December 23, 2016
The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.
One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.
Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
September 10, 2016
September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.
Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.
Granted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.
The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.
The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.
The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.
July 29, 2016
One of the achievements of the short-lived reign of King Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, was the establishment of this hospital for orphans in 1552 in what were once buildings used by the Greyfriars Monastery (for more on the history of Greyfriars, see our earlier post here).
Located in Newgate Street, the hospital soon had a school attached which became known as the Blue Coat School thanks to the distinctive long blue coats the students wore (and still do, the school is now located near Horsham in West Sussex).
Many of the hospital buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 but most were later rebuilt under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren, although the actual work was apparently carried out by others.
Students at the school have included antiquarian William Camden, Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and writer Charles Lamb.
New buildings for girls were opened in Hertford in 1704 and the school moved out to Sussex in 1902 with the General Post Office built over the top of the demolished buildings.
June 17, 2016
Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.
It was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.
King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.
The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.
Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).
After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.
The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.
The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.
The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).
May 23, 2016
The subject of a current exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Dr John Dee – mathematician, courtier, astrologist and ‘magician’ are just some of the tags he is labelled with – is one of the most enigmatic figures of Tudor England.
Born in London’s Tower ward in 1527, Dee was of Welsh descent and the son of Roland Dee, a mercer and courtier to King Henry VIII, and Johanna Wild. He attended school in Chelmsford and, at the age of 15 entered St John’s College, Cambridge, awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1545 and a master’s degree in 1548. He was also a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded in 1546.
Dee travelled through Europe during the late 1540s and early 1550s, studying and lecturing at places including Louvain, Paris and Brussels. It was during this trip that he met mathematicians and cartographers like Gemma Frisius and Gerardus Mercator.
Back in England, Dee was appointed rector at Upton-upon-Severn (apparently on the recommendation of King Edward VI), and in 1555 was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He had, meanwhile, turned down offers of professorships at both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Oxford, ostensibly because he had hopes of obtaining an official position at court.
It was perhaps in pursuit of this that he subsequently appeared at England’s Royal Court where he took on the role of teacher of the mathematical sciences while also serving as an astrologer to Queen Mary I and courtiers.
The latter role led to Dee’s arrest and imprisonment in 1555 on charges of being a ‘magus’ (magician) – he would go on to appear for questioning in the infamous Star Chamber – but he was eventually cleared of all charges.
In 1558, Dee became a scientific and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and, by the mid-1560s, had established himself in the village of Mortlake (now in the south-west of Greater London) where he built a laboratory and gathered together what was the largest private library in the country at the time, said to have consisted of more than 4,000 books and manuscripts (and the subject of the current exhibition).
Dee was also associated with several English voyages of exploration for which he provided maps and navigational instruments, most famously Sir Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Canada in 1576-78.
He is also known for his strong views on natural philosophy and astrology and the occult, which included the idea that mathematics had a special, supernatural power to reveal divine mysteries. Some of his occult-related ideas were explored in his 1564 text Monas hieroglyphics – one of numerous works he authored – but his most influential work is said to have been a preface he wrote to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements published in 1570 in which he argued for the central role of mathematics.
Dee is said to have married three times – the first in the mid-1560s and, following the deaths of his previous two wives, the last time in 1578 when he was wedded to Jane Fromond, who was less than half his age and who had been a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Lincoln. She bore him some eight children (although there are questions over the paternity of at least one) and died in 1604 of the plaque.
By the 1580s, having failed to win the influence he hoped to have at court and wanting to further his explorations into the supernatural (in particular, communication with ‘angels’ through occult practice of crystal-gazing), he travelled to Europe with a convicted counterfeiter and medium Edward Kelley to Europe.
Returning to England, after much lobbying, Queen Elizabeth I appointed him warden of Manchester College in 1596, but despite this, he returned to London in 1605 where his final years were marked by poverty.
He is believed to have died in March, 1609, at the London home of a friend and was apparently buried in Mortlake (pictured, above, is a memorial plaque at St Mary the Virgin in Mortlake).
It’s believed that William Shakespeare modelled the figure of Prospero in the 1611 play The Tempest on Dee (it’s also claimed that he was the model for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).
Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee runs at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, until 29th July. Entry is free (check website for opening hours). For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
May 20, 2016
The Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary was founded in about 114o by Jorden de Briset, the lord of Clerkenwell Manor (he also founded the Hospitaller Priory of St John of Jerusalem which lay to the south – more on this here) on 14 acres of land to the east of the famous “Clerk’s Well” (more on the well, which was located close to, but within, the western border of the nunnery, in our earlier post here).
By 1160 a wall had been built around the precinct said to have been roughly bounded by Farringdon Lane, Clerkenwell Green (an open space between the two religious houses), St James’s Walk and a boundary to the south of, and parallel with, Bowling Green Lane to the north.
The church – where Briset and his wife were later buried and which doubled as a parish church – was built about the same time, along with an adjoining chapter-house – both of which were made of stone in contrast to the timber buildings which initially made up the rest of the complex.
A cloister and other stone buildings were erected to the north of the church later in the 12th and 13th centuries including a lodging for the prioress, a dormitory, refectory and kitchen for the nuns. Other buildings on the site included a gatehouse, what was known as the “Nun’s Hall” – possibly a hall for guests – and an infirmary with its own chapel, the location of which is apparently something of a mystery.
Substantial renovation works were carried out in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and by the time of King Henry VIII’s dissolution, it had become one of the wealthiest monasteries in England (although it only ever housed about 20 canonesses).
One of the last nunneries to be suppressed, it was dissolved in 1539 with the nuns being pensioned off.
The site was initially granted to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who held it only briefly being returning it to the king in a deal for another property and subsequently purchased by a succession of different owners.
Many of the buildings were converted for use as private mansions and outbuildings, among them Newcastle House and Challoner (later Cromwell due to the legend that Oliver Cromwell resided there) House which faced them across what had been the cloister courtyard.
The mansions were gradually redeveloped into smaller properties – it remained a popular residential area despite the building of a House of Detention to the immediate north – and in 1788-92, the parish church of St James was rebuilt to the designs of local architect James Carr, with the spire apparently modelled on St Martin-in-the-Fields (Carr also bought Newcastle House and pulled most of it down before redeveloping the area).
Church gardens, which are open to the public, now occupy some of the site of the former nunnery – in 1987, part of the medieval cloisters were excavated here.
For some insightful walks delving into the history of London, see Stephen Millar’s three books, London’s Hidden Walks: Volumes 1-3.
December 22, 2015
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one of five highly ornate towers, luxurious banqueting houses from which the court would view tournaments in King Henry VIII’s walled tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
Built in the 1530s, the multi-storey towers were largely demolished by the 1680s and, with the exception of one of the towers which still stands at the palace (and is now a Grade I listed building), their precise location eventually lost.
Until now, that is. The green-glazed tiled floor of one of the ‘lost’ towers were unearthed earlier this month during works taking place as the tiltyard undergoes a family-oriented makeover by award-winning landscape architect, Robert Myers (to be known as ‘The Magic Garden’, it will be unveiled next Easter).
The richly decorated towers – where the king entertained dignitaries and ambassadors – are thought to slightly predate the tiltyard which was apparently laid out in 1537 – perhaps, it’s been suggested, to mark the birth of King Henry VIII’s son, the future King Edward VI.
The first recorded tournament at Hampton Court took place in 1557 when Queen Mary I held one to celebrate Christmas. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I continued the tradition by occasionally holding tournaments there but most days the tiltyard was used to train the young men of the court in warfare.
When tournaments gradually fell out of fashion, the towers were used as multi-purpose storage facilities housing, according to Historic Royal Palaces, everything from pigeons to two Catholic priests in service to King Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who were spent time ‘quarantined’ there after an outbreak of plague.
For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
September 28, 2015
Famed as the court painter of King Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger was one of the greatest portrait painters of the sixteenth century.
Born in Augsburg, in southern Germany, in 1497-98, Holbein was the son of painter and draughtsman Hans Holbein the Elder. Hans, like his brother Ambrosius, followed the family trade which he apparently learnt under the tutelage of his father and uncle until breaking away to make his own mark.
Journeying with Ambrosius to Basel in what is now Switzerland, the two brothers became apprenticed to the city’s leading painter Hans Herbster. In 1517, Holbein went with father to Lucerne where they worked painting murals for a leading merchant. It is thought while there, that he visited northern Italy where he studied Italian frescos.
