The Churchill Clock

Bracken House is to be found sandwiched between Distaff Lane, Friday Street, Queen Victoria Street and Cannon Street and is named after Brendan Bracken a close friend of Winston Churchill so close so rumour was that he was the illegitimate son of Churchill.

Contemporaries would accuse Bracken of bullying and being a liar, a boaster, capricious and a thick skinned loudmouth.

[B]rendan Bracken was the wartime Minister of Information supposedly the model George Orwell used for his Ministry of Truth in his seminal work 1984 and Big Brother (now a pretty prosaic television production) in Orwell’s book is said to be derived from Brendan Bracken’s initials.

Post-war Bracken was the Chairman of the Financial Times which had acquired the site from the City of London, Bracken then commissioned the President of the Royal Academy, Albert Richardson, to design a new headquarters for the financial publication – note how the pink brick and Hollington sandstone reflects the colour of the Financial Times newspaper.

Its island location built on sloping ground makes this a very curious building. A comprehensive history of this building, which was to become the first post-war listed property can be found at London Details.

The face of Churchill can be found on the astronomical clock on the Cannon Street flank, facing St. Paul’s Cathedral. Originally it was to be framed by Atlas figures (alas lost in the final design)

Clock-faceThe face of Churchill is at the centre of a golden sunburst, surrounded by gilded signs of the zodiac, on an azure background. Outside this are the names of the 12 months, then the 12 hours in Roman numerals and then the digits 5, 10, etc. up to 60. The day of the month is displayed in a window below Churchill’s face. There is another window to the upper right whose function is not clear. The different rings of the clock rotate so that the clock is read by just looking at what is currently at the top, where noon normally is on a more mundane time-piece.

What’s not clear is whether Bracken produced the idea of Churchill personifying Apollo, or whether Richardson did. The concept of Churchill as sun god would have been wholly characteristic of Bracken in its combination of whit with sycophancy.

Clock detail Churchill face by mira66 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

All our yesterdays

I should have named this post ‘All our great-great-grandparents yesterdays’. Yestervid have collected a series of old films from the early days of film (1890-1920) and produced a truly fascinating video.

In March 2015, old footage was researched and collected from various credible sources. The original shots were then recreated by visiting sites across London. The footage was carefully matched up, arranged by location.

[T]hey show London with its fogs, horses and general chaos side-by-side with the identical modern scenes from the same vantage point. And for those less familiar with London a handy map pin-pointing their locations.

With a perfectly matched soundtrack forty-six shots from Tower Bridge (still heavy with traffic, albeit horses) to Trafalgar Square (almost traffic free) to St. Paul’s once standing proud unoverlooked at the summit of Ludgate Hill which now peers out between skyscrapers more akin to a sci-fi city.

One of the most memorable shots is of The Tower of London grey in black-and-white film alongside a bright red sea of poppies from 2014’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

The final shot is of a grainy Trafalgar Square in 1890 claimed to be the oldest moving picture of London.


The Tipple Taxi

When Transport for London decreed that older cabs should be banned from the streets of London they couldn’t have guessed that with a little imagination the number of different uses these old workhorses would be put. When I started this occasional series about ‘retired’ cabs the assumption was that it would be just that – occasional. With some clever thinking outside the black cab box there appears no end to the ingenious way these classic vehicle may be adopted.

[C]alled a ‘taxi booth’ the Tipple Taxi is the perfect venue for the party season, selling cocktails from a taxi that uniquely has an alcohol license.


This class Fairway has appeared at the Eden Festival, the Boomtown Fair and Glastonbury. It might be a bar but it still has the appearance of a cab with a custom built bar extension. In addition it can be adapted as a media booth for conducting interviews, a private – admittedly small – cinema vehicle and in conjunction with Fairlight Productions a studio for a photo shoot.

Down Your Alley: St. Martin’s Lane

Raconteur and master of the London quote Samuel Johnson once memorably gave these pearls of wisdom to this drinking partner Boswell:




“Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.”

[T]aking Johnson’s advice Down Your Alley, a new regular slot on CabbieBlog, proposes to give a potted insight into the lanes and alleys of London. We kick off with the heart of Theatreland where thousands walk past these little survivors from an earlier period in the Capital’s history without pausing to investigate these little urban gems or sometimes depositories of human detritus.


St. Martin’s Court

Walking down St. Martin’s Lane the first alley you reach on your right is St. Martin’s Court. St Martin’s Court, Lane, Place, and Street were all named, as might be supposed, from the church of St Martin in the Fields. This notable London landmark was built originally in the 12th century as a chapel for monks working in the Abbey fields so that they would be spared the backwards and forwards trek to Westminster for the reciting of daily offices. When Henry VIII, abolished the monasteries in 1533 the Abbey was surrendered to the Crown along with the convent garden – hence nearby Covent Garden. This move rendered the chapel of St Martin’s redundant and it was demolished. Only 10 years later, a new church was built on the site and the northern half of the parish of St Margaret’s Westminster was given over to St Martin’s. The design was taken by the early settlers to the New World and can often be found in New England. St Martin’s Court, with its three rather plain gaslight standards in a line just off centre of the path, has two entrances leading from Charing Cross Road, one adjacent to the station and the other a few yards further south. The alleyway has the wall of two theatres. Between the two entrances is Wyndhams Theatre and at the opposite end in St Martin’s Lane is the Albery Theatre. The Salisbury, a preserved Victorian public house, frequented by members of the acting profession, is on the corner of St Martin’s Lane.


