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.

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Rochester-Castle

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.

Rochester-Castle2Work 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).

Rochester-Castle3In 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.

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.

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will be held next Wednesday at St Paul’s Cathedral from 11am with Queen Elizabeth II among those attending (the first time she has attended the funeral of a British politician since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965). The funeral procession of the former Prime Minister, who died on Monday aged 87, will start at the Houses of Parliament and make its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before moving down the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Baroness Thatcher’s coffin will carried in a hearse for the first part of the journey and will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at St Clement Danes church on the Strand for the final part of the journey. There will be a gun salute at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, a Book of Condolence has opened at St Margaret’s Church, beside Westminster Abbey, this morning and will be available for people to pay their respects until 17th April, during the church’s opening hours. St Margaret’s – which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – is commonly known as the parish church of the House of Commons.

The story of the Jewel Tower – one of the last remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster – is told in a new exhibition at the historic property. Now in the care of English Heritage, the tower – located to the south of Westminster Abbey, was built in 1365 to house King Edward III’s treasury, later used as King Henry VIII”s ‘junk room’, the record office for the House of Lords, and, from 1869, served was the “testing laboratory” for the Office of Weights and Measures. The exhibition, which opened this month, is part of the English Heritage celebrations commemorating the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. The Jewel Tower is open daily until November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

See some of the earliest underground trains, a Lego version of Baker Street station and ride the Acton Miniature Railway. The London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton is holding it’s annual spring open weekend this Saturday and Sunday and in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary, attractions will include the Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the recently restored Metropolitan Carriage 353 along with model displays, rides on the miniature railway, film screenings, talks, and workshops. Wales’ Ffestiniog Railway team – celebrating their own 150th anniversary – will also be present with the narrow gauge train, Prince. Open from 11am to 5pm both days. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Now On: Designs of the Year. The Design Museum has unveiled contenders for the sixth annual Designs of the Year competition and you can what they are in this exhibition. Consisting of more than 90 nominations spanning seven categories, the nominated designs include the Olympic Cauldron by Heatherwick Studio, The Shard – western Europe’s tallest building – by Renzo Piano, a non-stick ketchup bottle invented by the Varanasi Research Group at MIT, and Microsoft’s Windows phone 8. The exhibition runs until 7th July – the winners will be announced this month. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.

The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).

Gordon's-Wine-BarThe venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.

The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.

The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.

It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.

For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.

In the medieval period, the royal wardrobe – that is, the splendid robes and other clothes worn on state occasions – were kept at a range of different locations including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. In the 1360s, however, it moved to a more permanent location in what had been a house near Blackfriars priory.

King's-WardrobeSold to King Edward III by the executors of the will of Sir John Beauchamp, the house served as the key storage site for  royal clothes including not only those of the monarch but various people attached to the court such as the royal family, king’s ministers and Knights of the Garter.

The building, which was considerably extended over the years to include everything from a great hall and chapel to stables, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the wardrobe was moved to another building in Buckingham Street although by this stage its importance had declined considerably (the last Master of the Wardrobe held office in the late 18th century).

Its name lived on in that of the church St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe and that of the well-hidden and intimate Wardrobe Place (it’s located between St Andrew’s Hill and Addle Hill). There is a blue plaque which marks the site of the former building (pictured above).

One of 12 casts made of an original which stands in Calais, France, this sculptural group commemorates one of the most poignant moments of the bloody Hundred Years War.

Burghers-of-CalaisThe original work, by the renowned Auguste Rodin who beat five others with his design, was completed in 1889 and stands outside Calais’ town hall. This cast was produced in 1908 and presented to the nation in 1914 by the National Art Collections Fund. It stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The sculpture commemorates an event which took place in 1347. Calais, then, as now, an important French port, had been besieged by the English for more than a year and, in a desperate situation as the townspeople starved (and despite orders from the French King Philip IV to hold out), the city authorities were seek terms from the English king, Edward III, still flushed with the success of the Battle of Crecy the year before.

Edward’s conditions for their surrender were harsh – six of the city’s leaders had to be handed over and the rest of the city would be spared. But more than that, the six had to leave the city stripped of almost all their clothes, wearing nooses around their necks and carrying the keys to the city and castle.

Six burghers, led by Eustache de Saint Pierre and also including John Daire and brothers James and Peter Wisant, did so and it is the scene of them making their way to King Edward that Rodin has captured. Their bravery was rewarded – while King Edward apparently order them to be beheaded, his pregnant English Queen, Philippa of Hainault, intervened on their behalf and they were spared execution, dressed and fed before they were safely escorted away.

