06 August 2023

The journalists are gone,
but poets and writers
live on in Fleet Street in
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in the labyrinthine courts and confusing crooked alleyways off Fleet Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

‘Sir,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this great City, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts.’

Earlier this week, two of us found ourselves exploring and getting lost on the labyrinthine courts and confusing crooked alleyways along Fleet Street.

Johnson lived at 17 Gough Square, while Oliver Goldsmith lived nearby in Wine Office Court, which connects Shoe Lane and Fleet Street, and wrote part of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ in his lodgings at No 6.

Wine Office Court takes its name from the Excise Office that was there up to 1665, granting licences to sell wine. The alley is first documented in a map in 1676 by John Ogilby, the cartographer who owned a shop on this passage.

Today, at first, the alley appears largely unremarkable, apart from some of its past residents and – of course – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Charlotte introduced me to this celebrated pub at the south end of Wine Office Court, close to the Fleet Street entrance.

The valted cellars are thought to have been part of the Carmelite monastery on the site in the 13th century. There has been a pub at the site since 1538, previously named ‘The Horn.’ It was rebuilt immediately after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Several older pubs which have survived because they were beyond the reach of the fire, or like the Tipperary on the opposite side of Fleet Street because they were made of stone.

The valted cellars of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese are thought to date back to a 13th century Carmelite monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Tipperary on the south side of Fleet Street is now boarded up, dilapidated, and falling into decay. I knew it well when I frequently visited the London offices of The Irish Times in the PA Building on Fleet Street.

The newspapers and journalists have all left Fleet Street: the last journalists left seven years ago when the Sunday Post moved its editorial staff out. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese continues to thrive, however, and attracts interest because of its celebrated literary connections and because there is no natural lighting inside.

The entrance in the narrow alleyway is unassuming. Once inside, however, I realise how the pub occupies a lot of floor space and has numerous bars and gloomy rooms. Some of the interior wood panelling dates back to the 19th century, and charred beams left from the Great Fire are still visible in the basement.

As you step into Wine Office Court, a plaque on the ground beneath the arch is a reminder that Charles Dickens, pen-name ‘Boz’, operated out of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub while producing his journal All the Year Round.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a grade II listed building and is known for its literary associations, and it claims its regular patrons in the past have included Dr Johnson, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and GK Chesterton.

Voltaire visited, and, says tradition, so did Congreve and Pope. Samuel Johnson lived in Gough Square, at the end of the court on the left, and finished his Dictionary there in 1755. He saved Goldsmith from eviction by selling The Vicar of Wakefield for him.

There is no evidence that Samuel Johnson ever visited Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, although he it is said to have been frequented by Johnson’s friends, including Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Dr Burney, Boswell and others.

Visitors in the 19th century included Carlyle, Macaulay, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dickens – who mentions Wine Office Court in A Tale of Two Cities – Forster, Hood, Thackeray, Cruikshank, Leech and Wilkie Collins.

The Cheshire Cheese pub appears in Anthony Trollope’s novel Ralph the Heir, where one of the characters, Ontario Moggs, speaks ‘with vigour at the debating club at the Cheshire Cheese in support of unions and the rights of man …’

A reminder of Charles Dickens as you step into Wine Office Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

More recent visitors have included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Beerbohm, GK Chesterton, PG Wodehouse, Dowson, Le Galeiene, Symons, WB Yeats – and many others in search of Dr Johnson, or in search of ‘The Cheese.’

The Rhymers’ Club was a group of London-based poets, founded in 1890 by WB Yeats and Ernest Rhys, who met at the Cheshire Cheese and in the Domino Room of the CafĂ© Royal. Yeats refers to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in the opening lines of his poem ‘The Grey Rock’ (1914):

Poets with whom I learned my trade,
Companions of the Cheshire Cheese,
Here’s an old story I’ve re-made,
Imagining ’twould better please
Your ears than stories now in fashion,
Though you may think I waste my breath
Pretending that there can be passion
That has more life in it than death,
And though at bottling of your wine
Old wholesome Goban had no say;
The moral’s yours because it’s mine.

