Category Archives: London History

Stanmore

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

Stanmore was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Stanmere, from the Old English stan, meaning stone, and mere, pool.

The area has been occupied since  prehistoric times.  In the Iron Age, around 100BC, a tribe of Ancient Britons known as the Catuvellauni occupied  Brockley Hill.  Later, in around 55BC, according to local legend, they, under their King Cassivellaunus, fought a battle there against the Romans under Julius Caesar (the mere on Stanmore Common is still known as Caesar’s Pond – and a mound there as Boudicca’s Grave).  There is archaeological evidence of Roman as well as Ancient British settlement in the area, although not of a battle.  The Roman settlement, beside Watling Street, was known as Sulloniacae.

Stanmore was essentially a small village surrounded by open countryside in the Medieval to post-Medieval period.    The – Augustinian – Bentley Priory was built in the area by Ranulf de Glanville in 1170, and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1546, the original building thereafter passing into private ownership until 1777, when it was taken down, and the present building put up in its place (see last week’s posting).  Later, in the fourteenth century, the Augustinian Canons of St Bartholomew in Smithfield in the City of London were granted land in the area, which became known as Canons Park.  They were also granted the existing church of St Lawrence Whitchurch in Little Stanmore.  There had been a Medieval church in Great Stanmore, too, but it was replaced by the church of St John the Evangelist in the seventeenth century.

Stanmore remained largely rural until the twentieth century, when it finally became suburbanised.  A number of historic buildings still survive here, including not only the above-mentioned and below-discussed churches of St Lawrence Whitchurch and St John the Evangelist, but also the  sixteenth-century Cotterell Cottages on the  High Street in Great Stanmore.

Church of St Lawrence Whitchurch

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The church of St Lawrence Whitchurch in Little Stanmore was originally built in the Medieval period and subsequently substantially rebuilt in 1715, with essentially only the earlier tower still surviving.  The rebuilding work, in the Baroque style, was by John James, and it was funded by the local resident James Brydges, later the First Duke of Chandos, shortly after he made a vast fortune by speculating – legally – with the monies he handled as Paymaster of the Forces Abroad during the War of the Spanish Succession, and shortly before he lost it  in the “South Sea Bubble” (*).

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The church is chiefly famous for its opulent interior, and contains wood-carvings attributed to  the English master-craftsman Grinling Gibbons, and paintings attributed to  the continental great masters Laguerre and Bellucci, whose reproduction of Raphael’s Transfiguration in the Ducal Chapel is particularly magnificent.   Handel played the organ  in the church, and, among others, both Francesco Scarlatti, brother of Alessandro, and J.C. Bach, cousin of J.S., also played here.  The supposed “harmonious blacksmith” William Powell, who was the parish clerk in Handel’s time,  is buried in the churchyard.

(*) Brydges’s residence, “Can(n)ons”, was demolished after his death.

Church of St John the Evangelist

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The church of St John the Evangelist  in Great Stanmore was originally built in the Medieval period and substantially demolished and rebuilt, in the post-Medieval, Stuart, period, in 1632 (when it was consecrated by Archbishop William Laud).  The rebuilding work, in brick, which was at the time an essentially experimental church-building material, was paid for by the merchant-adventurer Sir John Wolstenholme.   The experiment was not altogether successful, and the church had become unsafe by 1845, and was subsequently allowed to fall into disrepair (although an attempt to demolish it had to be abandoned after local protests).  It now forms a romantic ruin surrounded by an atmospheric churchyard.

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The former interior, now open to the elements, contains a number of memorials, including the Hollond family mausoleum.  W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, is buried in the churchyard.

The old  church was replaced by a new one  in 1850.

St Magnus the Martyr

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Earlier in the week I saw for the first time in a long time an Orcadian flag flying from the church of St Magnus the Martyr in the City of London …

The eponymous Magnus Erlendsson, a piously Christian Viking (!) was the Earl of Orkney at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  He was murdered on the island of Egilsay sometime between 1115 and 1118 (sources differ), evidently by his loyal servant Lifolf, acting on the orders of his  covetous and treacherous kinsman  Hakon.  According to the Orkneyinga Saga, this was despite his, Magnus,  having made three placatory offers to Hakon: First, to  go   on a pilgrimage to Rome, or the Holy Land; second, to  be kept under guard; and third, to be mutilated or blinded, and locked in a dungeon.  Magnus the Martyr was made a saint in or around 1135.

