Category Archives: Saxon

Erith

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

Erith was first recorded in Saxon times, in 677, as Earhyth, from the Old English ear, meaning muddy, and hyth, meaning landing-place (although it is thought to have been first settled in prehistory).

The Manor of Erith was held by the Norman Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086.  The Lord of the Manor during the reign of the first Plantagenet King, Henry II, was Richard de Luci, Justiciar of England, who, as an act of penance for his complicity in the murder of Thomas Becket, founded Lesnes Abbey nearby in 1178 (see also posting of August 10th, 2015).  The first leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, which took place during the reign of Richard II in 1381, was one Abel Ker, from Erith.

Erith grew further in size and significance in the post-Medieval period.  The  Tudor  King  Henry VIII founded  a naval dockyard here, where warships built at Woolwich, notably the Great Harry,  were fitted out (see also posting of November 26th, 2016).   And it was here that the Gunpowder Plotters gathered to plot the overthrow of the Stuart King James I in 1605.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed still further expansion, with the  Wheatley family as Lords of the Manor.  The North  Kent Railway arrived in 1849, and with it urbanisation and industrialisation.

Historically part of Kent, since 1965 Erith has been part of the London Borough of Bexley.

Church of St John the Baptist

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The church of St John the Baptist was originally built  in Saxo-Norman times.  It was subsequently rebuilt in the post-Medieval period, in part out of materials salvaged from Lesnes Abbey after it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1525 (the abbey would have been but  a short cart-ride away to the north-west).  It was substantially rebuilt again in 1877.

 

Dagenham revisited

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

Dagenham (see also posting of October 19th, 2016) was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 677 as Daeccenham, from the old English personal name Daecca, and ham, meaning homestead or village.  Throughout much of its later history, it remained essentially rural, only beginning to become  (sub)urbanised and industrialised in the early  twentieth century.  It is now part of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, created in 1965.

Valence House

The Manor of Valence was first recorded as long ago as 1269.  There was evidently a manor house here at or around that time, which further records indicate was occupied by Agnes de Valence after the death of her third husband in 1291 (*).  The estate was sold to St Anthony’s Hospital in London in 1435, and then granted by Edward IV to the Dean and Chapter of Windsor in 1475.  It was rented out to a succession of tenants in the post-Medieval and later periods, including the Bonham family in the seventeenth century, the Mertons in the eighteenth, and the Mays in the nineteenth, before being acquired by Dagenham Urban District Council in 1926.

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The surviving manor house, which is now  home to the Valence House Museum, shows evidence of building or rebuilding activity from every century from the fifteenth onwards.

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The museum features a number of fine displays on the history of the local area, including one on Valence House itself …

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… and another on  Barking Abbey, which lay approximately three miles to the south-west  (see also posting of January 5th, 2015).

It also houses a famous collection of portraits of the Fanshawe family (Lords of the Manor of Barking for many generations).

(*) Agnes de Valence was of noble birth, being the grand-daughter of Isabella of Angouleme, wife of King John.

 

The church of All Hallows by the Tower

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On this day in 1650, seven barrels of gunpowder stored by the church of All Hallows by the Tower exploded, destroying fifteen houses, and killing sixty-seven people.

The church was originally built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the Medieval.  It was undamaged in the Great  Fire of 1666, thanks to the action of Admiral General Sir William Penn Senior, who ordered  the blowing-up of some surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak, although it nonetheless required to be rebuilt by Pearson in the late nineteenth century. It was then gutted by bombing in the Blitz of 1940-41, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.

A fine Saxon arch of around 675, incorporating Roman tiles, survives in the nave; and two Saxon crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, in the crypt  (the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts). Among the  many surviving Medieval to post-Medieval features are: substantial sections of tiled floor; an altar table of stone from the Crusaders’ castle at Atlit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; numerous monuments, including the Croke chest, dating to around 1477, and brasses; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of 1666 (noting in his diary entry for Wednesday 5th September, “I up to the top of Barkinge steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw”). Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, and dating to 1678; the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682; a series of ornamental sword-rests, dating to the eighteenth century; and, among the Curiosa, numerous large model ships suspended in the south aisle.

On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and Laud’s in the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford).  Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644.  Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

The church is visited on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and also on our “Dark Age [Anglo-Saxon] London”, “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights”  themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

 

Buried Treasures of Greenwich Park

Greenwich was first recorded in 964 as Grenewic, from the Old English grene, meaning green, in context grassy or vegetated, and wic, meaning trading settlement or harbour (see also posting of January 10th, 2014).

