Category Archives: London History

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Bloomsbury

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Bloomsbury takes its name from a corruption of Blemondesberi, meaning the manor of (William) Blemond, who owned land here in the thirteenth century. 

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was first recorded in 1598 as Lincolnes Inne Feildes, and indicated on the map of 1520 as Cup Field and Purse Field.  Part of the area was developed into a square surrounded by town-houses in the 1630s.  A “Time Team” dig in the square in 2009 uncovered evidence there of a temporary encampment that had most likely been set up in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666 (which took place a little to the east).

No. 59/60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on the west side, was built between 1638-40, and survives to this day.

Nos. 12-14, on the north side, were rebuilt between 1792-1824 by Sir John Soane, and since 1837 have housed an extraordinary museum that bears his name. Among the eclectic mix of thousands of antiquities and artworks on exhibit there are the sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I (1323-1279BCE), and the original paintings of Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress“, executed between 1733-5.

The Queen’s House (Greenwich)

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Greenwich was first recorded as Grenewic in 964, taking its    name from the Old English “grene”, and “wic”, meaning settlement. 

Greenwich Palace, also known at one time or another as  Bella Court and as Placentia, was built here by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey de Bohun, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426, and rebuilt by Henry VII between circa 1500-06.  The palace is notable as the birthplace of Henry VIII and of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I.  Only some fragments survive.

Distant view of Queen’s House, with part of east wing of Royal Naval College at end of colonnade
Tulip Stairs

The so-called Queen’s House was  originally built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones, between 1616-40.  It is one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in London, actually begun before, although not completed until after, the Banqueting House in Whitehall (see previous post).

Beard-off at Somerset House

It currently  houses the National Gallery of Naval Art, owned by the National Maritime Museum. One of the paintings on exhibit is of the Somerset House Conference, which brought about the end of the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604.

The Royal Naval College was built on the site of the substantially demolished Greenwich Palace by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, between 1692-1728. It had to be built in two widely separated halves to allow the Queen’s House to the rear to remain in the view  from the river and waterfront (leading Samuel Johnson to describe it  as “too much detached to make one great whole”).  

Whitehall Palace

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Whitehall Palace was originally built for the  Archbishops of York in the thirteenth century, circa 1240, when it was known as York Place.

Whitehall Palace
James I, with the Banqueting House in the background

It was subsequently   acquired by Henry VIII from the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529, whence, from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Eighth”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost.  ‘Tis now the King’s, and called Whitehall”; and extended both by Henry and by James I.  The palace was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698. 

The exterior of the Banqueting House today
The interior of the Banqueting House

Essentially only the Banqueting House, designed by the  Palladian architect Inigo Jones in 1622, and notable as the first Renaissance building in central London, with a ceiling by Rubens, still stands (together with “Henry VIII’s wine cellar” in the nearby Ministry of Defence building in Horse Guards’ Avenue, the site of his tilt-yard in Horse Guards’ Parade, part of his real tennis court in the Cabinet Office building at No. 70 Whitehall, and “Queen Mary’s Stairs”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).   

The execution of Charles I outside the Banqueting House

Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House on January 30th, 1649.  It was a freezing cold day, so he put on an extra shirt, that no-one might see him shiver (“the season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear[and] I would have no such imputation”).

The Holbein Gate

The Holbein Gate, built in 1532 and notable as the probable place of the clandestine marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, survived the fires of  1666 and 1698, but was demolished in 1759. 

Cloth Fair

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Cloth Fair takes its name from the cloth fair held here from the twelfth century until the nineteenth (thus also Cloth Court and Street).  In Medieval times, the fair attracted  clothiers, drapers and wool merchants from far and wide (members of the Mercers’ and Merchant Taylors’ Companies also attended to ensure fair trading, and there was even a peripatetic “Pie Powder”  Court that took its name from the a corruption of the French “pieds poudres”, meaning dusty feet).  By the beginning of the Victorian era, it had become more of an “entertainment”, marked by increasing levels of unruliness, such that it was finally discontinued in 1855. 

Remarkably, No. 41/42, which was built between 1597-1614, still stands, in so small measure due to restoration work by the architects Seely (Lord Mottistone) and Paget, who purchased the property in 1930, and owned it until 1978.   Ian Nairn described the house as “ … an embodiment of the old London spirit.  Chunky, cantankerous, breaking out all over in oriels and roof-lights, unconcerned with … anything else other than shapes to live in”. It was first owned by one William Chapman, who was evidently a businessman of some means. Further information about it may be found in Fiona Rule’s “The Oldest House in London“.

Images of the street from  the early 1900s show that there were several other pre-Great Fire houses still standing there  at that time.  Among them was the “Dick Whittington” Inn, which was demolished in 1916.  Two salvaged carved wooden satyrs from its corner posts are now in the Museum of London. 

