Stroll up Moorgate Street from the Bank of England, and about a third of the way along on your right, look up and, set into a niche in the corner of number 42, you will see a stone model of a lighthouse.
This is because this was once the headquarters of the Ocean Accident & Guarantee Corporation which, through various takeovers and mergers, is now just a footnote in Aviva’s corporate history.
The building itself was designed by Aston Webb, that great exponent of Imperial architecture and the man behind Admiralty Arch, Imperial College and the Brompton Road entrance to the V&A.
The lighthouse model is 15 foot (4.5m) high and in Portland stone, and the niche in which it sits is decorated with a frieze of ships in sail. At one time the light even worked (although I can’t find out whether it flashed lighthouse style, or was just a steady beam) and I suspect that if Habib Bank, the current tenants of the building, spent a few quid to get that working again there would be general rejoicing.
This splendid object is over the road from the entrance to Postman’s Park in St Martin’s le Grand.
It’s a reminder of a time when the police didn’t have radios and the public didn’t have mobile phones (or, for most people, telephones in their houses).
The red light at the top would be illuminated when the station wanted the officer on the beat to call in for instructions. The ‘phone would be in the top compartment of the box and a first-aid kit was in the space below.
There are, apparently, eight such “call posts” still in the City of London, and several more scattered around central London (including one at Piccadilly Circus), although none of them are operational. Those for the City of London Police are painted light blue and those for the Metropolitan Police are dark blue – even when it comes to street furniture, the City and the Met need to keep their fine distinctions.
The new header image you can see above (and to the right, click on it to see the bigger version ) was my Christmas present – it’s a 2 metre-wide print by Neil Williams that was bought from his stall in Northcote Road market.
It’s stitched together from a whole load of individual images – as he says on his Facebook page, “I had to handhold the camera because you’re not allowed to take up a tripod. in the end I merged about 50 images together.”
You can see more of Neil Williams’s London photos on his website.
You can keep your hoards of gold and silver, your Egyptian mummies, your blockbuster Viking exhibitions. For me, the most wonderful piece in the whole British Museum is a bit of graffiti, not done by any artist or craftsman, but by a bored squaddie looking for ways to kill time.
Scratched onto a flat part of the base of one of the extraordinary Assyrian winged bulls are a couple of dozen squares. They’re the board for a dice game and were incised around 710BC (although earlier examples of the game have been found dating back 4500 years). The thing seems to have been a sort of “race” game with counters (think of Ludo).
This was a surprise. You really don’t expect to come across a huge Georgian relic in a post-war south London housing estate.
But in the middle of the Notre Dame estate in Clapham is this – the portico to an Orangery (or greenhouse) “formerly part of a miniature landscape estate with a lake belonging to the Thornton family” built in 1793. (More about other members of the Thornton family in my earlier post about Battersea Rise.)
London Gardens Online describes it thus: “The façade is a simple classical design with columns of Portland stone and Ionic capitals in Coade stone. The pediment is decorated with swags of roses, fir cones and leaves and in the entablature is carved a quotation from Virgil [HIC VER ASSIDUUM ATQUE ALIENIS MENSIBUS AESTAS], which translates roughly as ‘Here is perpetual spring and summer even in other months’. There were glazed sashes between the columns, and the inside was plainly plastered.“
Buried under the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall is an extraordinary historical survivor. Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar is one of the few remaining parts of Whitehall Palace – the main London residence of Kings and Queens (and Lord Protectors – because Oliver Cromwell also lived there) for over 150 years.
Today Whitehall is the name of the broad road linking Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, or it’s used as a synonym for ‘government’, but Whitehall was once the biggest palace in Europe – bigger than the Vatican, bigger even than Versailles – covering over 93,000 square metres between the river and Green Park. It became a royal palace when Henry VIII confiscated a residence called York Place from Cardinal Wolsey. As well as being Lord Chancellor of England and the most powerful commoner in the realm, Wolsey was also Archbishop of York whose London seat since the 13th century had been York Place.
Today I was going to go round Banqueting House, the last properly surviving bit of the old Palace of Whitehall, but when I got there it was closed for an event, so I went off and photographed some war memorials instead.
Of all the memorials in London, the most striking is the Royal Artillery Memorial located on (essentially) the traffic island at Hyde Park Corner. You can see it as you sit on the bus as it heads north, but it’s well worth taking the time to get up close.
Designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, the Memorial is a stunning piece of realist sculpture and one of the finest examples of statuary anywhere in London.
Another door, this time on Barge House Street, in the outer wall of what is now the Oxo Tower complex. The Royal coat of arms above the door is because prior to being a cold store for the company that made Oxo, the building had been a power station for the Post Office. From looking at the old maps of the area, we can see the power station was built after 1896. (The map images below are from 1896 and 1919) According to the Wikipedia entry, much of the power station was demolished in 1928 and the building rebuilt in Art Deco style by Albert Moore, although the river-facing facade was retained. Obviously the Barge House Street facade was also left relatively unchanged.
In Brompton Cemetery stands this wonderful monument to Reginald Warneford, the first man to destroy a Zeppelin in combat, over Belgium on 7 June 1915. He didn’t shoot it down, but dropped bombs on it – the resulting explosion almost killing him in the process.
Warneford’s own account provides lots of colour: “I left Furnes at 1:00 am on 7th June 1915 … under orders to look for Zeppelins and attack the Berchem St Agathe Airship Shed with six 20lb bombs.
On arriving at Dixmude at 1:15 am, I observed a Zeppelin … and proceeded in chase… I arrived at close quarters a few miles past Bruges at 1:50 am and the Airship opened heavy maxim fire, so I retreated to gain height and the Airship turned and followed me. At 2:15 am it stopped firing and 2:25 am I came behind, but well above the Zeppelin; height then 11,000 feet, and switched off my engine to descend on top of him. When close above him at 7,000 feet I dropped my bombs, and … there was an explosion which lifted my machine and turned it over. The aeroplane was out of control for a short period, went into a nose dive, but control was regained. I then saw the Zeppelin was on the ground in flames.”
The closing of a small estate agent’s office in South West London is hardly big news (some might even raise a cheer), but the closure of the Edwin Evans office on Lavender Hill marks a break with a significant piece of Battersea history.
Because it was the original (Sir) Edwin Evans who bought, demolished and developed Battersea Rise House and its 22 acres of land on the north west corner of Clapham Common. His consortium paid £51,000 for the whole plot and parcelled off lots for development, with 475 houses being built on the land between 1908 and 1915.
Battersea Rise House from the Common, about 1900
Battersea Rise House dated from the early 18th century, but it came to prominence from 1792 when Henry Thornton, a wealthy banker, bought it and moved in with his cousin William Wilberforce.
Two of Thornton’s brothers owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded (and high-minded) friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.