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Five historical things to look out for in... Holborn

Written by
Katie Wignall

Katie Wignall from Look Up London takes a look around Holborn. 

This often mispronounced area of London gets its name from 'Hol' (middle English for hollow) and 'Bourne' (a brook, probably referring to the now-subterranean River Fleet). Wedged awkwardly between the West End and The City, Holborn was a borough in its own right, but after 1965 it merged with St Pancras and Hampstead to form the borough of Camden. On High Holborn you can spot street signs from the past and present. You also might want to look out for these sights the next time you're in the area: 

Photo from Look Up London

1. St George's Church Steeple, Bloomsbury Way

Built in 1730, St George's Bloomsbury probably has the most unusual steeple in London. A lion (representing England) and a unicorn (for Scotland) are locked in an eternal chase around a stepped pyramid, symbolising the contemporary political climate. There had been a Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 and the newly instated Hanoverians were feeling shaky, which is why England and Scotland are presented fighting for the crown. These symbols would've been well known at the time because of the popular nursery rhyme: 'The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown, the lion beat the unicorn all around the town'. The sculptures were removed in 1871 by Victorians scared that the unstable steeple would cause them to come crashing down. The originals are now lost but the current (10ft-high) ones were carved by Tim Crawley in 2006. Nice job, Tim.

Photo by Look Up London

 2. Kingsgate House, 114-115 High Holborn

As you exit Holborn tube, look up and you may spot Kings Edward I and VII sitting atop Kingsgate House. When they were placed there around 1903 they showed the new monarch Edward VII (on the right) alongside the King Edward I (placed to the left), to draw a comparison between what people have called a great warrior with an establisher of parliament. As if that wasn't flattery enough, the history buffs may notice that Edward VII is looking more svelte than he's usually depicted.

Photo from Look Up London

 3. Pied Bull Yard Clock, Bury Place

This 1988 clock is hardly ancient, but it is a mystery. Protruding out onto Bury Place, it has two miniature figures at the top ready and waiting to strike the bell (so far so usual). But towards the bottom is a circular track where a bull, a businessman, a jogger and a mohican-sporting punk all chase each other in a clockwise circle. The clock no longer works, so sadly we can't watch this bizarre, never-ending chase in action.

Photo from Look Up London

4. Statue of Fenner Brockway, Red Lion Square

Brockway was a liberal-turned-socialist and spent most of WWI in prison after he was arrested for being a pacifist. Before and during the war, pacifists – or 'conscientious objectors' – were often handed white feathers by girls in the street as a sign of cowardice. It was said that Fenner used to proudly proclaim he had enough white feathers to make a fan. He later became a labour MP and continued to campaign for colonies’ independence, and he also formed the charity War on Want.  

Photo from Look Up London

 5. Staple Inn, High Holborn

Built in 1585 and established as an 'Inn of Chancery', the building was a medieval school that trained up would-be lawyers. It was also a wool staple; a building where wool was brought to be weighed and taxed. The original meaning of 'staple' was a pile of goods for sale and 'Inn' actually meant more of a residence rather than a pub, so Staple Inn meant the Wool Custom House. Though it survived the great fire of 1666 and some of the exterior is genuine Tudor, don't be fooled – most of it dates from the 1937 restoration.

Want more history? Check out five historical things to look out for in Spitalfields and Southwark

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