This Smithfield institution owes its sign to its close association with the cloth fair once held nearby.

The current Grade II-listed pub at the corner of Middle and Kinghorn Streets dates from the early 19th century but there has apparently been a succession of taverns on the site since the 12th century (the sign on the pub proclaims the date 1532).

Thanks to its location within the precincts of St Bartholomew’s Priory, it became a focal point for the cloth fair which was held nearby between the 12th century and 1855 (the street Cloth Fair is named for it).

As well as being a favoured location for those attending the fair to obtain refreshment, it was also the location of a ‘Court of Pie Powder’ (from French pied poudreux for ‘dusty feet’ ) relating to travelling traders.

The pub’s name, meanwhile, is said to be a reference to the Lord Mayor of London’s practice of officially declaring the fair open by using shears to cut a piece of cloth on the tavern’s doorstep.

The pub also has some association with executions and, legend has it, was a popular spot for people to seek refreshment as they made their way to Newgate Prison where, between 1783 and 1868, executions were held outside the walls in the thoroughfare now known as Old Bailey.

For more, see the pub’s Facebook page.

PICTURE: Google Maps

Little-BritainThis central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.

Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.

Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).

Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.

Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.

Golden-Boy-of-Pye-CornerWe’ve mentioned this memorial before but it’s worth a revisit. While last week’s entry looked at a plaque marking the site of the start of the Great Fire of London in September, 1666, this week we’re taking a (second) look at one of the sites where it was stopped.

Positioned high on a building on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in Smithfield, this small wooden gilt 17th century statue, by an unknown maker, was once located on front of the pub, The Fortune of War, which stood on the site until it was demolished in 1910 (it was apparently used by body-snatchers as a place to display stolen corpses for surgeons from the nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital to take their pick from).

The statue marks one of the locations on the city fringes where the fire was ‘stayed’ through the demolition of buildings. It bears an inscription which reads “This Boy is in Memmory put up for the late Fire of London Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony 1666”.

Well below it is an explanatory note below explains that the boy was made deliberately fat (the statue was apparently originally known as ‘The Fat Boy’ although to the modern eye it doesn’t look particularly so) in reference to the rather odd claim the fire was started in Pudding Lane as a result of the sin of gluttony and not by Papists as had been originally claimed on The Monument.

It has been said that the statue – which is believed to have once had wings and which is the reason why the building it is upon carries a Grade II heritage listing – was merely a shop sign and originally had nothing to do with the Great Fire, which may well be the case, but that said it is known that the fire stopped here (sparing St Bart’s further up Giltspur Street).

PICTURE: David Adams

Tower-of-London1OK, so not really a battle although it must have felt something like that to those involved (and the ‘battlefield’ turned out to be much of the City itself), the uprising known as Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 saw two great armies march upon London – one from Kent led by Wat Tyler and another from Essex which is said to have been under the command of Jack Straw.

The armies had risen in response to a series of events which they saw as unjust and which trace their origins back to the Black Death. Killing about a third of the population when it struck some 30 years earlier, this had resulted in a growing demand for labourers to work the fields raising, as one might expect, hopes of increased wages and greater freedom of movement among the peasant class.

But to ensure the social order was maintained, authorities had not only put limits on how much farm workers could be paid but ensured long-standing but increasingly unpopular practices – such as serfs being forced to work some time for free for their landlords – were maintained. On top of this came the imposition and enforcement of a series of poll taxes to fund England’s wars with France.

The poll taxes – and the harsh way in which they were enforced – were a step too far and when a tax collector visited the village of Fobbing in Essex in May, 1381, he was shown short shrift and thrown out. The unrest soon spread and by June, the rebels, having rampaged through the countryside were marching on London.

By 12th June, the men from Essex were camped at Mile End while Tyler and his army from Kent were at Blackheath. The next day, after being denied a meeting with the king, the rebels headed into the City where sympathetic Londoners opened the gates. Once inside, they targeted the property of those they deemed responsible for their misfortune, opening prisons and destroying any legal records they could find.

Foremost among the sites attacked and looted was the Palace of Savoy (see our earlier post here), home of the King’s uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and, as the power behind the throne, the man many deemed as the ultimate source of the ills besetting them (John himself had a lucky escape – he was away from the city when the palace was attacked.).

King Richard met with the leaders of the men from Essex on 14th June at their camp at Mile End and, after they pledged their allegiance, agreed to their petitions to abolish serfdom and allow them to sell their labour. But the attacks, meanwhile, were continuing in the City with a group of rebels led by Tyler storming the Tower of London (pictured above) the same day and seizing and beheading the Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, along with the Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer and Prior of St John’s in Clerkenwell – both key figures in the government of the king (you can read more about Simon of Sudbury here).

The following day – 15th June – King Richard again met with the rebel leaders – this time with Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish band, at Smithfield. It was then that things went awry for the rebels. Apparently enraged by Tyler’s insolence (already stories differ as to exactly why he did so), the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth (see our earlier post here), stabbed Tyler in the neck. King Richard managed to keep the situation under control until armed troops arrived and after the king declared a general pardon, the rebels dispersed.

Tyler, meanwhile, was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital but on the orders of the Lord Mayor was dragged from his bed and beheaded (his head was displayed atop a pole positioned in a field). He was among dozens of the rebels who were subsequently executed for their role in the uprising (leaders Jack Straw and another, John Ball, were among them).

William-Wallace-big

This year marks the 710th anniversary of the execution of Scottish rebel William Wallace in Smithfield so we thought we’d take a quick look at the circumstances of that event – made famous in recent times through the movie Braveheart.

William-WallaceFor some eight years, Wallace had been a thorn in the side of the King Edward I, promoting active resistance to his rule in Scotland after Edward forced the abdication and usurption of the crown of John Balliol.

Following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22nd July, 1298, however, Wallace went to France where he attempted to gain French support for rebellion in Scotland but the effort proved ultimately futile and Wallace, back in Britain but refusing to submit to English rule, remained on the run.

At least until he was captured on 5th August, 1305, by Sir John Monteith, who had been made Sheriff of Dumbarton by King Edward I, at Robroyston near Glasgow.

Taken to Carlisle, he was bound hand and foot before being taken south to London in chains.

Wallace’s trial took place on 23rd August that year at Westminster Hall and, despite his protestations that he couldn’t be guilty of treason having never sworn loyalty to the English Crown, a guilty verdict was handed down along with the sentence of a traitor’s death – being hung, drawn and quartered.

Taken to the Tower of London, Wallace was stripped naked and then strapped to a wooden hurdle which was dragged by two horses through the streets via Aldgate to The Elms at Smithfield where he was hanged on a gallows.

Cut down while yet living, he was disembowelled and castrated and his entrails burnt. Wallace was then decapitated and his body cut into quarters which were sent to Berwick, Newcastle, Stirling and Perth as a warning against treason. His tarred head, meanwhile, was put on a pike and set above London Bridge.

A memorial to Wallace can now be found on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at West Smithfield (pictured – for more on that, see our earlier post here).

St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield – the oldest parish church in London (see our earlier piece here) – is worth a revisit thanks to the fact that it would have been standing (at least partially) when the seal of King John was first affixed to the Magna Carta .

St-BartholomewsOnly half the size it once was, this church was founded in 1123 AD as the priory church for a community of Augustinian Canons and owes its origins to Rahere, a favored courtier of King Henry I who renounced his way of life and made a pilgrimage to Rome, returning to found both the church and nearby hospital for the poor.

Only the eastern part of the church was built by the time of the death of Rahere – the first prior – in 1145 and the building continued for some years afterward. While the interior walls now look somewhat plain, they would have been highly decorated when the building was originally constructed. At the time of the Magna Carta, the church would have only been partly completed.

The tomb of Rahere still lies within the church, on the left hand side of the altar – although the canopy over it dates from the 15th century. There were some healing miracles recorded at the tomb.

The church’s current configuration came about when the priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the church was pulled down, leaving what’s there now – the quire, altar and lady chapel.

The brick tower at the church’s west end dates from the 1620s while the gateway through which you enter the church grounds features a restored 13th century arch topped by a late Tudor building.

The church was briefly used by some Dominican friars but since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I has fulfilled the role of parish church. A concerted restoration effort began in the mid-19th century by Sir Aston Webb (architect of the Victoria & Albert Museum), leaving the Lady Chapel with a very different feel to the Norman choir. The building is now Grade I-listed.

WHERE: Off Little Britain, West Smithfield (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 4pm Saturday, 8.30am to 8pm Sunday (except for services) ; COST: £4 an adult/£3.50 concession/£10 a family; WEBSITE: www.greatstbarts.com

Hung-longThe rather grisly name of this pub (and there’s some debate over whether hanged or hung is grammatically correct) relates to its location close by the former public execution ground of Tower Hill.

While for many Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever actually executed there. Far more people were executed outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill, just to the north.

HungSome of the names of those executed here are recorded on a memorial at the site – everyone from Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was beheaded here by an angry mob in 1381, through to Sir Thomas More in 1535 (gracious King Henry VIII commuted his sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to mere beheading), and Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, a Jacobite arrested after the Battle of Culloden and the last man to be executed here when his head was lopped off in 1747.

While, as you can see above, many of those executed at Tower Hill were beheaded (and most were of the nobility), there were some executions there which did involve the guilty party being hung, drawn and quartered – a punishment reserved for those being convicted of high treason and also enforced at other sites in London including at Tyburn and Smithfield. Among them was William Collingbourne in 1484 for supporting the cause of Henry Tudor against that of King Richard III.

A plaque on the external wall of the nearby pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660: “I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”.

Thomas Harrison fought with Parliament during the Civil War and was among those who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. Found guilty of regicide after the Restoration, he was hung, drawn and quartered (though as Pepys tells us, not here).

The pub, located at 26-27 Great Tower Street, is part of the Fuller’s chain. For more, see www.hung-drawn-and-quartered.co.uk.

Florin-Court

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURE: Goodwillgames/Wikimedia Commons

William-Wallace-memorialHe was captured in Scotland but it was actually at Smithfield in London that the Scottish leader, Sir William Wallace, was put to death on 23rd August, 1305.

Erected in 1956 by “Scots and friends at home and abroad”, a plaque located on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital overlooking the former execution ground commemorates the “Scottish patriot” Wallace, saying that from the year 1296 “fought dauntlessly in defence of his country’s liberty and independence in the face of fearful odds and great hardship”. It goes on to note that he was “eventually betrayed”, captured and executed “near this spot”.

Elsewhere the memorial reads: “His example, heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat and his memory remains for all time a source of pride, honour and inspiration to his countrymen”.

Having co-led the Scottish to victory against the army of King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace was later knighted for his efforts and subsequently served as a Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Following his defeat at English hands in the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, he escaped and continued to evade capture until he was apprehended near Glasgow in August 1305. Brought to London where he was put on trial in Westminster Hall. Summarily found guilty of treason, he was stripped naked and dragged to Smithfield and it was there that he suffered the horrible death of being hung, drawn and quartered.

And while the 1995 movie, Braveheart, had Wallace crying out “Freedom” as he died, his last words are actually not recorded. His tarred head was subsequently displayed on a pike atop London Bridge while his limbs were sent to towns including Stirling in Scotland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the UK’s largest inland fish market (and located in Poplar, east London), the history of Billingsgate Market goes back centuries.

Known originally by various spellings including Blynesgate and Byllynsgate, Billingsgate may have been named for watergate on the north bank of the Thames near where the market was originally established (an alternate theory is that it was named for a man named Biling or an mythological British king, Belin).

The right to collect tolls and customs at Billingsgate, along with Cheap and Smithfield, was granted by King Henry IV in 1400.

Billingsgate only became particularly associated with fish in the 1500s and in 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed making it “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” (this was with the exception of eels, restricted to being sold by Dutchmen from boats in the river – a reward for the help they provided after the Great Fire of 1666).

While for much of the market’s history, fish was sold for stalls and sheds around the ‘hythe’ or dock at the site known as Billingsgate, in 1850 the first purpose-built market building was constructed in Lower Thames Street.

Deemed inadequate for the task at hand, however, it was demolished after slightly more than 20 years of service. A new building, designed by then City Architect Sir Horace Jones and constructed by John Mowlem, was opened in on the same site in 1876. In the late 19th century, it is said to have been the largest fish market in the world. The heritage listed former fish market building in Lower Thames Street (pictured above) is now used as a venue for corporate events, catwalk shows, post premiere parties and concerts (see the website for more www.oldbillingsgate.co.uk).

In 1982, the market was relocated to a 13 acre site on the Isle of Dogs, just to the north-east of Canary Wharf. The building contains a trading floor with some 98 stands and 30 shops as well as an 800 tonne freezer store. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants every year and the market has an annual turnover of around £200 million.

The role of the fish porter – who traditionally have been the only people licensed to move fish around the market – was opened up to anyone following a fiercely fought battle between the porters, traders and the City of London Corporation earlier this year.

The market is open to the general public and tours can be arranged – head to the website for details.

WHERE: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar (nearest Tube Station is Canary Wharf); WHEN: 4am to 9.30am Tuesday to Saturday (children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor and non-slip shoes are advisable); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/wholesale-food-markets/billingsgate/Pages/default.aspx.

Its name now more well known as one of the City of London’s 25 wards, Aldersgate was a gate opening to the city’s north, located close to where the Museum of London now stands, and was one of the city’s four original gates.

A plaque in Aldersgate Street marks where the gate once stood (there’s also an explanatory ‘London Wall’ plaque nearby) – it was finally knocked down in 1761.

The gate’s origins go back to late Roman times – it was apparently created to strengthen the city’s northern defences against Saxon incursions – and was built with two roadways passing through the wall protected by semi-circular towers. (The name apparently has nothing to do with the age of the gate as many believe but may be a corruption of a Saxon name Ealdred or come from a type of tree which grew nearby.)

An important link to places like the fair at Smithfield, St Bartholomew’s Priory and the Charterhouse in the Middle Ages, it was used as a prison and even as late as 1660, diarist Samuel Pepys writes of seeing the limbs of executed traitors displayed upon it. It was also had residential quarters above it – these were said to have been occupied at times by the City Crier and in the mid-1500s were used by printer and stationer John Day (he is said to have printed an early copy of the Bible, dedicated to King Edward VI, there in 1549).

In 1603, it was through Aldersgate that King James I entered London (his arms were later placed over the gate), and just 14 years later, in 1617, the entire gate was rebuilt. Repaired in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (it’s final form was said to feature, as well as the arms of King James I, statues of the Biblical figures Jeremiah and Samuel), it was finally demolished in 1761 to improve the flow of traffic.

PICTURE: Site of where Aldersgate once stood. To the right of the picture is the Church of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate.

Like many of London’s oldest questions, this depends on what you mean – the oldest site of worship, the oldest continuous site of worship, or the oldest building are but a few possibilities. For our purposes, it’s generally accepted that London’s oldest surviving parish church is St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield.

This atmospheric church is now only half the size of what it once was but that part which remains – the original quire, altar, side aisles and lady chapel – was founded in 1123 AD as the priory church for a community of Augustinian Canons.

The church owes its origins to Rahere, a favored courtier of King Henry I, who after the death of King Henry’s wife Queen Matilda and then heir, Prince William, along with some other family members, renounced his way of life and decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome.

In Rome, he sickened, and fearful for his life, vowed to found a hospital for the poor on his return to London. Subsequently recovering, he was about to head home when a vision of St Bartholomew appeared to him and told him that he had helped him to recover and now desired him to found a church in Smithfield.

On his return to London, Rahere did just that – founding the priory with its church and a hospital for the poor. He died 1145. Amazingly, his tomb still lies within the church, on the left hand side of the altar.

The priory grew in importance with income coming not only from offerings and rents but from tolls at St Bartholomew’s Fair which was held on grounds to the north of the the church (as an interesting aside, it’s also known that the church had a low wall built in front of its western facade to separate it from Smithfield. Known as the Cheyne, this could be closed with a chain on market days to stop cattle wandering inside).

The church’s current configuration came about in the Great Dissolution – the priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the church was pulled down, leaving the quire, altar and lady chapel. The church was briefly used by some Dominican friars but since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I has fulfilled the role of parish church. A concerted restoration effort began in the mid-19th century.

Livery companies associated with the church include The Butchers’ Company which still hold a special service here in September prior to electing a new Master. These days, St Bartholomew the Great is a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle of the City and still gives a strong sense of the life it has known.

WHERE: Off Little Britain, West Smithfield (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday (until 14th February), 10.30am to 4pm Saturday, 8.30am to 8pm Sunday (except for services) ; COST: £4 an adult/£3.50 concession/£10 a family; WEBSITE: www.greatstbarts.com

PICTURE: Gatehouse leading into St Bartholomew the Great