Bronze Age and or Saxon burial mounds

Among the many features of historical or archaeological note in Greenwich Park – a World Heritage Site – are approximately fifty  rather eroded burial mounds or barrows on Croom’s Hill, a little to the west of the line of the Prime Meridian.  Archaeological excavations on the burial mounds have unearthed swords, shields and other pagan grave goods dating to  the seventh century, i.e., the Saxon period.  It is possible, though,  that the barrows themselves were originally of Bronze Age construction, a number of instances of such re-use having been recorded elsewhere in England (see, for example, Howard William’s “Death and Memory in early Medieval Britain”).   Note in this context that there is a demonstrably Bronze Age barrow known as the “Shrewsbury Tumulus”  on nearby Shooters Hill (see also posting of March 6th, 2017).

Romano-Celtic temple

Also in Greenwich Park, near the junction between  Bower Avenue and Great Cross Avenue, are the remains of a second- to third- (or fourth-) century Romano-Celtic pagan temple.  A dig on the site by Channel 4’s “Time Team”, in collaboration with Birkbeck College, in 1999, turned up a number of interesting finds, including part of a statue, and a stone bearing an inscription to the god Jupiter and to the spirits of the Emperors.

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Temple reconstruction

The dig also revealed enough of the foundation of the temple, in the form of a central principal building or cella and surrounding covered walkway or ambulatory, and  outer  walled precinct or temenos,   to enable it to be reconstructed.  The cella clearly had a tessellated floor and painted plaster walls.

Watling Street

The temple would have stood at a strategically important high point adjacent to the principal Roman road from Kent into London, Watling Street, possible stretches  of which have also been recorded nearby.

 

 

Croydon

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

Croydon, situated in a gap in the North Downs on the route from London to Portslade,  was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 809 as Crogedene, meaning, in Old English, valley (denu) of the wild saffron (croh).  It became a market town in 1276,  but remained comparatively small and isolated throughout the later Medieval and post-Medieval periods, and indeed  until the  nineteenth century, and the arrival of the railway connecting it to London, and attendant suburbanisation – its population rose from 5743 in 1801 to 134037 in 1901!  It has been part of the London Borough of Croydon since 1965.

Croydon Minster (Church of St John the Baptist)

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What is now Croydon Minster would appear to have originated as a minster church or monastery in  the Saxon period, a charter of Coenwulf of Mercia (796-821) referring to it as a monasterium.  It was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style in the Medieval period, and substantially rebuilt again, by George Gilbert Scott,  after a fire in 1867.  Only the tower, south porch  and outer walls survive from the Medieval Minster.

Six Archbishops of Canterbury are buried in the churchyard, namely Edmund Grindal,  Thomas Herring, John Potter, Gilbert Sheldon, William Wake and John Whitgift (see below).

Croydon Palace

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A manor house was built adjacent to the Minster in the Medieval period, for the  Archbishops of Canterbury, who had been the Lords of the Manor since Saxo-Norman times, as indicated in the Domesday Book (Croydon was then in the Diocese of Canterbury, but is now in the Diocese of Southwark).  The manor house had become a substantial palace, used not by the archbishops but also by visiting royalty and other dignitaries, by the post-Medieval period.  It began to fall into disrepair in later times, although some buildings still survive, and  form part of the Old Palace School.

Whitgift Almshouses (The Hospital of the Holy Trinity)

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The Whitgift Almshouses were originally built by Archbishop Whitgift in 1596-9, to provide accommodation and health care for up to forty  “poor, needy and impotent people” from Croydon and Lambeth.  They continue to fulfil a similar charitable function to this day.

Southall

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

Southall was first recorded in 1198 as Suhaull, meaning, in Old English, southern (suth) nook of land (halh) (in contra-distinction to Northolt).  The surrounding area remained essentially rural and sparsely populated until the nineteenth century, and the coming of the railway.  Southall is now a bustling western suburb of London, with a large proportion of persons of south Asian extraction among its population.

Southall Manor and Manor House

Southall Manor was bequeathed to Wulfned, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 830.

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Southall Manor House dates in part to the sixteenth century.

Feast of St Ethelburga

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.

Peace Garden

Tent

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

The aforementioned churches of All Hallows Barking and St Ethelburga are visited on various of our walks, including the “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).