11 Oddities To Spot On Bishopsgate

By M@ Last edited 16 months ago

Last Updated 17 January 2023

11 Oddities To Spot On Bishopsgate
A street sign for Bishopsgate EC2, in a strange sepia colour that doesn't really serve any purpose, but kind of looked nice to the editor

Bishopsgate. Ancient entrance to the City of London. Home of Liverpool Street station. The only London street to be name-checked in a Beatles song*. It's had 2000 years to accumulate oddities, and doesn't disappoint. Follow our map to discover the more unusual side of this old Roman road. Our route begins at the southern extremity, the junction with Leadenhall.

1. A beaver weathervane

A cupola-topped stone tower with a weather vane shaped like a beaver

Few people will notice this curious weathervane. Reportedly, it was once the highest point on Bishopsgate, before the wall of glass skyscrapers came along to utterly dwarf it. The toothsome castorid was the emblem of the Hudson Bay Company, who made their filthy lucre by trading in animals skins and furs, including those of the otter. The building and its vane were erected in 1926.

2. St Ethelburga's, dedicated to peace

St Ethelburga's church with the gherkin skyscraper behind

Immediately north of the beaver, the medieval building of St Ethelburga's nestles among the skyscrapers. The church survived the Great Fire and Blitz only to be fiendishly wrecked by the IRA in the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing. Reconstructed, the church is today a symbol of peace and reconciliation, with a small peace garden for reflection and meditation.

3. The bishop's mitre

A stone carving of a bishop's mitre in relief from a building

Easily missed at first floor level, this chunky headgear marks the approximate site of the original Bishopsgate — the ancient opening and gateway in the Roman wall, which existed in various forms up until the 18th century. The mitre is hollow, so if you know of any beanpole ecclesiasts, you could get an amusing photograph.

4. Niche children of St Botolph

Two white models of school children on a brown brick church hall building

Two creamy-white children stare out from niches in the wall of St Botolph's church hall. These are model school children, reflecting the building's former history as a place of education. If you've seen similar figures on other London buildings, you'll have noted that they're usually painted in lifelike colours. The same was once true here. Sadly, the originals are no longer on show, and the Coade stone replicas have been left bleach white.

5. The Turkish bath

A colourful turkish bath in a moorish style

Perhaps the most famous 'oddity' in our list, this pretty Turkish bath-house is a much-photographed structure at the western end of St Botolph's churchyard.  The Grade II-listed building dates from the 1890s and was modelled on the supposed Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It served as a bath-house until the 1950s and today is a private dining venue for hire (most of the venue is at basement level).

6. The curious tomb of William Rawlins

A curious tomb with a lion's head and feet protruding

Fans of niche Marvel content might wonder why a fictional CIA agent is buried in Bishopsgate. In fact, the gentleman here interred was William Rawlins, Sheriff of London; an upholsterer, a knight of the realm, founder of the Eagle Insurance Company and a convicted electoral fraudster. Quite a life. His tomb — which he helped to design — holds its own eccentricities. The crowning casket has a protruding lion's head and feet, as though the king of the jungle has been coerced into a magician's "sawing in half" trick.

A weird bent arm in front of a tomb

It's not even the strangest element to the tomb, which would be this peculiar arm (also shown in relief upon the stone casket). It once clutched a full-on dagger, but now seems to have fallen foul of a knife amnesty. Just to add to the odd, a portly brown rat was sheltering beside the edifice just before we took the photographs above.

7. Geoffrey Barkington of Houndsditch

A young girl laying on a stone bench with the cut-out of a sausage dog below

This one requires a little diversion around the dog-leg of Houndsditch, but it's worth it. For here, in the small park beside the substation, is one of London's most peculiar benches. You can't miss the long, thin stone seat at the centre of the park. It features a cut-out silhouette of an extreme sausage dog. A plaque on top of the bench reveals that it's dedicated to "Geoffrey Barkington" (2003-2017) which, we're told, made him 98 in dog years.

Houndsditch, incidentally, got its canine name in a very literal way. It follows the route of the city ditch, which was once an attractive site for disposing of dead dogs.

8. Masonic temple

You can't just waltz in, but on open days and special occasions, it's possible to visit a bona fide Masonic temple on Bishopsgate. The temple is hidden away inside the Andaz hotel. So well hidden, in fact, that it was apparently forgotten about until refurbishment in the 1990s. The hotel, originally the Great Eastern, was built by Charles Barry Jr, son of the architect of the Houses of Parliament. Barry also crafted the temple, at a cost of some £50,000 (around £4 million in today's reckoning). The room reportedly contains 12 types of marble, as well as a golden pipe organ and mahogany furniture.

9. "Secret" passage through Liverpool Street station

a very thin escalator, which leads up to a long, long, seemingly endless corridor

This is one of those "secret" things that aren't really "secret" but it makes people look if you write "secret", so we wrote "secret". What we're describing is an epic indoor alleyway that runs the complete length of the eastern side of the station. To find the passage, head to the right of the Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool Street station and look for the narrow escalator heading upwards, just beyond Eataly. It can look a bit private-officey, but you're perfectly welcome to use it. The passage at the top offers views down onto the station platforms, before debouching onto the plaza at the back of the station. Here you'll find the monumental "Broadgate Venus" sculpture by Fernando Botero, one of London's largest figurative sculptures.

10. Dirty Dicks' dirty cats

A mummified cat behind a glass screen

Dirty Dicks pub, opposite the station, is named after a local gent with an equal aversion to cleaning and apostrophes. Thankfully, the pub doesn't run with the dirty theme, and proudly sports a five-star hygiene rating in its window. Dicks does, however, hide one shabby secret. Head down the stairs to find the case of mummified cats (and a squirrel) — a feature of the place as long as anyone can remember.

11. Eye-I

A colourful metal sculpture, shot into the sun with tall buildings behind

The northern gateway to the City is marked by this abstract sculpture of a female face. The multicoloured essay in twisted steel is the work of sculptor Bruce McLean. It's kept its not-so-beady eye on the comings and goings of Bishopsgate since 1993... almost a heritage feature in these parts.

And two Bishopy bonus balls... Crosby Hall and Paul Pindar's house

The grand house of Crosby Hall lies on the bank of the thames, as seen thorough an arch

The Bishopsgate of medieval or even Victorian times is now long gone, but echoes still survive elsewhere in London. Two grand houses that once stood proudly on the street have survived in part. Crosby Hall (above), a palatial residence with royal connections, was moved stone by stone to Chelsea in 1910, and still survives today. Meanwhile, the characterful Paul Pindar's house (below) was pulled down in the 1890s, but its wooden facade is preserved, and on prominent display, at the V&A.

*Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. "The celebrated Mr. K performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate..."

All images and map by the author.