My research led me to the British Museum in London to explore their holdings of satirical prints ala the mid-eighteenth century. Among the thousands of excellently stored and catalogued prints lay one particular visual depiction that has become central to my dissertation: “Bung Triumphant,” print number 3361 (image 4 of 4 shown at bottom). Chock full of symbolism, none more so than the architectural edifice itself, which stands at center stage.

Wrens arch victorian eraThe arch, however, once graced London’s Temple Bar on Fleet Street. It stood as one of the old gated entrances that led into the city, and was designed, constructed, and set into place after the devastating London fires of 1666. Seemingly, though, it just sort of disappeared: gone, vanished, poof – and with nary a trace. How does one misplace an arch? The Wren arch, as it was called in some circles (Christopher Wren designed it), was massive, but that was part of the problem. Wren’s triumphant arch took up too much space for the place where Fleet Street met the Strand. The nearby and constructed in 1870 London tube destination, “The Temple,” only added to the onslaught of humanity that attempted to navigate the area. The City of London decided to remove it and did so brick by brick – all 2,700 pieces of Portland stone – in 1878. The Temple Bar arch went into storage.

Photograph from 1878 just before the dismantling.

Photograph from 1878 just before the dismantling.

But the arch was purchased two years later, and by one of London’s most flamboyant socialites. So flamboyant, it is said that Lady Valerie Susan Meux, the wife of the 3rd Baronet, Henry Bruce Meux, enjoyed driving her high phaeton carriage throughout London and Hertfordshire drawn by two zebras. Lady Meux in expanding the grounds of their estate at Theobalds Park (now at the corner of the M25 and A10), convinced her husband (Meux money came from brewing beer) to purchase the stones and to have them reassembled as an entrance to their estate.

And there it stood for about a century. Over time it went forgotten, weathered and worn, quite incongruous in its setting. As Peter James Field wrote in his blog in 2012, the arch looked like “a windswept gateway to nothing, mouldering near the M25.” This photo of it from 1968 reinforces that observation. In 1984, the Meux Trust found a buyer

Photo taken in 1968 at Theobalds Park, Hertfordshire.

Photo taken in 1968 at Theobalds Park, Hertfordshire.

for the arch. It sold for 1-British pound to the Temple Bar Trust. In 2004, the Christopher Wren-designed arch reopened to the public next to another Christopher Wren creation, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

As an added twist, the Temple Bar arch was placed also at the southernmost entrance to Paternoster Square, where, a long time ago, in the mid-eighteenth century, so much calumny was levied at Admiral John Byng: including this print. (Paternoster Row was famous as a center of London’s printing trade). 

And here we have come full circle. The print, 3361, “Bung Triumphant,” was a biting nationalistic attack upon a wartime admiral. According to Thomas Wright, in his second edition printing of Caricature History of the Georges (1968), “the unfortunate Admiral is conducted in a sort of mock triumph through Temple Bar, on which the emblems of the traitor’s fate are fearfully conspicuous…” Allegedly, spiking body parts on a triumphal arch was to symbolize a traitor, and according to a few historians, may have been done in 1745 during the Jacobite Rebellion.

fb bung triumJohn Byng fell victim to an unprecedented press campaign. Never in the history of print journalism had there been such a character assassination. John Byng’s arrest, trial, and eventual execution (14 March 1757 – guilty of not doing his “utmost”) marked the arrival of the era of the newspaper. Of interest to the history of the arch, if you look closely, penciled into the underside of this architectural edifice is a date: June 26, 1756. This is the date the government newspaper, the London Gazette, printed an abridged copy of John Byng’s dispatch. That highly edited and manipulated letter, reprinted by the Gazette, made the admiral to appear a coward during the Battle of Minorca. Byng was the ministry’s fall guy, and this print is exhibit ‘A’ in the calumny that barraged Byng’s name.

Another twist: Theobalds Park is but a short eight mile drive to Wrotham Park in High Barnet. Wrotham Park is the estate and house that John Byng built, but never lived in. He was busy defending himself from his prison cell in Greenwich. Quite a story for an arch that went missing for nearly a century.