Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London  was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.

The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.

As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.

The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).

By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.

In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).

The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).

PICTURE: The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields as it appears now. (Prioryman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

This City of London street is named for a church which once stood to the east of the thoroughfare.

The church was founded as part of a monastery the 11th century by brothers Ingelric and Girard – the former was apparently a man of some influence in the courts of King Edward the Confessor and King William the Conqueror (although there is apparently a tradition that the church was founded earlier, by the Saxon King Wihtred of Kent, in the 7th or 8th century).

The collegiate church, which had the job of sounding the curfew bell in the evenings to announce the closing of the city gates during the reign of King Edward I (the right later moved to another church), gave special rights to the precinct in which it stood including that of sanctuary for certain types of criminals. Indeed, by the 14th century, it was the largest area of sanctuary in England.

This was particularly useful for those making what was supposed to be their final journey from Newgate to their execution at Tower Hill – the precinct lay along the route and, yes, some were said to have escaped into the district as they passed by. But perhaps the most famous said to have sought sanctuary in the precinct were Miles Forrest, one of those accused of murdering the so called “Princes in the Tower” – King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.

The institution was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII and demolished in the mid-16th century but the name lived on in the precinct where it once stood – during the Elizabethan era it was apparently famous for its lace.

The site of the church was later the site of the General Post Office, built in 1829, which was eventually demolished in 1911 and replaced by a premises located to the west.

The street, which becomes Aldersgate Street in the north and runs into Cheapside in the south, was also once home to the The Bull and Mouth Inn, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and a French Protestant Church. The latter was built in 1842 but demolished in 1888 to make way for more Post Office buildings.

PICTURES: Looking south (top) and north (below) from St Martin-le-Grand (Google Maps).

The chapel, which served as the House of Commons from the mid-16th century until it was destroyed in the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, was first recorded as part of the palace in the reign of King John (1199-1216).

It was rebuilt  in the late 13th century, on the orders of King Edward I. The king, apparently impressed by the Sainte Chapelle, built as a royal chapel by King Louis IX in Paris, ordered the chapel rebuilt to rival it.

The two storey, richly decorated stone chapel featured two levels, the upper floor for use of the Royal Family (it could only be entered from the Royal Apartments), the lower for courtiers and the Royal Household – was largely complete by 1348.

The then 15-year-old King Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in the chapel in 1382 and the ill-fated Richard, Duke of York (the younger of the two so-called Princes in the Tower) married Anne Mowbray here while still young children. Richard’s father, King Edward IV, had laid in state here for eight days after his death in 1483. Thomas Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury here in 1533.

The Palace of Westminster was no longer used as a royal residence following the death of King Henry VIII in   and in 1547 it was deconsecrated under the Abolition of Chantries Act instituted by King Henry’s son, King Edward VI, after which it was used as a debating chamber for the House of Commons (which had hitherto been meeting in xxx).

During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell had the chapel’s crypt white-washed and, so the story goes, used it for stabling his horses.

The chapel’s architecture was amended several times over the ensuing centuries to better accomodate MPs – it included the addition of extra seats and among the architects who worked on it was Sir Christopher Wren – before the fire of 1834 while completely destroyed the main chapel, leaving just the crypt below and adjoining cloisters.

The crypt, now known as the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, was subsequently restored to its original use as a place of worship (it had been used for various purposes over its life). Interestingly, women’s suffragist Emily Davison had spent the night in a broom cupboard in the crypt in 1911 so, as woman banned from the premises, she could address the House of Commons the next day.

The site of the chapel is now covered by St Stephen’s Hall and its porch, constructed as part of the rebuild after the fire.

To see modern revisualisations of what the chapel may once have looked like, head to www.virtualststephens.org.uk.

 

 

Located in Chancery Lane, this “House for Converts” – for Jews who converted to Christianity – was founded in 1232 by King Henry III.

The buildings, which included a chapel as well as living quarters, provided a communal home for residents – needed because when they converted, they forfeited all their possessions to the king.

Chaplains were employed to teach the new converts and a warden appointed to manage their day-to-day living.

The Royal Treasury bore the expenses of the institution which included paying its residents a small income (although the annual grant from treasury apparently wasn’t always forthcoming leaving the residents destitute) and it was supplemented with a poll tax called the “chevage” levied on all Jews over the age of 12.

In 1290, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England. Residence here was officially the only way Jewish people could remain and some 80 residents apparently did so.

It’s said that apart from these original 80 residents (the last of whom – said to be a woman called Claricia of Exeter – died in 1356), only some 50 further converts were admitted between 1331 and 1608.