Returning to Basel in 1519, he quickly re-established his business there, becoming a member of the artists’ guild, and married Elsbeth Schmid, their first son arriving in the first year of their marriage (the couple apparently had four children, two of whom are depicted in a portrait with his wife he painted in the late 1520s).
He was soon completing numerous major projects for the city – including painting internal murals for the Town Hall’s council chamber – and was also involved in creating illustrations for books – the most famous being the series of images known as the Dance of Death – and painting portraits, including his first portraits of the Renaissance scholar, Erasmus. It was these and other portraits that ensured his fame across Europe.
The decline in the production of religious art, thanks to the Reformation which was then sweeping over the continent, apparently led Holbein to look further afield for work and, having first gone to France, in 1526 he went to England.
There he was welcomed by Sir Thomas More, then a key figure in the regime of King Henry VIII, who soon found him some commissions. His works during this period included portraits of More, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, astronomer Nicholas Kratzer and courtiers like Sir Henry Guildford.
He returned to Basel a wealthy and successful man in 1528 and remained there for four years before once again leaving his family and heading to England, this time finding favour with the Boleyn family and Thomas Cromwell.
It was early during this period – he remained in England until his death in 1543 – that he painted portraits of Hanseatic League merchants of the Steelyard (see our earlier post here) as well as The Ambassadors (see our earlier post here).
In 1536, he was employed as painter to King Henry VIII and the following year he painted what is arguably his most famous image – that of King Henry VIII in all his glory in the image known as the Whitehall Mural which pictured the king with his the wife, Queen Jane Seymour, his father, King Henry VII and his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York (the image was lost in the fire which destroyed Whitehall Palace in 1698 but copies were made and a copy is now at Hampton Court Palace).
King Henry VIII was to be his subject on numerous occasions as were other members of the Royal Family, courtiers and prospective wives including, famously, a portrait of Anne of Cleves which may have oversold her beauty to the king who was unimpressed with her in person (there is apparently no evidence the king blamed Holbein himself for this).
While he had successfully navigated his way past the downfall of Sir Thomas More and then the Boleyn family, the fall of Sir Thomas Cromwell did cause significant damage to his standing. Nonetheless he retained his official position at court and it was during this time that he painted some of his finest miniatures including those of the sons of Henry VIII’s friend, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.
It is believed Holbein may have returned to visit his family in late 1540 before returning to London where he died sometime in October or November, 1543, having made his will on 7th October at his home in Aldgate (plague has been suggested as the cause of his death). The site of his grave is unknown.
Holbein’s legacy is such that the portraits he created in his two stints in London have become a key component in how we view Tudor England – and in particular, the Tudor court – today.
His works can be seen in key locations across London including the National Gallery (pictured above), the National Portrait Gallery (where his bust is one of a series of artists on the exterior) and Hampton Court Palace.
September 14, 2015
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace in Greater London’s south-west. We speak to Sheila Dunsmore, a State Apartment warder at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above in centre on the left)…
1. It’s Hampton Court Palace’s 500th anniversary – who first built the palace and why? “In 1514, Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land at Hampton Court. He wanted to find a suitable place to build a sumptuous country retreat away from the dirt of London, but close enough to the capital to travel back for meetings. It was also to be a place to entertain the important company his position as Archbishop of York provided, of which none were more important than young King Henry VIII.”
2. Where are the oldest parts of the palace today? “The oldest part of the palace is the Tudor kitchens, more specifically the area were the great fire is. This was once part of Sir Giles Daubeney’s original kitchen, and dates back to the manor already on the site when it was acquired by Wolsey. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, and acquired an 80 year lease on the property from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the then owners. The bell in the tower above the astronomical clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.”
3. Hampton Court’s 500 years of history spans a number of definable eras – from Tudor to the 21st century. Which is your favourite and why? “My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as king. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!”
4. With this in mind what is your favourite part of the palace? “I love the west front façade – it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!”
5. Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace’s history? “I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the palace in 1827 and, as a handsome eligible widower, he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the dustbin man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!”
