Daffodils and a vanished church : St Mary Aldermanbury

I believe it’s a contractual obligation for any blogger to provide at least one picture of daffodils to record the coming of Spring.  I can’t wait for the dozy articles in my back yard to get their act together, so here is a display of daffs from another Garden Where I Sometimes Eat My Lunch.  This was described by Arthur Mee in the 1937 edition of London : Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World as “a place which should stir the imagination of every Englishman … the church of St Mary Aldermanbury with its gleaming tower …”.  Except, of course, that it isn’t any more.  It was all but destroyed in the Blitz, though, curiously, what was left was tranported to Missouri and reconstructed there.  You can just about see what’s left of it – the stumps of its pillars – in the photograph.

Daffodils - St Mary Aldermanbury


Before the Great Fire there were 97 parish churches in the City of London.  As  an indication of how tightly-packed they must have been there was another church between the end of St Mary (where the red van is) and the tall white building in the background, and another about 100 yards to the rear of where I was standing.  35 of these were not rebuilt after the Great Fire, and another 11 were not rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

What is often forgotten, though, is how many churches were simply demolished between the Fire and the Blitz – 26 of them between 1782 and 1939, 19 of them Wren churches.  With a lack of sentiment we would now find astonishing, the Victorian C of E reasoned that by selling churches in the City, where the residential population was dwindling, they could afford to build new churches in the expanding suburbs.

J. Betjeman (who was a far from uncritical lover of Victoriana) commented –

“The serious medievalism of the mid-Victorians and the craze for surpliced choirs in stalls in the chancel, and for stained glass giving a dim religious light, made a double assault on the City churches from the 1850s onwards.  First Wren’s Classical style was regarded as pagan and this furnished an excuse for destroying so many of his churches.  Clumsy attempt were made to give the rest ‘Christian’ furnishings.”   

No doubt it would have seemed to the Victorian church that there were sound practical arguments for this orgy of demolition, but I must admit that I’m never sure that sound practical arguments are a good enough reason for destroying anything irreplacable.

(I should point out, incidentally, that I risked arrest to bring you this picture, as I was leaning against a police station when I took it.)

Other men’s flowers : the Lent Lily, by A.E. Housman

As usual at this time of year, your correspondent is enduring a vexatious time at work, and can only proffer another small bunch of other men’s flowers.  In this case the flowers are lent lilies (or daffodils) and the poet A.E. Housman. 

I always very much want to like Housman‘s poems and usually succeed when I read them individually.  Read too many of them at once and the consistency of feeling and style topples over into self parody (and Housman must have been as often parodied as any poet).  He seems to have discovered an attitude (I won’t say a pose) that he (oddly) found comfortable early in life – life is brief, love is fleeting, flowers die – and never seems to have made much effort, either in life or in his verse, to risk the confusion of emotional engagements that might have disturbed this equilibrium.  At least, in this one, it’s only the daffodils that die – in A Shropshire Lad the body count must rival The Terminator.

He was also (according to Frank Kermode*) a very fastidious bachelor, who refused to allow his neighbour Ludwig Wittgenstein to use his private lavatory – though whether this is significant in some way I can’t say.

If my lent lilies are planning to die on Easter Day, by the way, they’d better get a move on and bloom.


 The Lent Lily

by A.E. Housman


‘Tis spring; come out to ramble

The hilly brakes around,

For under thorn and bramble

About the hollow ground

The primroses are found.


And here’s the windflower chilly

With all the winds at play,

And there’s the Lenten lily

That has not long to stay

And dies on Easter day.


And since till girls go maying

You find the primose still,

And find the windflower playing

With every wind at will,

But not the daffodil,


Bring baskets now, and sally

Upon the spring’s array,

And bear from hill and valley

The daffodil away

That dies on Easter day.



Some Lent Lilies yesterday, not in my back yard

*Nothing for ever and ever

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve : some tips from Robert Herrick

A little early for this (Candlemas is on 2nd February), but I thought I’d slip it in while I’ve got the time.  It will also give you time to make any necessary preparations.

Candlemas is (or was) a festival that satisfied an obvious need in the communal psyche, but seemed to have only a tenuous connection with its ostensible religious purpose.  As my Idler’s diary for 2009 put it –

“Candlemas was the common name for the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.  In the morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the dark.  In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music.  Candlemas marked the formal end of winter.”  

It was also the day when people took down their Christmas decorations – the holly,  ivy and mistletoe they’d brought into the house at Christmas – and replaced them with other greenery that suggested the coming of spring.   I suppose the contemporary equivalent would be buying a bunch of daffodils and sticking them in a vase.  (My daffodils, which, as I noted on here, made an appearance as shoots in November seem to have woken up again after the snow and are making renewed efforts  to grow). 

A poem that gives some helpful tips on how to prepare for it is Robert Herrick’s “Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve”.  Herrick’s best-remembered poems are probably the gently erotic ones he wrote as a young man, which often had a carpe diem theme, but he also wrote also wrote in a not incompatible way about the changing seasons and the rhythms of rural and devotional life.  A clergyman, he was deprived of his living during the Protectorate for his Royalist sympathies (and possibly his saucy verses).  In his own day he seems to have been seen as unsophisticated as compared to the likes of Donne, but was enormously popular with the Victorians for the sweetness and simplicity of his verse (he had eight poems in the Golden Treasury, for instance, to Donne’s one).  I’ve always liked him, and am making a mental note to go back and read him properly.   



Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

(This, incidentally, is what he looked like.  Perhaps a slight hint of Harry Enfield’s Scousers here?)

Calm down calm down