London’s Most Eye-Catching Weathervanes and the Stories Behind Them

Look up. No, right up! See that glinting in the sunlight? London weathervanes can range from the standard arrow to the downright mad.

A lot – of course – can be spotted on Churches. But keep your eyes peeled and there’s plenty to find on all sorts of London buildings and usually they’re key to unravelling its history.

Mostly you’ll spot a variation of arrows on City Churches, like St Stephen Walbrook (green dome) and St Benet Paul’s Wharf (seagull on top!)

THE ANIMALS

Sometimes friendly (and sometimes fierce!) these creatures keep a watchful eye over London.

Old Billingsgate

London weathervanes

No prises for guessing this was an old fish market. The current building was purpose-built by Horace Jones in 1876, replacing the smaller one from 1850. The site has hosted market stalls since Roman times but got its fishy reputation from an 1699 act of parliament. It allowed a “free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” and until the early 19th century fish and seafood were sold from stalls around the dock area. Today the listed building is an events space for the City of London and New Billingsgate is in Canary Wharf.

The Rookery

On a similar market theme this next one can be found a short walk from Smithfield Meat Market.

London weathervanes

The Rookery Hotel in Clerkenwell is run by the same team as Hazlitt’s in Soho. They’ve restored the Georgian frontage on St Peter’s Lane and a wander through the streets really dow feel like time travel.

64 Bishopsgate

London weathervanes

Look up along Bishopsgate and you’ll spot a golden beaver! It’s there as a reminder of Hudson’s Bay Company, who primarily dealt with fur, beaver’s being especially popular for felt top hats. They held their headquarters in London from 1668 until 1970 when they became a Canadian Corporation and moved across the pond. The building is now home to a variety of hi-spec office space inside, with the original facade of by Mewes and Davies dating from 1926.

St Dunstan-In-The-East

Cockerels often feature on church weathervanes, in fact a 9th century papal edict required every church in christendom to be mounted with one. There was also a time when the terms weathervane and weathercock were interchangeable.

They remember the bible story of Peter betraying Christ; “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:34).

As well as its lovely weathervane, this unique church is worth a visit to see the garden. See why it’s The City’s best kept secret here.

The Royal Exchange

Is that a grasshopper? Yes. Yes it is.

London weathervanes

Gracing the top of the Royal Exchange – former hub of London’s trade – is a gold grasshopper. It’s there because it’s the heraldic symbol of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange. Today it’s an upmarket shopping mall, but you can read more about its history here.

All Hallows

Another Cockerel (looking a lot better than St Dunstan’s it must be said) is this one of the edge of The City. It also claims to be the oldest, founded by the Abbess of Barking in 675AD. It was from this tower that Samuel Pepy’s – who had his office nearby – watched the fire of London grow in 1666.

THE SHIPS

Another firm favourite symbol on the skyline are ships. Again, they often pop up on church steeples, symbolising the Christian journey, but they’re not exclusively ecclesiastical.

St Olave Old Jewry

Nestled between modern buildings is the tower of St Olave Jewry on Ironmonger Lane. It was built by Wren but is now a solicitor’s office.

London weathervanes

As for the weathervane, it’s actually from another church; St Mildred’s Poultry. Dating back to 1175 it was demolished in 1872 when the two church parishes merged.

St Nick’s

Rather in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, St Nick’s Church (as St Nicholas Cole Abbey has been rebranded) is a friendly City church with a lovely cafe.

St Nicholas is more commonly known by his alter ego Santa Claus, but he was also the patron saint of travellers at sea, hence the delightfully elaborate weathervane.

London weathervanes
Unusual City Churches

Lloyds Register of Shipping

Established in a London coffeeshop in 1760, Lloyds Registry Office is a marine classification society. Their headquarters on Fenchurch Street is covered in naval symbolism and the gold ship is the cherry on top.

London weathervanes

Today they works across compliance, risk and as technical consultants for those with marine assets. 

