Monday, 24 June 2013

Fish, Flesh, Fasting and Feasting - AD43 - 1603

A food and drink walk through the centuries, what people ate and drank, how it ruled their lives, and how it got to the table, if you had one that is!

Launching Sunday 30th June 2013 at 11.00am

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Walbrook Discovery - Where are they now?

English: The Mad Hatter, illustration by John ...
 The Mad Hatter, illustration by John Tenniel
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As some of you know I am very taken with archaeology, in fact besotted, and really should not be allowed anywhere near articles or blogs that deal with it. I literally 'dig in' and not seen for some time. Like the 'Mad Hatter' down the rabbit hole ....  enough rambling.

The dig may have finished but the archaeologists are now hard at work sorting out their paperwork.

Read on

Also read about the creation of my Walbrook Walk. Available as a private walk or through Footprints of London.

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

'Robert Hooke' Biodiversity Bell - a warning

Have you walked around the Festival Garden at St Paul’s Cathedral recently and noticed a rather interesting new addition? An upside down bell?

This is a maquette of the Robert Hooke Biodiversity Bell. A City Surveyor, Hooke was also known as ‘London’s Leonardo’, he was a contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren’s and the first man of his time to realise that extinction of a species was possible.

 “...tho’ some possibly may think there is too much notice taken of such a trivial
thing as a rotten Shell.
Robert Hooke Discourse of Earthquakes, 1668

It is made from a mould of Portland stone, of which much of London is built, and the exterior is in fact a negative form with protrusions, and nubs, casts of fossils embedded in the stone for 150 million years, especially the Portland Screw (fossil) embodied in Bronze on the surface of the bell.

This bell has been created to be an integral part of the MEMO Project on the world heritage site known as the ‘Jurassic Coast’ part of Portland Isles. An edifice, a continuous spiral of stone will create a monument to over 850 plus species that have become extinct over the last 350 years.  There is sadly sufficient space to add additional extinctions as and when proved to be so.

The great bell will be set in the middle of the monument and will be tolled whenever another species dies out. The final scale model cast at Taylor’s Bell Foundry in Loughborough in February 2012, will be cast the Bronze Age way - from a stone mould. In particular it will be cast from ‘roach’, the youngest of the Portland strata which is riddled with the fossil hollows of Jurassic shellfish. Upside down, earth mounted, with mouth facing the sky, it will be nearly 10 feet in diameter, and weigh 9 tonnes. It will be cast at Taylor’s within the original cast iron ‘flask’ which yielded Great Paul in St. Paul’s Cathedral - the biggest bell ever cast in the UK. So the model is situated in the right place to acknowledge this connection.

As mentioned by the writer in a previous article (see below), bells are for celebration, mourning and as a warning. They are recognised in all cultures.  All is not meloncholy however, as the International Decade on Biodiversity begins, MEMO intend to celebrate Biodiversity Day on 22 May each year, with a cacophony of such bells world wide.

Read more about this fascinating project at

Discover fossils in the City - Fossil Hunt Walk

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Friday, 14 June 2013

Wildlife Garden in the City - OGSW - June 2013

Fann Street* Wildlife Garden, London EC2Y 8BR
Visited during the Open Garden Square Weekend - June 2013

The residents of the Barbican do not often open the gates to their beautiful wildlife garden. The garden is funded by the Barbican Estate residents and maintained by the City of London Corporation with help from volunteers from the Barbican Wildlife Group (BWG) since 2004. Sadly it is unlikely it will be open to the public again this year, if you have friends living in the Barbican they will have access to a key for a private view.

To quote the OGSW 2013 booklet ‘it is a vital open space that provides a green corridor for wildlife movement in, around and through the City’.  So very true and close to the hustle and bustle of the working City yet, once inside the garden you are hardly aware of it.

Created out of a bomb site, there are deep cellars and basements below, hence some areas which have deep soil and others not so lucky, but you would never know it seeing the ‘splendour in the grass’ of the meadow. This year they had mown a path through it is an enjoyable experience to wander through it with your fingertips brushing the high grass and flowers. I wanted to dive into the long grasses and lie there staring up at the clouds.

