Skip to content

Peta Bridle’s City Of London Sketchbook

September 22, 2020
by the gentle author

Peta Bridle sent me this latest series of drawings from her City of London sketchbook.

‘Inspired by ‘Offbeat in the City of London’ by Geoffrey Fletcher, I visited some of the places he drew in the sixties and made my own sketches,’ Peta explained to me, ‘It was interesting to stand where he stood fifty years ago and often see many buildings unchanged, while others places were unrecognisable.’

‘I like drawing outside and, even when the lockdown was lifted, the City was empty and quiet so I rarely saw another person. Drawing was the thing that kept me going and brightened my week.’

Mermaid Court

‘I sat on the pavement to make this sketch which gives it a low viewpoint. I like the composition of the three bollards, leaning drunkenly against the paving stones. The shadows were constantly shifting due to the strong sunlight. A man from a cafe under the archway kindly bought me a cup of tea.’

Old Shop in Eastcheap

‘I sat on the steps of St Margaret Pattens to draw this. The doors are decorated with seashell motifs and framed by columns on either side. Seagulls kept squawking in the background which was common to all my drawings in the City, competing with the racket of construction works.’

Hodge & Dr Johnson’s House, Gough Sq

‘I sat behind the statue of the cat with oysters at his paws, looking towards Dr Johnson’s House. Hodge, ‘A very fine cat indeed,’ belonged to Samuel Johnson who sometimes bought his pet oysters to eat as a treat.’

Playhouse Yard, Blackfriars

‘I chose a Sunday morning to visit Playhouse Yard. The Blackfriars Theatre once stood here but all that remains of the Elizabethan playhouse is a piece of brick wall.’

Postmans Park

‘In the churchyard of St. Botolph’s, there are tablets describing act of bravery. The memorial was built by Victorian painter and philanthropist, GF Watts. On the front of the structure it reads ‘In commemoration of Heroic Self Sacrifice.’ It became rather cold in the park whilst I was drawing so please forgive the shaky lines!’

Shakespeare Memorial, Garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

‘I drew this sketch on a mild day in January. In the distance a marching band was making its way to the Guildhall and there were skateboarders practising in the garden. The bust of Shakespeare commemorates Henry Condell and John Heminges who published the First Folio. They lived in the parish and are buried in the churchyard. The church was damaged in the Blitz and rebuilt in Fulton, Missouri in 1966.’

Simpsons Chop House, Ball Court

‘Ball Court was empty during the lockdown. Behind me the occasional bus sailed up Cornhill and there was the gentle background hush of air conditioning units. Simpsons Tavern was founded in 1757 by Thomas Simpson. A jumble of books sit in the bow window and the alley to the side leads on to Castle Court.’

St Johns Garden, Clerkenwell 

‘This is a lovely garden with a fountain and silvery olive tree set in the centre, referencing the Holy Land, since the Knights of St John are buried here.’

Doorway at St Magnus the Martyr

‘I have attended services with my children at St Magnus for the blessing of the river, held jointly with Southwark Cathedral in January. I made a study of one of its doorways, crowned with a cherub’s head. Outside is a piece of Roman piling from the Roman river wall. The church is on the original alignment of London Bridge where people crossing would enter the City.’

St Peter Upon Cornhill

It was very quiet in St Peter’s Alley next to the churchyard while I was drawing this. A couple said ‘hello’ as they walked past and a man hurried by clutching his sandwich bag.’

St Dunstan in the East

‘St Dunstan’s attracts many visitors to sit and enjoy the garden. I found a shady spot to draw as it was a very hot day. Palm trees flourish here and the walls are draped with greenery. The church was destroyed in the blitz and the yard turned into a public garden.’

Double page of St Dunstan in the East

Drawings copyright © Peta Bridle

You may also like to take a look at

Peta Bridle’s Gravesend Sketchbook

Peta Bridle’s New Etchings

Peta Bridle’s Latest Drypoint Etchings

Peta Bridle River Etchings

Chris Kelly & Dan Jones In The Playground

September 21, 2020
by the gentle author

Hopscotch at Columbia School, Bethnal Green, 1997

When photographer Chris Kelly sent me these exuberant pictures taken in East End primary schools, I realised it was the ideal opportunity to invite Dan Jones to select children’s rhymes to complement her playful images, drawing from the thousands he has collected in playgrounds here and elsewhere since 1948.

Asked to produce photographs for an education brochure, Chris Kelly turned up at six schools between 2000 and 2002 with camera, lights and optimism. There was never any shortage of ideas or young art directors, and the pictures you see here are the result of a collaboration between photographer, teachers and pupils, with the children aways having the biggest say.

Meanwhile, the heartening news from the playground that Dan Jones has to report is that the culture of rhymes is alive and kicking, in spite of the multimedia distractions of the modern age. The endless process of repetition and reinvention goes on with ceaseless vigour.

Susan Lawrence Junior School

School dinners, school dinners,

Squashed baked beans, squashed baked beans,

Squiggly semolina, squiggly semolina.

I feel sick! Get a bowl quick!

It’s too late, I done it on the plate!

(Manya Eversley, Bow)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Everywhere we go

Everywhere we go

People always ask us

People always ask us

Who we are

Who we are

And where we come from

Where we come from

So we tell them

So we tell them

We’re from Stepney


Mighty, mighty Stepney!


And if they can’t hear us,


We sing a little louder


(Call and response chat from Rushmore Junior School)

Bonner Primary School

Inky Pinky Ponky,

Daddy had a donkey.

Donkey died,

Daddy cried,

Inky pinky ponky!

(Dip from St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Zum gali gali gali,

Clap clap clap

Zum gali gali

Clap clap clap

Zum gali gali

Clap clap clap


clap clap clap

We can work with joy as we sing

Clap clap clap

We can sing with joy as we work

Clap clap clap

(Israeli round from the children of Kobi Nazrul School)

Olga Primary School


Pepsi Pepsi came to town,

Coca Cola shot him down,

Dr Pepper picked him up,

Now they order Seven Up!

(Clapping game  from Honor, Sadia, April and Jahira of Bangabundu  Junior School)

Bangabandhu Primary School

Im Pim Safety pin

Im pim


Change your nappies inside out

Not because they’re dirty

Not because they’re clean

Not because your mother says

You’re the Fairy Queen!

(Counting out rhyme from the children of Bangabandhu Primary School)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, My Fair Lady.

Build it up with sticks and stones, sticks and stones, sticks and stones.

Build it up with sticks and stones, My Fair Lady.

Sticks and stones will wear away…

Build it up with iron and steel…Iron and Steel will rust away…

Build it up with bricks and clay…Bricks and Clay will wash away…

(Arch game from children of Bluegate Fields School, Stepney)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Down in the valley where nobody goes,

There’s an ooky spooky woman who washes her clothes.

With a rub-a-dub here and a rub-a-dub there,

That’s the way she washes her clothes.

(Clapping game from children of St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Please Mr Porter, may we cross your water

To see your lovely daughter, swimming in the water?

(Chasing game for running across the playground at St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Marion Richardson School

Once I had a snail

And I 1 it

I 2 it

I 3 it

I 4 it

I 5 it

I 6 it

I 7 it

I ATE (8) it

(Riddle from Colin and his mother at Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Racing car number 9

Losing petrol all the time

How many gallons did you lose?


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

You’re OUT!

(Counting out rhyme from Shamima, Natalie Abida and Shazna of Hermitage School, Wapping)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Twinkle, twinkle, chocolate bar, 
Daddy (or Mummy) drives a rusty car

Push the button, pull the choke,

Off we go in a puff of smoke,

Twinkle, twinkle, chocolate bar, 
Daddy drives a rusty car.

(Miming game from infants at Christchurch School, Brick Lane)

Olga Primary School

I like coffee

I like tea

I like climbing up the tree

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

(Dip from the children of Year 4 Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay!

My knickers flew away

They came back yesterday

From a little holiday

I said “Where have you been?”

They said ‘To see the Queen

At  Windsor Castle!”

