Category Archives: London History

St Bride’s Tavern, Bridewell Place, Prison and Palace

In 2020 I wrote a couple of posts on City of London pubs. It was in the middle of the Covid pandemic, and between a couple of lock downs I walked a very quiet City of London, photographing all the old pubs. A project based on what I have learnt from exploring all my father’s photos – it is the ordinary that changes so quickly, and we seldom notice trends or significant changes until they have happened.

Since that post, just three years ago, three pubs have closed. The White Swan in Fetter Lane has been demolished, the Tipperary in Fleet Street has been closed for some time and it is doubtful if it will reopen, and the latest pub to close is the St. Bride’s Tavern in Bridewell Place, which I photographed a couple of weeks ago:

St. Bride's Tavern

It was not down to a post pandemic lack of trade, or any financial problems with the pub, it was that the owner of the property would not let the pub renew the lease in January 2023, so the pub closed on Friday the 23rd of December 2022.

The owner of the land plans to strip back the office block to the right of the pub in the above photo, demolish the pub, and rebuild the building on the right with a new extension where the St. Bride’s Tavern is now located. to create a much large office block.

There was a well supported application to the City of London Environment Department to nominate the St. Bride’s Tavern as an Asset of Community Value, however this did not work, and closure went ahead.

With the trend of recent years for greater working from home, and a general decline in the need for office space, I really do wonder why establishments such as the St. Bride’s Tavern need to be demolished to create new office space.

The City of London was also planning to pivot more towards heritage, culture, arts and tourism as a response to post pandemic working, and retaining pubs would align with this strategy, however the City is being reasonably successful in tempting businesses to move back to the City from Canary Wharf as companies such as HSBC let go of large office space in the Isle of Dogs, in favour of smaller offices in the City.

An image of the new development can be seen on the website of the company that secured planning approval for the development. Click here to see the news item.

The image at top left shows the smaller extension of the new development to the rear of the main building on New Bridge Street, and the details of the development include the statement that there will be a “re-provided public house at ground-floor and part-basement level”, however a pub as part of the ground floor and basement of a modern office block just does not have the character and attraction of a dedicated building.

The building in which the St. Bride’s Tavern was located is not particularly attractive. A post-war development, which does have a rather unusual central bay of windows that runs up to include the second floor. This always looked good in the evening when the bay windows were lit.

The following photo shows St. Bride’s Tavern when it was open back in 2020:

St. Bride's Tavern

Decoration at the top of the bay windows:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub sign has been removed, however I did photograph the sign back in 2020, which showed the tower of the church after which the pub was named:

St. Bride's Tavern

The pub is a post war building as the pre-war buildings on the site had been damaged during the war.

I am not sure that the site of the pub today is the original site of the pub as in the 1894 Ordnance Survey map it was not marked as a Public House and the building on the site appears to have been occupied by a Police Station of the 3rd Division.

Searching through old newspaper reports about the pub and a St. Bride’s Tavern appears to have been in the street behind the current pub – Bride Lane, for example in the Daily News on Saturday October the 19th, 1901, the pub was up for sale: “Freehold ground rent of £100 per annum, exceptionally well secured upon those fully-licensed premises, licensed as the White Boar, but also known as the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Fleet-street”.

Also, in the East London Observer on the 8th of December, 1900, there was a report on the marriage of Charles Seaward who was the Licensed Victualler of the Drum and Monkey pub in Whitecross-street and Miss Clara C. Wilkins, the manageress of the St. Bride’s Tavern, Bride-lane, Ludgate Circus. The wedding took place at St. Bride’s Church and the wedding breakfast was held in the St. Bride’s Tavern, from where the newly married couple would leave, later in the day, for a honeymoon in Brighton.

In the following extract from the 1894 OS map, I have ringed the current site of the St. Bride’s Tavern in red (and not labelled as a public house), and the pub that I believe was the original White Boar / St. Bride’s Tavern in yellow, and in the 1951 revision of the OS map, the pub in Bride Lane is still marked, with the space of the current pub an empty space (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

St. Bride's Tavern

The current St. Bride’s Tavern building does extend all the way between Bridewell Place and Bride Lane, so I suspect that the original pub may have wanted a larger site, and had available the land almost directly opposite, with the new pub still retaining an aspect (although the rear) onto Bride Lane.

If the site of the current pub was also the site of the original, it would have faced onto Bride Lane so could have had that address, but it was not marked as a public house in the OS map.

I have marked the site today of the pub with a red circle in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

St. Bride's Tavern

The St. Bride’s Tavern is named after the nearby church, as the image on the pub sign confirms, however the pub is in Bridewell Place, which is a very historic name and location.

The name Bridewell originally came from a well between Fleet Street and the Thames, which was dedicated to St. Bride. The name Bridewell was also given to what was described as a “stately and beautiful house” built by Henry VIII in 1522.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following information: “Built by Henry VIII in the year 1522 for the reception of Charles V of Spain. Charles himself was lodged at Blackfriars, but his nobles in this new built Bridewell, ‘a gallery being made out of the house over the water (the Fleet) and through the wall of the City into the Emperor’s lodgings at the Blackfriars”

The Agas map includes an image of Bridewell, alongside the Fleet and part of which looked onto the Thames. In the 16th century the bank of the river was further in land than the river is today:


The following print from 1818 shows Bridewell Palace as it appeared in 1660 © The Trustees of the British Museum):


We can see what was by the 17th century, the narrow entrance to the Fleet, Bridewell on the left bank and part of Blackfriars on the right.

The print provides the following background: “Bridewell in its original state , was a building of considerable magnitude, as well as grandeur, extending from the banks of the Thames southward, as far north as the present Bride Lane, and having a noble castellated front towards the river, the interior was divided into different squares or courts with cloisters, gardens &c. as represented in the vignette. King Henry VIII built this Palace for the entertainment of the Emperor Charles V, but it retained the dignity of a Royal residence only during the former, being converted into an Hospital by Edward VI who gave it to the City for the maintenance and employment of vagrants and Idle Persons and of Poor Boys uniting it in one cooperation with Bethlem Hospital. A very small part of the original structure now remains.”

So if Henry VIII’s Bridewell extended as far north as Bride Lane, then the St. Bride’s Tavern of today is located inside the very northern edge of the old palace.

London Past and Present, by Henry B. Wheatley (1891) provides the following regarding the change in use of the building: “Bridewell, a manor or house, so called – presented to the City of London by King Edward VI, after an appeal through Mr. Secretary Cecil and a sermon by Bishop Ridley, who begged it of the King as a workhouse for the Poor, and a house of Correction ‘for the strumpet and idle person, for the rioter that consumeth all, and for the vagabond that will abide in no place”.

The problem for the new institution was that the availability of food and lodgings in the workhouse attracted people from across London, and it was “found to be a serious inconvenience. Idle and abandoned people from the outskirts of London and parts adjacent, under colour of seeking an asylum in the new institution, settled in London in great numbers, to the great annoyance of the graver residents.”

A number of children that were housed at Bridewell ended up being transported to the United States following a petition in 1618 from the Virginia Company for 100 children of the streets, who have no homes or anyone to support or provide for them. These children became part of the new colony at Jamestown. 

In response to complaints about the numbers attracted to the institution, the City changed parts of the buildings of the Bridewell into a granary, however in 1666 the original house and precincts were destroyed in the Great Fire.

A new house was built in a “more magnificent and convenient manner than formerly”, and these new buildings, based around two central courtyards, can be seen in the centre of the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map:


In the early 18th century, Bridewell was a place where are “maintained and brought up in the diverse arts and mysteries a considerable number of apprentices”, however “vagrants and strumpets” were still being committed into Bridewell with an average of 421 per year, with a peak of 673 in 1752.

Bridewell took on the role of a prison, and as well as holding a City Magistrates Court, the buildings also had seventy cells for male offenders and thirty for female.

Taking one year, 1743, we can get a view of some of the reasons why Londoners were being taken to Bridewell;

  • Margaret Skylight (a Fortune Teller) was committed to Bridewell for stealing a pair of diamond ear rings
  • On Saturday last a Man was committed to the Bridewell of this City for retailing Spirituous Liquors without a licence
  • Last Wednesday Francis Karver, alias Blind Fanny was committed to Old Bridewell for hawking newspapers, not being duty stamped, contrary to Act of Parliament
  • On Sunday Night last, a Parcel of Link-Men, who generally ply about Temple-Bar, made a sham Quarrel near that place, and got a great number of people together, several of whom had their pockets pick’d, by another Gang of Roques, who mingled with the Crowd, as has been very often practiced. We hear four Rogues have been since committed to Bridewell
  • Yesterday James Williamson was committed to Bridewell by Mr. Alderman Arnold, for attempting to pick the Pocket of one William Burris, last Saturday Night of his Handkerchief; while he was carrying him to the Constable, one of the Gang picked his Pocket of his Watch.

I hope I have the location of all the above correct, as by the early 18th century, the name Bridewell had become a common term for a prison, or place where someone was remanded before being put up before a judge.

In London there was a Bridewell in Clerkenwell and one at Tothill Fields, Westminster, and there were several so called Bridewell’s across the country, including one at Oxford and another at Colchester.

In newspaper reports, the name was often given as Clerkenwell Bridewell or Oxford Bridewell, whereas the original establishment seems to have been referred to as simply Bridewell or Old Bridewell.

The large numbers of apprentices at Bridewell also seem to have caused much trouble in the surrounding area. They were called Bridewell Boys, and also in 1743: “On Thursday Night last about Nine o’clock, as some Bridewell Boys were coming through Shoe-lane, they attacked two women, who ran for refuge into the Salutation Tavern near Field Lane End, the Boys followed them, and to get at them, broke the glasses of the Bar, on which one of them was seized, whereupon the others retired, but soon returned in greater numbers, armed with broomsticks, &c. and demanded their Companion; which being refused, they broke all the Windows, Lamps, and whatever else they could get at; however at length, several of them were secured, and it is hoped will meet with a Punishment due to their Crime.”

Bridewell also makes an appearance in Captain Grose’s “Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence”, or the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”, with the term Flogging Cove, which was used to describe the beadle, or whipper, in Bridewell.

This print dating from 1822 shows part of the quadrangle at Bridewell, with the male prison, part of the female, and the Great Hall. Note the bars over the windows in the central block, and small windows in the block to the left © The Trustees of the British Museum):


The end of Bridewell as a prison came in the 1860s when the City Prison at Holloway was built in 1863, following which, the materials of Bridewell were sold at auction and cleared away by the following year, with the chapel being demolished in 1871.

Bridewell featured in one of the prints by Hogarth in his 1732 series “A Harlot’s Progress”, and in this print we see Moll, the women featured through the series, still in her finery, as she is beating hemp, along with other inmates, under the watchful eye of a warden © The Trustees of the British Museum):


Although Bridewell prison has long gone, the 1805 former offices of the Bridewell Prison / Hospital and entrance from New Bridge Street survives.

I have taken a photo of the building and its associated plaque several times, but cannot find them (if you knows of a cheap and efficient application for sorting and indexing thousands of digital photos, I would be really grateful), however the wonderful Geograph site came to the rescue, and the Grade II* listed building can be seen here, between the traffic lights:


Looking south down New Bridge Street cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Basher Eyre –

The St. Bride’s Tavern will soon be similar to Bridewell – just a memory on the ever changing streets of London.

The development proposals apparently include a pub within the ground floor and basement of the new office block, but this will not be the same as the dedicated pub that currently stands on the site.

Three City of London pubs have now closed since my walk in 2020. How many more over the coming years will suffer the same fate?

Queenhithe – The Original London Dock

The following photo was taken by my father from the south bank of the river, looking across to the north bank, it is where the walkway along the river turns slightly inland to pass under Southwark Bridge:

Queenhithe and the north bank of the River thames

The same view today:

View to the north bank of the River Thames from Bankside

The layout of the place is the same today, with the pillars (although today much more substantial) supporting the building overhead, being in the same place. The building on the left is now a Zizi Italian restaurant, replacing the warehouses and industrial buildings that once lined this stretch of the river.

The view is across to the north bank of the river, where a number of warehouses can be seen. Of these, there is only one building that remains today. That is the large warehouse directly underneath the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of today’s post, is a feature on the north bank, that is just visible in the above photo.

Whilst the warehouses form an almost continuous line along the river, there is one place where the river cuts slightly in land to form a small dock. This can just be seen to the right of the following enlargement from the above photo and is Queenhithe Dock:

North bank of the River Thames

The view across the river today. Queenhithe can just be seen as the indention in the river wall, just to the right of centre. The tall brick building to the left is the warehouse seen below the dome of the cathedral in the above photos:

North bank of the River Thames

A closer view showing Queenhithe Dock. The building at the back of the dock is a recently completed hotel:


Queenhithe’s importance comes from the fact that it is a surviving dock space dating back to the Saxon and Medieval period.

The dock is believed to have been established by King Alfred after he reoccupied the area within the City walls in 886. At that time, it was called Ethelredshythe after King Alfred’s son in law, when it was a place where boats were pulled up on the foreshore with goods being sold from the boats.

The name Queenhithe comes from Queen Matilda, the wife of Henry I, who was granted the taxes generated by trade at the dock. Hithe means a small landing place for ships and boats.

Matilda also had built London’s first public lavatory at the dock, which was available for the “common use of the citizens” of London, and was no doubt built at the dock so the output of the lavatory could flow directly into the river – some things do not change.

Queenhithe is shown in the Agas map (from around the mid 16th century to the early 17th century), with one boat with a sail, and a smaller boat being within the dock:

Agas Map

The map appears to show some open space between the end of the dock and the houses lining Thames Street, and this space was presumably used for holding cargos being moved between the ships on the river and the land, and for conducting sales.

Writing in London Past and Present (1891), Henry Wheatley describes Queenhithe as:

“It was long the rival of Billingsgate and would have retained the monopoly of the wharfage of London had it been below instead of above bridge. In the 13th century it was the usual landing place for wine, wool, hides, corn, firewood, fish and indeed all kinds of commodities then brought by sea to London.”

The dock today is a much smaller part of what was the original dock and trading area. Excavations beneath some of the buildings surrounding the dock have found remains of a Roman quay along with the 9th century shore where trading took place, along with a series of medieval waterfronts, showing how during the medieval period the river wall was gradually being pushed further into the river.

The edge of the dock as it enters the Thames:


Queenhithe is classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is one of the areas along the river where any form of mudlarking or disturbance of the dock or foreshore is prohibited.

The Historic England description of the reason for designating Queenhithe as a Scheduled Ancient Monument provides a good explanation of the importance of the place:

“Quays are structures designed to provide sheltered landing places with sufficient depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal circle. The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on their date but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres of trade and administrative authority, usually in locations already sheltered to some extent by natural features. Basic elements of quays may include platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a small dock on a riverside or coast.

Urban waterfront structures and their associated deposits provide important information on the trade and communication links of particular periods and on the constructional techniques and organisation involved in the development of waterfronts. Artefacts recovered through excavation and the deposits behind revetments will retain evidence for the commodities which were traded at such sites.

Major redevelopment schemes along the Thames in the past have meant that the site at Queenhithe Dock is a rare survival of a sequence of waterfront constructions dating from the Roman period. The timber quays, revetments and the occupation levels are well preserved as buried features. It will provide evidence for the riverside development of London including archaeological and environmental remains and deposits. These deposits will provide information about the river and riverside environment and, by extension, about the people who lived alongside and have used it. The site is of particular significance as one of the few early medieval docks recorded in London.”

