Category Archives: Medieval

The wrong kind of tornado, the church of St Mary-le-Bow, and “Citizen Smith”

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On this day in 1091, a tornado hit London, killing two persons and destroying 600 houses and the church of St Mary-le-Bow, also known as Bow Church, on Cheapside.  The church was virtually  levelled by the tornado, the force of which drove four 26’  rafters vertically into the ground (*).

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It was rebuilt, only to be substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, with only the crypt surviving, and subsequently rebuilt again by Christopher Wren.

3-Statue of John Smith

There is a statue of Citizen and Cordwainer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) in Bow Churchyard, adjoining St Mary’s.  Smith sailed on the “Susan Constant” from Blackwall to found the first permanent English settlement in America, in  Jamestown, Virginia, in 1606, “from which began the overseas expansion of the English-speaking peoples” (a plaque on what is now Virginia Quay in Blackwall commemorates the event).    He is buried in the church of St Sepulchre, Newgate Street.  Incidentally, the  Algonquin  princess Pocahontas, who famously saved Smith’s life in America in 1607, visited London in  1616-17, with her by-then husband the tobacco planter John Rolfe, staying at the Bell Savage Inn off Ludgate Hill.  She died in Gravesend in 1617.

(*) From accounts of the damage, meteorologists estimate that the  tornado would have rated T8 on the T scale, which runs from T1 to T10, with winds in excess of  200 mph.

The “Lion Sermon” and the church of St Katharine Cree

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Gayer plaque, St Katharine Cree

The “Lion Sermon” is given at the church of St Katharine Cree on the  Thursday nearest to this day each year, and  has been since 1643, in remembrance of the Merchant Adventurer (of the Levant Company) and later Lord Mayor of London Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on October 16th of that year.

The church itself was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory sometime before 1291 (being mentioned in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Nicholas IV), and possibly around 1280, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in the Renaissance style.  It was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although later required to be restored  in 1878-9, and again, after being damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in  1956-62.   The interior contains some Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Renaissance ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.  It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) as well as to  Sir  John Gayer (d. 1649).  The church was  consecrated in 1631 by Archbishop Laud, who went on to be executed in 1645 for his close association with the then-king, Charles I, and for his persecution of Puritans. The Father Smith organ, once played by Purcell and Handel, dates to 1686.

Southwark Cathedral (1539)

 

Southwark Cathedral (2) - CopyGeneral view of interior

On this day in 1539, the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie was dissolved, the priory church then becoming the parish church of St Saviour, and eventually the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral).

The cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming a priory in 1106.  Some elements of the present structure are survivors  from the  twelfth century building, although most are from the thirteenth or early fifteenth rebuilds following fires in 1212 and 1390 (the former of which, incidentally, reportedly killed 3000 people).

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The interior contains  many interesting features , including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275 …

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… a stained-glass window commemorating Geoffrey Chaucer, who would have walked past the Cathedral on the  pilgrimage to Canterbury that he immortalised as “The Canterbury Tales” …

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… the burial-place of William Shakespeare’s brother Edmond …

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… the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible …

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… and a chapel dedicated to local-boy-made-good John Harvard, who was baptised here, and who, after most of his family died in an outbreak of plague in 1626, set sail for the Americas to start a new life.  The university that he established there bears his name to this day.

 

 

 

The Knights Templar and Hospitaller

The Knights Templar came into being in around 1129 as an Order of “fighting monks” tasked principally with the protection of  Christians on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and with participation in Crusades, and incidentally with infrastructure and finance.  They soon became immensely wealthy and powerful, and at the same time the subject of much mistrust, on account of the secrecy surrounding  their activity, making themselves many dangerous enemies as well as friends.

On 13th October 1307 – according to myth the original unlucky “Friday the Thirteenth”,  the leaders of the Knights Templar were arrested on a  variety of charges, at least some no doubt trumped up by debtors and other vested interests, under a warrant reading “God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the Kingdom” (“Dieu n’est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans le Royaume”).  They were later tortured into confessing to having “spat three times on the Cross” (”  … craché trois fois sur la Croix … “), and done to death by being burned at the stake, and the entire Order was  eventually disbanded, essentially to be subsumed into that of the Knights Hospitaller.

Interestingly, there are two Knights Templar or Hospitaller sites still in existence in London.

