Category Archives: An urban view

Where is London’s first flyover?

London’s oldest flyover is not some ugly crumbling concrete edifice, but a much more elegant structure built well before Britain’s first petrol driven motor car was launched onto the streets of Walthamstow in 1894.

There is an apocryphal story which every generation of Knowledge students hears. It relates to an Appearance [oral test] when a Knowledge boy tells the examiner that you could turn right into Farringdon Street from Holborn Viaduct. The salutary lesson to be learned is that if he had just gone to that location he would have discovered there was a 60ft drop onto the road below. The hapless Knowledge boy had relied on his A-Z map and had learned the hard way that maps should not be slavishly followed.

Spanning the Fleet River valley (the river now covered by Farringdon Street), Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 and links Holborn with Newgate Street.

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. Four bronze statues featuring agriculture and commerce feature on the south side, and depictions of fine arts and science on the north side. There are statues of winged lions, dragons, globe lamps and the City of London’s coat-of-arms.

The buildings containing the stairs each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade: Banker Sir Thomas Gresham, Engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton and Mayors Sir William Walworth and Henry Fitz Ailwin.

Several old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard were relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is 1,400 feet long and 80 feet wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.
Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements, as are the globe lamps – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz.

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.

Taxi!

Writing a blog with the title of CabbieBlog I just had to feature this statue on John Carpenter Street near Blackfriars station. It depicts a bloke trying to hail a cab, hardly surprising he’s had no luck since 2014 as he’s hailing a taxi whilst facing onto a cycle lane, and yes I’ve had a few of those punters.

Taxi! is the obvious title of John Seward Johnson Jr.’s unusual 1983 bronze statue, and is unashamedly retro, with his baggy trousers, moustache and side parting. He was originally commissioned by the Chemical Bank Corp, the bronze is now owned by the J.P. Morgan Chase Art Collection and was formerly sited in New York before being moved to London after originally standing on Park Avenue and 47th Street in New York.

Like many of Johnson’s sculptures, this one of the six casts made by the American artist was originally painted all over, with a blue and red tie, the face flesh coloured, and the overcoat was a pale tan, making him eerily realistic. In Johnson’s New York Times obituary in 2020, it’s claimed that firefighters tried to ‘rescue’ another of Johnson’s statues following the 9/11 attacks, believing it to be a real man. Now, the London statue’s crisp white shirt is the only colour that remains.

Johnson inherited a fortune from the eponymous pharmaceutical company founded by his grandfather. ‘Taxi!’ is situated outside the former City of London School, which is now J.P. Morgan’s offices. With an ironic coincidence, it stands a stone’s throw from the world headquarters of their biggest competitor at Unilever House.

A tour of Ukrainian statuary

When undertaking The Knowledge thousands of ‘points’ had to be found, a very small number of which would be asked at an appearance.

One I do remember discovering as it was distinctive and had sunflowers around its base was the statue of St. Volodymyr.

Today we check out Ukrainian points in London:

Statue of St. Volodymyr

Located on the eastern corner of Holland Park and Holland Park Avenue, the statue was erected to mark the millennium, in 1988, of the Christianisation of Ukraine-Rus, the first East Slavic state, which reached its peak in the early to the mid-11th century. The statue is the work of the Canadian Ukrainian sculptor Leo Mol. The statue is often the focus of wreath layings, commemorations and demonstrations. Visitors to London and members of the Ukrainian community are frequently seen being photographed by the statue.

The Holodomor memorial

Located on the grounds of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Acton. This Cross was erected by the Ukrainian community in 1983, on the 50th anniversary of the 1932-33 artificially-created famine in Ukraine. Every year, on Ukrainian National Holodomor Day (the fourth Saturday in November) the Ukrainian community, religious leaders, diplomats and visitors gather at the monument to pay their respects to the victims of the famine, in which many millions starved to death.

218 Sussex Gardens

Here is to be found a plaque commemorating the Ukrainian Canadians who were based in this country during the Second World War as part of the Allied forces.

The bronze plaque reads:

“In memory of the Ukrainian Canadians who served their country overseas during the Second World War.

This building housed the headquarters of the Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association from January 1943 to the war’s end, of the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau from September 1945 to the winter of 1948, and of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain from January 1946 to the spring of 1947.

Ukrainian-Canadian relief operations continued in Europe until 1952.

Placed by the Ukrainian communities of Canada and Great Britain 19 September 1995″.