At low water, the full extent of the foreshore within Queenhithe can be seen:


Queenhithe featured in a range of newspaper reports which help to give an idea of what life was like at the dock, and in London. Some examples:

3rd December 1741: “On Friday a wealthy Baker near Bishopsgate Street, was by two Money-Droppers, deluded into a Public House by Queenhithe, and there at Cards tricked out of above £100. Tis strange this stale Cheat should still prevail.”

According to the rather wonderful “The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose, a Money Dropper was a cheat who would drop some money, and then pretend to find it in front of someone, who he would then entice into a pub to share in his good luck at apparently finding the money.

Once in the pub, the Money Dropper would then cheat or rob the person he had enticed into the pub out of any money they had on them, and with the Baker, it was £100, a considerable sum of money in 1741.

Interesting that in 1741 it was thought that the was a “stale” cheat, so must have been a method employed by cheats for many years before.

The Lord Mayor’s procession (now the Lord Mayor’s show), when the new mayor took office was once a very riotous affair across the City. Crowds, fighting, fatal accidents – all very different to today. A long account of the November 1774 procession included the following reference to Queenhithe: “A man was run over by a coach at Queenhithe, and killed. A boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs by the Watermen attempting to row passengers nigh enough to see the Lord-Mayor take water, and, it is said, six people were drowned”.

A reference to Queenhithe in 1799 adverts headed “Important Inland Communication” highlights how, in the days before the railways, goods arriving or departing from the river around Queenhithe could transfer goods across the rest of the country.

The advert stated that “The Public are respectfully informed, that Goods are regularly conveyed from Queenhithe, London, to Newbury, and from thence o Andover and Salisbury, and also down the Andover Canal to Southampton, and vice versa”.

It cost 11d (old pence) to send a hundredweight (about 112 pounds or 50kg) to Newbury, 2shillings and 6d to Salisbury and 2shillings to Southampton.

The advert shows how in 1799 there was an integrated transport system to transfer goods between London and surrounding counties and towns, as it also states the company “affords a regular communication with the following market and borough towns, and their respective neighbourhoods: Amesbury, Blandford, Cranborne, Christchurch, Dorchester, Downton, Fordingbridge, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, Kingscleare, Lymington, Mere, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Ringwood, Romsey, Shaftesbury, Whitchurch, Wilton, Wimborne and Yarmouth”.

It is often overlooked that the success of London as a trading port and as a commercial centre was only possible because of an interdependent relationship with a complex transport network between London and the rest of the country.

It was no good if people or goods arriving in London could not travel to destinations across the country with reliability and with a reliable timetable and cost.

One of my many unfinished projects is mapping out all the 18th century coach routes out of London. It was a very extensive network, equal in its day to the train network we have today.

As well as a reliable transport network, another important factor in the success of trade along the river was transparency in the pricing of key goods, so a market could develop based on pricing transparency. Here again, Queenhithe featured in many newspaper reports on the previous day’s prices:

“The Price of Flour for Bread at Queenhithe, from 4s, 9d per Bushel, Second Sort from 4s 4d to 4s 8d per Bushel. Windsor Beans £8, 2s per Quarter. Common Ditto £2 per Quarter.”

Sometimes the flour brought up for sale did not always sell as in 1757: “Last week several Mealmen at Queenhithe loaded their barges with the Flour that they had brought up for Sale, and sent it back”.

A “Mealman” was the name given to those who traded in grains and flour.

In the following photo, I am looking across the Thames from the north east corner of the dock:


There was a very similar view in the book Wonderful London, published in the 1920s, which shows lighters moored at the entrance, and inside the dock:


The description that goes with the above photo reads “Old Queenhithe, Once The Principal Dock Of London Port – All that is left of Queenhithe is an indentation in the line of wharves backing onto Upper Thames Street. But this, with Billingsgate, once formed the Port of London. It was called by its present name in the reign of Henry II, but as a dock it is centuries older, for we first hear of it in 899 during Alfred’s reign. To encourage its prosperity taxes were levied on foreign vessels discharging cargo elsewhere in the city. By Stow’s time it had fallen into disuse. It is now used for floating lighters to the surrounding warehouses”.

Queenhythe as a trading dock gradually lost its usefulness as the size of ships increased and the docks grew along the river, both within the City of London, and along the rest of the Thames.

As shown by the Wonderful London photo above, it did continue to be a place where lighters could be moored, with the relatively flat bottom of the dock allowing a lighter to be settled at low water, rather than being moored in the river. Space along the foreshore would have been at a premium during the 18th and 19th centuries, and partly into the 20th.

The Wonderful London photo shows the bed of Queenhithe appearing to be a level layer of mud. Today. the bed of the dock is mainly stone, broken bricks and the other detritus that gets carried along the river.

I suspect that the mud has gone as there is no activity in the dock today, and the lack of moored lighters and shipping along the river has increased the flow of the river, which has led to erosion of the mud.

If you look at the dock today, it gives the appearance that the mud has been cleared, and the incoming tide has pushed some of the old dock surface, and rubbish from the river, up to a pile at the back of the dock. Even an old scooter looks as if it is now becoming part of the buried history along the river:

Rubbish on the foreshore

Along the eastern wall of the dock is the Queenhithe Mosaic, which provides “A timeline displaying the remarkable layers of history from Roman times to Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee”:

Queenhithe Mosaic

The mosaic was design by Tessa Hunkin and Southbank Mosaics created the installation in 2014, and next to the river, it starts with the first Roman invasion:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Then we see the first reference to Queen Matilda and Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And that Queenhithe was London’s Grain Dock, a role it still had in the 18th century:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Other key London events are included such as when St. Paul’s Cathedral was first built in stone, and when London became a Saxon town:

Queenhithe Mosaic

There is then the 19th century “Big Stink” and World War 2 and the Blitz, which damaged so much of the area surrounding Queenhithe:

Queenhithe Mosaic

And finally the Millennium Bridge and the Jubilee. The mosaic is mainly a timeline, although the Thames flows along the length of the mosaic and at the end. as well as covering events in 2012, we also see the river opening out into the estuary, and four turbines from the wind farms that have covered parts of the wider estuary:

Queenhithe Mosaic

Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Queenhithe Dock with a small area of open space at the top of the dock, labelled Queen Hith (earlier references to the dock often spelt the Hith part without an e):

1746 map of Thames Stairs

There are a number of boats which look as if they could be either sailing into, or away from the dock. There are also two sets of stairs. On the right are Queen Hith Stairs, and on the left are Queen Hith Little Stairs.

I can find a number of references to Queenhithe Stairs over the last few centuries. I quoted one earlier in the post with the story of the “boat was overset near Queenhithe Stairs“, when a Waterman was taking people out into the river to see the new Lord Mayor take to the river.

The Port of London Authority listing of all the steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames does not have any reference to these stairs, however, they are still there. Not the nice set of stone steps leading down to a causeway on the foreshore, rather Queenhithe Stairs now consist of a vertical metal set of steps right up against the river wall, with a short set of steps providing access over the river wall as can be seen in the following photo, in exactly the same place as in the 1746 map:

Queenhithe Stairs

Looking over the edge of the river wall, and we can see the vertical steps heading down to the foreshore:

Queenhithe Stairs

There is a high river wall around Queenhithe, an essential bit of infrastructure to keep the surrounding land dry during times of very high tide, and building embankments along the river has been a continuous project in keeping the City of London dry.

I found a mention of Queenhithe Stairs in a reference to building an embankment wall, when in 1856 the London Weekly Chronicle had an article on an Act of Parliament to progress a whole series of infrastructure projects across London, including;

“An embankment along the Middlesex side of the River Thames, which said embankment will commence at or near certain stairs called Queenhithe Stairs, in the parish of St. Michael, Queenhithe, in the city of London, and from thence run in a westerly direction along and in front of the north bank of the river, and terminate on the river bank at or about a point in the parish of Saint Margaret in the City of Westminster, in the county of Middlesex.”

Other parts of the Act included building a railway within the embankment, so this was one of the enabling acts for both creating a new wall along the river and building what has now become the Circle and District underground railway lines along the Embankment.

The embankment as actually built ended at Blackfriars and did not extend to Queenhithe Stairs. The warehouses along the river, with their need for easy access directly onto the river prevented the new embankment being built as far as Queenhithe, but it is one of those “what ifs” with the development of London over the centuries.

From the walkway along the side of the river, there is nothing to be seen of Queenhithe Little Stairs, and I cannot find any written reference to the stairs, however looking across from the south bank of the river, we can see a set of steps vertically up against the river wall in the place shown in Roqcue’s 1746 map:

Thames Stairs

Interesting how there is a rise in the height of the foreshore around the bottom of the steps, and how these stairs survive despite having very little practical use these days, although I suspect that with the height of the river wall, having stairs along the foreshore is a sensible precaution for anyone stranded on the foreshore as the tide comes in, or having fallen in the river, although with the tides in the river, getting to the stairs would be a challenge.

Queenhithe is an interesting survivor, as what survives is the space, rather than any physical structure such as a building, wall, paving, etc. Whilst there are remains of the use of the dock below the surface, Queenhithe’s importance is as a reminder of how the City and the Thames developed and for so many centuries, were interdependent.

Given the level of 19th century rebuilding of the City, I am surprised that Queenhithe survived, and was not replaced by new warehouses, however the dock had already given its name to a Ward, so the importance of the place must have long been clear, and removing the place that was the source of the Ward’s name was probably too much, even for Victorian commercial redevelopment of the City of London.

The Temple of Mithras and Vine Street Roman Wall

The City of London has been occupied in one form or another for around 2,000 years, and those centuries of occupation have left their mark, whether it is in the pattern of the streets, pushing the embankment wall into the river and reclaiming parts of the foreshore, churches, rising ground levels, and the buried remains of buildings along with the accumulated rubbish, lost possessions, burials and industrial waste of the centuries.

In today’s post, I am visiting two places where the remains of Roman occupation are on display. two very different structures and methods of display, but each telling a story of London’s long history, and how these remains have survived, and their discovery, starting with:

The Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras was one of the major post-war discoveries in the City of London as archaeologists rushed to excavate sites, although they had very limited funds and time.

The Temple of Mithras tells an interesting story of Roman occupation of the City, post-war archaeology, and how we value such discoveries.

The Temple of Mithras is now on display at the London Mithraeum, built as part of the construction of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters.

The remains of the temple have been displayed in a really imaginative way. Subtle lighting, a recreation of the sounds of activity in the temple during the Roman period and an image of the god Mithras overlooking the temple from the location of the apse and the block where the final altar in the temple was located.

The view on entering the Temple of Mithras:

Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras was discovered in 1954 by the archaeologist W.F. Grimes.

The post-war bomb sites across the City of London offered a one off opportunity to excavate and explore for remains of occupation of the City from previous centuries, and in 1946 the Society of Antiquaries of London sponsored a short trial session, and then established the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council in order to more formally establish a long term series of excavations.

These continued through to December 1962, with the majority being led by W.F. Grimes.

There were two main challenges to this work, both of which almost resulted in the failure to discover the Temple of Mithras – money and time.

The Excavation Council was able to raise funds from private donors, and in 1968 Grimes published “The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London”, a brilliant book providing an initial record of the work between 1947 and 1962. In the back of the book is a list of donors, which included the Government Ministry of Works (£26,300) and the Bank of England (£2,750) as the top two donors, down to two pages of donors who contributed £1. There were also a large number of donors who gave less than a £1, but were not recorded in the book.

By 1954, donor funds were growing short, and in the many newspaper reports of the discovery, it was reported that “Mr. Grimes had only found the temple because, after private subscriptions fell off, a grant from the Ministry of £2,000 a year had kept him going”.

There was also the challenge of time, and the walls of the temple were found towards the very end of the period agreed with the developer to excavate the site. Such was the importance of the find, that the developers allowed an extra two weeks for excavation.

At the temple today, there are two walkways along the sides of the temple, and at the end of these, we can look back at the interior of the temple:

Temple of Mithras

From the location of the apse, and where the altar was located:

Temple of Mithras

The area that was being excavated, and where the Temple of Mithras was found, was a large almost triangular plot bounded by Queen Victoria Street in the north, Budge Row to the south and Walbrook to the east. Budge Row sort of exists, but is now a covered walkway between two sections of the Bloomberg building, and appears to be called the Bloomberg Arcade.

The importance of the site was that it was part of the valley of the old Walbrook stream, and at the time, very little was known of the extent and nature of the stream and the surrounding valley.

Prior to the temple being found, work had focused on identifying the location of the stream, and sectional cuts were taken across the site which found that the Walbrook was in a shallow basin of around 290 to 300 feet across, and that the stream was around 14 feet wide and relatively shallow.

Excavations also found that the process of raising the land surface had started at a very early date, with dumping of material in the basin of the stream, mainly on the western edge of stream.

A number of timber deposits were found, mainly floors, and also contraptions such as guttering, all to deal with the wet conditions of the land surrounding the Walbrook stream.

There were very few stone structures, and apart from the temple, only one other stone building was found on the site, so although the site was in the centre of Roman London, it was very different to what could have been expected, with no concentration of stone buildings, and probably an area which had a stream running through, and was wet and marshy.

The main body of the temple was found to be rectangular and around 58.5 feet long and 26 feet wide, and consisted of a semi-circular apse at the western end.

In Grimes book, he mentions that the eastern end of the building consisted of a narthex or vestibule, which projected beyond the side walls of the building, and that part of this vestibule lay, and in 1954 at the end of excavation, remained under the street Walbrook. I need to find out if that is still the case, or whether it has since been excavated.

Photo from the book “The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London” by W.F. Grimes showing the Temple of Mithras as finally excavated. The photo was taken from the north east, so would have been next to the street Walbrook:

Temple of Mithras

The photo below is a view of the apse, which was at the western end of the temple, the upper right of the temple in the photo above:

Temple of Mithras

The excavated temple was opened to the public for a short period between excavation and the removal of the stones, and very long queues formed to get a glimpse of this Roman survivor:

Temple of Mithras

However, you can forget all the stories of polite British queuing, as the News Chronicle reported on Wednesday the 22nd of September 1954: “Sightseers Storm the Cordon. When darkness came, hundreds were still queuing. They got angry and dozens stormed through police barriers to see the Temple of Mithras.

Instead of the 50 to 500 people expected at the half acre bomb site near Mansion House, where last week a marble head of the god was unearthed, there were 10,000.

Police reinforcements were called as they milled around. At 6:30 when the site was due to close, thousands were still queuing. Then the contractors – who are to build London’s tallest office block on the site – decided to keep it open till seven.

There was an angry scene when the police announced half an hour later that no more people could be allowed. By then, darkness was falling and hundreds were still queuing. The disappointed crowd shouted ‘We’ve been waiting more than an hour’.”

Looking back at the apse:

Temple of Mithras

There were a number of finds at the site of the temple, including, Mercury, a messenger god, seated on a ram:

Temple of Mithras

Mable head representing the godess Minerva:

Temple of Mithras

And then there was the head and neck of Mithras. This was found by one of the excavators on the site, Mrs. Audrey Williams, and I found a photo of her, holding the head of Mithras, in the book “Buried London” by William Thomson Hill (1955):

Temple of Mithras

Audrey Williams was a highly experienced archeaologist, but was, and still is, rather unrecognised.

She was mentioned in some newspaper reports about the temple, a typical report being “Excavators were about to put aside their trowels when Mrs. Audrey Williams, second-in-command to Mr. W.F. Grimes, director of the London Museum in charge of the excavations, scraped the side of a marble cheek”.

