Author Archives: Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

About Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

My name is Bob Jones and I am a writer on the history of London.

Streatham

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

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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

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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.

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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).

 

Beckenham

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.

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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 …

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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

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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”.

Eltham

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

Eltham Palace

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

Shooters Hill

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

Shooters Hill is one of the highest points in, and  at the outermost  edge of, London, and commands fine  views of the city to the west …

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… and of the open countryside of Kent to the east.

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It is traversed by the old Roman road to Kent now known as Watling Street, or, more prosaically, the A2.    In Medieval times, the road formed the pilgrimage route from London to the shrine of the archbishop and saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Shrewsbury Tumulus

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On the brow of the hill, just under half a mile north of the water tower, and accessed by way of Shrewsbury Lane and Plum Lane,  is a Bronze Age burial mound known as the Shrewsbury Tumulus.  It is the only  one of a number of such tumuli discovered in the 1930s to survive.

Charlton

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

Charlton was first recorded in the “Domesday Book” of 1086 as Cerletone, from the Old English “ceorl”, meaning “churl” or peasant, and “tun”, farm-stead, estate or town.  It is likely to have been in existence considerably earlier.

Church of St Luke

The church of St Luke was originally built in stone sometime before 1086, and was under the control of Bermondsey Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

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It was later bought by Sir Adam Newton  in 1607, and rebuilt in brick after his death in 1630.  There are  memorials inside  to Newton and his wife; and also to Edward Wilkinson, who was the “Yeoman of the Mouth” to Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Edward VI, and “Master Cook” to Elizabeth I.  There is also one  to Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister assassinated in the House of Commons in 1812.

Charlton House

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Charlton House was built by either Inigo Jones or John Thorpe for the aforementioned Sir Adam Newton, the tutor to King James I’s, son, Prince Henry, in 1607-12.  When Sir Adam  Newton died in 1630, it passed to his son  Sir Henry; and after he  moved to Warwickshire after the Civil War of 1642-51, it was bought by Sir William Ducie.  When Ducie died in  1679, it was  bought by Sir William Langhorne; and after he died in 1715, it passed to his cousin Margaret Maryon, and  remained owned by the  Maryon (Wilson) family until  1925.  It was then bought by Greenwich Borough Council, who converted it into a community centre and library.  The building   remains  open to the public to this day.  Much of the structure is surviving Jacobean.  Note, though, that the  north wing had to be rebuilt in the mid-twentieth century after being  destroyed  during the bombing of the Second World War.