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City Animals

September 26, 2018
by the gentle author

I am delighted to publish these CITY ANIMALS from Symbols & Secrets, written by The City Gent, a graduate of my blog writing course. The Gent has worked in the City of London for thirty years and every week he publishes stories of things that he likes. Follow SYMBOLS & SECRETS, Walking the City of London

We are now taking bookings for this autumn’s course, HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 10th & 11th.  Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Click here for details

If you are a graduate of my course and you would like me to feature your blog, please drop me a line.

The Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap was where Sir John Falstaff and Prince Hal caroused in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One & Two. The present building at number 33-35 dates from 1868 and references this history with a boar peeping out of bushes and portrait heads of Henry IV and Henry V. Architectural critic, Ian Nairn, described the building as ‘the scream you wake on at the end of a nightmare.’

This magnificent leaping fox appears on the Grade II listed Art Deco shopfront of the Fox company, who manufacture and repair umbrellas. Mr Fox opened his first shop in the City in 1868 but this shop dates from 1935. You can still purchase a classy Fox umbrella if you go to their website, but the shop is now a wine bar.

Mice nibbling a piece of cheese add charm to a building in Philpot Lane off Eastcheap and have been described as London’s smallest sculpture. Even though they have been repainted, they are still hard to find. I am not saying precisely where they are but hopefully you will enjoy looking for them.

One theory of their mysterious origin is that the builders were pestered by mice who ransacked their lunch packs in 1862 left this informal tribute. Another story is that they commemorate a worker who died during the construction of the Monument. Apparently, mice ate his lunch but he accused a fellow by mistake and fell to his death in the ensuing fight.

Hanging signs were once a major feature of City streets. Charles I encouraged them to help those find their way around who  could not read. They became immensely popular and proliferated to such an extent that they posed a threat to life in storms and windy weather. In 1718, when one caused the collapse of an entire frontage and killed four people, it was obvious something had to be done. But it was not until 1762 that businesses were forced to remove them and fix them to shopfronts instead. The Cat & Fiddle sign in Lombard St harks back to a tavern of that name which once stood on the site although this sign was actually only erected in 1902, along with several other replica signs, to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.

This little Scottish terrier called Chippy rests now in All Hallows by the Tower at the feet of his master the Reverend ‘Tubby’ Clayton who was vicar between 1922 and 1963.  He is best known for his work as an army chaplain during the First World War, in particular establishing Talbot House as a place of rest and sanctuary for the troops. After the war, Talbot House grew into the Toc H movement.

As you approach the Bank junction from Cheapside, look up and you will see two boys at either end of the building that was once headquarters of Midland Bank. Each one is struggling with an angry goose. Why a goose? A clue is the name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Edwin Lutyens to commemorate the former poultry market.

The Church of St Katherine Cree in Leadenhall St, which is one of the few to survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, has a rooster on its weathervane. The Bible tells how Peter denying Christ three times ‘before the cock crowed’. In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory I declared the rooster as the emblem of St Peter and also of Christianity itself. In the ninth Century, Pope Nicholas decreed all churches should display it and, although the practice faded away, the tradition of rooster weathervanes has survived in may places.

The Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God, is the emblem of the Middle Temple and can be seen in many places around the Inn. There is a theory that the holy lamb was chosen because it had originally been used by the Knights Templar whose arms were two knights mounted on one horse with a trotting Agnus Dei.

The leopard’s head – which has always been the mark of the London Assay Office – recalls King Richard II, whose symbol this was and who granted the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths its charter in 1393. It can be found over the entrance to the site of the former churchyard and church of St John Zachary which was partly destroyed in the Great Fire. In 1339, the Goldsmiths acquired this land and built the earliest recorded livery hall there.

This wise owl gazes at commuters as they trek over London Bridge from his perch on the House of Fraser department store north of the bridge.

This bee is the keystone over the entrance to Honey Lane which connects Cheapside with Trump St. The name of the lane comes from the bee-keepers who used to live there and it also once led to All Hallows Honey Lane, a medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire.

The Black Eagle sign in Brick Lane reminds passers-by of the Black Eagle Brewery. Founded in 1666, in the eighteenth century under the management of Sir Benjamin Truman, it began the expansion that led to the creation of Truman, Hanbury & Buxton, the largest brewer in the world.

This beaver above 64 Bishopsgate is a reminder of the Hudson’s Bay Company which was based nearby and once dominated the fur trade. Beaver fur was much sought after, particularly for hats.

This figure of a ram by an unknown sculptor in New St, dates from the eighteen-sixties and once presided over the entrance to Cooper’s wool warehouse.

Photographs copyright © The City Gent

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. September 26, 2018

    A great collection of signs and symbols today. Valerie

  2. stephanie permalink
    September 26, 2018

    A worthy alumnus with lost tales and a much missed legend (Ian Nairn) of his own. It is great to retrieve these items of beauty from the ever encroaching blank facades of fiscal tombstones that continue to dominate the outskirts of the city today.

  3. September 26, 2018

    I love to go on safari in the City and have encountered most of the City Gent’s menagerie. However, my favourites are mythical beasts – the very sassy unicorns in the courtyard of Apothecaries Hall. Wander in on a weekday and see if you can interpret their facial expressions…

  4. Barbara Hague permalink
    September 26, 2018


  5. Lisbeth permalink
    September 26, 2018

    Brilliant photos! I’ll look out for these if I ever happen to return to London!

  6. September 26, 2018

    I’m curious about Fox, all in stainless steel. For a time in the 1950s when steel had been denationalized my father was foreign advisor to United Steel. All the former constituent companies had their original names and one was Samuel Fox who among other things made stainless steel [and gave away stainless pen knives to those considered worthy, but did not know who had made the steel!]. Anyway l’m sure that I remember that one of the things they made was the alloy used in umbrella frames and wonder if there was a connection

  7. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 26, 2018

    Absolutely love them but am particularly taken with “Chippy.”

    My copies of The Life and Times of Mr. Pussy have arrived. I look forward to reading mine and sending the other copy to my friend in Minnesota. I’m sure she will enjoy it even more, being a dual cat person of orange tabby persuasion.

  8. Adrian permalink
    January 6, 2019

    The Fox umbrella shop had recessed non-reflective, curved plate glass windows making it look like there was no glass there at all. I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

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