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One  is Temple Church, home of the Knights Templar, in a precinct off Fleet Street.  The church was originally built in 1160-85 and 1220-40 (although it has been restored or rebuilt on a number of occasions subsequently, most recently following bomb damage sustained during the Blitz).  The round nave, modelled on either the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, is twelfth-century, and Norman, or Romanesque in style, with typically round-arched windows.    The rectangular chancel is thirteenth-century, and Early Gothic, with pointed-arched lancet windows.

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The famous Purbeck Marble effigies of Knights are also thirteenth-century.

The other is the Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, home of the Knights Hospitaller, in a precinct in Clerkenwell.  The priory was originally built in around 1145, and destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 (it was actually deliberately targetted at this time because  the then prior, Robert Hales, was also the Lord High Treasurer, and responsible for the introduction of the hated Poll Tax).  It was rebuilt by Prior John Redington immediately afterwards and restored by Prior Thomas Docwra in 1504, and dissolved in 1540.  It is said that the last Prior, William Weston, died on the very day the priory was dissolved, of a broken heart.

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The former priory and later parish church, also with a round  nave, was substantially destroyed during an air raid  on the last night of the Blitz, 10th-11th May, 1941, and subsequently rebuilt (the original outline picked out on the paved area to the front).

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Remarkably, the original crypt of 1145 still survives, with its memorial to Prior Weston.

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A separate gate-house of 1504 also survives.  The gate-house served between 1560-1608 – that is, immediately after the Dissolution – as the “Office of the Revels” (how wonderful!), where theatrical performances were licensed, and sets and costumed procured.  It re-entered the possession of the  by-then Order of St John in 1873, and now houses the Order’s museum.

In 1237, Matthew Paris  chronicled the departure of  a party of Knights Hospitaller to the Holy Land  as follows:

“They … set out from their house at Clerkenwell, and proceeded in good order, with about thirty shields uncovered, with spears raised, and preceded by their banner, through the midst of the City, towards the bridge, that they might obtain the blessings of the spectators, and, bowing their heads with their cowls lowered, commended themselves to the prayers of all”.

 

Feast of St Ethelburga

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Today is the feast of St Ethelburga, the Abbess of Barking, and founder of the church of All Hallows Barking in the City of London, in the seventh century (also the sister of Erkenwald, Bishop of London).

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The church dedicated to her on Bishopsgate in the City of London was probably originally built in timber in the Saxon period, and subsequently rebuilt and extended in stone in the later Medieval to post-Medieval.

It survived the Great Fire of London and the Second World War, only to be severely damaged by an IRA bomb on 24th April, 1993, and substantially rebuilt, and reopened as a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, focussing on the role of faith in conflict resolution, in 2002.

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The  “Peace Garden” and “Tent” at the back were built at the same time,  to encourage inter-faith dialogue.

To live and die in Charterhouse

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1101 of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order (of hermit-monks).

The Carthusian monastery, or “Chartrouse” in Charterhouse Square was built  in 1371 by Sir Walter (de) Manny, “a stranger born, lord of the town of Manny, in the diocese of Cambray, beyond the seas,  who for service done to  Edward III was made Knight of the Garter” (Stow).  In fact, the site was first consecrated as a burial ground for victims of the “Black Death” in 1348-9 (again as Stow put it, “A great pestilence … overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”).

During the Reformation, between 1535-40, the Prior, John Houghton and six  Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the king as the head  of the church, most of them at Tyburn.  And in 1537, a further nine  monks died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.

After the associated Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site became a private residence, originally owned by Sir Edward North, the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, from 1545; and then a charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest by Thomas  Sutton, the one-time Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts and the richest man in England, from 1611  (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872).

Remarkably, much still survives here from the Medieval to post-Medieval, Tudor to Stuart period, either in its original state, or restored thereto by Seely and Paget following damage sustained during an incendiary bombing raid in 1941.  Perhaps the most notable buildings, fragments of buildings or fitments are Sutton’s memorial in what is now the Chapel, but was once the Chapter House, dating to 1614; North’s Great Hall, dating at least in part to the 1540s; his Great Chamber, also dating at least in part to the 1540s, and one of the finest in all England, where Queen Elizabeth I more than once held court, at great cost to her host; Wash-House Court, dating back to the early 1530s, in the case of the brick buildings, and to an even  earlier part of the monastic period, in the case of the stone ones …

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… and the doorway to “Cell B”, in the Norfolk Cloister, complete with  its guichet or serving hatch, dating all the way back to the time of the original foundation of the monastery in 1371.

 

London’s Water Supply and the “New River”

In the late twelfth century (the time of the chronicler FitzStephen), water drawn from the City’s rivers, or from springs or wells,  was pure and clean and sweet and wholesome.