There is a biography of Audrey Williams on the excellent Trowel Blazers site, which also records that it was Audrey who was on site every day, and her work makes up much of the archive as Grimes was also working on another site.

Mithras was one of many Roman gods, and the cult of Mithras started in Rome and eventually spread across the Roman empire. It seems to have attracted those who were administrators, merchants and soldiers within the empire, and meetings were held in temples, often below ground. Dark, windowless places, which the presentation at the London Mithraeum demonstrates well.

The location of the temple, on the banks of the Walbrook stream would have added an extra dimension to the place.

At the end of the time available for the excavation, there was concern about the future of the temple, and whether the cost of preserving or moving the temple would be supported by the Government. A solution was found thanks to the owners of Bucklersbury House, the building that would be constructed on the site, as reported in the Courier and Advertiser on the 2nd of October, 1954:

“The Temple of Mithras, recently uncovered in the City of London, is to be moved, brick by brick, and re-erected on a site 80 yards away.

A Ministry of Works statement yesterday said – It has been decided that the cost of preserving the remains of the Temple of Mithras in its present position, estimated at more that £500,000 cannot be met from public funds. Happily, however, Mr. A.V. Bridgland, and the owners of the site of Bucklersbury House, have made a most generous proposal, which the Government believe will be widely welcomed.

The temple is to be moved from its present low level and put up again in an open courtyard on the Queen Victoria Street front of Bucklersbury House site.

Estimated cost of the removal is £10,000 which is to be borne by the owner of the site.”

Photo from the book “Buried London” by William Thomson Hill (1955), showing the Temple of Mithras being rebuilt in its temporary location in October 1954 before being moved to Temple Court in Queen Victoria Street where it was put on open air, public display in the early 1960s:

Temple of Mithras

It is interesting to speculate just how original many of these early buildings remain.

Grimes, in his book states that the individual stones of the temple were not numbered, rather the walls were photographed and the rebuild of the temple was based on these photos.

The reconstruction in the London Mithraeum also used new mortar between the stones, but using a formula which would have been used at the time..

The Temple of Mithras remained in the open until the Bloomberg building was constructed on a large site, which included the location of the post-war Bucklersbury House.

The Temple of Mithras is not in exactly the same position as when discovered as it is a small distance to the west, but it is close enough, and at the level below ground to its original location.

There is also an exhibition of many of the finds from the site, including a steelyard balance and weights, used for measuring the weight of goods which would have been suspended from the hook on the right:

Temple of Mithras

And rings:

Temple of Mithras

The Temple of Mithras is well worth a visit. As well as the physical remains of the temple and finds from the site, the presentation as part of the London Mithraeum provides a good impression of how the temple may have been used, when it was sitting on the banks of the Walbrook, some 1800 years ago.

Details can be found at the site of the London Mithraeum, here.

There is a British Pathe film of the discovery here.

There is an absolutely fascinating lecture by Sadie Watson on the Return of the Temple of Mithras in London, part of the Gresham College series of lectures. It can be found here.

The Vine Street Roman Wall

The City Wall at Vine Street is the name of a new exhibition of part of the Roman London wall in the basement area of a new building complex that seems to consist of student accommodation and offices.

Although the name of the exhibition includes Vine Street, the entrance is at 12 Jewry Street. The overall building complex sits between Jewry Street and Vine Street.

After entering at ground level, a walk down to the lower level reveals the section of London wall:

Vine Street Roman Wall

The face of the wall in the above photo is the side that was on the inside of the City of London.

The presentation of the wall is really very good, because it shows not just the Roman wall, but also tells the story of how it has survived for so long.

Today, in preparation for a new building, the existing building on the site is usually fully demolished, down to a big hole in the ground. The new building is then constructed without any use of parts of the structure of the previous building.

This is starting to change, for example the old BT building on Newgate Street is being completely remodeled, and the building’s structural frame will be mainly retained in a building that will look completely different from the outside.

In the past, where there were existing walls, it was often very cost effective to incorporate these into a new building. I have written about a couple of examples in previous posts such as St. Alphage on London Wall, the Bastions and Wall between London Wall and St. Giles, Cripplegate, and the Roman Wall on Tower Hill, and it was only by being included in much later buildings that these earlier structures have survived.

The Roman Wall did continue in use during the medieval period, when medieval brick and stone work extended the height of the wall as the ground level in many parts of London was gradually rising, but it was becoming redundant.

The City was expanding outside the wall, so although parts were demolished and stones often reused as building material, other parts of the wall were built against, and included in new structures, and the section on display became part of a number of buildings on the site.

In the construction of a new building on the site in 1905, the wall was exposed, and thankfully it was preserved in the basement.

In the above photo, the black piers supporting the wall are from the 1905 construction, and underneath are jacks installed as part of the build of the current building on the site.

And to the left of the Roman wall in the above photo, and more clearly in the photo below, can be seen the walls of the last building on the site, and how they butted up to the Roman wall:

Vine Street Roman Wall

Walking to the other side of the wall and we are now presented with the wall that would have faced outside of the City:

Vine Street Roman Wall

And we can also see the remains of a bastion, a small building on the side of the wall, usually with a semi-circular end, that was used for defensive purposes:

Vine Street Roman Wall

As with the London Mithraeum, there is a large display of the many finds from the site and surrounding area:

Vine Street Roman Wall

The finds represent the whole period that the wall has stood on the site. As the level of the ground increased in height, centuries of London’s rubbish, broken pottery and china, accidently lost personal items, animal bones and the waste from industrial activities have all accumulated:

Vine Street Roman Wall

One of the finds is a bit of a mystery. It was found further to the south in 1957, during construction work in Crosswall. It appears to be a stele (an upright stone slab bearing a relief and / or an inscription, and often used as a gravestone):

Vine Street Roman Wall

It is believed to have come from the eastern Mediterranean and dating from around 200 BC, with the inscription perhaps being added a couple of centuries later.

It is unclear how the stone came to be in the City of London, and one of the theories put forward was that the stone was brought to London many centuries later during a Grand Tour, when those rich enough and still relatively young, would embark on a tour through the major cultural and historical centers of Europe and bring back artifacts from their travels.

The Vine Street Roman wall is also very well worth a visit. A different form of presentation to the Temple of Mithras, but it shows how the wall survived by becoming part of much later buildings.

Details can be found at the website of the Vine Street Roman Wall, here.

College Hill – The Street With Four Plaques

A walk along College Hill in today’s post, but first, if you would like to come on one of my walks, a couple of places have just become free on two of my final walks until late next spring next year. Details and links are:

2 places available on the walk Bankside to Pickle Herring Street – History between the Bridges on Sunday the 5th of November

1 place available on the walk Limehouse – A Sink of Iniquity and Degradation on Sunday the 12th of November

College Hill is a short street that runs from Cloak Lane to College Street, to the west of Cannon Street Station in the City of London.

It is only 238 feet in length, but within that distance there is a considerable amount of history and four City of London plaques commemorating people and places within the street. I cannot yet confirm, but I suspect this is the highest number of plaques in such a short street.

This post will explore the street based on the stories that the plaques tell, and also hopefully show some of the difficulties in being able to be certain of the truth, and that whilst the sources on the Internet require a degree of scepticism, this also applies to many written books on the history of London.

I will also find a plaque that appears to commemorate someone’s burial before he was actually dead.

So, turning into College Hill from Cloak Lane in the north, the first plaque is to:

Turners’ Hall

The first plaque along is on the left of a very ornate doorway on the east side of College Hill:

Turners Hall

Recording that “On or near this site stood the second Turners’ Hall. 1736 to 1766”:

Turners Hall

Turners’ Hall was the home for only 30 years of the Worshipful Company of Turners.

Members of the Tuners’ were those who specialised in wood turning on a lathe, and whilst this would have included the manufacture of furniture, a key product of the Turners’ appears to have been wooden measuring vessels, a device that would hold a set quantity of liquids such as wine or ale, and therefore able to show that an expected quantity (such as a pint or a quart) was being provided.

The trade of a Turner seems to date back many hundreds of years. According to “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” by John Bromley (1960):

“In 1310 six turners were sworn before the mayor not to make any other measures than gallons, pottles and quarts, and were enjoined to seize any false measures found in the hands of others whether free of the City or not.”

The problem with false measures was still a problem a couple of hundred years later, when in 1547 Turners were again summoned before the mayor and ordered to make only measures which conformed to the standard.

The mayor is still indirectly responsible for measures in the City of London, although rather than being hauled up before the Mayor, today it is the City of London Corporation Trading Standards team that manage this, and the sale of ale is still on their agenda as they have a web page dedicated to the Pub trade within the City of London and “Was your pint a short measure?”.

In 1604, King James the 1st granted the Turners’ their first Royal Charter.

The first Turners’ Hall was in Philpot Lane, off Eastcheap, where the company leased a mansion in 1591.

The Turners’ occupied this hall until 1736 when they had o leave their Philpot Lane location due to the landlord and the legal representative of the landlord’s estate both going bankrupt, apparently as a result of the South Sea Bubble.

The hall in College Hill was basically a merchants house. It was small, so did not have room for large, formal dinners, and at the same time the trade of the Turners’ was in decline, so in 1756 the building was let, and the Turners’ finally sold the building in 1766.

Today, the Turners’ do not have their own hall and now use halls of other City companies for their formal functions.

The Arms of the Turners’ are shown below:


The hatchet at the bottom and the columns on either side represent tools of the Turners’ craft, however the wheel in the centre has a much more gruesome origin.

It is a torture or execution wheel, also known as an execution wheel. It was used to break the bones and execute those convicted of crimes such as murder, and was also the device intended for the execution of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the early 4th century, by the Roman emperor Maxentius for converting people to Christianity.

Allegedly, when Catherine touched the wheel intended for her execution, it broke into many pieces, although rather than being set free, she was then beheaded.

“The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” provides the following regarding the link between the Turners’ and St. Catherine:

“Because of her eloquence and learning St. Catherine is generally regarded as the patroness of students and philosophers, but she has also, as a result of her emblem, been adopted as the tutelary saint of wheelwrights and mechanics. Whether the emblem was used by the Turners’ on account of its traditional use by other similar crafts, or whether the Company was originally founded as a fraternity with vows to St. Catherine has not been determined.”

Catherine appears at the top of the Turners’ arms.

St. Catherine also gave her name to the firework known as a Catherine Wheel, so if you see one of these spinning round on November the 5th, recall that the origins of the name go back to an instrument of torture and execution and a 3rd century saint.

The plaque is on the far left of the following rather intriguing building:

College Hill

Two massive entrances lead to courtyards behind. The doorways have impressive sculpture above.

This is number 22 College Hill and the building is Grade II* listed. The Historic England listing details are:

“Circa 1680 probably by Nicholas Barbon. Double gatehouse with inexplicably grand stone front now painted. 2 principal storeys. 2 round arched entrances with double gates and wooden tympanum. Bolection moulded surrounds and segmental pediments on carved brackets with richly carved ornament above each arch. Circular windows above with carved surrounds. Small shop inserted in centre with square and round arched windows over. Plain parapet. Rear of red brick (partly rendered) with wooden eaves cornice to tiled roof. Dormers. Central part set forward but whole much altered.”

I like the comment “inexplicably grand stone front” in the listing. The shop mentioned in the listing in the centre is now a restaurant, the India, and photos on their website show the restaurant is within a long, brick arched room, rather like the arch under a railway viaduct, which looks very unexpected when compared to the front of the building.

The entrances on either side of the building lead through to a courtyard and offices at the rear:

College Hill

The following print dating from 1837 shows one of the entrances to the building, along with the building next along the street, which has a sign above the first floor windows stating that it is the Mercers School © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The Mercers School dates from 1542, and was in College Hill from around 1805 until the school moved to High Holborn in 1894.

There is another print which shows the building, but adds some confusion, The following print is dated to between 1829 and 1831 and is titled “Whittington’s College, College Hill”  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The text on the British Museum collection website for the photo reads “View of Mercers’ School, founded by Whittington, c.1419, rebuilt c.1668; a cart laden with barrels stands outside the grand arched entrances to the college, a tower rises in the background.”

The text states that it is a view of the Mercers’ School, however the previous print shows the school in what is the empty plot of the above photo, so I wonder if the school originally moved into the building with the ornate entrances before a purpose built building was completed next door.

The text also states that Mercers’ School was founded by (Richard) Whittington c1419, however according to the Mercers’ School History, the school was started in 1542, over one hundred years after Whittington’s death.

There was though a Whittington College in College Hill, however it was dissolved in 1547 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of religious establishments. It was revived after his death by Mary, but finally wound up during the reign of Elizabeth I, so long before the building was constructed in 1680.

So the British Museum text appears to have errors, and whoever published the print of the building appears to have wrongly assumed that it was Whittington College, when by the time of the print the Mercers’ School was in College Hill.

The House of Richard Whittington

At numbers 19 to 20 College Hill is another Grade II listed building, dating from the mid 19th century:

Richard Whittington

On the left of the building is a plaque which states that “The House of Richard Whittington Mayor of London Stood on this Site in 1423”:

Richard Whittington

There has been much written about Richard Whittington, and many of these stories are myths. There was no cat (this was added centuries later), he was not poor, and whether he turned again as he was leaving the City to the north is probably unlikely.

Where he did have a challenge is that he was the younger son of Sir William Whittington, from Pauntley in Gloucestershire, and being a younger son, he would not have inherited his father’s wealth and lands.

On his arrival in London, he was apprenticed to a mercer, and gradually grew a reputation as a successful trader and also sold to the King. Between 1392 and 1394 Richard II purchased around £3,475 worth of goods from Whittington. He exported wool and also lent money to the King, all activities which built his wealth and reputation within the royal court.

His future reputation would be sealed when he became Mayor of London. It was his money lending, friendship and loyalty to the King, Richard II which enabled this, as in 1397 the City of London was being badly governed.

The King confiscated much of the City’s land, and selected Richard Whittington to be Mayor of the City, a choice which was confirmed by a vote of those eligible to vote within the City of London.

He appears to have been liked by the people of London, he carried out a number of improvements to the City, which apparently included rebuilding parts of the Guildhall, and according to the Museum of London, he built a communal ‘longhouse’, a communal privy which would have overhung the Walbrook river. He also ensured that the City was able to buy back the land that the King had confiscated.

Although he did own property, he did not own large estates, including a large estate outside of London, as would have been normal at the time for a person of his position and wealth.

He was Mayor of the City of London in 1397, 1406 and 1419, and he was also an MP, as well as being a member of the Mercers Company.

He wife Alice died in 1410, and Whittington died in 1423, and as they had no surviving children, much of Whittington’s wealth was left for charitable purposes.

The date on the plaque is 1423 for Richard Whittington’s house being on the site. This is the year that he died, and it highlights one of the problems with these plaques, in that they do not explain the relevance of the date.

Whilst it was the year he died, was he living in the house at the time, how long had he owned or lived in the house, why is 1423 important as regards the house?

But there is a much stranger date on the next plaque.

Richard Whittington Founded and was Buried in this Church 1422

The plaque can just be seen on the corner of the church, highlighted by the red arrow:

College Hill

So, there is an immediate problem with this plaque, according to nearly all the sources I have read, Richard Whittington died in 1423, not 1422, so at the time of the date on this plaque, claiming burial in the church, he seems to have been very much alive.

Richard Whittington

I may be wrong that the date on the plaque refers to his year of death, it may be something to do with the church. According to records in the London Metropolitan Archives, Whittington paid for the rebuild of the church in 1409, so did it take thirteen years to complete, and was being reconsecrated / reopened in 1422?

This is one of the problems with some of the plaques in the City of London, they do not provide any context to some of the dates listed.

