According to accounts from the late 18th century there were hardly any trees to be seen as you walked the streets and lanes of the City of London. None around St Pauls. Ah, but there was one nearby, at the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside. It grew in the churchyard of St Peter Cheap, a church, one among many, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt. I’m sorry to note that my 2013 photograph of this tree is out of focus, as though I can’t quite get it to stand in our time and place.
William Wordsworth wrote of this churchyard and tree: At the corner of Wood Street when daylight appears / hangs a thrush that sings loud, and it has sung for three years: / Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard / In the silence of the morning, the song of the bird.
“Reverie of Poor Susan” 1797
Throughout the Victorian era that tree was special, quietly growing on the site of St Peter Cheap. It has survived into our time, but strange tree companions in this little churchyard are now – palm trees.
If we stroll from this site a few steps into Cheapside, we see St Mary le Bow foregrounded by newly planted trees
Then in the other direction towards St Pauls, the trees become a veritable screen.
A little farther on, at Christchurch Greyfriars, we have greenery of a different sort.
A very large church had been built here as part of the monastic holdings of the Grey Friars in the 12th century. It was entirely lost in the fire of 1666. Christopher Wren built a small church on the site of the choir. Unlike St Pauls and St Mary le Bow, Wren’s structure here did not survive the bombing of WW2. Only the tower remains and, for the last few decades, the space has been given over to garden. Where the internal pillars had once been, we see wooden platforms for vines and roses. Initially there was an almost formal rose garden effect but with a change of intention on the part of the designers, we now have a casual profusion of low bush and wild flower planting.
We finish with an image of trees in the old church yard. They stand by the central aisle of the former nave. For a couple of decades now, Merrill Lynch, the financial management company, marks closure at the end of the tree avenue and this is where there had been big wooden doors to enter the earliest church on this site.
Here’s an article published in the Geneva newspaper, Le Temp, on the 2nd of February 2013. It’s written by Joëlle Kuntz. The subject is the various types of marriage prevalent today: le mariage dans tous ses états. And she uses one of my paintings to illustrate. The painting is a riff on the famous Arnolfini double portrait sometime called the Marriage of Arnolfini. I painted this in 1988 and it is called “Radiance of the Genes”.
Radiance of the Genes