Crypt

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…

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Rochester-Castle

We’ve visited Rochester before but given it’s the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta we thought it would be good to take a more in-depth look at Rochester Castle and the events that took place there after the sealing of the “Great Charter”.

Rochester Castle was first built in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings as a Norman stronghold to control the Medway and the Roman road – Watling Street – which crossed it at that point. There was a Roman-era town on the site and it’s likely the first castle – surrounded by a deep ditch and featuring walls of earth topped with timber – was  built within the town’s walls – possibly on the site of the existing castle.

Rochester-Castle2Work on a stone castle was started in the late 1080s by Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester (he also built the first Tower of London), and the castle precincts outer walls still largely follow the line of his original curtain walls. The keep was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was granted the castle by King Henry I in 1127. It remained in the custody of the archbishops until the events of 1215.

Following the sealing of the Magna Carta in May, relations between King John and the barons soured again into outright civil war with the castle declared for the rebels. In October and November, 1215, it was held for some seven weeks by a force of knights – accounts suggest between 95 and 140 – against the forces of King John. These eventually breached the south curtain wall and after the forces of the knights – who were led by William de Albini and Reginald de Cornhill – retreated to the keep, the king ordered his sappers to work.

The miners were successful in undermining the south-west tower which collapsed along with a large section of the keep (the fat of 40 pigs were apparently used to make sure the fire in the mine was hot enough). The defenders nonetheless kept fighting, retreating further into the remains of the keep, until they were eventually forced to surrender when faced with starvation. King John’s fury at their resistance was said to be great but while some of the defenders lost their hands and feet when they were apparently lopped off on his orders after surrendering, he was convinced to spare the holdouts from being hanged on the spot and merely had them imprisoned.

The tower was later rebuilt by King John’s long ruling son, King Henry III, and you can see its distinct round shape (in contrast with the earlier, square towers) when looking at the keep today. (Incidentally, King John’s siege was the castle’s second major siege – the first had taken place in 1088 when the forces of King William II (Rufus) had besieged the castle which was then held by the rebellious Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was involved in an attempt to put William the Conqueror’s eldest son, Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the throne in place of William (who was the second son). Odo was forced to come to terms and exiled as a result of the siege).

Rochester-Castle3In the hands of the Crown after King John’s siege, the castle was again the site of a siege in 1264 – this time unsuccessful when rebels under the command of Simon de Montfort failed to take it from those of King Henry III (although the garrison was later forced to surrender following events elsewhere).

It was rebuilt and repaired a number of times, including during the reigns of King Edward III and that of King Richard II (during whose reign it was also ransacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381). Other kings to visit it over the years included King Henry VII and King Henry VIII.

Already much deteriorated and neglected, in 1610, King James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family sold off some of the timber and stone to local builders. It survived the Civil War without incident and was used as a public pleasure garden from the 1870s onward before, in 1884, it was sold to the City of Rochester. In 1965 responsibility for its care was given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Current managers, English Heritage, took over the site in 1984.

The castle remains an imposing site in Rochester and the outer walls of the keep remain intact even if it’s no more than a shell. Worth the climb to the top simply to take advantage of the spectacular views of the town and cathedral below!

WHERE: Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent – nearest train station is Rochester (half a mile); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 30th September); COST:£6.20 adults/£3.90 children (aged 5-15) and concessions (free for English Heritage members); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rochester-castle.

London-Bridge2

The current London Bridge, which spans the River Thames linking Southwark to the City, is just the latest in several incarnations of a bridge which originally dates back to Roman times.

This week, we’re focusing on first stone bridge to be built on the site. Constructed over a period of some 33 years, it was only completed in 1209 during the reign of King John, some six years before the signing of the Magna Carta.

Construction on the bridge began in 1176, only 13 years after the construction of an earlier wooden bridge on the site (the latest of numerous wooden bridges built on the site, it had apparently built of elm under the direction of Peter de Colechurch, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, a now long-gone church in Cheapside).

It was the priest-architect de Colechurch who was also responsible for building the new bridge of stone, apparently on the orders of King Henry II. While many of the wealthy, including Richard of Dover, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave funds for the construction of the bridge, a tax was also levied on wool, undressed sheepskins and leather to provide the necessary monies – the latter led to the phrase that London Bridge was “built upon woolpacks”. King John, meanwhile, had decreed in 1201 that the rents from several homes on the bridge would be used to repair it into perpetuity.