6. A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges with regard to maintaining the palace? “I think the biggest challenge would have to be generating the money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this we have to keep making sure that people want to visit, from international tour groups to local families who might visit again and again. To do this teams right across the palace work to create exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours to ensure we’re offering people a memorable experience.”
7. Are there any areas of the palace which remain unseen by the public? And any plans to open further areas up? “The palace contains over 1,000 rooms, and visitors get to discover about a quarter of these during their visit. Some years ago we held a Servants, Soldiers and Suffragettes exhibition in a suite of rooms on the top floor of Fountain Court (previously unseen). It was incredibly popular so I’d imagine that in the future we’d look for other such opportunities to share other areas of the palace with our visitors. For anyone that can’t wait that long, on one night of the year (Halloween no less), our adults-only ghost tour offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and explore some areas of the palace off the beaten track!”
8. Are there any ‘secrets’ about the palace you can reveal to us? “A palace as old and as large as Hampton Court holds its fair share of secrets…When the fire took hold in 1986 it was devastating, but in a strange twist of fate some good came from it as well. As restoration of the damaged interiors took place little secrets were revealed to us; behind wood panelling in King William’s damaged rooms hand prints were found in the plaster from the palace’s builders, and sketches were found from the architects with designs for the rooms, all worked directly onto the bare walls. Most exciting of all, however, was the object found downstairs. During work to return King William’s private dining room (which had lost its original look over the years and been used as a function room for the grace and favour residents) to its former glory, a gun was found behind some wooden panelling. The gun dated from the late 1800s, and had a regimental dinner menu was wrapped around it. This is so intriguing – what was the story behind this gun? Who did it belong to? Why did they hide the weapon?”
9. If someone has just one day to visit the palace, what’s your ideal itinerary? “This is a tricky one, and depends very much on the individual…and the weather! I would say on a sunny day start by enjoying a historic welcome with our costumed interpreters, which really helps to set the scene. If it’s a bit chilly pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier. Heading inside, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore the maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the life of the young Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.”
10. Finally, Historic Royal Palaces has already commemorated the 500th anniversary in numerous ways – from a spectacular fireworks display to a jousting tournament. Are there any more events coming up? “The beginning of September saw our costumed interpreters back with their own inimitable brand of entertainment, while at the end of September we’re hosting a sleepover inside the palace! As the evenings draw in, our popular ghost tours return for the winter season. Even further ahead we’ve got a series of carol evenings and even an ice rink for our visitors to enjoy!”
WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm until 24th October after which it’s open to 4.30pm); COST: Adult £19.30, Concession £16, Child under 16 £9.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.
10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta – 10. Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem…
July 15, 2015
Founded in Clerkenwell in 1144, the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem served as the order’s English headquarters.
The order, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and soon spread across Europe with the English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset.
The original buildings – of which only the 12th century crypt (pictured above) survives complete with some splendid 16th century tomb effigies including that of the last prior, Sir William Weston – included a circular church, consecrated in 1185, and monastic structures including cloisters, a hospital, living quarters and a refectory or dining hall.
There are records of dignitaries staying at the priory as it grew in size and renown – among them was King John who in 1212, apparently stayed here for an entire month. There are also surviving accounts of Knights Hospitaller riding out in procession from the priory and through the City at the start of a journey to the Holy Land.
The priory and church were attacked during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, thanks to its connection with the hated Poll Tax (Prior Robert Hales was also the Lord High Treasurer and was beheaded during the revolt on Tower Hill).
The church was subsequently rebuilt as a rectangular-shaped building and then, in the early 16th century, enlarged when the site was significantly renovated. These renovations were still relatively new when the priory was dissolved in 1540 during the Dissolution of King Henry VIII.
The priory church, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, was later used as a parish church but was destroyed in an air raid in World War II. Subsequently rebuilt, it can be visited today along with the crypt below and the cloister garden, created in the 1950s as a memorial to St John’s Ambulance members from the London area (the original shape of the circular church is picked out in the paving here).
Perhaps the most famous building to survive is St John’s Gate which dates from the 16th century and was once the gatehouse entrance to the priory (added in the final renovations).
