Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

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The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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

2016 is fast approaching and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the 10 most popular posts we published in 2015. Today, we look at numbers seven, six and five…

Baynard's-Castle7. At number seven is a post we published in February as part of our ongoing Lost London series. In it we looked at the later history of the fortification known as Baynard’s Castle – Lost London – Baynard’s Castle (part 2)

6. Another in our series on London’s ‘battlefields’ – this one, published in November looks at the role the city played in Jack Cade’s rebellion during King Henry VI’s reign – 10 London ‘battlefields’ – 4. Jack Cade’s rebellion

5. Our fifth most popular post of 2015 was another in our series on gardens – 10 small, ‘secret’ and historic gardens in central London…5. Seething Lane Garden

We’ll look at numbers four and three tomorrow…

Hadley-HighstoneAn important battle during the late medieval Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Barnet was fought on 14th April, 1471, between the Yorkists, led by the deposed King Edward IV and Lancastrian forces loyal to the King Henry VI.

While we have looked briefly at the battle before as part of our A Moment in London’s History series (see here), we thought we’d take a more in-depth look.

Edward had been driven from the throne in October, 1470, after his alliance with the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, fell apart. With King Henry VI restored to the throne, Edward was exiled over the Channel.

By early 1471, Edward was ready to make his push for the throne again and in March he landed in Yorkshire in England’s north along with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy.

Heading south, Edward gathered more troops as he went, briefly pausing at Coventry where the Earl of Warwick refused to offer battle before pressing on to London, arriving unopposed on 12th April. There he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth Woodville and young son Edward (later Edward V) and the hapless King Henry VI was once again  taken into Yorkist custody.

The Earl of Warwick, who had been raising troops in the Midlands, moved with a 15,000-strong force to confront him and took up a position about a mile north of the village of Barnet, just north of the City, on 13th April.

Edward – who brought 10,000 to 12,000 troops to the fight and had his brothers, the erstwhile traitor George, Duke of Clarence, and the young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, by his side – arrived that same evening and took up a position just to the south of the Lancastrians. Unaware of the close proximity of the Yorkists (it’s not known whether this was by accident of design but Edward had instructed his men not to light fires and to keep silent), the Lancastrian artillery flew over their heads.

The battle was joined in earnest the following day – Easter Sunday – at around dawn. The Lancastrians were initially successful in driving back Edward’s forces on the right flank under the command of John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, but thick fog is said to have been responsible for sowing confusion in the Lancastrian ranks, leading to allies attacking each other and the Lancastrian army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery.

Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to reach his horse. His body was allowed to be displayed at St Paul’s before being buried in the family vault.

The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to be located in Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).

A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.

The battle was a resounding victory of King Edward IV for while some suggest the numbers killed were said to be about the same on both sides – somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000, Warwick was removed, depriving the Lancastrians of a key ally and giving the Yorkists a significant edge in the ongoing conflict which saw Edward IV back on the throne for the next 14 years.

PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia

For more on the Wars of the Roses, see Alison’s Weir’s book Lancaster And York: The Wars of the Roses.

London-StoneLittle is known of Jack Cade until the former soldier from Kent led an uprising against the rule of King Henry VI during the Hundred Years War with France. And London was a key site of fighting during the uprising.

Cade, who adopted the name John Mortimer and who some claimed to have been a relative of Richard, Duke of York, was said to have been a veteran of the war who led rebels protesting against the king’s rule amid the general state of disorder affecting England at the time which saw such abuses as lands being illegally seized and a lack of confidence in courts to rule fairly. There was also some discontent over the loss of lands of Normandy.

While many of the rebels were peasants, the rebellion – which rose in late May or early June, 1450 – was also supported by nobles and churchmen who were protesting what they saw as poor governance.

Led by Cade, who also attracted the title ‘Captain of Kent’, were camped on Blackheath in what is now the city’s south-east by mid-June and there apparently presented an embassy from the king with a list of grievances.

Thomas, Lord Scales – authorised by the king to raise troops, subsequently marched out to Blackheath but Cade and his rebels retreated into the forests of Kent and managed to lure the royal troops into an ambush.

Cade and the rebels returned to Blackheath while back in London the Royal soldiers turned mutinous, angered over the defeat. They were disbanded to protect the City and the king retired to Kenilworth Castle, effectively abandoning London to the rebels (despite the offer of the Lord Mayor and aldermen to resist the rebels).

Cade then marched on London itself, reaching Southwark on 2nd July (apparently using the now vanished White Hart Inn as his HQ). He forced his way over London Bridge the next day, cutting the drawbridge ropes personally with his sword to ensure it couldn’t be raised again

Such was the support the rebels had in London, that resistance was initially minimal. Following his entry to London, Cade struck the famous London Stone (pictured above – for more on it, see our earlier post here) with his sword, declaring “Mortimer” was now lord of the city.

