Foots Cray

Another in the occasional series on historical sites  on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path)  walk …

Foots Cray was first recorded as such in c. 1100 as Fotescraei, referring to an estate on the River Cray once owned by a Saxon man called Godwine  Fot (the church of All Saints was probably originally built in the Saxon period).  It remained rural  until the eighteenth century, when a watermill was built, light industry moved in and it became (sub)urbanised.   Its fortunes began to wane somewhat in the nineteenth century after  it was by-passed by the railway linking London to north-west Kent (the nearest station being built in nearby Sidcup).

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Some post-Medieval buildings still survive on the otherwise mainly modern High Street.

Church of All Saints

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The church of All Saints was probably originally built in wood in the Saxon period, possibly at the time of the mission of Paulinus, the Bishop of Rochester,  in the seventh century.  It was subsequently rebuilt in stone in the fourteenth century, around 1330, and extended in the nineteenth, in 1861 and 1872.  Some of the windows date to the fourteenth century, the door-case and porch to the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth, and the door to the mid-seventeenth.  In the interior of the church are a font dating to the twelfth century, and the altar-tomb of the one-time Lord of the Manor, Sir Simon de Vaughan, dating to 1350. In the churchyard is the grave of the “yeoman” Martin Manning, dating to 1656.



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Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Southwark (Henry VI Part II)

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Southwark was first  recorded as Sudwerca in the “Domesday Book” of 1086.  It takes its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  (Note that there is also evidence of pre-Roman here, on Horselydown Eyot).  It was also referred to historically as Suthriganaweorc, meaning the defensive work or fort of the men of Surrey.  The area was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fires in 1212 and in 1676.  The Great Fire of 1212 reportedly killed thousands of people, many of them trapped on London Bridge.  According to a near-contemporary account: “An exceeding great multitude of people passing the Bridge, either to extinguish or quench it, or else to gaze at and behold it, suddenly the north part, by blowing of the south wind, was also set on fire, and the people which were even now passing the Bridge, perceiving the same, would have returned, but were stopped by the fire.”   The fire badly damaged the recently-built bridge, leaving it only partially usable for years afterwards, and necessitating a partial rebuild.  It also damaged  Southwark Cathedral, necessitating a partial rebuild.  Some of the masonry  used in the rebuilding of the cathedral  was salvaged from the fire debris and shows signs of fire damage.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings, including prisons (*); industries, including tanning; and activities, including prostitution, gambling, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds.

(*) The Borough Compter, Clink, King’s Bench, Horsemonger Lane, first and second Marshalsea, and White Lion.

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The surviving part of the wall of the second, nineteenth-century, Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens’s father was incarcerated for debt, forms the northern boundary   of the churchyard of St George the Martyr.



Another in the occasional series on historical sites  on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path)  walk …

Bexley was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 814 as Byxlea, from the  Old English byxe, meaning box tree,  and leah, meaning clearing.  From the ninth century until the Reformation of the sixteenth, it was a manor of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In the “Domesday Book” of 1086, Bexley Village was recorded as home to three (?water) mills (?on the River Cray, a tributary of the Thames), as well as a church.  It  remained an important agricultural centre until the twentieth century, when it was at last overtaken by subrbanisation.

Church of St Mary

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The church of St Mary, with its striking octagonal shingled  tower, was originally built at least as long ago as the eleventh  century, although “each generation since has left its visible mark on the fabric”.


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The present nave, chancel and west tower were built toward the  end of the twelfth century.  The north aisle was added in the thirteenth century, and extended to accommodate a Lady Chapel at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth.  The whole fabric of the church was  restored in the late nineteenth century.

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Among the many memorials in the church are them are an unusual “Hunting Horn” brass one, believed  to be to Henry Castilayn (d. 1407); another brass  one,  to John Shelley of Hall Place (d. 1441) and his wife Joan; and a highly decorated carved stone  one,   to Sir John Champeneis or Champneys of Hall Place (d. 1556), Lord Mayor of London in 1534, and his second  wife Meriell.

Hall Place

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Hall Place was originally built in stone – salvaged from Lesnes Abbey – in 1537 by  Sir John Champneys, a successful member of the Skinners’ Company and sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London (it was probably built on the site of earlier, thirteenth- and fourteenth- houses respectively owned by the de Aula and Shelley families).

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It was subsequently extended in brick in 1649-66 by Sir Robert Austen, who had bought  it from Sir John Champneys grand-son Richard in 1649.  In the eighteenth century the property entered  the possession of Sir Francis Dashwood (*); and in the nineteenth that of his  grand-son, Maitland.  For much of the  nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was rented out to a series of tenants.  During the Second World War it was occupied  by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who worked there on decoding intercepted messages sent by the German army and air force.  At this time, radio aerial wires were strung over the roof-tops, and the Tudor Kitchen and Great Hall were converted into “set rooms” filled  with banks of receivers.  Hall Place presently houses Bexley Museum and Galleries, and is open to the public (although a charge is payable for access to the – substantially surviving Tudor and Stuart – interior).