You little rascal

(Comic song from Katie, Lizzy Alison (Ashford) at Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Olicker Bolicker

Suzie Solicker

Ollicker boliker


(Dip from Sonny and Marina of Wapping)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Ecker decker,

Johnny Cracker,

Ecker decker do,

Ease, cheese,

Butter, bread,

Out goes you

(Counting out rhyme from Columbia School, Bethnal Green)

Bonner Primary School

Jee Jai Jao (Brother-in-law)

Kabhi upor Kabhi nicheh   (You’re going up, you’re going down)

Kabhi ageh Kabhi pitcheh   (You’re going in front, you’re going behind)

Kabhi eke Kabhi ekh dui teen  (Going 1. Going 2. Going 1, 2, 3)

Pushu!   (Punch!)

(Hindi dip from Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Boom Boom


Out goes you

Out goes another one

And that is YOU

(Dip from children of Bangabundhu School)


Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

In a golden treasure, with an East and a West,

I took my boyfriend to the Chinese shop.

He bought me ice-cream, he bought me a cake,

He sent me home with a bellyache.

I said: “Mama, Mama, I feel sick.

Call me a doctor quick, quick, quick!

Doctor, Doctor, am I gonna die?”

“Count to five if you’re alive

With a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

You’re dead again!”

(Skipping song from children of year 5 at Arnhem Wharf School)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Miss Polly had a dolly that was sick sick sick

(Rock baby in arms)

She called for the Doctor to come quick quick quick

(Hold telephone to ear)

The doctor came with his bag and his hat

(Touch imaginary bag and hat)

And he knocked on the door with a Rat Tat Tat Tat!

(Knock on door)

He looked at the dolly and he shook his head

(Shake head)

He said “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed”

(Wag finger to indicate telling her off)

He wrote out a paper for a pill pill pill

(Write on imaginary paper)

“I’ll be back in the morning with my bill bill bill”

(Clapping and miming game from Rukhaya and Siobhan at Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Sally go round the sun,

Sally go round the moon,

Sally go round the chimney pots

on a Sunday afternoon.


(Dancing game from Redriff Primary School, Rotherhithe)

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

You may also like to take a look at

Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits 1996

Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

and read about

Dan Jones, Rhyme Collector

Dan Jones’ Paintings

Here are some earlier collections of photography of children in the East End

Colin O’Brien’s Travellers’ Children in London Fields

Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers

John Boulderson, A Limehouse Mariner

September 20, 2020
by Sally Jeffery

Sally Jeffery introduces the life of mariner John Boulderson, one of those featured in her book, Mailrunning: Three Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Lives.

In Limehouse

John was born in Ratcliff. Beneath its accretions of wharves and tenements lay a low red cliff which had once been a landmark for early seafarers coming upstream and seeking the gravelly landing among the marshlands. Never a parish, the hamlet of Ratcliff is a reminder that the main road into the city was always the broad looping highway of the Thames. On a coloured print of Rocque’s 1766 map, the river looks like a fat blue shiny snake. The hamlets clinging to the banks – Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliff, Limehouse on the north bank, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Deptford to the south – grew up on land reclaimed from the water and John, like most of the inhabitants, made their living from the river one way or another.

He was baptised John Philips Boulderson in 1717 at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, son of a fly-by-night painter-stainer named Joseph who probably worked in one of the small shipyards in Shadwell. The wider family included several shipwrights on both sides of the Atlantic who were not so much migrants as itinerant craftsmen. John had a few years’ schooling at the parochial school in Shadwell or one of the Ratcliff charity schools. Most likely he studied at the Ratcliff Hamlet school in White Horse Street. Founded in 1710, its subscribers included numerous sea captains. The school clothed its pupils and paid for their apprenticeships.

In 1674, a group composed mainly of ships’ masters set up the Stepney Society with the purpose of paying for orphans and the children of the poor to be apprenticed in the marine trades. The society’s status rose in the next century under the patronage of Sir Charles Wager, a Rochester-born rear-admiral who brought more admirals and other magnificos on board. It may have been under this scheme that in 1733 John Boulderson was apprenticed aged sixteen to a lighterman named Thomas Barnes at St Katharine’s just below the Tower, who loaded and unloaded cargoes by the Custom House quay.

By the end of his seven years’ apprenticeship John went to sea on the ships the lightermen served. In 1740 he was living on Risby’s Ropewalk in Limehouse shared with a mariner named John Smith, whose sister he would later marry. Four years later, aged not quite twenty-seven, John sailed as boatswain on the Baltimore, a merchant ship commanded by Jerningham Bigg of Limehouse. War with France had been declared and the vessel was armed. After trying their luck at privateering in the Channel for a while, they headed for the colonial province of Maryland with a consignment of swords, guns, powder and ball destined for the provincial government.