The sources stating his death was in March 1423 include:

Along with many others books and websites. An example of a book which could perhaps be expected to have the correct date is Old and New London by Walter Thornbury, where in a comprehensive listing of Lord Mayor’s of the City, Whittington is stated as having died in 1627, four years after what appears to have been his correct year of death.

An early 17th century “true” portrait of Richard Whittington  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Richard Whittington

Two hundred years after his death, the story of the cat seems to have been established as he is shown stroking a small cat in the above print, which also lists his good works:

“Thrice Mayor of London, a virtuous and godly man full of good works and those famous he builded the Gate of London called Newgate which before was a miserable dungeon. He builded Whittington College and made it an almshouse for poor people. Also he builded a great part of the hospital of St. Bartholomews in West Smithfield in London. He also builded the great Library at Grey Friers in London called Christes Hospital. Also he builded the Guilde Halle Chapel and increased a great part of the east side of the said hall, beside many other good works.”

The plaque is on the corner of the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, and there are a number of stories regarding the founding and age of the church.

The plaque claims that the church was founded by Richard Whittington, but that is not quiet true.

The first reference to a church on the site dates from 1219. The name of the church comes from the sellers of paternosters or rosaries who were based in College Hill, which was then called Paternoster Lane. The Royal element of the name comes from a now lost nearby street called Le Ryole, which was a corruption of the name of a town in Bordeaux called La Reole. The street was apparently home to wine sellers, which presumably explains the Bordeaux connection.

Richard Whittington’s involvement with the church dates from 1409 when he paid for the rebuilding of the church, and the extension of the church by the purchase of a plot of land in the street Le Ryole.

Although he was not responsible for the founding of the original church, Whittington did found a College within the extended church for the training of priests, the College of St Spirit and St Mary. The association of the church with the college enabled St Michael’s to become a collegiate church, so perhaps this is what the plaque is referring to.

The college is also the reason why the street is called College Hill.

The church was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, with Nicholas Hawksmoor adding the steeple between 1713 and 1717.

The church was badly damaged during the last war, and there was a proposal to demolish all of the church except for the tower, however this was opposed by the Corporation of the City of London, and the church was finally rebuilt and restored in the late 1960s, the last City church to be rebuilt after the damage of the early 1940s.

The tower and steeple of St. Michael Paternoster Royal:

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

St. Michael Paternoster Royal as it appeared in 1812  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

And by 1859, houses and a pub appear to have been built on the open space to the south of the church, down to Upper Thames Street, with a pub, the White Swan on the corner  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

College Hill

The main door to the church:

St. Michael Paternoster Royal

Every time I have walked past the church, it has been closed. I hope at some point I will be able to get in and write a more comprehensive post on the church.

Although there is nothing left of Richard Whittington’s tomb, there is apparently a marked stone on the floor near the altar recording the location of his burial place.

The view looking up College Hill is shown in the following photo. The hill is an indication that the street is sloping down towards the Thames.

College Hill

The following history of the street name is from one of the books on London that does seem accurate and well researched, Harben’s “A Dictionary of London” (1918):

“The earliest name Paternosterchurch Street (1232) commemorated the church, then in all probability its distinguishing feature.

The subsequent name ‘La Reole’ recalls the memory of the foreign merchants assembled there for purposes of their trade of whom a great number are said to have imported wine from the town of ‘La Reole’ near Bordeaux and to have named the street in which they resided after their native town. The name appears to have been given in the first instance to one principal messuage or tenement, and only later applied to the whole street.

The present name commemorates the great foundation of Whittington College in the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal.”

There is one more plaque to find in College Hill, and this is on the left / west side of the street, so I walked back up the street to find the site of:

The Duke of Buckingham’s House

As you walk back up College Hill, on the left, on a large brick building, next to an entrance to a courtyard, is another plaque, arrowed in the following photo:

College Hill

The plaque states that this is the site of the Duke of Buckingham’s House, 1672:

Duke of Buckingham's House

The information on this plaque does not really explain which Duke of Buckingham, and the relevance of the date. Was 1672 when the house was built, when it was demolished, or when the Duke of Buckingham lived in the house, and if it was only for a single year, why does it need a plaque?

Firstly, who was the Duke of Buckingham?

The Duke of Buckingham in the 17th century refers to two generations of the Villiers family.

George Villiers purchased a number of large estates in the early 17th century, He was a favourite of King James I, and one history of the county of Rutland (where Villiers primary country estate was located) states that “It was his elegant legs that first brought George Villiers to the adoring attention of James I”.

George Villiers was made the first Duke of Buckingham in 1623.

James I died in 1625 and Charles I then took the throne and George Villiers continued to have royal favour, although it appears he was not a popular man, and was often used as a scapegoat for poor decisions.

Villiers end came about due to failed naval battles. He had the position of Lord Admiral, and led a naval force to attempt the relief of La Rochelle. The attempt was a failure and there were around 5,000 casualties in the forces led by Villiers.

A second expedition also failed, and following these two naval disasters sailors and soldiers were left unpaid, fed up with Villiers command and willing to mutiny. In the naval town of Porrsmouth, sailors rioted even though Villiers promised to provide their pay from his own funds.

Such was the feeling among the sailors of the navy, that one of their number, John Felton assassinated Villiers on the 23rd of August 1628, and that was the end of the first Duke of Buckingham.

Seven months prior to his death, his first son George was born, and it was to this infant that the title of the second Duke of Buckingham passed.

George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham grew to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue to support the king, Charles I. He fought on the Royalist side during the Civil War and escaped to Europe with the future Charles II he was later captured and prisoned in Jersey, Windsor and the Tower of London.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, Buckingham was released from the Tower in 1659, and with Charles II restored to the throne, Buckingham had his estates restored and became a rich man, and was also at the centre of the royal court.

Buckingham did though have very expensive and extravagent tastes, and also racked up large gambling debts.

George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham died in 1687, and his estates were sold to pay off his debts.

He had no legitimate heir, so the 17th century father and son, both George Villiers and the first and second Dukes of Buckingham ended in 1687, so the plaque refers to one or both of these two men.

I have read in some well respected blogs that the house belonged to George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, with no mention of the second Duke. The first Duke died almost 50 years before the date on the plaque.

The book “A Handbook for London, Past and Present” by Peter Cunningham (1849) states that Buckingham House was “A spacious mansion on the east side of College Hill, for some time the city residence of the second, and last Duke of Buckingham“.

There is an error in this statement, as if the plaque is in the right position, Buckingham House was on the west side of College Hill, not the east.

The City of London Queen Street Conservation Area document states that “The Dukes of Buckingham owned a substantial property accessed from the west side of College Hill until its redevelopment in 1672”.

Strype, writing in 1720, stated “Buckingham house, so called as being bought by the late Duke of Buckingham and where he some time resided upon a particular humour: It is a very large and graceful Building, late the Seat of Sir John Lethulier an eminent Merchant; some time Sheriff and Alderman of London, deceased“.

Buckingham House was shown on Ogilby and Morgan’s 1676 map of London. The yellow arrow in the following extract points to the house which was a substantial building for the area, between College Hill and New Queen Street:

College Hill

The building appears to have been accessed through an alleyway from College Hill which the red arrow points to, and as far as I can tell by aligning maps, an alley still exists in the same place today (the Buckingham House plaque is on the left of the entrance to the alley):

Duke of Buckingham's House

At the end of the alley is the small space of Newcastle Court, surrounded by offices, but occupying a small part of the space that was once in front of Buckingham House.

So after reading many different sources, there is still no final answer as to which Duke of Buckingham owned Buckingham House, or whether it was both of them. And no firm answer as to the relevance of the date 1672.

In writing these posts, I try and avoid stating what may appear to be simple statements of truth, when in reality there are many different versions, and I suspect it would only be after some considerable effort in various archives, that the correct story could be revealed, if documents covering the period, the two Dukes of Buckingham, and the house on College Hill still remain.

Cloak Lane Police Station

All my walks have sold out, however I have had a request to run the “South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain” walk on a weekday, so have added a walk on Thursday, the 9th of November, which can be booked here.

I have now been writing the blog for nine and a half years, and it has changed the way I look at things when walking the streets of the city. I now take far more notice of all the little indicators to the history of an area, a street or a building.

Whether it is the way that streets dip and rise, and the sound of running water rising from below a drain cover, both hinting at a lost river, the way the shape of a building hints at an early street pattern before a Victorian road improvement, or the numerous plaques and architectural features telling of a building’s former use.

A typical example of this was when I walked along Cloak Lane in the City a couple of weeks ago. Although I have walked through the street numerous times over the years, I had not noticed this foundation stone on a building on the corner of Cloak Lane and College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

What caught my attention with this foundation stone is that it was laid by a Deputy Chairman of the Police Committee.

The building does not seem to have any current connection with the Police service and is now an office block, and appears to be on sale for offers in excess of £14.7 million.

The building looks as if it was once home to an institution of some form. Plainly decorated and mainly brick with stone cladding on the ground floor, the building still projects a strong, functional image onto Cloak Lane.

The foundation stone on the building is now the only reminder that this was built for the City of London Police and opened as Cloak Lane Police Station:

Cloak Lane police station

As the foundation stone records, Cloak Lane Police Station dates from 1885.

At the time, Cloak Lane was one of six police divisions across the City. They were centered on police stations at Cloak Lane, Minories, Bishopsgate, Bridewell Place, Snow Hill and Moor Lane.

The City of London Police came into being in 1839 when the City of London Police Act was passed on the 17th of August 1839. Before this act, policing in the City was built around a Day Patrol of Constables, and a Night Patrol which started with elected Ward Constables and Watchmen, with Watch Houses that later became the first Police Stations located across the City.

The 1839 Act provided statutory approval of the City of London Police, appointed a Commissioner of Police who was selected by the City’s Court of Common Council, and probably of more importance to the City of London, the Act ensured that the City’s police would be kept separate and not merged with the Metropolitan Police. A separation which continues to this day.

The City of London Police seems to have been funded by the Corporation of London, and funded by a police rate paid by the businesses and residents of the City.

There appears to have been some concern about the extra costs of the new building as in the City Press in 1885 there was the following: “There is every probability of an increase in the city rating, which is already exceedingly heavy. A new police-station is about to be erected in Cloak Lane which will involve an additional penny in the police rate, unless the cost of the building is spread over several years”.

I cannot find the exact date when the new station opened, however it appears to have been built quickly as by 1886 newspapers were starting to carry reports about events involving the station, including what must have been a most unusual use for the new police station:

“AN ADDER CAUGHT IN A LONDON STREET. There is now to be seen at the Police Station, Cloak Lane, City, an adder, about 15 inches long, which was seen in Cannon Street a morning or two ago basking in the sun on the foot pavement, although large numbers of persons were passing to and fro at the time.

A constable’s attention was drawn to the strange sight, and he managed to get it into a box and take it to the station. It is conjectured that it must have been inadvertently conveyed to town in some bale or other package of goods. The creature, which is pronounced to be a fine specimen, has been visited by large numbers of persons.”

I could not find any record of what happened to the adder after its appearance at Cloak Lane police station.

Cloak Lane is to the south of Cannon Street, and runs a short distance west from Cannon Street Station.

The building did suffer bomb damage during the war (although it is not marked on the LCC Bomb Damage Maps). A high explosive bomb did penetrate the roof and caused considerable internal damage. There are a number of photos of the damage in the London Picture Archive, including the photo at this link.

As a result of this damage, there may have been some repairs and rebuilding of the structure, and it is hard to be sure how much of the building is the original 1886 station.

The longest axis of the building is on Cloak Street, with the shortest axis running down College Hill as the building is on the corner of these two streets.

What is strange is that the main entrance to the building is on Cloak Lane, and the building was known as Cloak Lane police station, however as can be seen to the left of the door in the following photo, it has an address of 1 College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

The arms of the City of London can be seen in the pediment above the door. I am not sure who the figure on the keystone is meant to represent, however it could be Neptune / Old Father Thames, as Cloak Lane police station covered the area along the river not far to the south of the building.

I find it fascinating to use these fixed points in London as a reference to finding out about life in the City over the years, and Cloak Lane police station tells us much about crime in the City of London.

Financial crime seem to be a feature of many of those of who found themselves in Cloak Lane police station. Probably to be expected given the businesses within the City. Two examples:

In September 1952, Colin Vernon Ley was awaiting trial, charged with “while being a Director of Capital Investments Ltd. he unlawfully and fraudulently applied £3,000 belonging to that body to his own use”.

The report of his arrest reads as you would perhaps expect of an arrest in the 1950s:

“At 6.45 p.m. yesterday, said the Inspector, I was with Detective Sergeant Reginald Plumb in Bruton Street, Mayfair, when I saw the prisoner outside the Coach and Horses public house.

I said to him ‘You know who we are, and I hold a warrant for your arrest issued at the Mansion House today.

I cautioned him, and he said ‘I suppose I have to come with you now’. At Cloak Lane Police Station, the warrant was read to him, and he said ‘You were in a position to prove it, no doubt before you got the warrant’. I was present when he was charged and he made no reply.”

On the 10th of October 1959, papers were reporting on the arrest of a solicitor for one of the largest, in value, financial frauds. Friedrich Grunwald, described as a 35 year old Mayfair solicitor was arrested and charged under the Larceny Act with the fraudulent conversion of £3,250,000 entrusted to him by the State Building Society to secure mortgages on properties owned by 161 companies. His arrest was described that:

“At a nod from a colleague, a bowler-hatted Detective-Superintendent Francis Lee, head of the City Fraud Squad, intercepted him on the Embankment near Temple Underground Station and escorted him to a car which drove to Cloak Lane police station”

In January of the following year, Herbert Murray, secretary and managing director of the State Building Society was also arrested and taken to Cloak Lane and would later appear in court with Grunwald.

The problem with using old newspapers for research is that there are so many random interesting articles to be found on the same page. If you have ever wondered why and when the Guards at Buckingham Palace moved into the secure area behind the railings, then on the same page as the above article there was:

“PALACE GUARD TO RETREAT BEHIND RAILINGS – Sentries at Buckingham Palace are to retreat behind the railings. They are making their tactical withdrawal to prepared positions to avoid clashes with sight-seers.

It will stop fashion photographers posing scantily dressed models under the men’s noses. It will stop those pictures of kindly small boys tie sentries undone bootlaces. Too often the boys tied the laces of both boots together.”

The River Thames features in a number of events that involved Cloak Lane police station. These normally involved some form of tragedy, due to the nature of police work, and the dangers of the river, such as in April 1924:

“POLICEMAN VANISHES – BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BLOWN INTO THE THAMES. Police Constable Albert Condery is believed to have met with a tragic death by being blown into the Thames during a storm last night.

It is learned that Condery, who has been in the City Police Force for 20 years, left Cloak Lane Police Station last night to go on duty at Billingsgate Market. He was seen there by the sergeant, but later he was missed, and his helmet was found floating on the Thames near the market. The body has not been recovered.”

The above report was from a time when lone police officers patrolled the city’s streets. Although the following photo was taken by my father in Bankside, not the area covered by Cloak Lane, it does show the traditional image of a policeman patrolling their beat:

London policeman

There were many strange events across the City in which Cloak Lane was involved. In November 1902, papers had the headline “EXTRAORDINARY AFFAIR AT BANK OF ENGLAND – ATTEMPT TO SHOOT THE SECRETARY. A sensation was caused in the Bank of England yesterday by the firing of a revolver by a young man who had entered the library. As he seemed about to continue his firing indiscriminately the officials overpowered and disarmed him. The police were called in, and he was removed to the Cloak Lane Police Station.”

