Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells*
* I should probably clarify the title of this piece for those who aren’t aware of the phrase. It is a generic name used in the UK for a person with strongly conservative political views, who writes letters to the newspapers or the BBC in moral outrage. Disgusted is the pseudonym of the supposed letter writer, who is a resident of the stereotypically middle-class town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
After the first lockdown was lifted in England, I spent a couple of sunday mornings wandering round the heart of London with my camera, photographing and making notes for forthcoming guided walking tours of the City of London. The streets were deserted and I reckon I didn’t see a person or a vehicle for the best part of an hour, a very rare occurrence indeed. Its difficult to express how happy this made me feel, wandering around the city that I love and feeling it was all mine, and mine alone. I could stand and gaze and think about things without getting in anyone’s way.
This feeling of euphoria however did not last long. As I made my way through the maze of Cornhill alleys. Cornhill, near the Bank of England is a fascinating area of London, which has escaped a lot of the modernisation that is seen in other areas. Its a great area to explore and I have a couple of guided walking tours that take in the area, have a look at A London Miscellany Tours website for more details. I was heading for Corbet Court which leads onto Gracechurch Street opposite Leadenhall Market. I wanted to get a photo of a very small statue named the”Mercers Maiden”. The Maiden has thought to have inhabited the area of the court since 1669 and is the emblem of the “Worshipful Company of Mercers” who were established in 1394.
Unfortunately, some mindless cretin had beaten me to it, and given her a right good “Adolfing”.
To say that I was incensed and saddened would be an understatement, but my rant in this post is not aimed solely at the person who defaced her, although I would like to introduce their kneecaps to a large hammer that I own.
My gripe is with the big businesses that own a lot of the properties in the City and surrounding areas of London that have these old and also not so old links with the capitals history. In my mind they have a duty of care to these artifacts which should be protected.
Another example of these mega rich owners of historic properties is of a small statue that probably goes unnoticed by most people. Its not as old as the Maiden, but that makes it no less important. Its a small statue of a lighthouse that sits in a niche of a building in Moorgate.
This is Ocean Buildings, once home to the “Ocean, Accident and Guarantee Corporation Ltd.”, an insurance company, who through many mergers and acquisitions have ended up as part of Aviva’s corporate history, although I must point out that they have no connection now to the lighthouse or the building.
Ocean House was designed by Aston Webb, who also designed Admiralty Arch, Imperial College and the Brompton Road entrance to the V&A. Over the years I’ve seen the lighthouse and also a carving of the mythical King Lud get dirtier and more dishevelled. Apparently up until the war the lighthouse was illuminated at night, but was turned off for the duration and never switched back on.
The current incumbents of the building are the Habib Bank, a Swiss based multinational investment bank and I believe that they have been approached in the past to discuss the renovation of these two artifacts, however, they appear to be unconcerned with the matter and so these two links with the past get dirtier and begin to corrode as time passes.
So back to the Maidens tale. Being a sunday and still very early there was nobody in the offices of the building where she is situated, so I took the photo and continued on my way. The following day I contacted Claire Callan-Day at the Museum of London and told her what I had seen. She explained that although the maiden is attached to the building, the company who own it would be almost impossible to trace, and that it should be brought to the attention of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. They are also quite a difficult organisation to contact, especially during a pandemic, but Claire and I agreed to try and bring it to their attention. Well it must have been Claire that got through to them, as I drew a blank. But I’m happy to say that the following weekend, the Maiden had been fully epilated, although I really think she should be behind perspex.
PS. I have emailed the Habib Bank on the subject of the Lighthouse, but as yet I’ve had no reply.