London Explained – Livery companies…

The City of London is dotted with halls for the city’s livery companies. But ever wondered what they are?

There are 110 livery companies in the City, representing ancient and more modern trade associations and guilds, including everything from grocers to saddlers, ironmongers to musicians. The newest livery company is the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars which was created in 2014.

Members of livery companies taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show. PICTURE: David Adams

Many of today’s livery companies have their origins in the city’s medieval guilds which were responsible for such things as regulating wages and conditions and setting industry standards (while many of these responsibilities have since passed to other bodies, some – such as the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths – still play important roles in quality control).

These days the companies are also known for their support of the industries they represent and their philanthropic work.

Livery companies – many of which also traditionally had religious links – built halls as central meeting places – about 40 companies today still own or have a share in a hall.

Members of the livery companies (known as liverymen after the distinctive clothing or uniform they wore) – who are awarded the Freedom of the City of London – have the right to vote for senior offices in the City such as the Lord Mayor of London and sheriffs.

The livery companies of the City of London are listed in an “order of precedence” which was settled in 1515 for the 48 then in existence based on their political and economic power (the Worshipful Company of Mercers comes in at number one). All the companies created since then are ranked according to their date of creation.

Hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers. PICTURE: David Adams

The 12 highest ranked companies are known as the Twelve Great City Livery Companies. Among them in the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors which disputes its position at number seven and so once a year at Easter swaps places with the Worshipful Company of Skinners at number six.

The oldest livery company is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers while the oldest livery company hall is that of the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries.

Treasures of London – Prior Bolton’s oriel window…

Prior Bolton’s oriel window (left) seen in the church. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This 500-year-old window is located inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great.

It was constructed on the orders of William Bolton who became prior of St Barts in 1505. Bolton, who was employed by both King Henry VII and King Henry VIII on various building projects including at Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, also brought his love of construction to his role as prior and ordered the construction of a new lodging for himself to be built at the church’s eastern end.

A wooden gallery led from the first floor of the new lodging to the gallery of the church quire, where he had a private chapel. The oriel window, located in the chapel, gave a view of the quire, the high altar and the tomb of Rahere – the founder of the priory, located on the other side of the church (the window also enabled the prior to keep an eye on the monks!).

Bolton had his name recorded on the window in the form of a pictorial pun which shows a barrel or ‘tun’ pieced by a crossbow bolt (ie bolt-tun).

Bolton also had a door put through from the church to his new lodgings – it too can still be seen in the church.

WHERE: Off Little Britain, West Smithfield (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 1pm to 5pm Sunday (plus services) ; COST: Free (but donations welcomed); WEBSITE: www.greatstbarts.com

A Moment in London’s History – The Great Fire of Southwark…

Think of fire in relation to London and the events of 1666 no doubt spring to mind. But London has had several other large fires in its history (with a much higher loss of life), including during the reign of King John in July, 1212.

The fire started in Southwark around 10th July and the blaze destroyed most of the buildings lining Borough High Street along with the church of St Mary Overie (also known as Our Lady of the Canons and now the site of Southwark Cathedral) before reaching London Bridge.

PICTURE: Guido Jansen/Unsplash

The wind carried embers across the river and ignited buildings on the northern end before the fire spread into the City of London itself (building on the bridge had been authorised by King John so the rents could be used to help pay for the bridge’s maintenance).

Many people died on the bridge after they – and those making their way south across the bridge to aid people in Southwark (or perhaps just to gawk) – were caught between the fires at either end, with some having apparently drowned after jumping off the bridge into the Thames (indeed, it’s said that some of the crews of boats sent to rescue them ended up drowning themselves after the vessels were overwhelmed).

Antiquarian John Stow, writing in the early 17th century, stated that more than 3,000 people died in the fire – leading some later writers to describe the disaster as “arguably the greatest tragedy London has ever seen”.

But many believe this figure is far too high for a population then estimated at some 50,000. The oldest surviving account of the fire – Liber de Antiquis Legibus (“Book of Ancient Laws”) which was written in 1274 and mentions the burning of St Mary Overie and the bridge, as well as the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket built upon it – doesn’t mention a death toll.

London Bridge itself survived the fire thanks to its recent stone construction but for some years afterward it was only partly usable. King John then raised additional taxes to help rebuild destroyed structures while the City’s first mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwyn, subsequently apparently joined with other officials in creating some regulations surrounding construction with fire safety in mind.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

What’s in a name?…St Swithin’s Lane…

Looking south down St Swithin’s Lane near the intersection with Cannon Street. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps.