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St Magnus’s Cathedral in Kirkwall in Orkney was built in his honour, and to house his remains,  by his nephew Kali Kolson, also known as Rognvald, in 1137.

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Magnus’s remains were recently uncovered here, and a reconstruction of him made.

The church of St Magnus the Martyr at the northern end of London Bridge in the City of London was probably originally built sometime in the twelfth century.

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It was subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren in the seventeenth, between 1671-87, after having been burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

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Despite extensive eighteenth- to twentieth- century modifications, it retains much of the  “inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold” alluded to by T.S. Eliot in his 1922 poem “The Waste Land”.

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Among the many treasures inside the church are: a modern statue and stained-glass window depicting St Magnus in a horned Viking helmet; further modern stained-glass windows depicting the churches of St Margaret New Fish Street and St Michael Crooked Lane, burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and the chapel of St Thomas a Becket on Old London Bridge, demolished in 1831; and a modern scale-model of the bridge as it would have looked in its Medieval heyday.

Bentley Priory

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

Bentley Priory in Stanmore was an Augustinian Priory built by Ranulf de Glanville in 1170, and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1546, thereafter passing into private ownership. The original building was taken down, and the present one, designed by Sir John Soane,  put up in 1777. The present building was variously owned and occupied by the Marquis of Abercorn, the Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen, the dowager Queen Adelaide (widow of William IV) and Sir John Kelk in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, before being converted to a hotel in the late nineteenth and a girls’ school in the early twentieth, and finally being bought by the RAF in 1926. In 1940, it served  as the head-quarters from which the Battle of Britain was directed, by Air Chief Marshall Sir (later Lord) Hugh “Stuffy” Dowding, the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command (memorably portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”).  The building now  houses the the recently-opened RAF Battle of Britain Museum.

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Grim’s Dyke

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

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Grim’s Dyke is an intermittently-preserved bank-and-ditch earthwork that runs for a distance  of some miles through North-West London, from Pinner Green, or possibly Ruislip, in the south-west, to Harrow Weald Common, or possibly Stanmore, in  the north-east.  Recent archaeological evidence indicates that it probably dates to the Iron Age, rather than to the Dark Ages, as had long been thought.    Apparently associated Iron Age pottery was  unearthed at an excavation in Montesole Park in Pinner Green in 1957, and a first-century – or earlier – hearth in the grounds of the Grim’s Dyke Hotel on  Harrow Weald Common in 1979.   Note in this context that there are further   Iron Age sites in Stanmore, believed to have then been home to a tribe of Ancient Britons known as the Catuvellauni.

Uxbridge

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

Uxbridge was first recorded in c. 1145  as Wixebrug, from the name of an Anglo-Saxon tribe, the Wixan, and the Old English brycg, meaning bridge, and referring to a bridge over the River Colne (a tributary of the Thames lying some distance to the west  of London).

During the course of the  Medieval and post-Medieval periods, it developed into an important market-town, and later, into a local communications hub.   One John Leland described Uxbridge during Henry VIII’s  reign as: “one longe streete; but … well buildyd”, with a “Chapel of Ease” (the church of St Margaret); a “paroche Church … almoste a mile out of the towne in the very High Waye to London, called Great Hellindon” (the church of St John the Baptist); and a “Market ons a weke”.  Three  Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake in Lynch Green in the town during the short reign of the Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary in 1555.  And in 1576, in the middle of   Elizabeth I’s long reign,   a number of men were punished here  for playing football, “by reason of which unlawfull game there arose amongst them a great affray”.   Later, in Stuart rather than Tudor times,  176 people died in Uxbridge of the plague in 1603.  And in 1645, in the midst of the Civil War, delegations from the occupying Parliamentarian and opposing Royalist forces met under a temporary truce in the surviving “Crown and Treaty” public house to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty.  Sadly, the negotiations were to break down, apparently on account of the king’s – Charles I’s – intransigence, and the war was to go on for several more years, and to claim the lives of many more combatants and civilians.