The bridge, which featured 20 arches – a new one built every 18 months or so, was apparently constructed on wooden piles driven into the river bed at low water with the piers of Kentish ragstone set on top. It was dangerous work and it’s been estimated that as many as 200 men may have died during its construction.

The bridge was almost completely lined with buildings on both sides of the narrow central street. These included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas á Becket – a stopping point for pilgrims heading to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury, as well as shops and residences (although, apart from the chapel, we know little about the original buildings). There was also a drawbridge toward the southern end and the Great Stone Gate guarding the entrance from Southwark.

Peter de Colechurch died in 1205, before the bridge was completed. He was buried in the undercroft of the chapel on the bridge.

Three men subsequently took on the task of completing the bridge – William de Almaine, Benedict Botewrite and Serle le Mercer who would go on to be a three time Lord Mayor of London. All three were later bridge wardens, the City officials charged with the daily running of the bridge itself.

One of key events on the bridge in the years immediately after its completion was the arrival of Louis, the Dauphin of France, in May, 1216. Louis had been invited to depose John by the rebellious barons after the agreement sealed at Runnymede fell apart and in 1216, he and his men marched over London Bridge on their way to St Paul’s Cathedral. (We’ll deal with this in more detail in a later post).

What became known as ‘Old London Bridge’, which stood in line with Fish Street Hill, survived the Great Fire of 1666, albeit badly damaged, but was eventually replaced with a new bridge, known, unsurprisingly as ‘New London Bridge’, which opened in 1831. Designed by John Rennie, this bridge was later replaced by one which opened in 1971 (Rennie’s bridge was sold off and now stands in Lake Havasu City, Arizona).

For a detailed history of Old London Bridge, check out Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe.

St-Helen-Bishopsgate2

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.

St-Helen's-BishopsgateEstablished 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.

Magna-Carta4

We interrupt our regular programming today to mark a truly historic milestone – 800 years since King John set his seal to the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in a field at Runnymede to the west of London.

So, where can you see a copy in London?

The British Library actually holds two of the four surviving documents from 1215 (one is pictured above) – the other two are held by Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

One of the copies in the British Library was damaged in an 18th century fire; the other was found in a tailor’s shop in London in the 17th century – made of sheepskin, it was apparently about to be taken apart to line collars.

The library’s current Magna Carta exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, features the two documents (along with Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights). For more about the exhibition, see www.bl.uk/events/magna-carta–law-liberty-legacy (runs until 1st September – for more see our earlier post here).

Meanwhile, the City of London Corporation also possesses a copy of the Magna Carta – although a later one that that issued in 1215.

Issued by King Edward I in 1297, this was the one which saw the document’s clauses, somewhat changed from 1215, written into the statutes for the first time.

Stored at the Guildhall Art Gallery, it is too delicate to be on permanent display but is currently on display in the City of London  Heritage Gallery until 1st October (for more follow this link).

You can read more about the Magna Carta and its London connections in our Wednesday series, 10 sites from London at the time of the Magna Carta.

PICTURE: British Library.

Lambeth-palaceThe London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace was first acquired by the archbishopric in around the year 1200 with Archbishop Stephen Langdon – an important figure in the whole Magna Carta saga – believed to be the first to have lived there.

Lambeth-Palace2The complex built in the early 13th century included a chapel, a great hall, a ‘great chamber’ where the archbishop would receive guests, and private apartments for Archbishop Langdon, who was appointed to the archbishopric in 1207 and remained in the post until his death in 1228 (his appointment was a major point of contention between King John and Pope Innocent III and a key factor in the dispute which led to the creation of the Magna Carta).

Not much remains of the original palace but the sections that do include the originally free-standing Langdon’s Chapel (although now much altered and connected to the rest of the complex) and the crypt beneath it (described as one of the best preserved medieval stone vaults in London it is now a chapel but was originally used for the storage of wine and beer).

They are both believed to have been completed in about 1220 with the other buildings now present added later over the centuries.

These include the formidable red brick gatehouse that fronts the complex today – known as Morton’s Tower, it is named after Archbishop Cardinal John Morton and dates from 1490 – while the Guard Room, which has its origins in the archbishop’s ‘great chamber’, dates from the 14th century and the infamous Lollard’s Tower – used as a prison in the 17th century – from the 15th century.

