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The devil on Cornhill that looks down upon the entrance to the church of St Peter.


By Richard Jones

One of the problems that we in London face - is that we are often in such a hurry to get from A to B then C to D, or some other combination of place to place, that we simply don't have the time, nor the inclination, to look up.

What a pity that is.

You see, many of London's secret treasures are located way above the streets on the upper levels, or even the rooftops, of the City's buildings.

However, there may be some of these hidden aspects of the London that you might not want to see.


Take, for example, the ferocious devils that perch menacingly atop the Victorian building that stands next door to the church of St Peter Upon Cornhill.

It has to be said that many of those who pass along Cornhill fail to notice the demonic figures looking down on them from their rooftop perch.

But, some folk, as they pass the building at numbers 54 - 55 Cornhill, might feel a sudden shudder race down their spines, as they get an awful feeling that they are under surveillance from some unseen entity.

Looking up, they will lock eyes with a hideous demonic figure, balanced precariously on a ledge above them, looking every bit as though he is about to leap down from his perch and inflict devilish mayhem on passersby below.

The uppermost devil on Cornhill that squats atop the upper gable.


No sooner have their sensibilities recovered from the shock of this first satanic figure than their gaze fixes upon a second one that sports an expression that is nothing short of twisted malevolence, and which appears to be howling a hellish curse of indignation down upon the church below.

And, since this one appears to be howling down on the entrance to St Peter's church - which tradition maintains is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in London - you can't help but wonder how he came to be there, since devils and churches might seem like odd bedfellows.

The devil that overlooks the church entrance to St Peter..


Ferreting out the reason as to how the church came to acquire such prominent demonic neighbours is a tricky business.

Pevsner's Architectural Guide to the City of London gives the devilish trio short shrift, stating simply:-

"No's 54 - 55 by Runtz, 1893, red Doulton terracotta in an asymmetrical Loire Château style more familiar in Mayfair. Angle turret, mullioned and transomed windows, gable with squatting demon."

Not particularly enlightening as to the reason for the presence of the devils, and, only making mention of the one figure, when, in fact, there are three.

Indeed, the two already mentioned are easy to spot, the third is in fact, much smaller - a sort of mini-devil - and is overshadowed by the larger middle demon.

However, if you look a little closer - or zoom in with your digital or phone camera - I think you'll agree that this is the scariest of the three.

The miniature devil.


But their satanic majesties are not simply confined to the rooftop of the building.

Indeed, look closely at the decorative twirls and swirls that grace the first floor exterior of the building and you'll notice two more demons hidden amongst them.

Apparently, 54 - 54 is plagued by a veritable infestation of pesky demons!

One of the carved devils.


In truth, nobody knows for certain exactly how the three devils came to take up residence on the upper levels of 54 - 55, Cornhill.

But, that hasn't prevented a rather colourful legend from forming around their origins.

The story goes that, the architect responsible for what is a truly delightful building, Ernest Augustus Runtz (1859 - 1913), inadvertently allowed his design to cause the finished structure to encroach a little onto the land of the adjoining church of St Peter-upon-Cornhill.

When he saw this, the then vicar of the church was somewhat perturbed by the loss of land; and he created such a furor over the unauthorised land grab that Runtz was forced to go back to the drawing board and redesign his plans.

Needless to say, he wasn't best pleased by this inconvenience, for which he whole-heartedly blamed the vicar.

Relations between the two men grew strained and, when 54 - 55 Cornhill was finally completed, Runtz decided to lob a parting shot in the general direction of the troublesome vicar, and he commissioned the demonic stone effigies to surmount his building to commemorate their disagreement.

As parting shots go, I think you'll agree it was a pretty effective volley.

The devil that overlooks the church door..


Tradition also maintains that Runtz even went so far as to model the facial features of the most evil looking of the trio on the face of his arch enemy, the vicar of St Peter's church.

Whether the story is true, or not, it is a good yarn, and the presence of the rooftop devils certainly lends this end of Cornhill an aura of mystery and foreboding that is strangely at odds with the little church upon which the demons spit their eternal curses.