He was unknown by anyone in the Bank of England and whilst at Cloak Lane, he was examined by a Doctor, who came up with the diagnosis that “the man’s mind had given way at the time”.

In August 1891, there were reports of a “Raid on a Cheapside Club”, which officers from Cloak Lane had been watching for some time, with a couple of Detectives having infiltrated the club. Finally there was a raid, when: “A party of 14 plain-clothes officers made a descent upon the premises. At first, admission was refused, and the officers proceeded to smash the glass paneling in the upper portion of the door. Resistance being of course in vain, the door was thrown open, and the detectives rushing in, arrested everyone found in the establishment. twelve persons were taken into custody, and removed to Cloak Lane Police Station.”

The report does not mention why the club was illegal, however reports in later papers when those arrested were in court reveal that it was an illegal betting club, known locally as the United Exchange Club, held in the basement in Cheapside that had been home to the City Billiard Club.

Another view of the old Cloak Lane Police Station. College Hill is the street leading down at the left of the photo. Cloak Lane is where the longest length of the building can be seen, but strangely the address on the main entrance is 1 College Hill:

Cloak Lane police station

In 1914, two of the original six divisions were closed, and the City of London police force was reorganised into four Divisions. These were changed from numbered divisions 1 to 6 to lettered divisions A to D, with Cloak Lane becoming D Division.

In last week’s post on the London Stone, I included a photo from the 1920s publication Wonderful London where a policeman was standing guard over the London Stone.

City of London police had their individual number, followed by a letter for their division on their collar, and looking at the collar number of the policeman shows he was from D Division based at Cloak Lane, which makes sense as Cloak Lane covered Cannon Street.

Cloak Lane Police Station survived until 1965, when it closed and Wood Street became the D Division police station.

The very last report mentioning Cloak Lane Police Station was from December 1965 when an article titled “Foolish Driver in The City” reported on a driver who was seen driving down Friday Street and only just stopping at the junction with Cannon Street. He was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and taken to Cloak Lane Police Station, where he “had to be supported by two officers because he was unsteady on his feet”.

And so ended 80 years of policing from Cloak Lane.

Wood Street (designed by McMorran and Whitby, and built between 1963 and 1966), and which took over from Cloak Lane is shown in the photo below:

Wood Street police station

Wood Street Police Station has in turn been closed.

In the announcement from the Corporation of the City of London, it is stated: “The Grade II* Listed building has been sold to Wood Street Hotel Ltd (wholly owned by Magnificent Hotels) after it was declared surplus to operational requirements by the City of London Police. The developers have purchased the property on a 151-year lease and will turn it into a boutique 5-star hotel, subject to planning permission.”

The architects plans for the building can be seen at this link.

The only indication that the building on the corner of Cloak Lane and College Hill was a police station is the foundation stone laid by the deputy chairman of the police committee.

It now has a very difference use, and those who enter the building are now presumably doing so voluntarily, unlike very many of those who entered the building between 1886 and 1965.

Myths and Legends of the London Stone

Before taking a look at the long history of the London Stone, a quick advert as I have arranged some dates for my very last tours of the year, and the last ones until probably May of next year. I have included all my different tours, and it would be great to show you many of the stories and photos from the blog over the last nine years, at the actual sites.

Dates and links for booking as follows:

It would be wonderful to see you on a walk – now to the London Stone.

In its ability to attract myths and legends, the London Stone is far more powerful than its physical size suggests. A long time resident of the area around what is now Cannon Street Station, but with the distance of time, it is impossible to know the truth about the block of stone, which can now be found in a new housing with a glass front:

London Stone

The new housing for the London Stone was completed in 2018, along with the building of which the stone is part of the ground floor frontage onto Cannon Street:

London Stone

The plaque to the left records some of the key stories about the London Stone:

  • It may be Roman and related to Roman buildings to the south
  • It was already known as the London Stone by the 12th century
  • Jack Cade, the leader of a rebellion against the government of Henry VI in 1450 struck the stone with his sword and claimed to be Lord of London

The plaque on the right tells the story in braille which is rather good.

The previous building on the site was an early 1960s office building, which was demolished 2016, when the London Stone was moved to the Museum of London where is was put on temporary display, before being moved to its new home.

A view of the London Stone through the window at the front of the housing:

London Stone

The site was originally occupied by St. Swithin’s Church, however the church was destroyed by bombing in 1940. The stone walls of the church, with the London Stone, survived, and continued to stand on the site until being demolished for the 1960s office building.

Wonderful London has a photo of the London Stone in its housing on the front of St. Swithin’s Church, I doubt that the stone usually had a police guard:

London Stone

The Wonderful London description below the above photo reads: “Set in a stone casing in the wall of St. Swithin’s, Cannon Street, is this block of oolite, guarded by a grille. It was placed there in 1798, having been transferred from the other side of the road. Camden, the historian, 1551 – 1623, held that it was the milliarium, or milestone, from which distances were calculated on the main roads in days when London was Londinium Augusta. There was a similar stone in the Forum at Rome. If Camden is right, Roman lictors may have stood, like this policeman, in front of the stone 1,600 years ago”.

The text mentions that the stone is a block of oolite, which is a form of limestone, and was used in Roman London for building and sculpture, but may also have arrived in the City in the Saxon and early medieval period.

There was a large Roman building where Cannon Street Station now stands, so it may have formed some part of this building, or some of the decorative sculpture or statues that would have been part of the building.

There is no way to be sure.

The Roman milliarium or milestone story is repeated in multiple accounts of the stone. Sir Walter Besant in his 1910 book on the City of London includes the milestone story, but goes further by saying that some have supposed the stone to be the remains of a British druidical circle or religious monument. He quotes Strype as saying that Owen of Shrewsbury gave rise to the assertion that “the Druids had pillars of stone in veneration, which custom they borrowed from the Greeks”.

Besant also records that “Sir Christopher Wren was of opinion that ‘by reason of its large foundation, it was rather some more considerable monument in the Forum; for, in the adjoining ground to the south, upon digging for cellars after the Great Fire, were discovered some tessellated pavements, and other extensive, and other remains of Roman workmanship and buildings.”

The problem with all these stories about the original Roman use of the London Stone is that there is no firm evidence that it was a milliarium or milestone, when it arrived in the City, whether it was Roman, or the original use of the stone.

What seems to be certain is that the stone has long been in this part of Cannon Street. It was originally on the south side of the street and was also in the street, where it was an obstruction to the traffic flowing along the street.

The Wonderful London quote references that the stone was moved to St. Swithin’s Church, and guarded by a grill in 1798. This was urgently needed to protect the stone, as it appears to have been frequently under attack by those who used the street, as this report from several papers on the 2nd of July 1741 records:

“Thursday a Carman and a Drayman contending for the Way in Cannon-street, made a shift between them to throw down the little Building that covers London Stone (as ’tis call’d) and then pull the said Stone out of the Earth. this being presently known, great Numbers of People flocked to see it, and many curious Observations, Conjectures, and Prognosticks were believed by the Wiseacres present, on so extraordinary an Accident.”

The 16th century historian John Snow, who first published his Survey of London in 1598 included the following reference to the London Stone which explains how it was fixed in position, and why it was a significant obstruction for those who used Cannon Street:

“On the south side of this high street, near unto the channel is pitched upright a great stone called London stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if Carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken, and the stone it self unshaken.”

The London Stone seems to have been a well known feature of Cannon Street, as it was often used as part of an address, such as in the following from an advert in the Kentish Gazette on Friday, November the 6th, 1795, where a contact was given as “Mr. Sergeant, Number 86, London Stone, Cannon Street”.

And on the 26th of February 1788 there was an announcement in the Kentish Gazette of the marriage at “St. Swithin’s, London Stone, of W.T. Reynolds’s Esq. of Great St. Helen’s to Miss Sands of St. Dunstan’s Hill”

The following print from 1791 shows the London Stone in a casing up against St. Swithin’s church, as although Wonderful London mentioned 1798 for the positioning of the stone against the church, it had been moved to this safe location some years earlier, and in 1798 the church went through a major set of repairs, which included proposals for the stone to be removed as a nuisance, however there were many objections and the stone was kept up against the front of the church © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

The above print repeats the milliarium story and provides sources from a number of historians, who, to an extent are repeating the same story, but not providing any firm evidence.

The print also includes a reference to Shakespeare’s Henry Vi, Act 4, Scene 6, and it is from this scene that Shakespeare amplified the story of Jack Cade’s association with the London Stone.

Jack Cade led a rebellion in 1450, from the south east of the country against the corruption, poor administration and the abuse of power by the King’s local representatives.

He led a large group of men from the south-east who headed into London in an attempt to raise their grievances, remove from power those they held responsible for corruption and abuse of power, and to reform governance.

Once within the City, the rebellion turned into looting, and the residents of the City turned on the rebels

The rebels were offered a pardon to return home peaceably. Cade as the leader was captured in a fight and died of his injuries as he was being returned to London for trial.

The connection between Jack Cade and the London Stone comes from the rebellion’s entry into the City of London. Cade pretended to use the name of Mortimer, (the family name of ancestors of one of Henry VI’s main rivals), and on reaching the London Stone, he struck his sword on the stone and according to Holinshed (a 16th century English chronicler), he exclaimed “Now is Mortimer Lord of this City”.

Describing the London Stone in Old and New London, Walter Thornbury embellished the story of Jack Cade by adding that “Jack Cade struck with his bloody sword when he had stormed London Bridge”.

This drawing from the late 18th century shows Cade in the act of striking the stone © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Jack Cade

There is no reason why Cade would have used the London Stone in such a way. It was not a tradition for Kings or Lord Mayors of the City to strike the stone for any form of recognition.

Accounts imply that Cade did do this, but it was Shakespeare who really amplified and spread the story, including Cade using the stone as a sort of throne from where he issued proclamations and judgments. All part of the myths surrounding the London Stone.

The above print of Cade does show the stone in the street, not against the church, which appears to have been its location until the 18th century.

The following early 19th century print shows St. Swithin’s Church with the London Stone in the centre of the church, at ground level, facing onto Cannon Street © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

Another view from the early 19th century which appears to show the housing of the London Stone in a rather poor state © The Trustees of the British Museum):

London Stone

The Illustrated London News on the 13th of March 1937, reported that the London Stone was to be moved to a worthier setting, that it would be moved into an arched recess higher up the church, and flood lit at night.

Unfortunently, these plans were not carried out due to the start of war in 1939.

The Illustrated London News did repeat one of the apparent myths concerning the London Stone, that it “is believed to have originally been a tall prehistoric menhir, and later a Roman milliarium or milestone”, so not just tracing the stone back to Roman origins, but attributing a very much earlier origin as a prehistoric standing stone.

As well as prehistoric origins of the London Stone, there are also a number of myths about spiritual associations with the stone, the position of the stone at a centre of the City, and that if anything ever happens to the London Stone, the City will fall.

The following saying which is alleged to date from the medieval period has been repeated in a number of books about London:

So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe

So long will London flourish

John Clark in Folklore, Vol. 121, No. 1 found that this saying only existed from 1862.

A Brutus Stone seems to have been found in a number of places, for example in the Dartmouth and South Hams Chronicle on the 4th of March 1898: “Mr. Page rather made fun of the Brutus Stone set in the pavement of the High-street in Totnes, and of the claim that it was the stone on which Brutus of Troy landed when he came to Britain.”

Kipling used the name London Stone for a poem published in the Times on the 10th of November 1923. The poem was an elegy on grieving for the dead, however the poem referred to the Cenotaph, rather than the stone in Cannon Street (although the name of the poem was changed in different publications, as explored by the Kipling Society).

Many of the stories associated with the stone are just that, myths and stories, and there is very little to confirm the history of the stone prior to the medieval period.

Wherever stones are found, from the complexity of Stonehenge to a single prehistoric standing stone in a field, they always attract myths and legends.

I used a reference from Sir Walter Besant’s 1910 book on the City of London earlier in the post, and opposite the page on the London Stone was this view looking west along Cannon Street towards St. Paul’s. Part of St. Swithin’s church is on the right, with the London Stone just out of shot:

Cannon Street

One hundred and thirteen years later the street is just as busy. Apart from St. Paul’s there is only one building that is in both views. In the photo below, on the immediate right is a building with distinctive arches over the windows. In the above photo, you can see the same building on the right, a little further down the street.

Cannon Street

The first written reference to the London Stone appears to be from the late 11th century, so the stone is old, but as to its origins and purpose, we can only make educated guesses, and whilst it has moved slightly around its current location in Cannon Street over the centuries, it has looked out on an ever changing street scene.

Bethlehem Hospital, Life Assurance, a Botanist, Church and City Inn

This Sunday, I am continuing with my search for all the plaques commemorating events, people and places in the City of London. The plaques that have been the subject of previous posts can be found on the map at this link.

A mix of very different subjects this week, starting with:

Bethlehem Hospital

On the wall of the old Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool Street, where the station is also located, is the following plaque marking the site of the first Bethlehem Hospital:

The Bethlehem Hospital (also know as Bethlem or Bedlam) was founded in 1247 when a Sheriff of London, Simon FitzMary donated a parcel of land to the Bishop of Bethlehem.

On this land was founded the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem. As well as being a religious establishment, the priory also cared for the poor who were sick.

The hospital occupied a space of around 2 acres where Liverpool Street Station now stands. The Historic England record for the hospital states that it was “centred around a courtyard with a chapel in the middle, it had approximately 12 ‘cells’ for patients, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard.”

The hospital was taken over by the City of London in 1346, and later in the 14th century and early 15th century, it seems to have gradually changed from being a hospital for the poor, to a hospital that treated “lunatics” – not that any realistic treatment was available.

The term lunatic was a catchall for anyone who had any form of mental illness, and the term would continue to be in use for centuries to come. As an example, in a previous post where I looked at 18th century Bills of Mortality, there were frequent deaths due to “lunatic”, and you were automatically assumed to have this condition if you committed suicide, for example with the following record from January 1716 “Hanged himself (being Lunatick) at St. Olaves Southwark”.

Conditions were harsh at Bethlehem Hospital, and it seems to have been more a place to keep people off the streets rather then to provide treatment, with those in the hospital frequently being restrained and chained.

By the middle of the 17th century, the site was considered too small, run down, and in a very crowded area, so in 1676 the Bethlehem Hospital moved to Moorfields.

The following image uses embedded code, not sure if it will display in the emails. If not, go to the home page of the website.

The image shows “Construction work in the extension to Liverpool Street Station by the Great Eastern Railway, 1894 on the foundations of the first Bethlem Hospital. © Historic England BL12561B”:

The following photo shows the plaque on the side of the building with the street Liverpool Street on the left:

The plaque is a reminder of the harsh treatment of people with conditions of which there was no understanding at the time.

Parsonage of St. Nicholas Acons

In Nicholas Lane in the City of London is a plaque recording that Scientific Life Assurance began at the site in 1762.

Assurance is cover for something that will happen, whilst insurance is for something that may happen, and with life assurance, a payout is inevitable, as along with taxes, the only other certainty in life is death.

However the problem with life assurance is being able to calculate the profile of death in the population being covered. Basically, for how long will people be paying their premiums and when will payout be expected after their death.

Unless this could be fully understood, those offering life assurance ran the risk of making it so expensive that no one would buy the cover, or too cheap and the business running at a loss.

The first company to use a statistical approach to calculating life assurance premiums and payouts was the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, which was established in the parsonage of St. Nicholas Acons in 1762.