The Inns of Court

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

The Inns of Court, so named because they are where law students trained, and indeed still train, to become barristers,  are Gray’s Inn,  Lincoln’s Inn, and Inner and  Middle Temple.  Temple was founded in the early fourteenth century, immediately after an individual’s right to legal representation at trial was enshrined in law in the late thirteenth; Gray’s inn in the late fourteenth; and Lincoln’s Inn, in its present location, in the fifteenth. The Inns of Chancery, where,  until the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, novices trained preparatory to being “called to the bar” in the Inns of Court, were,  in the case of Gray’s Inn, Barnard’s Inn and Staple Inn; in the case of Lincoln’s Inn, Furnival’s Inn and Thavies Inn; in the case of Inner Temple, Clement’s Inn, Clifford’s Inn and Lyon’s Inn; and in the case of Middle Temple, New Inn and Strand Inn. 

John Fortescue wrote of the Inns in 1470, “In England, laws are learned in three languages, namely English, French and Latin [and] not in universities, but in a certain public academy situated near the King’s courts [in Westminster].  That academy is not situated in the city, where the tumult could disturb the student’s quiet, but in a suburb.  There are in this academy ten lesser Inns of Chancery to each of [which] at least a hundred belong.  These students are for the most part young men learning the elements of the law, who, becoming proficient as they mature, are absorbed into the greater Inns of Court, of which there are four in number, and to the least of which belong 200 students or more. … . [I]n these greater inns there can no student be maintained for less expenses by the year than 20 marks.  And if he have a servant to wait upon him, as most of them have, then so much the greater will his charges be.  Now by reason of these charges the children only of noble men do study the laws … .  For the poor and common sort of the people are not able to bear so great charges … and merchant men can seldom find in their hearts to hinder their merchandise with so great yearly expenses.  And thus it falleth out that there is scant any man found within the … laws, except he be a gentleman born … . Wherefore they more than any other kind of men have a special regard to their nobility and to the preservation of their honour and fame.  And to speak uprightly there is in these greater  inns, yea and in the lesser too, beside the study of the laws, as it were an university or school of all commendable qualities requisite for noble men.  There they learn to sing, and to exercise themselves in all kinds of harmony.  There also they practise dancing, and other noble men’s pastimes, as they do which are brought up in the king’s house”.

Gray’s Inn in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Gray’s Inn, situated on Gray’s Inn Road, north of Holborn, takes its name from the Gray family, whose former manor house  here became the site of an Inn of Court in the late fourteenth century (the house is no longer here).   The Hall was built in  1560, and survived the Great Fire of 1666, only to be destroyed during the Blitz in 1941, alongside the Library, built in 1555 (and the Chapel, rebuilt in 1689). 

Gray’s Inn

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), of whom there is a statue here, was, among other things, a “Master of the Bench” here, that is, a member of the governing body.  He also played a leading role in the creation of the colonies in the Americas, the egalitarian vision for which he set out in his “New Atlantis”. 

Incidentally, London’s Inns of Court played a formative, though little-known, role in the founding of the United States of America.   William Taft (1857-1930), the sometime Chief Justice and President of the United States, noted that “many of the law officers of the Colonies … , appointed by the Crown before the Revolution, were members of … [the Inns of Court]”, and that the Inns were thus instrumental in “instilling in the communities of the Colonies the principles of Common Law”.  Others have even suggested that the principles of secession also came from the Inns.

Barnard’s Inn Hall exterior
Barnard’s Inn Hall interior

The surviving Barnard’s Inn Hall, now the site of the relocated Gresham College,  dates to the late fourteenth- or early fifteenth- century. 

Staple Inn Hall was built by Vincent Enghame and another between 1545-89, destroyed by a Flying Bomb in 1944, and rebuilt in 1955 (the original  one was built, on the same site, at least as long ago  as 1333). 

Staple Inn Buildings

The surviving half-timbered Staple Inn Buildings on High Holborn were also built in 1589.   

Lincoln’s Inn in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Lincoln’s Inn, situated on Chancery Lane, between Holborn to the north and Fleet Street to the south, takes its name either from the Lincoln family, or from the Earl of Lincoln,  whose former land here  became the site of an  Inn of Court in the fifteenth century (the Inn of Court had previously been  located in Thavies Inn and Furnival’s Inn  in the fourteenth century). 

Lincoln’s Inn “Old Hall”

The surviving “Old Hall” dates to 1489-92 (although it also incorporates parts of the former  Bishop of Chichester’s house, dating to the early thirteenth century); the “Old Buildings” to 1524-1613 (the  Gate-House to 1517-21); and the Chapel to 1619-23. 

Temple in the sixteenth century (“Agas” map)

Temple, situated between Fleet Street to the north and the Thames to the south, takes its name from the Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who relocated themselves here in the twelfth century (having previously been located in Holborn), and whose former land here became the site of the  Inns of Court of Inner and Middle Temple after the order was suppressed in the early fourteenth. 

