Another in the series on the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666, largely taken from my book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (Amberley, 2019) …
New building activity continued in the City, and especially in Westminster and the West End beyond, in the post-Medieval period, in the Tudor, including Henrician and Elizabethan, and in the Stuart, including Jacobean and Renaissance, styles.
In the Tudor period, Bridewell Palace, Lambeth Palace, St James’s Palace, Somerset House, the Tower of London, and Whitehall Palace were built, rebuilt or extended in the Tudor style, as seats of power; as, outside the continuously built-up area, although still within easy reach, were, among others, Elsyng Palace, Eltham Palace, Fulham Palace (the principal residence of the Bishops of London), Greenwich Palace (also known as the Palace of Placentia), Hampton Court Palace, Nonsuch Palace, Richmond Palace, and William Cecil’s “prodigy-house” Theobalds; and, still further afield, Windsor Castle. The site of the dissolved Charterhouse was redeveloped, becoming initially a private residence occupied by Sir Edward North, from 1545. And the site of the former Savoy Palace, which was burned down in the “Peasants’ Revolt”, was also redeveloped, new buildings on the site including the Savoy Hospital, founded by a bequest from Henry VII, who died in 1509 (the hospital became a military one in 1642, and was used to treat some of the wounded from the Civil War, and parts of it later became a military barracks and prison).
Bridewell Palace was originally built by Henry VIII between 1515-20, as Stow put it, “for the receipt of Charles V, who, in … 1522, … lodged … at the Blackfriars [Priory]”. The Palace being on the opposite, western, side of the Fleet from the Priory, a gallery was built over the Fleet to connect the buildings. In 1529, Henry VIII again stayed in Bridewell Palace, and the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, in the Blackfriars. This was on the occasion of the Legatine Court in the Parliament Hall in the Blackfriars, convened to address the King’s “Great Matter”, his proposed annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. When Henry VIII died in 1547, the Palace passed to his son Edward VI, and when Edward died in 1553, he gave it to the Mayor, George Baron, again as Stow put it, “for the commonalty and citizens, to be a workhouse for the poor and idle persons of the city”. The former palace was evidently used not only as a workhouse-cum-priso, but also as an orphanage-cum-school, and as a hospital. The Bridewell, as it was by then known, was burned down in Great Fire of 1666. It was subsequently rebuilt in 1667, and ultimately demolished between 1864-71.
It was in Bridewell Palace in 1533 that Holbein painted his portrait “The Ambassadors”, which now hangs in the National Gallery. The painting depicts, on the left, Jean de Dinteville, the French ambassador, posing in a shirt, ruched pink silk doublet, black hose, black velvet jerkin, and fur-trimmed black velvet three-quarter-length overgown; and, on the right, Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur, and ambassador to the Emperor, the Holy See and the Venetian Republic, in a black shirt with a white clerical collar, and an expensive-looking dark brocaded and fur-trimmed full-length silk overgown. In the background behind them is a heavy emerald-green brocaded silk curtain; between them, a wooden unit displaying on its top shelf a celestial globe and various state-of-the-art precision astronomical and navigational scientific instruments on a section of geometrically-patterned Anatolian carpet, and on its bottom shelf a terrestrial globe, and a range of musical instruments, including a lyre with a broken string, and a box of flutes; and in the foreground in front of them an expanse of geometrically-patterned tiled floor. Also in the foreground is a memento mori in the form of an anamorphic skull.
Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was actually originally built in the thirteenth century, and subsequently extended in the late fifteenth and sixteenth, under Henry VII and Mary respectively. The Gate-House, built by Cardinal John Morton, dates to 1495 (the Chapel and the Lollard’s Tower to the late Medieval). The Garden was probably also originally laid out in the late fifteenth or sixteenth century.
St James’s Palace was originally built by Henry VIII between 1531-6, on a site where, according to Stow: “the citizens of London, time out of mind, founded an hospital … for leprous women”. It remained one of the principal residences of the Kings and Queens of England for the next three hundred years.
