Category Archives: London History

London Stone

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

London Stone (Henry VI Part II)

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The so-called “London Stone” now stands at 111  Cannon Street, although unfortunately in an easily overlooked position at street level.


From 1798 it had  been  incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished in 1957, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of the site.


Previous to that it had stood in the middle of the street, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements throughout the Middle Ages, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.


During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”, an act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI (London, Cannon Street): “Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign”.

The first (Lord) Mayor of London, appointed in 1189, was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently hailed from hereabouts.  And the  recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first  Saxon King of All England (924-39).  Indeed, it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it   has  been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured).  According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

Boar’s Head, Eastcheap

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

Boar’s Head, Eastcheap (Henry IV Part I; Henry IV Part II; Henry V)

Eastcheap was first recorded in around 1100 as Eastceape. Like Cheapside, it takes its name from the Old English  “ceap”, meaning market, in reference to the market that was situated here.

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The Boar’s Head, where Falstaff and Mistress Quickly frolicked, stood here until it was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666.  Its approximate site is presently occupied by the  former Hill and Evans vinegar warehouse, built in the Victorian Gothic style by the architect Robert Lewis Roumieu in 1868, and characteristically memorably described by Ian Nairn as ” …  the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare”.


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

Blackfriars (Henry VIII)

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Blackfriars Priory was built  in 1278, and dissolved in the reign of  Henry VIII in 1538, and the site was subsequently substantially destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.


It was in the Parliament Hall of the Priory in 1529 that the Legatine Court convened to discuss Henry VIII’s proposed annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (which was intended to free him to wed Anne Boleyn).  The Court, including  the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, and the King’s representative, the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey,  finally ruled against the King, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

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The first “Blackfriars Theatre” was built, on the site  of the Great Hall of Blackfriars Priory, by Richard Farrant, in 1576; the second, on the site of the aforementioned Parliament Hall, by  James Burbage, between 1596-1600, remaining in use until it was closed down by the Puritans in 1642, and then ending up being demolished in 1655.    The  “Second Blackfriars”, was covered, and was used by theatre companies – including, from 1608, Shakespeare’s “King’s Men” –  throughout the year, including in the  winter,  when the open-air “Globe” and “Rose”  playhouses in Southwark were rendered unusable by bad weather.  It  was also an “all-seater”,  seating 700 in some – although not much – comfort, and charging 6d a head (in contrast, the “Globe” seated or stood more (2-3000), but charged less (from 1d a head)).  It was extremely popular with the fashionable set, and equallly profitable.  Shakespeare owned a part share of it (he also owned a property, once the priory gate-house, in nearby Ireland Yard).  The  recently completed “Wanamaker Playhouse”, inside the reconstruction of the “Globe”, is similar in design to the “Second Blackfriars”, and conveys a real sense of what it would have been like.  A   sense of enclosed space, of intimacy, of proximity to the players, of exclusiveness perhaps.  Of  being surrounded by the shadowy  light of dancing candles and reflecting costume jewellery.  And of being surrounded by sound, and in interludes by the sound of music (it is thought that the music in some of Shakespeare’s later  plays, most particularly “A Winter’s Tale” (1609), “Cymbeline” (1610) and “The Tempest” (1610), was not only well suited to, but perhaps also  specifically written for, an indoor arena).


Baynard’s Castle

The first in an occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Baynard’s Castle (Richard III)

The first Baynard’s Castle was originally built to a little to the south-west of St Paul’s Cathedral by Ralph Baynard, one of William I’s noblemen, in the late eleventh century, and demolished in the early thirteenth, after the baronial conspiracy against King John in 1212, in which the Constable, Robert FitzWalter, was implicated  (the castle was possibly rebuilt afterwards).  Blackfriars Priory was built on the site in 1278.

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The second Baynard’s Castle was built  in a river-front location in the early  fourteenth century, around 1338, and rebuilt in early fifteenth, around 1428, and possibly again in the late fifteenth.  It was used by a succession of kings and  queens in the late fifteenth to sixteenth  centuries, before being essentially completely  destroyed in the Great Fire in the seventeenth.  It was the London headquarters of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, and  Edward IV was hailed king here, in 1461 (moreover,   Richard III is believed to have asserted his claim to the throne, over that of Edward’s infant sons, here, in 1483).  Both Lady Jane Grey and, nine days later, Mary Tudor were  proclaimed queen here, in 1553.

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A Corporation “Blue Plaque” on the Embankment marks  the  site of the castle, parts of which were uncovered during building works in 1972.

Essentially nothing of either castle remains above ground today, other than, arguably, part of the outline of the moat of the first, traced by the curved northern end of  St Andrew’s Hill.

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However, numerous archaeological finds have been dug up in the vicinity  over the years.



Citadel of the Saxons – the Rise of Early London” by Rory Naismith (Lecturer in Medieval British History at King’s College London).  Published by I.B. Tauris, 2019 (ISBN 978 1 78831 222 6) …

Chapter headings include:

Roman London;

Among the Ruins;

London between Kingdoms;


Alfred the Great and the Vikings;

London in the tenth century;

Late Anglo-Saxon London;

London in 1066.



The second Great Fire of London

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On this day in 1940, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe led  to the so-called “Second Great Fire of London”. Tens of thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre.  Around 200 people were killed, and damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale.  The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, although the cathedral  itself miraculously survived essentially intact, thanks to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, who put out no fewer than twenty-eight individual incendiary-bomb fires inside the building.   Ten other  Wren churches were struck by bombs, namely, Christ Church Newgate Street, St Alban Wood Street, St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, St Anne & St Agnes, St Augustine-by-St-Paul’s, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Mary-le-Bow, St Stephen Coleman Street and St Vedast-alias-Foster.

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Of these, Christ Church Newgate Street and St Alban Wood Street were substantially destroyed, with only their towers  remaining intact.

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And St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street were essentially completely destroyed.

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Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).

The consecration of Westminster Abbey (1065)

Edward the Confessor's body being brought to the abbey for burial in 1066

Westminster Abbey was consecrated on this day  in 1065 …

A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote of its construction:

“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 on January 5th, 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; so that, after the transient journey of this life, God would look kindly upon him, both for the sake of his goodness and because of the gift of lands and ornaments with which he intended to ennoble the place.  And … there was no weighing of the costs, … so long as it proved  worthy of … God and St Peter”.