Category Archives: Prehistoric London

Mitcham

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Mitcham was first recorded in 727 as Micham, and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Michelham, from the Old English micel, meaning large, and ham, meaning homestead or village.   It was evidently originally settled even earlier, though, there being here not only a large Anglo-Saxon pagan cemetery dating to the late fifth to sixth century, but also the remains of Roman and even Prehistoric farmsteads.

In the early post-Medieval period, Mitcham became popular among the wealthy as a place in which to build rural retreats, and Elizabeth I is known to have been entertained here a number of times in the late sixteenth century.   Industrialisation may be  said to have begun  in the seventeenth century, with the establishment of calico bleaching and printing works here, although until as late as the eighteenth to early nineteenth, the cultivation of herbs was also to remain an important activity.  Urbanisation did not really begin until after the arrival of the tramway in the late nineteenth century, and the last of the market gardens remained until the mid-twentieth.  Mitcham is now part of the London Borough of Merton.

Church of St Peter and St Paul (Mitcham Parish Church)

general-view-of-exterior-of-church

tower-under-restoration

carved-head

The church of St Peter and St Paul was originally built at least as long ago as the thirteenth century, circa 1250, and possibly as long ago as the Saxon period.  It was subsequently substantially rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, between 1819-22,  by the local master-craftsman John Chart, to the design of George Smith.  Essentially only the base of the tower still survives from the Medieval church.

Stanmore

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Close-up general view

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).  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.

Photos of Cotterell Cottages – 

Cotterell Cottages 1 Cotterell Cottages 2

Surviving Medieval tower

Church of St Lawrence Whitchurch

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” (*).  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.

Photos of St Lawrence – 

 

Church of St John the Evangelist

The shell of St John’s –

If you put your ear to it

You can hear the past.

Hollond family mausoleum

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.  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.

Photos of the old church  – 

 

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

Photos of the new church (including salvaged memorials from the old church) – 

 

 

Pre-Roman London

London would appear to have been founded by the ancient Britons or Celts in the Bronze or Iron Age.  According to the now sadly thoroughly discredited  Geoffrey of Monmouth,  quoted by John Stow, in his magisterial “Survay of London, written in the Year 1598”, it was founded under  the reign of  King Lud, sometime in the first century BCE, and at that time called “Caire Lud”, or Lud’s town (?or fort).  When Lud died,  his two sons Androgeus and Tenvantius, or Theomantius, as Stow put it, “ … being not of an age to govern … , their uncle  Cassibelan [Cassivellaunus] took upon him the crown; about the eighth year of whose reign, Julius Caesar arrived in this land with a great power of Romans to conquer it … ”.  The Roman invasion under Caesar, described in his “Gallic Wars”, was in  55-54BCE.

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Unfortunately, the only surviving structures from the Bronze or Iron Ages  are  some  enigmatic pits and post-holes interpreted as representing the sites of former homesteads or farmsteads,  in Leicester Square in the West End, near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and south of the Thames in Southwark (and  the remains of a bridge at Vauxhall).  There are no surviving structures or  streets at all  in the City of London, perhaps at least in part because, again as Stow put it, “ … the Britons call that a town … when they have fortified a cumbersome wood with a ditch and rampart … ”.  This period of the city’s history remains shrouded in mist and mystery.

Important archaeological finds from the Bronze or Iron Ages include (alongside more or less everyday items such as worked flints, pot-sherds, and coin, in potin, or tin-rich bronze, in bronze, in silver and in gold), much equipment associated with horses and chariots, a ceremonial horned helmet recovered from the Thames at Waterloo, and an ornate bronze shield recovered from the Thames at Battersea. It has been speculated that the last-named might have been offered as a plea to the gods of the river at the time of the Roman invasion.