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Around Old Billingsgate

June 6, 2020
by the gentle author

These intriguing photographs are selected from a cache of transparencies of unknown origin at the Bishopsgate Institute. We believe they date from the nineteen-sixties but the photographer is unidentified. 

Fish Porters at Number One Snack Bar next to St Magnus the Martyr

Looking west along Lower Thames St and Monument St

Sign outside St Mary-At-Hill

Pushing barrows of ice up Lovat Lane

Passage next to St Mary-At-Hill

Carved mice on a building in Eastcheap

Old shop in Eastcheap

Billingsgate Market cat

Inside the fish market designed by Horace Jones

Old staircase near Billingsgate

The Coal Exchange, built 1847 demolished 1962

Part of London Bridge crossing Lower Thames St, now removed

The Old Wine Shades, Martin Lane

Sign of a Waterman, now in Museum of London

In All Hallows Lane

Derelict site next to Cannon St Station

Looking towards Bankside Power Station by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, now Tate Modern

Old Blackfriars Station

The Blackfriar pub

Sculptures upon the Blackfriar

Sunrise over Tower Bridge

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Cats In The Time Of Coronavirus

June 5, 2020
by the gentle author

Our feline friends have been having a high old time of late, with doting owners at home all day tending to their domestic needs and the streets cleared of traffic to facilitate their urban wanderings. Photographer Chris Kelly found that she encountered far more than usual while taking her daily exercise and took these pictures to record these strange days when the cats took over.

“Like most photographers I decided to record the experience of lockdown and, of course, it had to be local. Daily exercise has taught me to notice more about my neighbourhood, I saw very few people but when the sun came out so did the cats.

Over exactly two months I met an astonishing number of cats, some of them self-distancing but many of them eager for attention. After a tiger in the Bronx Zoo caught the coronavirus there was some early advice about keeping cats indoors. Yet it transpired that there’s no record of humans catching the virus from cats and the advice changed. Cats should be kept indoors if the owners are infected – but only if the cats don’t mind.

Photographing cats is a frivolous pursuit, although friends and former colleagues appreciated them when I shared a few online and the strikingly beautiful spotted Bengal cat is now someone’s screensaver. The last time I saw this cat it was two thirds of the way up a pine tree in pursuit of a magpie chattering derisively. 

Now the rules are relaxing I might just meet some owners and hear their lockdown stories.” 

Chris Kelly

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly’s THE NECESSARY CAT – A PHOTOGRAPHER’S MEMOIR is available from many independent bookshops including Brick Lane Books, Broadway Books & Newham Bookshop.

You may like to see these other photographs by Chris Kelly

Cats of Spitalfields

East End Cats

Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits

Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

Dogs Of London Fields

June 4, 2020
by the gentle author

Photographer Rachel Ferriman and Writer Lucy Yates made these splendid canine portraits

“One hot Sunday afternoon we set out for London Fields to discover how dogs and their owners have been faring under lockdown. So many people sat on the grass in the sun that the heavy shade of the trees provided the only spots for dog walkers to exercise their pets. Gradually the buzz of conversation and the dim thud of music gave way to trills of birdsong and the rattle of an occasional train. As the evening cooled and shadows lengthened, the dogs came out.

When we returned the following morning, the park had shrugged off its dusty exhaustion. The tennis courts were newly open and a sprinkler ticked across the cricket pitch. The air was cool and fresh, spiked with moisture. A few yoga devotees had spread mats out on the grass, a scattering of people were breakfasting cross-legged on the grass and two small children chased after a kite. This second visit brought more relaxed opportunities to meet local residents and their pets as they criss-crossed the park, greeting each other.” – Lucy Yates

Max (German Shepherd) with Natasha

“Max belongs to a fellow named Alan. He’s been waiting for a knee operation for well over a year so I’ve been walking Max since I lost my own dog in February last year. Max and Bailey were best friends, Bailey was a Staff-Pitt mix who looked like a thug but was a big teddy bear.