This narrow City of London pedestrian laneway, which runs south from King William Street to Cannon Street, bears the name of the Church of St Swithin London Stone.

The medieval church, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Great Fire of London only be badly damaged in the Blitz and finally demolished in 1962, was located on the corner of the laneway’s intersection with Cannon Street.

St Swithin (also known as St Swithun) was a ninth century Bishop of Winchester while the other part of the church’s moniker – London Stone – comes from the fact the ancient stone was formerly located opposite the church.

The church was the resting place of Catrin Glyndŵr, wife of the rebel Edmund Mortimer and daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr, who, after being held in the Tower of London, died in mysterious circumstances (there’s a memorial to her in a garden on the former site of the church).

Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King Edward IV…

It’s 560 years ago this month that the Yorkist King Edward IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is king-edward-iv.jpg
King Edward IV by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1540 (NPG 3542). PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Only three months earlier, on 4th March, 1461, the 19-year-old Edward had been declared King at Westminster in London. He had then gone on to defeat the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Towton in North Yorkshire during a snowstorm on 29th March, said to have been the bloodiest single day battle ever fought on English soil with an estimated 28,000 men dying.

While his coronation was first set for July, ongoing trouble from the Lancastrians saw him bring the date forward (his predecessor, Henry VI, was in exile at the time).

Edward arrived at the Tower of London on Friday, 26th June, and then retired to Lambeth for the night. The following day – Saturday, 27th June – he crossed London Bridge and made his state entrance into the City.

Accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and some 400 of the elite citizens of the City, Edward, said to be an impressive figure at six foot, four inches tall, then processed through the City streets to the Tower of London.

Once at the Tower, he created some 28 new Knights of the Bath, including his younger brothers George and Richard. They then rode ahead of him as he rode through the streets to Westminster.

The following morning, Sunday, 28th June, Edward went to Westminster Abbey where he was crowned King. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presided over the ceremony, assisted by William Booth, the Archbishop of York.

After the coronation, a banquet was held in Westminster Hall with the King sitting under a cloth of gold. One of the highlights was apparently the moment when Sir Thomas Dymoke, the King’s champion, rode into the hall in full armour. Flinging down his mail gauntlet, he is said to have challenged anyone who disputed Edward’s right to be king to do battle with him. No-one took up the offer.

A further banquet was held the following day at the Bishop of London’s Palace – in honour of his brother George who was created Duke of Clarence, and on the Tuesday, King Edward, wearing his crown, attended St Paul’s Cathedral.

Edward’s first reign ended in 1470 when on 30th October, he was forced into exile and King Henry VI. But it was only to be for a brief period – Edward IV reclaimed the throne on 11th April, 1471, defeating the Lancastrians in a decisive battle at Barnet on 14th April (April marked the 550th anniversary of that battle).

10 London hills – 6. Shooter’s Hill…

Sunset from Shooters Hill. PICTURE: matbickle (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The highest point in the Borough of Greenwich in London’s south-east, Shooter’s Hill rises to 433 feet (132 metres) above sea level and provides views over the Thames to the north and London to the west as well as Kent and Essex.

Severndroog Castle. PICTURE: Public Domain

The name, which is also that of the surrounding district, apparently comes from the fact that archery was practiced there in the Middle Ages.

But the area – which still is reasonably well wooded – was also the haunt of highwaymen (in response, there was a gallows at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill and a gibbet on the summit where bodies were displayed).

The modern road known as Shooters Hill Road, part of the A2 and later the A207, follows part of the route of the ancient roadway known as Watling Street.

Landmarks on the hill include a Gothic revival water tower dating from 1910 and a rather impressive folly known as Severndroog Castle which was built in in 1784 by Lady James in honour of her husband, Commodore Sir William James, who captured a pirate fortress at Suvarnadurg on India’s west coast in 1755.

Other landmarks include Christ Church Shooters Hill which features a Grade II-listed milestone and a Bronze Age mound known as Shrewsbury Barrow.

Literary mentions include one in Samuel Pepys’ famous diary – he rode past a body on the gibbet in 1661 – and in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Lost London – Bear Garden, Southwark

The Bear Garden as depicted in Visscher’s Map of London which was published in 1616 but represented the city as it was several years earlier.

The Bear Garden was among numerous structures built in Southwark during the Elizabethan era for public amusement: in this case the “amusement” being what we now see as the rather cruel activities of bear and bull baiting and other “sports” involving animals.