Inner Temple Gate-House

The surviving Inner Temple Gate-House, a timber-framed town-house, including a room known  as “Prince Henry’s Room”, after Henry, the son of James I, is  Jacobean, and dates to 1610-11.

Middle Temple Hall front elevation
Middle Temple Hall rear elevation
Middle Temple Hall interior

The surviving Middle Temple Hall is Elizabethan, and dates to 1571.  Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiered here in 1602.  It was performed here again exactly 400 years later in 2002, with an all-male cast, authentic  hand-made costumes and period music and instruments.

St James’s Palace

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

The Tudor Gatehouse and Chapel Royal
Chapel Royal
Friary Court

St James’s Palace was originally built by Henry VIII between 1531-6, on a  site where, according to Stow, “the citizens of London, time out of mind, founded an hospital … for leprous women”.  It became one of the principal residences of the royal family for the next several hundred years.

The Queen’s Chapel

The palace has been considerably extended subsequent to its original construction. The Queen’s Chapel was built by the famous Palladian architect Inigo Jones between 1623-7, and was first used as a chapel by Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, who was a Catholic. During the Civil War, it was used as a barracks by Parliamentarian forces. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, it was again used as a chapel by Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, who was also a Catholic, and who established a friary adjoining.

Lambeth Palace

Westminster and Lambeth in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map/Map of early Modern London)

Another in the series on the historic secular buildings of London …

Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury,  was originally built in the thirteenth century, and subsequently extended in the late fifteenth and sixteenth, under Henry VII and Mary respectively. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 3-view-of-lambeth-palace-and-palace-of-westminster-from-tower-of-church.jpg
Lambeth Palace from the roof of the church of St Mary (with the Palace of Westminster in the background)

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 Garden was probably originally laid out in the late fifteenth or sixteenth century.

Edward III’s Manor House, Rotherhithe

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Rotherhithe was first recorded as Rederheia in around 1105, and takes is name from the Old English “redhra”, meaning mariner, and “hyth”, meaning landing place.  It appears to have been a small settlement surrounding the church of St Mary in the Medieval period, when Edward III had a retreat on the river here.

The remains of the retreat still survive, near King’s Stairs.

A Museum of London Archaeology monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at  Medieval sites in Rotherhithe (Blatherwick & Bluer, 2009).  Another  investigates the later, maritime history of the area, based on the findings of excavations at Pacific Wharf  (Heard & Goodburn, 2003).


Another in the series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

The Guildhall and the surrounding area in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map)

The Guildhall was originally built sometime before 1128, possibly on the site of an even older building, where the Saxons held their “Husting”, or indoor assembly.  It was subsequently substantially rebuilt between 1298-1356, and rebuilt again, by the Master Mason John Croxton, between 1411-30. 

The exterior of the Guildhall today
The interior of the Great Hall

It was then damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and repaired  in the aftermath, only to be badly damaged in the so-called Second Great Fire of 29th December, 1940, during the Blitz of the Second World War, and repaired again after that. 

A Medieval horn-glass window
Part of the Medieval crypt system

The lower levels of the walls (up to the level of the clerestorey) still survive from the Medieval period, as do some of the original windows, made from slivers of  horn-glass, and the crypts. 

The porch, though, is a later, eighteenth-century addition, by Dance, in a bizarre style described as Hindoo Gothic.  Inside, the famous statues of the mythical giants Gog and Magog replace two sets of earlier ones, the first destroyed in the Great Fire, and the second in the Blitz. 

The outline of the Roman Amphitheatre is marked by a black slate oval in Guildhall Yard

The remains of the Roman Amphitheatre were discovered some 20′ below modern ground level during renovation work on the Medieval Guildhall in 1987.


The remains of the Amphitheatre may be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The Palace of Westminster

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

Part of Westminster, including part of the old palace, in the sixteenth-century (left)

The old Palace of Westminster was purportedly originally bult for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward “The Confessor”, in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Parliament meeting in Westminster Hall from 1265, and then in the secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen from 1547/8.  Some of the palace complex was destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained in another fire in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, including the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.  The new palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1840-58.

Westminster Hall exterior, with part of the new Palace of Westminster in the background
Westminster Hall interior
Plaque commemorating Thomas More, who was condemned to death at his trial in the hall in 1535

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II in 1097-99, and subsequently rebuilt,  with a spectacular hammerbeam roof by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It survived the fires of 1512 and 1834, but was damaged during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been  further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting (note also, though, that Westminster was historically particularly prone to floods, Matthew Paris describing one such in 1241, during which “people rode into the great hall on horseback”). 

Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower was originally built by Henry Yevele for Edward III in 1365-66.