St Ethelburga’s Church

Posted by Ruth

Where: Bishopsgate, EC2
Website: http://stethelburgas.org
Twitter: @StEthelburgas

A calming atmosphere and sense of tranquility is not something one expects to find in the City of London. More typical is the rush of the business ecosystem, keeping the area pumping with suits and wealth. However, if you search them out there are hidden gems dotted about the Square Mile, offering a different experience in this infamous area.

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St Ethelburga’s is one such place. With the Gherkin towering in the near-distance, the City of London’s smallest church stands proudly within this concrete landscape. Built in approximately 1250, this little church has experienced its fair share of difficulty. Having just survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, this plucky church was hit again in the 1993 IRA Bishopgate bombing, suffering significant damage.

The church was subsequently rebuilt, and has reinvented itself as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, aiming to unite people of different faiths, and build relationships across conflict lines and cultural divides. It houses an interfaith tent – a place to pray and reflect on the commonality of our humanity – something which seems particularly appropriate in this spot.

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St. Paul’s and Tower Bridge seen through a telescope from the Royal Observatory Greenwich

Posted by Colin

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge must be two of the most photographed landmarks in London. But chances are they haven’t been snapped like this before…

On Wednesday night I was leading a telescope viewing session at the Royal Observatory Greenwich as part of their annual Evening With The Stars season. At the start of the night our view of the Moon and Jupiter was obscured by cloud and so I turned the telescope’s attention to something a little more terrestrial: Central London.

If you’ve ever been up on Greenwich Hill you’ll know what a spectacular view of the Capital it provides. I was able to centre the telescope on the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is beautifully bracketed by Tower Bridge from the vantage point up on the hill.

Being such a cold night the view was pin sharp and I was able to stick my iPhone at the eye piece and capture this unique view of the two famous landmarks (click image for larger version).

You can spot the coat of arms of the City of London sitting on the gantry of the bridge on the far left of the picture. The glowing “ropes” are also clearly visible.

The telescope eyepiece with Wren’s St. Paul’s in view, and another of his creations in the background

It was even possible to see the flag of St. George fluttering atop the bridge (look closely, and perhaps zoom in and you’ll see it. It is a little dark due to being in shadow but you can definitely see the cross on the flag!) We could even tell the time by the cathedral clock.

Such a gorgeous view was particularly apt as the cathedral’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was also responsible for designing Flamsteed House – the Observatory’s flagship building.

So from a distance of 5 miles (as the crow flies) I was able to unite two of Wren’s most stunning creations. We got to see Jupiter and the Moon once the clouds had lifted, but sometimes London can be just as beautiful as the heavens.

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The offices that were once a railway station for the dead

Posted by Colin

This beautiful building at 121 Westminster Bridge Road, close to Waterloo station, stands out a mile as it is surrounded by horrible, soulless office blocks. Its own façade had obviously been more carefully considered.

Its ornateness is due to the fact these offices were once home to the London terminus of the Necropolis Railway – a train line that used to ferry the Capital’s dead 30 miles out of town to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

When opened in 1854, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world and took up the slack when London’s own cemeteries were full to bursting. Despite its distance, it was quicker to reach by train than some of London’s cemeteries were by horse and cart. Brookwood remains Britain’s largest cemetery today.

The building in this picture is actually the second London station built for the Necropolis Railway – the first was closed due to the expansion of Waterloo station. 121 Westminster Bridge Road was bought in 1899 for £5,500 and construction cost just under £45,000 (or around £3.5 million today). The building was designed by Cyril Bazett Tubbs and was specifically intended to be attractive rather than solemn – a fact that still marks it out today.

The railway carried on its duties until 1941 when a bomb caused damage to large parts of station – it was declared closed on 11 May 1941. Today the original stone carved words of “London Necropolis” are hidden and the building serves as the offices of Transmarine Shipping Agencies Limited.

And so the transportation of a very different kind of cargo is now co-ordinated from this beautiful building whose unique history lies hidden to the thousands who walk past it everyday.

Remembering The First Victim of the Railways

Posted by Colin

This is William Huskisson. This statue of him, which stands in Pimlico Gardens, on the North bank of the Thames, describes him simply as a “statesman”. Nothing else in the area eludes to anything else about him, save that he was born in 1770 and died in 1830. That death turns out to be a tale in itself.

Some research reveals Huskisson was an MP who made it to the Duke of Wellington’s cabinet but resigned from his post in 1828 after a disagreement over parliamentary reform, returning to his Liverpool constituency.

(As a personal aside: the row was centered on the constituency of East Retford – the area where Ruth grew up).

When Huskisson and Wellington were both attending the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1830, Huskisson got off the train and headed for the Duke’s carriage in order to kiss and make up.

