January 13, 2017
The first coffee house to be located in London, this premises was opened by a Greek, Pasqua Rosée, in 1652 and is believed to have been located in St Michael’s Alley off Cornhill.
Rosée had come to England as the manservant of Daniel Edwards, a member of the Levant Company who had first encountered him in Smyrna (in modern Turkey) and returned with him. One story says that Rosée decided to start the business after a falling out with Edwards on their return to England; another that Edwards helped Rosée start the business when they realised the interest people had in trying the new drink.
The establishment, which was originally located in a shed in the churchyard of St Michael’s Cornhill, was advertised by a sign which was apparently a portrait of Rosée – hence the name ‘The Sign of Pasqua Rosee’s Head’ – but it was also referred to as ‘The Turk’s Head’. Such was its success that Rosée was apparently selling up to 600 dishes of coffee a day.
Not everyone, however, was a fan of Rosée’s business – in particular tavern owners who saw it as a threat to their own – and aware of his status as an outsider, he is said to have decided to forge a partnership with a freeman of the City of London so there could be no dispute over his right to trade. He found just such a partner in a grocer, Christopher Bowman, in 1654.
The business was relocated following the creation of their partnership across the alley out of the shed and into a rather ruinous house but the new lease was signed only by Bowman. There is a suggestion that Rosée had to flee for some misdemeanour but for whatever reason, his name is no longer mentioned and Bowman was now apparently the sole owner of the business.
Despite the change of ownership, the business continued to trade under Rosée’s sign and it is said to have been Bowman who authored the handbill The Vertue of the Coffee Drink (sic) – an advertising document which credits its creation to Rosée and is filled with some rather dubious claims about the miraculous powers of the drink.
Notable visitors included Samuel Pepys who visited the famous coffee house in 1660, mentioning it in his famous diary.
Bowman apparently died in 1662 and the business went into decline before any trace of it was wiped away in the conflagration of the Great Fire of 1666. The Jamaica Wine House, which features a blue plaque to Rosée’s coffee house apparently erected by the Corporation of London in 1952, now stands near the site Rosée’s original shed.
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.
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.
April 29, 2016
A medieval tavern, The Three Tuns once stood in Guildhall Yard in the City (picture above).
The tavern, which was located by Guildhall Gate, is noted for having served as lodgings for the Royalist military commander General George Monck when he arrived in the city in early 1660 in the lead-up to the Restoration of the monarchy later that year. It was also, according to poet Robert Herrick, a haunt of playwright Ben Jonson.
The Three Tuns – meaning three great wine casks – was incidentally a popular name for taverns and there were several others in London which bore the same name including, in the 17th century, one in Ludgate Hill, another in Cheapside and another in Gracechurch Street.
The Museum of London has a trade token, which was worth half a penny, and was issued by the tavern’s proprietor, Thomas Ailay, in the mid-17th century for use at the business.
April 15, 2016
Famed for its mention in Geoffrey Chaucer’s iconic 14th century work, The Canterbury Tales, The Tabard Inn once stood on Borough High Street in Southwark.
The inn was apparently first built for the Abbot of Hyde in 1307 as a place where he and his brethren could stay when they came to London and stood on what had been the main Roman thoroughfare between London and Canterbury.
It became a popular hostelry for pilgrims making their way from the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket on London Bridge to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral and was one of a number of inns which eventually came to be built in Southwark at the London end of the pilgrim route.
It’s in this context that it earns a mention in Chaucer’s 14th century work as the pilgrims set off on their journey.
The inn passed into private hands following the Dissolution and in 1676, 1o years after the Great Fire of London, burned down in a fire which devastated much of Southwark (the back part of it had been damaged by fire a few years earlier). Earlier patrons may have, it’s been suggested, included the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
It was subsequently rebuilt as a galleried coaching inn and came to be renamed The Talbot (it’s been suggested this was due to a spelling mistake by the signwriter). Its neighbour, the George Inn, still stands in Talbot Yard (it was also apparently burnt down and rebuilt after the 1676 fire).
Business for the coaching inns dropped away, however, with the coming of the railways and the building was converted into stores before eventually being demolished in 1874.
A plaque to the inn can be seen in Talbot Yard (named for the inn’s later incarnation) – it was unveiled by Terry Jones in 2003.
March 11, 2016
Described as the first dedicated Indian restaurant in Britain, the Hindoostanee (also spelt Hindoostane) Coffee House was established by Dean Mahomet (later Sheikh or ‘Sake’ Dean Mahomet), an Indian who served with the East India Company Army before coming to Britain.
Accompanying East India Company man Godfrey Baker to Ireland, he lived initially with the Baker family before meeting and marrying a young woman while learning English and subsequently establishing his own household in Cork.
In 1794, he published a book, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, which, written as a series of letters to an imaginary friend, described his own life and Indian customs. It is credited as the first book to be written and published in English by an Indian.
Around 1807, he and his wife and son moved to London where he initially found employment with Sir Basil Cochrane at a “vapour spa” Sir Basil had established in Portman Square. While Mahomet introduced Indian innovations such as “shampooing” to the spa, he was given little credit for his work, however, and so decided to break out on his own.
In 1810, he set-up the coffee house at 34 George Street, Portman Square, just behind Sir Basil’s house.
The establishment was aimed at Anglo-Indians who had spent time in India and offered them Indian-style foods – such as curries and spiced dishes – along with other reminders of the sub-Continent such as a room set up for the use of the hookah with “real Chilm tobacco” – all in an Indian-style setting.
Sadly, the establishment was only rather short-lived and, despite taking on a partner, Mahomet was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1812. But he did go on to establish a very successful Indian-style baths in Brighton, Mahomet’s Baths (and later even opened a second branch in St James’s London which would be managed by his son).
A plaque was erected by the City of Westminster close to the site of the former coffee house in 2005.
PICTURE: Simon Harriyott from Uckfield, England [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
February 19, 2016
The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.
The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).
The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.
In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).
During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.
In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.
In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).
The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.
December 31, 2015
2016 is fast approaching and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the 10 most popular posts we published in 2015. Today, we present our most popular and second most popular articles posted this year…
2. Our second most popular article, posted in August, was another in our Lost London series and this time looked at a long-lost feature of Old London Bridge – Lost London – Chapel of St Thomas á Becket.
1. And we are finally there – the most popular of our posts published this year was run in conjunction with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Part of our LondonLife series, it took a look inside King Henry V’s rarely opened chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey – LondonLife – A rare glimpse inside King Henry V’s chantry chapel.
December 30, 2015
2016 is fast approaching and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the 10 most popular posts we published in 2015. Today, we look at numbers four and three…
4. Number four is another in our current series on London battlefields – this time looking at the site where Queen Boudicca is believed to have been defeated by the Romans – 10 London ‘battlefields’ – 1. Queen Boudicca takes on the Romans…
3. Our second top 10 entrant from the Lost London series, this post, published back in September, looked at the history of the Great Conduit – Lost London – The Great Conduit…
The countdown finishes tomorrow with a look at the most and second most popular articles were posted in 2015…
October 2, 2015
This church, which survived until it was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II, isn’t completely lost – its tower still survives in the middle of Wood Street in the City.
The church, one of a number dedicated to St Alban (Britain’s first Christian martyr) in London throughout its history, was medieval in origin although it has been argued its foundation dates back to the 8th century Saxon King Offa of Mercia who is believed to have had a palace here with the chapel on this site (Offa is also credited as the founder of St Alban’s Abbey).
The church had fallen into disrepair by the early 17th century and was demolished and rebuilt in 1630s. It proved unfortunate timing for only 32 years later it was completely destroyed again, this time in the Great Fire of London.
Following the Great Fire, the church, now combined with the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and completed in the mid-1680s.
It was restored in the late 1850s under the eye of Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and the four pinnacles on the tower, which stood on the north side of the church, were replaced later that century.