I’ve lived here on the Blackstone Estate for thirty years now. The sun rises over there in the east and, if you stand on this path, you get a cathedral of trees. It’s beautiful. Max is coming up to eleven years old, he has heat pads and cooling pads to keep him comfortable. Max’s owner takes such good care of him. There’s a really good community amongst the dog walkers.”

Max

Peaches (Pomsky Puppy) with Holly & Larry

Larry – “Peaches is twelve weeks old now. We got her from a breeder in Wales. We were unsure about buying a dog during lockdown, partly because we were worried about scammers.”

Holly – “Lockdown is depressing, so in the end we said, “Let’s just go for it.” We’re real lockdown parents, we’ve just been at home feeding her with chicken breast.”

Peaches

Loki with Evan

“I adopted Loki a year and a half ago from friends who had kids – two boys plus a dog was too much for them. Everyone’s at home at the moment, so it’s easy to walk him but the park has been busy. We have to exhaust him otherwise he’s barking out of the window all day. He gets really hot and is a real puddle seeker, he goes for the most disgusting puddles. There’s a splash and you just see the steam rising off him.”

Loki and his beloved ball

Tommy (retired racing Greyhound) with Katie & Arturas

Arturas – “Tommy’s a retired racer from Ireland, he’s got a tattoo on his right ear. You can use this to look up his sporting achievements on a database. When I saw him in the Battersea Dogs Home I felt an instant connection, he just came up to me. I’d only gone along for a quick look but I filled out the papers and paid £130 for him. I walked all the way to Denmark Hill station to get on the Overground to take him home but he stopped at the stairs. He’d never been up stairs before. He had to learn right then and there – we did it little by little.”

Katie – “When we first got him, he didn’t ever seem happy but now he likes to be petted. The first time we let him off his leash in London Fields he just bolted. We were running around and screaming, “Catch the dog!” The other week he met another greyhound in the park and they just started running together so fast. The whole park was watching.”

Tommy

Tommy’s racing tattoo

Storm (Siberian Husky) with Luca

“Storm’s a neighbour’s dog, he’s elderly and can’t get out now because of the coronavirus. I used to walk Storm on weekends but now I’m walking her five or six times a week. She hasn’t seen as many of her friends in the park as she usually would.

She’s eight and a half years old, and is a rescue dog from Manchester. It’s been hot today so, if she needs to cool down, she’ll go for a dip in the canal just in up to her belly. I always carry a bottle of water for her too. Walking her is one of the best parts of my day and having her at my side makes me feel better.”

Storm

Ludo (Labrador) with Charlie & Milo

Charlie – “Milo’s just got a new ball and is totally focused on that. I walk him every day in London Fields or Haggerston Park. During lockdown, he’s been having two walks a day and everyone’s around so he’s been really happy. He’s got a garden too so he’s a lucky dog.”

Ludo

Iggy (Hungarian Viszlaw) with Davina

“Iggy is eight months and his favourite snack is apples and coconut strips. We always go for a two hour walk in the morning. I used to be a fashion consultant on the wholesale side. I’ve always supported people in business and I realised I wanted to do it in a more satisfying, nurturing way. I trained as a reiki practitioner and during lockdown I’ve been doing virtual distanced healing. Lockdown has made me slow down in a good way.”

Iggy

Molly (Jack Russell Terrier) with Sharon

“I bought Molly as a Jack Russell but both her parents are quite long, so she might be a bit Spaniel. She’s ten months old. I’ve lived here thirty years, near Broadway Market.”

Molly

Rilo, Laika, Birdie & Jess with Kenny & Riley, aged eight

Riley – “At home we have another dog, Coco, a tortoise and three birds.”

Kenny – “All the dogs were street dogs originally. Rilo and Laika were from Greece, Birdie from Romania and Jess from the Isle of Dogs. We have a business – Adam Reed Salon – in Spitalfields, next to the Ten Bells on Fournier Street. We’d been only open for four weeks and then had to close due to Covid, which was a bit of a disaster, to be honest.”