An area important for Nature Conservation, the original garden of the 1990s was renovated to encourage wildlife with planting of natural species. Apart from the glorious meadow, there is also a bee and butterfly cottage garden with a wildlife pond, including a rather ‘shabby chic’ insect hotel, which I am sure is teeming with guests, even though they are mainly unseen. There are also bird feeders and nesting boxes.

Insect Hotel
Wildlife Pond

In 2012 the Woodland Trust donated over 100 small shrubs to enhance the two main hedges.

The garden was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by London in Bloom in 2012, and it certainly deserves it. A special ‘Thank You’ to the BWG volunteers who were so interesting and helpful last weekend.

I advise you to put this on your ‘To Do List’ for next year's Open Garden Square Weekend.

* History Facts about Fann Street
  • The City side was and still is divided up between two wards, Aldersgate and Cripplegate
  • Huguenots attracted to area because allowed to practice their craft within and without the City
  • Welsh Church - in Viscount Street - see plaque 
  • As the street name suggests it was home to the fan makers
  • Worshipful Company of Fan Makers used to have their Common Hall nearby, now use the Skinners Livery Hall, Dowgate Hill
  • Shakespeare's plays were performed at the Fortune Theatre just across from the end of Fann Street

  • Bridgewater Square replaced the original Barbican, sold to Christopher Wren for redevelopment
  • Also in the street were Gold Refiners and Assayers, W Bryher & Sons (see picture below)
  • Fann Street Metal Foundry - crafted typeface/fonts for printing
  • Golden Lane Estate - Chamberlain Powell & Bon - post war redevelopment
  • Cripplegate is the largest residential ward in the City of London

English: Part of a freize rescued from the bui...
Part of a freize rescued from the building of W Brhyer & Sons, Goldsmiths, which formerly stood at 53 and 54 Barbican, London. The building was one of the few in the area to survive wartime bombing in 1840 but was demolished to make way for the Barbican redevelopment. This section was retained as a monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

South Sea Bubble - go seek The Bubble Tree

For those of you who live, work or pass through the City, this is a lovely bit of enhancement around the Bank area. Next time you cut through Change Alley, take a look at this lovely film projected on the walls.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Open Garden Square Weekend 2013

A City Walk 

With great pleasure I accepted an invitation to guide a walk for Open Square Garden Weekend under the auspices of the London Parks & Gardens Trust in association with the National Trust.  It is now in its 15th year and a great opportunity to look into those gardens and squares that are not usually open to the public, a person's curiosity is often well rewarded on this occasion.

Bracken House - London in Bloom Awards
The City gardens are surprisingly accessible if only the public knew it  and this weekend was an excellent opportunity to show them some of the hidden green spots that the City workers enjoy during the week.  Some of the parks and gardens are on the map, so to speak, but it was rewarding to discover later that my group’s ‘eyes were opened’ to their hidden charms, unusual connections and depth of history.

I joined Marion Blair on last year’s City Walk and I can tell you she is a hard act to follow.  We all gathered to be allocated our group at the CIC (designed by MAKE Architects). My colleagues chose to go towards the river first but I headed inland.

English: Fountain, Festival Gardens (1951) by ...
English: Fountain, Festival Gardens (1951) by Sir Albert Richardson, St Paul's Churchyard, London. The gardens were laid out as part of the City of London's part in the Festival of Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carter Lane and the Festival Gardens were the forerunners of the revival of gardens in London Post World War II and a lot of energy was put into their design for the Festival of Britain in 1951, including the first information centre. Many changes have taken place, including the removal of the coach park!

The Friendship Tree, planted in 1966 to commemorate the visit to London by Mahatma Ghandi is the first of many trees and shrubs to celebrate people and events. The latest addition is a model of the Robert Hooke Diversity Bell, cast from Portland stone, the actual bell will be hung over the Isle of Portland to peal when a species becomes extinct,  a murmur  of sadness from all.

On to happier and grander things! St Paul’s Cathedral Garden has full to the treetops with interesting plants, particularly trees and it is difficult to know what to choose.  The wisteria (Chinese & Japanese) was still blooming around the rose garden, so formal after the modern planting outside the iron railings. The gum tree, the formantedendrohn and strawberry tree, many North American varies (for a reason) including the ironwood, limes and giant plane trees, and one lone Douglas fir. Proved a feat to weave history within the branches of all these beauties.  Also when my tongue tripped over the Latin names my knowledgeable but modest group were there to assist.

Christchurch Greyfriars
On to a favourite site for many, Christchurch Greyfriars  and it was glorious in the sunshine (yes, I forgot to mention it was sunny!). A gasp of amazement.  Drift planting in large sections filled with same beautiful perennials, repeated three times. The irises were magnificent; all had survived the extended winter. I think Gertrude Jekyll would be pleased to see that her ideas are still in the forefront of modern gardening. Did you know you should not cut your Box hedge until after Derby Day? This was a little gem presented by one of my group.

On to Postman’s Park, which is of course the best kept secret as secret parks go, is it not? Reference to the three heroes celebrated in this park, one is obvious but the other two are not! 

On to the Goldsmith’s Hall Garden, this is owned and managed by them, but is open to all. It has recently been restored to resemble its 1950 design by Peter Shepheard, no cultivars or variegated plants.  Have you noticed the bird ‘pied a terre’ in the walls?

Goldsmith's Hall Garden
Giant Planes grow in the old graveyard
Sunken garden originally the crypt

Barbican Moat
Barber Surgeon's Garden
Foxglove Tree
We walked into the cold windy ‘tunnel’ created by Terry Farrell’s air rights building and on to the glories of the Barber Surgeons Physic Garden by the Museum of London.  A fascinating place with herbs and plants, some no longer part of the official pharmacopeia, but interesting to note what is still used in modern medicine today e.g. Feverfew for migraines.  I had  recently learnt about the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ – like cures like. It was once thought if a plant resembled part of the body it would also cure it. E.g. walnut - to help with maladies of the brain.

Then off to take a look at what a Section 106 can achieve at Aldermanbury Square, when a developer must ensure that the areas around a new build provides suitable landscaping and places of leisure at their cost. We did not linger long, a bit of forward guiding required as the drill hammers of the construction to the right were going ‘hammer and tongs’. We moved on quickly to the relative peace and tranquillity of St Mary Aldermanbury.

Sadly what the Blitz left of the church moved to Fulton, Missouri, USA but the footings of its great piers still remain and the garden is a haven to conservation. You will also find a monument to Shakespeare’s trusty friends Heminge and Condell who ensured his works were gathered together for the enjoyment of the world to come.

We then took a walk via the Guildhall Yard, splendid in the sunshine and hosting two weddings it would seem, saris, hats, dress suits and tails, a double decker bus and a vintage car.  A great photo opportunity, I was thanked by the group for going to such lengths to make the walk so interesting!

We passed St Lawrence Jewry’s beautiful pond garden, and yes the ‘big fella’ , the huge carp was basking just below the surface.   On to St Olaf Jewry garden, tucked in between the Mercers Hall in Ironmongers Lane, sporting  the weather vane of a long gone church, St Mildred’s Poultry, but sadly unseen for the density of the trees.

Introduced the group to a small plot that is often overlooked and was derelict up until 2011 when Studioweave   were commissioned to landscape. It is a mysterious and fascinating spot, St Pancras Soper Lane, once again a church since Saxon times, lost in the fire, rebuilt and lost again! To be recreated as a fantastical space with the option of a ‘treasure hunt’ for interesting carvings.

Guild of Carpenters beautifully carved pews
 at St Pancras Soper Lane
We wended our weary way to the final stop in Watling Street and past the Cordwainer statue, to Fidelity Gardens a horticulturists dream, it is full of glowing and gleaming  trees, shrubs and plants, many of which I cannot name, all planted in just 3 feet of soil!  An immaculate lawn, with a shady cool area to the south and a sunny section towards the north, foxgloves and euphorbia abound.  Privately commissioned by Fidelity Corporation for the use of all.

A rousing applause at the end of the walk confirmed a walk well done!  Before we went our separate ways I recommended a visit to the sixth floor of New Change for a look at the view before going on to other gardens.  Guide note:New Change good for loos on the ground and first floor.

This walk can be booked through or contact me direct at

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