It survived until World War II when the building was burnt out and partly destroyed on a single night during the Blitz in December, 1940. The remains, with the exception of Wren’s Perpendicular-style tower, were later demolished in the 1950s (by which time the church had been united with the parish of St Vedast, Foster Lane).
The Grade II*-listed tower was converted into a rather unusual private dwelling in the 1980s.
September 11, 2015
The Great Conduit (the word conduit refers to column fountains fitted with ‘cocks’ or taps for dispensing the water) gave access to water piped using gravity four kilometres from the Tyburn into the City largely via lead pipes.
It was constructed by the City Corporation from the mid-13th century after King Henry III approved the project in 1237. It was rectangular-shaped timber building with an elevated lead tank inside from which the water was drawn.
It took the name ‘Great’ after further conduits were built further west in Cheapside in the 1390s. There were at least 15 conduits or standards scattered about the City by the time of the Great Fire in 1666.
It was rebuilt several times over its life, notably in the reign of King Henry VI, but after being severely damaged in the fire was deemed irreparable and orders were given for it to be taken down in 1669 (many houses by then had alternate water supplies, notably from the New River project). From the 1360s, management of the conduit was the responsibility of four wardens, maintaining the pipes and charging professional water carriers and tradesmen who required water by allowing free
The Cheapside Conduit was a notable landmark – some executions and other punishments were carried out here, speeches were made from here and the conduit building itself was used as a place for posting information. And to celebrate special occasions it was made to flow with wine – this took place in 1432 when King Henry VI marched through London after being crowned King of France, at the coronation of Queen Margaret in 1445 and at the wedding procession of King Henry VIII’s queen Anne Boleyn in 1533.
The substructure of the Great Conduit was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century and again in the 1990s. A plaque marking the location of the Great Conduit at the eastern end of Cheapside was unveiled in late 1994 by Thames Water and the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators. There’s also a memorial set into the pavement over the substructure.
August 21, 2015
Known informally as the Chapel on the Bridge, the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket was located in the middle of London Bridge and, as the name suggests, was dedicated to the ill-fated archbishop of Canterbury.
Founded in 1205, the stone chapel was among the first buildings constructed on the bridge by priest-architect Peter de Colechurch in 1176, who was actually buried beneath the chapel (for more on him and the construction of the bridge, see our earlier posts here and here).
Facing downstream and located on a wider than normal pier – the 11th pier from the Southwark end of the bridge and the ninth from the City end – the original chapel was built in the early English Gothic style and consisted of an upper chapel with a groined roof and columns and vaulted lower chapel or undercroft. Standing some 40 foot high, it would have towered over the shops and residences on the bridge. There is some suggestion it was damaged by fire in 1212 and may have had to have been extensively repaired.
It’s name ensured its popularity – Becket was martyred in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, apparently on the orders of King Henry II, and, canonised just three years later, had quickly become the focus of a popular religious cult in his home town of London. The chapel also became renowned as a wayside stop for pilgrims to receive the saint’s blessing before making their way to Canterbury where his shrine was located.
But it wasn’t just pilgrims who had an attachment – the chapel was apparently popular among watermen who, when the tide allowed them, were known to tie up their craft on the chapel pier and ascend to the undercroft through a lower entrance.
The chapel – which apparently had two priests at the beginning as well as a number of clerks although the number of priests is known to have climbed as high as five in the 14th century – was nominally under the control of the priest of the church of St Magnus-the-Martyr, located at the City end of the bridge. The reality seems to have been however, that the priests and other “Brothers of the Bridge” enjoyed considerable freedom in their roles, including, after 1483, obtaining the right keep alms taken during services provided he made a generous contribution to the parish finances. Like most who worked on the bridge, the priests and “clerks of the chapel” would likely have lived on it.
Relics housed in the chapel apparently included fragments of the True Cross and a number of chantries were built inside the chapel in the 14th century – it’s believed this may have led to some overcrowding and been one of the reasons for a major rebuilding of the chapel – this time in the Perpendicular Gothic style – between 1384 and 1397.
The chapel survived until the Dissolution when, in 1548, the priest was ordered to close it up and it was desecrated and later converted into a dwelling (later still, parts of it were used as a warehouse). It was demolished over succeeding years – by the late 18th century just the lower chapel remained – with the final remnants removed in the early 1800s.
Some bones in a small casket were disinterred in from the chapel undercroft during this process in the early 19th century. Although these were rumoured to be those of de Colechurch, analysis found them to be part of a human arm bone, a cow bone and goose bones. (Other accounts suggest most of Peter’s bones were tossed into the Thames and that a small number were even sold at auction).
There’s a stained glass window commemorating the bridge in St Magnus-the-Martyr Church today (pictured above).
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
June 26, 2015
This former City church – now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate – once stood on the corner of Threadneedle Street and Bishopsgate (the site is marked by a blue plaque).
A medieval church which was apparently rebuilt in the 14th century in the Gothic style, it was dedicated to St Martin while there is some discrepancy over the use of the name Outwich – some sources say it comes from a corruption of the name of the family who paid for its reconstruction – the Oteswich family – while others say the family in fact took their name from the church and that ‘outwich’ simply means the outer side of the wich (one of a number of Saxon words for a town).
It survived the Great Fire of 1666 but gradually fell into disrepair and in 1765 was badly damaged in another fire which destroyed some 50 houses.
In 1796, Parliament passed an act allowing the parish to raise money for its building – the donations included some from the powerful City livery companies – and after a couple of years of construction, it was consecrated in November, 1798.
Designed by Samuel P Cockerell, the church was unusual in that it featured an oval interior. Medieval stained glass from the original church was placed in a window over the altar while some of the monuments that had been present in the old church – including one commemorating John Oteswich and his wife – were transferred to the new. The dead buried at St Martin Outwich, meanwhile, were reburied in the City of London churchyard (where a memorial to them can now be seen).
A painting from 1838 shows a curved interior with high semi-circular windows, some intricate medieval monuments and closed in box pews.
Thanks to a falling population and pressure to widen the streets, the church was eventually demolished in 1874 and the parish amalgamated with St Helen’s. As had previously happened, a number of monuments – including the Oteswich memorial – which were in the old church were moved to St Helen’s before its demolition.
Proceeds from the sale of the church grounds were used to fund the construction of Holy Trinity Church in Dalston. Built in the late 1870s to the designs of Ewan Christian, it is perhaps best known as the Clown’s Church and is where the clown service is usually held each year.
March 27, 2015
A trade hall for the wool and cloth trade, Blackwell Hall, also known as Bakewell Hall, once stood on the east side of Guildhall Yard in Basinghall Street.
The buttressed stone building – whose previous owners included Thomas Bakewell (from where apparently it gets its name) – is understood to have been purchased by the City of London Corporation during the reign of King Richard II and subsequently established as a cloth market.
‘Factors’ were introduced to act as agents and handle the sale of goods on behalf of the clothiers but shifts in trade – in particular the expansion of northern mills which led to them handling their sales directly – saw the importance of the London-based factors wane.
The structure was rebuilt a couple of times over its lifespan – there are records of a rebuilding in 1588 and again after the Great Fire of 1666 – before it was finally demolished in 1820 to make way for the Bankrupcy Court.
Remains of the foundations were discovered during excavations in Guildhall Yard in 1988.
January 30, 2015
Designed by architect Decimus Burton (he of the Kew Palm House fame), the London Colosseum was a vast, 16-sided domed structure erected in the 1820s to the east of Regent’s Park to house a panoramic view of the city.
Said to be the largest ever painting created at the time, Thomas Hornor – a land surveyor – oversaw the creation of the work which was based on drawings he had made from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral (he had apparently sat in a special, temporary hut or “crow’s nest” positioned where the cross and ball would normally sit – but it was in the process of being replaced). Several artists – led by the renowned ET Parris – were involved in creating the work which took four years to make before it was completed in 1829.
The building – located where Cambridge Gate now stands – had been modelled on the Pantheon in Rome (not the Colosseum as the name would suggest) and was constructed from brick rendered with cement to imitate the appearance of stone. It featured a portico with Doric columns at the front and had inside an “ascending room” or lift to take people to see the panorama.
It’s opening was apparently delayed after Horner and his chief backer, MP Rowland Stevenson, took off to the US after running up rather large debts, leaving the property in the hands of trustees.
The Colosseum changed hands several times over the years and its purpose evolved. At one stage it was reinvented as a museum of sculpture displaying some 180 works while other attractions added to the great rotunda and its surrounding gardens over the years included a “Gothic aviary”, a Swiss chalet from which a visitor could look at a real waterfall and a stalactite cavern as well as a theatre and various other panoramas depicting everywhere from Paris to Lisbon.
Among visitors to the attraction were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The Colosseum was put up for auction in 1855 but failed to attract a bid of the size required and, having passed through several hands (with some of the owners at one stage flirting with the idea of turning it into a grand hotel), it was eventually was demolished in the 1870s.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.
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.
October 17, 2014
Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.
Located at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).
As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.
A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).
The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.
It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.
PICTURE: Open Plaques
September 5, 2014
While the history of the General Post Office dates back to the reign of King Charles I, London’s first purpose-built facility for mail was constructed on the east side of St Martins-le-Grand in the 1820s.
The post office headquarters had hitherto been located in the area of Lombard Street but in 1814 it was decided that the site here couldn’t be developed any further. The site in St Martins-le-Grand was subsequently acquired and plans for the building commenced.
Designed by Sir Robert Smirke (famous for his design of the British Museum), the grand structure was built on the site of what were slums between 1825 and 1829 and featured a 400 foot long “Grecian-style” street frontage. The exterior of the building was lit with 1,000 gas burners at night.
As well as serving as the post office’s administrative headquarters, the building also contained the sorting office and the main London public post office. Along with a grand public hall and offices, it contained rooms – including an armoury – for the guards who protected mail coaches and accommodation for clerks charged with receiving foreign mail (obviously at all hours!).
A new building was added to house the telegraph department on the west side of the street in the 1870s and further buildings followed, leading Smirke’s initial building to become known as ‘GPO East’.
In 1910, the facility was bursting at the seams and so the headquarters was moved to the King Edward VII Building. Smirke’s grand building was somewhat controversially demolished in 1912. A fragment – one of the capitals which topped one of the external columns – is apparently located in Vestry Road in Walthamstow.
For more on London’s postal heritage, visit the British Postal Museum & Archive.
PICTURE: Thomas Shepherd/Wikipedia
June 6, 2014
Located on the site of the former Blackfriars Monastery which has closed during the Dissolution (see our earlier post here), the origins of the Blackfriars Playhouse or Theatre go back to the mid-1570s when children connected with the Queen’s Chapel Choir performed plays in part of the former monastery.
While those plays were performed in order to practice for those performed before Queen Elizabeth I, the organisers did also apparently use the theatre for paying audiences. This first theatre ceased operation in 1584.
In 1596, part of the priory and an adjoining building were bought by James Burbage in 1596 who created a playhouse within them. It was used by the Children of the Chapel, a group of choristers and other boys, until 1608 when the King’s Men took over – with Burbage’s son Richard and Shakespeare among those who had a share in the theatre – and used it as their winter playhouse.
The theatre – where Shakespeare himself is believed to have performed – was apparently the first commercial premises of its type to used artificial lighting and, usually for the time, featured music between acts.
The wife of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, is known to have attended the theatre later in its life in 1634 and again a couple of years later.
The theatre closed with the commencement of the English Civil War and the theatre was demolished in 1655.
The candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which opened in January at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, was designed based on drawings of indoor theatres of the era (there’s also a recreation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in the US which is home to the acting troupe of the American Shakespeare Center).
While nothing remains of the playhouse today, it lives on in the name Playhouse Yard.