After the Dissolution it served various roles including as the office of the Master of Revels (where Shakespeare’s plays were licensed), the home of The Gentleman’s Magazine (Samuel Johnson was among contributors and worked on site), a coffee house (run by William Hogarth’s father) and a public house called the Old Jerusalem Tavern (yes, Charles Dickens was said to be a regular). It is now home to the recently renovated Museum of the Order of St John (you can see our earlier post on the museum here).
WHERE: Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate (and nearby priory church), St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.
We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…
July 3, 2015
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.
Work 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).
In 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.
Bermondsey Abbey, which was more than 130-years-old by the time King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in 1215, has an unusual connection to the unpopular king – it is one of a number of buildings in London which has, at various times in history, been erroneously referred to as King John’s Palace.
This suggestion – that it was a palace which was later converted into an abbey – may have arisen from a site on the former abbey grounds being known at some point in its history as King John’s Court (that name was said to commemorate the fact that King John visited the abbey).
Putting how King John’s name came to be linked with the abbey aside, we’ll take a quick look at the history of the abbey which rose to become an important ecclesiastical institution in medieval times.
While there was a monastic institution in Bermondsey as far back as the early 8th century, the priory which was here during the reign of King John was founded in 1082, possibly on the site of the earlier institution, by a Londoner named as Aylwin Child(e), apparently a wealthy Saxon merchant who was granted the land by King William the Conqueror.
In 1089, the monastery – located about a mile back from the river between Southwark and Rotherhithe – became the Cluniac Priory of St Saviour, an order centred on the French abbey of Cluny, and was endowed by King William II (William Rufus) with the manor of Bermondsey.
It was “naturalised” – that is, became English – by the first English prior, Richard Dunton, in 1380, who paid a substantial fine for the process. It was elevated to the status of an abbey by Pope Boniface IX in 1399.
It had some important royal connections – King John’s father, King Henry II and his wife Queen Eleanor celebrated Christmas here in 1154 (their second child, the ill-fated Henry, the young King, was born here a couple of months later), and Queen Catherine (of Valois), wife of King Henry V, died here in 1437. It was also at Bermondsey Abbey that Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of King Edward IV and mother of the two “Princes in the Tower”, died in 1492 following her retirement from court.
The abbey, which grew to have an enormous income thanks to its acquisition of property in a range of counties, survived until the Dissolution when, in 1537, King Henry VIII closed its doors. It was later acquired by Sir Thomas Pope who demolished the abbey and built a mansion for himself on the site (and founded Trinity College in Oxford apparently using revenues from the property). We’ll deal more with its later history in an upcoming post.
The ruins of the abbey were extensively excavated in the past few decades and some of the remaining ruins of the abbey can still be seen buildings around Bermondsey Square and a blue plaque commemorating the abbey was unveiled in 2010. Bermondsey Street runs roughly along the line of the path which once led from the abbey gates to the Thames and the abbey had a dock there still commemorated as St Saviour’s Dock. The abbey’s name is commemorated in various streets around the area.
For more on the history of the Magna Carta, see David Starkey’s Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter.
This church in the shadow of 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) is all that remains of a Benedictine nunnery that was founded here during the reign of King John in 1210.
Established by one “William, son of William the goldsmith” after he was granted the right by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the priory was built to the north of a previously existing church with a new church for the nuns to use built right alongside the existing structure (thus accounting for the rarely seen side-by-side naves of the current building).
While the new church was built longer than the existing church, the latter was then lengthened to give them both the same length. A line of arches and a screen separated the nun’s choir and the parish church.
The church which stands today has been much altered over the centuries and what we now see there largely dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (although the bell turret which sits over the west front is an 18th century addition).
One of the priory’s claims to fame in medieval times was that it apparently was once home to a piece of the True Cross, presented by King Edward I in 1285.
The nunnery was dissolved in 1538 during the Great Dissolution of King Henry VIII and the buildings, excepting the church, sold off to the Leathersellers’ Company (all were eventually demolished by the 18th century). The screen separating the nun’s choir and the parish church, meanwhile, was removed, leaving the main body of the church as it can be seen today.
The now Grade I-listed church, which was William Shakespeare’s parish church when he lived in the area in the 1590s, survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz but was severely damaged by two IRA bombs in the early 1990s leading to some major – and controversial – works under the direction of architect Quinlan Terry.
