Hearts and Flowers in London
It’s Valentine’s Day – so I went looking for romance in the city. At first I didn’t expect to find a lot – but I was surprised.
Valentine cards are often decorated with heart shapes to represent love. I thought this was probably a fairly modern symbol, but a little research revealed that it has actually been used for centuries. Wikipedia reports that the first known depiction of a heart as a symbol of romantic love dates to the 1250s. It became widely popular in the 16th century – but it isn’t easy to find in the statues or architectural decoration of London.
I was happy to come across this large heart on a garage door in Spitalfields. I do wonder about the story of who painted it and what it means.
Two matching clocks decorate the sides of the Royal Exchange in the City.
Britannia and Neptune hold a shield that has an image of the old Royal Exchange. Two hearts are at the top of the shield, and the motto “Service and Protection” are in a ribbon below their feet.
I was surprised to find this heart-shaped in my London photos. It is on a Thames Water drain cover.
I hoped that wasn’t a symbolic message.
Thanks to my very helpful son-in-law, I now know that this is a mark of the British Standards certification.
This heart shape is the oldest one I found. It’s in the Museum of London and is on a corner of a bit of a 2nd century Roman mosaic that was discovered in London.
This mosaic floor was probably made for a dining or banqueting room and the heart shape is likely to be a grape leaf, referringto the wine that was frequently drunk at Roman meals.
Wrought iron gates and railing in London feature lots of creative designs.
This grillwork design seems to be a heart shape which fans out on both sides. The lacy design is on the entrance to the Hop Exchange, Southwark Avenue, just off Borough High Street.
When I looked at the details on the lower part of the grillwork on the Hops Exchange, I realized it features hops leaves and blossoms.
The Hops Exchange opened in 1867 to provide a single market centre for businesses that dealt in hops, the main ingredient in beer. Hops were grown in Kent on farms known as ‘hops gardens’ , and then brought by rail to London Bridge Station or by boat to the many warehouses in the Borough area.
Here’s an ambiguous message on a wall in Shoreditch –
it MIGHT be a romantic sentiment. Maybe a reflection of a long-term relationship??
This might be the most romantic sculpture in London. Titled “Young Lovers” it is in the garden behind St. Paul’s Cathedral.
It was sculptured by George Ehrlich in 1951 and installed in the garden in 1973. To me, it seems a bit of a strange choice for the garden of the most solemn and classical buildings in the city.
“The Meeting Place” is a 30-foot high sculpture by Paul Day that was installed at St. Pancras Station in 2007. Many people have questioned the cost (£1million) and artistic merit of this giant. The panels around the base of the sculpture have interesting scenes related to train travel.
One of the panels on the base of “The Meeting Place” shows this couple embracing – but the woman doesn’t really seem to be very involved; she’s checking her phone for messages.
This couple sitting on a bench were sculpted by Lynn Chadwick in 2000. They are enjoying a few quiet minutes in a plaza among the office buildings at Canary Wharf.
Do you think they are pointy-headed intellectuals wondering about how the markets are moving??
This couple lounge on a platform in the plaza behind the Guildhall. I have always thought of them as “The Taxpayers” because they look like they have given EVERYTHING to the government. (The real title is ‘Beyond Tomorrow’. They were sculpted by Karin Jonzen and installed in 1972.
This couple in the British Museum are the Royal Acquaintance Katep and his wife, the Royal Acquaintance Hetepheres from the 4th Dynasty in ancient Egypt which lasted from c. 2613 to 2494 BC.
I love the quiet, affectionate way they are seated – she has her arm around his back and you can see her hand on his right side.
Here are some fictional lovers –
Three lovely ladies are part of the large frieze on Marconi House, 326 Aldwych which sits on the site of the former Gaiety Theatre. They are characters in Shakespearean plays.
Olivia is the romantic fulcrum of Twelfth Night.
Portia is the appealing heroine in The Merchant of Venice.
Beatrice is one of the characters in Much Ado About Nothing whose mixed-up identities lead to romantic confusion.
If you cut down Angel Court, a covered alleyway that runs between Pall Mall and King Street in St. James’s, you come upon several panels that illustrate theatre history. Turns out this was the site of the St. James’s Theatre which was demolished in 1957 despite a campaign to save it led by theatre luminaries including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
One of several panels shows them in their legendary production of Antony and Cleopatra.
The two actors had a tempestuous life together. They both divorced to marry in 1940; their marriage ended in 1960.
Here’s another romantic couple – King Charles and his long time mistress Nell Gwynn.
‘Pretty, witty Nell’ grew up around Covent Garden and was an orange-seller (of perhaps dubious virtue) before she became a famous actress on the London stage. The love affair between king and actress began in 1668. She had two sons with Charles II. The younger son died when he was 8, but the elder, Charles Beauclerk was granted the title Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.
The ultimate royal love story was probably Victoria and Albert.
Princess Victoria was seventeen when she first met Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany. Apparently she wasn’t overly impressed by Albert at this meeting, but when they met again three years later she seems to have quickly decided he was the one for her! (This might have had something to do with the training in music, dancing, art and English that he had been given in those 3 years – it made him MUCH more interesting!) Albert and Victoria were married on 10 February 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. They were both 20 years old.
These roundels are on a building at 26 Westbourne Grove that started life as a theatre – and is now the home of Al Saqi Books.
Victoria and Albert had a happy marriage – although it must have been difficult at times for Albert who was an intelligent, idealistic, energetic man who was quite constrained by the British political establishment, many of whom were not happy to have a royal consort who was German.
London has many memorials that commemorate Victoria’s love (any perhaps obsession?) with Albert. She opened the Royal Albert Hall in March 1871 and the Albert Memorial in July 1872.
These reliefs in the grand entrance hall of the Victoria and Albert Museum commemorate the Queen and her Prince Consort in the museum that had its origins in the Great Exhibition on 1851. Prince Albert was one of the main organizers of the hugely successful exhibition. Originally called the Museum of Manufactures and then the South Kensington Museum, it was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899 when Queen Victoria officially opened the new wing. It was her last official public appearance.
They had nine children. Albert’s unexpected death in 1861 at the age of 42 was devastating for Victoria – she probably never really recovered from the emotional shock of losing the love of her life at such an early age.
So – there it is. London is the City of Love.
But of course, Brits are usually calm, controlled and clear headed –
so we should remind ourselves that not every love story ends with “Happy Ever After”.
I did hesitate to include this “sculpture” – it is so weird and tasteless.
BUT – it does relate to a story that started out as a Fairy Tale.
This absolutely appalling sculpture commemorates Princess Diana and Dodie Fayed, son of Mohamed Al-Fayed who installed it in the basement of Harrods Department Store while he was the owner.
Harrods was sold to Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar in May 2010.
I really don’t understand why this “memorial” is still in the store.
To end on a happier note – here is a spring bouquet from St. James’s Park to brighten your Valentine’s Day.
All photos were taken by Cathey Leitch @Cathey Leitch, 2016