I-Spy The Sights of London

There was a time when children would learn things in a book, or by just going out and discovering, today’s youngsters, on the other hand, find an answer courtesy of Tim Berners-Lee’s clever invention.

One popular post-war publication was the I-Spy series. Like so much, I had forgotten this series of booklets until Diamond Geezer wrote a post about finding a copy of The Sights of London from his young days. This rather intrigued me, so I purchased a copy on eBay.

The Sights of London was the eleventh to be published around 1955, measuring 5″ x 4″ it comprises of 50 pages, with most of them having two ‘sights’ with each given a score for tracking them down. Once the booklet was completed children could send them to Big Chief I-Spy (the pseudonym of the writer and retired headmaster Charles Warrell), at the News Chronicle a liberal-leaning broadsheet which ceased publication in October 1960, which later would become the Daily Mail. At the time of my book’s publication, there were half a million members of the I-Spy Tribe.

The trail starts at Trafalgar Square, yards from where all measurements are calculated in London, with a useful double-spread map at the booklets’ centre. All the sights are labelled and listed, and a set route weaves around central London from Nelson’s Column to Charing Cross. As a cabbie, it’s not an efficient route with Trafalgar Square being visited three times, and one can only assume that Bit Chief I-Spy finished at his train station. I can’t imagine a retired headmaster (who incidentally died at the grand old age of 106) became a taxi driver, but none of the 70 sights is located South of the River.

Unremarkably much has changed in central London over the last 65 years. The Roosevelt Memorial (17) is still to be found in Grosvenor Square, unlike the United States embassy, and therefore you’ll no longer “see plenty of American cars.” No! I haven’t seen American cars there either. You wouldn’t be able to identify the “useful article standing each side of the front door” of No 10 Downing Street (26), although I can remember the innocent days when I drove into that cul-de-sac.

Captain Scott’s ship The Discovery (39) was moored just below Waterloo Bridge at the time, in 1979 it moved to Dundee.Along the Thames London Bridge (58) which the Redskin was urged to stop and have a look at the ships unloading. To get your 20 points you had to count the arches, today a trip to Lake Havasu in Arizona would be needed to complete the task.

Much has been framed with the quaint language of the time. Eros (18) is described as “a gay and well-known figure in the centre of Piccadilly Circus”. Nobody today sitting on its steps would describe nude Eros as ‘gay’, and the traffic doesn’t now flow around the memorial. New Scotland Yard is not the headquarters of the C.I.D., the police have had two homes since this time. In 1955 St. Mary-le-Bow Church (51) didn’t have bells to enable someone to call themselves a cockney, they were destroyed on 10th May 1941 since the publication the bells have been reinstated.

Probably the biggest change is Covent Garden (66), described as “Best time to see it is very early in the morning-a great bustle of vegetables, flowers, fruit and people”. It sounds like Mary Poppins is likely to be seen walking around the market.

Today’s lock-down quiz is taken from I-Spy The Sights of London and considering that the book was aimed at 8-year-olds, the questions shouldn’t pose much of a problem.


Questions

1. In front of the National Gallery is the statue of a famous American. Who is he?


2. The gates of the Admiralty Arch are very large and handsome. How many are there?


3. Towards which street is Eros aiming his bow?


4. What does Justice atop the Old Bailey hold in her left hand?


5. St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose statue stands outside the main entrance?


6. The Monument. Where exactly did the Fire of London start?


7. At one time an Inn of Chancery for law students, Staple Inn stands in Holborn opposite Gray’s Inn Road. How many gables?


8. Covent Garden. Who designed St.Paul’s Church in Covent Garden?


9. You’ll find an unusual kind of police box at the Strand corner of Trafalgar Square. Which statue is close to the police station?


10. No. 10 Downing Street. What useful articles stand on each side of the front door?


Answers

1. In front of the National Gallery is the statue of a famous American. Who is he?

George Washington’s words of “not wishing to set foot on English soil again” have been respected, in the statute of him at the front of the National Gallery there lies beneath his feet a quantity of earth transported over from America.


2. The gates of the Admiralty Arch are very large and handsome. How many are there?

Each carriageway has an ornamental gate, but the centre ones are kept closed, being opened only for Royalty. A little-known trivia fact concerns the presence of a life-size human nose which protrudes from the inside wall of the northernmost arch. Best viewed on foot, or whilst sat in rush hour traffic, bewilderingly it stands at waist height for anyone riding a horse. As many a London cabbie will explain, it is said to resemble Napoleon’s nose and was rubbed by anyone riding through the arch as a snub to the diminutive Corsican.


3. Towards which street is Eros aiming his bow?

With 30,000 people every hour, it comes as no surprise that all this attention has turned Eros’ head, in 1986 it needed some restoration lasting 18 months. when the aluminium statue was reinstated instead of facing Shaftesbury Avenue, as he did in the past, in deference to Victorian philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury in whose honour he was sculptured, Eros was turned himself around. He now faces the Haymarket. The statue was also shifted 40 feet from its original site.


4. What does Justice atop the Old Bailey hold in her left hand?

The 22-ton, 3.5m tall figure of Lady Justice is the Old Bailey’s crowning glory — clutching the sword of retribution in her right hand, and the scales of justice in her left hand. But contrary to the well-worn adage, this particular Justice is not blind(folded).


