Category Archives: London History

Elsyng Palace and Forty Hall

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

Elsyng Palace

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Elsyng Palace or Enfield House, just outside Enfield,  is thought to have originally been  built sometime in the  fifteenth century by John Tiptoft (Junior), 1st Earl of Worcester, who lived from 1427-70 (it is also possible that it was built  even earlier, in the fourteeenth century, by Thomas Elsyng, a Citizen and Mercer of London).  After Worcester’s execution in 1470, during the Wars of the Roses,  the palace   passed  in turn to his  sister Philippa, to her son Edmund, Baron de Ros, to  his sister Isabel and her husband Sir Thomas Lovell, and to his great-nephew Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland.  Lovell, who was the Speaker of the House of Commons in King Henry VIII’s time, extended it “sufficient to receive the court on progress”: Henry’s sister, Queen Margaret of Scotland stayed here  in 1516; Henry himself, in 1520 and again in 1527; and his Queen, Katherine of Aragon, in 1532.

In 1539, in a property exchange, the palace passed to Henry, and remained Crown property throughout the remainder of the Tudor period.  It appears to have been used on occasion for family as well as for formal business: Princess Mary and Prince Edward stayed in the palace over Christmas in 1539; and evidently the entire family over Christmas in 1542; and Princess Elizabeth  and Prince Edward were brought here to be informed of Henry’s death in 1547.  On Henry’s death, the palace passed to Edward, who in 1550 gave it to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth visited it on average every four years or so until 1596, by which time it   was reportedly beginning to fall into disrepair.

The palace fell out of use under the succeeding first Stuart King James I, who preferred nearby Theobalds, and was partially demolished by him in 1608.  The surviving part was subsequently  demolished by Nicholas Raynton in 1650, to provide materials for the extension of  Forty Hall.

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Some remains have recently come to light in the grounds there, and many archaeological finds made.

Forty Hall

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Forty Hall is thought to have originally been built by  Sir Nicholas Raynton between 1629-32 (it is also possible that it was built  earlier, by Sir Hugh Fortee).  It was subsequently extended by Raynton’s  great-nephew, also named Nicholas, in 1656.  After the younger Nicholas’s death in 1696, the house passed to John Wolstenhome (*), who carried out further extension and refurbishment work.  Later owners included, from 1740, Eliab Breton; from 1787, Edmund Armstrong; from 1799, James Meyer; and, from 1894, Henry Carrington Bowles.  The  Bowles family sold the house to the Municipal Borough of Enfield in 1951, and it has been used as  a museum by them from that date to this.

(*) Likely a descendant of the merchant and financier of the same name who was also a member of the Virginia Company.

Barnet

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

Barnet was first recorded in c. 1070 as Barneto, from the Old English baernet, meaning land cleared by burning.

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The church of St John  was originally built here in c. 1250,   subsequently substantially rebuilt in c. 1400, and restored in the nineteenth century, and twice in the twentieth.  And Queen Elizabeth’s School was built here in c. 1577, four years after the granting of a charter for that purpose.  It was originally a free grammar school, and subsequently became a boarding establishment (with specially constructed dormitories accessed by way of a staircase in the east turret).  The  old school moved to a new location in 1932.  The recently restored former school building on the original site is now owned by Hertfordshire County Council, and known  as Tudor Hall.

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The Battle of Barnet was fought a short distance to the north in 1471, in the Wars of the Roses.

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Artefacts from the site may be viewed in the Barnet Museum (on Wood Street).

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).