Built sometime prior to the 1560s, the Bear Garden (also written as Beargarden) itself was a polygonal wooden, donut-shaped structure, much like the theatres such as the Rose and Globe, where the activities took part on the floor in the middle while the audience sat around the donut’s ring.

While it’s known it was located in Bankside (among several other premises showing animal sports), its exact location continues to be a matter of debate (and it is thought to have moved location at least once).

The Bear Garden was patronised by royalty – Queen Elizabeth I apparently visited with the French and Spanish ambassador – but it was also marked by tragedy when part of the tiered seating collapsed in 1583, killing eight people and forcing the premises to close down for a brief period.

It was torn down in 1614 and replaced with the Hope Theatre with the intention of it serving as a dual purpose premises, providing both stage plays and animal sports like bear-baiting, but the latter eventually won out and it simply became known once again as the Bear Garden.

The Hope may have pulled down in the 1650s after animal sports were banned by the Puritans (the Commonwealth commander Thomas Pride was apparently responsible for putting down or shooting the last seven bears). Whether it was demolished or not, it was again in use after the Restoration – Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn both visited during this period – but the last mention of it was in the 1680s.

The street named Bear Gardens in modern Southwark stands today in the approximate area where the Bear Garden is generally thought to have been located.

10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

The final in our series on St Thomas Becket’s London is not about a static site but a pathway, one that people have been walking since the Middle Ages as pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

A Pilgrim’s Way signpost near Chaldon in Surrey. PICTURE: G Travels (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Famous today through its association with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Pilgrim’s Way actually refers to not one path but a series of routes taken by pilgrims as they made their way from London to Canterbury, linking up along the way with another route originating in Winchester.

The pilgrimage from London typically started at the now long lost St Thomas Becket Chapel in the middle of Old London Bridge and then headed south through Southwark where the Tabard Inn – where Chaucer has his pilgrims staying at the start of his journey – was located.

These days, there’s several routes – the official Pilgrim’s Way website has a couple of different routes through London. Both start at Southwark Cathedral and one then follows the line of A2 south before heading east to the Thames through Deptford where it joins up with a second route. This route, on leaving Southwark Cathedral, follows the south bank of the Thames east.

On becoming one route at Deptford, the Pilgrim’s Way then follows the Thames through Greenwich and Woolwich before turning southward to Dartford and eventually linking up with the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester in the village of Otford in Kent (and then on to Canterbury).

Other versions of the pilgrimage route start at Westminster Abbey and take in St Paul’s Cathedral before crossing over the Thames and heading east to Gravesend and on to the Medway towns and eventually Canterbury.

Interestingly, some believe that King Henry II took the route from London to Canterbury when performing his very public act of atonement for his role in the saint’s death (although others believe he made the pilgrimage from Winchester).

Treasures of London – St Thomas Becket pilgrim badges…

The Museum of London is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but we run this story in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon.

This pilgrim badge depicts the scene of Becket’s martyrdom. An inscription at the base of the badge reads ‘THOMAS MA’ (meaning ‘Thomas Martyr’). Becket is on his knees in front of an altar with a number of knights attacking him. Behind the altar stands the figure of Edward Grim, a clerk who tried to stop Becket’s murder. One of the knights carries a shield with two bears’ heads on it, identifying him as Reginald Fitzurse (through the visual pun on the Latin ‘ursus’, meaning ‘bear’). Fitzurse was the knight popularly believed to have struck final blow that killed Becket. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
Pilgrim badge in the shape of a bust of St Thomas Becket wearing a mitre and inscribed ‘T:H:O:M:A:S’. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

The Museum of London contains a large collection – in fact, it’s said to be the largest in the UK – of pilgrim badges relating to the commemoration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, who was brutally murdered in 1170.

Produced largely in Canterbury (possibly some in London), the lead-alloy badges were worn, typically on a hat or staff, by pilgrims as a means of commemorating their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

They came in various shapes and sizes. Many simply depict a bust of Becket’s head wearing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mitre (see picture right).

But others are more elaborate and depict the full-length figure of the archbishop, scenes of his martyrdom at the hands of King Henry II’s knights (see picture above) and even the elaborate bejewelled shrine housing St Thomas’ remains that was erected in about 1220 in Canterbury Cathedral (the endpoint of the pilgrimage).

The museum also has small tin ampullae which were created to hold “Canterbury Water” or “St Thomas’ Water” – water into which drops of the martyred archbishop’s blood were dripped before it was blessed – which was given to pilgrims to take home as a kind of “cure all”.

