The Cornhill Devils

Here at the Jack the Ripper tour, we like to think that we help people o see aspects of London that they might otherwise miss.

With the murder sites having now changed beyond recognition, it is easy to visit them and not be able to picture what it was like at the times of the crimes, or to spot which buildings in the immediate vicinity have survived from 1888.

Take, Buck’s Row, the scene of the murder of Mary Nichols, for example.

Although it has been completely transformed, one building still survives – the old Board School that still looks down on the scene of the crime, just as it did back in 1888.

But, there are many other parts of London that possess curiosities that are well worth discovering.

Take the Cornhill Devils, for example.


As you make your way along Cornhill, which is a London thoroughfare that leads to Leadenhall Street, at the end of which the intrepid wayfarer passes the Aldgate Pump and heads into the East End of London, you will pass one of the City’s curiosities.

Indeed, the majority of people who walk or drive along Cornhill do, indeed, pass this delightful (or sinister) curiosity, because it is is high above then.

And, if I’m to be brutally honest, it is not just one curiosity, but three!

I am talking of the Cornhill devils, and you will find them on the building at number 54 – 55 Cornhill.

The question is, will you find them?


Our problem today is that we are often in too much of a hurry to take the time to actually take in our surroundings.

And, in consequence, we miss so much.

Many of London’s curiosities and treasures are not at eye level, but are on the upper sections of buildings or even on rooftops.

So, if we don’t look up, then we are condemned to miss them.

Such a great pity.


But if you study the façade of the delightful building, which stands necks to the church of St Peter-Upon-Cornhill, you will spot a large devil squatting on a perch on the centre gable.

Look closer, and you will see a smaller devil directly beneath him.

Look slightly to the left, on the corner adjoining the church, and you will see a third grotesque that appears to be howling a curse down upon the church’s main door.

These are the Cornhill 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 this 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.

When he saw this, the then vicar was somewhat perturbed by the loss of land; and he made such a fuss over the unauthorized land grab that Runtz was forced to go back to the drawing board and redo his plans.

Needless to say, he wasn’t best pleased by this inconvenience, for which he whole-heartedly blamed what he saw as the vicar’s unjust and unreasonable behaviour.


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 clergyman, and he commissioned the demonic stone effigies to commemorate their disagreement. As parting shots go, I think you’ll agree it was a pretty effective volley.

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. Personally,


I’ve never been able to decide which of the three is the most evil-looking – as they all look pretty malevolent to me, so I’m afraid I am unable to offer any guidance as to which one was modelled on the vicar.

Perhaps you have an opinion dear reader?


Whether the story is true, or not, it’s a good yarn, and the presence of the rooftop devils certainly lends an aura of mystery and foreboding to the surroundings. So, should you ever find yourself wandering along Cornhill, be sure to look up as you approach the church of St Peter, and take a few moments to admire the architect’s revenge on a long ago vicar.