A small bas-relief of Guy, Earl of Warwick, can be seen on the corner of Warwick Lane and Newgate Street on a very modern office building. It is said that Warwick Lane is named after Warwick Inn, owned by the Earls of Warwick. In 1458, the 16th Earl of Warwick, Richard Nevell ‘The Kingmaker’, came to the great convention that took place during the Wars of the Roses and John Stowe says that he came,
with 600. men, all in redde iackets, imbrodered with ragged staues before and behind, and was lodged in VVarwicke lane: in whose house there was oftentimes sixe oxen eaten at a breakefast, and euery tauern was full of his meat; for he that had any acquaintance in that house, might haue there so much of sodden [boiled] and roste meate, as hee coulde pricke and carry upon a long dagger.(1)
An uncommon feature of the little statue is the reference to Pennant’s book Some Account of London, 5th ed, p. 492. if we go to that source, we read the following:
On the front of a house in the upper end of the lane is placed a small neat statue of Guy earl of Warwick, renowned in the days of King Athelstan for killing the Danish giant Colbrand, and performing numbers of other exploits, the delight of my childish days. This statue is in miniature the same with that in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, in Guy’s-Cliff near Warwick. The arms on the shield are chequè or and azur, a chevron erminè, which were his arms, afterward gold, by the Beauchamps earls of Warwick.
How much of all that is historical fact or just embellished legend is hard to judge. What is fact, is that Æthelstan died in 939 AD and the earldom of Warwick was not created until 1088, so there is at least a substantial time-gap to be explained. In any case, this Guy’s exploits became a great source for legends and romantic stories, from fourteenth-century French romantic poems to seventeenth and eighteenth-century plays, ballads and chapbooks.(2) Another possibility is a confusion with Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick (c. 1272-1315) whose coat of arms, as Pennant noted, was adopted by the Beauchamps in c. 1200, and closely resembles the one on the relief. However, a footnote by the editor of the 5th edition claims that the arms were born by Thomas de Newburgh, earl of Warwick in 1222. Let’s say that the true story has disappeared in the mists of time and we will just have a closer look at the later history of the relief itself.
The middle section of the present bas-relief could be seen higher up on the front of a house built after the Great Fire. See copyrighted picture from Collage here. Although the information that goes with this drawing suggest the date is c. 1820, I assume it must be before 1817, because of the restoration date on the present bas-relief.
The statue, as Pennant already noticed, is a copy of the much larger one in the chapel of St Mary Magdalen, in Guy’s Cliff. The house and chapel now belong to the Freemasons and are not open to the public, but they have posted a Photo Gallery Archive on the web that contains a picture of the original statue of Guy, but alas, the poor man is in an advanced stage of decay. See copyrighted picture here.
The top and bottom sections of the present-day relief were added later, most likely at the time of a restoration in 1817. Or perhaps even later when it was moved to its present location? The 1817 restorer was John Deykes, architect and surveyor, who is probably best known for his work in Malvern, where he designed the Library and Assembly Rooms. He entered the Royal Academy’s Exhibition of 1815 with ‘The Fountain of the Innocents, Paris’ in the Architectural Drawings section as number 771 and also had in hand in the restoration work at St. Bride’s. At one time he lived at Mr. G. Smith’s, Doctors’ Commons and at 2 Thavies Inn, Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn.(3) Bartlett’s Buildings was a place where a number of solicitors and attorneys lived and had their offices, close to the Inns of Court. In the Middle Ages, Thavie’s Inn had been one of the Inns of Chancery, but was, in the nineteenth century, no longer used as such.
How and why the relief ended up on the front of a modern office block is unclear. The why is not difficult to work out as it is still on a building that is situated at the corner of Warwick Lane and Newgate Street where the old inn is supposed to have been, but the how is not known. When I asked the good people at the reception desk in the building, they could not tell me anything about it, so this is where the story ends for the moment. If anyone has a clue, please add a comment.
(1) John Stow, A Survay of London. Conteyning the originall, antiquity, increase, moderne estate, and description of that city, written in the yeare 1598 (1603), p. 66.
(2) See also: Guy of Warwick: Icon and Ancestor, ed. Alison Wiggins and Rosalind Field (2007) online here. And the webpage of Siân Sechard.
(3) Boyle’s Court Guide for January 1821 and A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904 (1905), vol. 2, p. 319.
Another fascinating blog and a good read.