top of page

Middlesex: Widdershins

Where is Middlesex?

In our eleventh and fifty-first episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Middlesex-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Statue of King Lud, Fleet Street

Lud (Welsh: Lludd map Beli Mawr), according to Geoffrey of Monmouth's legendary History of the Kings of Britain and related medieval texts, was a king of Britain in pre-Roman times who founded London and was buried at Ludgate. He was the eldest son of Geoffrey's King Heli, and succeeded his father to the throne. He was succeeded, in turn, by his brother Caswallon (Latinised as 'Cassibelanus').

Lud may be connected with the Welsh mythological figure Lludd Llaw Eraint, earlier Nudd Llaw Eraint, cognate with the Irish Nuada Airgetlám, a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Brittonic god Nodens. However, he was a separate figure in Welsh tradition and is usually treated as such.

His name appears in the words Ludgate, Ned Ludd, and subsequently in 'luddite'. Crumbling statues of King Lud and his two sons, which formerly stood on the gate, now stand in the porch of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in London.

The Temple Church

The Temple Church is one of the most historic and beautiful churches in London. Use the left-margin tool-bar to read its story, period by period. Here are eight hundred years of history: from the Crusaders in the 12th century, through the turmoil of the Reformation and the founding father of Anglican theology, to some of the most famous church music in London, week by week – music which we invite you to come and hear when you are next within striking distance of the Temple.

The Church was built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders’ world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is a numinous space – and has a wonderful acoustic for singing.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in London, England, the seat of the Bishop of London. The cathedral serves as the mother church of the Diocese of London. It is on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. Its dedication in honour of Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.

The present structure, which was completed in 1710, is a Grade I listed building that was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. The cathedral's reconstruction was part of a major rebuilding programme initiated in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London.

The earlier Gothic cathedral (Old St Paul's Cathedral), largely destroyed in the Great Fire, was a central focus for medieval and early modern London, including Paul's walk and St Paul's Churchyard, being the site of St Paul's Cross.

The cathedral is one of the most famous and recognisable sights of London. Its dome, surrounded by the spires of Wren's City churches, has dominated the skyline for over 300 years. At 365 ft (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1963. The dome is still one of the highest in the world. St Paul's is the second-largest church building in area in the United Kingdom, after Liverpool Cathedral.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

The Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian, is located within Greenwich Park at the top of the steep hill overlooking the Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum.

In 1675 King Charles II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build the Royal Observatory on the site of Duke Humphrey's medieval watchtower. It was named Flamsteed House in about 1720, after John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal.

Flamsteed was appointed to make a map of the heavens. It was hoped that this would solve the 'longitude problem' that bedevilled early navigation.

The red time ball on the eastern turret was installed in 1833 and is dropped daily at 1pm as a signal of the time to boats on the Thames. Tompion's tall pendulum clocks and the chronometers devised by John Harrison can also be seen here.

In the garden next to the house is Flamsteed's well. The Astronomer used to lie on a mattress at the bottom of its 100-foot drop to make observations through a glass.

In 1893, a 28-inch refracting telescope was designed to keep the Royal Observatory at the forefront of contemporary astronomy and still remains the largest in the UK and one of the largest in the world.

Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster, or the Houses of Parliament as it is also known, has changed dramatically over the course of nearly a thousand years of history. Transformed from royal residence to the home of a modern democracy, the architecture and cultural collections of the Palace and the wider Parliamentary Estate have continually evolved, sometimes by design, sometimes through accident or attack.

One of the most recognised buildings in the world, the Palace of Westminster owes its stunning Gothic architecture to the 19th-century architect Sir Charles Barry. Now Grade I listed, and part of an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palace contains a fascinating mixture of both ancient and modern buildings, and houses an iconic collection of furnishings, archives and works of art. Find out more about the history and features of this magnificent building.

The London Stone

It’s been claimed to be a Druidic altar, a Roman milestone, and the magical ‘heart of London’. It’s one of London’s most ancient landmarks, but most people have never heard of it – or if they have, they’ve heard one of the strange legends that have sprouted up around it.

Today all that is left of once-famous London Stone is housed in a specially dedicated Portland Stone enclosure in the front wall of 111 Cannon Street.

Its origin is indeed mysterious and there is a belief that if the Stone is ever moved the future of London would be jeopardized. Thus it now sits as near as possible to its original location which is now the middle of the Cannon Street roadway.

