only around a dozen still remain.
In 1887 Gottlieb Daimler, having previously invented the internal combustion engine some four years earlier, built the first petrol-powered cab, but the Metropolitan Police refused to license such a crazy device until 1904.
The taximeter was invented in 1891 by Wilhelm Bruhn and it is from this that the term taxi is derived. The taximeter measures the distance travelled and time taken of all journeys, allowing an accurate fare to be charged. The word comes from French taxe ('price') and Greek metron ('measure'). Previous inventions for calculating fares included the "Patent Mile-Index" in 1847 and the "Kilometric Register" in 1858. These were disliked by cab drivers as they did not want their incomes regulated by machines. Even Bruhn's taximeter ended up being thrown in the river by drivers, and were not made compulsory until 1907, his invention is still being used today.
The 'Knowledge of London' was introduced in 1851 by Sir Richard Mayne after complaints that cab drivers did not know where they were going at the time of The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Passing the Knowledge involves detailed recall of 25,000 streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. The locations of clubs, hospitals, hotels, railway stations, parks, theatres (including the stage door), courts, restaurants, colleges, government buildings and places of worship are also required. In addition Blue Plaques, statutes and London curiosities can be asked. The examinations take the form of a one-to-one oral test and take over three years to pass.
25 April 2013
Achilles Statue in Hyde Park was cast in 1822 from cannons taken in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo and presented by 'The Women of England' as a tribute to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. It was the very first statue of a naked man on public display in London. Originally anatomically correct, if you get my drift, but after the aforementioned women realised that all parts of a man's anatomy scale up in size proportionately, a fig leaf was added later to save blushes. The addition has been chipped off twice - in 1870 and 1961, probably to see what's underneath. If you look closely at the image you can just see the join.
Haig's Urinating Horse
Douglas, 1st Earl Hag who commanded the British forces in 1915 during the first world war, but has since been denigrated for his mismanagement of the battle of Passchendale, his critics were quick to point out that the hind legs of his horse suggest not propulsion but urinating.
On the first floor directly over the entrance with its statute of Prospero and Ariel is the council chamber, the statute depicting from Shakespeare's Tempest, Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolises the future of broadcasting to the world. Eric Gill its sculptor it would seem had other ideas. He insisted on carving the statute in situ. Standing on scaffolding above the entrance, female employees on arriving would be greeted by the unwelcome sight of London's first 'builder's bum' for Gill wore a monk's habit with nothing underneath. When completed Prospero was found to have a girl's face carved upon his bottom, the image facing the council chamber. As for Ariel being sent out into the world, he would appear rather well endowed for that, for such a young child.
King William III's mole
Equine statutes litter London's landscape, but one in St. James's Square illustrates just how dangerous riding horses can be: this statute of King William III was erected in 1806 and there is something strange about it. A small molehill lies at the feet of Sorrel, the King's horse. What is the molehill for? The answer is that William is said to have died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone, resulting from a fall off his horse. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole's burrow. William was the Protestant King brought to England from Holland to replace the last Catholic: King James. James's supporters and all Jacobites then and now still toast "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat". The mole that killed a king. The saying "Dutch Courage" also comes from William III's reign.
22 April 2013
The posing artist
Situated next to the Blue Fin Building on Bankside is what looks at first glance to be a simple bronze statue standing on a stone plinth. However, the mischievous figure will observe the world around him and react to passers-by by mimicking poses they strike in front of him. The playful sculpture will even create his own poses if left alone. The work entitled Monument to the Unknown Artist is the work of Greyworld who have produced many automatomic installations one of their most famous works is The Source, a 32 metre installation seen daily on TV as it opens the London Stock Exchange's trading day every morning.
Albert's little number
A huge Gothic edifice erected to the memory of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, is decorated with sculptures which reveal an extraordinary but quite unintentional set of coincidences. There are 61 human figures (Albert died in 1861); there are 19 men (Albert was born in 1819); there are 42 women (Albert died at age 42); and there are 9 animals (Albert had 9 children).
The statue of Handel in Westminster Abbey has someone else's ear. The sculptor, Louis Francois Roubillac, thought that Handel's ear, though without doubt musical, was rather ugly. So he used as a model the ear of a certain Miss Rich, which, though not at all musical, was sculpturally perfect.
In the gardens of Smithfield stands the statue of a young woman wearing a solid gold wedding ring. The ring was found by the market superintendent in 1924, and when no one claimed it, he had it soldered onto her finger, because as she had been standing there, supposed to represent fertility since 1873, he thought it was high time she got married.