A block of 1930s council flats on the Isle of Dogs have a couple of tall posts with a decorative finial — but what are they?
The finial at the top was easy to work out – as the block of flats on Janet Street is St Hubert’s House, after the saint, and the stag is one of his familiar images.
The story goes that Mr Hubertus as he was then turned to hunting in the woods following the death of his wife, and as hhe was pursuing a magnificent stag, the animal turned and, as the legend claims, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix standing between its antlers.
If that wasn’t enough he then heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell”.
He promptly dropped hunting and started preaching, eventually died and was turned into a saint. Saint Hubert is now the patron of archers; dogs; forest workers; trappers; hunting; huntsmen; mathematicians; metal workers; and smelters.
But back to the block of flats. These were built in the 1930s to provide affordable homes for people working in the docks. It is probably the saint’s association with metal workers that saw his name stuck on a block of flats in Docklands thanks to the ship building works in the area.
And thus his sign stuck on two poles outside each block of the flats.
The pole is not just decorative. Well, it is today, but it wasn’t when built. This is a drying pole.
If you look you can see odd hooks and wheels around the pole — and washing lines would be attached to these, and used to hang clothes to dry. In the days before central heating and tumble dryers, it would have been common place to see strings coming from the balconies and looping over the wheels. That way women could hang over clothes high up in the air to dry, and pull them back indoors via the pulley.
Today, clothes are still hung outdoors, on the balconies and the drying post is now a strange curiosity in the middle of the courtyard.
These finials, as with others of their type, were designed by the sculptor Gilbert Bayes, who worked with Royal Doulton and are called the The Deer of Millwall although he is much more famous for the bronze Queen of Time that holds up the clock outside the front of Selfridges department store.
So hidden in plain sight, is a relic of a faded memory of domestic life.
That’s not the end though, as it turns out that these drying posts and their decorative finials were commonplace, and just behind St Pancras a veritable forest of them exists, but sadly the finials are sometimes stolen and sold as artworks with no mention of their original function.
You can find a few of them though in the basement of the British Library, near the toilets.