Opposite Southwark tube station is a tall pole, and on top of the pole is a dog and a bowl, and they are there in memory of Charles Dickens.
How so you might wonder?
It was erected by Southwark Council in 2013, to mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth in 1812, and marks the location of a shop that had a famous shop sign hanging outside, of a dog and a pot, which was a local landmark. Charles Dickens would often pass it in his early years as a journalist as it was on his route to and from work.
“My usual way home was over Blackfriars Bridge, and down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill’s chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other.”
Rowland Hill’s chapel was a large octagonal building on the north side of Union Street, which is where TfL’s offices in Palestra House now stands.
The sign of the dog and pot is thought to have originated as a 16th-century pub sign that was appropriated for the shop, as ironmongers make both “dogs” and pots. It’s a visual pun as the “dog” is the iron bars used to support pots over a fire. Hence, Dog and Pot. It was placed on the corner shop opposite the chapel around 1780 when the ironmongers moved there. The ironmongers passed down the family line until it was eventually acquired by the glassmakers, Edward and William Hayward in the 1850s, becoming Hayward Brothers. They also invented the first reliable way of embedding glass bricks into pavements for basement lights, and you can still occasionally find their iron-glass works in situ around London.
What you will see far more of — if you’re the sort of odd fellow who goes around photographing coal-hole covers in streets — are the Hayward Brothers sign all over the place. They were probably the most successful maker of coal-hole covers in London. Hayward Brothers eventually moved out of the corner shop to larger buildings in 1857, leaving behind the dog and pot, and it was taken up by the next occupants, J.W. Cunningham, also ironmongers as their trademark. They also got into making coal-hole covers but were rather less than successful, and their coal-hole covers are now highly coveted by spotters.
The dog and pot remained a local landmark until the shop, and the whole area was destroyed in WW2. The original sign was preserved though and remains in the Cuming Museum archive.
But back to the current dog and pot.
To mark Dickens’s bicentenary, Southwark Council decided to commission a replica of the original shop sign and mount it at about the same height as before on the corner of Union Street.
One of the local objections to the sculpture being installed was that it “is an ugly piece of work bordering on vulgar and would attract more dogs”. I have no idea how a metal dog on a pole five metres in the air will attract anything other than pigeons.
The sculpture is carved from elmwood was created by Mike Painter, and unveiled on 6th February 2013. Apart from a stone carving with Dickens words, there’s also a modern replica of the coal-hole covers that were decorated with the dog and pot logo from J.W. Cunningham & Co.
Because it’s so high up, it’s remarkably easy to walk past for years without ever noticing it is there, so now you know about it, you can point it out to friends and look at the surprise on their faces when they see what you’re pointing at.