Somerset House was originally built for the Lord Protector Somerset in 1547-50, and after his execution in 1552, it came to owned, occupied and modified in turn by the then-future Queen, Elizabeth I, in 1553; by the King, James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, in 1603; by the then-future King, Charles I, in 1619; and by the King, Charles I’s wife, the French Henrietta Maria, in 1626. It later survived the Civil War and Commonwealth of 1642-60, during which time it was temporarily appropriated by Parliamentarian authorities, as well as the Great Fire. In 1669, the King, Charles II’s wife, the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, acquired it, and in 1692, shortly after Charles II had died and James II, who was a Catholic, had been deposed, she relinquished it, fearing for her safety there in the midst of what by that time had become a fiercely anti-Catholic populace. It was then allowed to fall into disrepair, and substantially demolished to make way for the present building in 1775.
Some Tudor foundation stones survive, in the “Archaeology Room”; …
… and some Stuart headstones from the former – Catholic – chapel, in the “Dead House” (namely, those of Catherine Guilermet, French servant to Henrietta Maria (d. 1633); Jacques d’Angennes, French ambassador (d. 1637); Blasius Nunes Manhans, Portuguese doctor to Catherine of Braganza (d. 1673); Edmund Fortescue, usher to Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza (d. 1674); and Fr Hyacint(h), priest (d. 1692)).
The Tower of London was repaired, extended and extensively remodelled in the Tudor period, becoming, as Raphael Holinshed put it, in his “Chronicles” of 1577-87, “an armouries and house of munition, and thereunto a place for the safekeeping of offenders [rather] than a palace roiall for a King or Queen to sojourne in”. A detailed plan of the precinct from around the end of the period was produced by Haiward & Gascoyne in 1597. The understated role that the Tower played in English Renaissance drama is discussed by Deiter (2008).
Whitehall Palace, formerly York Place, was acquired by Henry VIII from the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529, whence, from Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost. ‘Tis now the King’s, and called Whitehall”; and later extended both by Henry and by James I. In 1542, according to an inventory taken in that year, the fixtures and fittings included carpets, wall hangings, traverses, curtains, furniture, candles and sanitary apparatus, all of the finest quality. In 1598, the Moravian aristocrat and gentleman-traveller Baron Waldstein described his visit to the palace in his diary, in part as follows: “We … went into the royal residence known as … White Hall. It is truly majestic, bounded on the one side by a park which adjoins another palace called St James’s, and on the other side by the Thames, and it is a place which fills one with wonder, not so much because of its great size as because of the magnificence of its … rooms which are furnished with the most gorgeous splendour. First you come to a vast hall which leads through into a very large walled garden where they keep deer and all kinds of other animals. We then went to see the rooms, every one of them furnished and arranged with perfect taste and elegance, with all sorts of statues and pictures to add to their beauty … . There is … a portrait of Edward VI in 1546 at the age of nine … . Another room has … some very rich hangings. A portrait here shows Queen Elizabeth when she was still young, in the dress which she wore when going to attend Parliament … . In another place we saw … the Queen’s couch which is woven with gold and silver thread … . The Queen’s bed-chamber has rich tapestries all around: The adjoining room is reserved for the Queen’s bath: the water pours from oyster shells … . In the next room there is an organ on which two persons can play duets … . The next room to this was the one where the Queen keeps her books, some of which she wrote herself … . From here we were taken into a large and lofty banqueting hall … . In another room Henry VII and Henry VIII and their wives are painted … ”.
