Medieval and post-Medieval London Part III – Building works

Staple Inn Buildings jettying

“The Medieval to post-Medieval street layout…..was less in the form of a grid…. than of an intricate, almost beguiling, maze or web.” 

The first stone buildings in the City for hundreds of  years were built by the Normans, including those intended to  symbolise their sovereign authority over the Anglo-Saxons: the  Tower of London, built out of French limestone, from 1067 onwards; Castle Baynard; and the Tower of Montfichet.  (The Royal Wardrobe and Savoy Palace were built by the Plantagenets, essentially to the same end).

The Normans also initiated a major phase of church building in the City, and beyond, beginning in the  late eleventh and  early twelfth centuries, in the Norman or Romanesque style, that continued,  under the Plantagenets, Lancastrians and Yorkists, into the late twelfth to early fifteenth, in the Gothic style.

Particularly notable new religious building works of this period included “Old St Paul’s”, St Bartholomew the Great, Holy Trinity Priory and the Priory of St John, originally in the Norman or Romanesque style; Temple Church, in a part-Norman or Romanesque, and part-Early (English) Gothic, style; and All Hallows Staining, the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace, Blackfriars Priory, the Charterhouse, St Andrew Undershaft, St Bartholomew the Less, St Ethelburga, St Etheldreda, St Giles Cripplegate, St Helen, St Mary Aldermary, St Mary-at-Hill, St Mary Spital, St Olave Hart Street, St Sepulchre and Whitefriars Priory, and extensions to “Old St Paul’s” and to St Mary Overie, or Southwark Cathedral, in the Gothic style, either Early and simple, or Late and decorated, although never as ornate as on the continent  (also the synagogues on and around  Old Jewry,  and the Jewish ritual baths or mikva’ot in the precinct of the Guildhall and  in Milk Street).

Middle Temple Hall (2)

Middle Temple Hall

New  public building works included the Guildhall, built to  rival Westminster Hall; and the first stone incarnation of  London Bridge.  New private buildings included a number of what were to become Inns of Court, and Livery Company Halls, some of which latter, such as the Merchant Taylors’, were particularly grand, including  gardens, grounds and alms-houses – for “decayed” members of the company – as well as Great Halls (and kitchens), offices and private chapels.

Middle Temple Hall

Middle Temple Hall

New private residences included that of the wealthy grocer and twice Lord Mayor Stephen Browne, in  Billingsgate, which was evidently sufficiently grand as to have included its own quay.  The cheaper  ones of the common man, such as those recently excavated on  Poultry,  continued to be  built largely of timber and thatch, although thatch was officially outlawed as a building material in the twelfth century, on account of its combustibility, and the use of brick had become much more prevalent by the end of the fourteenth.

Lincoln's Inn Chapel

Lincoln’s Inn Chapel

New building activity continued in the City, and especially in Westminster and the West End beyond, into the late fifteenth to early seventeenth centuries, in the Tudor, including  Elizabethan, and in the Stuart, including  Jacobean, and (English) Renaissance or Neo-Classical, styles.  Bridewell Palace was built by Henry VIII in the Tudor period and style (and further afield,  St James’s Palace and Hampton Court Palace were also built Henry VIII).  Notable new religious building works of the Stuart period included the renovations to St Katharine Cree, undertaken in 1628-31, and those to “Old St Paul’s”, undertaken by Inigo Jones in 1633, both of which were in the Neo-Classical style (also a Sephardic – or Spanish and Portuguese –   Jewish synagogue on Creechurch Lane, built in 1657).  New private buildings included further numbers of  Inns of Court,  and Livery Company Halls (including the Apothecaries’).

Apothecaries' Hall

Apothecaries’ Hall

New private residences included that of the wealthy grocer John Crosby, on  Bishopsgate, later owned by Thomas More, which Stow described as “very large and beautiful”; and that of   the merchant trader and ambassador to the Ottoman court Paul Pindar, also on Bishopsgate, which would appear from surviving drawings and a photograph taken in around 1885 to have been if anything even more extravagant and flamboyant.  The town-houses of the men of wealth and perceived substance typically had cellars and storehouses for merchandise attached to them, as well as well-appointed living quarters and other rooms upstairs, and long galleries on the projecting uppermost, third or even fourth, storey    (after all, they had to accommodate not only the owner and his extended family, but also his apprentices, and his many servants).

By the time of the Great Fire of 1666, there were over a hundred churches and other places of worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City (*),  many of them lovingly embellished with bell- and clock- towers and spires by their parishioners, as can be clearly seen in contemporary drawings, paintings and maps, and some also with churchyards and gardens, splashing colour onto an otherwise drab canvas (that of St Andrew Hubbard was sown with hemp, which would probably be an arrestable offence these days); and numerous Inns of Court and Livery Company Halls, and grand Royal and other private residences and places of business besides.

Lincoln's Inn Old Hall

Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall

Important drawings and paintings of the City of the time include those of  Bol, Briot, de Jongh, Hogenberg, Hollar, Marian, Norden, Picart, Rembrandt, Salmincio, Schut, Smith, Valeggio, van den Wyngaerde, Visscher, and various anonymous artists; and important  maps or “pictorial surveys” include the one   of 1520, the  “Copper Plate” one of 1556-8, the “Agas” one of 1561-70, the Braun and Hogenberg one of 1572, the Treswell ones of 1585-1611, the Norden one of 1593, the Agas one of 1633, the Newcourt and Faithorne one of 1658, and the Moore one of 1662.