5. St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose statue stands outside the main entrance?

Queen Anne, the Queen that chair legs have been named after, itself rather curious for as when Queen Anne was crowned the tradition at that time of buckling on a new pair of spurs had to be abandoned for the future Queen’s legs were deemed too fat. Originally completed in 1712 depicting the Queen with an alluring figure, when in fact at the time of its creation, she was obese. The statue itself was reproduced because, by the end of the 19th Century pigeon droppings, coal smog and vandalism had all but finished it off. The City approached the celebrated sculptor Richard Claude Belt and he duly promised to complete the work within a year. Belt although undoubtedly talented was a bit of a reprobate, he was constantly running up debts and getting into scrapes, and about the time of the Queen Anne commission found him in prison for fraud. He had spent the money advanced for the commission already, but the City authorities had no intention of throwing that money away and gained special permission to deliver stone and tools to Belt’s cell, with the result that we can confidently say that the St Paul’s statute of Queen Anne, albeit a rather slimline version, is the only public work of art completed by a convicted prisoner while he was actually in prison.


6. The Monument. Where exactly did the Fire of London start?

The word curfew derives from the Norman French Couvre le Feu. It literally means put out your fire, and not as is commonly thought to tell citizens that they must not leave their homes after nightfall, but since it is bedtime (the poor would have little means to light their houses at night) a bell would ring to remind them to extinguish all their fires. It is something a baker from Pudding Lane on 2nd September 1666 clearly ignored.


7. At one time an Inn of Chancery for law students, Staple Inn stands in Holborn opposite Gray’s Inn Road. How many gables?

As recently as 30 years ago London still had one-quarter of Britain’s tobacco factories, and when I worked in Clerkenwell the Old Holborn factory was opposite our company. As a junior boy, I would go into an adjacent tobacconist, there on the counter was a tall ornate gas pipe, its flame flickering seductively at head level, encouraging one to light up. The shop’s proprietor, skinny man with nicotine-stained fingers and yellow moustache to match was hardly an advertisement for his merchandise, for between gasps he would ask breathlessly “Can . . . I . . . help . . . you?”

One of the last of these shops was Shervingtons which proudly displayed above its door “Ye Olde Tobacco Shop”. The shop was founded in 1864 and situated in Staple Inn, the 16th-century block of offices at the eastern end of Holborn, the image of which once adorned tobacco tins as Old Holborn’s trademark showing its seven gables. It appeared that the shop remained in its Olde ways and with bitter irony had No Smoking stickers displayed giving a further clue to its demise.


8. Covent Garden. Who designed St.Paul’s Church in Covent Garden?

On 12th April 1665 England’s first Black Death victim, Margaret Ponteous, was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. Known as the ‘actor’s church’ it was designed by Inigo Jones in 1633.


9. You’ll find an unusual kind of police box at the Strand corner of Trafalgar Square. Which statue is close to the police station?

The great thing about the Fourth Plinth is that for me, having run out of money when originally laying out a square, pragmatically the Plinth was left unadorned for over one-and-a-half centuries. At the time of Trafalgar Square’s construction the founder of the modern police force, Sir Robert Peel described as “the finest site in Europe” (he presumably hadn’t been to Venice). If asked to name its other statues most would say ‘Nelson’. Although he stands over 17 ft high we can only gaze up his not inconsiderable nostrils standing up on his lofty position. Cabbies might tell you of the world’s smallest police station in the square’s south-east corner, but who could name any of the other public figures adorning Trafalgar Square?

The three equestrian statues of 19th-century notables standing on the other plinths one next to the police station is of Sir Henry Havelock (he of Indian Mutiny fame) by William Behnes who so driven by debt and drink was found one night in the gutter with three pennies in his pocket. The second Sir Charles Napier had his statue paid for by the squaddies of the British Army, the sculptor of the third statue of King George IV, Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey, who had expected to receive £9,000 for his efforts, with the King promising to contribute one-third, died before receiving a penny.


10. No. 10 Downing Street. What useful articles stand on each side of the front door?

Probably the only way to answer this (unless you have had good reason lately to go there), is via the internet, even Google View hasn’t taken photographs. So here is the best I can find showing two boot scrapers:
Two boot scrapers at Number 10 Downing Street

Some unless Number 10 trivia:
•During expensive alterations in the late 1950s remains of Roman Pottery and a Saxon wooden hut were found in the foundations.
•The zero of the number ’10’ is set at a slight angle as a nod to the original number which had a badly-fixed zero.
•After the IRA mortar attack in 1991, the original black oak door was replaced by a blast-proof steel one. Regularly removed for refurbishment and replaced with a replica, it is so heavy that it takes eight men to lift it.
•The brass letterbox still bears the legend “First Lord of the Treasury”.
•The original door was put on display in the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms.
•Number 10 has been the official home of the Prime Minister since 1735 when Sir Robert Walpole first took residence.
•It has been home to over 50 Prime Ministers
•Downing Street stands on the site of a former brewery
•Number 10 was originally Number 5
•The last private resident of Number 10 was a Mr Chicken
•The Cabinet usually meets once a week in 10 Downing Street, normally on a Thursday morning, in the Cabinet room
•The door has no lock
•It’s postcode is SW1A 2AA

3 thoughts on “I-Spy The Sights of London”

    1. Hi Gibson Square, I am saving them up for a week when I’m not working full-time – I have a couple of weeks off in early July so I’ve bookmarked them to come back to then, though I don’t hold out a lot of hope for me having a stunning success 🙂

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