The inscription is repeated in Cyrillic script.

Gaslit

Two hundred and fifteen years ago, on 28th January 1807, London’s Pall Mall was the first street lit by gaslight.

Pall Mall was laid out in its present location in 1661, replacing a much older highway slightly to the south that ran from Charing Cross to St James’s Palace – then the residence of the King of England.

The name of the street is derived from ‘pall-mall’, a ball game that was played there during the 17th century.

The Pall Mall brand of cigarettes was introduced in 1899 by the Black Butler Company (UK) in an attempt to cater to the upper class with the first ‘premium’ cigarette. It is named after Pall Mall.

The gaslight was developed in the 1790s. The credit usually goes to Scottish engineer William Murdoch, but it was Friedrich Albert Winzer (sometimes anglicized to Frederick Winsor), a German entrepreneur living in London, who lit Pall Mall.

In 1804, the same year he patented coal-gas lighting, Winzer demonstrated the technology during a lecture at the Lyceum Theatre. By 1807, he had moved into a house on Pall Mall, one of the city’s most fashionable streets.

He followed the illumination of Pall Mall with a special exhibition on 4th June 1807, in honour of the birthday of King George III, using gaslight to superimpose images against the walls of the buildings along his street.

There are still 1,500 gas lamps in London. They don’t need lighting every night, but the timer that lights them automatically needs adjusting every fortnight to keep pace with shorter or longer days. Before timers, lamps were lit with an 8ft long brass pole with a pilot light – last used around Temple 1976.

Four-Three-Two-One, Happy New…

Typically, London’s horological icon has four names, so nobody knows what to call it: St Stephen’s Tower, the Elizabeth Tower or Big Ben (correctly its The Elizabeth Tower incorporating The Great Bell), and for a city whose time, both past and present, features so heavily, you’d have thought we’d got it right.

After all, London is the home of time itself, with the Greenwich Observatory setting Greenwich Mean Time (even that is now incorrect see the previous post).

Big Ben is not even the largest clock in London, that place belongs to number 80 Strand (note typically that lacks the definite article). Shell-Mex House faced a height restriction problem when it was built in 1930, but the restriction only applied to inhabited parts of a building, so a clock tower was exempt. It has two faces, best seen from the Golden Jubilee Bridges (even they have a time and date element).

All of us carry very accurate timepieces we use every day, obviating the need for the clocks that decorate the city, whose function has now become obsolete, but remain quite impressive.

Caledonian Market Clock Tower. The park in which it stands once housed London’s largest cattle market and the tower was supposedly built to stand the force of a bull charge. It’s now open to the public.

Sold off as part of a modernisation programme the clock above St. Pancras’ concourse has a fascinating history. During removal, it was accidentally dropped from the crane and the fragments, no longer fit for its new owner, were destined to be scrapped. Enter a British Rail guard with a passion for Victorian architecture. He was granted permission to salvage everything, which he painstakingly reassembled onto the side of his Nottinghamshire barn. Thirty years later, the heritage movement that had witnessed the loss of the old clock and almost the destruction of the whole station now saw its rebirth as the 21st-century international terminus. High Speed 1, the new owners, wanted the original reinstated but it was too fragile. E Dent & Co who had built the clock, and the Big Ben clock, commissioned Smith of Derby to partner with them to build a replica. Were it not for the original, which the owner who was now well into his 90s allowed them to inspect and measure, such a project would not have been possible.

I’ve always liked the art deco clock on Cambridge Circus, with four women balancing a clock like a beach ball, and the grand Queen of Time double clock that stands above the entrance to Selfridges, but Fleet Street and Holborn have an array of clocks, some hidden. St Dunstan-in-the-West has a clock installed five years after the Great Fire which features London’s great guardians Gog and Magog hitting the central bell with hammers.

The church of St George the Martyr in Southwark has its celebrated three-sided clock, with the fourth face blacked out because the residents of Bermondsey were not prepared to contribute to the church, so the church denied them time. Eventually, they capitulated and put the clock face in, but blacked it out as a reminder that it wasn’t paid for.

The bird clock of the London Zoo which squawks and swings and automates toucans, much like the Guinness Clocks of old did.

Churchill’s astronomical clock at Bracken House, said to have been named after Churchill’s illegitimate son, has Churchill’s face at its centre, it measures time by the heavens and is set in pink to reflect the colour of the newspaper it housed until the 80s. Since May 2019 the Financial Times has returned to this building and its iconic clock.