The Baltimore’s owner Samuel Hyde had offices in Rood Lane, a few minutes’ walk from the Custom House and legal quays between London Bridge and the Tower. Cargoes were inspected there by the Customs men, with variable results. One London merchant wrote in 1771 to his partner in Maryland: ‘I find that the duty on hams is taken off so that, if any of my friends would be so polite as to present me with one now and then, you may assure them there is no danger from the Customs House officers. I likewise have discovered a method to get safe a few bottles of such good old spirit as we used to have. Should anyone incline that, I should drink their healths with it. I now and then keep company with Z. Hood Esq, who is very friendly indeed, but, Jonny, you know we have studied the art of smuggling.’ (Zachariah Hood had been a colonial tax official)

The year after the Baltimore left Maryland for London, there came press reports of a fight off Ostend between British men-of-war and French privateers. The privateers had taken four Atlantic merchantmen and three smaller vessels, the Baltimore among them. The navy ships recaptured the French prizes, but only by running them aground, and themselves also, both sides still firing.

A correspondent in Ostend wrote: ‘I have just been down to the Sands (where they all lye) on board the Royal Privateer who had 40 Men kill’d and 30 wounded, the Dutchess de Penthievre had 30 kill’d and as many wounded, and their Sails so shatter’d that they are Sieves: The Royal’s Main-sail is stain’d all over with Blood, and the Blood in great Quantity ran out of her Scupper-Holes. Our Loss is so trifling that it is hardly to be credited.’

The Baltimore remained stranded, only the cargo of tobacco was salvaged. Unsurprisingly perhaps, after the fight off Ostend John seems to have washed his hands of the merchant trade. He returned home to Limehouse and joined the Post Office packet service.

John married Katherine Smith in June 1746 at St Katharine by the Tower. The Bouldersons remained at Risby’s Ropewalk for ten years, where Katherine gave birth to four children before 1755, when no more children were born for another eight years. A reasonable deduction would be that John had found work on the Dover–Ostend packet service, then transferred to the Falmouth–New York route when it was launched in 1755, while Katherine and the children remained in Limehouse until he could establish himself in the west. They knew the perils of his occupation, especially in wartime when the packets sailed under government orders to defend the mail to the last.

After John got his own command on the Falmouth packet service in 1759, his family joined him in Cornwall and there were more children, with the Bouldersons becoming a substantial Falmouth clan.

Only one of John’s children returned to the Thames. After a career with the East India merchant fleet, his son, Falmouth-born Joseph Boulderson, was appointed Superintendent of the new London Dock at Wapping which opened in 1805. An engraving of the opening ceremony features a top-hatted gentleman standing on the deck of a ship about to enter the dock, who is evidently the Superintendent. The man beside him decorated with a garter star is Earl Camden, Secretary of State for War, who appears to be pointing to a flag-bedecked vessel.

On closer examination, the Superintendent seems to have his hand cupped to receive a backhander from the Earl, who may in fact be pointing to the young women conspicuously arranged on the dock wall, rather than to the ship. The artist was Edward Francis Burney, who worked mainly as an illustrator but also produced satirical watercolours.

Stepney from the 1755 edition of Stow’s Survey of London

Map of Ratcliff & Limehouse from John Rocque’s 1746 Plan of London

Limehouse by Robert Dodd, 1793

The Custom House by Louis-Philippe Boitard, 1757

At Custom House Quay

A view of the opening of the London Docks Wapping on the 31st January 1805, Edward Francis Burney, 1805

In this detail, Joseph Boulderson, Superintendent of the London Dock, can be seen cupping his hand to receive a backhander from Earl Camden, Secretary of State for War, who is pointing out the young women on the dock.

Click here to order a copy of Sally Jeffrey’s ‘Mailrunning: Three Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Lives’

You may like to read another story by Sally Jeffery

John Bringhurst, Seditious Printer 


Just Another Day With John Claridge

September 19, 2020
by the gentle author

Cobb St, Spitalfields 1966

One morning in 1966, photographer John Claridge met these four men working in Cobb St, Spitalfields. “They were bloody silly,recalled John fondly half a century later, “and there’s not enough of that in this world.” It was John’s way of introducing this set of pictures to me, published here for the first time, which he entitles“Just Another Day.”