Work on a statistical approach to mortality had been underway before 1762, with Edmund Halley (after whom the comet is named), having created mortality tables in 1693. A mortality table is basically a table of ages, and for each age a probability is given of death before the next birthday, so for someone aged 45, it would show the probability that they would die before their 46th birthday.

The mathematician James Dodson took Halley’s work further, and although he had died before the founding of the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, the society took his work as the basis for their calculations of premiums and payments.

Edward Rowe Mores was instrumental in the use of Dodson’s work, and he was one of the group that founded the company. Mores was a typical 18th century scholar, as his interests ranged from mathematics, typography, history and statistics.

In establishing the company it was Mores who first used the term “actuary” for the person responsible for making the calculations of mortality, premiums and payouts.

The plaque can be seen on the wall in Nicholas Lane, near to Nicholas Passage:

The Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships was known for trying to be fair to its customers, and allocated some of their financial surplus back to their policy holders. The following from the London Evening Standard on the 6th of December, 1851 illustrates their approach:

“Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships, New Bridge-Street, Blackfriars. Instituted 1762.

At the end of every ten years two-thirds of the Surplus Funds of the Society are appropriated to the oldest 5000 Policies, and one-third is reserved as an accumulating fund.

At the last investigation – on the 31st December, 1849 – the Capital of the Society exceeded Eight Millions Sterling, invested in Three per Cents and on Mortgages.

The surplus amounted to £3,215,000, of which £2,113,000 were appropriated to the oldest 5000 Policies, and the remaining £1,102,000 were added to the reserves.”

The Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships eventually became Equitable Life, and the plaque records where the use of statistics were used in financial services, and where the profession of actuary was formalised.

I wrote about Bills of Mortality, and an earlier work by John Gaunt, published in 1676, who took an earlier statistical approach to mortality in my post Bills of Mortality – Death in early 18th Century London.

William Curtis, Botanist. Gracechurch Street

In Gracechurch Street there is a plaque recording that the botanist William Curtis lived in a house at the site of the plaque:

It is low down on the wall of a building at the southern end of Gracechurch Street, as can be seen at the bottom left of the following photo:

William Curtis was a Quaker, who was born in the town of Alton in Hampshire in 1746. He appears to have had an interest in the study of plants and insects from an early age, and after arriving in London he had a position as a Demonstrator of Botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden (see this post for my visit to the Chelsea garden).

Such was his success that he opened his own garden, the London Botanic Garden in Lambeth, where he is reported to have grown and exhibited in the order of 6,000 plants.

The 18th century was a time when plant collectors were bringing back specimens from across the world. Collectors such as Joseph Banks, who would become President of the Royal Society encouraged the activity.

This influx of foreign specimens did concern William Curtis though, who was worried that they would take over from indigenous species. This led him to publish a set of books that would make his name.

The six volume set was called Flora Londinensis, which had the following full title:

“Flora Londinensis, or, Plates and descriptions of such plants as grow wild in the environs of London : with their places of growth, and times of flowering, their several names according to Linnæus and other authors : with a particular description of each plant in Latin and English : to which are added, their several uses in medicine, agriculture, rural œconomy and other arts.”

The six volumes, published during the last quarter of the 18th century aimed to record all the plants to found within an area of roughly ten miles around London. Each plant was described and illustrated, such as the following example:

The above image is from the Biodiversity heritage Library, where the books are available for download and marked as “not in copyright”.

After publishing Flora Londinensis, William Curtis went on to publish The Botanical Magazine, which contained illustrations and descriptions of various plant species along with other botanical articles.

The magazine continued after his death in 1799 and is still published today by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, and it is believed to be the oldest botanical magazine in the world, still in publication.

William Curtis:

His magazine made him very financially successful, and along with Flora Londinensis, and his work in London’s gardens, his place was secured in 18th century botanical history, and he is now remembered by the plaque in Gracechurch Street.

St. Dionis Backchurch

In Lime Street, there is a plaque recording the site of St. Dionis Backchurch:

St Dionis was Dionysus the Areopagite, who was a judge in Athens during the first century AD. He converted to Christianity and was said to have been a follower of St. Paul.

He is the patron saint of France, where he is also known as St. Denis, as a result of having converted the French to Christianity.

In the 1870s there were proposals for the demolition of a number of City churches. The local population was insufficient to justify so many churches, and the aim was to consolidate parishes and congregations.

Newspapers had lengthy articles about some of the churches, and the City Press on Saturday the 16th of September, 1871 had a full column on the history of St. Dionis Backchurch. The following is from the beginning of the article and provides an overview of its history:

“This parish is first mentioned in the records of the Corporation, Letter-book H, folio 105. John Fromond, in 1379, being charged before John Philpot, Lord Mayor, for stealing the dagger or knife called a ‘baselard’ from his girdle, for which charge, it being proven, he, the said John Fromond was adjudged the punishment of the pillory, and then to be banished from the City.

The foundation of the church is of great antiquity; Reginald de Standen was rector in 1283; he was succeeded by Richard Grimston in 1350. The church was newly built early in the reign of Henry VI., 1427-30, John Derby, Alderman, added a fair isle or chapel on the north side, in which he was buried in 1466. Lady Wych, widow of Sir Hugh Wych, who was Mayor of London in 1461, gave some other benefactions; John Bugg also contributed to the new work of restoration. The structure falling into decay, it was partially rebuilt in 1628 – 32, the middle isle of the same being laid in 1628 and a new turret and steeple were added in 1630, and in 1632 new frames were made for the bells. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

It was rebuilt, all but the tower, from the designs of Sir Chistopher Wren, and was finished in 1674; and about ten years afterwards it was found necessary to rebuild the tower, which was done under the direction of the great architect. The building consists of a nave and two aisles formed by Ionic columns, which support the entablature; and arched ceiling in which, under groined openings, small circular lights are introduced on either side. the length of the church is 66 feet, and the breadth about 70 feet; the tower is 90 feet high. At the west end is situated the organ gallery.”

The later half of the 19th century was a time of great change in the City of London. The City was growing rapidly in terms of global influence, trade and finance. Victorian architects wanted to build a City that reflected this, and in 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by William Morris to try and preserve many of the buildings at risk, including the church of St. Dionis Backchurch, however in their second annual meeting in 1878, they reported that:

“Amongst the objects the Committee had taken in hand was the preservation of the City churches, and in this respect they were able, to a certain extent, to report favourably, for, although St, Dionis Backchurch had been demolished, the interesting church of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, has been saved, in spite of strenuous opposition.”

I wrote about the church of St. Mary-at-Hill in this post. Incredible to think that the church could have been demolished.

The following print of the church, dating from 1813, provides some detail as to the origin of “Backchurch” in the name as “given to distinguish this church as standing behind a row of houses from that of St. Gabriel’s, which previous to the fire of London, stood in the middle of Fenchurch Street” ( © The Trustees of the British Museum):

I wrote about the church of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, in this post. The description of the origins of the name again illustrates how many City churches they were, and how close together.

The plaque can be seen on the wall on the left, in Lime Street, a short distance north of the junction with Fenchurch Street:

As well as the plaque, in the above photo you can see one of the Lime hire bikes across the walkway. This was not how the bike was originally left, and it is interesting how much anger these seem to generate.

I have seen them left in some ridiculous places, blocking pavements, in the middle of the road etc. however whilst I was photographing the plaque, a cyclist arrived at the cycle stand. Saw the Lime bike in the rack, threw it angrily (along with some choice language) out onto the pavement (narrowly missing a pedestrian), putting his own bike in its place, and walking off.

All rather strange.

Crosskey’s Inn

In Gracechurch Street, at the entrance to Bell Inn Yard, is a plaque recording the location of the Crosskeys Inn:

In the 16th century City of London, there were four main locations where plays were performed. These were the Bell Savage off Ludgate Hill, the Bell at Bell Inn Yard (the location of the above plaque), the Bull off Bishopsgate Street, and the Crosskeys Inn.

Inn’s were perfect locations for the performance of plays. They frequently had a large yard which was normally used for the arrival and departure of coaches and wagons, but could also provide the space for actors and an audience.

They were places were people could congregate, and the Inns benefited from the sale of food and drink before, during and after a performance.

There has been some research that suggests that the Crosskeys were one of the few locations that put on plays inside rather than in the yard, however this is difficult to confirm.

Actors of the time were frequently grouped in a company that was financed by a wealthy sponsor, and the company took on the name of sponsor.

At the Crosskeys Inn, Lord Strange’s Men performed in 1589, when William Shakespeare may have been with the company. Lord Strange was Ferdinando Stanley, the 5th Earl of Derby, and after Stanley’s father died, and he became the Earl of Derby, they became known as the Earl of Derby’s Men.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are also believed to have played at the Crosskeys Inn in 1594.

The use of these inns for performances seems to have ended around 1593 and 1594, when they were banned following an appeal by the Lord Mayor to the Privy Council. This is believed to have been due to an increase in the plaque, and they moved out of the City to the Theatre in Shoreditch and the Globe on the south bank of the river. 

It may also have been due to the rowdy behaviour that sometimes accompanied a play, which the City may well not have appreciated within their boundaries.

The Crosskeys Inn continued in use during the 17th century, until it was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666.

What is confusing is why the plaque to the Crosskeys Inn is at the entrance to Bell Inn Yard.

Morgan’s map of London from 1682 shows the location of the inn (the inn was rebuilt after the fire).

In the following map, the red circle is around the location of the Crosskeys Inn and the yellow circle around Bell Yard:

The key to Morgan’s map includes the number and location:

I have checked a number of maps, and tried to accurately align them along Gracechurch Street, and as far as I can tell, the Crosskeys Inn was located along the current Bell Inn Yard, and Bell Yard was just a bit further north and has been lost under the larger buildings that now line the west of the street.

The Crosskeys Inn was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and continued as one of the City’s busy coaching Inns. The name appears on Rocque’s map of 1746, and there are numerous newspaper reports referencing the inn.

It appears to have closed in 1850 and been demolished soon after. There is a newspaper report in the Illustrated London news on the 24th of May 1851, which referring to Gracechurch Street states:

“On the west side of that thoroughfare, and on the site of the old Cross Keys, an Inn from which the licence was withdrawn some twelve months ago”.

The newspaper report was about the collapse of a building which was under construction and covered a wide area along Gracechurch Street, including the site of the Crosskeys Inn.

The building using a frame of iron girders, collapsed when one of the girders snapped. There were around 80 workmen on the building, with many injured and 3 deaths.

So the plaque refers to the version of the Crosskeys that was part used for putting on plays in the later part of the 16th century. The inn was rebuilt and continued in use as a coaching inn to the mid 19th century.

The name Crosskeys comes from the arms of the papacy, where the crossed keys are St. Peter’s keys, and the keys to heaven.

Attribution: Coat of arms of the Holy See, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And there is now a Wetherspoons on this part of Gracechurch Street called the Crosse Keys. It is in the former premises of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, which was designed by W. Campbell Jones and dates from 1913.

It has a rather splendid interior and is well worth a look.

That is about 25 of the roughly 170 plaques within the City of London covered, so still a number to go.

Samaritans, Physicians, Cutlers, the YMCA and Freemasons

Firstly, a quick apology for an error in last week’s post. I had confused the size of the floors in the Swan pub, at Wapping Dock Stairs. The newspaper article I referred to stated they were 30 feet square on each floor, which I stated would have been just over 5 feet on each side (30 square foot, rather than 30 feet on each side of a floor), so a much larger room, and a reminder to me to read through my posts a couple of times before sending.

Thanks to those who let me know about the error.

For this Sunday’s post (and after reading through three times), a return to discover some of the fascinating stories told by the plaques that can be seen whilst walking around the City of London, starting with;

The Samaritans – St Stephen Walbrook

There is a blue City of London plaque on the side of St Stephen Walbrook, where St. Stephen’s Row heads along the rear of the Mansion House, arrowed in the following photo:


The plaque records that the Samaritans were founded in the church in 1953 by the rector, Chad Varah:


Edward Chad Varah. to give him his full name, was born on the 12th of November 1911 in the Lincolnshire village of Barton-on-Humber. He was the eldest of nine children and the name he would be known by came from St Chad, founder of the parish.

He did not intend to follow his father into the church, however he was persuaded by his godfather, Archbishop Hine.

In the early 1950s, he was based at Clapham Junction, carrying out house visits, and working as the chaplain of St John’s hospital, Battersea, however despite these activities, his stipend was very low, with hardly any money available for his work, and just enough to pay for a secretary. To help generate additional income, he took on a second career as a scriptwriter for children’s comics.

Varah had very liberal views for the time, particularly for a person of the church. He was a strong believe in sex education, and believed this was key for poorly educated young people.

His believe in the importance of sex education, and willingness to listen to people, to provide advice, and eventually to start the Samaritans may have come from an event in 1935 when Varah was an assistant curate in Lincoln. He had to conduct his first funeral which was for a 13 year old girl who had taken her own life. The girl had started her period, however without knowing what was really happening she feared she had a sexually transmitted disease which would result in a slow, painful and shameful death.

His lack of money whilst working in Clapham Junction, along with the responsibility of a parish, prevented any formal development of a system of help for those at risk of suicide, of which there was an average of three a day in London in the early 1950s.

Help came when he was offered the living of St Stephen Walbrook by the Grocers’ Livery Company. This was a City church without any parishioners when compared to Clapham Junction, and this provided Varah with the time to set up the service which would become the Samaritans.

Varah started with a single telephone on the 2nd of November 1953.

His connections in the publishing industry through his work on comics immediately led to some publicity for his new service, such as the following from the Daily Mirror on the 7th of December 1953:

“DIAL 9000 FOR WORDS OF COMFORT – A telephone emergency service, run on the same lines as the police 999 calls, will soon be available to people in distress who need spiritual aid.

All Londoners need do is dial Mansion House 9000, the number of the Telephone Good Samaritans, and advice will be given immediately.

The scheme has been thought up by the Rev. Chad Varah, 42, Vicar of St. Stephen’s in the City, and will be in operation within the next few months.

If a case is sufficiently urgent, a Good Samaritan will dash to the caller and try to comfort and help him or her, said Mr. Varah yesterday.

The Vicar hopes to enroll Samaritans – volunteer workers for his service – from all parts of London.

I want to spread the organisation so that there are at least two Samaritans for every four square miles of Greater London and the suburbs, he said.

I first got the idea from the many letters I received from people in mental and spiritual distress. And I have found that a chat, a kind word and some good advice from an outsider can often save a person’s life.

He said that he intended to deal with personal spiritual problems concerning everything from quarrels between married couples to would be suicides.

The qualifications Samaritans need are tact, patience and the ability to keep other people’s confidences, he said. Religion is a secondary requirement.”

The Daily Herald had a similar report, but ended with the following paragraph, which provides an indication of how many calls Chad Varah was receiving:

“Mr. Varah is now missing meals to keep up with the phone calls he is getting. The former vicar of St. Paul’s Clapham Junction, he has just taken over St. Stephen’s.”

He soon collected a group of volunteers together to take calls, and in February 1954 he handed over the responsibility to take calls to the volunteers leading to the organisation of the Samaritans.

Chad Varah was involved with the Samaritans for the rest of his life. He retired from St Stephen, Walbrook in 2003 after being rector of the church for 50 years. He died in 2007, just a few days before his 96th birthday.

A remarkable man, who started an organisation that must have saved countless lives since starting seventy years ago in St. Stephen Walbrook in 1953.

The City of London plaque to the founding of the Samaritans is next to a small alley, St. Stephens Row which runs alongside the church, and the rear of the Mansion House.