Inside the church today is a somewhat spectacular collection of pre-Great Fire monuments including the 1579 tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, the 1636 tomb of judge, MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, and the 1476 tomb of merchant, diplomat, City of London alderman and MP, Sir John Crosby.
It was also once the site of the grave of 17th century scientist Sir Robert Hooke but these were apparently removed from the church crypt in the 19th century when repairs to the floor of the nave were being made and placed in an unmarked common grave. Their location apparently remains unknown.
WHERE: St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helens (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate, Bank and Liverpool Street); WHEN: 9.30am to 12.30pm weekdays daily (also usually open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons but visitors are advised to telephone first); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.st-helens.org.uk.
This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.
By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.
Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.
While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).
This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).
But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.
Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).
The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).
It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.
And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
This Week in London – Party time at Hampton Court; new rooms unveiled at Eltham; Richard III at the Science Museum, and Kew’s Easter egg hunt…
April 2, 2015
Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter!
• It’s party time at Hampton Court Palace this weekend as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary with festivities including a spectacular (and historic) light show. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the palace will be open for an evening of festivities including the chance to taste-test pork cooked in the Tudor kitchens, enjoy a drink at a pop-up bar in the Cartoon Gallery, listen to live performances of period music in the state apartments and watch a 25 minute sound and light show in the Privy Garden taking viewers on a journey through the palace’s much storied past culminating in a fireworks finale. The nights run from 6.30pm to 9.15pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• A luxury wartime bunker, a map room dating from the 1930s and a walk-in wardrobe complete with vintage fashion are among five new rooms at Eltham Palace in south London which are opening to the public for the first time this Easter. The rooms also include a basement billiards room and adjoining bedrooms, one of which features one of the first showers ever installed in a residential house in the UK. They have been restored as part of English Heritage’s major £1.7 million makeover of the property – the childhood home of King Henry VIII which was converted into a stunning Art Deco gem in the 1930s. Visitors will be invited to join one of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s legendary cocktail party’s of the 1930s while children can take part in an interactive tour exploring the story of the animals that lived at the palace including Mah-Jongg, the Courtauld’s pet lemur (who had his own heated bedroom!). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/eltham. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to donate to support the renovation of the map-room can do so at www.english-heritage.org.uk/donate-eltham.
• A new exhibition showcasing the latest scientific displays concerning the life and death of King Richard III has opened at the Science Museum. King Richard III: Life, Death and DNA, which opened last Wednesday – the day before the king’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, features an analysis of Richard III’s genome, a 3D printed skeleton (only one of three in existence) and a prototype coffin. It explores how CT scans were used to prove the king’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 were caused by a sword, dagger and halberd (a reproduction of the latter is on display). The exhibition will run until 25th June. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RichardIII.
• Join Shaun the Sheep and friends for Kew Garden’s annual Easter Egg hunt this Sunday. The hunt will take place from 9.30am to noon (or when the eggs run out!) with participants needing to find three sheep and collect a token/chocolate dropping from each before finding the Easter bunny and claiming eggs supplied by Divine chocolate. Shaun, meanwhile, who hit the big screen for the first time this year, will be found in the Madcap Meadow until 12th April. Admission charge applies. For the full range of events taking place at the gardens this Easter season, check out www.kew.org. PICTURE: RBG Kew.
• London’s Boroughs are turning 50 and to celebrate London councils – working with the London Film Archive – have released a short film telling the story of the past half century. Follow this link to see it. Councils across the city, meanwhile, are holding events throughout the year to mark the occasion – check with your local council for details; some, like Barking and Dagenham, and Camden have dedicated pages.