Rilo, Laika, Birdie & Jess with Kenny & Riley

Rocco & Missy (Jack Russell Terriers) with John

“Everyone calls me John but my real name’s Giovanni. I’ve made films with Robert de Niro – No, I’m joking you! I’m known for having a silly sense of humour. Fella came round with the puppies, I said I only wanted one. He knew what he was doing when he walked in, my wife fell in love with the other one so I bought the two. I had another Jack Russell called Bluey, he used to jump up and down. I told a woman he was an Australian Jack Russell, because all Australian animals jump, don’t they?

I’ve lived around here all my life, my mum died when I was seven and my grandfather’s three sisters and their mum brought me up. My grandad always used to say, “It’s nice to be nice, have a shine on your shoes and a smile on your face” – he had so many sayings. I went to St. Peter’s Italian school in Clerkenwell and one of my granddaughters married an Italian, turns out I went to school with his grandparents.”

Rocco & Missy

Lillie-May with Ann

“I’ve been feeling ill for the last few weeks. I’ve got asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I usually meet John in the park walking Rocco & Missy too. He’s always waiting for me.”

Lillie-May

Crystal (Pitbull-Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross) with Abdul

“I live on the other side of the park. She’s eleven now but I’ve had her since she was about a year old. She wasn’t trained or anything when I got her.”

Crystal

Jelly with Fran & Grace

“I got her at ten weeks old in February. She’s five months old now. Best money I’ve ever spent. We usually walk in Hackney Downs, but every now and again we come down here.”

Jelly

Percy & Moomin (Chihuahuas) with Liz

“I’ve had Percy for four years and I got Moomin as a puppy. I work for the NHS, so I’ve been busy but I’ve been walking them early every day. I want to try jogging with them as Percy’s put on a few lockdown pounds recently.”

Pablo (Chihuahua) with Jess

Jess – “This is his first walk. We wanted a puppy for a really long time but now we’re both working from home we had time. Our decision to get him was really spontaneous. We’d been for a walk in Victoria Park and, when we got home and checked the website, a new litter of Chihuahua puppies had just been posted two hours before in Brighton. We chose him because he was super-playful and just wanted to know who you were.”

Sacha – “We talked about good names for dogs really early on in our relationship and we both liked Pablo. He’s Mexican breed so we went with a Latin American name.”

Pablo on his very first walk with Sacha & Jess

Photographs copyright © Rachel Ferriman

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List Of Shops Open For Business

June 3, 2020
by the gentle author

Fishmonger, Commercial Rd, by Anthony Cairns

Every Wednesday, I publish the up to date list of stalwarts that remain open in Spitalfields. Readers are especially encouraged to support small independent businesses who offer an invaluable service to the community. This list confirms that it is possible to source all essential supplies locally without recourse to supermarkets.

Be advised many shops are operating limited opening hours at present, so I recommend you call in advance to avoid risking a wasted journey. Please send any additions or amendments for next week’s list to spitalfieldslife@gmail.com

This week’s illustrations are photographs of closed shops taken by Anthony Cairns using the Van Dyke process. See the full set here

The Handy Shop, Ruskin Ave, E12 by Anthony Cairns

GROCERS & FOOD SHOPS

The Albion, 2/4 Boundary St
Ali’s Mini Superstore, 50d Greatorex St
AM2PM, 210 Brick Lane
As Nature Intended, 132 Commercial St
Banglatown Cash & Carry, 67 Hanbury St
Breid Bakery, Arch 72, Dunbridge St
Brick Lane Minimarket, 100 Brick Lane
The Butchery Ltd, 6a Lamb St (Open Thursdays only)
City Supermarket, 10 Quaker St
Costprice Minimarket, 41 Brick Lane
Faizah Minimarket, 2 Old Montague St
JB Foodstore, 97 Brick Lane
Haajang’s Corner, 78 Wentworth St
Hackney Essentials, 146 Columbia Road
Leila’s Shop, 17 Calvert Avenue (Call 0207 729 9789 between 10am-noon on Tuesday-Saturdays to place your order and collect on the same day from 2pm-4pm)
The Melusine Fish Shop, St Katharine Docks
Nisa Local, 92 Whitechapel High St
Pavilion Bakery, 130 Columbia Rd
Rinkoff’s Bakery, 224 Jubilee Street & 79 Vallance Road
Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton St (Order through website)
Sylhet Sweet Shop, 109 Hanbury St
Taj Stores, 112 Brick Lane
Zaman Brothers, Fish & Meat Bazaar, 19 Brick Lane

