Monthly Archives: June 2012

Secret London: Part II – A hidden and ancient church

St Bartholomew-the-Great is probably the second oldest church in London (remnants of All Hallows-by-the-Tower are much older) and is hidden away down alleys and tiny roads in West Smithfield.

It reeks of history and character. There is no happy-clappy nonsense here (apologies if you are into that, but this place ain’t for you) – this is full-on ‘high church’ solemnity and ritual.

It was built in 1123 by a rich church dude who was grateful that he recovered from a fever. For nearly 900 years since, the sick have been coming to pray for a cure. For the past couple of decades, the sick have probably been outnumbered by a few tourists who want to soak up some serious atmosphere. When you step inside you can barely see a thing as it is so dark (hence the rather grainy images as I did not want to spoil the mood with flash and didn’t have my tripod with me for long exposure – yes, I know the story about the bad workman and his tools).

Film directors making period dramas seem to like the atmosphere too and so Shakespeare in Love, Sherlock Holmes, The Other Boleyn Girl, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; and, Four Weddings and a Funeral all had scenes shot here.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the church is haunted. Apparently the ghost of a monk walks around persistently looking for a sandal that was stolen from his tomb. It may seem a little bonkers for someone to steal a single sandal from a tomb, but I have read stories about relic hunters stealing bones from tombs of saints and even of holymen being torn to pieces as soon as they snuffed it so that people could say they have the finger of St Trevor or whoever. I am putting a call out that if anyone finds a pretty ropey old sandal down the back of their sofa, I think you should hand it back in at the church so that poor monk can get some rest.

Just imagine being preached to about eternal damnation whilst having carvings like this (above) all over the place – that should make the kiddies say their prayers before bed! To continue the haunting theme, apparently you can still smell the burning flesh sometimes in the church thanks to the rather unpleasant hobby of Bloody Mary (Mary I) who used to burn protestants (over 280 of them in her short reign) some of whom met their fate just outside the church. The memorial plaque below is difficult to photograph as it is behind bars – hence the funny angle (I know, I’m blaming my tools again), but it reads:

“Within a few feet of this spot, John Rogers, John Bradford, John Philpot, and other servants of God suffered death by fire, for the faith of Christ, in the years 1555, 1556, 1557.”

The Tudors couldn’t quite seem to make their mind up about religion: Henry VIII burned down part of this church (and hundreds of others) when he turned his back on the Pope for daring to refuse to grant him a divorce from Catherine (who just happened to be from a pretty powerful Spanish family); his sickly son Edward was then a good Protestant like his daddy; Henry’s daughter Mary, however, obviously didn’t get the memo and reversed the country back into Catholicism; then when a stomach tumour did Mary in, her sister, Elizabeth, (who never much liked Mary) decided to switch back again to Daddy’s Anglicanism (executing a few Catholics for good measure as well).

(Further digression: William Wallace – better known as Mel Gibson’s Braveheart – died pretty horrifically with all sorts of bits of him chopped off and pulled out, right by the church as well when it was a mere two hundred years old. He had a tendency to make mischief whenever the English army tried to keep our noisy neighbours in the North under control. There are still little Scottish flags and thistles tied to his memorial plaque – sorry about lack of photo – not sure what I was thinking, maybe a bird flew past and distracted me).

I have pasted two photos together above of the memorial plaque of Edward Cooke (who, according to the Latin inscription was a philosopher and a doctor, but I’ve never heard of him). What’s interesting is that the statue used to weep until the church had central heating installed which dried out the stone or annoyed Him upstairs enough to switch off the miracle (you can decide which according to your chosen belief or lack of). The inscription which I have translated slightly from rather old English says:

“Unsluce your briny floods [cry!], what can ye keep your eyes from tears, and see the marble weep, burst out for shame [you should be ashamed if you can look at this statue without crying]: or if ye find no vent for tears, yet stay, and see the stones relent [if you don’t cry then at least watch these stones do it for you].” If the whole statue used to drip with water I don’t get why they thought he was crying and not sweating, but hey, what do I know!

Despite walking on Mr Jonathan’s grave above (that’s what you get if you are buried under the floor of a church mate!) I was super impressed with his job title: note he wasn’t a hairdresser or a wig maker, but a hair merchant!

This font is really old (I did read how old but have now forgotten) and the painter and cartoonist William Hogarth (famous for lots of saucy pictures in the 18th Century) had his head wet in it. Another famous connection for the church was that US Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, used to work in a printing room in the church.

The images above are of some funky little statues of the Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I don’t really do religion, but I am a big fan of parts of the Bible which includes some impressive literary prowess (as you probably know the Gospel writers wrote in classical Greek) and Luke is widely considered to be one of the finest writers of his age. John was also an excellent historian. Here is a section (I have added the highlight) of St John’s Gospel that was on the page left open in a bible in the church:

Ok. I have worn myself out again with all the history – I just can’t help myself! So, let’s just look at a few more photos and enjoy in silence…

Secret London: scratching beneath the surface

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson

The quotation above is in danger of becoming tired itself it is so often repeated. But, as with many clichés, it has gained its status by being so accurate.

I am perhaps not well-travelled enough to be justified in making such a bold statement, but I believe London is the most incredible city in the world. It would be difficult to claim that it was the most beautiful city in the world, it is obviously not even close to being the oldest (Jericho and Damascus tend to be rivals for that title), and nor do I think it is the friendliest place to be, but its diverse richness of culture and history make it the most interesting place to live. Also:

  • London is the largest, and most populous, urban zone in Europe
  • Over 300 languages are spoken by people living in London
  • The London metropolitan area generates around 30% of the UK’s total GDP
  • London is not actually ‘one’ city, but an urbanised area containing the City of London and the City of Westminster. The old ‘City of London’, which is now largely the financial centre, gave its name to rest of the sprawling mass officially called ‘Greater London’.

But most people know all of this. Everyone also knows about Big Ben (even if they do confuse the name of the Bell with the Westminster Clock Tower itself), Buckingham Palace, and the dreadful Leicester Square (can anyone tell me the point of Leicester square other than as a place to stage film premières?). But there is much of London that remains hidden and unknown, even to many of us who have lived here for years.

It is this ‘secret’ London that I intend to occasionally uncover through photography. There is no time like the present, so here are some photo-trivia to get us started…

The City Walls

There was almost certainly settlement activity around London’s part of the Thames long before the Romans (in fact recent archaeological finds suggest there was a bridge across the Thames in 1500BC(!), but the first significant settlement that we know of was built by the good old Romans in 43AD (only 10 years after they had crucified a rather well-known Jewish carpenter at the other end of their empire).

As we know from other parts of the country, the Romans liked to build walls to stop the baddies (or locals as we might call them) from getting in.

The old Roman walls have largely been built over, or incorporated into, the foundations of newer walls and so can’t be seen, but the Blitz exposed some of these ancient structures. In the photos above (from left to right) you can see the archaeological site with WWII-ruined Victorian walls on top of the old Roman walls [digression: you can also see one of the Barbican towers in the distance and the modern building on the right is my former office]. In the middle you can see the stone outline of a fort built into the city wall. Finally, there is a close-up showing clearly how Victorian brick was built directly on top of the old Roman walls.

London’s burning

Only 17 years after Londinium was settled by the Romans, one of those locals/natives/baddies, Boudica the queen of the Iceni (sometimes called Boadicea), got a bit stroppy and burned the whole place to the ground. The Romans didn’t give up though and re-built it with some bigger walls (like the ones shown in my photos) to deter such unpleasantness. The fire was so comprehensive and destructive, that archaeologists still use the layer of ash in the earth as an accurate date-line.

This was not the only time London was to burn. Under the great wall-builder, Emperor Hadrian, the city was almost completely wiped out again (122AD). There were big fires in 675, 982 and 989 under the Saxons. In 1087 under William II another huge fire destroyed the original St Paul’s Cathedral amongst other things. In 1135 and 1212 there were two more enormous fires which are believed to have killed thousands of Londoners who, nevertheless, continued to live crammed in to rickety wooden houses until the ‘Great Fire of London’ in 1666.