The collection of badges can be seen when the museum reopens. Keep an eye out for the reopening at www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

Following Thomas Becket’s brutal murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, King Henry II is ordered by Pope Alexander III to perform acts of penance for his death, going on a public pilgrimage to Canterbury where he spent a night in prayer at Becket’s tomb and was whipped by monks.

The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett Museum now resides in the former St Thomas’ Church which probably started life (in a previous version) as the chapel for the medieval hospital. PICTURE: Calstanhope (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Becket’s renown, meanwhile, quickly grew in the aftermath of his death and miracles soon began to be attributed to him. And then, little over two years after he was killed, the Pope declared him a saint. It’s believed that soon after that, in 1173, St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark- which had been founded a couple of years earlier – was named in commemoration of him.

The hospital was run by a mixed-gendered order of Augustinian canons and canonesses, believed to be of the Priory of St Mary Overie, and provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. Following a fire in the early 13th century, the hospital was relocated to a site on what is now St Thomas Street.

In the 15th century, Dick Whittington endowed a ward for expectant unmarried mothers at the hospital and in 1537, it was the location for the printing of one of the first English Bibles – which is commemorated in a plaque at the former site of the hospital.

When the monastery at Southwark, which oversaw the hospital – also referred to as the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution, the hospital too was closed. It did reopen a decade later but was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle instead of St Thomas Becket (and has remained so since). The name change was political – King Henry VIII had ‘decanonised” St Thomas Becket as part of his reform of the church in England.

The hospital was rebuilt from the end of the 17th century (the long-deconsecrated Church of St Thomas in St Thomas Street, home to the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, is the oldest surviving part of this rebuild) but it left Southwark in 1862 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the construction of the Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station.

Following a temporary relocation to Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington, it moved into new premises at Lambeth – across the river from the Houses of Parliament – in 1871. It has since been rebuilt and merged with Guy’s Hospital.

Correction: Apologies – we had typo in the copy – the date Becket was made a saint was, of course, 1173!

Where’s London’s oldest…livery company?

There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.

What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).

Saddler’s Hall in Gutter Lane where the Worshipful Company of Weavers is based out of.

In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.

By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.

After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.

For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.

The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.

For more, see www.weavers.org.uk.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 6. Westminster Abbey…

Theobold of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose household Becket had previously served before becoming Lord Chancellor, died on 18th April, 1161. King Henry II, apparently hoping to install a friendly face in the post, ensured Becket was nominated to replace him several months later.

In keeping with tradition, the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, apparently somewhat reluctantly, were persuaded to elect Becket, who was merely an archdeacon, to the post.

And it was at Westminster Abbey, on 23rd May, 1162, that a council of clergy and noblemen was convened to ratify the decision.

Sitting under the chairmanship of Bishop Henry of Winchester, who had only recently returned from exile, the council was told by the Prior of Christ Church that Thomas had been “unanimously and canonically” elected as Archbishop. The council, despite a lonely objection from Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of Hereford, had then confirmed the decision and Bishop Henry read out the formal election result in the refectory or monk’s dining hall.

Becket, who was present, was then presented to the seven-year-old Prince Henry (later known as Henry, the Young King), the ill-fated eldest son of King Henry II who had been empowered by his father to give royal consent to the decision.

Becket headed for Canterbury soon after and there was ordained a priest on 2nd June and consecrated as Archbishop the following day. The stage was set for one of English history’s most infamous clashes of church and state.

Westminster Abbey, meanwhile, was also to play a key role in the antipathy that developed between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas over the coming years. It was here that King Henry II had his aforementioned son Henry crowned as King of England in 1170 – against the wishes of Archbishop Thomas. It was that coronation which brought the simmering tension which had grown between them to a head.

And, in an footnote, in May, 2016, a relic of St Thomas, said to be a bone fragment from his elbow, stayed overnight in the Abbey’s Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. Usually kept at the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary, the relic’s visit was part of a week-long tour of locations in London and Canterbury – the first time it had visited the UK in more than 800 years.

London pub signs – The Town of Ramsgate…

This storied Thames-side pub in Wapping has a history dating back centuries although much of the current premises dates from renovation works carried out in the late 1930s.

PICTURE: Fin Fahey (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the pub’s website, the first of its predecessors was probably established in the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s and was known as The Hostel.

In the 1530s, it was known as The Red Cow, and it wasn’t until 1766 it became known as Ramsgate Old Town, finally becoming The Town of Ramsgate by 1811.