Notable new religious building works of the Tudor period included the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey, built between 1503-8; the church of St Margaret Westminster, rebuilt in 1523; and, further afield, St Mary in Stoke Newington, rebuilt by the local Lord of the Manor, William Patten, in 1563, and thus representing one of the earliest churches anywhere in the country specifically designed for Protestant rather than Catholic worship. The Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey, thought to have been designed and built by Robert Janyns the Younger (fl. 1499-1506), Robert Vertue (d. 1506), and William Vertue (d. 1527), is at the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic, with exceptional external flying buttresses and internal pendant vaults, and even known in its own time as “orbis miraculum”, or “the wonder of the world”. Whittled away to a fine filigree of near-nothingness, the stone ceiling seems to hover like a second heaven high over the head of the worshipper. The magnificent effigial monuments of Henry VII and his Queen, Elizabeth of York, in what John Pope-Hennessy called “the finest Renaissance tomb north of the Alps”, were made by the Italian sculptor Torrigiano between 1512-7. Incidentally, in 1540, Westminster Abbey was made a Cathedral with its own See, and shortly afterwards, was incorporated into the Diocese of London, at which time much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to “Old St Paul’s” – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul” (the current status of the abbey is that of a “Royal Peculiar”). “Old St Paul’s” itself suffered a certain amount of desecration during the Dissolution, the visiting Alessandro Magno observing “It is a pitiful sight to see the beautiful marble statues of saints and other decorations there broken and ruined because of their heresy”. It later lost its spire to a lightning strike in 1561. A contemporary account of the event read as follows: “… [B]etween one and two of the clock at afternoon was seen a marvellous great fiery lightning, and immediately ensued a most terrible hideous crack of thunder such as seldom hath been heard, and that by estimation of sense, directly over the City of London. … Divers persons in time of the said tempest being on the river of Thames, and others being in the fields near adjoining to the City affirmed that they saw a long and spear-pointed flame of fire (as it were) run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple, from the east westward. And some of the parish of St Martin’s [Ludgate] being then in the street did feel a marvellous strong air or whirlwind with a smell like brimstone coming from Paul’s Church. … Between four and five of the clock a smoke was espied … to break out under the bowl of the said shaft … . But suddenly after, as it were in a moment, the flame broke forth in a circle like a garland round about the broach, … and increased in such wise that within a quarter of an hour or a little more, the cross and the eagle on the top fell down upon the south cross aisle … Some there were, pretending experience in wars, that counselled the remnants of the steeple to be shot down with cannons, which counsel was not liked … . Others perceiving the steeple to be past all recovery, considering the hugeness of the fire and the dropping of the lead, thought best to get ladders and scale the church, and with axes to hew down a space of the roof of the church to stay the fire, at the least to save some part of the church: which was concluded”.
New private buildings of the Tudor period included further Inns of Court and Livery Company Halls. New private residences of the period included Nonsuch House on London Bridge, built between 1577-9, and the merchant-trader and ambassador to the Ottoman court Paul Pindar’s house on Bishopsgate, completed in c. 1599. Nonsuch House was built, rather remarkably, out of prefabricated wooden sections shipped across from Holland flat-packed for assembly on site, and would appear from a surviving Canaletto drawing of 1750 to have had a gaudily painted finish, carved carapace and ornate cupolas, making it a readily recognisable London landmark. Sadly, it was demolished in 1757, to allow for the widening of the thoroughfare on London Bridge.
Paul Pindar’s House would appear from surviving drawings, paintings and photographs to have been similarly extravagantly and flamboyantly appointed.
It was only finally demolished as recently as 1890, but at least its carved oak façade was thereupon salvaged, and may now be viewed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
New private residences further afield included Canonbury Tower in Islington, originally built sometime between 1509-1532 for the Prior of St Bartholomew’s, William Bolton, and subsequently occupied by, among others, Thomas Cromwell and Francis Bacon, not to mention Oliver Goldsmith and Washington Irving; and Sutton House in Hackney, originally built in around 1535 for the courtier, and sometime “Keeper of the Great Wardrobe”, Ralph Sadleir. Charitable dwellings founded in the Tudor period included George Monoux’s alms-houses of 1541 in Walthamstow, and (Archbishop) John Whitgift’s ones of 1556 in Croydon.
Later, in the Stuart period, the Banqueting House was built in Whitehall Palace for James I, and the Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace for Charles I; and Theobalds was rebuilt, for James I, and Windsor Castle, for Charles II. And the site of the dissolved Charterhouse was redeveloped again, becoming a charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest from Thomas Sutton, from 1611 (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872). The Banqueting House was built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones in 1622, and was the first building in central London in the Renaissance style, with a ceiling by Rubens. Work on the Queen’s House in Greenwich commenced earlier, but was not completed until later. The Queen’s Chapel was built by the Inigo Jones between 1623-7. It was first used by Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who was a Catholic. During the Civil War, it was used by the Parliamentarian army as a barracks. And after the Restoration of the Monarchy, it was again used as a chapel by Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, who was also a Catholic, and who established a friary adjoining (whence, Friary Court).