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Unknown shop, Mile End, E1, by Anthony Cairns

TAKE AWAY FOOD SHOPS

Before you order from a delivery app, why not call the take away or restaurant direct?

Absurd Bird Fried Chicken, 54 Commercial St
Al Badam Fried Chicken, 37 Brick Lane
Allpress Coffee, 58 Redchurch St
Band of Burgers, 22 Osborn St
Beef & Birds, Brick Lane
Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane
Beigel Shop, 155 Brick Lane
Bellboi Coffee, 104 Sclater St
Bengal Village, 75 Brick Lane
Big Moe’s Diner, 95 Whitechapel High St
Burro E Salvia Pastificio, 52 Redchurch St
The Carpenters Arms, 73 Cheshire St (Open for take away beers)
China Feng, 43 Commercial St
Circle & Slice Pizza, 11 Whitechapel Rd
Dark Sugars, 45a Hanbury St (Take away ice cream and deliveries of chocolate)
Donburi & Co, Korean & Japanese, 13 Artillery Passage
Duke of Wellington, 12 Toynbee St (Open for take away beers)
Eastern Eye Balti House, 63a Brick Lane
Enso Thai & Japanese, 94 Brick Lane
Exmouth Coffee Shop, 83 Whitechapel High St
Grounded Coffee Shop, 9 Whitechapel Rd
Holy Shot Coffee, 155 Bethnal Green Rd
Hotbox Smoked Meats, 46-48 Commercial St
Jack The Chipper, 74 Whitechapel High St
Jonestown Coffee, 215 Bethnal Green Rd
Laboratorio Pizza, 79 Brick Lane
La Cucina, 96 Brick Lane
Leon, 3 Crispin Place, Spitalfields Market
Madhubon Sweets, 42 Brick Lane
Mooshies Vegan Burgers, 104 Brick Lane
Nude Expresso, The Roastery, 25 Hanbury St
E. Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Rd
Pepe’s Peri Peri, 82 Brick Lane
Peter’s Cafe, 73 Aldgate High St
Picky Wops Vegan Pizza, 53 Brick Lane
Polo Bar, 176 Bishopsgate
Quaker St Cafe, 10 Quaker St
Rajmahal Sweets, 57 Brick Lane
Rosa’s Thai Cafe, 12 Hanbury St
Shawarma Lebanese, 84 Brick Lane
Shoreditch Fish & Chips, 117 Redchurch St
Sichuan Folk, 32 Hanbury St
String Ray Globe Cafe, 109 Columbia Road
Sushi Show, 136 Bethnal Green Rd
Ten Bells, 84 Commercial St (Takeway beer on Thursday, Friday & Saturday)
Vegan Yes, Italian & Thai Fusion, 64 Brick Lane
White Horse Kebab, 336 Bethnal Green Rd
Yuriko Sushi & Bento, 48 Brick Lane

.

Unknown shops by Anthony Cairns

OTHER SHOPS & SERVICES

Boots the Chemist, 200 Bishopsgate
Brick Lane Bookshop, 166 Brick Lane (Books ordered by phone or email are delivered free locally)
Brick Lane Bikes, 118 Bethnal Green Rd
Brick Lane Off Licence, 114/116 Brick Lane
Day Lewis Pharmacy, 14 Old Montague St
E1 Cycles, 4 Commercial St
Eden Floral Designs, 10 Wentworth St (Order fresh flowers online for free delivery)
Flashback Records, 131 Bethnal Green Rd (Order records online for delivery)
Harry Brand, 122 Columbia Road (Order gifts online for delivery)
Hussain Tailoring, 64 Hanbury St
iRepair, Phones & Computer, 94 Whitechapel High St
GH Cityprint, 58-60 Middlesex St
Leyland Hardware, 2-4 Great Eastern St
Mobile Clinic & Laptop Repairs, 7 Osborne St
Post Office, 160a Brick Lane
Quality Dry Clean, 151 Bethnal Green Rd
Rose Locksmith & DIY, 149 Bethnal Green Rd
Sid’s DIY, 2 Commercial St
Spitalfields Dry Cleaners, 12 Whites Row