Immediately after the Great Fire of London, some poor mad French chap foolishly confessed to starting the fire. He was promptly executed before people worked out that he wasn’t even in London when the fire started. Astronomers and Catholics also got blamed for the causes (in a karmic, rather than literal, way) of the fire until the City elders decided that the sin of gluttony was to blame. To make their point, they put up this chubby little golden chappy below on the corner of the aptly named Cock Lane:

As nearly everyone knows, London didn’t burn so comprehensively again until the Germans dropped firebombs on London in the Blitz of the Second World War. What a lot of people don’t know is that, if you look carefully enough, the scars of war are still present in London 70 years later:

On the ruined Christ Church at Greyfriars (left), you can still see the scorch marks after the church took a direct hit from a bomb in 1940. On the right are two examples of many shrapnel holes in St Bart’s hospital after bombs fell nearby.

Thanks for reading! I promise to make future updates on ‘London’s Secrets’ more about the photos and less about me babbling on. I think I got a little overexcited with all the history. I am going to have a little lie down now.

A little ode to toast

I love food… I love all different types of food… I will happily spend quite a lot of money for exquisite flavours in expensive restaurants… but I am not sure there are many types of food that make me quite as happy as toast and butter…

“That’s toast, mmm yeah,
Just toast,
That’s toast,
Just toast.” – Streetband

Walking IN the weather

Since I started taking photos I have become obsessed with sky. Few things annoy me more than taking a photo of a scene with a ‘white-out’ sky with solid but hazy cloud and glare.

Interesting clouds are a landscape photographer’s best friend – and the moodier the better. They can turn a relatively mundane scene into something worth capturing and looking at.

Weather is normally something that happens to us from high above. In mountains – like some of the alpine scenes I have posted here – you actually feel like you are ‘IN’ the weather; largely due to being surrounded by cloud or above cloud when you are at high altitude.

Mountains attract weather like magnets attract iron filings. I love the way clouds cling to the trees and rocks of a mountain and how quickly the weather can change when you are in the hills. You can very literally become enveloped in the cloud as it suddenly sweeps over a ridge or pass.

All photos have been taken using a DSLR, but edited on Instagram.

Alpine wildlife

The French Alps are home to some impressive wildlife, including the Eurasian Wolf and the Golden Eagle. There are also the mighty horned ancestors of some of our domestic livestock such as the Mouflon (wild sheep), the Ibex (wild goat), and the Chamois (err, basically a Eurasian antelope).

Now I am back from my hols in the hills I would love to show you pictures of these fantastic creatures, but, … unfortunately I didn’t see any. I did see the endemic Alpine Chough, but I was too slow to jump out of the car (on a mountain switch-back) to photograph them.

Whilst not quite such an impressive list, I did get a few shots of the local flora and fauna. Late spring, or ‘inter-season’ as skiers will call it, is a fantastic time to visit to see wildlife.

Grey Wagtail with juvenile

Buzzard (left) and Red Kite (right)

Spotted Flycatcher seen from two angles

Black Redstart – female (left) and male (right)

There is an array of great invertebrates:

Unidentified beetle (top left), Swallowtail butterfly (top right) and two unidentified Orthopterans (crickets and grasshoppers to you and I, bottom – I would hazard a guess that bottom left is a grasshopper nymph and the one on the right is nearly fully grown).

The Alps are famous for their wild flowers, and the meadows are truly stunning in early June with flowers growing often in a tangled mess of colour:

Alpine flowers and grasses

Here is small selection of the wildflowers I saw…

In the blue (and purple) corner…

Clockwise from top left: Unidentified, Harebell, Red Clover, Speedwell, and Cranesbill (wild geranium).

In the yellow (and orange) corner:

Clockwise from top left: Buttercup, Golden Hawksbeard, unidentified nettle, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Hawkweed Oxtongue.