Notable new religious building works of the Stuart period included the Renaissance renovations to St Katharine Cree, in 1628-31; St Helen, in 1633; and “Old St Paul’s” by Inigo Jones, in 1633-41, and by Christopher Wren in 1660 – it appears that the Medieval Gothic style had well and truly gone out of fashion by the time of Charles I! They also included the rebuilding of the tower of All Hallows Barking in 1658, which Samuel Pepys later ascended to observe the Great Fire in 1666. Slightly further afield, in the West End, the parish church of St Paul, Covent Garden, “the handsomest barn in England”, was built by Inigo Jones in 1624. And, still within the more-or-less continuously built-up area, the chapel that became the church of St John, Wapping, in 1617; Poplar Chapel, between 1642-54; and the chapel that became the church of St Paul, Shadwell, in 1656. Poplar Chapel was built by the East India Company for its dock-workers between 1642-54, that is, during the Civil War and succeeding inter-regnum, the date of construction making it unique in London, and indeed unusual in the country as a whole. The design of the chapel was originally “severely rectangular”, and as such ideally suited to the form of worship practised by Puritans, which emphasised the importance of the word over that of the ceremony. The chapel became a parish church, dedicated to St Matthias, when the East India Company dissolved in the 1860s, and the church in turn became a community centre in the 1990s. The exterior of the building was rebuilt, by William Milford Teulon, younger brother of the more famous Samuel Sanders Teulon, in the mid-nineteenth century, although, remarkably, the interior remains to this day essentially as it was in the mid-seventeenth. Still further afield, the church of St Luke, Charlton was built in 1630, and that of St John the Evangelist, Stanmore in 1632 (both in brick).
New private buildings of the period included yet further Inns of Court and Livery Company Halls. New private residencesincluded 41/42 Cloth Fair, completed in 1614; York House, completed in 1626; 59/60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, completed in 1640; and, further afield, Newington Green Terrace on Newington Green, completed in 1658. The town-houses of the men of wealth and perceived substance were typically stone- or brick- built, with cellars below ground, store-rooms for merchandise and well-appointed living quarters on the ground floor, bedrooms upstairs, and long galleries on the projecting uppermost, third or fourth, storey, and with tiled rooves. They would have provided ample accommodation for not only the owner and his extended family, but also his apprentices, and his many servants. The lowlier dwellings of the common man and his family would typically have been timber-framed (in violation of the ban), terraced, and conspicuously narrow-fronted, although comparatively deep, and had either only two storeys, each with one room at the front and another at the rear, or at the most three, with a small attic or garret room at the top. Those on Bishopsgate occupied by Luke Clapham, Richard Plowman and Edward Walker, and surveyed in 1607 by Ralph Treswell, had four main rooms, each measuring something of the order of twelve feet square, giving a total internal area of something under 600 square feet. Note, though, that they also had an approximately comparable total amount of outdoor space in a long thin strip to the rear, where there were gardens with ramshackle outhouses, perhaps for privies, and, in one case, a well. 41/42 Cloth Fair, “the oldest house in London”, was first owned by one William Chapman, who was evidently a businessman of some means. It has been memorably described by the architectural critic Ian Nairn as “ … an embodiment of the old London spirit. Chunky, cantankerous, breaking out all over in oriels and roof-lights, unconcerned with … anything else other than shapes to live in”. York House was originally built for the Bishops of Norfolk sometime before 1237. It subsequently came to be owned by Henry VIII’s brother-in-law Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, in 1536; by Queen Mary in 1556; by Francis Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, from 1617; by George Villiers Senior, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, from 1621; by General Sir Thomas, Lord Fairfax, during the Civil War; and eventually by George Villiers Junior, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, after the Restoration (by which time he had married Fairfax’s daughter Mary). It survived the Great Fire, but was substantially substantially demolished in the 1670s, whereupon the site was developed by Nicholas Barbon, who, in deference to its former owner, set out new streets named George, Villiers, Duke and Buckingham – and even an alley named Of! The dissenting priest and radical – some would say revolutionary – philosopher Richard Price, who numbered among his acquaintances Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley and Mary Wollstonecraft, moved into one of the houses in Newington Green Terrace in the eighteenth century. By this time, following the passage of the “Clarendon Code” in the late seventeenth century, Newington Green had become an important centre for all forms of Non-Conformism. The “Clarendon Code” comprised the “Corporation Act” of 1661, the “Act of Uniformity” of 1662, the “Conventicle Act” of 1664, and the “Five Mile Act” (“An Act for restraining Non-Conformists from inhabiting in Corporations”) of 1665. Charitable dwellings founded in the Stuart period included Edward Alleyn’s alms-houses of 1610 in the Soap Yard in Southwark, in Lamb Alley in Bishopsgate, and in Bath Street in the parish of St Luke’s; Dame Alice Owen’s alms-houses of 1610 on the Clerkenwell/Islington borders; Thomas Ingram’s alms-houses of 1664 in Isleworth; Bishop (Thomas) Wood’s ones of 1665 in Clapton; and Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton’s, Trinity Hospital of 1613 in Greenwich. Note also that Alleyn’s “College of God’s Gift” of 1616 in Dulwich included alms-houses for six poor men and six poor women as well as an actual college for twelve boys. It seems that “Good Master” Alleyn was a considerable philanthropist, although he is now better known as an actor-manager and theatrical entrepreneur. His alms-houses in Southwark were close to the “Rose” playhouse, which he acted in; those in St Luke’s, to the “Fortune”, which he managed.