The London Wyverns

The dragon boundary marks are cast iron statues of dragons (sometimes mistaken for griffins) on metal or stone plinths that mark the boundaries of the City of London. The dragons are painted silver, with details of their wings and tongue picked out in red. The dragon stands on its left rear leg, with the right rear leg lifted forward to support a shield, with the right foreleg raised and the left foreleg holding the top of the shield.

The shield bears the City of London's coat of arms painted in red and white: the red cross of Saint George on a white background, with a red sword in the first quarter, an attribute of Saint Paul. Saint George and Saint Paul are respectively the patron saints of England and of London. The dragon's stance is the equivalent of the rampant heraldic attitude of the supporters of the City's arms, which may allude to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon.

Chelsea Bun


  • 1/2 lb (250g) flour

  • 1 level teaspoonful salt

  • 1/2 oz (15g) yeast

  • 1 level teaspoonful sugar

  • 1 oz (30g) butter or margarine

  • 1 egg

  • 1 oz (30g) sugar

  • 1/8 (75ml) pint milk.

  • Filling: 1 1/2 (45g) oz sugar; 1 1/2 oz (45g) currants; melted butter or margarine.

  • Glaze: 1 tablespoonful sugar; 1 tablespoonful milk.


  • Sieve flour and salt, put somewhere to warm.

  • Rub in the fat.

  • Cream the yeast and sugar together.

  • Whisk the warm milk and beaten egg, and 1 oz (30g) of sugar.

  • Add this to the creamed yeast and place in a well in the centre of the flour. 

  • Mix to a light dough.  Knead until smooth and free from creases.  Allow to rise till double its bulk. 

  • Re-knead lightly and then roll out into a square.  Brush all over with the melted fat.

  • Spread with currants and dust thickly with sugar. 

  • Roll up like a Swiss roll and cut into 1 1/2 inch (6cm) slices.  Place cut side down on to a greased and warmed meat tin, 1 inch (3cm) apart.  Prove (leave to rise) until touching. 

  • Bake in a hot oven 420F (210C) for 20 minutes or a bit more, reducing heat halfway through the cooking time. 

  • Brush while hot with hot glaze, or, alternatively, reserve a little of the beaten egg and brush with this before cooking.

Jellied Eels


  • 2 lb (1kg) eels

  • 1 large onion

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 table spoonful vinegar

  • 2 oz (60g) leaf gelatine

  • 1 sprig of parsley

  • 2 pints (1.2L) cold water

  • Whites and shells of 2 eggs

  • Salt, pepper


  • Clean and skin the eels and put into a saucepan with the water and all ingredients except eggs and gelatine. 

  • Simmer until the eel is tender.

  • Take out eel, cut into pieces and remove bones.

  • Strain the liquid and return to the pan, and add the crushed egg shells and lightly whisk whites of the eggs.

  • Add the gelatine and bring all to the boil. 

  • Simmer for 2 minutes and strain again.

  • Line a mould with pieces of eel, add the jelly and leave to set.


The Long Man of Wilmington

This mysterious guardian of the South Downs has baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years. Fertility symbol? Ancient Warrior? Early 18th century folly? We may never know.

In 1925, this iconic monument was given to The Sussex Archaeological Society by the Duke of Devonshire. We have cared for the scheduled monument ever since, ensuring it is free for the public to access.

The Long Man is Europe’s largest portrayal of the human form, dating back to at least 1710 when the surveyor John Rowley illustrated the figure. In 1766, the artist William Burrell made a drawing during his visit to Wilmington Priory, which lies under the steep slopes of Windover Hill.

Rowley’s drawing suggests that the original figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass rather than a solid line. The face had a distinctive helmet shape, giving credence to the idea him being a war-god.

Until the 19th century when it was marked out in yellow bricks, the Long Man was only visible in certain light conditions. It is claimed that during this restoration the feet were incorrectly positioned. But, despite local legend, there is no evidence, historical or archaeological, to suggest that prudish Victorians robbed the Giant of his manhood!

During World War II, the figure was painted green to prevent enemy aviators using it as a landmark. Restoration in 1969 replaced the bricks with concrete blocks that are now regularly painted to keep the Long Man visible from many miles away.

Many theories of his origins abound. Some are convinced that he is prehistoric, others believe that he is the work of an artistic monk from the nearby Priory between the 11th and 15th centuries. Roman coins bearing a similar figure suggest that he existed in the 4th century AD and there are parallels with a helmeted figure found on Anglo-Saxon ornaments. Until new evidence is unearthed, we shall have to content ourselves with the words of Reverand A A Evans who said, “The Giant keeps his secret and from his hillside flings out a perpetual challenge.”

Saint Dympna

Dymphna was born in Ireland sometime in the seventh century to a pagan father and devout Christian mother. When she was fourteen, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Soon afterward, her mother died and her father - who had loved his wife deeply - began to suffer a rapid deterioration of his mental stability.

So unhinged was Dymphna's father, Damon, that the King's counselors suggested he remarry. Though he was still grieving for his wife, he agreed to remarry if a woman as beautiful as she could be found.

Damon sent messengers throughout his town and other lands to find woman of noble birth who resembled his wife and would be willing to marry him, but when none could be found, his evil advisors whispered sinful suggestions to marry his own daughter. So twisted were Damon's thoughts that he recognized only his wife when he looked upon Dymphna, and so he consented to the arrangement.

The Historical Founding of London

The Romans founded London about 50 AD. Its name is derived from the Celtic word Londinios, which means the place of the bold one.

After they invaded Britain in 43 AD the Romans built a bridge across the Thames. They later decided it was an excellent place to build a port. The water was deep enough for ocean-going ships but it was far enough inland to be safe from Germanic raiders. Around 50 AD Roman merchants built a town by the bridge. So London was born.

The early settlement in London did not have stone walls but there may have been a ditch and an earth rampart with a wooden palisade on top.

Then in 61 AD Queen Boudicca led a rebellion against the Romans. Her army marched on London. No attempt was made to defend London.

Boudicca burned London but after her rebellion was crushed it was rebuilt. Rich people built houses of stone or brick with tiled roofs but most people lived in wooden houses.

By the end of the 2nd century, a stone wall was erected around London. The wall was 20 feet high. Outside the wall was a ditch.

In the middle of the 3rd century, 20 bastions were added to the walls (a bastion was a semi-circular tower projecting from the wall).

The Lord Mayor's Show

The Lord Mayor's Show is one of the oldest traditions of London life.

Dating back to the time of King John and the Magna Carta, the annually elected Lord Mayor was required to travel from the safety of London to swear loyalty to the monarch at Westminster.

As such, the show has attracted the attention of artists, writers and film makers to record the events.

Here is footage of the event in 1965, though it happens every year - to this day!

Dick Whittington

The legend of "Dick Whittington and his Cat" is one of England's most famous folk tales, and there is evidence to suggest that the pantomime version of the story, that still delights audiences today, was being played in much the same form in the 17th century.

The above link tells the story in full - although Martin will be giving his take next week!

Spring Heeled Jack

Out of the night he came, a leaping, bounding superman who terrified the English nation for more than 60 years.

At first, tales of this devil-like figure who leaped from roof-top to roof-top was accepted as hysterical nonsense. But in January 1838 this strange creature received official recognition when a barmaid, Polly Adams, was attacked while walking across Blackheath in south London. Mary Stevens, a servant girl was terrified by what she saw on Barnes Common, and in Clapham churchyard a woman was assaulted!

Lucy Scales, a butchers daughter was attacked in Limehouse and Jane Alsop was almost strangled by a cloaked creature in her own home before her family managed to beat-off her attacker… at which point he leapt and soared off into the darkness.

Jane Alsop described her inhuman attacker to London magistrates…”He was wearing a kind of helmet and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin and he vomited blue and white flames!”

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, received complaints from several parts of London describing a demonic creature with eyes like balls of fire and hands like icy claws, and able to bound from roof-top to roof-top with ease.

The police did not dismiss these stories and even the Duke of Wellington, although aged nearly 70 went out armed on horseback to hunt and kill the monster!

The Deptford Creek Necker

Faraway creatures lurk in Deptford Creek. Take a guided tour along its bed at low tide and the volunteer custodians of this fragile ecosystem will uncover Asian mitten crabs, egrets returned from Africa and eels born in the Sargasso Sea.

But there is a stranger resident still, one most guides won’t speak of – even if, consciously or not, they steer clear of the corner of the Creek it inhabits. Here, it is said, lies a deep, drowned lair, home to a long forgotten creature with a long forgotten name: The Deptford Creek Necker.

