Category Archives: London churches of note outside the City of London

DARK AGE LONDON contd.

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Building Works

Within the walls of the City, the first St Paul’s Cathedral was founded by Bishop Mellitus and the Kentish King Ethelburg in 604, a matter of a few short years after the arrival of the Gregorian mission in 597.  Again as the  Venerable Bede put it:  “In the Year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, ordained … Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons … .  … [W]hen this province … received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see … ”.  The   first cathedral  went on to be destroyed by fire in 675.  The second, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built during the  Bishopric of  Erkenwald, between 675-85,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.  The  third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

The church of All Hallows Barking was  originally built in  around 675.  That of St Peter-upon-Cornhill was built at least as long ago as 1038, being  mentioned in the will of Bishop Aelfric, who died in that year.  And that of St Lawrence Jewry at least as long ago as 1046, wood from a coffin in the churchyard being  dendrochronologically dated to  that year.   Many other churches are of probable or possible Saxon origin, the best substantiated being  St Benet Fink, where a grave-slab tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to  the late tenth or early eleventh century has been found.  The palace of the Mercian King Offa was originally built in the eighth century.   What is now known as Queenhithe was first recorded, as “Ethered’s Hithe”, in 898; and it is evident, from dendrochronologically-dated timbers re-used in a revetment on the river-front, that an arcaded “aisled hall” – in context most likely a royal palace or other high-status building – was built here between 956-79.  And Billingsgate was first recorded in around 1000.

Without the walls, in Southwark, the nunnery of St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral) was founded in 606.  In  Westminster, the parish church of St Clement Danes on the Strand, “so called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”,  was at least purportedly originally  built in wood by Alfred in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone by Cnut in the early tenth; and in Camden, the church of St Andrew Holborn, in wood, at least as long ago as 951, being referred to as an “old wooden church” in a Charter of that year.  Also in Westminster, the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter was founded by Bishop Dunstan and King Edgar in 960, on what was then Thorney Island (and, according to legend, the site of a church founded by Sebert in 604); and the Palace of Westminster, by Cnut, in 1016.  The Monastery was subsequently  rebuilt, as Westminster Abbey, under Edward “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065; and the Palace was also rebuilt at this  time.   A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote in 1065: “Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The King [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die in 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles … ”.

The layout  of the streets in the Saxon City of Lundenburg  was essentially  longitudinal, such as to allow easy access  to Lundenwic to the west.  The principal streets were Eastcheap to the east and Cheapside to the west, with Leadenhall Street and Cornhill to the north, and Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street to the south, of the old Roman Basilica and Forum in the centre (note in this context that the Saxons appear to have held Roman ruins in superstitious awe, a line in an Old English poem entitled “The Ruin” referring to them as “enta geweorc” or “labours of giants”).  Saxon street names were characteristically blunt, often  referring simply to available goods or services (“c(h)eap” meant  “market”).

Surviving Structures

Structures that survive from Saxon and Viking London  are extremely few and far between.

Essentially nothing now  remains of the original Saxon fabric in St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral),  or St Lawrence Jewry.  Nothing remains either of the palace of the Mercian King Offa, incorporated into St Alban Wood Street, in turn severely damaged during  the Blitz of the Second World War, and substantially demolished in the post-war period.  Nor anything of  Queenhithe or Billingsgate, other than the names  (and the aforementioned timbers from Queenhithe, now in the Museum of London).  Nor of the folkmoot or husting.

However, there are surviving – seventh-century and later – Saxon remains in the church of All Hallows Barking.  These include a fine stone arch possibly as old as the late seventh century, c. 675, incorporating Roman tiles; and, in the crypt, two stone crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Saxon Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts, a characteristic of “Dark Age” iconography.

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There is also some surviving precisely-dated eleventh-century  and  imprecisely-dated pre-eleventh-century stone-work fabric  in  the church of St Bride, off Fleet Street, the latter of which has been postulated, although not proven, to date to the late fifth or early sixth century, the church’s purported founder Bride, or Bridget, the   Abbess of Kildare in Ireland, living  from 450-525.    And in Westminster Abbey, there is a surviving eleventh-century shrine to Edward “The Confessor”.  And an eleventh-century crypt, containing the Chapel of the Pyx.

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Further  afield, there is a Saxon altar-stone in St Pancras Old Church in Camden, tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to the late sixth century, around  the time of the conversion of the Saxons by St Augustine in 597, and the construction of the first incarnation of St Paul’s Cathedral in 604 (interestingly, the land on which the church stands was granted to  St Paul’s in 604).  The  altar-stone, inlaid into  a Georgian altar-table, depicts five crosses, whose unusual forms are remarkably  reminiscent of that on the tomb on a small island in the Firth of Lorne believed to be of Columba’s mother Eithne, who died in the late sixth century.   There is also a Saxon rood (cross) in the church of St Dunstan and All Saints in Stepney, of the tenth.

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And five miles east of Epping, in a dappled clearing in the dark heart of the ancient  wild-wood that today bears its name, there is the extraordinary church  of St Andrew in Greensted. Greensted Church, as it is more commonly known, is purportedly the oldest wooden church  in the world.  The original  church on the site was probably built at least as long ago as the middle of the seventh century, the   time that St Cedd set about converting the East Saxons to Christianity from his base at Bradwell-on-Sea  (incidentally, Cedd went on to attend the Synod of Whitby in 664, and to die of the plague in Northumbria later that same year).  Sadly, though, the only remaining physical evidence as to the existence of this structure  is in the form of post-holes discovered during an archaeological excavation in 1960.  Work began on the present church in the middle of the eleventh century  (dendrochronological evidence acquired in 1995 indicating  that the trees used in its  construction were felled between 1060-3).   Nearly a thousand years later, much  of nave  still stands, incorporated into later extensions.  It  was evidently originally windowless, aside from some small “eag-thyrels” or eye-holes, and a single larger “niche”, known by many as  a lepers’ “squint”.  Rather wonderfully, scorch-marks can still be seen  on some of the wall timbers, suggesting that  the gloomy interior was once lit by wall-mounted lamps.   Adze-marks can also still be seen on some timbers.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  It is now a “Royal Peculiar”.

The abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).  It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century, and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele).

1 - Henry III's thirteenth-century north entrance with Rose Window

3 - Henry III's thirteenth-century Chapter House (left) and Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (right).JPG

4 - Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,

 

6 - Hawksmoor's eighteenth-century west towers.jpg

7 - Twentieth-century martyrs' memorial

although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.

There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, the Conqueror, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

Southwark Cathedral (1539)

 

Southwark Cathedral (2) - CopyGeneral view of interior

On this day in 1539, the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie was dissolved, the priory church then becoming the parish church of St Saviour, and eventually the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral).

The cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming a priory in 1106.  Some elements of the present structure are survivors  from the  twelfth century building, although most are from the thirteenth or early fifteenth rebuilds following fires in 1212 and 1390 (the former of which, incidentally, reportedly killed 3000 people).

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The interior contains  many interesting features , including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275 …

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… a stained-glass window commemorating Geoffrey Chaucer, who would have walked past the Cathedral on the  pilgrimage to Canterbury that he immortalised as “The Canterbury Tales” …

Shakespeare (Edmond) (d. 1607) - Copy

… the burial-place of William Shakespeare’s brother Edmond …

Andrewes Memorial

… the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible …

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… and a chapel dedicated to local-boy-made-good John Harvard, who was baptised here, and who, after most of his family died in an outbreak of plague in 1626, set sail for the Americas to start a new life.  The university that he established there bears his name to this day.

 

 

 

St Etheldreda (and Ely Palace)

Today is the Feast of St Etheldreda, who was the Abbess of Ely in the seventh century …

The church of St Etheldreda

Easily  overlooked on account of its tucked-away location on Ely Place, the  church of St Etheldreda was originally built as a private chapel in Ely Palace, owned by the Bishops of Ely,  in  around 1293, and pressed into service as an Anglican church after the Reformation.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire of 1666, although it has been somewhat modified subsequently.  It was “restored to the old faith” in 1874.

1 - The decorated Gothic exterior of the church of St Etheldreda.JPG

The exterior  is a rare, restrained  and fine surviving example of the Decorated Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture.

2 - The interior of the church, with effigies of Catholic martyrs on the walls.JPG

The interior contains a number of memorials to Catholic martyrs, including John Houghton, Prior of Charterhouse, who was hanged, drawn and quartered  at Tyburn in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church.

Ely Palace

Reconstruction of Ely Palace.JPG

John of Gaunt lived in Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

John of Gaunt

In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, set here, he uttered the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,|This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely:

“My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  One such, in 1531, attended by the then king, Henry VIII and his queen,  Catherine of Aragon, is said to have lasted for five days!  According to surviving records, the guests managed to get  through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons, 720 chickens and over 4000 larks!

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In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

The murder  of  Elfeah, Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury (1012)

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On this day in 1012, Elfeah, the Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by Vikings, who had held him hostage for some time and not received the ransom that they had demanded for his release. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “they overwhelmed him with bones of horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God”.  His last words were “the gold I give you is the Word of God”.  Elfeah’s body was laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and later, in 1023, moved by the then-Viking King, Cnut, to Canterbury Cathedral.  He was canonised in 1078

St Alfege Greenwich.jpg

A church dedicated to him – St Alfege – stands on the spot where he was killed in Greenwich.

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Another church dedicated to him – St Alphage – stands on London Wall.

 

Beckenham

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Beckenham  was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 862 as Biohhahema mearcae, from the Old English personal name Beohha, ham, 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

St George, Beckenham (lych-gate) - Copy.jpg

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.

The lych-gate dates to the thirteenth century, and is said to be the oldest in England.

Erith

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Erith was first recorded in Saxon times, in 677, as Earhyth, from the Old English ear, meaning muddy, and hyth, meaning landing-place (although it is thought to have been first settled in prehistory).

The Manor of Erith was held by the Norman Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086.  The Lord of the Manor during the reign of the first Plantagenet King, Henry II, was Richard de Luci, Justiciar of England, who, as an act of penance for his complicity in the murder of Thomas Becket, founded Lesnes Abbey nearby in 1178.  The first leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, which took place during the reign of Richard II in 1381, was one Abel Ker, from Erith.

Erith grew further in size and significance in the post-Medieval period.  The  Tudor  King  Henry VIII founded  a naval dockyard here, where warships built at Woolwich, notably the Great Harry,  were fitted out.   And it was here that the Gunpowder Plotters gathered to plot the overthrow of the Stuart King James I in 1605.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed still further expansion, with the  Wheatley family as Lords of the Manor.  The North  Kent Railway arrived in 1849, and with it urbanisation and industrialisation.

Historically part of Kent, since 1965 Erith has been part of the London Borough of Bexley.

Church of St John the Baptist

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The church of St John the Baptist was originally built  in Saxo-Norman times.  It was subsequently rebuilt in the post-Medieval period, in part out of materials salvaged from Lesnes Abbey after it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1525 (the abbey would have been but  a short cart-ride away to the north-west).  It was substantially rebuilt again in 1877.