January 20, 2016
It seems an age ago that we started this Wednesday series on some of London’s ‘battlefields’ (we’ve used quotes given many of the battlefields we’ve covered haven’t featured what we might think of as having hosted battles in the traditional sense).
But we’ve finally come to an end, so before we launch a new series next week, here’s a recap of what the series entailed and please vote for your favourite below…
November 4, 2015
OK, so not really a battle although it must have felt something like that to those involved (and the ‘battlefield’ turned out to be much of the City itself), the uprising known as Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 saw two great armies march upon London – one from Kent led by Wat Tyler and another from Essex which is said to have been under the command of Jack Straw.
The armies had risen in response to a series of events which they saw as unjust and which trace their origins back to the Black Death. Killing about a third of the population when it struck some 30 years earlier, this had resulted in a growing demand for labourers to work the fields raising, as one might expect, hopes of increased wages and greater freedom of movement among the peasant class.
But to ensure the social order was maintained, authorities had not only put limits on how much farm workers could be paid but ensured long-standing but increasingly unpopular practices – such as serfs being forced to work some time for free for their landlords – were maintained. On top of this came the imposition and enforcement of a series of poll taxes to fund England’s wars with France.
The poll taxes – and the harsh way in which they were enforced – were a step too far and when a tax collector visited the village of Fobbing in Essex in May, 1381, he was shown short shrift and thrown out. The unrest soon spread and by June, the rebels, having rampaged through the countryside were marching on London.
By 12th June, the men from Essex were camped at Mile End while Tyler and his army from Kent were at Blackheath. The next day, after being denied a meeting with the king, the rebels headed into the City where sympathetic Londoners opened the gates. Once inside, they targeted the property of those they deemed responsible for their misfortune, opening prisons and destroying any legal records they could find.
Foremost among the sites attacked and looted was the Palace of Savoy (see our earlier post here), home of the King’s uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and, as the power behind the throne, the man many deemed as the ultimate source of the ills besetting them (John himself had a lucky escape – he was away from the city when the palace was attacked.).
King Richard met with the leaders of the men from Essex on 14th June at their camp at Mile End and, after they pledged their allegiance, agreed to their petitions to abolish serfdom and allow them to sell their labour. But the attacks, meanwhile, were continuing in the City with a group of rebels led by Tyler storming the Tower of London (pictured above) the same day and seizing and beheading the Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, along with the Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer and Prior of St John’s in Clerkenwell – both key figures in the government of the king (you can read more about Simon of Sudbury here).
The following day – 15th June – King Richard again met with the rebel leaders – this time with Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish band, at Smithfield. It was then that things went awry for the rebels. Apparently enraged by Tyler’s insolence (already stories differ as to exactly why he did so), the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth (see our earlier post here), stabbed Tyler in the neck. King Richard managed to keep the situation under control until armed troops arrived and after the king declared a general pardon, the rebels dispersed.
Tyler, meanwhile, was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital but on the orders of the Lord Mayor was dragged from his bed and beheaded (his head was displayed atop a pole positioned in a field). He was among dozens of the rebels who were subsequently executed for their role in the uprising (leaders Jack Straw and another, John Ball, were among them).
July 3, 2015
We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.
Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.
Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.
Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.
The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.
The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).
In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).
It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.
Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.
The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!
WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.
November 9, 2012
This spectacular 14th century moated castle in East Sussex looks every bit the medieval fortress it was built to be. Yet at the same time, Bodiam was built as a residence with the comfort of its residents in mind.
The building of the castle took place in the latter part of the 14th century when in 1385 Sir Edward Dalyngrigge – an influential knight of Sussex – decided to put to use some of the booty he had amassed fighting in France and build the castle on an elevated position overlooking the River Rother – ostensibly to help repel any French who dared to invade (a very real threat – it was only eight years before that Rye had been burned to the ground, see our earlier entry here) – but no doubt also to enhance his own status.
Having obtained royal permission to “crenellate”, Sir Edward, who had obtained the Manor of Bodiam through his wife, set about the construction of the castle which featured rather simple defences including a moat and single perimeter wall studded with four corner round towers and a massive gatehouse (which still contains an original wooden portcullis).
The castle remained in the family until the Wars of the Roses when Sir Thomas Lewknor surrendered the castle to Yorkist forces having himself being attainted for treason by King Richard III for his support of the Lancastrian cause.
