The Black Rat

Rats are not indigenous to the UK. The first rat, Rattus Rattus or the Black Rat or Ship Rat came from India and arrived with the Romans during their occupation of England (43-410ad) . Despite being called black, some were light or dark brown.

The rat was unjustly blamed for spreading the Bubonic Plague.

Rattus Norvegicus– the Brown Rat or Sewer Rat – arrived in the 1700s and this is the rat you’ll see these days.

Despite the Latin name, the Norwegian connection is uncertain and the Brown Rat is believed to have come from China.

They don’t make themselves evident in the City except on the site of St Gabriel Fenchurch off Fen Court where they may be seen quite often, day and night.

The Brown rat is in the same category the Grey Squirrel and Signal Crayfish: a successful invasive species which ousted its incumbent counterpart.

In the UK the Black Rat was last recorded in the Hebrides in 2018 but is now probably extinct in the wild in the UK, though small colonies may survive on some offshore islands and across the river in Southwark. It is still bred in captivity and sold as pets or used in laboratory experiments.


It amuses me that people will feed a squirrel but run away from a rat. They are very similar and both, of course, vermin. A squirrel is effectively a rat with a hairdresser and a PR agent.

City Churches

There fifty churches in the City. Of these seven are no longer functioning and are either in ruins or only the tower survives.

Here is the list, a * indicates an ‘extinct’ church.

All Hallows by the Tower
All Hallows on the Wall
*Christ Church Greyfriars
City Temple
Holy Sepulchre
*St Alban
St Andrew by the Wardrobe
St Andrew Holborn
St Andrew Undershaft
St Anne and St Agnes
*St Augustine
St Bartholomew the Great
St Bartholomew the less
St Benet Paul’s Wharf
St Botolph without Aldersgate
St Botolph without Aldgate
St Botolph without Bishopsgate
St Bride’s
St Clement Eastcheap
*St Dunstan in the East
St Dunstan in the West
St Edmund, King and Martyr
St Ethelburga
St Giles Cripplegate
St Helen’s Bishopsgate
St James Garlickhythe
St Katherine Cree
St Lawrence Jewry
St Magnus the Martyr
St Margaret Lothbury
St Margaret Pattens
St Martin without Ludgate
St Mary Abchurch
*St Mary Aldermanbury
St Mary Aldermary
St Mary at Hill
St Mary le Bow
St Mary Moorfields
*St Mary Somerset
St Mary Woolnorth
St Michael Cornhill
St Michael Paternoster Royal
St Nicholas Cole Abbey
St Olave Hart Street
*St Olave Old Jewry
St Paul’s Cathedral
St Peter Cornhill
St Stephen Walbrook
St Vedast Foster

50 churches in total, 43 extant, 7 in ruins or repurposed.

James Greathead


Born in South Africa, Greathead arrived in the UK in 1859 and studied under a noted engineer called Peter Barlow.

At this time, Marc Brunel had developed his Tunnelling Shield and used it to eventually dig the Wapping Tunnel.

Barlow created a smaller version of the shield which in turn was further adapted by Greathead to build the Tower Subway in 1870.

In 1886 a shield developed from this one was used to bore the City and South London railway (which become today’s Northern Line) and, in 1898, the Waterloo and City line – something Greathead never lived to see.

Sextant and Octant

Many of us have heard of a sextant – but maybe not an octant.

So called because it traverses an arc covering 60 degrees or one sixth of a circle.

It would be used on a ship to measure the elevation of celestial objects – sun, moon, planets or stars – and then by reference to tables, clock or calendar determine how far north or south the vessel was – to an accuracy of around a thousand feet.

The sextant was preceded by the octant which worked through an arc of 45 degrees or an eighth of a circle. As a navel cadet, engineer Marc Brunel made his own octant.

The sextant found favour in the late 1700s when new navigational techniques required a device which would compare the elevations of the sun and moon. The octants 45 degree ‘sweep’ was often insufficient as larger angle were needed.

Marc Isambard Brunel


Born in Normandy, Brunel trained as a carpenter in his youth and became a competent cabinet maker. He then joined the navy as a cadet and made his own octant.

This was the time of the French Revolution and in 1793 Brunel – a Royalist – made some unwise remarks about Robspierre, the revolutionary leader.

His life at risk he managed to flee to the USA where he worked as a civil engineer before coming to England where he invented several items of factory equipment. He invested heavily in machinery for making boots for the army but failed to gain the expected government contract. As a result his business was bankrupt and he was sent to a debtors’ prison.

He began correspondence with Alexander 1 – Tsar of Russia who was interested in discharging Brunel’s debts if he’d come to work in Russia.

Potential loss of one of the country’s talented engineer caused alarm. Several influential figures – including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. – petitioned successfully for a government grant to clear his debts and he was released from prison.

The Wapping Tunnel was the pinnacle of his career and, due to ill health, his last project.