An arch leads from Fleet Street into Wine Office Court and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (70) 6 August 2023

The Transfiguration depicted in a window in Saint Thomas the Apostle Church in Heptonstall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and today is the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (6 August 2023), which may also be celebrated as the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection in these ways:

1, Looking at a images of the Transfiguration I have seen recently;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Reredos above the High Altar in Saint Andrew’s Church, Rugby, has a painting by Alec Millar (1909), based on Fra Angelico’s painting of the Transfiguration (1441) in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Images of the Transfiguration:

Today marks the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. Later this morning, I plan to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford. Later in the evening, I hope to attend the Hiroshima Anniversary Commemorations at the Japanese Peace Pagoda by Willen Lake in Milton Keynes.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in the attacks either immediately or from the consequential damage in the months and years that followed. Christian CND and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship are holding their annual online vigil this evening to remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with readings, prayers and music, and prayers for the victims and survivors of nuclear weapons and for a nuclear weapons-free future. Tjis vigil is at 8 pm (UK time), 9 pm (CET) 3 pm (EDT), online on Zoom. Registration is free at www.christiancnd.org.uk/events.

This morning I am looking again at some images of the Transfiguration I have seen in churches I have visited in recent months.

The Transfiguration is depicted in a window in Saint Thomas the Apostle Church in Heptonstall in Yorkshire. The newer church was built in 1850-1854 to replace the older mediaeval parish church dedicated to Saint Thomas a’ Becket.

The two churches stand side-by-side, and the stained glass windows in the Victorian church, including the Transfiguration window, include fine work from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Reredos behind the High Altar in Saint Andrew’s Church, Rugby, is a painting by Alec Millar (1909), based on Fra Angelico’s painting of the Transfiguration (1441). The original of this is in Saint Mark’s Monastery in Florence.

In Saint Andrew’s Church, Great Linford, the three-light East Window by John Oldrid Scott and Henry Victor Milner (1889) is inspired by the canticle Te Deum. The East Window and the Reredos were erected in memory of Mary Uthwatt of Great Linford, who died in 1885. But the reredos was moved in the 1970s to an unusual place on the north wall, above the entrance from the north porch. This triptych shows the Transfiguration in the centre, with Saint Andrew on the left, and Saint Philip on the right.

The icon of the Transfiguration is one of the five new icons recently installed in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral. The five icons are of: the Baptism of Christ; the Wedding at Cana; the Preaching of the Kingdom of God; the Transfiguration; and the Last Supper.

These five icons were used each week as a point of discussion during the Lenten discussions in Lichfield Cathedral earlier this year. These too will add to the cathedral’s role as a destination for pilgrims and for all who seek healing.

The Transfiguration reredos in Saint Andrew’s Church, Great Linford … moved in the 1970s to the north wall, above the entrance from the north porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 28-36 (NRSVA):

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Transfiguration … one of five new icons in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘A reflection on the Exodus narrative (Exodus 1-13).’ This theme is introduced today by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, who has been the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada since 2019. She writes:

The Hebrew people arrived in Egypt fleeing drought and famine in their own land. They came following Joseph whose leadership had wisely preserved food in anticipation of hard times (Genesis 41: 57). They settled in Egypt, initially in Goshen as shepherds and herders.

They grew to outnumber the Egyptians which raised fears for a new Pharaoh. Therefore, they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour” (Exodus 1: 7-11, paraphrased).

They continued to flourish so the oppressions increased. Moses is called by God to release the Israelites from their oppression (Exodus 5: 1), ‘Let my people go’. He begins by asking for permission for them to worship (Exodus 5: 1 ff). Instead, they are expected to work harder, longer with fewer resources – no straw provided for making bricks and no relief in expected production.

As the people cry for relief, God invites Moses to lead the people out of slavery into a promise of freedom and land. “Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 5: 7-9). Then begin the confrontations with Pharaoh to obtain the release of the people, culminating in the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites.

This great narrative is the foundational text of redemption for the Jewish people, recited at every Passover celebration. It also invites us to reflect on the dynamics of slavery, oppression, and power and God’s call to action.

The Archbishop’s reflection from Tanzania and full Bible study can be read here.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (6 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, you are a God who sets the captives free. Your Spirit searches restlessly for those in despair, that they may find the life you are calling them to. We pray for those who are being trafficked and callously put to work in our region. May we who are blinded by the shallow distractions of daily life, feel the fear of the cornered and be roused to action. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Clewer Initiative).

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured
before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain,
and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem:
give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross
that in the world to come we may see him as he is;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

An icon of the Transfiguration in the church in Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Monastery of the Transfiguration or Great Meteoron in Meteora, northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)