Near Covent Garden, a newish development of shops on Mercers Walk has recently added a cluster of tiny artworks that provide a bit of a treasure hunt to seek out.
They’re in walls and the floors, and are all related to a City of London livery company, the Mercers, who happen to own most of the land around this part of town.
Most of them are quite easy to spot, and others are in plain sight, but on several visits, I never saw anyone looking at them. They’re possibly a bit too small and easy to overlook. Which makes finding them a bit more fun. Especially the one’s that are harder to get to because there’s tables or plants in the way.
Or as I found on a return visit to photograph some I missed, because the area is being used for a delivery. All but one of the artworks is by Jill Watson.
There is a map – sort of.
These are relatively easy to spot as they are in the walls.
The murder of Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket appears here as he was born in the City of London in a house on a site now occupied by Mercers’ Hall. They bought the site from a monastery that owned it following the closures of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.
The sculpture shows the murder scene, with a priest holding a bible. If you get really close you’ll notice that one of the knights has his sword piercing the Archbishop.
Sir Thomas Gresham and the Royal Exchange
Sir Thomas was a merchant and member of the Mercers Company who founded the Royal Exchange and later the Gresham College offering free lectures to the public.
The brick here shows three Mercers, Sir Thomas next to the Royal Exchange, Richard Whittington with his cat, and John Colet, Founder of St Paul’s school.
The ceremonial barge
Until 1856, the annual Lord Mayor’s Show was held on the river, not in the streets, and many of the Livery companies owned their own grand barges for the occasion. In here is a model of the last ceremonial barge owned by the Mercers, which was commissioned in 1718.
The floor tiles
These can be difficult to spot, especially when half covered over by deliveries.
Sheep and lambs
I memory of England’s main export until the industrial revolution – wool. A golden sheep and two golden lambs in the floor, and not a golden fleece to be seen anywhere.
The Mulbury plant
Silk was the most valuable fabric traded by the Mercers’ so here are branches of the mulberry tree which the silkworms lived on.
The Mercer Maiden in the clouds
A collection of arms and crest was granted to the Mercers company, and on my visit, almost hidden under a delivery of Christmas decorations for the yard.
This is a large floral sculpture that winds its way up the wall of the building and is named after St Dorothy of Cesarea, patron saint of orchards, chosen as this is Covent Garden and there were orchards in the area.
A floral plaque next to it explains the history of why this land is now owned by the Mercers Company.
The Mercers’ Maiden
This is the one piece in the estate not by Jill Watson. The bust of a lady hangs above Stanfords, and is known as the Spirit of the Garden by Ian Rank-Broadley, and is also a Mercer’s Maiden, an anonymous lady whose bust appears on all buildings owned by the Mercers.
This is a rather more lifelike and modern interpretation of that old design.