(*) Otherwise known as “Hell-Fire Francis”!


Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Smithfield (Henry VI Part II)

Smithfield takes its  name from the Old English “smethe”, meaning smooth, and “feld”, in reference to a flat field outside the City Wall.  This was a place where, from  the twelfth century onwards, apprentices  and others practised martial arts, and where fairs and other events were held, including the weekly horse fair, in which,  as FitzStephen put it “in another corner are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks and cows and oxen of immense bulk”, and the annual Bartholomew Fair (made famous by Ben Jonson’s satirical play of the same name, written in 1614).  It was also a place of public execution: of the Scottish “freedom fighter” William Wallace, under the “Hammer of the Scots” Edward I, in 1305; of the Catholic “heretic” John Forest, under Henry VIII, in 1538; of  the Protestant “heretic” Anne Askew, also  under Henry VIII, in 1546; and of the  Protestant “heretics” John Rogers, the vicar of St Sepulchre, John Bradford, John Philpot and others, under “Bloody” Mary in  1555-7.  Moreover,  the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 came to an end here when one of its leaders, Wat Tyler, was treacherously and fatally stabbed by the Mayor of London, William Walworth.  The present meat market was built by Horace Jones in 1868.

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Watching from Smithfield’s wings while historical drama unfurled there was  41/42 Cloth Fair, “the oldest house in London”, built between 1597-1614, and still standing.  The house was first owned – in Shakespeare’s time – 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”.


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Another in the occasional series on historical sites  on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path)  walk …


Crayford was first recorded as Crecganford in the  Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as the site of  a battle that took place in 457 between Germanic invaders and native Britons.  The name alludes to a crossing-point on the River Cray (a tributary of the Thames), which had been in existence since earlier  times, lying on the  main Roman road from Kent to London (now known as Watling Street, or the A2).  The “lost” Roman settlement of Noviomagus may have been here.

The early settlement grew   in the Medieval period, and began to become industrialised in the post-Medieval.  An iron-milling industry was established here in the sixteenth century, and a linen-bleaching industry in the seventeenth.

The linen-bleaching later gave way to textile-printing, which continues to this day, alongside the    manufacture of, among other things, chemicals, bricks and “Crayford Ivory” knife handles.  The manufacture of armaments, at the Maxim and Vickers factories, which employed up to 14000 people during times of war, continued from before the First World War until after the Second.  Crayford was incorporated into the London Borough of Bexley in 1965.

St Paulinus

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The church of St Paulinus was probably originally built in timber in the Saxon period, being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 (”the archbishop himself holds Erhede and there is a church”).   It was subsequently rebuilt in stone in the Norman period and style at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries (nave and chancel).

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And extended in the later Medieval Early English Gothic style in the early thirteenth century (south aisle); in the Decorated style at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth (second nave); and in the Perpendicular style in the fifteenth (tower).

The interior contains a fine post-Medieval memorial to William Draper (d. 1650) and his wife Mary of May Place (a manor house that had originally built for the Appleton family in the fifteenth century, and that stood until it was substantially destroyed during the Second World War in the twentieth).

Current exhibitions at the Guildhall

There are currently two exhibitions at the Guildhall in the City of London that might be of interest to followers of this site …

In the Guildhall Art Gallery, there is a major new exhibition entitled “Architecture of London”, featuring 80 artworks by 60 artists portraying London’s ever-changing cityscape from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first, from the  Baroque Era to the Post-Modernist (including the “Old St Paul’s” diptych of 1616, on loan from the Society of Antiquaries).  This one runs until 1st December, and entry costs £10 (£7 concs).  Photography is prohibited.

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In the Guildhall Library, there is a small, but well-formed, new exhibition entitled “Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579): Tudor, Trader, Shipper, Spy”, featuring informative displays about Gresham’s life and legacy, and interesting artefacts from Gresham College’s Collections (including a musical score annotated by Purcell) .  This one runs until mid-September, and entry is free.  Photography is permitted.

One of the contributors to the Gresham exhibition is the Tudor historian John Guy, whose book, “Gresham’s Law … “, is due out later this month.

Savoy Palace

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Savoy Palace (Richard II)

The Savoy Palace was built by the Count of Savoie or Savoy, the uncle of  Henry III, in 1324.  It was later given to Edward I’s younger brother, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and passed down from him to Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who accommodated King John of France there after the latter’s defeat at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, and in turn from him to John of Gaunt in 1361.  It was burnt  down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (after which John of Gaunt moved to Ely Palace).

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Later buildings on the site, evidently re-developed only after having stood derelict for some considerable time, included the Savoy Hospital, founded by a bequest from Henry VII, who died in 1509, and the associated Savoy Chapel.  The Savoy Hospital became a military one in 1642, and was used to treat some of the wounded from the Civil War.  Parts of it later   became a military barracks and prison.  Large parts  of it were damaged by a fire in 1864, and subsequently demolished, making way  for the construction of the Savoy Theatre in 1881 and the Savoy Hotel in 1889.

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Only the Savoy Chapel survives.