The form taken by the Deptford Creek Necker varies from account to account. Merman? Serpent? Hag? Some call it a Shellycoat or Grindylow, say that years ago, when the Thames and its tributaries spread wide and unhindered into ancient bog and marshland, the thing swam down from the north, and became trapped here by the encroaching city...

Bessee and The Blind Beggar

In The Legend Of The Blind Beggar, Henry de Montfort was wounded and lost his sight in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and was nursed to health by a baroness, and together they had a child named Bessee.

He became the "Blind Beggar of Bednal Green" and used to beg at the crossroads.

The story of how he went from landed gentry to poor beggar became popular in the Tudor era, and was revived by Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765.

The legend came to be adopted in the arms of the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in 1900.

Bloody Bishop Bonner

The East End is a fascinating area full of grisly tales, scary stories, and haunting histories. But few can top that of one of London’s most bloodthirsty men who inflicted pain and punishment, torture and death on hundreds.

The man’s legacy is imprinted in our street names of Bonner Street and Bonner Road, in pubs in the former The Bishop Bonner, and even on a bridge, Bonner Hall Bridge and its adjoining gate, Bonner Gate.

There have been sightings of this man and his ghostly coach and four black horses haunting Victoria Park, and similar scary sightings of him around Globe Town, particularly Bonner Street. He has also been spotted elsewhere at the western end of Roman Road, towards Bethnal Green.

Old Father Thames

Rivers, bringers of life, have long been associated with sprites, spirits, deities and other supernatural beings. No one knows quite how long ago the figure of Father Thames was first invoked. It's likely that people have always paid obeisance to the river in one form or another.

Peter Ackroyd in his 2007 biography of the river reckons Father Thames "bears a striking resemblance to the tutelary gods of the Nile and the Tiber". Gods such as the Roman Tiberinus share the long hair and beard.

London's most impressive representation of the river god can be found in Trinity Square, near The Tower. The divinity perches high on the former Port of London Authority building. He is shown naked, save for a rather impractical cloak that must inhibit his swimming. He clutches a Poseidon-like trident in his right hand, while his left hand points east towards the sea.

The Holly Man, Sheep Drive and Pearly Kings and Queens

Every January, a man shrouded in an ivy suit emerges from the River Thames in a rowing boat accompanied by a merry posse. They wish ‘wassail’, meaning ‘good health’, to the people congregated by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside.

The ceremony is the traditional beginning of the Twelfth Night celebrations that mark the end of the Christmas period before people return to work.

Mummers perform a traditional folk play of ‘wild verse and boisterous action’, which features such curious characters as Old ‘Oss, Turkey Sniper and Clever Legs.

London Bridge is perhaps most famous for falling down, but every September, it becomes the site for a strange spectacle as a herd of sheep is driven across the bridge by ‘freemen’ of the City of London.

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen, one of the City’s Livery Companies – associations and guilds of ancient and modern trades – has been around since the 11th century and is responsible for the whole affair.

Every September, pearly kings and queens descend on Guildhall for the annual Harvest Festival, which involves Morris and maypole dancing, marching bands and a pearly parade.

The tradition has its origins with 19th-century costermongers (market traders) and during the Victorian era, a street cleaner and rat catcher by the name of Henry Croft became the very first Pearly King. He might have gotten the idea from the flashy style of the coster kings and queens – elected to represent the collective interests of the costermongers.

The Tower of London and its Ravens

It is said that the kingdom and the Tower of London will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.

Charles II is thought to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected after he was warned that the crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left.

The King's order was given against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower.

The Real Founding of London

Geoffrey of Monmouth, in The Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) written about 1136, tells the story of how the Trojans came into conflict with Gogmagog and the giants of Albion.

Although Geoffrey made it clear where Brutus and the Trojans originated, he revealed nothing of the history of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion.

Later writers promoted several versions of a story of the origin of the giants.

According to British medieval legend and myth, the island now known as Britain was once named Albion after an exiled queen named Albina. She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece, though some versions of the story say Syria.

How this came to be is an outlandish and in many ways disturbing story, found in the 14th century poem, Des Grantz Geanz (“Of the Great Giants”) which was popular in its time and probably best read as an allegorical work.

Leonard the Demon

Two giant wicker effigies of Gog and Magog, the traditional guardians of the City of London, have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show since the reign of Henry V.

Here is a documentary all about their potted history!

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page