By the time of the Great Fire at the end of the post-Medieval period, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of the City, despite a number having been closed down during the Reformation, including the church of St Mary Axe, for housing an unusual relic, namely “one of the two [axes] that the eleven thousand Virgins [accompanying St Ursula on her ill-fated pan-European pilgrimage] were beheaded with [by a Hunnish chief, possibly Attila]”. To be precise, as recorded in the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality”, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. In addition, there were 5 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. 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 “new” Temple Church. Many of the places of worship were lovingly embellished with (bell-) 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 seats of power and Royal palaces, important secular public buildings, and private residences and places of business besides. Illustrative drawings, paintings, panoramas and “pictorial surveys” of the City of the time include those of Bol, Briot, Hollar, de Jongh, Norden, Rembrandt, Smith, Visscher, Wyngaerde and various anonymous artists. The Wyngaerde panorama was published in 1543 (Text-Figure 37); the Visscher one, in 1616 (Text-Figure 38). Maps include the “British Atlas of Historic Towns” one of 1520, the “Copper Plate” one of c. 1559, the “Agas” one of c. 1569, the Braun and Hogenberg one of 1572, the Norden one of 1593, the Agas one of 1633, the Newcourt and Faithorne one of 1658, and the Moore one of 1662. The “Copper Plate” map must have been published no later than 1559, as it shows the church of St Botolph Bishopsgate still with its cross, which was lost through fire in that year. The “Agas” map must have been published no earlier than 1569, as it shows the Royal Exchange with its trademark grasshopper weather-vane, that was erected in that year. The Braun & Hogenberg map was published in 1572, although still shows “Old St Paul’s” with the spire it lost in 1561.
The post-Medieval street layout remained in the form of a maze or web. By 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. Horse-drawn vehicles had begun to be used to transport not only goods, as in the Middle Ages, but also persons; and Sedan Chairs had also begun to be used to transport persons. As long ago as 1636 (!), traffic congestion had become such a problem that it prompted one Henry Peacham to write: “It is most fit, and requisite, that princes, nobility, the more eminent and abler among the gentry should be allowed their coaches and carroches … but what I pray you are the coaches of these few, to that multitude at this day in England? when in London … and within four miles compass without, are reckoned to the number of six thousand and odd. … [I]n certain places of the City, … I have never come but I have there the way barricado’d up with a coach, two, or three, that what haste, or business soever a man hath, he must wait my Lady’s (I know not what) leisure (who is in the next shop, buying pendants for her ears: or a collar for her dog) ere he can find any passage. The most eminent places for stoppage are Paul’s gate into Cheapside, Ludgate, and Ludgate Hill, especially when a play is done at the Friars, then Holborn … , Hosier Lane, Smithfield, and Cow Lane … , then about the Stocks and Poultry, Temple Bar, Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane … ; but to see their multitude, … when there is a masque at Whitehall, a Lord Mayor’s feast, a new play … , … how close they stand together (like mutton-pies in a cook’s oven) that hardly you can thrust a pole between”. Indeed, “An Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent” had had to be issued in 1654.