Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “Capital Ring” walk …

Richmond was first recorded as such in 1502, after the then King, Henry VII’s earldom of the same name in Yorkshire.  Up until that time, it had been known as West Shene, which was in turn first recorded in circa 950 (East Sheen is still known as such). Note also that there is a Neolithic barrow-burial here, known as “King Henry’s Mound”.

Shene Palace

Shene Palace began life as a manor-house in the Manor of Shene, granted to the Norman Belet family during the reign of  Henry I (the manor having thereunto  been part of the Royal Borough of Kingston).  The manor and house reverted to crown ownership in 1313, and the house then came to be used in turn by a succession of Plantagenet Kings, including Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, the last-named converting  it into a palace that came to be known as  Shene Palace.  After Edward III’s death there in 1377, the palace  became a favoured haunt of Edward’s successor Richard II and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia, although after Anne’s death of the plague there in 1394, Richard  ordered it to be destroyed.   Henry V then began work on a new palace on the old site in 1414, which was completed sometime in the reign of Henry VI in the 1440s (*).  On December 21st or 23rd (sources differ), 1497, this new incarnation of the old  Shene Palace, where the succeeding first Tudor King,  Henry VII, and his family and retinue had gathered in readiness for Christmas, was destroyed by fire.

(*) Incidentally, at the same time Henry V also granted nearby Royal land to the Carthusian Order to enable them to build the monastery that came to be known as the Charterhouse of Jesus of Bethlehem.  The monastery was dissolved under the Tudor King Henry VIII, temporarily re-established under Mary, and dissolved again under Elizabeth I.  The  former monastic site was converted into Old Deer Park under Elizabeth’s successor, the first Stuart King, James I (the land on the opposite bank of the Thames was converted into Richmond Park by James’s son and successor Charles I).  None of the former monastic buildings survives.

Richmond Palace

Shene Palace  was rebuilt again by Henry VII in the years leading up to 1502, and at that time was renamed Richmond Palace.  It remained a favourite royal residence throughout the remaining part of the Tudor period of the sixteenth century, and many lavish celebrations were held there.  After the defeat of the royalists by the parliamentarians in the Civil War in the early Stuart period of the early seventeenth century, it was sold off.  Most of the former palace buildings have now been demolished.

The surviving Gate-House

However, the Gate-House and some associated buildings  still survive, on Richmond Green.

An eighteenth-century view of Richmond Palace based on an ancient drawing

Drawings of the palace made by Wyngaerde in 1562 and by Hollar in 1638 also still survive.

Church of St Mary Magdalene

The church in 1635 (from Moses Glover's Map of the Isleworth Hundred)

The church of St Mary Magdalene was originally built in c. 1220, and rebuilt between 1487-1506.

General view of exterior

It has subsequently been much  modified,  in the early and late seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Only the tower still survives from the post-Medieval period (the lower part dating to 1487-1506, and the upper part to 1624).  A number of post-Medieval memorials also still survive, including those of Robert Cotton (d. 1591), Officer of the Wardrobe to Mary and Elizabeth I; Walter Hickman (d. 1617); Margarite Jay (d. 1623), wife of Thomas Jay (d. 1646), Commissary-General of the Royalist Cavalry “in these unhappy wars”; Margaret, Lady Chudleigh (d. 1628); Dorothy, Lady Wright (d. 1631), portrayed with her husband Sir George Wright (d. 1623); Robert Lawes (d. 1649); Simon Bardolph (d. 1654); and John Bentley (d. 1660).  Particularly notable among the eighteenth- and nineteenth- century memorials are those of William Rowan (d. 1767), attributed to Rysback; the Hon. Barbara Lowther (d. 1805), by Flaxman; and  Major George Bean (d. 1815, at the Battle of Waterloo), by John Bacon the Younger.


Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “Capital Ring” walk …

Wimbledon was first recorded in c. 950  as Wunemannedune, from the  Old English personal mane Wynnmann and  “dun”, “hill” (note also, though, that there is an Iron Age earthwork nearby, at “Caesar’s Camp”).  The original church of St Mary  was built here in the Saxo-Norman period.  A manor house, known as the Parsonage House and later the Old Rectory,  was built here in c. 1500; and a second one, known as Wimbledon House or Palace in c. 1588.

The village of Wimbledon grew up around the church and manor houses.


Eagle House, on the High Street, was built for Robert Bell, Master of the Worshipful Company of Girdlers and Co-Founder and  Director of the British East India Company, in either 1613 or 1617 (sources differ).

Rose and Crown


The Rose and Crown, also on the High Street, was built in the  middle part of the seventeenth  century.