Godwin’s Court

Continuing down St. Martin’s Lane you next come to Goodwin’s Court on your left, t two steps lead into this narrow gem of a court. Built about 1627 it really is a delightful experience – a treasure of old London, and as fresh today as when the mortar was still wet. On the south side of the Court, numbers one to eight have enchanting Georgian bowed windows painted black, and highly polished knockers and knobs fitted to each of the doors. There are also some fine examples of working gas lamps outside the stepped entrances to number 1, owned by C P Carpets of Kidderminster, and numbers five and eight. Note the clock above the first floor window over the archway leading into Bedfordbury. Before the London Fire Brigade was established, it was up to the individual owners of property to insure against damage by fire. So that the fire fighting forces of the day could see that houses were insured, owners displayed identification marks on doors. One of these marks can be seen at Goodwin’s Court. Number 10 is Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant established in 1952 and a delicate reminder that the properties here used to be shops.


Cecil Court

Just opposite the entrance to Goodwin’s Court is the less impressive Cecil Court. Since the 1930s it has been known as the new Booksellers’ Row: rare books, prints and memorabilia, if you are looking for second hand books then this is the place to come. The Court is wide and literally lined from one end to the other with antiquarian and plain, down to earth, second hand bookshops. There is also a dealer of old prints, a poster shop and a philatelist. Down the centre line the Court is graced by two gas lamp standards. The court is named after William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who built a large house on a site near to the present Lyceum in the Strand. Lord Burghley had two sons, Thomas who became Earl of Exeter and on his father’s death inherited the house; and Robert who became Earl of Salisbury. In 1609 the King, who had always looked on Robert as a favourite, granted him a piece of land stretching from the east side of Leicester Square to St Martin’s Lane. On part of the land, facing St Martin’s Lane he built a block of residential property for the use of servants. One of the most notable celebrities to have taken up residence in Cecil Court was Mozart who temporarily occupied rooms here in 1764.


May’ Court

Continuing further down St. Martin’s Lane we come across May’s Court. The naming of the Court goes back to Henry May who owned a row of houses on St Martin’s Lane and he lived at number 43. The Court was the rear access to the row of houses and was originally known as May’s Buildings. Whilst May’s Court is not open to vehicular traffic it has the dimensions of a reasonably wide street. The whole of its southern length is dominated by the red brick wall of the Coliseum Theatre, home of The English National Opera. One of the largest theatres in London, the Coliseum was the first in the world to have a revolving stage. Apart from the flank wall of the Coliseum Theatre this alleyway has little to commend it for seeking out.


Brydges Place

The last Brydges Place is easily overlooked. Lying just on the south side of the Coliseum Theatre is one of the narrowest openings to an alley in the whole of London. Unfortunately you will find your endeavours at finding it have been wasted, it is most certainly not one of the prettiest. The passage extends between St Martin’s Lane and the corner of Bedfordbury and Chandos Place, with an outlet half way along to William IV Street. To get the full effect of the narrowness, walk from the east end towards St Martin’s Lane. Towering walls on either side give one a feeling of being squeezed. The access from St Martin’s Lane would, of course, not originally have been built so narrow, demolition and rebuilding over the years in an already congested district, available land was at a premium. This meant that every opportunity to snatch a little extra was seized upon, leaving the access to Brydges Place as little more than a crack in the wall. Although the passage has been here since the early 17th century it started life under the name of Dawson’s Alley. At the beginning of the 19th century it appears to have been known as Taylor’s Yard – indicating an area of rather larger proportions – and by 1875 the name had changed to the present Brydges Place. The reference is to George Brydges, Lord Chandos, who was the forces Paymaster and an ancestor of the Duke of Chandos.

Pictures: St. Martin’s Court by Ham (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UK); Godwin’s Court by London UnveiledCecil Court by Gerry Lynch CC-by-SA 3.0; Junction of St. Martin’s Lane and May’s Court and Options narrowing in Brydges Place by Basher Eyre (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no longer with us. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

The London Grill: Patrick Dalton

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[P]atrick Dalton was born in London and has lived in London his entire life. He worked for many years as a radio producer at the BBC as well as LBC. Since then he has devoted himself to photography and the pursuit of finding weird, depressing and often crap sights around cities. Patrick writes Shit London.

What’s your secret London tip?
ALWAYS stand on the right and don’t stop in doorways.

What’s your secret London place?
My secret London place is remaining a secret. If you have a secret spot don’t risk ruining it by telling everyone.

Shit-LondonWhat’s your biggest gripe about London?

I think that the Tube should run later. We’re a world city at the beginning of the 21st century and most of our public transport grinds to a halt shortly after midnight . . . that’s pretty shoddy. It was great over the Olympics when trains ran until 2am, it made getting back from central London so much more dignified than the usual night bus scrum.

What’s your favourite building?
My favourite London building has to be Festival Hall . . . in fact the whole of the South Bank. I know lots of people see the area as a concrete monstrosity but that’s part of the reason why I like. It’s also one of the only places in London where I think you see Londoners of all kinds mixing together and using the same space.

What’s your most hated building?
There are a lot of ugly buildings in London, mostly buildings thrown up quickly using that cheap looking yellow brick get me down. You know they’ll weather badly. It’s hard to nail it down to one particular building though. I’ve always found Euston Station to be a bit of a joy void. There’s just something quite depressing about the place that I can’t quite put my finger on.

What’s the best view in London?
The view from sitting outside the Coach and Horses on Greek street on a summers evening. It’s endlessly fascinating and entertaining watching all the different kinds of people go by.

What’s your personal London landmark?
There’s a spot on Frith Street where you can see two blue plaques almost next door to each other. One to say that Mozart once lived there and another commemorating John Logie Baird carrying out experiments into television. That two people of such genius who made such an impact on the world, walked around in the same little bit of land never fails to impress me and is just a tiny, tiny part of the whole interesting story that Soho has had.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Best London book? It has to be Shit London or even Shit London 2.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.