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Gricks Jellied Eels, Rosebery Ave, E12 by Anthony Cairns

ELSEWHERE

E5 Bakehouse, Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace (Customers are encouraged to order online and collect in person)
Gold Star Dry Cleaning & Laundry, 330 Burdett Rd
Hackney Essentials, 235 Victoria Park Rd
Quality Dry Cleaners, 16a White Church Lane
Newham Books, 747 Barking Rd (Books ordered by phone or email are posted out)
Region Choice Chemist, 68 Cambridge Heath Rd
Symposium Italian Restaurant, 363 Roman Road (Take away service available)
Thompsons DIY, 442-444 Roman Rd

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Arber & Co Ltd, 459 Roman Rd, E3 by Anthony Cairns

Photographs copyright © Anthony Cairns

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Anthony Cairn’s East End Pubs

William Morris In The East End

June 2, 2020
by the gentle author

William Morris spoke at Speakers’ Corner in Victoria Park on 26th July & 11th October 1885, 8th August 1886, 27th March & 21st May 1888

If you spotted someone hauling an old wooden Spitalfields Market orange crate around the East End, that was me undertaking a pilgrimage to some of the places William Morris spoke in the hope he might return for one last oration.

The presence of William Morris in the East End is almost forgotten today. Yet he took the District Line from his home in Hammersmith regularly to speak here through the last years of his life, despite persistent ill-health. Ultimately disappointed that the production of his own designs had catered only to the rich, Morris dedicated himself increasingly to politics and in 1884 he became editor of The Commonweal, newspaper of the Socialist League, using the coach house at Kelsmcott House in Hammersmith as its headquarters.

As an activist, Morris spoke at the funeral of Alfred Linnell, who was killed by police during a free speech rally in Trafalgar Sq in 1887, on behalf of the Match Girls’ Strike in 1888 and in the Dock Strike of 1889. His final appearance in the East End was on Mile End Waste on 1st November 1890, on which occasion he spoke at a protest against the brutal treatment of Jewish people in Russia.

When William Morris died of tuberculosis in 1896, his doctor said, ‘he died a victim to his enthusiasm for spreading the principles of Socialism.’ Morris deserves to be remembered for his commitment to the people of the East End in those years of political turmoil as for the first time unions struggled to assert the right to seek justice for their workers.

8th April 1884, St Jude’s Church, Commercial St – Morris gave a speech at the opening of the annual art exhibition on behalf of Vicar Samuel Barnett who subsequently founded Toynbee Hall and the Whitechapel Gallery.

During 1885, volunteers distributed William Morris’ What Socialists Want outside the Salmon & Ball in Bethnal Green

1st September 1885, 103 Mile End Rd

20th September 1885, Dod St, Limehouse – When police launched a violent attack on speakers of the Socialist League who defended the right to free speech at this traditional spot for open air meetings, William Morris spoke on their behalf in court on 22nd September in Stepney.

10th November 1886 & 3rd July 1887, Broadway, London Fields

November 20th 1887, Bow Cemetery – Morris spoke at the burial of Alfred Linnell, a clerk who was killed by police during a free speech rally in Trafalgar Sq. ‘Our friend who lies here has had a hard life and met with a hard death, and if our society had been constituted differently his life might have been a delightful one. We are engaged in a most holy war, trying to prevent our rulers making this great town of London into nothing more than a prison.’

