The Icing on the Cake

Fellow blogger and poet Becky Kilsby recently posted a new work which immediately resonated with me.

I am often that person grabbing a quick breakfast courtesy of Pret (or less frequently Nero), catching up on the news with my iPhone, and people watching as my fellows dash to offices in the city.  Of course the city in question often varies in my case; Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham…  and London, the city that inspired Becky.

My recent work there has been in the City.  Note the capital letter that denotes a specific part of the capital!  The City of London is the historic heart, where commerce held sway (until the big boys decamped to Canary Wharf) and the River Fleet became a street where newsprint flowed instead of water (until Rupert Murdoch decamped to Wapping).

On my last visit, skinny capp and pain au raisin duly despatched, I had time after setting up the room where I was working to take a different view of the City, a roofscape of Ludgate Circus._PW_9370_1_2-Edit

There are more exciting views of the city, the London Eye being too distant to make much of an impression, and I might have chosen to spurn the photographic opportunity were it not for the needle of white that dominated the view; one of the churches rebuilt following The Great Fire of London.  This one is dedicated to St Bridget of Ireland.

Ever since reading Peter Ackroyd’s metaphysical novel Hawksmoor I’ve been intrigued my the work of the architect whose work inspired the tale.  Nicholas Hawksmoor was one of a number of British Baroque architects whose style was inspired by Palladio such as Wren and Vanbrugh.  Hawksmoor’s London churches are marked out by their adoption of unusual symbolism and decoration that wouldn’t normally be found on an English Church where stolid towers and simple spires seem to be the norm.  In fact so unusual are Hawksmoor’s churches that they have inspired writers as diverse as Ackroyd and Alan Moore to ascribe some more sinister meaning to them.

Consequently I assumed the multi-tiered structure here to be one of Hawksmoor’s, but I was wrong.  This is the second tallest church in London, and there’s the clue to its creator.  Only the nearby St Paul’s Cathedral is taller, and both were designed by Hawksmoor’s mentor Sir Christopher Wren.  And yet I can’t help but wonder whether this peculiar spire was suggested by his student, so unique is its appearance.

The church is widely known as the Journalists’ Church given its location, though ironically it recently hosted the wedding of Rupert Murdoch to Jerry Hall; the very man who signed Fleet Street’s death warrant.

But back to that spire.  Does it remind you of anything?

Whether apocryphal or not, it is believed that shortly after the spire was completed, a local baker’s apprentice called Thomas Rich took it as inspiration for a cake he made to impress his employer and prospective father-in-law.  Thus was the traditional wedding cake design created.

I hope it’s true for nothing could be more fitting for a church of this name; St Bride’s.

St Brides, City of London
St Brides, City of London
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EC4 – cue “The Dance of the Knights”

London-283_4_5-EditDay two of my London sojourn was largely about seeing David Bailey‘s Stardust exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but having a couple of hours to spare I broke my journey in a part of the City that embodies the ever-changing history of London.

London-207The EC4 part of my Capital Cryptogram refers to a postal area of the City of London that incorporates Blackfriars and St Paul’s.  The former of these ecclesiastical locations acquired a grisly reputation when Roberto Calvi, “God’s Banker“, was found hanging from the Blackfriars Bridge, his clothing full of bricks.

But I get ahead of myself.  My journey from Docklands to the City was a joyous reminder of the varied delights that London offers.  Peter Ackroyd‘s metaphysical masterpiece Hawksmoor first alerted me to the unique vision of Wren’s apprentice and so I was pleased to encounter three of his six churches, as well as the Tower of London and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street on my short drive into town.  Add in the dizzying heights of “The Cheesegrater” and “The Walkie-Talkie” and the day was off to a good start.London-306

My goal was somewhat different in its aspirations though; the Millennium Bridge (usurper to a title rightly claimed by one of the beauties that span the Tyne).  Linking the City to Bankside it provides an unobstructed view from Tate Modern across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral, and so photogenic is the aspect that since its chequered opening and reopening it has become a favourite of TV location scouts.  The sight of suited and booted hopefuls marching across to the sound of Prokofiev is a staple of The Apprentice.  The bridge itself has a futuristic feel that may seem at odds with Wren’s Baroque extravagance but its flowing lines guide the eye.

If you can bear to turn away from the dominating dome, the bridge offers you not just the Tate but something a little older, at least in style.  The reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe is another aspect of London’s rich past.London-295-Edit-Edit

But back to the main event, the bridge and the journey’s end beyond it.

The great church’s facade is impressive enough, and to be fair it garners a large throng of admirers each day (some of whom will feature in my next post).  Be honest though, like so many of the world’s great duomos and cathedrals, it’s the crowning glory that really grabs you.

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