What Huskisson failed to notice was an oncoming train – none other than George Stephenson’s famous Rocket engine driven by the man himself. Huskisson noticed at the last minute and tried to scramble aboard Wellington’s train but the door swung open, preventing him climbing aboard. The train ran straight over his leg and dragged the MP all the way to Eccles. He was taken to hospital but died hours later.

Huskisson, then, is widely accepted as the first victim of the advent of the railways. A plaque, now at the National Railway Museum in York, says that the accident:

“DEPRIVED ENGLAND OF A ILLUSTRIOUS STATESMAN AND LIVERPOOL OF ITS MOST HONORED REPRESENTATIVE WHICH CHANGED A MOMENT OF THE NOBLEST EXULTATION AND TRIUMPH THAT SCIENCE AND GENIUS HAD EVER ACHIEVED INTO ONE OF DESOLATION AND MOURNING”

Huskisson’s widow, Emily, commissioned the statue for Custom House in Liverpool, but somehow it has ended up in SW1. With no plaque to explain his fate, it seems the story of this victim of science and progress will remain largely untold.

There is more than one St. Paul’s Cathedral in London…

Posted by Colin

Wren’s domed spire of St. Paul’s is one of the most iconic features of the London skyline. City suits and trapsing tourists buzz around the cathedral that saw the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana as well as Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Yet how many realise that there is actually a second St. Paul’s Cathedral in the middle of the Thames further upstream? Granted this second version is much smaller, so small it can be held aloft by a two tonne woman.

This diminutive copy of St. Paul’s can be seen on Vauxhall Bridge, which boasts eight impressive bronze statues installed in 1907 and dedicated to the arts and sciences. Around halfway along the upstream side (left hand side if crossing from Vauxhall) you’ll find the maiden dedicated to architecture. In her hands she holds a copy of the famous Cathedral.

Those crossing the bridge by car would never see the statues or St. Paul’s – they are best viewed from the river itself. However, if you are willing to peer over the edge, pedestrians can easily spot both.

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The Camels of Victoria Embankment

Posted by Colin

London’s most famous fake animals are probably the lions who guard Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. However, further down the northbank of the river, close to Blackfriars Bridge and HMS President, you’ll find some unlikely creatures: camels. Having walked along the river many times, I’ve always managed to overlook these tassled creatures bookending the waterside benches.

Doing a bit of digging I’ve found that they were installed 1878, putting pay to one notion they were installed to match the memorial to the Imperial Camel Corps which sits in nearby Embankment Gardens. The Imperial Camel Corps was a camel-mounted infantry brigade of the First World War and so their memorial wasn’t installed until 1916.

It seems the camels of Victoria Embankment may be there to compliment the Egyptian theme of the area, with Cleopatra’s Needle – an 1819 gift to the UK to commemorate Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile – standing nearby. Due to the cost of transporting it to Britain, the needle wasn’t actually brought to London until surgeon Sir Erasmus Wilson stumped up the £10,000 (!) required to get it here. It was finally raised in 1878 – the same year as the installation of the camels. The ungulates are still standing today, peering over the Thames with a great view of the London Eye upstream.

Only Henry VIII statue in London

Posted by Colin

Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived…

Thanks to his penchant for partners and his reformation of the Church, Henry VIII is one of England’s most famous monarchs. And yet, curiously, there is only one outdoor statue of the Tudor king in the Capital.

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To see it for yourself, you’ll have to head off to the entrance gate of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital next to Smithfields Market. St. Barts, the UK’s oldest surviving hospital on an original site, was initially part of a priory and so when Henry VIII tore up the religious rulebook in the 1530s it was under threat of closure.

Whilst the priory itself was dissolved, the hospital survived and in 1546 the King handed the hospital over to the City of London. In recognition of the fact he spared the hospital, his likeness was installed above the entrance in 1702.

The Caryatids of St Pancras Parish Church

Where: St Pancras Parish Church, Euston Road, NW1

Euston and Kings Cross St. Pancras are two of the busiest train stations in London, and Euston Road – the thoroughfare conjoining the two – is no less manic. Amidst such mayhem it is easy to miss a real treat: the terracotta women holding up the vestries on either side of William and Henry Inwood’s Greek Revival church. Opened in 1822, the building cost £76,679, making it the most expensive religious construction since that of St. Pauls’s Cathedral.

The caryatids (a new word for iPad scrabble!) were inspired by those on the “Porch of Maidens” at the Erechtheion Temple on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens. Sculpted by John Charles Felix Rossi, they have cast-iron innards which are slowly causing their terracotta skin to bulge, crack and fall off. A restoration project is under way to preserve these sentries of the Euston Road, who each hold an extinguished flame or empty jug to mark their position above a vault used for burials.

It seems, though, that their installation didn’t exactly go smoothly either; the caryatids were initially too large for their intended home and so, in an act of sculptor’s surgery, they had a slice of their abdomen’s removed so they would fit!