9th April 1889, Toynbee Hall, Commercial St – Morris gave a magic lantern show on the subject of ‘Gothic Architecture’

1st November 1890, Mile End Waste – Morris spoke in protest against the persecution of Jews in Russia

William Morris in the East End

3rd January & 27th April 1884, Tee-To-Tum Coffee House, 166 Bethnal Green Rd

8th April 1884, St Jude’s Church, Commercial St

29th October 1884, Dod St, Limehouse

9th November 1884, 13 Redman’s Row

11th January & 12th April 1885, Hoxton Academy Schools

29th March 24th May 1885, Stepney Socialist League,  110 White Horse St

26th July & 11th October 1885, Victoria Park

8th August 1885, Socialist League Stratford

16th August 1885, Exchange Coffee House, Pitfield St, Hoxton

1st September 1885, Swaby’s Coffee House, 103 Mile End Rd

22nd September 1885, Thames Police court, Stepney (Before Magistrate Sanders)

24th January 1886, Hackney Branch Rooms, 21 Audrey St, Hackney Rd

2nd February 1886, International Working Men’s Educational Club, 40 Berners St

5th June 1886, Socialist League Stratford

11th July 1886, Hoxton Branch of the Socialist League, 2 Crondel St

24th August 1886, Socialist League Mile End Branch, 108 Bridge St

13th October 1886, Congregational Schools, Swanscombe St, Barking Rd

10th November 1886, Broadway, London Fields

6th March 1887, Hoxton Branch of the Socialist League, 2 Crondel St

13th March & 12th June 1887, Hackney Branch Rooms, 21 Audrey St, Hackney Rd

27th March 1887, Borough of Hackney Club, Haggerston

27th March, 21st May, 23rd July, 21st August & 11th September, 1887 Victoria Park

24th April 1887, Morley Coffee Tavern Lecture Hall, Mare St

3rd July 1887, Broadway, London Fields

21st August 1887, Globe Coffee House, High St, Hoxton

25th September 1887, Hoxton Church

27th September 1887, Mile End Waste

18th December 1887, Bow Cemetery, Southern Grove

17th April 1888, Mile End Socialist Hall, 95 Boston St

17th April 1888, Working Men’s Radical Club, 108 Bridge St, Burdett Rd

16th June 1888, International Club, 23 Princes Sq, Cable St

17th June 1888, Victoria Park

30th June 1888, Epping Forest Picnic

22nd September 1888,  International Working Men’s Education Club, 40 Berners St

9th April 1889, Toynbee Hall, Commercial St

27th June 1889, New Labour Club, 5 Victoria Park Sq, Bethnal Green

8th June 1889, International Working Men’s Education Club, 40 Berners St

1st November 1890, Mile End Waste

This feature draws upon the research of Rosemary Taylor as published in her article in The Journal of William Morris Studies. Click here to join the William Morris Society

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In Search Of The Relics Of Old St Pauls

June 1, 2020
by the gentle author

Looking through into the whispering gallery

Sir Christopher Wren’s success at St Paul’s Cathedral is to have envisaged architecture of such absolute assurance that it is impossible to imagine it could ever have been any different than it is today. Yet Wren was once surveyor of Old St Paul’s, confronted daily with a tottering gothic pile and carrying the onerous responsibility for this vast medieval shambles upon his shoulders, until the Great Fire took it away three hundred and fifty years ago.

The spire of Old St Paul’s collapsed in 1561 and, in Wren’s, time wooden scaffolding was necessary to hold up the poorly-built Cathedral. Parts of the cloister were carried off to build Somerset House and even a fancy new portico designed in the classical style by Inigo Jones failed to ameliorate the general picture of decay and dereliction.

When the Great Fire of London began in the summer of 1666, the Stationers Company stored their books and paper in the crypt of the Cathedral for safe-keeping and residents piled their precious furniture in the churchyard – one of the few open spaces in the City –  so that it might be safe even if they lost their homes in the conflagration. These prudent measures only exacerbated the catastrophe when a spark set fire to the wooden roof of the Cathedral which collapsed into the crypt, sending a river of molten lead running down Ludgate Hill, igniting a violent inferno of paper that brought down the entire building and consumed all the furniture in the churchyard as well.