The Medieval to post-Medieval street layout, so organically developed or evolved, and so modified, after the Roman and Anglo-Saxon  ones as to be unrecognisable, was less in the form of a grid, although there were many streets parallel and many perpendicular to the river, than of an intricate, almost beguiling, maze or webBy the end of the period, around a  hundred yards of land had been reclaimed from the river, and there was a dense network of quays, wharves, steps, alley-ways, passage-ways and lanes along  the foreshore.   The intricately intermingled alley-ways and court-yards there and elsewhere were the capillaries and alveoles of the City, where persons  might pause, albeit fleetingly among the seething, and rest and refresh body and soul; the lanes and thoroughfares its veins and arteries, moving people and trade far and wide.

(*) To be precise, as recorded in the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality”, there were 97 parish churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113.  There was also one cathedral, Old St Paul’s within the walls, and a  number of  conventual churches and private chapels within and without, including St Etheldreda and Temple Church.  In addition, there were 5 parish churches in the City and Liberties of Westminster, namely, St Clement Danes, St Paul Covent Garden, St Margaret Westminster, St Martin in the Fields and St Mary Savoy; and 12 in the out-parishes of Middlesex and Surrey, including St Giles in the Fields.

Middle Temple Hall double hammerbeam ceiling

Middle Temple Hall double hammerbeam ceiling

Surviving Structures

Essentially nothing now  remains of the overwhelming majority of the predominantly Medieval to post-Medieval  churches and other places of worship, Inns of Court and Livery Company Halls, and Royal and other private residences buildings that stood within and immediately without the walls of the City before the Great Fire of 1666.

Of the 97 parish churches within the walls, only 8, namely, All Hallows Barking, All Hallows Staining, St Alphage, St Andrew Undershaft, St Ethelburga, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, and St Olave Hart Street, were undamaged in  the Great Fire and still survive, with at least some pre-Great Fire structures standing, above ground (although note  that St Mary Aldermary, St Mary-at-Hill and St Michael Cornhill were rebuilt after the fire incorporating into their designs significant portions of pre-fire structure).  A further 5, namely All Hallows on the Wall, St James Dukes Place, St Katherine Coleman, St Martin Outwich and St Peter-le-Poer, were undamaged in the fire but either demolished or rebuilt afterwards; 49 were burnt down in the fire and rebuilt afterwards; and 35 were burnt down in the fire and not rebuilt afterwards.   “Old St Paul’s Cathedral” was also burnt down, and rebuilt by Wren.  Without the walls, St Bartholomew the Great, St Bartholomew the Less, St Etheldreda, St Giles Cripplegate, St Saviour (or Southwark Cathedral)  and Temple Church were undamaged by the fire, and still stand, while St Sepulchre was damaged, and repaired, and St Bride was destroyed, and rebuilt, by Wren (alongside St Andrew Holborn, which was according to most accounts actually undamaged).   Within or without, parts of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace, Blackfriars Priory, the Charterhouse, Holy Trinity Priory, the Priory of St John and Whitefriars Priory were undamaged, and still stand.

Barnard's Inn Hall

Barnard’s Inn Hall

Of the Inns of Court, only the Medieval Hall survives in  Barnard’s Inn, the Henrician “Old Hall” and “Old Buildings” and   Jacobean Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn, the Elizabethan  Buildings and Hall in  Staple Inn and Middle Temple, respectively, and the Jacobean Gate-House, also known as “Prince Henry’s Room”, after Henry, the son of James I, in Inner Temple, all immediately without the walls.

Inner Temple Gate-House

Inner Temple Gate-House

Staple Inn Buildings jettying

Staple Inn Buildings jettying

Of the Livery Company Halls, only parts of the Merchant Taylors’, and the Apothecaries’, within.  Of the Royal residences, only the Tower of London, within.  Of the private residences, only Crosby Hall, although not in its original location on Bishopsgate, but at a new one near Battersea Bridge  in Chelsea, and 41 Cloth Fair, and 59/60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, immediately without.  And of the places of business, only the “Olde Wine Shades” on Martin Lane within, and the “Tipperary” on Fleet Street and the “Wig and Pen” on the Strand, immediately without (together with what is now the “Hoop and Grapes” on Aldgate High Street).  Parts of the Guildhall also survive, within.  The best-preserved sections of the – Roman and Medieval – City Wall are on London Wall to the west, and around Tower Hill to  the east.  The remains of the Medieval Postern Gate can also be seen on Tower Hill.

Apothecaries' Hall interior (immediately post-Fire)

Apothecaries’ Hall interior (immediately post-Fire)

Archaeological Finds

The more important archaeological finds from Medieval to post-Medieval  London are on exhibition in the City’s principal museums.  The salvaged carved oak facade from Paul Pindar’s house, once on Bishopsgate, is one of the largest exhibits in the Victoria  and Albert Museum in South Kensington.    A series of “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monographs and other publications describe in detail the findings of archaeological excavations at various Medieval to post-Medieval  sites around the City, and south of the river in Southwark, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

Small finds include such essentially everyday items as coins and tokens, and discarded oyster shells and clay pipes; and such rare curiosities as shoe leather and textiles preserved in anaerobic mud  on the foreshore of the Thames, and makeshift ice-skates  made by tieing  animal bones to shoes.

Staple Inn Buildings

Staple Inn Buildings

Medieval and Post-Medieval London on our Walks

Medieval and post-Medieval sites in and around the City of London are visited on all our  standard walks, and on our “Medieval London – The City that Chaucer knew” and “Post-Medieval London – The City that Shakespeare knew” – four hour long – themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of the web-site.  Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (, or by phone (020-8998-3051).

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