“They were good people – full of fun – and this picture was nice to take, it has a warmth to it.” he added, upon contemplation of the image. And, if there is a common quality among these pictures, it is an open-hearted delight in the quotidian, or as John puts it –“The daily things that people do, going to work, stopping at the corner, visiting the shops.”

Where others might find only the mundane, John sees the poetry of the human condition. There may be endless sleet in Spitalfields, freezing fog in Victoria Park, and the passengers are eternally falling asleep on the early train out of Upton Park, yet John always reveals the joy and the humanity of his subjects. A generous spirit informs his photographs.

“Some of these pictures are of life drifting by,” John informed me, “because there are gentler ways of seeing the world than the obvious.”

Cup of tea, Spitalfields 1966.

Kosher butchers, Bethnal Green 1962 – “It wasn’t very big and it did have a certain smell to it.”

The cap, Spitalfields 1982 – “I love the things you don’t know as well as the things that are explained.”

Four men, Spitalfields 1982 – “You could create your own story with that.”

The baker at Rinkoffs, Vallance Rd, Bethnal Green 1967 – “Having a cup of tea and enjoying a breath of fresh air as the light’s coming up.”


Rinkoffs, Bethnal Green 1967

Breaker’s yard, E16 1975 – “I was talking to her dad and she just wandered off and got in the car.”

Feeding the birds in Victoria Park, E3 1962 – “there was ice on the lake.”

Passing the graveyard,  1970s

Bridge repair, E3 1960s

The crane, E16 1975 – “I printed this photo for the first time last week.”

SOS motors, Spitalfields 1982

Sewer Bank, Plaistow 1960s – “Where the kids used to go on their bikes and I’d take my scrambler. The craters were fantastic, it was a different kind of playground.”

In Plaistow, 1961 – “Just down the road from where I lived. It certainly has a lot of charm to it, look at how little traffic there is. That could be my dad on the bike, coming back from the docks.”

Station stairs, Upton Park 1963 – “Sometimes I met my mum here after school, when she was coming back from Bow where she worked as machinist making shirts.”

Station entrance, Upton Park 1963 – “I like stations, it’s that feeling you get of arriving on a film set.”

Leaving Plaistow early morning in winter, E13 1963 – “I had a motorbike but I liked going on the tube if the traffic was bad.”

The shed, Plaistow 1969 – “This was at the top of the street where I lived. He used to go round with that barrow and pick things up, and sell bits and pieces in that shed. A very nice man and a gentleman.”

End of the day, Spitalfields 1963.

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

Sunday Morning Stroll with John Claridge

John Claridge’s Cafe Society

Graphics & Graffiti



The Signs Of Old London

September 18, 2020
by the gentle author

The little wooden midshipman outside Solomon Gillis’ chandlery, 157 Leadenhall St

Even though most of the signs of old London were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, a few created just after that date survive today in the City – anachronisms affixed to modern buildings, as if they were Penny Blacks stuck onto Jiffy padded envelopes. Yet in the Bishopsgate Institute archive, I found plenty of atmospheric pictures of curious stone plaques which lasted into the era of photography, only to be destroyed by the blitz and subsequent redevelopment.

It was Charles I who gave people the right to hang out signs as they pleased, when once they were restricted to innkeepers – “for the better finding out such citizens’ dwellings, shops, pubs or occupations, without impediment, molestation, or interruption to their heirs or successors.” An elaborate language of symbols quickly grew in the common understanding, such as a dragon for an apothecary, a sugar loaf for a grocer, a wheatsheaf for a baker, a frying pan for a confectioner, and – as still seen in Spitalfields today – a spool for a silk weaver.

As time went by, the meanings of the signs became more complex and arcane as shops changed ownership but retained the signs as identifiers of the buildings. James Maddox, the coffin maker at St Olaves had the symbol of three coffins and a sugarloaf, the sugarloaf because it was a former grocers and three coffins as his personal device. Opposite St Dunstan’s in Fleet St, a sign of three squirrels first put up by Henry Pinkley the goldsmith in 1649, was appropriated by the bankers who moved in afterwards, and this symbol of the three squirrels continued to be used by the National Westminster Bank until the mid-twentieth century.