By the early 17th century, records of the buildings’ use as a house for Jewish converts had come to an end. The main residential building was destroyed in 1717 to make room for a new house for the Master of the Rolls – the chapel was at this stage being used as a storehouse for the rolls of Chancery.

Subsequently known as the ‘Rolls Chapel’, it was eventually largely demolished to make way for an extension to the Public Records Office which had been built on the site in 1851.

But some monuments from it are preserved in part of the former PRO known as the ‘Weston Room’ (pictured below).

In the late 1990s, the PRO moved out to Kew where it formed part of the National Archives. The building was acquired by King’s College London in 2000 and is now the Maughan Library.

PICTURES: Top – The Maughan Library (FormerBBC; licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The Weston Room in what is now the Maughan Library (Cmglee; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall.aspx.

st-katharine-docksThe name for this dock, located just to the east of Tower Bridge, comes from a 12th century established to help the poor known as St Katharine’s Hospital which was once located in the vicinity.

The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.

It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.

Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.

In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).

The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.

The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.

the_jesse_cope_detail_ca-_1310-25_c_victoria_and_albert_museum_londonObjects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.

Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com for inclusion.

Star-clockThe world’s oldest clock and watch collection can be seen at its new home at the Science Museum in South Kensington from tomorrow. The Clockmaker’s Museum, which was established in 1814 and has previously been housed at City of London Corporation’s Guildhall, has taken up permanent residence in the Science Museum. Assembled by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers – founded in 1631 – the collection features some 600 watches, 80 clocks and 25 marine timekeepers spanning the period from the 15th century to today. Highlights among the collection include: a year duration long case clock made by Daniel Quare of London (c. 1647-1724); a star-form watch (pictured) by David Ramsay, first master of the Clockmaker’s Company; the 5th marine timekeeper completed in 1770 by John Harrison (winner in 1714 of the Longitude Prize); a timekeeper used by Captain George Vancouver on his 18th century voyage around the Canadian island that bears his name; a watch used to carry accurate time from Greenwich Observatory around London; and, a wristwatch worn by Sir Edmund Hillary when he summited Mount Everest in 1953. The collection complements that already held by the Science Museum in its ‘Measuring Time’ gallery – this includes the third oldest clock in the world (dating from 1392, it’s on loan from Well’s Cathedral) and a 1,500-year-old Byzantine sundial-calendar, the second oldest geared mechanism known to have survived. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/clocks. PICTURE: The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Westminster Abbey is kicking off its commemorations of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt by opening Henry V’s chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey to a selected few on Saturday night, the eve of the battle’s anniversary. The chapel, which is above the king’s tomb at the east end of the abbey, will be seen by the winners of a public ballot which opened in September. It has never before been officially opened for public tours. The chapel is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It is occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues. Meanwhile the abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600 and on 28th October, will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.

• The role the black community played at home and on the fighting front during conflicts from World War I onward is the focus of a programme of free events and tours as Imperial War Museums marks Black History Month during October. IWM London in Lambeth will host a special screening of two documentary films – Burma Boy and Eddie Noble: A Charmed Life – telling the stories of African and Caribbean mean who served in World War II on 25th October. IWM London will also feature a series of interactive talks from historians revealing what it was like for black servicemen during both world wars from this Saturday until Sunday, 1st November. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

William-Wallace-big

This year marks the 710th anniversary of the execution of Scottish rebel William Wallace in Smithfield so we thought we’d take a quick look at the circumstances of that event – made famous in recent times through the movie Braveheart.

William-WallaceFor some eight years, Wallace had been a thorn in the side of the King Edward I, promoting active resistance to his rule in Scotland after Edward forced the abdication and usurption of the crown of John Balliol.

Following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22nd July, 1298, however, Wallace went to France where he attempted to gain French support for rebellion in Scotland but the effort proved ultimately futile and Wallace, back in Britain but refusing to submit to English rule, remained on the run.

At least until he was captured on 5th August, 1305, by Sir John Monteith, who had been made Sheriff of Dumbarton by King Edward I, at Robroyston near Glasgow.

Taken to Carlisle, he was bound hand and foot before being taken south to London in chains.

Wallace’s trial took place on 23rd August that year at Westminster Hall and, despite his protestations that he couldn’t be guilty of treason having never sworn loyalty to the English Crown, a guilty verdict was handed down along with the sentence of a traitor’s death – being hung, drawn and quartered.

Taken to the Tower of London, Wallace was stripped naked and then strapped to a wooden hurdle which was dragged by two horses through the streets via Aldgate to The Elms at Smithfield where he was hanged on a gallows.

Cut down while yet living, he was disembowelled and castrated and his entrails burnt. Wallace was then decapitated and his body cut into quarters which were sent to Berwick, Newcastle, Stirling and Perth as a warning against treason. His tarred head, meanwhile, was put on a pike and set above London Bridge.

A memorial to Wallace can now be found on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at West Smithfield (pictured – for more on that, see our earlier post here).

What’s in a name?…Kew…

September 21, 2015

Kew-PalaceFamed as the location of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a Thames-side suburb in London’s west.

It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).

While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).

But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).

While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.

Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).

As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.

St-Helen-Bishopsgate2

This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.

St-Helen's-BishopsgateEstablished by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).

While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.

The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).

One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.

The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.

The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.

Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.

It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.

WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.

Magna-Carta4

We interrupt our regular programming today to mark a truly historic milestone – 800 years since King John set his seal to the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in a field at Runnymede to the west of London.

So, where can you see a copy in London?

The British Library actually holds two of the four surviving documents from 1215 (one is pictured above) – the other two are held by Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

One of the copies in the British Library was damaged in an 18th century fire; the other was found in a tailor’s shop in London in the 17th century – made of sheepskin, it was apparently about to be taken apart to line collars.

The library’s current Magna Carta exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, features the two documents (along with Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights). For more about the exhibition, see www.bl.uk/events/magna-carta–law-liberty-legacy (runs until 1st September – for more see our earlier post here).

Meanwhile, the City of London Corporation also possesses a copy of the Magna Carta – although a later one that that issued in 1215.

Issued by King Edward I in 1297, this was the one which saw the document’s clauses, somewhat changed from 1215, written into the statutes for the first time.

Stored at the Guildhall Art Gallery, it is too delicate to be on permanent display but is currently on display in the City of London  Heritage Gallery until 1st October (for more follow this link).

You can read more about the Magna Carta and its London connections in our Wednesday series, 10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta.

PICTURE: British Library.

Houses-of-Parliament2 Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.

Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).

One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).

The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.

The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.

For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).

Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.

Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.

King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year. 

This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.

By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.

Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.

White-Tower

While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s  regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).

This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).

But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.

Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).

The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).

It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.

And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of  about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

It was in 1265, 750 years ago this month, that a parliament convened by English rebel leader Simon de Montfort, took place in Westminster Hall (exterior pictured below).

The French-born De Montfort, who led a group of rebel barons, was riding high after defeating King Henry III at the Battle of Lewes on 14th May, 1264. While he ruled in the king’s name through a council – having captured both the king and his son Prince Edward, the monarch was no more than a figurehead. De Montfort was effectively the man in charge. Westminster-Hall

In a bid to solidify his hold on the country, he summoned not only the barons and clergy but knights representing counties to a parliament along with – for the first time – representatives from major towns and boroughs like York, Lincoln and the Cinque Ports (the representatives were known as burgesses).

It’s this latter move which led this three month-long parliament to be described as the first English parliament and which has led de Montfort to be described by some as the founder of the House of Commons.

Presided over by King Henry III, the parliament was held in Westminster Hall in London – a city loyal to de Montfort’s cause. It dealt with a range of political matters including the enforcement of a series of government reforms known as the Provisions of Westminster which had been aimed at strengthening baronial rights and the role of courts.

Prince Edward (later King Edward I) managed to escape from de Montfort’s clutches later in 1265 and led forces against de Montfort. The rebel leader was killed at the Battle of Evesham on 4th August, 1265.

The UK Parliament is marking the 750th anniversary of De Montfort’s Parliament with a series of events (along with the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta) – check out www.parliament.uk/2015 for more.

This central London street, which runs between Fleet Street and High Holborn, has long been associated with the law and government, and still is so today with the Royal Courts of Justice standing close to its southern end and Lincoln’s Inn – one of the four Inns of Court – located on the lane’s western side.

Its name is a corruption of the original Chancellor Lane – a moniker which apparently dates back to at least the 14th century – and which referred to the buildings where the official documents of the Lord Chancellor’s Office, known as the Rolls of the Court of Chancellory (Chancery), were stored.

The street was apparently first known as New Street and later as Converts Lane; the latter in reference to the House of Converts (Domus Conversorum) King Henry III founded here in the 1272 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

When King Edward I expelled all the Jews from the kingdom in 1290, the ‘house’ continued in use as such for foreign-born Jews, albeit with very small numbers of residents until the early 17th century.

In the meantime, in 1377 King Edward III gave orders that the complex of buildings used by the Domus Conversorum also be given over to the Master of the Rolls for the storage of chancellory documents and it was this move which led to the lane gaining its new name.

