Florin-Court

Since we’re talking about the homes of detectives, we’ll continue on that trend with a look at the home of Agatha Christie’s creation Hercule Poirot as it appears in the TV series of the same name (now in its 13th and final season).

The Belgian-born detective, who featured in some 33 novels and 65 short stories, rose to the rank of the police chief of the city Brussels before the outbreak of World War I forced him to leave his home for England. There he met up with his friend Captain Arthur Hastings – they had apparently previously met – and undertakes some government work before eventually embarking upon his new career as a private detective.

He subsequently moves into an art deco flat which becomes his workplace and home at 56B Whitehavens Mansions (he apparently chose the building based on its symmetry).  In the TV show, the art deco block chosen to represent this building is the Grade II-listed Florin Court, located on the eastern side of Charterhouse Square in Smithfield.

Actually built in 1936 – well after Poirot apparently moved in – the nine floor building has a curvaceous facade and boasts some 120 flats along with a basement swimming pool and rooftop garden. Interestingly, last July there was a fire in a first floor flat causing the entire building to be evacuated.

Poirot apparently lived in a couple of different apartments in the building and was also known at times to reside in The Savoy Hotel and The Park Lane Hotel.

PICTURE: Goodwillgames/Wikimedia Commons

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This pub, located just off Charterhouse Square near Barbican, has a distinctive barrel-shaped front window and a name that evokes a sense of the rich history of the area in which it stands.

The-Sutton-ArmsThe name of this pub at 6 Carthusian Street comes directly from Sir Thomas Sutton, a late 16th century/early 17th century businessman and moneylender who owned nearby land on which a Carthusian monastery once stood and who founded the Charterhouse School based at the site.

The monastery, which had been founded in 1371, was dissolved by King Henry VIII in the Dissolution of the Monasteries which took place in the first half of the 16th century – it was a nasty business with some of the monks executed at Tyburn.

The land was subsequently granted to Sir Edward North who built a mansion on the site which was subsequently sold to the fourth Duke of Norfolk. It was his son, Thomas Howard – the first Earl of Suffolk, who, in 1611, sold the property to Sir Thomas (and subsequently built the magnificent Audley End House in Essex with the funds).

Said to have been the “wealthiest commoner in England”, Sutton, who died that same year, used his wealth to endow a charitable foundation to both educate boys and care for elderly men.

The Charterhouse school later moved out to Surrey while elderly “brothers” are still housed at the original location today (for more on the Charterhouse, see our previous posts on King James I’s London and on 10 Historic London Squares).

Some of the glass in the  pub’s great barrel-shaped window was apparently replaced after a bomb knocked some of the original out during the Blitz.

Incidentally, there’s another pub of the same name only a few streets away in Great Sutton Street.

Charterhouse-Square-GardensThe final in our series on historic garden squares in London (for this year, anyway), we’re taking a look at Charterhouse Square.

The five sided square, located just to the east of Smithfield, takes its name from a Carthusian monastery which was established in 1371 on what is now its north side. Prior to this, what is now the square had from 1348 served as a location for a plaque burial pit (a number of skeletons from the plaque pit have been unearthed as part of the Crossrail project – for our earlier story on this, follow this link).

The monastery was dissolved in 1537 after the monk’s refused to recognise King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (some were later executed at Tyburn) and it was subsequently transformed into a manor house with Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, among its residents over the years (in fact he was imprisoned there around 1570 for allegedly plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – he was later executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason).

Under the will of Thomas Sutton, an almshouse and school was subsequently established on the site – the almshouse remains there while the school, whose students had included Methodism founder John Wesley and writer William Makepeace Thackeray, moved out to Godalming in Surrey in 1872. As well as the almshouse (which is open for guided tours, check this site for details), some of the buildings are now occupied by medical related institutions.

In the 1600s, the square was also home to numerous other large residences among them Rutland House, which had been the residence of the Venetian ambassador. It lost its aristocratic inhabitants in the ensuing centuries but remained mainly residential up until the late 19th century when it gradually became taken over by businesses and other organisations. Interesting to note is that the east side of the square is still home to the residential unit complex known as Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Hercule Poirot in the TV series which bears his name.

The area of the garden square itself was variously referred to as the Charterhouse Churchyard, the Charterhouse Yard and Charterhouse Close over the years and has gone through numerous incarnations with efforts to improve and formalise its look dating back to at least the 16th century. It was at least partly enclosed by the late 1600s and the fences replaced several times, notably in 1742 when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing residents to fine those who entered without authorisation. The enclosing fences have since been modified several more times.

One of the major changes to the shape of the square occurred in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway was extended between Farringdon and Moorgate. It was at this time that the road surface which surrounds the central garden, which has a Grade II heritage listing, was laid down.

Today the gardens in the centre of the square remain under the management of the Charterhouse (and hence aren’t open to the general public except on tours) but even without a tour it’s still a quiet place to walk around the outside of, evoking a strong sense of years gone past.

Crossrail---FarringdonA lost London burial ground has been unearthed in Farringdon by archaeologists working on the £14.8 million Crossrail project.

Thirteen adult skeletons, believed to be up to 660 years old, have been discovered lying in two rows 2.5 metres below the ground on the edge of Charterhouse Square.

It is likely based on the depth at which the bodies were buried and other evidence (including pottery found at the site and a similarity between the layout of the bones and those of 14th century plaque victims unearthed at the East Smithfield Burial Ground in the 1980s), that the skeletons were buried here in 1349 during the Black Death.

Historical records suggest that as many as 50,000 people may have been buried here in the three years from the burial ground’s opening in 1348. The burial ground remained in use until the 1500s but has never been located in modern times.

The skeletons are being excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing.

Crossrail Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver described the discovery as “highly significant”.

“We will be undertaking scientific tests on the skeletons over the coming months to establish their cause of death, whether they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were,” he said.

“However, at this early stage, the depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and the way the skeletons have been set out, all point towards this being part of the  14th century emergency burial ground.”

It is likely more remains will be found according to experts.

Archaeologists working on the Crossrail project have previously uncovered more than 300 burials at the New Cemetery near the site of the Bedlam Hospital at Liverpool Street from the 1500s to 1700s.

For more on Crossrail, see www.crossrail.co.uk.