The area only began to become densely built up after the arrival of the railway in 1838.   It is now part of the London Borough of Merton.

Church of St Mary


As noted above, the  original church of St Mary was built during the Saxo-Norman period, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.  It was rebuilt in the later Medieval period, at the end of the thirteenth century, and again in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries.    The oldest surviving part is the chancel.


The Cecil Chapel contains a stained-glass window dating back to the fifteenth century, and a number of memorials from the seventeenth century, including that  of Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon  (d. 1638), son of Thomas,  and grandson of William.  Elsewhere in the  interior are  memorials to Philip Lewston, who died in 1462, and William Walter, who died in 1587.    And commemorative plaques to the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who lived locally and died in 1833, and who is buried in Westminster Abbey, and to the “Sewer King” Joseph Bazalgette, who also lived locally, and died in  1891, and who is buried in the family vault in the churchyard.

Old Rectory

Old Rectory

What is now known as the Old Rectory was built in c. 1500 for the church, the manor at that time being owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the King, Henry VIII, gave it   to Thomas Cromwell, in 1536, and then – after Cromwell’s fall from grace and execution –  to the Queen, Catherine Parr, in 1543.  Henry visited the house in 1546, after being taken ill on a tour of his Surrey palaces, and indeed was so ill he could not make it up the stairs, such that  a bed had to be made up for him in front of the fireplace in the entrance hall.  In 1550, it  became a grace-and-favour home for William Cecil, who went on to become 1st Baron Burghley – and Elizabeth I’s chief adviser. The house still stands to this day, its appearance altered from that in Tudor times essentially only by the demolition of some parts and the restoration of others in the early eighteenth century.  However, it is now carefully screened from public view.

Wimbledon House or Palace

Wimbledon House

Wimbledon House or Palace was built in c. 1588 for William’s son Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter.   It was subsequently rebuilt – by Inigo Jones and Nicholas Stone – in 1639,  for King Charles I’s  Queen, Henrietta Maria, taken away from her during the Civil War in 1642, and only given back after the Restoration in 1660, and sold – in a sorry state of repair – in 1661.  It was eventually demolished in 1717.


Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “Capital Ring” walk …


Streatham was first founded in the Saxon period, possibly on the site of an earlier, Roman settlement.  It was first recorded in 675 as (Totinge cum) Stretham, and later recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Estreham, from the Old English straet, in this context probably the Roman road that ran from London to Portslade (near Brighton), and ham, meaning homestead or village.  In  the Saxon period it, together with nearby Tooting, was owned by the Abbey of Chertsey.  In the Norman period, both estates were  given by William I to his cousin Richard of Tonbridge, who when he died bequeathed them  to the Abbey of Saint Mary  of Bec in Normandy (whence Tooting Bec).  In the later Medieval to post-Medieval/early modern period, the area came to be owned in turn by Eton College, Edward VI, the Howland family,  the Russell family (the Dukes of Bedford), and the Du Cane family, and  remained sparsely populated.  Many wealthy City families evidently established country retreats here after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The area remained at least semi-rural, and fashionable among the bourgeois elite, into Georgian and Regency times.  It began to become much more built-up and densely populated from  the latter half of the nineteenth century onwards, after the arrival of the railway.  The number of inhabitants increased over ten-fold during the period of Victoria’s reign, to around 100000.  A significant amount of new or replacement housing had to be built in the area after the  bombing of the Second World War.

Church of St Leonard


The church of St Leonard was probably originally built in the Saxon period; rebuilt in the fourteenth century, in c. 1350; rebuilt again in the nineteenth century, in 1830-1; and restored in the twentieth, after sustaining serious damage in a fire, in 1975.  The  tower survives from the Medieval church.  A number of seventeenth- to eighteenth- century memorials also survive, in the interior, including one to John Howland (d. 1686), and one to  the sometime brewery business proprietor, Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London, and Member of Parliament Henry Thrale of Streatham Place (d. 1781), featuring an epitaph by his close friend Dr Samuel Johnson.




Later stained-glass windows commemorate Sir John Ward, a knight who fought alongside the Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and who commissioned the rebuilding of the church in c. 1350; Edmund Tilney or Tylney, the Master of the Revels under Elizabeth I and James I, who lived locally  and died in 1610; and the aforementioned  Henry Thrale and his wife Hester (shown with Johnson and Boswell).



Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “Capital Ring” walk  …

Beckenham  was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 862 as Biohhahema mearcae, from the Old English personal name Beohhaham, meaning homestead or village, and mearc, meaning mark or boundary.  It remained essentially rural for much of its later history, only really beginning to become  (sub)urbanised in the nineteenth century, after the arrival of the railway in 1857.  Historically part of the county of Kent, it is now part of the London Borough of Bromley, created in 1965.

Part of the thirteenth-century manor house has been incorporated into the Old Council Hall.  The seventeenth-century George Inn also still stands, on the High Street.

Church of St George

The church of St George was originally built in the twelfth century, and subsequently substantially rebuilt at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth.  It was damaged by V-1 flying bombs in 1944.


The lych-gate dates to the thirteenth century, and is said to be the oldest in England.

The Flower Of All Cities

Wishing a Happy New Year to all our readers …


My latest book, “The Flower Of All Cities“, has now been out for six months.   It is available either through your friendly local bookshop or faceless online minster (also through my publisher, Amberley).  Price £20 or equivalent (or less).

Contained within is the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666.  A   story of settlement, struggle, conquest, oppression, rebellion, war, plague and purifying fire.  A story of Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts.  Of kings and queens and gentlefolk and commoners, of knights and monks and merchant-adventurers and strutting players; of the anointed and ill-fated, the remembered and the forgotten.  Of Fortunata, Alfred, Thomas Becket, William Longbeard, Wat Tyler, Dick Whittington, John Crosby, John Blanke, John Houghton, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Askew, Hugh Myddelton, John Smith, Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse), John Hampden   and Nathaniel Hodges.  And of  William FitzStephen, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas More, John Stow, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare,  John Donne, Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, Thomas Middleton, John Milton, Christopher  Wren, John Evelyn, Samuel Pepys and Aphra Behn.  Of “great matter” and “great reckoning”.

Ghosts of Christmas Past


In December, 1868, Arthur Munby wrote evokingly in his diary:

“ … I rambled through the old-fashioned streets about Cripplegate; attracted first by the fine massive antique tower of [St Giles] Cripplegate church … .  In the quiet of a Saturday afternoon, when offices are closed and busy men departed, the world of modern life disappears for a moment, and these old 17th & 18th century streets and alleys, these deserted old churches, bring back something of the interest and delight with which one rambles through a medieval street abroad.  Far better it is to ramble here, at such a time, than in some bustling suburb, mean, newfangled, fashionable or vulgar.  I went, probably for the last time, through the mazes of old Newgate market: long low alleys, …  walled on both sides with butchers’ shops nearly as old as the Fire: open sheds, with massy beams and rafters and blocks, browned and polished by age and friction.  Many of the alleys were …  dark, for the butchers had moved to the new Market at Smithfield: but two or three were lighted up & busy with buyers and sellers – long rude vistas of meat and men”.


Another in the occasional series on historic sites on the “Capital Ring” walk  …

Eltham Palace


Eltham Palace began life as a moated manor house built by the Bishop of Durham in the late thirteenth century, sometime around 1295.



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Shortly afterwards, in 1305, it was acquired by the then future King Edward II, and thereafter became a royal palace, lived in or at least visited by a succession of Plantagenet, Tudor and early Stuart monarchs, and much extended by various of them, notably by Edward IV, who added a Great Hall in 1470.  It  began to decline after Greenwich and Hampton Court Palaces were completed in the sixteenth century, by the beginning of the seventeenth being “farre in decay”, and by the end of the  Civil War, as John Evelyn put it, “in miserable ruins, …  destroyed by [Parliamentarian Colonel Nathaniel] Rich the Rebel”.  What was left of it was then put to use as a farm in the eighteenth century, eventually falling into such a state of disrepair by the early twentieth that most of it had to be demolished.


In 1933 the site was bought up by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, who had made a fortune out of the manufacture of artificial or art silk (or rayon), and who commissioned the architects Seely and Paget to build adjoining the surviving Great Hall  a luxuriously appointed  Art Deco home for them, and for their pet ring-tailed lemur Mah-Jongg – who it appears had the unfortunate  habit of biting their well-heeled guests!     The Courtaulds moved out, to a 24000-acre estate in Argyllshire, in 1944, whereupon the Royal Army Educational Corps moved in.  English Heritage acquired the property in 1995, and completed a major programme of repairs and restorations on the 1930s house and gardens in 1999.  The house and gardens are now open to the public, although unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the house.

Eltham Lodge


A little further afield, although still within  the former grounds,  lies  Eltham Lodge, originally built for one of Charles II’s supporters, Sir John Shaw, in 1664, and  currently the clubhouse of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club.

Tudor Barn



And a mile or so to the north, on the opposite side of Eltham High Street, and in the picturesque recreated “Well Hall Pleasaunce”, lies a Tudor Barn of 1568, now a restaurant.