The buildings – which included a chapel which had become known as the Chapel of the Master of the Rolls or the simply the Rolls Chapel which had been rebuilt several times including to the designs of 17th century architect Inigo Jones – were finally demolished around the turn of the 20th century and subsumed into the Public Records Office complex on Chancery Lane (this was formerly housed in what is now the Maughan Library of King’s College London).

The lane these days is also home to such august institutions as The Law Society and the London Silver Vaults. It also lends its name to an Underground Station located to the east of the lane entrance in High Holborn.

The Thames-side property known as the Steelyard – the phrase comes from the Dutch-German word Stahlhof and relates either to a steel beam used for weighing goods or a courtyard where the goods were sold – was the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London from the 13th century onward.

Located near where Walbrook flows out of the Thames on the north bank (the site is now at least partly covered by Cannon Street Station), the walled compound – which at some point housed as many as 400 people – was in some senses a mini city within a city complete with a hall, warehouses, a weighing house and counting houses as well as residences and a chapel.

While the community – which represented an alliance of towns and cities in northern Europe – was mentioned as far back as the late 1200s, it wasn’t until 1303 that King Edward I formerly confirmed the tax and customs concessions of the merchants (at some point, in return for privileges they were given, the group was charged with keeping up the maintenance of Bishopsgate).

The power of the trading post had grown substantially by the 15th century and the concessions the group had been granted meant there was inevitably considerable friction with English merchants. There was also some official friction and one example of it was when the Steelyard was closed temporarily in the 15th century when the Hanse cities were at war with England.

In 1598 Queen Elizabeth I took away the Steelyard’s trading privileges (after which the compound was apparently looted). It was subsequently allowed to reopen by King James I but never regained the prominence it had previously had.

Much of the compound was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but nonetheless, the Steelyard was rebuilt and continued to provide links between German cities and the English until the mid 1800s when the land was sold off and, in 1866, Cannon Street Station built on the site.

A couple of surviving objects from the Steelyard include a series of at least eight portraits of Hanse merchants painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and a stone model of the Hanseatic Arms which were placed over the gate into the compound can be seen at the Museum of London.

The-MinoriesLocated close to Tower Hill in the eastern part of the City, this pub – and indeed the street in which it sits (at number 64-73) – takes its name from a former nunnery that was once located here.

Known as the Minoresses, the nuns – who belonged to the Order of St Clare (also known as the Poor Clares) – lived in a nunnery here. The institution was founded by in 1293 by Edmund, the brother to King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307), and the earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Derby, to house nuns who had been brought to England from Spain by the earl’s wife, Blanche of Artois, the widow of King Henry I of Navarre.

As with the case of the Black Friars, the name came to be used to refer to the district in which the now long-gone nunnery once stood (it was dissolved in the Great Dissolution and later used as a residence by the likes of Henry, Duke of Suffolk and father of Lady Jane Grey) and lives on in the name of the street and the pub.

The pub, which has undergone a paint job since our picture was taken, is located under a railway bridge (and may have once been part of the former Minories Railway Station which closed in 1873. For more, see www.minories-london.co.uk.

William-Wallace-memorialHe was captured in Scotland but it was actually at Smithfield in London that the Scottish leader, Sir William Wallace, was put to death on 23rd August, 1305.

Erected in 1956 by “Scots and friends at home and abroad”, a plaque located on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital overlooking the former execution ground commemorates the “Scottish patriot” Wallace, saying that from the year 1296 “fought dauntlessly in defence of his country’s liberty and independence in the face of fearful odds and great hardship”. It goes on to note that he was “eventually betrayed”, captured and executed “near this spot”.

Elsewhere the memorial reads: “His example, heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat and his memory remains for all time a source of pride, honour and inspiration to his countrymen”.

Having co-led the Scottish to victory against the army of King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace was later knighted for his efforts and subsequently served as a Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Following his defeat at English hands in the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, he escaped and continued to evade capture until he was apprehended near Glasgow in August 1305. Brought to London where he was put on trial in Westminster Hall. Summarily found guilty of treason, he was stripped naked and dragged to Smithfield and it was there that he suffered the horrible death of being hung, drawn and quartered.

And while the 1995 movie, Braveheart, had Wallace crying out “Freedom” as he died, his last words are actually not recorded. His tarred head was subsequently displayed on a pike atop London Bridge while his limbs were sent to towns including Stirling in Scotland.

Buckingham-Palace

As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.

To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…

• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.

• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).

• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.

• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.

• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).

• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)

• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.

• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.

• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.

• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.