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 an independent London Tour Guide, an Author, a member of London Historians and a keen Blogger. I conduct guided walking tours on the theme of the Lost City of London, and I am the author of a number of published works (including the 'Lost City of London' but also several paleontology text books and scientific papers). You can find out more about my journey from the geological to the historical on my About.me profile. But what do I mean by 'The Lost City of London'? Well, in 1666 London was devastated by the Great Fire, which gutted over 13,000 houses and over 80 parish churches, as well as old St Paul's Cathedral. So much was lost, but some original structures and streets survived the blaze and can still be found today - if you know where to look! On my Guided Walks (and in my book) I will show you what remains of the City of the Black Death, the Peasants' Revolt, the Reformation, the Civil War, and the Great Plague; the City of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Pepys. Not forgetting that great shaper of post-fire London - Christopher Wren! Join me to discover hidden Roman ruins, some rare surviving pre-fire parish churches, the historic drinking establishments still open for business - and much more! Not to mention Wren's remaining (and lost!) gems of the fire's immediate aftermath.

Experiences of the theatre in Post-Medieval London 

Thomas Platter

In  1599, Thomas Platter, a Swiss visitor to London, wrote:

“After dinner on the 21st of September, at about two o’clock, I went with my companions over the water [to Southwark], and in the strewn roof-house [?The Globe] saw the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius with at least fifteen characters very well acted.  At the end … they danced according to their custom with extreme elegance.  Two in men’s clothes and two in women’s gave this performance, in wonderful combination with each other”.

And:

“On another occasion, I saw … a comedy; if I remember right, in Bishopsgate.  Here they represented various nations, with whom … and Englishman fought … , and overcame them all except the German … .  [H]e outwitted the German … .

[E]very day at two o’clock  … two and sometimes three comedies are performed, at separate places, wherewith folk make merry together, and whichever does best gets the greatest audience.

… What they … produce daily by way of mirth … every one knows well, who has happened to see them … playing … .

With such …  pastimes … the English spend their time; … [and] …  learn what is going on in  other lands … ”.

Others took  much less  favourable views of the theatres, and  of the  badly-behaved crowds that they attracted.

The Lord Mayor and Aldermen made repeated efforts to have them closed down, on one occasion petitioning the Privy Council as follows:

“We have signified to your Honours many times heretofore the great inconvenience which we find to grow by the common exercise of stage-plays.  We presumed to do so, … being persuaded … that neither in polity nor in religion are they to be suffered in a Christian commonwealth, … containing nothing but profane fables, lascivious matters, cozening devices, and scurrilous behaviours … .  Among other inconveniences it is not the least that they give opportunity to the … evil-disposed and ungodly people that are within and about this city to assemble themselves … for … lewd and ungodly practices … .  For avoiding whereof we are now again most humble and earnest suitors to your honours to direct … letters … to the justices of peace of Surrey and Middlesex for the present stay and final suppression of the said stage-plays, as well at the Theatre, Curtain and Bankside as in all other places in and about the city … ”.

Indeed, the theatres were eventually temporarily closed down by the Puritans in the 1640s to 1650s, during the  Civil War and succeeding Commonwealth and Protectorate, only reopening in the 1660s, after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

 

St Matthew’s Day Procession

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Today is the day of  the annual St Matthew’s Day Procession in the City of London,  with pupils of Christ’s Hospital School maintaining a long-established tradition by processing from the church of St Sepulchre Newgate Street to the Guildhall, there  to partake of luncheon with the Lord Mayor of London.  The school was originally founded on the site of the dissolved Greyfriars Priory on Newgate Street in 1552.  It moved to a new location in Horsham in Sussex in 1902.

 

“The number of the plague the biggest yet” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“But, Lord! What a sad time it is to see no boats upon the river; and grass grows all up and down White Hall court, and nobody but poor wretches in the streets! And, which is worst of all, the Duke [of Albemarle] showed us the number of the plague this week, … that it is encreased …  more than the last, which is quite contrary to our hopes and expectations, from the coldness of the late season.  For the whole general number is 8297, and of them of the plague 7165; which is more in the whole … than the biggest Bill [of Mortality] yet: which is very grievous to us all”.

The “Great Plague” was now killing over a thousand people a day, and  at its peak, and it had  grown so deathly quiet in London that throughout the City  the river  could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of the old bridge.  The Plague eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country (see also September 5th posting).  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

Dark Age (Saxon and Viking) London – Lundenwic

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There was a hiatus in the occupation of London between when the Romans left, in the  fifth century, and when the Saxons arrived in numbers at the turn of the sixth and seventh (archaeological evidence points to a Saxon presence in the city, although not a full-scale occupation, from around 430-450).

When the Saxons did arrive, they chose for some reason to make  their principal  settlement about a mile to the west (upstream), and without the walls, of the  old Roman City of Londinium, around what is now Aldwych in the City of Westminster, and they named it Lundenwic.

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A visit to the Tower (Frederic Gershow, 1602)

Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania.JPG

On this day in 1602, Frederic Gershow, the secretary to Philipp Julius, the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, wrote, in his diary:

“[H]is princely Grace, having obtained permission, visited the Tower of London, an old but strong castle built by Julius Caesar [sic], where they keep the prisoners.  At first we were led into a long hall, full of harness, maybe for a hundred thousand men, as one might say; but this armour was not properly arranged, nor kept clean”.

Tower Armoury

 

 

Bentley Priory and the Battle of Britain

Bentley Priory

With  Battle of Britain Day being marked today, I thought that readers might be interested in learning a little about the history of Bentley Priory in Stanmore, which now houses the recently-opened RAF Battle of Britain Museum.

The – Augustinian – priory was founded by Ranulf de Glanville in 1170, and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1546, thereafter passing into private ownership.

The original building was taken down, and the present one, designed by Sir John Soane,  put up in 1777.

The present building was variously owned and occupied by the Marquis of Abercorn, the Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen, the dowager Queen Adelaide (widow of William IV) and Sir John Kelk in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, before being converted to a hotel in the late nineteenth and a girls’ school in the early twentieth, and finally being bought by the RAF in 1926.

Dowding's office, Bentley Priory

In 1940, it served  as the head-quarters from which the Battle of Britain was directed, by Air Chief Marshall Sir (later Lord) Hugh “Stuffy” Dowding, the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command (memorably portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”).

“The Mortality is encreased” (1665)

1 - Lord have mercy on London

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[M]y finding that although the Bill [of Mortality] in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreased and likely to continue so, and is close to our house there.  My meeting dead corpses of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noon-day through the City in Fenchurch Street.  To see a person sick of the sores carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach.  My finding the Angell tavern, at the lower end of Tower-hill, shut up; and more than that, the alehouse at the Tower Stairs; and more than that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago at night.  To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself.  To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams, to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water … is now dead of the plague.  … To hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick.  And, lastly, that both my servants, W. Hewers and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulchre’s parish, of the plague this week, do put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason”.

And  John Tillison wrote, in a letter to Dr Sancroft:

“Death stares us continually in the face in every infected person that passeth by us; in every coffin which is … carried along the streets.  … The custom was … to bury the dead in the night only; now, both night and day will hardly be time enough to do it.  … [L]ast week, … the dead was piled in heaps above ground … before either time could be gained or place to bury them.  The Quakers … have buried in their piece of ground [Bunhill Row] a thousand … .  Many are [also] dead in … other places about the town which are not included in the bill of mortality”.

The “Great Plague” was almost at  its peak.  It eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

The Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the Plague Year of 1665 are examined at  the church of All Hallows Staining on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.  The bulk of the church collapsed in 1671, the foundations undermined by plague burials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).