Fallen comrades: Caroline of Brunswick’s life and death in Hammersmith

Hammersmith, with its riverside factories and wharves, was badly bombed during the Second World War – but that’s a story for another blog post.  Amongst the postwar concrete of the immediate area around Hammersmith tube station, a few older buildings and facades remain: a Georgian building that now houses a Chinese restaurant, rows of 19th Century villas leading down towards the river, and the splendid Gothic church of St Paul, built from a distinctive pinkish stone.

St Paul's Church, Hammersmith
St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith

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Sifting through the stories about the London Stone

Like many of the sites and objects detailed in this blog, it’s quite possible to walk past the London Stone and never realise that it is there.  It’s easy to miss the grate pictured below, which is situated at street level on the front of a nondescript modern building on Cannon Street in the City of London.

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The London Stone has a long and singularly odd history, with its origins shrouded in legends, fairytales and hearsay.  Similar to the superstition surrounding the ravens of the Tower of London, a saying goes that “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so will London flourish.”  However, like the ravens, it is likely that this romantic myth dates from the Victorian period, although both superstitions still persist today.

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Beautiful carved headstone in Bow

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This beautiful carved headstone caught my eye from across the road when I was walking along Bow Road in east London.  Bow Church – or to give it its proper name, St Mary and Holy Trinity, Stratford Bow – is today marooned on an island in the middle of a busy road and the churchyard is railed off.  There are a number of old tomb stones in the churchyard, which has been a designated public garden since 1894.  The church, founded as a chapel of ease in 1311, is the only surviving medieval building in Bow.

The headstone is quite worn and mossy so I was unable to read the inscription on it, but the carving depicts what appears to be an angel taking the hand of a dying person, who is being comforted by a woman.  I’ve never seen an image like it on a gravestone before – it’s beautiful and poignant.  The quality of the carving is very fine – the folds in the fabrics worn by the figures are realistic and a great deal of detail, such as the angel’s hand, still survives today.  Whoever commissioned the headstone must have paid a lot of money for it.

Considering the damage inflicted on Bow Church during the Second World War, this lovely old headstone is a stunning survivor.

Eel Pie Island: hippie commune, legendary music venue & artists’ enclave

The River Thames has long attracted artists, and today many of them have made their home on Eel Pie Island in Twickenham.  This narrow island, also known as Twickenham Ait, is only accessible by boat or footbridge and is not usually open to the public.  However, twice each year the artists of the island hold an open studios weekend where members of the public can visit the island and purchase the work of the artists who have studios there.

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The Hill of Bones: the story of Bunhill Fields

Originally a stretch of open land to the north of the City of London, Bunhill Fields got its name from its use as a burial ground during the Saxon period and a macabre event that took place in the mid-sixteenth century.  Cartloads of bones from the charnel house at St Paul’s Cathedral were transported out of the city and dumped in such large quantities that they formed a hill of bones, with a thin layer of soil covering the mound.  This “Bone Hill” was large enough to accomodate three windmills on top, which were presumably installed to make the most of the elevated ground.

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“The Anatomizer’s Ground” – Uncovering the history of St Olave’s, Silver Street

The City of London is home to many curious little green spaces, gardens that today are often teeming with office workers enjoying their lunch on a sunny day. The little garden pictured below is just one of them, a small space nestled between office blocks and the busy thoroughfare of London Wall.  In the introduction to his 1901 book The Churches and Chapels of Old London, J G White notes that “the sites of old churches are very plainly indicated in most instances by little green spots, formerly church-yards, now changed into pleasant gardens and resting places.”  The subject of today’s post is the “green spot” on the site of the church of St Olave, Silver Street.

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Many of the City’s churches were closed and demolished as the area’s population began to decrease in the 19th Century, and more were destroyed in the Blitz and never rebuilt.  St Olave’s was situated in a part of the Square Mile that was particularly heavily hit by aerial bombardment during the Second World War – it lies just south of London Wall and the Barbican complex, an area devastated by the Luftwaffe.  Silver Street, where William Shakespeare once lived, is no longer on London’s maps, utterly wiped out by the devastation of the Blitz.

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