While initially under tight control, Cade gradually lost control of many of his followers who turned to looting. Meanwhile, to head off an attack on the Tower of London – where Lord Scales had retreated – he handed over the hated Lord Treasurer, James Fiennes, Lord Saye, and his son-in-law William Crowmer, Under Sheriff of Kent (they had apparently been imprisoned in the Tower by the King for their own protection such as their unpopularity). Both were beheaded – Fiennes at Cheapside, Crowmer at Mile End – and their heads placed on poles on London Bridge.

The king’s supporters in the Tower had regrouped by early July and, with the rebels, while initially welcomed by many, now clearly having outstayed their welcome, they and city militias drove the rebels from the streets and had taken back the northern half of London Bridge (another bloody battle over the bridge) when William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, arrived with promises of pardon for the rebels on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, John Kemp.

His forced much reduced, Cade – a pardon in his pocket under Mortimer’s name only – moved back into Kent and continued to cause trouble. He was, however, captured by the new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, on 12th July, – one version says this took place near Heathfield in Sussex at a hamlet now known as Cade Street. In any event, Cade was mortally wounded during the struggle and died en route to London.

His corpse, however, completed the journey and Cade was hanged, drawn and quartered and his head placed atop a pole on London Bridge.

While the rebel ringleaders were later captured and killed, in the most part King Henry VI honoured the pardons he had granted.

The story of Cade’s rebellion features in William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry the Sixth.

CheapsideLocated at the junction of Cheapside and Poultry, the Great Conduit, also known as the Cheapside Standard, was a famous medieval public fountain.

The Great Conduit (the word conduit refers to column fountains fitted with ‘cocks’ or taps for dispensing the water) gave access to water piped using gravity four kilometres from the Tyburn into the City largely via lead pipes.

It was constructed by the City Corporation from the mid-13th century after King Henry III approved the project in 1237. It was rectangular-shaped timber building with an elevated lead tank inside from which the water was drawn.

It took the name ‘Great’ after further conduits were built further west in Cheapside in the 1390s. There were at least 15 conduits or standards scattered about the City by the time of the Great Fire in 1666.

It was rebuilt several times over its life, notably in the reign of King Henry VI, but after being severely damaged in the fire was deemed irreparable and orders were given for it to be taken down in 1669 (many houses by then had alternate water supplies, notably from the New River project). From the 1360s, management of the conduit was the responsibility of four wardens, maintaining the pipes and charging professional water carriers and tradesmen who required water by allowing free

The Cheapside Conduit was a notable landmark – some executions and other punishments were carried out here, speeches were made from here and the conduit building itself was used as a place for posting information. And to celebrate special occasions it was made to flow with wine – this took place in 1432 when King Henry VI marched through London after being crowned King of France, at the coronation of Queen Margaret in 1445 and at the wedding procession of King Henry VIII’s queen Anne Boleyn in 1533.

The substructure of the Great Conduit was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century and again in the 1990s. A plaque marking the location of the Great Conduit at the eastern end of Cheapside was unveiled in late 1994 by Thames Water and the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators. There’s also a memorial set into the pavement over the substructure.

It was exactly 543 years ago today that the Battle of Barnet – one of the key battles of the Wars of the Roses – was fought near what was then the small town of Barnet but is now an area on Greater London’s outer northern fringe.

Hadley-HighstoneKing Edward IV, returning from exile in Burgundy after he was ousted by the Lancastrians, led an estimated 10,000 Yorkists in an engagement with some 15,000 Lancastrians (who backed King Henry VI) under the command of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and known as the Kingmaker, who had previously supported the Yorkists (and before that the Lancastrians).

The forces met on 14th April, 1471, at around dawn but thick fog sewed confusion in the Lancastrian ranks with allies attacking each other and the army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery. Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to flee.

The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to span the community of Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).

A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.

The battle was important because, along with the following Battle of Tewkesbury during which the Lancastrian heir Edward was killed (and the murder of King Henry VI shortly after), it secured the throne for King Edward IV for the next 14 years.

PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia

A recreation of King Henry VIII’s imperial crown, destroyed after the English Civil War, has gone on show in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. Originally created for either King Henry VIII or his father, King Henry VII, the crown was worn at the coronations of Henry VIII’s children and possibly the king’s own as well as at Hampton Court Palace during major liturgical and court ceremonies. It was subsequently used by his successors down to King Charles I before being melted down by the Commonwealth Government in 1649 at the Tower of London. The replica crown, which is being displayed in the Royal Pew – allowing visitors access to the balcony in the chapel for the first time in seven years, is the result of detailed historical research by Dr Kent Rawlinson, curator at Hampton Court Palace, and was made by Crown Jeweller Harry Collins and his master craftsmen. Hand-crafted in silver gilt, it features 344 jewels including pearls and precious and semi-precious stones. Five enameled figures are set within five fleur-de-lis – the figures represent the Virgin and Child, St George and English kings believed to be St Edmund, St Edward the Confessor and King Henry VI (King Henry VIII had the latter three figures added to the crown to underline the political and religious authority of the Crown). For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam