This Book Reveals The Secrets Of The City's Bollards

By M@ Last edited 19 months ago

Last Updated 28 November 2022

This Book Reveals The Secrets Of The City's Bollards
A long, long row of bollards symptomatic of the security age

A new book explores the surprisingly fascinating world of the upright post.

Bollards. They're everywhere, and come in a bewildering diversity of styles and shapes.

The most striking (and struck?) population is surely in the City of London, where security concerns have spawned a superabundance of protective posts in recent years. But their history goes way back. The first bollards were simply captured cannon, plonked in the ground. Few originals remain, but their descendants still resemble artillery pieces.

A book called bollardology by Cathy Ross is held in a hand. Its cover shows a close-up of the top of a red-and white bollard.

In 'Bollardology', Cathy Ross, honorary research fellow at the Museum of London, dives deep into the history of the Square Mile's bollards. It's a deliciously niche subject, but also a very rewarding one. After reading the book, you'll never just walk past a bollard again. Each has a story to tell.

Here, Cathy selects six bollards from the many collected in her book.

1. ‘Guard post’, Idol Lane

A solitary bollard with a red and white top and holes around the neck. The trunk features a knight's helmet sprouting a dragon wing.

Dated 1886, this fancy bollard originally stood in Gracechurch Street (like most City bollards, it moves around when no-one’s looking). Peer closely and you'll notice small apertures around the neck. This gives a hint at its former purpose. This bollard guarded newly installed underground urinals and provided ventilation for below as well as protection above. A forerunner of today’s archetypal City bollard, it was designed by the City’s Chief Engineer, William Haywood.

2. ‘Flat post’, St Lawrence Lane

A flat black and white bollard leaning into a whitewashed corner. A single-yellow line runs around that corner

Not all bollards are rounded. This is possibly one of the original mid-19th century ‘flat posts’ made by Edward and Richard Salisbury, ironmasters of Bankside and Dudley. Although this example looks pretty old, it may be a much-distressed modern version. Modern flat posts are still being made and are now known by City planners as ‘D3 type bollards’.

3.‘Gun post’, Cross Lane

A smooth, rounded bollard with red circlets, resembling an upturned cannon and ball.

Made by the Bankside ironmaster Samuel Bishop c.1820. This is the City’s standard 19th century ‘gun post’ design: cast iron, with ‘City of London’ embossing round the neck, and cannon-shaped. Many variations on the theme survive, reflecting the different firms involved in the trade. Most produced gun posts by adapting moulds previously used to make cannons.

4. ‘Guard post’, Cutler Street

Another guard post with a knight and winged helmet on the trunk

A gawky bollard, dated 1878, with the maker’s mark of John Farrand Clarke, an engineer with a foundry in Featherstone Street, Shoreditch. Farrand Clarke made lots of bollards for the City Corporation. He was an indefatigable inventor whose creations included a machine to melt impacted snow using gas-fired hot plates. The knight's helmet with dragon wings, by the way, is part of the City of London coat of arms and appears on many bollards.

5.Crash-rated bollard, Lindsey Street

The top of a black, white and red bollard. A large chunk of the crown is missing, presumably from a vehicle strike. It reminds me of the bit in Obi Wan Kenobi, where Vader's mask is cleaved in twain

A bollard revealing its hardcore secret: this is a "crash-rated bollard core, onto which a large City of London replica bollard sleeve [is] secured". These types arrived in the last 20 years, a time of swelling security concerns in the City. Today, bollards continue to be re-engineered with security in mind: the aim is not just ‘crash-rated’ standards but ‘hostile vehicle mitigation’ functionality.

6. Cannon bollard, Great St Helen’s

A really, really ancient bollard that's probably just an upturned cannon

And to finish, the grandaddy of them all. Experts identify this as the ‘cascable’ end of an 18th century French naval cannon, recycled as a bollard. In which case, this would make this venerable item the oldest iron bollard in the Square Mile. When was it put there and was it a boundary marker, a trophy or a talking point? Who knows…

Bollardology by Cathy Ross is available in various City of London venues including Guildhall Art Gallery, and can be ordered online. All images by Cathy Ross, except for the top image by Matt Brown.