On the wall of the Mansion House close, to the plaque is a stone block, which I think warns that anyone sticking bills or damaging the walls will be prosecuted. There is no date, but from the faded script, and style, it is of some age:

St. Stephen Row Samaritans

St. Stephen’s Row leads between the church and Mansion House:

St. Stephen Row Samaritans

I suspect St. Stephen’s Row dates from the construction of the Mansion House.

The first stone of Mansion House was laid in 1739 and the home of the Mayors of the City of London was completed in 1758.

Although it was still under construction, by the time of Rocque’s 1746 map of London, it is shown on the map, and there is an alley between the Mansion House and St Stephen’s, which continues to the right of the Mansion House. Although it is not named on the map, it is the route of St. Stephen’s Row today:

St. Stephen Row Samaritans

Going back to William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, and the space for the future Mansion House was then occupied by the Woolchurch Market. There looks to be buildings between the market and church, but there is no sign of the alley:

St. Stephen Row Samaritans

There was a church which stood where the Mansion House now stands called St Mary Woolchurch Haw. The church was lost during the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt, and the market took the name of the church.

I have written about the church and the market towards the end of the post at this link.

The view along St. Stephen’s Row, with the church on the left and Mansion House on the right:

St. Stephen Row Samaritans

The entrance to the churchyard at the rear of St. Stephen Walbrook from St. Stephen’s Row:

St. Stephen Walbrook Samaritans

Now to a very different location:

The Royal College of Physicians

In Warwick Lane, which runs between Newgate Street and Ave Marie Lane, to the west of St. Paul’s Cathedral, there is a plaque shown arrowed in the following photo:

Royal College of Physicians

Recording that this was the site of the Royal College of Physicians between 1674 and 1825:

Royal College of Physicians

The origins of the Royal College of Physicians dates back to the early 16th century when a number of leading medical men, including Thomas Linacre, the physician to King Henry VIII became concerned about the state of medical practice in the country, the lack of any regulation, and the impact that untrained physicians were having on their patients.

Thomas Linacre, along with five other leading physicians, persuaded the kIng to allow the founding of a College of Physicians.

A Royal Charter was received and the College of Physicians was founded in London on the 23rd of September, 1518, and an Act of Parliament in 1523 extended the authority of the College from London to the whole of the country.

The “Royal” was added to the name after the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in the later part of the 17th century.

The Royal College of Physicians original home in the City of London was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire, and nine years later, following some successful fundraising, the Royal College purchased land and property in Warwick Lane.

The new building was designed by Robert Hooke, and had a large central courtyard with wings either side. There was a public gallery, an anatomy theatre which was topped by an octagonal dome, and a large library which was designed by Christopher Wren.

The view of the Royal College of Physicians in Warwick Lane  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Royal College of Physicians

The large courtyard at the rear of the block facing onto Warwick Lane  © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Royal College of Physicians

By the early 19th century, the City was becoming a crowded, busy and dirty place, and the building in Warwick Lane had deteriorated so was sold in 1825, and finally demolished in 1890.

Following the exit from Warwick Lane in 1825, the College moved to Pall Mall, before moving in 1964 to Regents Park, where they remain to this day.

Although not marked by a plaque as it is still in use, there is an interesting building next to the plaque:

Cutlers Hall

This is Cutlers Hall:

Cutlers Hall

My go to book on the City’s Companies (The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London by John Bromley, 1960) records the following about the Cutlers:

The cutlery trade of the Middle Ages included the making of swords, daggers and knives of all kinds. originally it was a highly specialised industry, comprising the separate trades of hafters who made handles or hafrts, bladesmiths and sheathers, with the cutlers acting as assemblers and salesmen. Both hafters and sheathers were ultimately merged into the Cutlers Company while the bladesmiths were first united with the Company of Armourers, and then allowed by a decision of the Court of Aldermen of 1528 to depart unto the fellowship of Cutlers at will.”

Given their trade, you would expect the Cutlers to be one of the old Company’s of the City, and they are indeed, with the first mention of an organised craft of Cutlers in 1328 when seven cutlers were elected to govern the craft and search for false work.

The Cutlers moved to the hall we see today in Warwick Lane in the 1880s, when their original hall in Cloak Lane was demolished to make way for the construction of the Inner Circle Line by the Metropolitan and District Railway Company (now the route of the Circle and District lines between Mansion House and Cannon Street stations).

I wrote a post about the original hall, and the construction of the railway in this post: Cloak Lane, St John the Baptist, the Walbrook and the Circle Line

The arms of the Cutlers can be seen above the entrance to the hall, and the following image shows the arms:

Cutlers Company

The swords are an obvious reference to one of the products of the Cutlers. The use of elephants in the arms is old, and was recorded in 1445 where members of the Cutlers wore elephants as decorations on their coats or shields when the City welcomed Queen Margaret on her marriage to Henry VI in 1445.

The use of the elephant may be down to the use of ivory in the hafts (handle of a knife) made by members of the Company.

The elephant is featured in the sign hanging from the side of Cutlers Hall:

Cutlers Hall

One remarkable feature of Cutlers Hall is the frieze along the façade of the building. The frieze is a detailed view of the work of cutlers, and was created by the sculptor Benjamin Creswick.

The following image shows the frieze, with the left most panel at the top:

Cutlers Hall

The red terracotta frieze is a wonderful record of the work of the trades that formed the Cutlers Company.

Now to St. Paul’s Churchyard to find two very different organisations, starting with the:

Young Men’s Christian Association

In front of the cathedral, there is an office block with shops on ground level running along the line of St. Paul’s Churchyard. There is a covered walkway in front of the shops, and at the western end of this walkway, next to the old gate of Temple Bar are two plaques, the first arrowed in the following photo:


The arrow is pointing to a plaque on the wall recording the founding of the Young Men’s Christian Association:


The plaque states that in 1844, George Williams with eleven other young men employed in the City of London…….Founded the Young Men’s Christian Association. But why here?

The Drapery House mentioned in the plaque was the offices, factory and warehouses of Hitchcock, Williams & Co.

The firm was established in 1835 by George Hitchcock and a Mr. Rogers, who would leave in 1843.  George Williams (mentioned in the above plaque) who originally joined the company as an apprentice, became a Director with Hitchcock in 1853 when the partnership Hitchcock, Williams & Co was formed. Always based in St. Paul’s Churchyard, firstly at number 1, then at number 72, with the firm expanding to take in many of the surrounding buildings.

George Williams, as well as becoming a partner with Hitchcock, received a knighthood from Queen Victoria for services, which included the inauguration of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)  which was founded in a room of the company’s premises in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

The history of the YMCA states that the group founded the YMCA as “a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets of London”.

The buildings of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. were destroyed during the raids of the 29th December 1940. A paragraph in the newspaper reports of the raid included a mention of the company and the YMCA:

“The historic room in which the Young Men’s Christian Association was started was among the places destroyed on Sunday night. With seven other buildings, the George Williams Room – named after the founder, the late Sir George Williams – was burned to ashes. It was situated in the premises of Messrs. Hitchcock, Williams and Co, manufacturers, warehousemen and shippers, of St. Paul’s Churchyard, and was originally one of the bedrooms used by the 140 assistants employed in the Hitchcock drapery business.”

As stated in the plaque, “from its beginning in this place inspired of God the association grew to encompass the world” and all because George Williams started as an apprentice here, in one of the many businesses that once lined St. Paul’s Churchyard.

I wrote a post dedicated to the company’s experience in the 1940s in this post: Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse In Wartime.

The Grand Lodge of English Freemasons

There is another plaque in the same place as the plaque recording the YMCA. Directly opposite, in the entrance to the covered walkway shown in the photo of the location of the YMCA plaque is the following:


The significance of the plaque and the site is the reference to the Grand Lodge, as prior to 1717 there had been four London lodges, and on the 24th of June 1717, they met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard, and elected Anthony Sayer as the first Grand Master.

This was the first Grand Lodge not only in the country, but also across the world of Freemasons.

The four original lodges had all met in pubs; the Goose and Gridiron in St. Paul’s Churchyard, the Crown in Parkers Lane, the Apple Tree in Covent Garden, and the Rummer and Grapes (no location given).

Pubs continued to be used for meetings, but in 1767, the Grand Master, the Duke of Beaufort had the idea for a Central Hall, and a committee was formed to purchase land for a new hall, and a “plot of ground and premises consisting of two large, commodious dwelling houses, and a large garden situated in Great Queen Street” were purchased.

The hall built on the site was opened in 1776, and the Freemasons still occupy the same site, with the current hall being built between 1927 and 1933.

The plaques featured in today’s post show the wide range of organisations that have made the City of London their home over the centuries, or have been founded in the City.

From organisations such as the Samaritans, who must have been responsible for saving and helping so many people since 1953, to global organisations such as the YMCA, City Livery Companies, Medical Institutions and the Freemasons.

And they all continue to make their mark today.

Wapping Dock Stairs

If you have been on my Wapping walk, you will hopefully recognise the following view, and it is a view that I find fascinating as it represents the history of crossing the Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe..

Wapping Dock Stairs

The main feature in the photo is Wapping Station, a station on the London Overground that from Wapping crosses under the river to the next stop on the route south at Rotherhithe.

I will touch on the station later in the post, but the main focus of today’s post is at the end of the walkway to the right of the station, a walkway that leads up to Wapping Dock Stairs.

If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you will realise I have a strange fascination with Thames Stairs.

Not so much the physical stair, although these are really interesting, historical structures, rather what the stairs represent.

For centuries, these were the main interface between the land and the river. If you were travelling up, down, or across the river you would use one of the Watermen who would cluster at the base of the stairs, to row you to your destination.

If you were leaving London, you would reach the boat taking you to your destination via a river stair, or if you were arriving back in London, you would return to the land via the stairs.

Countless thousands of people have used these stairs. For some, arriving at the stairs would be their first view of London, for those leaving, it could be their last view of London.

Many of those who have had to flee the country, for political or religious reasons, would have left the country via Thames stairs. Perhaps leaving in disguise, or in the dead of night to avoid recognition, to catch a boat to take them away from the country.

I have covered many such stories in previous blog posts, and will provide links at the end of today’s post, but for now back to Wapping Dock Stairs.

As with nearly all the stairs in Wapping, Wapping Dock Stairs are old, and date back to at least the end of the 17th century, and are probably much older.

In Rocque’s map of 1746, the stairs are shown in the centre of the following extract, with Wapping Dock Street being the street that leads up to the stairs:

Wapping Dock Stairs

Richard Horwood’s map of London from 1799 also shows Wapping Dock Stairs, and when compared to Rocque’s map, Horwood adds a level of detail with individual buildings lining the streets:

Wapping Dock Stairs

The location today, with the stairs and station circled, is shown in the following map  ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Wapping Dock Stairs

Turning off Wapping High Street, this is the approach to the stairs. The walkway on the right leads to an entrance to the building on the right. The walkway on the left leads to the stairs.

Wapping Dock Stairs

Nearly every set of stairs in Wapping had a pub by the side of the approach to the stairs. Only two can be seen today, the Town of Ramsgate by Wapping Old Stairs, and the Prospect of Whitby by Pelican Stairs.

Wapping Dock Stairs also had a pub, the Swan, and we can get a view of the pub from an advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 2nd of December,1806 when the lease came up for sale:

“A lease for 21 years, and immediate possession, of the SWAN PUBLIC HOUSE, situate at the corner of Wapping Dock Stairs, as eligible a spot for business as any along the coast; it contains in the basement, an extensive dry cellar; on the ground floor, a convenient bar, large tap-room, and good parlour, and three stories above, with a space of about 30 feet square on each floor, divided into numerous well-proportioned rooms; here is an abundance of accommodation for lodgers, as well as ample conveniences for an extensive business; common industry and attention would assuredly beget here a very lucrative trade. May be viewed at any time for a week prior to the sale. Particulars to be had of Mr. Harris, No. 12, Gracechurch Street.”

There are many newspaper references to these pubs by stairs, and so often they offer a glimpse into a story which you really want to know more about, for example, from the Morning Advertiser on the 26th of August, 1808:

“If the next of Kin of Hendrick Steerwell, late belonging to the West India Merchant ship Ranger, dec. will apply at the Swan, Wapping Dock Stairs, they will hear of something to their advantage.”

This brief advert leaves so many questions unanswered. Who was Hendrick Steerwell, where and how did he die (presumably whilst serving on the West India Merchant ship Ranger). What did he leave that would be of advantage to his next of kin, did they benefit, and also what happened if there were several next of kin.

A whole story could be written based on that single advert from 1808.

The advert also highlights that the stairs were a key part of the pub’s location. Rather than giving an address on Wapping High Street, the pub is specifically mentioned as being at the stairs.

Back to Wapping Dock Stairs, and approaching the stairs there is a strong metal gate preventing any access to the stairs. Behind the gate are the stone steps often found at these stairs which added a bit height and therefore flood prevention from high tides:

Wapping Dock Stairs

Looking over the gate, and we can see why they were fenced off so securely:

Wapping Dock Stairs

There are stone steps that run down to where a series of wooden steps once led down to the foreshore. These wooden steps have completely eroded away.

From the bottom of where the wooden steps should have been, the remains of a causeway leads out across the foreshore, into the river.

Much of the causeway has also eroded, leaving only the wooden stakes on either side that would have held the causeway in position.

From the top of Wapping Dock Stairs, we can look across the river to Rotherhithe. This view would once have been full of ships, with ships being moored around the stairs, some of which were often for sale, such as on the 20th of November, 1805 when the following auction was advertised:

“This day, the 20th Instant, at Three precisely, The good Smack Ocean, built at Burnham in Essex, in 1798, is a strong, clinch-built vessel, and is well adapted for the Oyster Trade, a Pilot Boat, &c, well founded in stores. Lying at Wapping Dock Stairs.”

Wapping Dock Stairs

To pursue my rather nerdy interest in Thames Stairs, I have finally got hold of a copy of a book published by the Port of London Authority, titled “Access to the River Thames. A Port of London Authority Guide”, with the sub-title of “Steps, Stairs and Landing Places on the Tidal Thames”:

Port of London Authority

Although the book is not dated, I believe it was published around 1995.

It covers all the steps, stairs and landing places on the part of the Thames managed by the PLA, the tidal Thames, and covers from Richmond down to Southend.

There is an outline map, based on the area covered by a PLA chart for sections of the river, with the stairs along that stretch of the river marked and named.

There is a table for each set of steps, stairs and landing places describing key features of each. I copied the details for Wapping Dock Stairs into the following table:

Wapping Dock Stairs

The categories for each set of stairs, landing places etc. in the book are the same, allowing them to be compared.

For Wapping Dock Stairs the stairs are described as having a broken causeway and wooden stairs. This probably means that the wooden stairs were part there, but in the following 30 years they have disappeared completely.

Bathing is dangerous, and public access to the stairs is blocked by a fence which the London Borough of Tower Hamlets will remove when the stairs below Mean High Water Mark are made safe.

I have always wondered about responsibility for these stairs. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets were responsible for putting in the metal gate, but are they responsible for the stairs down to the foreshore, or is it the Port of London Authority who, along with the Crown Estate are the primary owners of the foreshore.

I have emailed the PLA asking who is responsible for the stairs, it will be interesting to see the reply.

The tables for all stairs, from Richmond to Southend list whether the stairs were a landing place in 1708 and 1977. Wapping Dock Stairs is listed as a landing place in 1708, which sets a minimum age for the stairs as over 300 years.