• The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Westminster. Known as ‘C’ thanks to his habit of initialling papers (a tradition which has been carried on by every chief since), Cumming was chief of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau from 1909 until his death in 1923. Flats 53 and 54 at 2 Whitehall Court – now part of Grade II*-listed The Royal Horseguards Hotel – served as Cumming’s home and office at various times between 1911 and 1922. The plaque was unveiled by current Secret Intelligence Service chief, Alex Younger. Meanwhile, Amelia Edwards, pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, has also been honoured with a blue plaque on her former home in Islington. Edwards lived at 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell between 1831 and 1892. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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This Week in London – Garden art from the Royal Collection; A Royal Welcome at Buckingham Palace; photographic history; and, Joshua Reynolds reconsidered…
March 19, 2015
• King Henry VIII’s well-thumbed gardening manual, a late 15th century copy of the Ruralia Commoda, and a 16th century portrait of Jacopo Cennini, factor and estate manager to the House of Medici – believed to be the earliest surviving portrait of a gardener – are among more than 150 objects on display at a new exhibition celebrating the art of gardens. Opening at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace tomorrow, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Gardens features some of the earliest surviving records of gardens and plants in the Royal Collection including Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (1615), The Family of Henry VIII (c. 1545) featuring King Henry VIII’s Great Garden at Whitehall Palace – the first real garden recorded in British art, and A View of Hampton Court by Leonard Knyff (c. 1702-14) – described as the “greatest surviving Baroque painting of an English garden”. There are also works by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Martin, Swiss artist Johan Jacob Schalch and Sir Edwin Landseer. The exhibition runs until 11th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Illustration from Henry VIII’s copy of the gardening manual, c. 1490-95. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.
• Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, has announced its summer opening under the theme of A Royal Welcome. From 25th July to 27th September, displays in the State Rooms will recreate the settings for some of the many occasions in which the palace welcomes guests – from State Visits and garden parties to investitures and private audiences. The displays will show the behind-the-scenes preparations that go into a state visit and show the ballroom set up for a State Banquet. There will also be a display featuring the knighting stool and a knighting sword and, for the first time ever, visitors will enter the State Rooms through the Grand Entrance, used by those who come to the palace at the invitation of the Queen, including heads of state and prime ministers. The Australian State Coach, most recently used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and the wife of the Mexican President, Señora Rivera, in March this year, will be displayed in the Grand Entrance portico. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• About 100 of the “most stunning photographs ever created” go on show in the Science Museum’s Media Space in South Kensington from tomorrow. Revelations explores the role of early scientific photography in inspiring later art photographers and will feature rare shots from the National Photography Collection including an original negative of X-Ray, 19th century photographs capturing electrical charge and William Henry Fox Talbot’s experiments with photomicrography. Displayed alongside are images by some of the 20th century’s pre-eminent art photographers such as Trevor Paglen, Idris Khan and Clare Strand. Runs until 13th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/revelations.
• On Now: Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint. This exhibition at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone provides a new perspective on the portraits of Reynolds, one of the greatest artists of his day. Works on show including Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abington as Miss Prue and Self Portrait Shading the Eyes as well as lesser known pictures and a rare history painting. The exhibition reveals discoveries made recently during a four year research project into the works of Reynolds now in the care of the collection. Runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more, see www.wallacecollection.org.
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This Week in London – Rarely seen Goya at the Courtauld; Wolsey Angels saved; and, A Victorian Obsession…
February 26, 2015
• A “ground-breaking” exhibition of works of 18th and 19th century Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya opens to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House today. Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album brings together the previously widely scattered pages of one of the artist’s most celebrated private albums in the first exhibition to ever recompile one of them. The album – which features themes of witchcraft, dreams and nightmares and has been reconstructed into its original sequence – is thought to have been made between 1819-23, a period during which Goya completed the murals known as the Black Paintings. Runs until 25th May. Admission charges applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/goya. PICTURE: © The Courtauld Gallery (He can no longer at the age of 98, c. 1819-23, J. Paul Getty Museum).
• The ‘Wolsey Angels’ have been “saved for the nation” after a campaign to acquire them by the V&A. The museum has reported that more than £87,000 was raised in a national public appeal – around £33,000 of which was raised via donations and through the purchase of badges at the South Kensington premises – which, along with grants including a £2 million National Heritage Memorial Fund grant and a £500,000 Art Fund grant, will be used to acquire the four bronze angels which were originally designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chief advisor to King Henry VIII. The four bronze angels, which have been in display at the V&A, will now undergo conservation treatment before going back on display. For more on the history of the angels, see our earlier post here. For more information on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• Closing Soon – A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón collection at Leighton House Museum. This exhibition at the former Holland Park of Lord Leighton presents more than 50 rarely exhibited paintings by leading Victorian artists including Albert Moore, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, John William Waterhouse, Edward Pointer, John Strudwick and John William Godward as well as six pictures by Leighton himself and the highlight, Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Roses of Heliogabalus. Runs until 29th March. Admission charge applies. See www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/leightonhousemuseum/avictorianobsession.aspx for more.
February 20, 2015
Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.
In the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).
King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).
After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.
It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.
The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.
It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.
PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott
This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace turns 500; celebrating the influence of Rubens; and, remembering the liberation of Auschwitz…
January 22, 2015
• Hampton Court Palace turns 500 this year and the palace is conducting a programme of events in celebration of the landmark anniversary. Sadly, the first in a series of events – a night in which Historic Royal Palace’s chief curator Lucy Worsley, inspired by the recent BBC Two programme Britain’s Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court, will explore one of the greatest nights in Hampton Court’s history, the christening of King Henry VIII’s longed for son, Edward (later King Edward VI) – is already sold out but there are a range of further events planned (we’ll try and keep you informed as they come up through the year). In the meantime, HRP have announced that a rare 16th century hat which is rumoured to have once belonged to King Henry VIII is to return to the palace later this year after undergoing restoration. The story goes that the hat, which will become the oldest item of dress in the palace’s collection by almost a century, was caught by Nicholas Bristowe, the king’s Clerk of the Wardrobe, when Henry threw it in the air on hearing of the French surrender of Boulogne in 1544. Treasured by the Bristowe’s descendants, it has now been acquired by HRP and is expected to go on show in a future exhibition. We’ll be looking at the hat in more detail in a future post. For more on the palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• The first major exhibition in the UK to examine the influence of Peter Paul Rubens on the history of art opens at the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly on Saturday. Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cezanne brings together more than 160 works by Rubens and artists who were inspired by him both during his lifetime and later including everyone from Van Dyck, Watteau, Turner and Delacroix to Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Klimt and Picasso. The exhibition is organised around six themes: poetry, elegance, power, lust, compassion and violence. Runs until 10th April in the Main Galleries. For more, see www.royalacademy.co.uk.
• The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz will be marked at Westminster Abbey with a special service at 6.30pm on 1st February. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at the camp, located in south-west Poland, around 90 per cent of them Jewish. It was liberated on 27th January, 1945 by the Red Army. Tickets are free but need to be booked. Follow this link to book. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth has invited people to mark Holocaust Memorial Day – 27th January – with a visit to the free Holocaust Exhibition which has a 13 metre long model depicting the arrival of a deportation train from Hungary at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1944, accompanied by testimonies from 18 survivors. Recommended for children aged 14 and above. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
November 28, 2014
A Thames-side slum area located between Temple and Whitefriars Street (and south of Fleet Street), an area previously occupied by the Whitefriars Monastery, Alsatia was known as something of a lawless district where residents resisted any intervention by City officials.
The district came into existence following the dissolution of the monastery by King Henry VIII (he apparently gave the buildings and land to his physician Dr William Butts) and the area, despite some initial efforts to build substantial houses there, eventually degenerated into an overcrowded slum (apparently even when the priory was still existent, some of the surrounding areas had been somewhat disreputable).
The right of sanctuary apparently existed in the area which meant that debtors and criminals who entered gained immunity from arrest while they remained here.
Authorities were certainly loathe to enter the district given the strength which residents showed in resisting any attempts to grab hold of wanted persons and the maze-like narrow thoroughfares of the area and it became mockingly referred to as Alsatia in a reference to Alsace, a much disputed region on the French-German border which was historically outside normal legal jurisdiction.
Among those who took refuge here was Daniel Defoe – he is said to escaped here in 1692 after he was wanted by authorities for writing seditious material.
There were several attempts to clean up the slum but these had little effect (although the Great Fire of London did burn through here in 1666) and in 1608, King James I confirmed the area’s liberties in a formal charter. The rights remained in place until 1697 when they were abolished by an Act of Parliament (along with those of other liberties), although the area maintained its disreputable character for some time after.
Alsatia was mentioned in several books including in Thomas Shadwell’s 1688 play The Square of Alsatia and Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel, The Fortunes of Nigel, and the term continued to be used to refer to run-down neighbourhoods until late in the 19th century.