If you wander down a City street, you might spy a grand statue and a modern maypole, next to a giant cheese grater.
The Cheesegrater is the unofficial nickname given to 122 Leadenhall Street, and the statue of Navigation is part of a building that used to stand nearby, while the maypole is modern.
The statue came from the old Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) group, and while the Cheesegrater sits on the site of the old P&O headquarters, the statue comes from another building nearby occupied by a subsidiary, P&O Banking.
When the Cheesegrater was completed, it was felt appropriate to put the P&O statue of Navigation on the site. Unsurprisingly for a nautical firm, the statue is filled with nautical themes, from the steering wheel and ropes to the protectively clutched ship in the other arm.
What sits next to it is very odd though – a brightly coloured maypole.
Although it’s a modern replica, the origins are even older than the statue. Up to the 16th century, there used to be a famous maypole put up on feast days on the corner of St Mary Axe, the road the skyscraper is next to. The custom continued each spring until the May-Day riots of 1517, but the maypole itself survived until 1547 when, it’s said that motivated by a fierce sermon at a nearby church, the shop owners took down the maypole from above their shops, chopped it up and burnt it.
So tall was the shaft that it was higher than the local church, giving it its nickname of St Andrew Undershaft. When not in use, the maypole was stored horizontally above shops in a nearby alley, the aptly named Shaft’s Court, which still exists, although no longer accessible to the public.
Look to your right, and there it is, behind a glass wall, the boundary between the Cheesegrater and the next building – that’s where the alley is, and where this once famous maypole would have been stored when not needed for revelry.