I do not know why 1708 has been used for all stairs, steps and landing places along the tidal Thames. A few quick searches have not revealed any surveys or maps that were made of the whole tidal river in 1708 – probably another question for the PLA.

The Grade 2 listed building that the table states that the stairs are adjacent to is the 1920s Gun Wharves that runs along 124 to 130 Wapping High Street.

I wrote at the start of the post that the photo of Wapping Station and Wapping Dock Stairs show the methods of crossing the river that have been in use for hundreds of years.

In the early 19th century, the increase in the numbers of people crossing the river by boat resulted in a proposal for a foot tunnel under the river.

The result was a foot tunnel where the rail route under the river is today. I walked through the tunnel in 2014, and the following is a brief extract from my post on the tunnel, which you can find here.

A Thames Tunnel was badly needed. It was a four mile circuit between Rotherhithe and Wapping via London Bridge and ferries carried 4,000 people across the Thames every day at Rotherhithe.

Marc Brunel was convinced that a tunnel could be built and had the concept of a shield to protect workers at the face of the tunneling work. A meeting with investors was held on the 18th February 1824 and a company formed with Brunel appointed as engineer.

The shaft was started in March 1825 and all appeared to be going well, however in January 1826 the river burst through, but work pressed on and by the beginning of 1827 the tunnel had reached 300 feet.

As work progressed, in addition to the risk of the river breaking through, there were all manner of problems including strikes, mysterious diseases (the River Thames was London’s main drain, polluted with a considerable amount of sewage) and explosions from “fire-damp”.

The river continued to burst through. On Saturday 12th January 1828 six workman were trapped and drowned and despite the hole being filled with 4,000 bags of clay the project was temporarily abandoned due to lack of funds. The tunnel was bricked up and no further work carried out for seven years.

Work started again on the 27th March 1835 and carried on for a further eight more years.

In March 1843 staircases were built around the shafts and Marc Brunel  led a triumphant procession through the tunnel. Marc Brunel’s son Isambard worked with his father during the construction of the tunnel and was appointed chief engineer in 1827, however his work with the Great Western railway took him away from the tunnel during the later years of construction. Marc Brunel worked on the tunnel from start to finish.

As one of the sights of London, the Thames Tunnel was a huge success. Within 24 hours of the tunnel’s opening fifty thousand people had passed through and one million within the first fifteen weeks.

It did not remain a foot tunnel for long. The Thames Tunnel was purchased by the East London railway in 1866 and three years later was part of London’s underground railway system.

View along one of the tracks in the tunnel:

Wapping tunnel

The wall between the two tracks in the tunnel had arches spaced at roughly regular intervals along the length of the tunnel.

When the tunnel first opened for foot passengers, a number of enterprising Londoners set out stalls in these arches selling to those who had come to walk through the tunnel. There were reports at the time of how all these stalls selling food, souvenirs etc. degraded the walk through the tunnel. Low level crime was also attracted to the tunnel.

Looking at the arches in what is now a railway tunnel shows a quality of design and finish that was meant to be seen by people walking through, rather than speeding past in a train.

Wapping tunnel

So in summary, the view across to Wapping Station and the adjacent Wapping Dock Stairs shows:

  • The means of crossing the river between Wapping and Rotherhithe for hundreds of years by taking a boat from a Thames Stair
  • The introduction in 1843 of a foot tunnel which offered a new and unique way of crossing the river, and;
  • The purchase of the tunnel by the East London railway in 1866 and integration into London’s rail network, part of which it has remained to this day

There was another feature that I wanted to find related to the station. Walking slightly in land, along Clave Street, then Clegg Street, where on the corner is this building, part of the landscape of Wapping prior to the development of recent decades:

Industrial history

With some lovely metal fittings that allow the wooden door to be rolled along the front of the building:

Industrial history

Which I suspect have not worked for many years:

Industrial history

At the back of the building, there is a small green space, with a children’s playground in Hilliards Court. At the side of the playground is this structure:

Tunnel air vent

Stand here for a few minutes and you will soon hear the very clear sound of a train, either pulling away from, or slowing down into, Wapping Station. An unexpected sound in this very quiet Wapping green space, coming from an air vent to the tracks below.

Openstreetmap includes the route of the railway, even though it is underground at this point. I have circled the air vent at the top of the following map  ( © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Wapping Station

The PLA book on Steps, Stairs and Landing Places on the Tidal Thames lists a total of 241 from Richmond to Southend, along both banks of the river – so I have only scratched the surface.

If you are interested in reading about the other Thames stairs I have covered, then:

Prudential Building and Furnival’s Inn

A quick advert – if you would like to explore Wapping or the Barbican, there are only a few places left on my upcoming walks:

All other walks have sold out.

Walk along Holborn and one of the most impressive buildings you will see is the old head office of Prudential Assurance:

Prudential building Holborn

The Prudential moved into their new office in 1879, which was quite an achievement given that the company had only been founded 31 years earlier in 1848.

The building exudes Victorian commercial power and was a statement building for the company that was at the time the country’s largest assurance company.

The lower part of the building uses polished granite, with red brick and red terracotta across all upper floors. If you stare at the building long enough the use of polished granite gives the impression that there has been a large flood along Holborn, which has left a tide mark on the building after washing out the red colour from the lower floors.

The building is Grade II* listed and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse with help from his son Paul. After Prudential initially moved into the building, constriction continued as could be expected on a building of this size which extends back from Holborn for some distance. The front range facing onto Holborn was completed between 1897 and 1901.

In the centre of the façade is a tower, with a large arch leading through into inner courtyards around which are further wings of the building:

Prudential building Holborn

Alfred Waterhouse was born in 1830 in Liverpool. His father was involved in the cotton trade, working as a cotton broker. The family had quite an influence on the future, with one of his brothers founding an accountancy firm that would eventually become PriceWaterhouse, and a second brother, Theodore, starting a legal company that became Field Fisher Waterhouse (the company has since dropped the Waterhouse name).

After attending a Quaker school in Tottenham, Alfred Waterhouse started work in Manchester where he worked on a number of private residences and public buildings, however he first major commission came when he won a competition for the Assize Courts in Manchester in 1858.

The Assize Courts were badly damaged by wartime bombing, and were condemned by the post-war decision not to rebuild. The Gothic style of Waterhouse’s work was not in fashion with architectural styles of the 1950s and 60s.

The following photo of the Manchester Assize Courts shows what an impressive building it was, and the similarities with the Prudential Building (Attribution: Old stereoscope card, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons):

Manchester assize courts

His other work in Manchester included Strangeways Prison (now just HM Prison Manchester), and Manchester Town Hall, which did survive wartime bombing of the city, and still looks glorious today. Again, the same Gothic style and parallels with the Prudential building can be seen:

Manchester town hall

Waterhouse moved his architectural practice from Manchester to London in 1865.

He lost out on a competition to design the Law Courts in the Strand, but did win the competition for the Natural History Museum in Kensington, which again follows a similar style to his previous works, although with the museum, at the centre of the wide façade is the main entrance, which has two smaller towers on either side of the central block.

The Natural History Museum also displays a move from Gothic to Romanesque as an architectural style.

The design of the new building was considered such a success by Prudential that they commissioned Alfred Waterhouse and his son Paul to design a further 21 office buildings for the company in cities across the country. Some of these, such as in Southampton, can still be seen.

Waterhouse died in 1905, just a few years after Queen Victoria, and his Gothic designs with large buildings often including central towers have come to be symbolic of a style of Victorian architecture, that ended at the very start of the 20th century.

The Prudential adopted the figure of Prudence in 1848 as the symbol for the company. Prudence was said to have the qualities of memory, intelligence and foresight, enabling a prudent act to consider the past, present and future.

The figure of Prudence can be seen in a niche above the main entrance into the building and was the work of the sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy:

Prudential building Holborn

The Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association was founded in 1848 in Hatton Garden, and their target market was the sale of life assurance and the provision of loans to the emerging Victorian middle and industrious classes.

The company advertised the sale of shares in January 1849 to raise capital, and their advert gives an idea of the financial products that were starting to become widely available in the middle of the 19th century:

“The following important new features and advantages in Life Assurance, now introduced by this Association, are earnestly impressed on the attention of the public, particularly of the industrial classes, viz :-

  1. To enable members subscribing for £20 shares, payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments, to securely invest their savings and participate in the whole amount of profits, or in the case of death their representatives to receive the amount of each share in cash.
  2. To enable Members to purchase real or other property, by advances from the Association on such property.
  3. To grant members loans on real or other security.
  4. To create by periodical subscriptions an Accumulating Fund, the profits arising from which to be from time to time divided amongst its members.
  5. To afford an opportunity to a borrower of securing his surety from future payments in case of his (the borrower’s) death.
  6. Life Assurance in a reduced scale for the whole life or term of years, on lives, joint lives, or on survivorship.

The comment “payable by small monthly or quarterly instalments” is reminder of the method used by the company to collect payments, with the “Man from the Pru” becoming the term for an insurance salesman who calls door to door to collect regular payment for Prudential’s products.

The Man from the Pru was also the title of a 1990 film which was based on the true story of a Prudential employee who was convicted of the murder of his wife.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death, however employees of the Prudential raised several hundred pounds and the case went to appeal and he was found not guilty, mainly due to very flimsy evidence being presented.

Immediatly after being acqutted, he continued his employment with the Prudential.

The “Man from the Pru” operated across the country, and was supported by company offices in multiple towns and cities.

There is a frieze along the façade of the Prudential building, which includes coats of arms of many of the places where the company had an office:

Prudential building Holborn

I have been able to identify a few of these arms. In the above photo, the arms of Belfast is at the left, then could be Norwich, although the castle should be above the lion, on the right is Bristol.

In the photo below, Leeds is second from left, then Coventry:

Prudential building Holborn

Look up when walking in through the main entrance, and admire the incredible brickwork:

Prudential building Holborn

When built, the Prudential building was very advanced for its time. There was hot and cold running water, electric lighting, and to speed the delivery of paperwork across the site, a pnematic tube system was installed, where documents were put into canisters, which were then blown through the tube system to their destination.

Ladies were provided with their own restaurant and library, and had a separate entrance, and were also allowed to leave 15 minutes early to “avoid consorting with men”.

The façade onto Holborn is just part of the Prudential complex as it extends some considerable way back from the street. The size of the building was not just because of the number of workers, but was also to enable storage of the sheer volume of paperwork resulting from insuring almost one third of the UK population at the peek of the Prudential’s size.

Walking through the main entrance and there is a small open space, where we can see a connecting bridge between wings of the complex, with ornate windows above a large arch:

Prudential building Holborn

There is a plaque on the wall, recording that Charles Dickens lived here. He lived here between 1833 and 1836 when the site was occupied by Furnival’s Inn, more of which later in the post:

Prudential building Holborn

More stunning brickwork in the arch over the entrance to the courtyard at the back of the complex:

Prudential building Holborn

The overall Prudential site was expanded and remodeled during the years of their occupation.

Being an information intensive business, their building needed to adjust to changing technology, and methods of recording and storing data.

In the 1930s the interior of the original blocks were rebuilt with large open plan floors in the art deco style in order to accommodate punch card machinery.

There was another major refurbishment in the 1980s which completed by 1993, but by then the Prudential’s days in their Holborn office complex were numbered. Departments had been moving out of central London for a number of years, for example their Industrial Branch administration had moved to Reading in 1965.

In 1999, the Prudential’s Group Head Office relocated to Laurence Pountney Hill.

Since 2019, the Prudential has been focused on Asia and the Far East. The UK businesses were transferred to M&G which today is a completely separate company to the Prudential, although Prudential still retain a head office in London and are quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

The following photo shows the rear courtyard of the complex, now named Waterhouse Square after the original architect of the buildings. The dome in the centre provides natural light to the space below:

Prudential building Holborn

But what was on the site before the Prudential building? To discover that, we need to look at the Corporation of London blue plaque to the right of the main entrance from Holborn:

Furnival's Inn

The plaque records that the Prudential building is on the site of Furnival’s Inn, which was demolished in 1897 to make way for the Prudential building.

The name comes from William de Furnival who, around the year 1388, leased part of his lands in Holborn to the Clerks of Chancery, who prepared writs for the King’s Court, assisted by apprentices who received the first stages of their legal training at the Inn.

By the 15th century, the Inns of Chancery had become a type of preparatory school for students, and by 1422, Furnival’s Inn was attached to Lincoln’s Inn, who later in 1548 took on a long term lease.

Furnival’s Inn was described as the equivalent of Eton with Lincoln’s Inn being King’s College at Cambridge. At the end of each year, Lincoln’s Inn would receive students from Furnival’s who had received their training, and reached the standard required to move up, and receive the next stage of their training, along with the greater freedoms that an Inn of Court could offer.

The scale of Funival’s Inn can be seen in the following extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, where the inn can be seen in the centre of the map:

Furnival's Inn

Furnival’s Inn occupied much of the space currently occupied by the old Prudential buiding. The map also includes some of the many legal institutions based in this part of Holborn. Part of Grays Inn can be seen to the left, and below and to the left of Furnival’s Inn is another Inn of Chancery, Staple Inn.

To the right of the map is Ely House which I wrote about in a post a couple of weeks ago.

As with the Prudential building, Furnival’s Inn had a very impressive front onto Holborn. This is from the early 19th century (the following prints are © The Trustees of the British Museum):

Furnival's Inn

This drawing from around 1720 shows the scale of Furnival’s Inn:

Furnival's Inn

As with the Prudential building, Furnival’s Inn had a central entrance from Holborn. Once through this entrance, there is an inner courtyard surrounded by buildings, and behind this courtyard is a garden, again surrounded by buildings.

The following print is from 1804 and shows part of the inner court:

Furnival's Inn

By the 17th century, the Inns of Chancery had begun to turn into societies for the legal profession, and Furnival’s Inn became residential, offices and dining clubs.

Their use as places of training and education for students before they transferred to the Inns of Court had been reducing over time and by the 19th century, Furnival’s Inn had ceased to exist for its original purpose, with only what were classed as “6 ancients and 16 juniors”.

It was dissolved in 1817, and when Lincoln’s Inn did not renew their lease a year later, some of the buildings were sold off and demolished, with apartments and a hotel occupying part of the site.

Parts of the old Furnival’s buildings were still used by those in the legal profession, and there were a number of adverts and articles in the press from solicitors based in the buildings, for example in 1880 a solicitor J.C. Asprey who had an address of 6 Furnival’s Inn was advertising for any claimants to the estate of a deceased resident of Hackney.

Final clearance of the site ready for the Prudential removed the last of the Furnival buildings and name from the site, however the Prudential building retained a similar layout with a large façade along Holborn, with inner courtyards surrounded by buildings.

Whilst the architecture and brickwork of the Prudential building is impressive, the drawings of the interior of Furnival’s Inn show a place which had evolved over time, with buildings that were probably put up at different times and for different purposes, which must have been an interesting place to explore.

The following print is dated 1820, just after the Inn had ceased to function as an inn of Chancery. On the range of buildings to the left, an open arch can be seen which leads through to Holborn, and at the far end on the right is a building which looks as if it could have been a central hall, with a large bay window looking out onto the courtyard.

Furnival's Inn

After the Prudential left the building, work was done to extend at the rear and refresh / build new, along part of the western side of the building. The streets, part of which are pedestrianised, surrounding three sides of the complex are called Waterhouse Square.

The building is now used by multiple companies as office space, but I understand is still owned by the Prudential.

Fascinating to think that, whilst the buildings have changed across the centuries, this part of Holborn has been occupied by the buildings of only two institutions across almost 700 years – Furnival’s Inn and the Prudential.