“Nearly as old as the Fire” (Arthur Mumby, 1868)

3 - Newgate Market on Christmas Eve in 1845 (from the Illustrated London News)

On this day in 1868, Arthur Mumby 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”.

1 - What was left of Cripplegate after the bombing of the Second World War

Sadly, the area was substantially razed to the ground during the incendiary bombing of the Second World War.  However, the subsequently restored church of St Giles still stands, at the heart of the Barbican complex.

Some of the many executions in Tudor and Stuart London

Site of Tyburn Tree.JPG

On this day in 1541, according to the account given by Charles Wriothesley in his “Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors …”:

The Executions of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham

“Culpeper [Thomas Culpeper, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber] and Dereham [Francis Dereham, Secretary to Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard] were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there Culpeper, after an exhortation made to the people to pray for him, he standing on the ground by the gallows, kneeled down and had his head stricken off; and then Dereham was hanged, membered, bowelled, headed, and quartered [for high treason against the King’s majesty in misdemeanour with the Queen].  Culpeper’s body buried at St Pulchre’s church by Newgate, their heads set on London Bridge”.

Also on this day in 1541, according to Wriothesley:

“Rafe Egerton, … one of my Lord Chancellor’s servants, and … Thomas Herman, sometime servant with Fleetwood, one of my Lord Chancellor’s gentlemen, were drawn from the Tower … to Tyburn, and there hanged and quartered for counterfeiting the King’s Great Seal”.

The Execution of John Roberts

And on this day in 1610, the Roman Catholic Priest – and since 1970 Saint – John Roberts was taken to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn for contravening the “Act Forbidding Priests to Minister in England”.  In the event, the crowd, who revered him for the work he had done among them during an outbreak of  the plague in 1603, saw to it that he died by hanging and was spared  the suffering of drawing  and quartering.  What could be  salvaged of his body was taken to the Benedictine priory he had founded at Douai in northern France.  One of his finger bones is preserved as a holy relic in Tyburn Convent.

Reversal of Fortune (1621)

Fortune Theatre window, St Giles Cripplegate

On this day in 1621, the “Fortune Theatre”, built by “Good Master” Edward Alleyn in 1600, burnt down …

Plaque.JPG

The site of the theatre is marked by a plaque on Fortune Street.

Edward Alleyn and Fortune Theatre windows, St Giles Cripplegate.JPG

Both the theatre and Alleyn are commemorated in a stained glass window in the church of St Giles Cripplegate.

P1150402 - Copy.JPG

Alleyn is also commemorated by a statue in Dulwich College.

Readers interested in further information on the theatre and on the contemporary scene are referred to Julian Bowsher’s excellent recent book entitled “Shakespeare’s London Theatreland” (Museum of London Archaeology, 2012).

“Bere-beyten on the Banke side” (1554)

A Medieval depiction of bear baiting

On this day in 1554, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“The sam day at after-non was a bere-beyten on the Banke syde, and ther the grett blynd bere [whose name was Sackerson] broke losse, and in ronnyng away he chakt a servyng man by the calff of the lege, and bytt a gret pesse away, and after by the hokyll-bone, that with-in iii days after he ded”.

“Pride’s purge” (1648)

Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament (Andrew Gow, 1907)

On this day in 1648, during the English Civil War, the Parliamentarian Colonel Thomas Pride expelled over one hundred Presbyterian Members of the “Long Parliament” from the Houses of Parliament, in what became known as “Pride’s Purge” (*).  The remaining Members, constituting the “Rump Parliament”, then instigated the legal proceedings against the King, Charles I, that led to his trial for treason, and eventually to his execution.

(*) At this time, the King and supporting Royalists were Episcopalians (who believed in the supremacy of the Bishops), and opposing Parliamentarians were divided among two factions, Independents and Presbyterians (who did not).  The Independents mistrusted the English Presbyterians because their Scottish counterparts had earlier entered into an alliance with the King.

“Melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women” (Henry Machyn, 1558)

Somerset House (Cornelis Bol, c. 1650)Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

On this day in 1558, Henry Machyn wrote in his diary:

“And so her Grace [Elizabeth I] lay in the Tower unto the fifth day of December, that was Saint Nicholas even.  And there was in certain places children with speeches, and other places singing and playing with regals.

The fifth day her Grace removed by water under the bridge unto Somerset Palace, with trumpets playing, and melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women, and to all people”.

Praise be (St Paul’s)

2 - The south side of St Paul's from the Shard.JPG

On this day in 1697 was held the first service in the present  St Paul’s Cathedral, at the time still in the process of being built by Sir Christopher Wren, after its immediate predecessor had been burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 (*).  Building and repair work would continue until 1710, and the cathedral would only finally formally open on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1711..

There have been five  cathedrals on the site of the present St Paul’s.

The first was built  in 604, shortly  after the first Christian mission under St Augustine landed in Kent, by the King of Kent, Ethelburg, for the Bishop of London, Mellitus, and destroyed by fire in 675.

The   second, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built between 675-85  by the Bishop, Erkenwald,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.

The  third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

The  fourth, “old St Paul’s”, was built in the Norman,  or Romanesque, style in the years after  1087 by the  Bishop, Maurice and his successors; rebuilt and extended in the Gothic style in 1221-1240,  and in the “New Work” of 1269-1332; renovated in the Renaissance  style by Inigo Jones in 1633-1641, and again by Wren, after the Civil War, during which it had been occupied by  Parliamentary troops and horses, in 1660; and burnt down in  the Great Fire of 1666.  There is a model of it  in the Museum of London.  It was clearly an impressive building, measuring some 600’ in length, and over 400’, or, according to some estimates, over 500’, in height, inclusive of the spire (which  was destroyed by lightning in 1444, rebuilt  in 1462, and destroyed by lightning again in 1561).  As John Denham wrote in 1624:  “That sacred pile, so vast, so high|That whether ‘tis a part of earth or sky|Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud|Aspiring mountain or descending cloud … ”.

The fifth, present cathedral  was built in the Baroque style by Wren between 1675-1710.  It is faced in plain Portland Stone  (66000 tons of it, quarried in Dorset and  brought round the coast and up the Thames to London in barges), wonderfully reflective of the City’s light and mood.  It is crowned  with a glorious and iconic dome, making it unique among all the cathedrals of England.     The stone-work is by the Master Masons  Joshua Marshall and the brothers Edward and Thomas Strong and their team, overseen by Grinling Gibbons; the wood-work by the Master Carpenter John Langland and his team, also overseen by Grinling Gibbons; and the demi-grisaille paint-work inside  the dome by the Painter-Stainer James Thornhill and his team.  Wren’s simple epitaph inside the cathedral reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice”, meaning “Reader, should you seek his memorial, look about you”.   On the pediment above  the  south door is a stone bearing  the image of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, together with  the inscription “Resurgam”, meaning “I shall rise again” (a different stone bearing the same inscription had happened to be found among  the smouldering ruins of the old  cathedral – a positive portent if ever there was one).

There are a great many important memorials in the interior of the cathedral.  The one in the south quire aisle to  the metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) survived the Great Fire, although if you look carefully, you can still see scorch-marks around  its base!  The ones in the crypt to, among others, Nicholas Bacon (d. 1579), father of Francis, and Thomas Heneage (d. 1594), stepfather of Shakespeare’s patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, also survived the fire, although again not without a certain amount of charring!

(*) The service was one of thanksgiving for the end of the Nine Years War, also known as the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg, between France on the one side, and a coalition of European countries, including Britain, on the other.