Lombard St was once famed for its array of magnificent signs, and eighteenth century prints show quaint symbols hung upon elaborate wrought iron brackets outside every single premises in Cornhill and Cheapside. Anticipating our modern concern with brands and logos, these devices suited the city before streets were numbered and when many of the populace did not read. But during heavy weather and in strong wind, these monstrous signs creaked and groaned – and, in 1718, a huge sign in Bride St collapsed killing four people and taking part of the shop front with it. Such was the severity of the problem of the forest of hanging signs crowding the streets of London, that a commission was appointed in 1762 to take them all down and fix them onto the shopfronts – thereby creating the modern notion of the fascia sign declaring the identity of the premises.

“The Commissioners are empowered to take down and remove all signs and emblems, used to denote the trade, occupation or calling – any sign posts, sign boards, sign irons, balconies, penthouses, show boards, spouts and gutters projecting into the streets etc, and all other encroachments and projections whatsoever in the said cities and liberties – and cause the same, or such parts thereof as they think fit to be affixed or placed on the front of the houses, shops, alehouses or buildings to which they belong.”

Street numbers were only in partial use at the beginning of the eighteenth century, becoming widespread by the end of the century as a standardised system to identify properties. Although many were reluctant to give up the language of signs and symbols, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the signs were commonly replaced by the familiar pattern of a board with signwriting above the shopwindow. Most of the decorative signs to found in the City of London today are pastiches created a hundred years ago as nostalgic tributes to a bygone age, though two favourites of mine are the golden owl on the House of Fraser, facing South over London Bridge, and the figure of Atlas holding up the globe on the exterior of Barclays in Cheapside.

Just three signs remain in common usage, the barbers’ pole (with its bloody red and white stripe recalling when barbers were also surgeons),  the chemists’ pestle and mortar, and the pawnbrokers’ three balls – originally blue, they turned gold in the early nineteenth century and are said to be based upon the crest of the Dukes of Medici, itself derived from coins taken by Crusaders from Byzantium.

At the sign of the Fox in Lombard St.

At the sign of the Three Kings in Lombard St.

At the sign of the Half Moon in Holywell St, off the Strand.

A physician.

A locksmith.

At the sign of the Lamb & Flag

The grasshopper, symbol of industry and personal emblem of Sir Thomas Gresham who founded the Royal Exchange, is to be found all over the City of London even today.

At the sign of Three Squirrels in Fleet St.

At the sign of the Bull & Mouth in Aldgate.

This was the symbol of the Cutlers.

Child’s bank at the sign of the Marigold in Temple Bar.

In Ely Place, off Hatton Garden – this mitre came from an episcopal palace and was set into the wall of a public house.

The maid of the Mercer’s company is still to be seen in Corbet Court off Gracechurch St.

An old sign that remains in situ outside St Paul’s tube station.“When ye have sought the Citty round, yet still this is the highest ground. August 27th 1698”

“- an old sign affixed to a modern building, like a Penny Black stuck onto a Jiffy padded envelope.”

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

This Is Jimmy’s London

September 17, 2020
by the gentle author

Excerpts from ‘This is London‘ produced as a guide for servicemen & women in 1944

In these war-time days, when official guide books are not obtainable, a quiet perusal of ‘This is London’ will be of inestimable service to visitors, making a ‘leave in London’ something memorable and, as Jimmy says, well worth keeping a diary of.

“ the Bank..”

I don’t know anything about London and the sooner I set out to learn the better and the quicker I’ll know it. There’s only one way to learn about any town and that is to walk as much as you can. It’ll knock some of the strangeness out of you. You won’t feel you’re a stranger in the place. You won’t feel as if everyone is looking at you and telling themselves that you are a stranger. Believe me, it’ll help you feel a lot better.

The Green Park

I wanted to walk along the pavements, to watch the people, to visit places whose names were so familiar to everyone in the world. Talk about walking the paths of history, I was tickled pink.

