I was just a Poor Boy…

Poor Boy at St Botolph's
Poor Boy at St Botolph’s

THESE two statues of a Poor School boy and girl stand outside St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate. They are modern replicas, although the boy’s pedestal retains the original date of 1821 – also noting these are the work of the famous Mrs Coade. Her Coade Stone recipe involved twice-fired pottery and was used for the Lion on Westminster Bridge as well as many other statues and architectural detailing of the time. She died in 1821, so these statues represent her work at its peak.
St. Botolph’s is one of four churches of that name that used to stand in the City London. He was the patron saint of travellers, hence the position of this church near one of the former city gates. The poet John Keats was baptised here in 1795.
The school was started in the early 18th century, around the same time the present church – the fourth on the site – was built. It expanded to 340 pupils in 1820 under Sir William Rawlins, whose tomb stands in front of the pair. He was Sheriff of London in 1801.
The originals of these two – which cost £15 each at the time – are inside St Botolph’s Hall, which is available for hire.

Poor Girl at St Botolph's
Poor Girl at St Botolph’s

The Prudential War Memorial

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One of the beauties of the City is the passageways that take you off the busy main roads, avoiding pedestrian traffic and making for a quicker, more pleasant journey. You also never know what you will stumble on. This war memorial of 1922 in Waterhouse Court is by Swiss-born sculptor Frank Blundstone and is a memorable work of art, even leaving aside the sentiments behind it. It remembers the employees of Prudential Assurance who died in World War I (another nearby is dedicated to those who died in WWII).
It is a typical Victorian extravaganza of women struggling with their clothing and heroic fallen warrior. What sets it apart is the details of the machinery of war, such as tanks and a biplane. This theme – of this new type of warfare – is picked up in the bas relief on each side, which show an artillery piece being hauled into action and a convoy at sea.

Saxon sculpture in Stepney

Guest post by James Alexander Cameron

St Dunstan’s, Stepney is rather a surprise in the East End of London: a medieval church sitting in an uncommonly spacious and well-kept graveyard, where you could imagine Victorian gentlemen and their ladies taking a Sunday afternoon stroll. Not much to look at from the outside: it’s a rather late medieval building, mostly 15th century, although greatly restored by the Victorians. However, inside it has a remarkable artistic survivor from before the Norman Conquest. The interior is rather foreboding and gloomy, and the kitsch 1950s stained glass by Hugh Easton certainly not to my taste (the boyish half-naked Christ in the east window is said to be modelled on the parish priest!).

The sedilia, the seats for the medieval priest and his assistants, the deacon and the subdeacon, can be seen in the south wall by the altar. These sedilia have rather interesting carving across the arch over the centre seat; a style of medieval ornament art historians call stiff-leaf, based on no specific plant. Although it has been greatly restored in the mid-19th century, it’s a clue that these sedilia are older than the rest of the church, from the mid to late 13th century. Above the door opposite the sedilia is a very battered little sculpture of the following century, the 14th. We can tell this because of the more complex pointy canopy it has over the top of the figures. It was originally part of a larger artwork: it most probably shows the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary so may have been a large stone altarpiece showing the life of the Virgin.

However, at the very end of the church behind the altar is a remarkable medieval sculpture dating back nearly a thousand years: a relief of the crucifixion perhaps carved around the year 1000. The earliest record of it is from 1793 when it was recorded over the south porch, and this placement outside may have been its original setting in the Saxon church that stood on this site, before it was moved to this more distinguished setting in the nineteenth century. We can tell it is Saxon because it is like the manuscript illustrations of that time. The figures have a rather dainty feel; note the tiny feet floating above the ground, unlike the rather more brash and weighty style of figure preferred by the conquering Normans. It is badly worn from its years outside, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to get up close to something so old, rather than see it entombed in a glass case. You can make out the delicate sorrow of the grieving St. John, and two tiny little figures either side of cross who once would have been brightly coloured to represent the sun and moon. It’s a very rare example of Saxon art surviving in London, and startling to think how many other things the artist who sculpted this must have made, and how much by him and his contemporaries has been lost.

St Dunstan’s main Sunday service is at 10am, with a weekly open morning for visitors on Thursdays 10-12. It may be open at other times around other daily services, but contact the church first. www.stdunstanstepney.com

See more from James at Stained Glass Attitudes.

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.

Continue reading “The crying lamp post”