Only 12 casts of the group were ever permitted under French law – the London cast was the third to be made.

Though it’s these days associated with a Brutalist housing estate and performing arts centre based in the north of the City of London, the name Barbican has been associated with the area on which the estate stands for centuries.

BarbicanThe word barbican (from the Latin barbecana) refers to an outer fortification designed to protect the entrance to a city or castle. In this case it apparently referred to watchtower which may have had its origins in Roman or Saxon times (or maybe both). The City of London website suggests it was located “somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street”.

When-ever it was built, the watchtower was apparently demolished on the orders of King Henry III in 1267, possibly as a response to Londoners who had supported England’s barons when they had rebelled against him. One source suggests the tower was rebuilt during the reign of King Edward III but, if so, the date of its subsequent demolition remains unknown.

Later residents of the area – which become known as a place to trade new and used clothes – included John Milton and William Shakespeare.

The area known as Barbican was devastated by bombing raids in World War II. Discussions on the future of the site started in 1952 and for more than 10 years plans for redeveloping the area were debated until finally, in the early 1960s, work began on what is now the Barbican Estate including three tall residential towers (part of the residential estate is pictured above). Completed in the mid 1970s, the Brutalist design of the complex, which features buildings named after historical figures associated with the area, means it meets with strong reactions from those who encounter it whether love – or hate.

Construction of the arts centre – known as the Barbican Centre – the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home to the London Symphony Orchestra – was started in the early 1970s. The £156 million centre was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.

Other buildings within the Grade II listed complex include the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA.

We’re yet to take an in-depth look at Old St Paul’s Cathedral – that is, the building that stood on the existing site before being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 – but today we thought we’d focus on just one aspect of the former church – the old chapterhouse. 

Located in the South Churchyard on the Thames side of St Paul’s Cathedral, the location of the chapterhouse is today marked out by raised stonework (the actual building remains lay a few feet below) which can be freely accessed from the street.

The octagonal chapterhouse, which replaced an earlier chapterhouse, stood in the middle of a 100 foot square arcaded cloister, both of which were designed by the royal mason, William Ramsay, in 1332 during the reign of King Edward III, in one of the first known examples of what is referred to as the ‘Perpendicular Gothic’ style.

Designed as a two-storey building for better air circulation, the actual chapter room was located on the second floor of the chapterhouse over an undercroft below and it was here the monks would meet daily to discuss affairs relating to the cathedral (the word chapterhouse comes from the fact that it was while in this room the monks would be a read a daily chapter from the body of rules governing them).

The marked out chapterhouse (pictured above – the chairs are standing inside the chapterhouse) was unveiled in 2008 following a £3.8 million redevelopment of the South Churchyard, itself part of the bigger, recently completed, overhaul of the entire cathedral).

WHERE: South Churchyard, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: Anytime;  COST: Free  (to go inside the cathedral costs £15 an adult/£14 concessions and students/£6 a child (6-18 years)/£36 a family of four); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk

A now long gone Franciscan friary located in the north-west of the City of London near Newgate (just to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral), Greyfriars, so known for the color of the friars’ clothing, was the second Franciscan religious house to have been founded in England.

The foundations of the friary date from the early part of the 13th century – the Franciscans, as members of the Order of Friars Minor were known, had arrived in 1224 and are recorded as settling on land granted to them by a rich mercer, John Iwyn, just inside the City wall, in 1225, in the butcher’s quarter of the city.

King Henry III apparently gave them some oak to build their own friary in 1229 and by the mid 1200s, there were more than 80 friars living on the site which was gradually extended over the ensuing years to the north and the west.

Using funds given them by Sir William Joyner, Lord Mayor of London in 1239, they built a chapel which was later extensively enlarged and improved in the late 13th and early 14th centuries – the new church was said to be 300 feet long – with much of the work funded by Queen Margaret, second wife of King Edward I, and later in the 14th century, Queen Isabella, wife of Edward III. It apparently suffered some damage in a storm in 1343 but was restored by King Edward III.

When it was finally completed in 1348, the church is said to have been the second largest in London. A library was later added to the buildings, founded by the famous Lord Mayor of London, Richard “Dick” Whittington.

Such was the fame of the church that, the heart of Queen Eleanor, wife of King Henry III, was buried here after her death in 1291 while, despite dying at her castle in Marlborough, Queen Margaret was also buried here in 1318 (apparently wearing a Franciscan habit).

But perhaps the most notorious person to be buried here was Queen Isabella, wife of King Edward II and known by many as the “She-Wolf of France”, after her death in 1358. In fact, it’s said that the ghost of Isabella still haunts the former location of Greyfriars, driven forth from the grave for her role in deposing her husband.

Other non royal luminaries said to have been buried here include the 15th century writer Sir Thomas Mallory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur and 16th century Catholic nun Elizabeth Barton, the so-called ‘mad maid of Kent’ who was executed for her rather unwise prophecies predicting King Henry VIII’s death if he married Anne Boleyn.

The end of the friary, pictured above in the sixteenth century, came in 1538 when it fell victim to King Henry VIII’s policy of dissolving monasteries and was surrendered to his representatives.

Some of the houses were subsequently converted for private use and the church, which was somewhat damaged during this period with many of the elaborate tombs destroyed, was briefly closed before it and other buildings were given to the City of London Corporation who reopened it again in 1547 as Christ Church Greyfriars, a parish church serving the now joined parishes of St Nicholas Shambles and St Ewen.

Only a few year’s later King Edward IV founded a school for poor orphans in some of the old friary buildings known as Christ’s Hospital or informally as The Bluecoat School thanks to the uniforms students wore. Some of the school buildings, along with part of the church which was also used by the school, was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, but the school was rebuilt and remained in use until the late 1800s when the last of the students were relocated to a new facility in Sussex (where the school still exists today).

The church (also known as Christ Church Newgate Street), meanwhile, was also rebuilt after the Great Fire – it was one of Sir Christopher Wren’s designs and was completed in 1704. The church remained in use until World War II when a firebomb struck it during a German raid on 29th December, 1940, all but destroying it.

The church was not rebuilt and the parish merged with the nearby St Sepulchre-without-Newgate – the largest parish church in London – and eventually what’s left of the church – the tower with rebuilt steeple and the west and north walls – were converted into a public garden (rose beds were planted where the pews once stood and there are wooden towers representing the church’s pillars). Pictured right, it’s now a terrific place to sit and have lunch pondering the past which the bustle of the city goes on about you.

PICTURE: (top) Wikipedia

For a great biography of Isabella, the She-Wolf of France, see Alison Weir’s Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England. For more on Sir Christopher Wren’s churches in London, see John Christopher’s Wren’s City of London Churches.

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.

Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.

Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.

But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.

Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).

The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).

From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.

In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.

King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.

In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.

Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.

The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.

As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).

WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.

The remains of one of the lesser known former royal residences in London, King Edward III’s manor house, sit amid a grassy park on the south bank of the Thames at the corner of Bermondsey Wall East and Cathay Street in Rotherhithe.

Believed to have been built in about 1350 during the reign of the king (1312-1377), the 14th century property – which consisted of stone buildings arranged around two courtyards – was originally built on what was then an island surrounded by marshes.

The premises was surrounded on three sides by a moat – the fourth side opened directly to the river, allowing the king to travel to the property by boat.

Among the buildings in the complex were a hall with a fireplace as well as private chambers for the king and utility spaces like kitchens (pictured below is a reconstruction of the property as depicted on an information plaque located at the site).

The function of the building remains somewhat a mystery – with no nearby royal parks it is unlikely it was a conventional hunting lodge although documentary evidence does point to falcons being house there so perhaps it was a place where the king hunted with falcons.

As the Thames riverbank was pushed northward over the following centuries, the residence became completely surrounded by a moat. It was eventually sold into private hands.

The site was apparently used as a pottery in the 17th century and warehouses occupied it in the 18th and 19th centuries (in fact a 14th century wall was incorporated into one of these and was still standing in 1907).

The warehouses were demolished in the 1970s and the remains of the palace confirmed on the site during an excavation by English Heritage 1985 (they also found a lot of Delftware on the site apparently related to its days as a pottery).

Today marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, making her Britain’s second-longest serving monarch. While the celebrations are yet to kick off in earnest (the Diamond Jubilee weekend will be officially held over the 2nd to 5th June), we thought we’d take a quick look at the top 10 longest-serving monarchs who were crowned at Westminster Abbey in London:

1. Queen Victoria – 63 years (20th June, 1837-22nd January, 1901)

2. Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years (6th February, 1952-current)

3. King George III – 59 years (25th October, 1760-29th January, 1820)

4. King James I (VI of Scotland) – 57 years (24th July, 1567-27th March, 1625)

5. King Henry III – 56 years (18th October, 1216-16th November, 1272)

6. King Edward III – 50 years (25th January, 1327-21st June, 1377)

7. Queen Elizabeth I – 44 years (17th November, 1558-24th March, 1603)

8. King Henry VI – 38 years (31st August, 1422-4th March,1461, and, 31st October, 1470-11th April, 1471)

9. King Henry VIII – 37 years (22nd April, 1509-28th January, 1547)

10. King Henry I – 35 years (3rd August, 1100-1st December, 1135)

St Magnus the Martyr has to be one of the most oddly dedicated churches in London. Indeed, for many years there was confusion over which St Magnus it was dedicated to – candidates including  a second and a third century martyr and a Viking who was slain in the Orkney Isles around 900 years ago.

Revived interest in the latter St Magnus in the early 20th century thanks to the discovery of his remains hidden in a pillar in the Orkney ‘capital’ of Kirkwall , however, led to a confirmation of the church’s dedication in 1924.

There is believed to have been a church on the site since Roman times (a fact which has contributed to the confusion over it’s more recent dedication) but its first known mention as that of St Magnus is shortly after the Norman Conquest.

The church’s location, on the approach to London Bridge (see the picture, right, of the church tower overlooking the Thames), meant it occupied an important place in the life of medieval London. Following the Reformation, the patronage of the church was held alternately by the Abbey of Bermondsey and the Abbot and Convent of Westminster – this later passed into the hands of the Bishop of London, Edmund Grindall, and it was he who appointed the church’s most famous rector, Miles Coverdale, best remembered today as a Bible translator (there is a large monument to him in the church).

The church had been repaired in the early 17th century but was destroyed completely in the Great Fire of 1666. It was subsequently rebuilt to the designs of the ubiquitous Sir Christopher Wren.

A fire in 1760 did considerable damage to Wren’s building but it was restored and improvements continued to be made on a sporadic basis until 1831 when Sir John Rennie’s new London Bridge was opened and the old bridge demolished, meaning St Magnus no longer occupied the ‘gateway’ position it had for centuries prior.

The church only received relatively minor damage during World War II when a bomb struck London Bridge but was later restored. Features of the church now include the exterior clock, which dates from 1700, and a piece of wood believed to have one formed part of the Roman wharf which has been placed under the porch.

Among those buried at St Magnus’ during medieval times were Henry Yevele, master mason to King Edward III and King Richard II (his monument was destroyed in 1666). The church still has connections to the Fishmonger’s Company and the Plumber’s Company.

WHERE: Lower Thames Street, London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Tuesday to FridayCOST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk.

Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s often a fascinating story behind many of London’s seemingly odd place names. Churches are no exception and in this new series we’re looking at some of the stories behind the name. First up, it’s the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, a rather austere-looking church which looms up over Queen Victoria Street.

While the present church largely dates from after World War II – it was bombed during the Blitz and only the outer walls remain of what was there before (the previous church was itself a rebuild to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier version was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666) – there has apparently been a church on the site since at least the 12th century. Indeed, in the 13th century it was associated with the then royal residence known as Baynard’s Castle.

The church’s rather unusual name owes its origins to King Edward III’s decision in 1361 to move the Royal Wardrobe – which included his state robes and other valuables – from the Tower of London to a new building which lay near to the church (there’s a plaque in nearby Wardrobe Place marking the former location of the King’s Wardrobe which also burnt down in the Great Fire and was subsequently relocated). Hence St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe.

While the interior of the church is a complete reconstruction of Wren’s original, it does still boast some early treasures including  an original pulpit as well as a font and cover of Wren’s period (these come from the now long gone church of St Matthew Friday Street), a figure of St Andrew dating from about 1600 and another of St Ann (mother of Mary), who is holding her daughter who is in turn holding Jesus, dating from about a century earlier. There’s also a royal coat of arms – dating from the Stuart period – which originally came from St Olave’s Old Jewry.

Among the most prominent residents in the church’s parish was the playwright William Shakespeare (there’s a rather odd oak and limewood memorial to him and a contemporary composer, singer and musician, John Dowland – who was  buried in the churchyard, inside). Another Shakespearian contemporary, Ben Jonson, also apparently lived in the parish. The church also has links with with the Mercers, Apothecaries and Blacksmiths livery companies.

Earlier this year St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, which is a sister church to St James Garlickhythe (another unusually named church), celebrated 50 years since its post war reopening in 1961.

WHERE: Access is via St Andrew’s Hill or Queen Victoria Street (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House). WHEN: The church building and the Chapel of St Ann are normally open for visitors between 10am and 4pm weekdays while the nave is open on Fridays from 11am to 3pm (check with the church before going); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.standrewbythewardrobe.net.

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

Best remembered for his landmark Middle English work in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer is known by many as “the father of English literature”.

But he also had a distinguished career as a diplomat, civil servant and courtier and while much of his life (and death) remain something of a mystery, there’s no doubt that he spent a considerable part of it in London.

Chaucer (the name comes from the Latin for ‘shoemaker’) was born into a wealthy London family sometime between 1340 and 1345 and nothing is known of his early life or education. In 1357 he was working as a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster and daughter-in-law of King Edward III.

Two years later, he travelled in the retinue of the countess’ husband, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, to France with the army of King Edward III but in 1360 was captured near Rheims. He was subsequently ransomed with the king himself contributing to the sum needed.

Soon after Chaucer formally joined King Edward III’s court and was over the next two decades was sent on numerous missions by him to places as far flung as France, Genoa, Florence and possibly Padua (it was on these trips that he was apparently exposed to the writings of men such as Dante, Boccaccio and Froissart).

In 1366 he married Philippa Roet, a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, King Edward III’s queen (and, some suggest, the sister to Katherine Swynford, mistress to John of Gaunt). Chaucer and his wife are believed to have three or four children – their son, Thomas, was later chief butler to English kings and served as the Speaker of the House of Commons.

In 1374, Chaucer was appointed as Comptroller of Customs for the Port of London, a post which he held until 1386 or so. It was during this time that he wrote many of his other major works including Parlement of Foules and Troilus and Criseyde (he had written his first major work, The Book of the Duchess, in honor Blanche of Lancaster, the late wife of his friend John of Gaunt sometime earlier following her death in 1369). Chaucer was also known at this time to have lived rent free in an apartment above the now removed Aldgate.

At some time in the 1380s, it is suggested Chaucer moved out to Kent where he is thought to have started work on The Canterbury Tales and where he also served as a local MP. His wife is believed to have died while they were there.

In 1389, he was appointed to the position of Clerk of the King’s Works and oversaw building projects at the Palace of Westminster, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, and at the Tower of London (building the wharf). Later he served as deputy forester of the royal forest of North Petherton in Somerset.

Chaucer’s name disappears from records in 1400 and he is believed to have died either that year or shortly after. The cause of his death remains unknown although writer Terry Jones, in his book Who Murdered Chaucer?, has suggested Chaucer was murdered in 1402 at the behest of Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury – a claim which has met with short shrift with many.

Chaucer’s remains were later transferred to a more elaborate tomb and he become the first writer to occupy a space in Poet’s Corner – a fitting place for a towering figure of English literature.

PICTURE: Image of Chaucer as a pilgrim from Ellesmere Manuscript in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The manuscript is an early publishing of the Canterbury Tales. Source: Wikipedia.

Located in a great bend of the River Thames to the east of the City, the Isle of Dogs isn’t really an isle at all but a broad peninsula of land jutting out to the south of Poplar, opposite Greenwich.

Formerly known as Stepney Marsh, for centuries the area was protected by a great embankment and in the 13th and 14th centuries came to be home to a small agricultural community. After the embankment was breached, however, the area reverted to marshland and only came back into more intensive use with the opening of the West India and East India docks in the early 1800s (amalgamated in 1838) and Millwall Dock in the 1860s. The linking of these docks in the early 1900s apparently made the “isle” an island for the first time.

At the same time, the area also became noted for shipbuilding – among the vessels constructed here was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern, the biggest ship ever built when launched in the late 1850s.

The population of the area rose thanks to the docks and by 1901 – following the development of Cubitt  Town, named for developer William Cubitt – the population had risen to 21,000. Heavily bombed in World War II, the isle saw a resurgence in the Fifties and Sixties but gradually declined in the following years as new shipping technologies made the docks obsolete. The last of the docks closed in 1980.

The area has since been redeveloped in a project initially driven by the London Docklands Development Corporation and is now in effect a city within a city, housing homes, apartments, retail precincts and office buildings – including One Canada Square, the highest tower in London, at Canary Wharf (the highest tower in London until recently surpassed by the currently-under-construction Shard in Southwark), linked to the rest of the city via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

But what about the name Isle of Dogs? One theory is that it was here King Henry VIII kept his hunting dogs (the earliest reference to the Isle of Dogs is apparently on a map dated 1588) while others suggest the name comes from dogs King Edward III kept there. Others have suggested the name is a corruption of ‘Isle of Ducks’, that the area is named for packs of dogs who roamed wild in the marshlands here or that it comes from the fact dead dogs washed up on banks of the Thames here. As for which is the truth? Take your pick.

Tower Hamlets, the local authority, offers a great free walk through the area which gives you a glimpse into its history. See http://bit.ly/dRzcP9.