In the eighteenth century, the existing – London to – Oxford Road was widened, to facilitate the passage of stage-coach traffic, and the old Market House was demolished and replaced with a new one.  The Grand Junction canal arrived at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the now-disused branch line of the Great Western railway at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth, and the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines of the London Underground railway in the early twentieth.

Church of St Margaret

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The surviving church of St Margaret was originally built, as a chapel-of-ease to the church of St John the Baptist, in the Medieval period, around the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and it was subsequently rebuilt around the turn of the fourteenth and  fifteenth.   The oldest surviving part is the north tower, which dates  to the late fourteenth century.  The north aisle, arcade and nave date to the early fifteenth century, the font to the late fifteenth, c. 1480.

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The oldest memorial is that to Dame Leonora Bennet, who died in 1638.  Dame Leonora’s third husband, Sir John Bennet, was sometime Chancellor to James I’s Queen Anne (of Denmark).

Cranford

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

Cranford was first recorded the Domesday Book of 1086 as Craneford, meaning ford frequented by cranes or herons, and referring  to the point at which the ancient route and track from London to Bath crosses the River Crane (a tributary of the Thames).  Note  that there was evidently at least temporary settlement in the area  in prehistory, and permanent settlement in the so-called Dark Ages.

The manor was recorded in the Domesday Book as having a priest, and presumably therefore also a church (see below).  The manor was divided into two in 1220: Cranford St John coming to be owned by the Knights Templar (later Knights Hospitaller); Cranford Le Mote, by the Abbey of Thame.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, it was re-united, and conveyed to Andrew, Lord Windsor, in 1540.  The manor was  then  bought by Sir Roger Aston, Barber, Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Keeper of the Great Wardrobe to James I, in 1603;  and in turn by Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley – a relative of Anne Boleyn – in 1618.

It remained in the Berkeley family for over 300 years, until  it was finally sold to the local authority in 1932, and opened to the public as Cranford Park in 1949.  Cranford House was built here in the seventeenth century, extended in the eighteenth, and substantially demolished in the twentieth.

Church of St Dunstan

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The church of St Dunstan was probably originally built by the Knights Templar in the thirteenth century (as a chapel – whence the lack of aisles).  It was subsequently extended in the fifteenth century, when the chancel and the lower part of the tower were built, and again  in the seventeenth, when the upper part of the tower was added; amended in the eighteenth, when the nave was rebuilt; and restored in the nineteenth and again in the twentieth.

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The interior contains a number of surviving Medieval and post-Medieval features, including the remains of a pre-Reformation wall-painting …

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… and a memorial  to the aforementioned Sir Roger Aston (d. 1612), …

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… and another to Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley (d. 1635).  The Berkeley memorial  is attributed to Nicholas Stone the Younger, who studied under  Bernini.

In the churchyard  is a  memorial plaque commemorating the comedian Tony Hancock (d. 1968), whose ashes were brought here from Australia, where he had committed suicide, for burial.

Kingston

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

Kingston was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 838 as Cynings tun, meaning the king’s estate or manor, and alluding to the fact that in Saxon times it was owned by the  king.

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Seven Saxon kings are reputed to have been crowned here, on a site now occupied by the church of All Saints, including  Athelstan, the first king of the united England, in 924/925.

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The nearby Market Place is a Scheduled Conservation area, with some buildings purporting to date back to the  fifteenth or sixteenth centuries.

Church of All Saints

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The church of All Saints was originally built in the twelfth century, around 1130, on the site of an earlier, Saxon church dedicated to St Mary, although it has subsequently been much modified, most notably in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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A surviving part of the wall of the Saxon church  may be seen in the churchyard.

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There are a number of interesting surviving Medieval and post-Medieval features in the interior,

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including part of a late tenth- or eleventh- century Saxon cross-shaft,

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fourteenth-century wall painting of St Blaise,

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and the early seventeenth-century tomb of Sir Anthony Benn.