After the pyre of Old St Paul’s was at last extinguished in September, weeks after the Fire had been quenched elsewhere in the City, it became a popular pastime to scavenge through the ruins for souvenirs. You might assume nothing survived but, if you know where to look and what to look for, there are relics scattered throughout New St Paul’s.

There are Roman tiles, an Anglo-Saxon hog’s back tomb, a Viking grave marker and multiple stone fragments of the Cathedral itself, catalogued in the nineteenth century – although I was most fascinated by seventeenth-century effigies that withstood the Fire.

Medieval monuments and statuary were destroyed in the Reformation, and Oliver Cromwell famously stabled his horses in the Cathedral at the time of the English Revolution, but there was a brief period when new monuments and figures were installed prior to the Great Fire of London and a handful of these remain today.

John Donne would have conjured an astute sonnet upon the metaphysical irony of his monument being the only one surviving intact. In his last days, he insisted upon modelling for his own effigy, wrapped in a shroud, and the resultant sculpture is distinguished by remarkably naturalistic drapery. Yet, in spite of this, I can only see it as an image of a flame in which the great poet glimmers eternally.

A small collection of seventeenth-century human effigies rest down in the crypt, burnt black by the Fire. Carved from pale marble or alabaster, they have been transfigured by the furnace-like temperature of the conflagration and emerged charcoal-black, glistening and broken, as if they had been excavated like coal – as if they were creatures of another time, as remote as prehistoric creatures. But, even as they were ravaged by apocalyptic lfire and damaged beyond recognition, some have retained fine detail of armour and clothing, and all have acquired presence. These compelling fragmentary forms are worthy of Henry Moore, charmed stones that manifest an eternal spirit forged in fire.

Unsurprisingly, Christopher Wren had little interest in the relics of Old St Paul’s because he was looking to the future. Wary of medieval foundations, he had his New St Paul’s re-aligned to avoid them. Yet, although Wren had most of the ancient stone broken up to use as infill for New St Paul’s, there are a couple of spots in the crypt where you can see fragments of detailed Romanesque carving sticking out from the wall, hidden in plain sight, to remind us that – even though Old St Paul’s has gone – it is still with us.

Roman tiles and Anglo-Saxon grave cover in the triforium

Hogback grave cover, dating from 1000-1050 AD, possibly from the grave of King Athelstan

Viking grave marker, dating from 1125-50AD, dug up in 1852 in the churchyard

Twelfth century Romanesque carving of foliage in the wall of the crypt

Twelfth century Romanesque carving of foliage in the wall of the crypt

Ledger stone of Brian Walton, Bishop of Chester, died 1661

Sir John & Eliza Wolley

Sir John Wolley, Latin Secretary to Elizabeth I, died 1596

Eliza Wolley, Lady of the Privy Chamber to Elizabeth I, died 1600

Sir Thomas Heneage Vice-Chamberlain to Elizabeth I, died 1594, & Anna Heneage, died 1592

Unknown effigy

Unknown effigy

William Cokain, Mayor of London 1619, died 1626

William Cokain, Mayor of London 1619, died 1626

John Donne, Poet & Dean of St Paul’s (1572-1631), monument by Nicholas Stone

Caen & Reigate stones from Old St Paul’s (1180-1666 AD) excavated by Francis Penrose, Cathedral Surveyor in the nineteenth century

This lion is a fragment of Inigo Jones portal to St Paul’s which inspired Christopher Wren

Click to enlarge this comparative plan of 1872 which superimposes the outlines of Old and New St Paul’s (Reproduced courtesy of St Paul’s)

You may also like to read my other stories of St Paul’s Cathedral

Maurice Sills, Cathedral Treasure

The Broderers of St Paul’s

The East End Flower Women Of 2020

May 31, 2020
by the gentle author

We are keen to support these local growers who are offering Spitalfields Life readers a weekly bunch of flowers fresh from the field to lift your spirits in the lockdown.

