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Guitar Recital

On 7 October, members of the Club were treated to an online discourse by Father Paul Kennedy, vicar of St Vedast, about the churches, current and historic, in the Ward. It was a talk illustrated with slides and Fr Paul effectively took us on a journey eastwards along Cheapside and its surroundings to the churches that occupied the area.

Remarkably there have been 13 churches in the Ward over the years. This in the context of 97 churches in the City prior to the Great Fire. This is as much a commentary on population movements as religious practice, since the population of the City declined from its earlier peak (circa 80,000?) with the coming of the railways in Victorian times and consequent migration of people to the suburbs. Fr Paul explained that while churches lost in the Great Fire or the Blitz, if not rebuilt, frequently left a trace such as a garden, the Victorians were more ruthless in their demolition and removal of redundant churches.

An early stop on our virtual our was the site of St Matthew Friday Street, demolished in 1885, and now the site of up-market glass fronted shops in New Change. Since St Matthew is the patron saint of accountants one can draw one's own conclusions! Sadly, an earlier incumbent, Humphrey Burton, in 1636 preached against the Bishops of the time getting too close to Popery. He was placed in a pillory and his ears cut off!

Further along our journey was the church of St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street. Fr Paul explained that as most of the citizens of London had either a near relation or friend in the army of the Earl of Essex and hence clergyman were getting overwhelmed with requests to include prayers for the soldiers in their Sunday services. A group of them agreed to set aside an hour for such purposes and such a move was started by Thomas Case, a Presbyterian minister. He, like many Presbyterians, objected to the execution of King Charles, and was deprived of his position in 1650. Another lesson on the risks of mixing religion, politics, and saying too much about it!

The church of the church of St Michael Bassishaw illustrates on the other hand what a good life some of the incumbents could enjoy. In 1662, Frances Hall, a chaplain to Charles II, was appointed Rector. He fled the parish on the outbreak of the Great Plague in 1665 and only returned in 1670 to collect his stipend after the Great Fire. Meantime his locum tenens, a priest called Williams, had succumbed to the Plague, along with his wife and three children. This has messages about the value of working from home, or even away from home!

The church of St Mary Aldermanbury suffered greatly during the Blitz. The drama of the fire engulfing the church during the Blitz was eloquently described by a fireman who described: "hearing the organs burn, because the hot air blowing through the organ pipes almost sounded as if the poor old organs were shrieking in agony in their destruction". The ruins of this church were rebuilt in 1966 in Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill had made his historic 1946 speech referring to "the Iron Curtain descending across Europe".

The church of St Lawrence Jewry, also extensively rebuilt after the Second World War, tells us another part of our history. William the Conqueror had encouraged Jewish immigration because the people helped fund his invasion. A lot of those Jews settled around the area, hence one of the roads being called Old Jewry. However, they were expelled in 1290 by Edward I, a decision reversed by Oliver Cromwell. Perhaps part of the sad story of the Jewish race over the centuries.

In the church of St Michael Wood Street, sometime after the battle of Flodden Field in 1513, the decapitated head of the defeated King Scottish King James IV it was buried here. It had been found in a monastery in Sheen, Surrey and a young Master Glazier cut off the head and brought it to London to be buried there. One can only speculate as to the motive.

Our virtual walk continued around several other churches. The church of St John Jack Zachary, opposite Goldsmith's Hall, was destroyed during the Blitz and the site was awarded the best garden on a blitzed site in 1950.

Our tour ended back in St Vedast. Father Paul made mention of a couple of memorials installed after the war. The church itself had been completely burned out, and so all the fixtures and fittings had to be replaced. One memorial was to a white Russian, who worked in SOE during the war under the codename Petro. The memorial was sponsored by George Courtauld, the last operational member of the famous Textile family.

Thanks are due to Father Paul for an excellent discourse; this summary does not do it justice.

15 members of the Club enjoyed a visit to St Paul's Cathedral on 11th March, led by our President Charles Ledsam and his wife Debbie. We enjoyed the services of a volunteer guide, Janet Payne, who did an excellent job in showing us some of the hidden treasures of the cathedral which many of us will have visited on numerous occasions, but doubtless missed some of the detail.

We started in the Chapel of St. Michael and St. George where Janet described the beautiful carvings and the role of the Order, which mainly comprises former senior diplomats or members of the military.

We moved to a magnificent spiral staircase near an entrance used occasionally by the Queen when she wanted to avoid the main steps. The individual stairs in this stone structure were only set 4 inches into the walls and each cantilever structure was supported by the next lower until a firm structure was reached. This on over 100 steps was an astonishing feat of engineering - and faith, at least the first time you had ot walk on them!.

Something many visitors will have passed by, despite its size, is the enormous white marble font designed by Francis Bird in 1726. Janet explained that it is sometimes referred to as “The Bird Bath” – it would probably take an albatross sized bird!

We learned that the original structure as left by Wren was plain white and that the mosaic ceilings above the quire were additions in the late 19th century, a response to Queen Victoria complaining how “dull, dingy and undevotional“ the place was. Janet also explained how the cathedral had been cleaned of centuries of grime from candles by the use of latex to remove the soot particles.

The tour finished in the crypt which is something of a hidden gem. The most spectacular items contained are the tombs (an insufficiently grand phrase to describe enormous marble and granite structures) of Wellington and Nelson. But there are tombs or memorials to the great and good of the English over centuries. For example you can stand on the tomb of Parry (he of Jerusalem), which is next to that of Sir Arthur Sullivan (this writer could not spot anything for WS Gilbert, who does have a memorial on the Embankment) and close to a memorial to Sir Alexander Fleming (he of penicillin fame). There are also memorials to the painters Reynolds, Turner and Milais, the poet Blake, and Florence Nightingale. A whimsical thought provoked by the immense diversity of the great and good who have tombs or memorials in the Crypt is “What sort of committee decides who gets a place, and where it goes?”

Janet had a portfolio of photos and pictures of St. Paul's thorough the ages, of which some of the most remarkable were those showing the effects of bombing during World War II. The overwhelming impression was how lucky we are that more of the bombs did not detonate, and the bravery of those on the ground at the time who dealt with them. The previous Victorian altarpiece was one of the areas that did suffer bomb damage, and the present high altar dates from 1958, with a baldacchino based on that in St. Peter’s in Rome.

After a break for well earned refreshments we were installed in stalls in the Quire for Evensong. By this stage the late evening sun was streaming through the West Window, casting long shadows in the nave. We could enjoy the service, including excellent singing by the boy choristers of the Nunc Dimitis and Stabat Mater, doing their best against the notorious St Paul’s echo. The acoustics were probably made worse by the shortage of other visitors as a result of the coronavirus.

After the service we moved for supper to Pizza Express just off Cheapside. Thanks are due to our President for an excellent outing.

Friday 20th September 2019

A hardy group of intrepid 7 Members assemble at the hotel, the Maid’s Head Hotel for a welcome drink at the bar and excellent dinner at the Wine Press restaurant. The Maid’s Head claims to be oldest hotel in England. The hotel was mentioned frequently in the C J Sanson historical novel, Tombland, featuring the lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.

Saturday 21st September

After a fortifying breakfast, we report for a group photo before embarking on a mini bus to the Forum and met our guide for a walking tour. We started at the Market Square, walked past the City Hall (where Adolf Hitler would have made his East England HQ had he won WW2) and viewed the St Peter Mancroft Church, and entered to inspect its beautiful interior and rare 16th Flemish tapestry in excellent condition. We proceeded to the Guildhall (second largest in England) which served as a Court house, debtors’ prison, and HQ of the City constabulary. We paused outside an entrance to a former goldsmith’s shop (the stone was pillaged from a dissolved monastery) and inspected a whipping chain for the unfortunate miscreants of a bygone age!

Proceeding on, we walked through the fine Victorian Royal Arcade and dived into the mediaeval backstreets of Elm Hill, admired a flint covered mansion the Bridewell, and see some original Flemish weavers’ cottages (the City ‘s symbol, the canary, is derived from the canaries the weavers kept to accompany their work). We strolled past the River Wensum and towards Tombland and admire Augustus Seward House (the numbered timbers at the back showed one of the first examples offsite building prefabrication!).

Then onto the Cathedral, to admire the architectural glory of Norwich, the highest tower in England (the spire is the third survivor). Our cathedral guide shepherded our group for a fascinating tour of the cloisters, encouraged us to look up at the magnificent roof bosses, mediaeval altar panels, choir stalls (one of the misericords shows a cook trying to stop a fox stealing food, whilst behind her a pig is sticking his snout into the cooking pot). We could have spent more time there! But now, we wanted some free time to roam around the City, look for our own lunch venues (but not spoiling our appetites for dinner later) and relax.

A comfortable 52 seater coach picked us up from the hotel for the short trip the Assembly House, where we enjoyed a fine three course dinner in an atmospheric private dining room, the Hobart Room, sampled our delicious three course dinner, amid the period features of the original Georgian fireplace, sash windows and décor. We returned to our capacious coach for the return trip to the Maid’s Head, for a comfortable night’s sleep after a very satisfying day.

Sunday 22nd September

After another good breakfast, we clambered aboard our spacious coach for the transfer to the Sandringham Estate. Before entering, we inspected the wares of a local farmers’ market. We approached the main entrance for a group photo. We stepped inside before being sternly warned that no indoor photography is permitted. We admired the interior, are amused by the weighing stool Edward VII used for his guests to see how much weight they had gained during their stay! The rooms contain fine furniture, ceramics, paintings yet it retained a homely, intimate charm, not at all overwhelming.

We enjoyed a stroll around the beautifully kept gardens, and some of us had time to go to the Sandringham Exhibition and Transport Museum.

Time for a roast lunch at the Café and Coffee shop, where most of us chose locally reared Sandringham Roast Lamb as our main course.

Finding that we had enough time left, we explored one of the most famous parish churches in the world, St Mary Magdalene, admired the sumptuously decorated chancel, the silver pulpit and the many memorials.

Time up and we returned to our capacious coach and a final trip to the Maid’s Head in Norwich, where we said our thanks and farewells, took away our fond memories of an interesting itinerary and renewed our friendship.

15 persons met at the Chelsea Physic Garden for a guided tour, led by experienced volunteer, Anabelle Nabarro, who imparted so many interesting features of the garden. We learned the history of the garden (founded originally in 1673) and of the medicinal qualities of the some of the plants found there. These included the Petty Spurge or “Milkweed” (which is being investigated for the treatment of skin cancers), Agapanthus (used in Africa for ante and postnatal treatments) and varieties of yew (Pacific yew, although it can be toxic, contains elements of “taxol” in its bark) and two enormous Ginkgo Biloba trees (which in Chinese traditional medicine is called the “memory tree”). We were also shown examples of grapefruit and olive trees (notoriously difficult to grow in the UK, and unfortunately these examples were not known for their palatability!). Not to be outdone, one of the Club Members, Dr David Giachardi, a trained chemist, outlined how mauveine dye was accidently discovered in an attempt to synthesise quinine chemically. You never what you might learn next on a Ward of Cheap Club excursion!

12 dined at the Physic Garden Café, in the outdoor gazebo, which featured the best of British produce and ingredients (organic, of course)! For those who did not have other appointments afterwards, Lord and Lady Mountevans extended an invitation for afternoon tea at their home, which provided the perfect close to a highly informative and enjoyable day.

15 persons assembled for the somewhat chaotic embarkation at Embankment Pier to board the Glass Room boat operated by Bateaux London, to the accompaniment of a jazz band and a welcome prosecco. The boat travelled at first upstream, and turned near the Houses of Parliament to head downstream, through Tower Bridge, past HMS Belfast, Wapping, Isle of Dogs, Cutty Sark and then to the O2 before returning to Embankment Pier.

A special premier 5 course lunch was served and consumed amid the leisurely atmosphere of the jazz band as wonderful sights slipped gently by. All too soon, the trip ended but our club members disembarked with the pleasant memories of a nautical Sunday afternoon excursion, convivial company and first class cuisine.

26 walkers rendezvoused at St Paul’s tube station to be led by our experienced guide, Kevin Larder of “Real London Walks”. The theme was to explore places around Smithfield that most people would not notice or take a second glance. These included Panyer Alley (and the Panyer Boy bas relief next to Café Nero), Paternoster Square (look for the vents at the base of the Monument), Temple Bar, Postman’s Park (and the memorial of glazed tablets established by GF Watts, commemorating acts of bravery), St Vedast and its tranquil courtyard garden (with Roman pavement and an unexpected sculpture of a bust by Jacob Epstein), the Watch House overlooking St Sepulchre’s (to guard against body snatchers!), the Golden Boy of Pye Corner (marking the westerly extent of the Fire of London), Smithfield (and the memorial for William Wallace) and finally Charterhouse Square (including the burial ground of the Great Plague uncovered by Crossrail excavations).

After so much exploring, it was time for lunchtime refreshment at the nearby Vestry, where 21 walkers took their leisure in a converted vesting room of St Sepulchre’s to sample a delicious three course lunch and quality wines.