“…Charing Cross Rd as a Free Library…”

Whether you are a reader on no, it is well worth spending a few minutes, few hours for that matter, watching the various types of people who stand, hour after hour, at the bookshops, browsing. I’m firmly convinced that very many Londoners regard Charing Cross Rd as a Free Library, and I’m equally certain that booksellers look benignly on these non-profitable customers.

“…down Wapping Way..”

To find funny little pubs with funny little bars and mix with all kinds of people, I think it’s the wisest thing anyone could do and it’s what I’ve always longed to try. There are no tough spots. Go to the poorest quarter in the East End and you’ll meet with politeness. Go into a pub down by the docks. It may not be luxurious, but you’ll find that everyone is nice there. You’ll hear the occasional ‘damn’ and, if there’s no women in the place, you’ll hear much worse.

Dirty Dick’s I won’t forget in a hurry. A unique place if ever there was one. I think the story of the original landlord who allowed everything to get into such a disgusting state of dirt and cobwebs is more or less fictitious. It’s quite close to Liverpool St Station and, although it, like many other place, received some damage during the blitz, the landlord still carries on, just as do all other Londoners.

In Hyde Park, some of the orators take their job very seriously, others look upon it as a kind of rag, entering into cross-talk with their audiences with such obvious pleasure. I don’t think I would like to be an earnest speaker there for occasionally the heckling is terrific. How these speakers can possibly hope to make themselves heard, speaking as they do one against the other, is more than I can understand.

I went to Covent Garden Market and tried to understand what it was all about, tried to make sense of what the salesmen were saying. They have a jargon all their own while the porters astonished me by throwing enormous weights about with a nonchalance that is truly amazing.

In St James’ Park

Where else but in London could one see the unexpected glimpse of a State trumpeter, his tunic, the scarlet and gold of medieval pageantry, glinting in the sun – and the inscrutable eyes of an aged Chelsea Pensioner who watched him fixedly?

Of course, I’ve read my Pepys and that gives a very fair picture, but while I’m fond of seeing historical buildings, links with the past so to speak, I much prefer the present.

A fellow would have to be dead from the neck up if he couldn’t enjoy the London Zoo. The Zoo is obviously a Londoner’s playground, everyone is eager to see as much as possible and the groups around each cage or enclosure become, for the moment, a band of friends.

The Embankment where artists in chalk ply their trade and pray for fair weather …

… and schoolboys read ‘penny dreadfuls’ in the shadow of mysterious Egypt.

Thankyou London, for all those memories. Thankyou London!

The Curious Legacy Of Francis Wheatley

September 16, 2020
by the gentle author

Linen and cotton tea towel by Lamont

Even if you do not know the name, it is likely you recognise the work of the artist Francis Wheatley. You may have seen his prints being sold off cheap at car boot sales and charity shops, or perhaps your granny had a talcum powder tin with one of his pictures on it, or you have driven past his figures twenty-feet-high on the side of the former Yardley factory in Stratford?

Francis Wheatley created the most celebrated images of Cries of London which are still universally recognised today, although he received little recognition in his lifetime. By accident of fate, his work achieved its greatest success in the twentieth century, gaining widespread popularity and becoming symbolic of the spirit of old London – until it fell out of favour with subsequent generations, devalued by its ubiquity and dismissed as sentimental cliche.

Yet Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London deserve a second look and, once you know the circumstances of their creation, it is not so easy to write them off. They became commonplace in the last century because people loved them, investing personal meaning in these cheaply-distributed images and, by treasuring these mass-produced souvenirs, trinkets and keepsakes, they charged them with a significance that transcends sentiment.

Recognising the curious legacy of Francis Wheatley, I cannot resist collecting all the multiple incarnations of his work which others discard and giving them a home to cherish them on behalf of their former owners, on behalf of the artist himself and on behalf of the street traders of London down the ages who are the dignified subjects of these fascinating pictures. Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London deserve better than being consigned to the dustbin of cultural history.

Francis Wheatley exhibited his series of thirteen oil paintings of Cries of London at the Royal Academy over three years beginning in 1792. Two years earlier, the forty-three year old painter had been elected as an Associate to the Academy by sixteen votes to three, in preference to Thomas Lawrence, the King’s nominee, and – as a consequence – he scarcely secured any further commissions for portraits from the aristocracy. He lost his income entirely and, becoming an Academician, which should have been the crowning glory of his career, was its unravelling. Wheatley was declared insolvent in 1793 and struggled to make a living until his death in 1801 at fifty-four years old in King’s Bench Walk prison, when the Royal Academy paid his funeral expenses.