Later, though,  “the tide from the sea prevailed to such a degree that the water of the Thames was salt; so much so that many folks complained of the ale tasting like salt” (and  obviously they couldn’t have that).

And, by the beginning of the thirteenth century, the supply had become so contaminated by waste as to be not only unpalatable but unsafe to drink, for fear of contracting a potentially lethal water-borne disease such as such as Bloody Flux (Dysentery).

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So, a supply had to be brought in from outside.  A (lead!) pipeline was built, by public subscription, in 1236, to bring water from a spring at Tyburn, roughly opposite where Bond Street tube station now stands,  to the so-called Little Conduit, Standard and Great Conduit on Cheapside, about three miles away (sections  have  recently been discovered 2m below Medieval street level in Paternoster Row and in  Poultry).   Most people collected water from the conduits themselves, although some had it delivered to them – in buckets suspended from shoulder-yokes – by water-carriers or “cobs” (of whom there were 4000 by 1600), and the few that could afford   to had a private supply piped directly to their homes or businesses in specially installed so-called “quills”.  The pipeline    was extended at either end in the fifteenth century so as to run from Oxlese, near where Paddington station now stands,  to Cornhill, about six miles away.  The so-called  Devil’s Conduit under Queen’s Square probably dates to around the same time, a photograph taken in 1910, shortly before its demolition in 1911-3,  showing it to contain graffiti from  1411.  And the  Aldermanbury Conduit under Aldermanbury Square dates to 1471.

By the sixteenth century, the system had become inadequate  to meet the demands of the rising population (it had also become subject to much abuse and over-use by individuals and by commercial and industrial concerns).

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A short-term solution to this problem  was provided  by the construction by the Dutchman Pieter Maritz in 1582 of a – rather rickety – apparatus under one of the arches of London Bridge that  allowed water to be pumped from the Thames  into the heart of the City, or, in the case of the original demonstration to City officials, over the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr!  The apparatus was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but thereafter replaced by Maritz’s grandson, and  continued in use, after a fashion, until the early nineteenth century.

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A longer-term solution was provided by the construction by the Welshman and wealthy merchant, goldsmith, banker and Member of Parliament Sir Hugh Myddelton in 1609-13 of a  10’ wide and 4’ deep canal, or “New River”, all the way from springs at Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire into the City, an incredible 37 miles away, which is still in use to this day (parts of it can be seen along the “New River” walk in Islington, for example in Canonbury Grove).    Myddelton had to overcome any number of technological  obstacles, and much land-owner and political opposition, to see this major civil engineering project through to completion, doing  so with a mixture of drive and determination, the financial support of 29 investors or “adventurers”, and the tacit backing of the king.  His financial backers had to wait some time until they   profited from the enterprise (actually, until 1633, although by 1695 the New River Company ranked behind only the East India Company and Bank of England in terms of its capital value).  The public  health benefits of Myddelton’s project were immediate, though,  and immeasurable,  and indeed it has been described as “An immortal work – since men cannot more nearly imitate the Deity than in bestowing health”.

4 - Myddelton statue, Holborn Viaduct

Myddelton died in 1631, and was buried in the church of  St Matthew Friday Street, where he had served as a warden.  Concerted  attempts to locate his coffin and monument following the church’s demolition in 1886 were unfortunately ultimately  unsuccessful.

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Fittingly, though, there is a statue to the great man on Islington Green in Islington.

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And some of the fittings from the New River Company’s offices, including Grinling Gibbons’s (?) “Oak Room”, may still be seen  in the  London Metropolitan Water Board building, also in Islington.

It was on this day, September 29th,  in 1613, that Hugh Myddelton’s  older brother Thomas, a member of the Grocers’ Company, became  Lord Mayor of London, and officially opened his  “New River”.  The playwright, poet and writer of pageants Thomas Middleton (no relation)  wrote in The manner of His Lordships entertainment … at that most famous and admired worke of the running streame from Amwell head, into the cesterne neere Islington … :

“Long have we laboured, long cherished and prayed

For this great work’s perfection, and by th’aid

Of heaven and good men’s wishes ‘tis at length

Happily conquered by cost, art and strength.

And after five years’ dear expense in days,

Travail, and pains, besides the infinite ways

Of malice, envy, false suggestions,

Able to daunt the spirits of mighty ones

In wealth and courage, this, a work so rare,

Only by one man’s industry, cost  and care

Is brought to blest effect … ”.