But the castle returned to the family after the accession of King Henry VII, eventually passing into the hands of the Earls of Thanet before, in 1644, it was sold to one Nathaniel Powell, a supporter of the Parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, so the then owner – Sir John Tufton, the second earl and a Royalist – could pay fines levied upon him by Parliament.
It is believed that it was after this that the castle was substantially dismantled and by the mid-eighteenth century it was depicted as an ivy-clad ruin.
It then passed through numerous private hands before undergoing some restoration in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was eventually purchased by Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, in 1916. He oversaw extensive restoration work before, on his death in 1925, the property passed into the care of the National Trust. They have since continued the work.
The castle these days is a shell of its former self, but with the outer walls and towers largely intact, is one of the most picturesque in the south of England. And there’s enough of the interior layout remaining to give a good sense of how it once operated as a house and fortress.
There’s also a tea-room and gift shop on site and the Trust regularly hold events there including this and next weekend’s hawking events and the upcoming ‘medieval Christmas’.
Bodiam Castle can be a little hard to reach without a car although you can a train to a nearby station and catch a taxi from there. You can also take a steam train from Tenterden to Bodiam but this only runs on limited days (see the Kent and East Sussex Railway website – www.kesr.org.uk – for more).
October 10, 2012
Now the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe, the connections between the site of Smithfield Market, officially known as the London Central Markets, and livestock go back to at least 800 years.
Since the 12th century animals were routinely traded here thanks to the site’s position on what was then the northern edge of the city. Smithfield was also known for being an area for jousting and tournaments and was the location of the (in)famous St Barthlomew Fair (this closed in 1855) as well as an execution ground – among those executed here were Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, and ‘Braveheart’, Sir William Wallace (1305).
Skip ahead several hundred years and, by the the mid-1800s, traffic congestion led to the livestock trade being relocated to a new site north of Islington. Plans were soon launched to locate a cut meat market on the Smithfield site.
Following the passing of an Act of Parliament, work on the new market began in 1866 with Sir Horace Jones (he of Tower Bridge fame), the City Architect, overseeing the design. Constructed of ornamental cast iron, stone, Welsh slate and glass, the initial market buildings were completed in 1868 with the result being two vast buildings, separated by a grand central avenue, but linked under a single roof. The new market was opened amid much pomp by the Lord Mayor of London on 24th November, 1868.
Four further buildings were soon added – only one, the Poultry Market, which opened in 1875, is still in use – and in the 1870s the market began to see the arrival of frozen meat imported from as far afield as Australia and South America.
Closed briefly during World War II – when the site was used for storage and an army butcher’s school – it reopened afterwards. The main poultry building was destroyed in a fire in 1958 and a replacement featuring a domed roof – the largest clear spanning dome roof in Europe at the time – was completed by 1963.
More recently, the market underwent a major upgrade in the 1990s. Queen Elizabeth II opened the refurbished East Market Building in June, 1997.
WHERE: London Central Markets, Charterhouse Street and West Smithfield (nearest Tube Stations are Barbican, St Paul’s and Moorgate); WHEN: From 3am Monday to Friday (visitors are told to arrive by 7am to see the market in full swing) (There are walking tours available – see www.cityoflondontouristguides.com for details); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.smithfieldmarket.com.
PICTURE: Rossella De Berti/www.istockphoto.com
July 6, 2012
At one time the grandest of medieval townhouses in London, the history of the Savoy Palace, also known as the Palace of the Savoy, goes back to at least the 13th century.
A mansion was built here by Simon de Montfort, the ill-fated Earl of Leicester, in 1245. Following his death, it and the land between the Strand and the Thames were gifted by King Henry III to Peter, Count of Savoy, and it was renamed the Savoy Palace (apparently originally spelt Savoie).
The uncle of the king’s young wife Eleanor of Provence, Peter had accompanied his niece to London for her wedding to the king at Canterbury Cathedral on 14th January, 1236, and decided to stay. In 1241, the king named him the Earl of Richmond and in 1246 granted him the land upon which the property was built.
After being briefly given to a religious order, Queen Eleanor gifted the property to Prince Edmund (“Edmund Crouchback” – a term referring to his entitlement to wear a crusader’s cross, not a hunchback), the 1st Earl of Lancaster and younger brother to King Edward I.
It was subsequently occupied by Edmund’s successor earls and, later, dukes. Among the ‘guests’ to visit the palace during the 14th century were the French King Jean (John) II, held there for three years following his capture by the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers during the Hundred Years War in 1356.
Interestingly, as the property of the Dukes of Lancaster, the precinct around the palace was considered part of County Palatine of Lancaster (created in 1351), meaning that the rule of the dukes was applied here instead of that of the king – a situation which remained in place until the 1800s.
The palace eventually became the property of John of Gaunt, the 2nd Duke of Lancaster and third son of King Edward III. The richest and most powerful man in the kingdom (he was all but king in name during the younger years of King Richard II in whose name he ruled), Gaunt’s home was said to be sumptuous.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that it become a focus of the rebels during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 (it had been attacked unsuccessfully a few years earlier). They attacked and destroyed the property, razing it to the ground. (The story includes the tale that 32 men drank themselves to death after becoming trapped in the cellar while the palace burned).
The site, however, continued to be referred to as that of the Savoy and in the early sixteenth century King Henry VII, by order of his will, financed the founding of the Savoy Hospital on the site for the poor people (the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy is a relic of this building – see our earlier post here). The hospital closed in 1702 and was later demolished (we’ll deal with this in more detail in a later Lost London post).
The site, which stands on the north side of the Thames just west of Waterloo Bridge, is now occupied by the salubrious Savoy Hotel (the entrance of which is pictured above) and the Savoy Theatre, which, like the hotel, was founded by impressario Richard d’Oyly in the 1880s (the theatre was the first building in the country to be entirely lit by electric lighting).
The name of the Savoy Palace is also remembered in street names around the site including Savoy Street, Savoy Hill, Savoy Steps, Savoy Way and Savoy Place.
October 17, 2011
Recently making news headlines thanks to the work of Adrienne Barker of the University of Dundee in reconstructing his face, Simon of Sudbury wasn’t born in London and, in fact, spent much of his early life elsewhere. But, as Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, he was a key figure in the 14th century city and it was in London that he eventually met his grisly death during the Peasant’s Revolt.
Simon Theobold was born around 1316 – the son of a wealthy Norfolk merchant – and, while details of his early life are scant, it has been suggested he studied at Cambridge before eventually entering the service of William Bateman, the Bishop of Norwich. He apparently became caught in the middle of a dispute between the bishop and the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds (the details of which we don’t have time to get into here) and it was this which is said to have led to the issuing of a royal order for his arrest, a move which forced him to flee England for the papal court at Avignon.
He quickly came to the attention of the popes and took on an official role, the reward for which was the income from various positions in the English church including Chancellor of Salisbury. In 1356, Pope Innocent VI sent him on a peace mission to King Edward III and it was during this mission that he came to the attention of the king. Having never been formally outlawed, he was apparently forgiven his earlier crimes and was soon acting on behalf of the king including at the Papal court.
In 1361, Simon was made Bishop of London and spent the next 10 years in the role, as well as continuing to act for the king, notably as a diplomat.
In 1375 following the death of incumbent William Whittelsey, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was somewhat troubled – as well as facing accusations of being too close to the king, he also faced criticism over his treatment of Bible translator John Wycliffe – but it was his role in secular politics which led to his demise.
Following the accession of King Richard II in 1377, in 1380 Simon was appointed chancellor, a position which meant he bore the ultimate responsibility for the imposition of an extremely unpopular new poll tax. In 1381, there were calls for his death at the outbreak of rebellion in Kent, notably when the rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral. But as the crisis now known as the Peasant’s Revolt gained momentum, Sudbury remained with the king in the Tower of London where he apparently counselled a hard line.
King Richard II when to parley with the traitors at Mile End on 14th June and there apparently indicated that action would be taken against traitors around him (Wat Tyler was killed when the king again met the rebels, this time at Smithfield, the following day). A group of rebels subsequently stormed the tower and dragged out Sudbury and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Taken to Tower Hill, they were there beheaded. Sudbury’s head, which apparently had a skullcap nailed to his skull, was impaled on a lance and put on display over London Bridge. His body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
The skull, meanwhile, was apparently taken down by a Sudbury man and taken back to his home town where it was kept at St Gregory’s Church. Some 630 years later, following an approach by Sudbury locals, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee was asked to recontruct Simon’s head.
Following some CT scans of the skull, Barker – who carried out the work as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson – used state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The models, one of which will be on permanent display at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury alongside Simon’s skull, were unveiled in September.
PICTURE: University of Dundee
October 10, 2011
Now one of the major thoroughfares of the West End, the origins of the roadway known as the Strand go back to the Roman times leading west out of the city.
Later part of Saxon Lundenwic which occupied what is now the West End, it ran right along the northern shore of the Thames and so became known as the Strand (the word comes from the Saxon word for the foreshore of a river). During the following centuries the river was pushed back as buildings were constructed between the road and the river, leaving it now, excuse the pun, ‘stranded’ some distance from where the Thames flows.
Sitting on the route between the City of London and Westminster, seat of the government, the street proved a popular with the wealthy and influential and during the Middle Ages, a succession of grand homes or palaces was built along its length, in particular along the southern side.
All are now gone but for Somerset House – originally the home of the Dukes of Somerset, it was built in the 16th century but rebuilt in the 18th century after which it served a variety of roles including housing the Navy Office, before taking on its current role as an arts centre. Others now recalled in the names of streets coming off the Strand include the Savoy Palace, former residence of John of Gaunt which was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt, and York House, once home of the Bishops of Norwich and later that of George Villiers, favorite of King James I (see our earlier Lost London entry on York Watergate for more).
After the aristocracy decamped further west during the 17th and 18th centuries, the road and surrounding area fell into decline but was resurrected with a concerted building effort in the early 19th century (this included the creation of the Victoria Embankment which pushed the Thames even further away) which saw it become a favorite of the those who patronised the arts, including the opening of numerous theatres. Among those which still stand on the Strand today are the Adelphi and Savoy Theatres (this was apparently the first in London to be fitted with electric lights and sits on a site once occupied by the Savoy Palace).
Among the other landmarks along the Strand are the churches of St Mary-le-Strand (the present building which sits on what amounts to a traffic island) dates from 1717 and was designed by James Gibbs, and St Clement Danes, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682 (it is now the Central Church of the Royal Air Force). The Strand is also home to the Victorian-era Royal Courts of Justice (it boasts more than 1,000 rooms), Australia House (home of the oldest Australian diplomatic mission), the Strand Palace Hotel (opened in 1907) and Charing Cross Railway Station.
August 15, 2011
Twice Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth is best remembered as the man who killed the leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, Wat Tyler.
Believed to have been born in the first half of the 14th century to a couple in Durham, Walworth at some point moved to London where he was apprenticed to the leading fishmonger John Lovekyn (he was also one of London’s biggest exporters of wool).
In 1368, following Lovekyn’s death, Walworth replaced Lovekyn as the alderman of Bridge Ward. Two years later, in 1370, he was elected sheriff and the following year he became an MP (by this stage, he was also already a major lender of money to the crown). Walworth was first elected as mayor in 1374, elected again as an MP in 1377, and again as mayor in 1380.
It was on 13th June, 1381, Walworth, still London’s mayor, led the defence of London Bridge against Wat Tyler and the rebels. He was later with the king, Richard II, when he subsequently met with Tyler and others at Smithfield. During that encounter Walworth stabbed Tyler and killed him, either outright or as a result his wounds. The reason for the killing remains unclear.
Walworth was knighted on the field for his efforts in defending the king during the rebellion and was later involved in restoring the peace in London and in the counties of Kent and Middlesex.
Sir William did marry but he and his wife Margaret, who died in 1394, had no children. Following his death in 1386 at his house in Thames Street (later the Fishmonger’s Hall), he was buried at the church of St Michael, Crooked Lane, to which he had already made some substantial donations.
He subsequently became a hero in popular story-telling and in 1592 was included in Richard Johnson’s book Nine Worthies of London. A wooden statue of him was placed at the Fishmonger’s Hall in 1685. There is a much later statue of Sir William on the Holborn Viaduct (pictured).
April 13, 2011
When King James I came south to take up the throne England, he is known to have brought that peculiarly Scottish game of golf with him and it is believed that it was at Blackheath, above the then Royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, that his courtiers first played the game.
According to the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, now located some way to the south of Blackheath in Eltham (the club moved there is 1923), documentary evidence shows the earliest players included James I’s son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, who is known to have gone golfing in 1606. The club itself notes that while it is generally accepted it was established in 1608, no documentary evidence to support this has yet been unearthed (records prior to 1787 are missing).
The first course at Blackheath – which has played a significant role in several events including as a rallying point during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 – apparently consisted of five holes, each of which was played three times.