Click here to subscribe for eight weeks of locally-grown seasonal flowers

Portrait by Rachel Ferriman

East End flower women have been recurring feature for centuries on this side of the capital. I am thinking not simply of Liza Doolittle, but of the itinerant herb women who sold homemade remedies and the famous watercress sellers of Shoreditch who were celebrated for their independent spirits.

Historically, this was always the garden of London. Before all the terraces were built, it was occupied by nurseries and market gardens tended by growers who rose at dawn, walking into the city and crying their produce through the densely populated streets. Today this horticultural tradition persists in Columbia Rd Market which boasts some notable female traders.

Yet even as the pandemic has closed down the market it has created a new breed of East End flower sellers or plantswomen, as I should call them, because they grow their own produce too. Let me introduce Lulu Cox, Jess Blume and Olivia Wetherley Wilson.

Working separately, all three supplied flowers under commission for weddings and other events until the pandemic took away their business and left them high and dry with their nurseries of lovingly nurtured flowers coming into bloom. Working in collaboration as the Spring Summer Autumn Winter Collective, they have adapted to this new situation by offering subscriptions for a weekly bunch of locally-grown seasonal flowers to brighten people’s homes during the lockdown.

The trio describe themselves as ‘florists’ and they fulfil the older meaning of this word which was used in a broader sense in the eighteenth century to mean plant enthusiasts. This is the usage intended in the naming of The Florists Arms in Bethnal Green, a rare legacy of the plant culture that once flourished across East London.

I was jealous of Contributing Photographer Rachel Ferriman who got to visit the flower nurseries and take pictures of the blooms, but at least I was able to meet with two of the florist trio, Olivia & Jess, for a socially-distanced interview in the garden surrounding the bandstand at Arnold Circus – which is perhaps the next best thing.

Olivia – I have always wanted to be involved in floristry and I didn’t understand why until my grandmother told me that her mother had been a florist at a large house. My grandmother always kept a beautiful garden so I feel that it is in my genes that I am drawn to flowers.

Jess – I think many people have an affinity with plants – I know I do – but a lot don’t allow themselves the time to tap into it. These last two months have allowed people that opportunity. The more you become involved with plants, the more you realise it is a slow way of working. You are at the mercy of the seasons and you might plant something in January that does not flower until the next year.

Olivia – Before this month, we were events florists but just this month we have launched our collective with Lulu Cox, selling our flowers together. She was a chef at the Rochelle Canteen but now she is a grower. By growing the flowers ourselves, we want to celebrate the seasons, yet we each realised it is difficult to do this on our own.

Jess – I worked in advertising but I became tired of working in an office. Looking back, I realise that my mother was guide at Kew Gardens and she used to take me with her several times each week. I walked the tour with her while she was practising. Initially, it did not have an effect on me but I have always needed to work with my hands and I was very drawn to working outdoors in nature. Growing started as a hobby and became all encompassing, so I realised I had to make it work. I made the break and became a florist five years ago. I don’t think many people realise how far their flowers have travelled, so I realised I needed to grow my own and support producers here in the United Kingdom.

Olivia – It’s not just the distances that flowers are flown, it is the whole industry, the unregulated pesticide use in other countries which adversely affects the women who pick those flowers. It became untenable for me to work in floristry without growing my own flowers here in this country.

Jess – It all comes back to people’s expectations and the speed at which they want things, demanding flowers out of season. Few people think about it – where their flowers come from and the repercussions of that – so this is definitely a time for a rethink.


Dead-heading sweet peas

Jess Blume

Olivia Wetherly Wilson

Lulu Cox


Jess and Olivia outside Leila’s Shop

Photographs copyright © Rachel Ferriman

At present, orders from the Spring Summer Autumn Winter Collective can be collected from Leila’s Shop, 15 Calvert Avenue E2, London Borough of Jam, 51d Chatsworth Rd E15, and Popham’s Bakery, 19 Prebend St, N1.

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