Located on (or should that be under?) Chancery Lane in the City of London, the subterranean complex of underground chambers now known the London Silver Vaults was initially opened by the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Co in 1876.

Originally intended to provide strong rooms for Londoners to store their valuables – things like jewellery, household silver and important documents, the vaults also proved popular with businesses, such as jewellers and diamond and silver dealers from nearby Hatton Garden, both for storage and eventually for selling directly out of.

The building above was bomb damaged during World War II and when it was rebuilt, the vaults  – at the request of the silver dealers who had previously rented space there – were reconfigured as retail units and re-opened in its current form in 1953.

Featuring 3.9 foot (1.2 metre) thick walls, the vaults proved popular among US servicemen who purchased silver to take home to their families, and film and music stars as well as royalty have all apparently shopped here.

There are just under 30 specialist shops in the complex, claimed to be home to the largest collection of antique silver in the world including everything from cutlery to jewellery and candlesticks. Many of the businesses housed within have been passed down within families.

And, according to the management, the vaults have never been burgled.

WHERE: London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane (nearest Tube is Chancery Lane); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday/0am to 1pm Saturday; COST: free; WEBSITE: silvervaultslondon.com

PICTURES: Matt Brown under license CC BY 2.0.

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Templars

Not much remains today of the original early medieval home of the Templar Knights which once existed just west of the City of London. While the area still carries the name (as seen in the Underground station, Temple), most the buildings now on the site came from later eras. But there are some original elements.

First though, a bit of history. The Templar precinct which become known as the Temple area of London was the second site in the city given to the military order, known more completely as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (thanks to their Jerusalem HQ being located near the remains of the Temple of Solomon).

Temple-churchThe first was in Holborn, located between the northern end of Chancery Lane and Staple Inn, and was known as the ‘Old Temple’ after which, in the latter years of the 12th century, the Templars moved their headquarters to the new site – ‘New Temple’ or Novum Templum – on unoccupied land on the bank of the River Thames. 

This new precinct included consecrated and unconsecrated areas. The consecrated part was a monastery and was located around what is now Church Court with the monastic refectory built on the site of what is now Inner Temple Hall – the medieval buttery is the only part of the original building which survives.

The lay or unconsecrated part of the precinct lay east of Middle Temple Lane, where a second hall was built on the site of what is now the Middle Temple Hall (you’ll find more on that here) which was used to house the lay followers of the order.

The original buildings also included the still existing Templar Church (pictured, along with a monument depicting the Templars outside the church), which was consecrated in 1185 during the reign of King Henry II by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, on a visit to London. Like all other Templar churches, its circular design was based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (the chancel was added later and consecrated in the presence of King Henry III in 1240 – for more on the Temple Church, you can see our earlier post here.

The New Temple become an important site in London (and the kingdom as a whole – the Masters of the Temple were the heads of the order in England) and was used by many of the nobility as a treasury to store valuables (and to lend money). It also had close connections with the monarchy and was, as we saw earlier this week, a power base for King John and from where he issued what is known as the King John Charter in 1215. He also used it for a time as a repository for the Crown jewels.

In an indication of the Temple’s prominence in state affairs, some of the great and powerful were buried here during this period including William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219, and his sons William and Gilbert (for more on those buried in the Temple, see our earlier post here). There were also apparently plans to bury King Henry III and his Queen here – this apparently spurred on the building of the chancel on the church – but they were eventually buried in Westminster Abbey instead.

Numerous relics were also apparently housed here during the Templar times including a phial believed to contain Christ’s blood and pieces of the true Cross.

The Templar era came to an end in 1312 when the order was dissolved on the authority of Pope Clement V amid some heinous allegations of blasphemy and sexual immorality which had the support of King Philip IV of France. While the pope awarded their property to the rival order, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Hospitallers), King Edward II had other ideas and ignored their claims with regard to the London property and instead, claimed it for the Crown (a dispute which went on for some years).

It later became associated particularly with lawyers, although lawyers would have certainly been at work in the New Temple given its role as banker to the wealthy (but more on its later associations with lawyers in later post).

For more on the history of the Templars, see Malcolm Barber’s The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.

The-Knights-Templar

Located in a former bank at the corner of Chancery Lane and Carey Street, this pub takes its name from the Crusader order known as the Knights Templar who once owned the land upon which the lane was constructed.

The Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims and took its name from the Temple of Solomon upon the remains of which its headquarters in Jerusalem was built.

The order arrived in London later that century and Chancery Lane was created to connect the site of their original headquarters in Holborn with their subsequent home which lay between Fleet Street and the Thames – with the latter centred on a chapel (consecrated in 1185) which still stands and is now known as the Temple Church.

The pub, which opened in 1999, was formerly the home of the Union Bank of London Ltd, built in 1865 to the design of architect FW Porter.

Original features inside the Grade II-listed building – built in the ‘high Renaissance’-style – include cast iron columns and ornate detailing.

It is now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain. For more information, see www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/the-knights-templar-chancery-lane.

 

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 name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.

Fetter-LaneRather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.

The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.

Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).

It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)

And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.

In which we continue our look at some of London’s connections with Dickens’ writings…

• ‘Oliver Twist’ workhouse, Cleveland Street. The building, recently heritage listed following a campaign to save it, is said to have served as the model for the workhouse in Oliver Twist and was apparently the only building of its kind still in operation when Dickens wrote the book in the 1830s. Dickens had lived as a teenager nearby in a house in Cleveland Street and was living less than a mile away in Doughty Street (now the Charles Dickens Museum) when he wrote Oliver Twist. Thanks to Ruth Richardson – author of Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor – for mentioning this after last week’s post.

• Clerkenwell Green. It is here that Mr Brownlow first comes into contact with Oliver Twist and, mistakenly suspecting him of stealing from him, chases him through the surrounding streets. Interestingly, the grass (which you would expect when talking about a green) has been gone for more than 300 years – so it wasn’t here in Dickens’ time either.

• Barnard’s Inn, Fetter Lane. It was here, at one of London’s Inns of Court, that Pip and Herbert Pocket had chambers in Great Expectations. Barnard’s Inn, now the home of Gresham College, is only one of a number of the Inns of Court with which Dickens and his books had associations – the author lived for a time at Furnival’s Inn while Lincoln’s Inn (off Chancery Lane) features in Bleak House and the medieval Staple Inn on High Holborn makes an appearance in his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And, as mentioned last week, Middle Temple also features in his books.

• ‘Dickens House’, Took’s Court. Renamed Cook’s Court in Bleak House, the house – located in a court between Chancery and Fetter Lane – was where the law stationer Mr Snagsby lived and worked in the book. It’s now occupied by music promoter and impresario Raymond Gubbay.

• London Bridge. The bridge, a new version of which had opened in 1831 (it has since been replaced), featured in many of Dickens’ writings including Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Other bridges also featured including Southwark Bridge (Little Dorrit) and Blackfriars Bridge (Barnaby Rudge) and as well as Eel Pie Island, south-west along the Thames River at Twickenham, which is mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby.

We’ve only included a brief sample of the many locations in London related in some way to Dickens’ literary works. Aside from those books we mentioned last week, you might also want to take a look at Richard Jones’ Walking Dickensian London,  Lee Jackson’s Walking Dickens’ London or, of course, Claire Tomalin’s recent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.

London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…

• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.

• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.

• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.

• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.

• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.

• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.

• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.

There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s 
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.

• Four hundred years of London’s history is being put online as part of a new project on the City of Westminster’s website. The council is publishing a new picture depicting a different historical event from the city’s tumultuous history every day throughout 2011 under its A date with history project. The images, taken from the council’s archives, include photographs, engravings and sketchings. They include a black and white photo of queues of people waiting on Vauxhall Bridge to pay their final respects to King George V lying in state at Westminster Hall after his death on 20th January, 1936, another photograph showing the King and Queen with PM Winston Churchill inspecting damage to Buckingham Palace’s swimming pool following a raid during the Blitz in September, 1940, a hand-colored print depicting the execution of King Charles I on 30th January, 1649, and an engraving showing a comet passing by the spire of St Martin in the Field in 1744. It is the first time the images have been made freely available online. To see the images, head to www.westminster.gov.uk/archives/day-by-day.

What could be London’s oldest structure has been unearthed on the Thames foreshore. Six timber piles up to 0.3 metres in diameter have been discovered only metres from the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, part of what archaeologists believe is part of a prehistoric structure which stood on the river bank more than 6,000 years ago during the Mesolithic period when the river was lower. The find, made by a Thames Discovery Programme team, is only 600 metres away from a Bronze Age timber bridge or jetty dating from 1,500 BC which was discovered in 1993. The piles may be able to be seen from Vauxhall bridge during low tides between 10.25am on 22nd January and 11.15am on 23rd January.

Homes in London were purchased for an average price of £14,000 back in 1910, according to land tax valuations documents released online this week. Ancestry.co.uk has placed the London, England Land Tax Valuations 1910 – compiled as part of David Lloyd George’s 1910 Finance Act, known as the Domesday Survey – online to help people discover more about the financial situations of their ancestors. The documents put the value of the Bank of England at £110,000, the Old Bailey at £6,600, and Mansion House at a more impressive £992,000. The average value of property on Fleet Street was £25,000 (compared with £1.2 million today) while in Cannon Street, the average value was £20,000 (£2.2 million) and in Chancery Lane, the average value was just £11,000 (£1.1 million).

The man behind what is perhaps the most famous quote about London – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson was a noted writer, critic and raconteur of the 18th century whose work included a then unparalleled English language dictionary.

Often simply referred to as “Dr Johnson”, Johnson was also the subject of one of the most famous biographies ever written – that of his friend James Boswell’s aptly named Life of Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire (the home is now a museum), Johnson – who often struggled with poor health and depression – was the son of a bookseller who managed to help fund his brief time at Pembroke College in Oxford before lack of funds meant he had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree).

He worked with his father and as a tutor before eventually, in 1737, heading to London with his friend and former pupil, actor David Garrick, and there worked for the rest of his life as a writer producing works including magazine articles and essays, poetry, sermons, and biographies.

In 1746, he was commissioned to produce the dictionary and rented  a property at 17 Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street, where he would spend the nine years working in it. Published in 1755, the dictionary was a remarkable work which not only won him acclaim ever since but also resulted in King George III granting Johnson a modest pension for the rest of his life (he had previously been arrested for debt).

The Gough Square house is these days open to the public and includes an exhibition on Johnson’s life, particularly with regard to his time there (there’s a statue of his cat Hodge in the square itself). Other sites which Johnson is known to have frequented include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the Anchor Inn in Bankside, the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) in Bow Street where the Beefsteak Club met, and St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell where he once had an office.

Johnson married an older widow, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735, but she died in 1752 and it was following her death that Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave, moved in as his servant, eventually becoming Johnson’s heir.

Johnson’s friends included some of the great luminaries of the time, including artist Joshua Reynolds, philosopher Edmund Burke, poet Oliver Goldsmith, and, of course, Boswell.

Following a series of illnesses, Johnson died in 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The 300th anniversary of his death was marked with a series of events last year including a re-enactment of the walk Johnson and Garrick made from Lichfield to London.

Dr Johnson’s House (17 Gough Square, nearest tube is Temple, Holborn or Chancery Lane) is open Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (5pm from October to April). Entry costs £4.50 an adult, £3.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children and family tickets are available for £10. For more information, see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.