Category Archives: Saxon

Dagenham revisited

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

Dagenham 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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7 - Moulded stones from Barking Abbey.JPG

… and another on  Barking Abbey, which lay approximately three miles to the south-west.



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.


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.

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 (as in 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.

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.




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)




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.

Croydon Palace





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)



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.


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.

City of London Buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666


Of the 97 parish churches within the walls of the City of London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, only 8, namely, All Hallows Barking, All Hallows Staining, St Alphage, St Andrew Undershaft, St Ethelburga, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, and St Olave Hart Street, survived,  and still survive, with at least some pre-Great Fire structures standing, above ground (*).

Tower of London


Of the secular buildings, only the Tower of London and the Guildhall, and parts of the Merchant Taylors’ and Apothecaries’ Livery Company Halls, and of the “Olde Wine Shades” public house, still survive.

(*) A further 5 churches, namely All Hallows on the Wall, St James Duke’s Place, St Katherine Coleman, St Martin Outwich and St Peter-le-Poer, also survived  the fire but were either rebuilt or demolished afterwards.

And 84 were burnt down in the fire, of which 49 were rebuilt afterwards, and 35 were not.

Old Malden

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

What is now known as Old Malden  was first founded in Saxon times, although first recorded in the Norman “Domesday Book” of 1086 as Meldone, meaning, in Old English, hill (dun) with a cross or crucifix (mael).  The ancient settlement grew steadily in size through the later Medieval period and into the post-Medieval.  It lies in the modern London Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames.



Aside from the church of St John the Baptist, there are a number of other historic buildings of note here, including the “Manor House”, originally built at least as long ago as eleventh century (although subsequently rebuilt in the seventeenth, and extended in the eighteenth), and the “Plough” public house on the green, originally built in the fifteenth century.  Henry VIII is known to have held court in the old “Manor House” in the sixteenth century (and Captain Cook lived in the new one in the eighteenth).

Church of St John the Baptist


The church of St John the Baptist was originally built in the Saxon and/or later Medieval period, and subsequently rebuilt in the post-Medieval, in the early seventeenth century, in around 1611 (and extended in the late nineteenth and again in the early  twenty-first).  Parts of the Lady Chapel survive from the Medieval, and the south part of the nave and the tower from the post-Medieval.  In the interior, some memorials also survive from the post-Medieval, including that to the one-time Lord of the Manor John Goode (d. 1627), who funded the seventeenth-century reconstruction.

East Molesey

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

East Molesey was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter in the seventh century as Muleseg, from the Old English personal name Mul and eg, meaning either an island or a peninsula (in a loop of a river). It was later recorded in the Norman “Domesday Book” of 1086 as Molesham, and as being held by Odard Balastarius, Richard FitzGilbert and Roger d’Abernon.   The settlement continued to grow in the later Medieval and post-Medieval periods, and more markedly in the Victorian, after the arrival of the railway in 1849.  East Molesey is now essentially now a contiguous suburb of London, although technically it  lies in the Borough of Elmbridge in the County of Surrey (south of the Thames).



A number of late Medieval and post-Medieval buildings may still be seen here, including the mid fifteenth- century “Bell” public house (formerly known as the “Crooked House”), and the sixteenth-century “Quillets Royal”.

Church of St Mary


The old parish church, at least for part of its history dedicated to St Lawrence, was probably originally built in timber in the seventh century (*), and subsequently rebuilt in stone in the twelfth, and repaired in the fourteenth, thereafter standing until the nineteenth, when it was damaged in a fire and had to be demolished.


The present, new church, dedicated to St Mary, was built on the site of the old one in 1865.

(*) Possibly by Benedictine monks based at Chertsey Abbey (itself built in 666),

West Wickham

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

West Wickham was first recorded as Wichema mearcae in an Anglo-Saxon Charter of 862 (and as Westwycham – in contra-distinction to Estwycham – in 1284).  The name is thought to refer to the boundary (maerc) of a homestead or village (ham) associated with an earlier Romano-British settlement or vicus (wic).  The earliest settlement in the area would indeed appear to have been along the  Roman road running from London to Lewes.  Despite some development following the arrival of the railway in the late nineteenth century, West Wickham retains something of a rural character  to this day, especially to the south.  Technically, it is now part of the London Borough of Bromley.

Church of St John



The church of St John was probably originally built here in the Saxon period, and rebuilt in the later Medieval, and again in the early Post-Medieval, in the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), by Sir Henry Heydon, a lawyer and Justice of the Peace, and the husband of Anne Boleyn (daughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, a one-time Lord Mayor of London, and great-grandfather of Queen Anne Boleyn).

There are some surviving Medieval to Post-Medieval memorials in the interior, including one to William de Thorp, a one-time rector (d. 1407), and another to Sir Samuel Lennard (d. 1618), another  lawyer and Justice of the Peace (also a Member of Parliament), and the husband of Elizabeth Slayne (daughter of Sir Stephen Slayne, another one-time Lord Mayor of London).


There are also some particularly fine stained-glass windows, believed to be by Anglo-Flemish artists.

Wickham Court


The manor house now known as Wickham Court was probably also originally built here in the Saxon period, and rebuilt with fortifications in the later Medieval, sometime between  1469 and 1480, also by Sir Henry Heydon.  In the Post-Medieval period, it entered the possession of the Lennard family.  In 1935, it was sold and adapted for use as a hotel, and it is currently  a preparatory school.


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)




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.