The name apparently relates to its location on Wapping Old Stairs. It was there that the fisherman of the seaside town of Ramsgate would apparently land their catch to avoid the taxes they’d have to pay if they did so at Billingsgate.

The now Grade II-listed pub is famous for its connections to the notorious “Hanging Judge” George Jeffreys who presided over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ and sent hundreds to their death following the unsuccessful attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Jeffreys is said to have been captured outside the premises while attempting to escape, disguised as a sailor, on a collier bound for Hamburg. He subsequently died in the Tower of London.

There’s also said to be a close connection with piracy – at the base of Wapping Old Stairs is what some say was the site of Execution Dock where pirates were tied up to be drowned by the rising tide.

The front area of the pub – which features an etching on a mirror of Ramsgate Harbour – is the oldest part of the building. A depiction of Ramsgate Harbour can also be seen on the pub sign.

For more on the pub, see http://townoframsgate.pub.

Correction – We accidentally dropped an I off James II’s title. Our apology!

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 4. London churches…

Around 1145, Thomas Becket left the household of the financier Osbert Huitdeniers and entered the household of Theobold, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It’s unclear how he made the transition, although it has been speculated it was possibly through family connections, but by the following year, he was well-ensconced as a clerk in the archbishop’s household.

Like many great households, the Archbishop’s moved between various residences including his palace beside Canterbury Cathedral, various manors and the royal court (Lambeth Palace, the current home of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London was constructed after Becket’s death).

St Mary le Strand as it is today. PICTURE: James Stringer (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Becket rose in the Archbishop’s favour and while serving in his household was given the living of churches including St Mary le Strand in London and Otford in Kent as well as being made a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (he wasn’t expected to attend the churches to receive the incomes).

The current St Mary le Strand dates from the early 18th century; the church from which Thomas drew an income was an earlier versions and stood a little to the south of the current building.

St Paul’s, meanwhile, was an early version of the pre-Great Fire of London version of the building. During Becket’s time, the grand structure was still under construction (building had been disrupted by a fire in 1135 and the cathedral wasn’t consecrated until 1240, well after Becket’s death).

The present cathedral has a rather spectacular statue of Becket in the churchyard (but we’ll deal with that separately in a later post in this series).

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 3. Guildhall…

The Guildhall was an important building in Thomas Becket’s London but the earliest parts of the current building date from the early 15th century. PICTURE: stephenarcher (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This week we look at a location representative of Becket’s brief time working for a former City of London Sheriff and banker, Osbert Huitdeniers (“Eightpence”).

About a year after his return from Paris (possibly around his 22nd birthday in late 1142), Becket – driven apparently by a downturn in the family fortunes – started work as a clerk in the household of Huitdeniers.

A relative of the Becket family, Osbert was a man of some significance – apparently holding a knight’s fee in Kent – and was known at the royal court. He had held the post of sheriff of London from 1139 to 1141 (and may have also been a justiciar at different times).

We’ve been unable to determine where Huitdeniers’ home or business was located, hence why we’ve included Guildhall which certainly would have been known to him as sheriff – and indeed to Becket who grew up nearby, though not in its current form.

Becket’s job would have involved keeping Huitdeniers accounts and during the few years he served the banker, it’s believed he gained some invaluable skills that would prove helpful later in life.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 1. Cheapside…

Looking east down Cheapside from the corner of Ironmonger’s Line (with the bust of St Thomas Becket visible in the left). PICTURE: Google Maps.

The 29th December, 2020, marked 850 years since the dramatic murder of then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral.

Metallic bust of St Thomas Becket on the wall at 90 Cheapside. PICTURE: Caroline (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While many of the commemorations have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve decided to push ahead with our series in commemoration of the martyred saint’s connections with London.

First up, it’s the famous City of London street of Cheapside – one of the main commercial streets in the medieval city – which was where, on 21st December, in what is generally believed to be the year 1120, he was born.

Becket was the son of Norman parents – his father, Gilbert, was a mercer (and served as a City sheriff) and his mother was named Matilda. He is believed to have had at least three sisters.

The location of what was a large residence – and the fact the family owned other property in the area – indicated they were relatively prosperous.

The property was next door to the church of St Mary Colechurch – lost in the Great Fire of London and not rebuilt – which was where St Thomas was baptised, apparently on the evening of his birth suggesting he may have initially been sickly. He was named after the Biblical St Thomas.

The site – which was later occupied by a hospital run by the Order of St Thomas of Acre – is marked with a small metallic bust of St Thomas attached to a wall on 90 Cheapside (on the corner with Ironmongers Lane) as well as a City of London blue plaque.