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The Philpot Lane Mice

Question: What is the smallest piece of public art within the City of London?

To answer that question let me take you back to the 1860s and the redevelopment of Eastcheap, the street that runs east from the Monument towards the Tower of London.

The original Boar’s Head Tavern circa 1830s

The block adjoining Philpot Lane was demolished and the architect Robert Lewis Roumieu created a neo-Gothic building to replace the by then rather dilapidated mismatch of pre Georgian buildings. One of these was the site of the Boar’s Head Tavern which appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, as a favourite resort of the fictional character Falstaff and his friends in the early 15th century. The original building had been demolished some thirty years previous to Roumieu’s redevelopment.

The site of the Boar’s Head is the fourth building from the left and at the time of completion was used as a vinegar warehouse, then converted into offices and now houses a bar and a coffee shop. Working left, the light blue building with the arched facade was the premises of H. Shindler, fruit merchant and the printers Darling & Sons. The building next to it with the white balustrading was the Cow & Calf run at the time by Walter Millis, but it’s the building on the corner of Philpot Lane which is of interest.

Designed and built by the firm of John Young & Co. in 1860 it was the offices and warehouses for Messers Hunt & Crombie, spice merchants and it is here that the answer to the question can be found.

The smallest piece of public art to be found within the City of London is of two small mice eating a piece of cheese and measures about 8 inches (20 cm). It is found just below the cornice above the second arched window in Philpot Lane.

The legend attached to the mice is that during the buildings construction two of the workmen had an argument about which had stolen the other’s lunch of bread and cheese. This caused a fight atop the scaffolding, which led to a fatal fall (it’s unclear if it was one or both of the builders). It turned out afterwards that neither man was the guilty party, instead some mice had eaten the food. The remaining workmen left this diminutive sculpture on the building in honour of their colleague(s) .

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