Tag Archives: London monuments

A tall tail

Since the horsemeat scandal CabbieBlog seems to have taken on a foodie theme. This week I found a little mouse sitting on top of the bird seed which is stored in plastic containers in my shed. How he came to be there I have no idea.

The sight of my furry friend reminded me of what is claimed to be London’s smallest statute although Peter Berthoud would seem to disagree.

[T]wo mice are fighting over a piece of cheese high up on a building on the south-eastern corner of Philpot Lane by the junction with 23 Eastcheap. They apparently date from 1862 when the building was constructed for the spice merchants Messrs Hunt & Crombie by John Young & Son.

No documents seem to exist as to who sculpted this homage to fromage, however they could be a memorial to a tragic fight between two builders over a cheese sandwich – except the sandwich hadn’t been invented at that time.

The builders in question were working on the Monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1671-77 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. It stands on the junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street about 400ft away from Philpot Lane.

Mice on buildingAt some point during the Monument’s construction, the two builders sat down to enjoy their packed-lunch of bread and cheese. Having a head for heights – well you would doing that job – the men were content to sit at their workplace, perched on a high scaffold. This was before steel scaffolding, hard hats and the ubiquitous hi-vis jackets, no health and safety in those days.

One of the men noticed that his cheese had been nibbled away. His suspicion as to the identity of the cheese nibbler, for reasons best known to him, fell on his mate sitting beside him perched high up on the Monument.

A fight broke out not wise when you’re poised so high up. Trading punches, the unfortunate pair lost their footing and plunged to the ground to their deaths.

It was only later, after similar disappearances of bread and cheese, that the real culprits were discovered – an infestation of tiny mice.

Pictures by Donna Ratherford.

The elephant in the room

During the time that I was studying there I would spend a lot of my time at college staring out of the window at a silver cube in the middle of the Elephant and Castle northern roundabout. Today I would bet the thousands who pass through that roundabout don’t even notice the enormous box in front of them. At 75ft wide and 20ft high it is what must be by volume the largest monument in London – and nobody seems to notice it.

[T]he Michael Faraday Memorial was designed by the brutalist architect Rodney Gordon who, with the regeneration of the Elephant in the early 60s, wanted to embody his visionary credentials of the man who was the area’s favourite son, who was born in nearby Newington Butts.

Unfortunately even though the notorious Heygate Estate was still under construction vandalism was already a problem. So out went Rodney Gordon’s box of glass, which would have allowed the public to see the London Underground transformer beneath, and thus make a connection with the pioneer of electricity. The glass was substituted by polished stainless steel panels, but they needn’t have bothered with the increasing traffic levels closer inspection is almost impossible marooned as it is surrounded by the Elephant and Castle gyratory system.

In 1996 Blue Peter held a competition, which was won by a local schoolgirl from English Martyr R.C. Primary School, to design a lighting scheme to illuminate its 728 steel panels and thus draw the public’s attention to its presence.

That same year the monument gained Grade II listing status, unlike its neighbour the Heygate Estate currently in the process of being demolished.

The box has appeared on the BBC’s Dr. Who and Harry Potter, but despite its size and prominence it is ignored by Londoners. In 1995 the Evening Standard carried a picture of the cube with the caption ‘What on Earth is it?’

For more about post-war Elephant and Castle check out my colleague’s View from the Mirror.