In the midst of this turmoil, lacking aristocratic sitters, Wheatley created these images of street sellers which, although regarded in his lifetime as of little consequence beside his society portraits, are now the works upon which his reputation rests. Born in Wild Court, Covent Garden, in 1747, Wheatley was ideally qualified to portray these hawkers because he grew up amongst them and their cries, echoing in the streets around the market. The stone pillars of Covent Garden that stand today may be recognised in a couple of these pictures, all of which were located in vicinity of the market.

However, these idealised images are far from social reportage and you may notice a certain similarity between many of the women portrayed in them, for whom it is believed his second wife, Clara Maria Leigh, was the model – herself a painter and exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Look again, and you will also see variants of the same ginger and white terrier occurring in these paintings – this is believed to be Wheatley’s dog. The languorous poise and artful drapery of Wheatley’s figures suggest classical models, as if these hawkers were the urban equivalents of the swains and shepherdesses of the pastoral world. Influenced by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Wheatley had painted agricultural workers at harvest and several of the Cries he depicted are those who came to the city to sell their produce. Although too late save his career, engravings of Wheatley’s Cries were sold at seven shillings and sixpence for a plain set and sixteen shillings coloured, and the fact all thirteen were issued is itself a measure of their popularity.

In 1913, Yardley of London, cosmetic and soap manufacturers, revived Wheatley’s primrose seller by adopting it as their symbol, replacing primroses with sheafs of lavender to illustrate their most popular fragrance, Old English Lavender. Established in 1770, perhaps Yardley sought an image that reflected the era of their origin and the lavender grown for the company in the south east of England. Publishing Wheatley’s image upon countless thousands of soap packets and talcum powder tins was such a popular success that it is still in use upon their packaging over a century later.

The Wheatley revival took flight in 1916 when Players cigarette cards included all of his images in a set of twenty-five Cries of London, reworking Cries by other artists in the Wheatley style to make up the series and following these cards with a second set of twenty-five the year after. Collected by schoolboys in class and soldiers in the trenches, these minor tokens of intangible value became venerated as rare keepsakes. And, throughout the twentieth century, Wheatley’s Cries were reprinted in many guises and upon all kinds of souvenirs and knick-knacks as popular icons of London, representing the collective sense of emotional ownership that people felt for the ancient capital and its wonders.

It was an unlikely choice for Francis Wheatley to paint ‘Cries of London’ at the time he was losing grip of his life – struggling under the pressure of increasing debt – since they cannot have been an obvious commercial proposition. Yet I like to surmise that these fine images celebrate the qualities of the people that Wheatley experienced first-hand in the streets and markets, growing up in Covent Garden, and chose to witness in this affectionate and subtly-political set of pictures of street traders, existing in pertinent contrast to the portraits of aristocratic patrons who had shunned him when he was in need. This is the curious legacy of Francis Wheatley.

Two Bunches a Penny, Primroses, Two Bunches a Penny!

Irish linen tea towel by Lamont

Strawberrys, Scarlet Strawberrys!

Plate by Adams from a dinner service

Fresh Gathered Peas, Young Hastings!

Plate by Adams

Milk Below!

Tea caddy

Sweet China Oranges, Sweet China!

Frean’s ‘London Selection’ biscuit tin

Do you want any matches?

Biscuit tin

New Mackerel, New Mackerel!

Knives, Scissors & Razors to Grind!

De Beauvoir Ford’s 1951 fantasia on a theme by Wheatley configured as a patriotic jigsaw

Turnips & Carrots, ho!

Round & Sound, Five Pence a Pound, Duke Cherries!

Iconic Yardley Old English Lavender talcum powder tin

Old Chairs to Mend!

Yardley Old English Lavender soap

A New Love Song, only Ha’pence a Piece!

Wheatley figures upon the Yardley factory in Stratford (Photograph courtesy of Fin Fahy)

Francis Wheatley RA (1747-1801)

Hot Spiced Gingerbread, Smoking Hot!

Wheatley images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute