Take the east exit of Liverpool Street station, cross Bishopsgate Street, walk south along Bishopsgate Street for perhaps fifty yards, and turn left into Devonshire Row. This leads to Devonshire Square, also known as Cutlers Gardens, which is the private property of the Standard Life Insurance Company, but during the day, you may walk there and admire the enormous sculpture of a knight in shiny armour. He is a representation of one of the thirteen knights (the Cnihtengild) who were granted the land lying to the east of the line Aldgate – Bishopsgate in the 10th century by King Edgar. The land was also know as Portsoken, but it was to have various names in the following centuries. In 1108, the knights gave the land to the Austin friars of Holy Trinity Priory at Aldgate; the monks used part of the land as their convent garden, but in 1532, the land reverted to the Crown and was parcelled out to courtiers and merchants. By 1700, Cutlers Garden was covered in houses and workshops.(1)
One of the houses built in the area on the east side of Bishopsgate Street was Fisher’s Folly. Jasper Fisher, a Clerk in Chancery, built the house in the late 16th century. Stow said that it had large pleasure gardens and a bowling alley at the back. Fisher had, however, rather overreached himself with his grand house and owed quite a few people money, hence Fisher’s Folly and that name stuck. Even after several other owners, the house was still referred to as Fisher’s Folly with mocking rhymes from the locals at Fisher’s expense.(2) The Dukes of Devonshire took over the house in the later 17th century and it became Devonshire House. The Ordnance Survey map below shows Devonshire Square, with Devonshire Street (now Row) leading to Bishopsgate Street; “Site of Fisher’s Folly” is written in faint lettering on the houses to the north of Devonshire Street.
In 1768, the East India Company built their first warehouse in the area south of New Street and they kept adding to their property, so that by the 1830s, they owned over 2,000 hectares and had replaced most of the houses on the site by warehouses. The warehouses can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map on the right-hand side. When the monopoly the East India Company had on the trade with China ended, the warehouses became surplus to requirements and the St. Katherine Docks Company bought them, later relinguishing them to the Port of London Authority who used them till 1976. The Standard Life Insurance Company bought the site in 1978 and rebuilt and redeveloped the area.
The artist, Denys Mitchell (1939-), had previously made some railings for the Edinburgh office of the Standard Life Insurance Company and he was asked to do something with the space in Cutlers Gardens. The Cnihtengild knight in shiny armour is his interpretation of the site’s history. The knight is made entirely from beaten bronze and not from a mould as most other sculptures are. The horse’s caparison – blanket to you and me – is covered in stylized birds with a blue crystal in their tail. When I took the photographs, the horse was looking towards the central piazza, but apparently it stands on a turntable that revolves one degree per day, so the horse and knight turn full circle in a year. The New View journal interviewed Denys Mitchell and the Cnihtengild knight stands proudly on the magazine’s cover (Autumn 2003 issue).(3) The sculpture was unveiled on 21 November 1990.
(1) More on the area in P. Hunting, Cutlers Gardens (1984). Commissioned by the Standard Life Insurance Company.
(2) B. Maxwell, chapter X, “Nice Valour, or the Passionate Madman” in Studies in Beaumont Fletcher and Massinger (1966) and H.B. Wheatley, London Past and Present (2011), pp. 47-48 (online here).
(3) Grateful acknowledgements go to Tom Raines for helping me locate a copy of the New View issue and the Rudolf Steiner House Library for letting a friend of mine copy the relevant pages.