In the medieval period, the royal wardrobe – that is, the splendid robes and other clothes worn on state occasions – were kept at a range of different locations including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. In the 1360s, however, it moved to a more permanent location in what had been a house near Blackfriars priory.
Sold to King Edward III by the executors of the will of Sir John Beauchamp, the house served as the key storage site for royal clothes including not only those of the monarch but various people attached to the court such as the royal family, king’s ministers and Knights of the Garter.
The building, which was considerably extended over the years to include everything from a great hall and chapel to stables, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the wardrobe was moved to another building in Buckingham Street although by this stage its importance had declined considerably (the last Master of the Wardrobe held office in the late 18th century).
Its name lived on in that of the church St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe and that of the well-hidden and intimate Wardrobe Place (it’s located between St Andrew’s Hill and Addle Hill). There is a blue plaque which marks the site of the former building (pictured above).
Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s often a fascinating story behind many of London’s seemingly odd place names. Churches are no exception and in this new series we’re looking at some of the stories behind the name. First up, it’s the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, a rather austere-looking church which looms up over Queen Victoria Street.
While the present church largely dates from after World War II – it was bombed during the Blitz and only the outer walls remain of what was there before (the previous church was itself a rebuild to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier version was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666) – there has apparently been a church on the site since at least the 12th century. Indeed, in the 13th century it was associated with the then royal residence known as Baynard’s Castle.
The church’s rather unusual name owes its origins to King Edward III’s decision in 1361 to move the Royal Wardrobe – which included his state robes and other valuables – from the Tower of London to a new building which lay near to the church (there’s a plaque in nearby Wardrobe Place marking the former location of the King’s Wardrobe which also burnt down in the Great Fire and was subsequently relocated). Hence St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe.
While the interior of the church is a complete reconstruction of Wren’s original, it does still boast some early treasures including an original pulpit as well as a font and cover of Wren’s period (these come from the now long gone church of St Matthew Friday Street), a figure of St Andrew dating from about 1600 and another of St Ann (mother of Mary), who is holding her daughter who is in turn holding Jesus, dating from about a century earlier. There’s also a royal coat of arms – dating from the Stuart period – which originally came from St Olave’s Old Jewry.
Among the most prominent residents in the church’s parish was the playwright William Shakespeare (there’s a rather odd oak and limewood memorial to him and a contemporary composer, singer and musician, John Dowland – who was buried in the churchyard, inside). Another Shakespearian contemporary, Ben Jonson, also apparently lived in the parish. The church also has links with with the Mercers, Apothecaries and Blacksmiths livery companies.
Earlier this year St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, which is a sister church to St James Garlickhythe (another unusually named church), celebrated 50 years since its post war reopening in 1961.
WHERE: Access is via St Andrew’s Hill or Queen Victoria Street (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House). WHEN: The church building and the Chapel of St Ann are normally open for visitors between 10am and 4pm weekdays while the nave is open on Fridays from 11am to 3pm (check with the church before going); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.standrewbythewardrobe.net.