The Broad Street pump

THE JOHN SNOW pub in the background is a clue to the importance of this Soho pump with no handle, which I walked past for years before first noticing. It’s in Broadwick Street W1.

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The Bluecoats

Bluecoat boy, St Andrew’s Holborn

HOW DID you advertise your shop in the days when most of the population could not read? With a hanging sign, of course, the most common remnant of that practice being the red and white striped pole you see outside a barber shop. (The red representing blood, as barbers also used their razors to let blood, once a common cure-all.) Continue reading “The Bluecoats”

England’s smallest cathedral

THE EIGHT statues on Vauxhall Bridge are hard to see, except from a passing boat, but well worth the effort. Dating to the Victorian era, they represent concepts such as ‘Pottery’, ‘Engineering’, ‘Education’ and, oddly enough, ‘Local Government’. Continue reading “England’s smallest cathedral”

The first female surgeon in Britain

LIKE memorial stones in graveyards, there are many statues around London that meant a lot to the people who put them up, but little to us now after the passage of time. Hopefully, they will remain in place, like gravestones, for many generations so as not to disturb the souls of those who have gone before, and a reassurance that our own heroes will in turn be treated with respect. Continue reading “The first female surgeon in Britain”

The crying lamp post

EVERY time I walk through Trafalgar Square, I see something different. It may be one of the most familiar places in London but it can still surprise. This week it was this cherub on a lamp-post near South Africa House that had been left with a tear drop by a too-thick coat of paint.

Trying to find out who had designed the cherub, I came across a site by the company who designed the original gas lamps in the square itself and who then refurbished them for electricity. The site is a wonderful diversion into such oddities as the ‘ventilating lamp’ and early gas fires.

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London’s oldest street sign?

WHERE is London’s oldest street sign? I am glad you asked, because it has been amusing me recently to track it down.

Of course, short of carbon dating, it is rather hard to be exact about the age of many. I am talking about the ones that actually have a date on them, although that does mean assuming the dates are accurate.

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Two of the easiest to find, quite close to each other, are ‘Cowley Street 1722’ and ‘Smith’s Square 1726’, in Westminster. Smith Square SW1 is famous for St John’s church, nicknamed ‘Queen Anne’s Footstool’ because of its four corner towers, and is also where the European Parliament and European Commission have their London offices. Cowley Street hosts the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party, which is why you may find a wandering policeman keeping an eye on you as you search for stray signs.

In Soho, you can find a lovely square plaque marking ‘Meards Street 1732’. It’s a lovely street, too, a quiet haven from the bustle of the rest of the area. Look out for the ‘Soho Nose’ nearby – that is another story.

Even older is the sign from ‘Chigwell Streate 1678’ which you will find on the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway E1. The Highway dates back to Roman times, as you might note by its straightness, and a Roman bath has been excavated alongside it.

In Covent Garden, you have to look very hard to spot ‘Yorke Street 1636’. Don’t go looking for York(e) Street, as it is now renamed Tavistock Street WC2. One very famous former resident of 4 York Street was Thomas de Quincey who wrote ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ in 1821. High above his blue plaque you will spot the street sign. Its date, predating the Great Fire of 1666, makes it the oldest I have found so far in London.

Queen’s Birthday Salute – April 21

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AS if she wasn’t privileged enough, the Queen has two birthdays. Her Official Birthday is in June, when good weather is more likely for ceremonial events such as Trooping The Colour (also called the Queen’s Birthday Parade).

Her actual birthday is on April 21, which is marked with two major gun salutes.

The first is in Hyde Park at noon and is given by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery (RHA). They fire off 41 rounds; 21 in honour of the Queen with an extra 20 rounds because it is a Royal Park. (The same applies to salutes fired in The Green Park).

The second salute is at 1pm at the Tower of London and is given by the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). They fire off 62 rounds: 41 as above and an extra 21 for the City of London.

If you love the smell of gunpowder in the afternoon, be at the Tower on June 10, 2017. On that day the Queen’s Official Birthday, celebrated on the second Saturday of June, coincides with the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday. The HAC will be firing off 124 rounds – 62 for each royal.

On parade with its guns, the RHA takes precedence over all other regiments in the British Army. Nicknamed the ‘Rocking Horse Artillery’, the RHA’s ‘E’ Battery fought at Waterloo and fired the first British round of World War I.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery was formed in 1945 and named by King George. When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, she was asked if she would like the name changed to The Queen’s Troop but she has left it as a memory of her father.

They use vintage World War I era 13-pounder guns which, with their limbers, weigh in at 1,5 tonnes. It is an awesome sight to see them charging across Hyde Park and a tribute to their skill and training.

Their horses are usually Irish or Welsh and they have around 140 at any one time. Their names start with the same first letter as the Commanding Officers’ surname when the horse was bought but they also have a stable nickname.

The men and women of the King’s Troop are trained as fighting soldiers and several are now serving in Afghanistan at any one time. RHA

The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army, dating to 1087 and having a Royal Charter from Henry VIII in 1537. Its uniform is based on that of the Grenadier Guards and it uses 105mm towed howitzers. One soldier of the HAC has been killed in Afghanistan and several injured. HAC

Read more on other gun salutes at: