Category Archives: London Churches

The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head (1513)

St Michael Wood Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.  According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598”, sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside (*). The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by a public house – called not the “King’s Head” but the  “Red Herring”!

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … ”.

City of London Buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666

ChurchesOf the 97 parish churches within the walls of the City of London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, only 8, namely, All Hallows Barking, All Hallows Staining, St Alphage, St Andrew Undershaft, St Ethelburga, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, and St Olave Hart Street, survived,  and still survive, with at least some pre-Great Fire structures standing, above ground (*).

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Of the secular buildings, only the Tower of London and the Guildhall, and parts of the Merchant Taylors’ and Apothecaries’ Livery Company Halls, and of the “Olde Wine Shades” public house, still survive.

(*) A further 5 churches, namely All Hallows on the Wall, St James Duke’s Place, St Katherine Coleman, St Martin Outwich and St Peter-le-Poer, also survived  the fire but were either rebuilt or demolished afterwards.

And 84 were burnt down in the fire, of which 49 were rebuilt afterwards, and 35 were not.

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Lambeth

1 - Entrance to Lambeth Palace and Church of St Mary at Lambeth.JPG

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

Lambeth was first recorded as Lambehitha in 1062.  It takes its name  from the Old English for a place where lambs were either landed from or else boarded onto boats.

Lambeth Palace

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3 - View of Lambeth Palace - and Palace of Westminster - from tower of church.JPG

Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury,  was originally built here in the thirteenth century, and subsequently extended in the late fifteenth and sixteenth, under Henry VII and Mary respectively.  The surviving Chapel and Lollard’s Tower date to the late Medieval; the Gate-House, built by Cardinal John Morton, to the post-Medieval, to  1495.  The famous Garden was probably originally laid out in the late fifteenth or sixteenth century.

St Mary-at-Lambeth

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5 - St Mary-at-Lambeth interior.JPG

The church of St Mary-at-Lambeth was originally built in the  eleventh century, and subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth and  eighteenth.  The tower of 1377 survives from the fourteenth-century rebuild.

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Here are buried, among others,  John Tradescant Sr. (c. 1580-1638), the gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury; and his son John Tradescant Jr. (1608-62), the gardener to Charles II.  As well as being gardeners, the  Tradescants were also  travellers, collectors of curiosities, and joint founders of the Musaeum Tradescantianum, in a building called “The Ark” in Vauxhall, which was England’s first museum open to the public (at a cost of 6d).  In time, their  collections were  acquired by Elias Ashmole, and in 1691 donated by him to Oxford University, to form the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum.

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, possibly on the site of an earlier structure, 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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Lightning strikes “old” St Paul’s – again (1561)

3 - Visscher panorama of 1616 showing old St Paul's without spire

On this day in 1561, “old” St Paul’s Cathedral (*) lost its spire in a lightning strike.  The following is an account of the event from a  news-sheet of the time:

“… [B]etween one and two of the clock at afternoon was seen a marvellous great fiery lightning, and immediately ensued a most terrible hideous crack of thunder such as seldom hath been heard, and that by estimation of sense, directly over the City of London.  … Divers persons in time of the said tempest being on the river of Thames, and others being in the fields near adjoining to the City affirmed that they saw a long and spear-pointed flame of fire (as it were) run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple, from the east westward.  And some of the parish of St Martin’s [Ludgate] being then in the street did feel a marvellous strong air or whirlwind with a smell like brimstone coming from Paul’s Church. …  Between four and five of the clock a smoke was espied … to break out under the bowl of the said shaft … .  But suddenly after, as it were in a moment, the flame broke forth in a circle like a garland round about the broach, … and increased in such wise that within a quarter of an hour or a little more, the cross and the eagle on the top fell down upon the south cross aisle … .

Some there were, pretending experience in wars, that counselled the remnants of the steeple to be shot down with cannons, which counsel was not liked … .  Others perceiving the steeple to be past all recovery, considering the hugeness of the fire and the dropping of the lead, thought best to get ladders and scale the church, and with axes to hew down a space of the roof of the church to stay the fire, at the least to save some part of the church: which was concluded”.

“Old” St Paul’s was built in the Norman, or Romanesque, to Early Gothic styles 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 Old St Paul’s in the Museum of London.  It was clearly an impressive building, measuring some 600’ in length, and rising to a height of between 460-520’ (estimates vary),  inclusive of the spire.  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 name is something of a misnomer, as by the time it was built, there had already been three cathedrals on the site, built in 604, 675 and 962.

Beating the Bounds of the Parish of All Hallows

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“Beating the Bounds” is an ancient but still practised annual custom, dating back to Medieval times, during which parishes re-affirm their boundaries, at Rogationtide, by processing round them and stopping and beating  each boundary mark with wands.

The City church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower beats its bounds today, on   Ascension Day.  The  “Beating Party” is made up of students from St Dunstan’s School in Catford, returning to their roots in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East to take part in the proceedings.

The party, accompanied by the Clergy from All Hallows, and the Masters of the Livery Companies associated with the church, first boards a boat   to beat the southern boundary mark, in the middle of the Thames! It then returns to dry land, and processes round the remainder of the boundary of the parish, beating the remaining boundary marks – at Custom House, St Dunstan-in-the-East, Plantation House and Knolly’s House – as it goes, before returning to the church for a service of Festal Evensong in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs.

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Every third year, the party also takes  part in a “Boundary Dispute Ceremony” with the Resident Governor and Yeoman Warders of HM Tower of London, in commemoration of an occasion in 1698 when an actual  fight broke out between the people of the parish and those of the Tower over a long-standing boundary dispute.  As one historical account put it:

“On this occasion the warders used their halberds to some purpose, and several parishioners were seriously injured”.

 

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

alphege

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.

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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.