Two Temple Place

Built to the designs of American millionaire William Waldorf Astor, Two Temple Place doesn’t hold back inside. But from the outside you get a feel of the opulence from the huge weathervane.

London weathervanes

Made by J. Starkie Gardner, it represents the sailing ship Santa Maria from which Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America. 

Liberty’s

On entering the mock-Tudor landmark of Liberty’s, you can feel the creaking timbers of the two ships; HMS Hindustan and HMS impregnable, from which it was built.

A more obvious sea-faring connection is up top, the gleaming gold replica of The Mayflower which carried pilgrims to American in 1620.

London weathervanes
THE WEIRD & WONDERFUL

It wouldn’t be London without a few bizarre extravagances that buck the trend. How many of these have you spotted?

St Lawrence Jewry

It’s a final cruel joke for many Christian martyrs, that they’re depicted by their murder weapon. E.g. the sword that decapitated St Paul and poor old St Catherine having to lug about that wheel.

Spare a thought then for St Lawrence, barbecued to death on a gridiron in 258 AD. Look right to the top of St Lawrence Jewry in Guildhall Yard, and you’ll spot the grisly culprit in the weathervane.

London weathervanes

St Mary Le Strand

Locked in the middle of traffic below Aldwych is the fabulous St Mary Le Strand, finished in 1723 and designed by James Gibbs.

Taking a closer look at the steeple, you can make out a star or comet as the weathervane. This could be explained as just a reference to the coming of Jesus (in some translations of the Bible the ‘star’ over Bethlehem is a ‘comet’).

London weathervanes

But there’s a happy coincidence in the nearby green plaque to William Lilly.

London weathervanes

Image from London Remembers

Most famous for predicting The Great Fire of London, Lilly has largely been forgotten today, but in the 17th century was considered the ‘English Merlin’, mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary 3 times. He was actually a member of the parish of St Clement Danes further toward Fleet Street, but I thought the connection was worth mentioning!

Inner Temple

The winged horse of Pegasus is the symbol of Inner Temple, one of  the four surviving inns of court which constitute the heart of legal London. You can spot symbols of the different inns (the lamb and flag for Middle Temple, a Griffin for Gray’s and a lion for Lincoln’s) all over Temple, but my favourite has to be this weathervane.

London weathervanes

Explore more of this magical London neighbourhood in my post here.

Lord’s Cricket Ground

Probably the most famous of London’s unusual weathervanes is that of Father Time at Lord’s Cricket ground. The figure of Father Time removing bails from the wicket was a gift from Herbert Baker, architect of the grandstand in 1926. The image is from the Laws of Cricket code “After the call of Time, the bails shall be removed from both wickets.” 

London weathervanes

Image from WIki Commons.

St Mary Le Bow

The dragon is the symbol of The City of London, so it’s fitting that St Mary Le Bow is graced with a monstrous creature atop its steeple. The church (rebuilt by Wren and then gutted during The Blitz) reopened in 1964, but the golden dragon dates from 1679.

London Weathervanes

But the fact that always blows my mind is that it’s around 9 foot long! Another fearsome dragon, almost an exact copy in fact, can be found South of the river…

St James’ Bermondsey

One of the ‘Waterloo Churches’ (paid for with money from the Battle of Waterloo, 1815) St James’ Church was finished in 1829.

London Weathervanes

It’s not exactly clear why the Bermondsey church has such an ostentatious (and scary!) golden dragon and one vicar even went so far as to say he’d rather have a more locally-themed weathervane. Pie and Mash for example!

Whitechapel Art Gallery

Whitechapel Art Gallery History

Along Whitechapel Road, look up to spot the curious figure of Erasmus, engrossed in his book and sitting backwards on his horse. Specially commissioned, the weathervane is by Rodney Graham and was installed in 2009. Read more about the building’s history here.

Do you have any other favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! And, as ever, keep looking up!

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London Weathervanes

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