The Great Hall – now used as a library, first established in 1610 – was rebuilt in the mid 17th century although it is believed to stand on the site of that first used by Langdon (we’ll deal more with the later history of Lambeth Palace in a later post).

WHERE: Lambeth Palace, corner of Lambeth Palace Road and Lambeth Road (nearest tube stations are Westminster, Waterloo, Vauxhall, and Lambeth North); WHEN: Guided tours (90 minutes) only – check website for details; COST: £12 a person plus £2.95 booking fee (under 17s are free); WEBSITE: www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/pages/about-lambeth-palace.html.

Houses-of-Parliament2 Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.

Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).

One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).

The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.

The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.

For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).

Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.

Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.

King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year. 

Templars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was on 9th May, 2015, 800 years ago this year that, in the lead-up to the creation of the Magna Carta in June, King John issued a charter granting the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor.

The charter, which was issued at the Temple – King John’s power base to the west of the City (for more on it, see our earlier post here), was a fairly blatant bid to keep the support of the city.

King-John-CharterKnown simply as the King John Charter, it stated that the barons of the city, “may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present”.

In return, the mayor was required to be presented to the monarch to take an oath of loyalty each year – a practice commemorated in the Lord Mayor’s Show each November.

The charter, which has a particularly good impression of the king’s seal, is currently on display in the City of London’s newly opened Heritage Gallery, located at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The event was one of a series leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in June. Only 10 days after King John issued the charter to the City of London, rebel barons, who have previously taken Bedford, marched on the city to demand their rights and arrived their before the Earl of Salisbury (whom John had ordered to occupy the city).

Aldgate was apparently opened to them by some supporters within the city and the forces of the rebel barons went on to attack the home of royalists as well as those of Jews along with a Jewish burial ground in Barbican – the latter because Jewish moneylenders had lent money to the king.

They later besieged the Tower of London and while they couldn’t take the fortress, their seizure of the city was enough to help force the king to open negotiations late in the month, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, on 27th May  to arrange truce (which, while it was apparently not observed terribly well, did help pave the path to the Magna Carta).

The exhibition at the Heritage Gallery runs until 4th June. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/attractions-museums-and-galleries/guildhall-art-gallery-and-roman-amphitheatre/Pages/Heritage-Gallery.aspx.

PICTURE: City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

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.

White-Tower

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/.  

great-seal-king-john-eton-college-british-library-magna-carta-law-liberty-legacyThe largest ever exhibition related to the Magna Carta opens at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the document’s sealing. Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy features two original Magna Carta manuscripts from 1215 as well as 1215 document, the Articles of the Barons (known as ‘draft’ of the Magna Carta), the Petition of Right (1628), the English Bill of Rights (1689), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It will also display two of the most celebrated documents in American history – the Delaware copy of the Bill of Rights and Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence (both on loan from the US National Archives) –  along with UK cabinet papers from 1941 in which it was proposed an original Magna Carta manuscript from 1215 be given to the US in return for their support in World War II and artefacts including King John’s teeth, thumb bone and fragments of clothing taken from his tomb in 1797 as well as his will. The exhibition tells the story of the Magna Carta from its creation in 1215 through to its later use by people fighting for various rights and freedoms and its continuing impact on the world today. There’s also a series of interviews with politicians, historians and public figures including Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, former US President Bill Clinton and William Hague. Runs until 1st September. Admission charge applies. For more – and a digitised gallery of artifacts – visit www.bl.uk/magna-carta-exhibition. PICTURE: Great Seal of King John, 1203 © Eton College Archives on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. Marking the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington: Triumphs, Politics, and Passions explores Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life. Highlights include Goya’s 1812 portrait of Wellington following his entry into Madrid (later modified to recognise further battle honours and awards), and Thomas Lawrence’s famous portrait painted in 1815, the same year as the Battle of Waterloo (the painting, which normally hangs in Apsley House, was used as the basis of the design of the £5 British note from 1971 to 1991). The exhibition of 59 portraits and other works also includes rarely seen works loaned by Wellington’s family include a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier and a daguerreotype portrait taken by Antoine Claudet for Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844. Runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk or for more on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, see www.waterloo200.org.

An exhibition celebrating the works of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty presents his works in 10 sections which focus on everything from McQueen’s roots in London, his “skilful subversion of traditional tailoring practices”, his fascination with the animal world and his longstanding interest in Eastern cultures. At the centre of the exhibition is The Cabinet of Curiosities, a display showcasing more than 100 garments and accessories and shown with film footage from his many catwalk presentations. The exhibition runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies but you’ll have to be quick – the exhibition has already set the record for the most ever advance sales for an exhibition at the museum. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty.

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

 

Baynard’s Castle actually refers to two buildings – a Norman fortification demolished in the early 13th century and a later medieval palace located to the east of the original structure. This week we’re looking at the first of those buildings – the Norman fortification.

Castle-BaynardThe first Baynard’s Castle was built in the late 11th century by Ralph Baynard (Baignard) and is believed to have replaced an earlier fortification at the site at the junction of the Thames and the Fleet rivers (the river now emerges into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge).

Baynard (his name may be the origin of the name for Bayswater – Baynard’s Watering place – see our earlier post here), was the sheriff of Essex and a supporter of William the Conqueror.

The castle – which is said to have featured walls and parapets and which is generally said to have been on the waterfront (although some have said it was located inland) – remained in Baynard’s family until the reign of King Henry I when in 1111, his grandson William Baynard apparently forfeited his lands for supporting Henry’s eldest brother and would-be king, Robert Curthose.

It was later passed to the King’s steward Robert Fitz Richard, son of the Earl of Clare, and is known to have been inherited by his grandson, Robert Fitzwalter.

Fitzwalter, however, was a key opponent of King John and as early as 1212 he was in hot water for his part in a conspiracy against the king, although he stated it was because the king tried to seduce his daughter, Matilda the Fair. Either way, he escaped trial by heading to France and John seized the opportunity to raze the castle which he did on 14th January, 1213.

Fitzwalter was later forgiven under an amnesty and went on to play a leading role among the baronial opposition to Kong John – he was among 25 barons charged with enforcing the promises of the Magna Carta of 1215.

The name Baynard’s Castle is remembered in the London ward of Castle Baynard (pictured) which covers the area in which it once stood.

Lord-Mayor's-Show1

Tomorrow is the Lord Mayor’s Show and once again the great procession will make its through London’s streets so the Lord Mayor may swear their loyalty to the Crown. So, to celebrate, we thought we’d interrupt our regular programming and bring you 10 facts about the Lord Mayor’s Show…

1. The origins of the Lord Mayor’s Show go back to 1215 when King John granted the city the right to elect their mayors but only on condition that they made their way to Westminster to swear their loyalty each year. There is evidence that by the late 14th century, the journey had turned into something of a procession.

2. Lawyer Fiona Woolf is the 686th Lord Mayor, formally taking on the job when outgoing mayor Roger Gifford hands the City insignia to her in what is known as the Silent Ceremony held at Guildhall today. She is only the second woman to ever hold the post; Mary Donaldson was the first to do so in 1983.

3. The person responsible for organising the day is the Pageantmaster. The current Pageantmaster is Dominic Reid – he gets to travel in a ceremonial Landrover.

4. The day was originally held on 28th October, the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, but was moved to 9th November in 1751 when Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Because this meant it call be held on any day of the week, to simplify matters in 1959 it was decided that the Show would be held on the second Saturday in November.

5. Effigies of Gog and Magog, seen guardians of the City of London, have appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show since at least 1554, during the reign of King Henry V. For more on Gog and Magog, see our Famous Londoners post.

Lord-Mayor's-Show2

6. Since the early 15th century the Lord Mayor had travelled to Westminster via a pageant on the River Thames. This was dropped in favour of travelling on horseback. The magnificent State Coach used in tomorrow’s procession, meanwhile, was first used to convey the Lord Mayor to Westminster in 1757 (the mayors had ridden in coaches since 1712 after Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse in 1711). For more on the State Coach, see our Treasures of London article. As happened last year, before the Show starts, the Lord Mayor will once again travel upriver in the QRB Gloriana accompanied by a procession of 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. The flotilla will leave Vauxhall at 8.30am and travel past Tower Bridge to HMS President.

7. The modern route of the show – which takes in Cheapside, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street going out from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice and then returns back along Queen Victoria Street – was fixed in 1952 (although occasionally it has been disrupted due to things like roadworks). It apparently features 3,500 manholes, all of which have to be checked before the big day.

8. The modern Lord Mayor’s Show parade, which kicks off at 11am, is three-and-a-half miles long. This year’s procession features more than 7,000 participants.

9. Among those in the parade are representatives of the livery companies including that of the “great 12” –  the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers – as well as other companies including some distinctly “new world”.

10. The fireworks display was canceled last year but is back for this year’s festivities. It kicks off at 5pm.

For more on the show – including a downloadable timetable and map – head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

Buckingham-Palace

As we all know by now, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are proud parents of a new born son with news of the new arrival provoking celebrations across Britain and, indeed, the world.

To celebrate the royal birth, here are 10 interesting facts about some previous royal births in London…

• The last time a Home Secretary attended a royal birth was in 1936 for the birth of Princess Alexandria, cousin of the Queen. The practice was officially stopped before the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.

• Such was the doubt over whether Mary of Modena, wife of King James II, was really pregnant that more than 40 eminent people were invited to witness the birth of their son Prince James in 1688 (and even then the rumours of that the stillborn baby had been swapped for another were rife).

• Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714, went through 17 pregnancies but, tragically, outlived all of her children, her last surviving child – the Duke of Gloucester – dying in 1700.

• The tradition of firing a 41 gun salute on the news of the birth of a future monarch dates from the birth of the future King Edward VII. Twenty-one shots are fired in honour of the birth with an additional 21 fired because the guns are located in Green Park, a Royal Park.

• Queen Elizabeth II was born by caesarean section at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at the home of her mother’s parents – 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair. (See our previous post on this here).

• Such was the animosity between Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his father, King George II, that when Frederick’s wife Augusta went into labour at the king’s home of Hampton Court Palace, he bundled her into a coach and had her taken to his home of St James’s Palace. With no preparations made there, his newly born daughter had to be wrapped in a tablecloth (the story is retold in detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court)

• Queen Victoria, who had nine children, used chloroform for pain relief during later births, despite the concept being frowned upon by some officials.

• Buckingham Palace (pictured above) has been the birthplace of numerous Royal Family members. Of course, Prince Charles was born here in 1948 as was his brother Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964) but so too – somewhat earlier – were 14 of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 15 children when the property was known as Buckingham House and, later, the Queen’s House. King Edward VII was the only monarch who both was born and died in the building.

• Such was the desperation of King Henry VIII for a son, that a document announcing the birth were drawn up to that effect prior to Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. The document was still issued – the only concession being an ‘s’ added to the end of the word prince.

• The oldest English king to father a child was King Edward I – he was 66-years-old when his last child, Princess Eleanor, was born in 1306. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Henry II, was the oldest queen to father a child when she gave birth to the future King John at 44-years-of-age in 1166.

A relatively short-lived Norman fortification located on Ludgate Hill, this tower or ‘castle’ was probably built in the late 11th century and was one of several new fortress located in the city post 1066.

Ludgate-HillBelieved to have been built by Gilbert de Monfichet – a relative of King William the Conqueror who hailed from Rouen (and is believed to have been connected with Monfichet family of Stansted Monfichet in Essex), the tower apparently comprised a stone keep on a motte surrounded by ditches. It was located on Ludgate Hill near the city wall, to the north of Carter Lane, on what was then the western edge of the walled city.

First appearing in documents in the 1130s, it was apparently strengthened during a revolt against King Henry II in 1173-1174 but was eventually demolished in the 13th century (some accounts suggest it was King John who ordered its demolition in 1213, after Gilbert’s successor Richard was banished).

The site was given to the Dominican priory of Blackfriars in 1275 (there’s a suggestion that the tower was already in ruins by 1278 meaning it must have been at least partially demolished some time prior). Apparently some of the masonry from the tower was used in the priory’s construction.

Excavations in the 1980s revealed the remains of a ‘V’ shaped defensive ditch – interpreted as one of three defensive ditches which protected the tower – and rubbish and cess pits – interpreted as standing within what was the tower’s bailey.

A relic of the early medieval age, the late 12th century Temple Church in the City of London is a marvel in its own right, its circular nave modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (for more on its history, see our earlier entry here). But it’s inside the round church – once based inside property that formed the London headquarters of the Templar Knights – that we are concerned with in this piece – for there can be found are series of remarkable effigies of knights which date from the 13th century.

There are nine effigies in all (and one grave cover) and, having survived the Great Fire of 1666, most of them were damaged during World War II when, in a bombing raid on 10th May, 1941, the roof was set alight and came crashing down on top of them. They have since been repaired, using as much of the original material as possible, and still make an imposing sight redolent with the history they depict.

Pre-eminent (at least in his lifetime) among those depicted is William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146 -1219) and an advisor of kings including King Henry II, King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ and King John who was named Regent during the infancy of King Henry III.

One of the most influential men of his age (described by early thirteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, as the “greatest knight who ever lived”), he lies in the southern group of effigies near his sons William, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1190-1231) and Gilbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke (1194-1241). (The 3rd Earl of Pembroke, Richard, was the second son of William – he died after being captured during fighting in Ireland and was buried in Kilkenny). Another of this group is believed t0 depict Robert, Lord de Ros, one of the 25 barons to guarantee the observance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215.

The only identified effigy in the northern group is that of Geoffrey de Mandeville, the 1st Earl of Essex and a man known for the cruelties he inflicted during the troubled reign of King Stephen (he shifted his allegiances between King Stephen and his rival, the Empress Matilda several times), particularly in the eastern counties where he seized Ramsey Abbey near Peterborough to use as his base.

Interestingly, none of the men named was a Templar but are believed to have been benefactors of the Templar Knights. Some of those shown are cross-legged but whether this denotes a crusader or not remains a matter of debate.

WHERE: Off Fleet Street and down Inner Temple Lane (nearest tube station is Temple); WHEN: Check website for times; COST: £4 (free to under 18s, seniors); WEBSITE: www.templechurch.com.

Daytripper – Rye

August 31, 2012

This beautifully preserved medieval town on the East Sussex coast is really worth more than a daytrip – it’s a terrific place to spend a weekend! 

The history of this fortified township – which was once on the coast but now sits some two miles back from open water thanks to the silting up of the harbour – stretches back to at least Saxon times.

But it was in the Middle Ages that, thanks to its position relative to France, it flourished as a port and was eventually given the distinction of being a member of the Cinque Ports Federation (the federation originally included the ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich and was later expanded to include Rye and Winchelsea).

However, the proximity to France also meant the town had an interesting relationship with the French who conducted repeated raids including in 1339 when 52 houses and a mill were burned, and in 1377 when the town was almost completely burnt to the ground and the invaders made off with the bells of St Mary’s Church (dating from 1150, the church is certainly well worth a visit, particularly for the stunning views from the bell tower roof).

Key surviving fortifications including the 14th century The Ypres Tower (originally called Baddings Tower, this 40 foot high structure – pictured right – with three round towers is now home to half the Rye Castle Museum – the other half being in East Street) and Landgate (this was built as part of a series of walls and gates constructed after the devastating 1377 raid) were built to counter this threat and when the French raided again in 1449, they were successfully resisted.

Rye’s location – it now sits at the confluence of the Rother, Tillingham and Brede Rivers – also meant that since its earliest days, it was popular with smugglers despite government efforts to stop them (they did eventually succeed in the early 19th century thanks to customs law reforms and the establishment of a national coastguard service). Among the most famous to frequent the town was the Hawkhurst Gang, who used the Mermaid Inn in the beautiful cobbled Mermaid Street (pictured, below) as one of their bases in the area in the early 18th century (the gang was eventually captured and executed in 1749). The inn apparently may date back as far as the 12th century and has a fascinating history.

Aside from the many Tudor and Georgian homes, notable buildings include the Old Grammar School in High Street (founded in 1636), the Town Hall in Lion Street (1742) and the red brick fronted Lamb House in West Street – once home to authors Henry James and EF Benson and now owned by the National Trust. There’s also a model of the town (complete with sound and light show which gives a great overview of the town’s history) at the Rye Heritage Centre located in an old sail loft on Rye Strand Quay – a good place to visit for information and details of walks and tour options.

Not far from Rye can be seen Camber Castle, a round artillery fort (essentially a glorified gun platform) built by King Henry VIII. It’s now managed by English Heritage and can be visited on tours.

Rye is located about an hour’s journey by car from the M25 and can be reached by train from Charing Cross, London Bridge or Waterloo East or from St Pancras (via Ashford International).