Tag Archives: James I

The History and Psychogeography of Blackfriars

Psychogeography was defined by its founder, the Frenchman Guy Debord, as “the study of the … effects of the geographical environment … on the emotions … of individuals”.

It can also be taken to be an exploration, often literally, on foot, of what it is about a place that evokes a sense of place.

In Blackfriars, that is history: inescapable; and inextricable from that of London as a whole.  History, or, as Peter Ackroyd put it, “chronological resonance”, or “time … moved or swayed by some unknown source of power”.

For it is here that London may be said to have begun, nearly two thousand years, or a hundred generations, ago.  Here, at the lowest point on the Thames at which it was fordable and bridgeable.  Here, on the comparatively high, dry and defensible ground around Ludgate Hill (and, a little to the east, Cornhill).  Here,  where the Romans  founded Londinium, on  the damp maritime frontier of their vast continental empire, with easy access to the sea, and the overseas dominions, and yet at the same time close to the hinterland and heart of England.

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Here, on the “lost” Thames tributary of the Fleet, where all those centuries ago a Roman barge sank with its fifty-ton cargo of Kentish building stone still aboard.  Here is why London is where it is.

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Blackfriars first came to be fully developed  in the Medieval period, when the first and later second Baynard’s Castles, and, in between, the  King’s Wardrobe,  were built here …

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… and when a fashion victim lost his winkle-picker shoe, or “poulaine”, here (that can now be seen in the Museum of London).   The first Baynard’s Castle was demolished after its Constable was found to have been complicit in a baronial conspiracy against King John in the early thirteenth century …

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… and the land was given over to allow construction in 1278  of the Blackfriars Priory, one of the largest and most important monastic houses in the country.   In 1322,  a  large number – possibly  hundreds – of needy poor people were reportedly crushed to death in a rush to beg alms  at the priory gates.

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Remarkably, given its later history, precious fragments of the stonework fabric of the priory still survive, and can still be seen and touched.

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Nothing remains, though, at least above  modern ground level, of the Parliament Hall, where, in 1529,  Henry VIII appeared before the Legatine Court to petition for the  annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so as to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn.   The ultimate failure of the negotiations was to have far-reaching consequences for the church, and indeed for the entire country, of England, not the least of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries, including that of the Blackfriars, which took place in 1538.

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After the dissolution of the Blackfriars, at the beginning of what we now consider to be the post-Medieval period, its properties and lands were made use of as the King saw fit.

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The priory church came to be owned by his Master of the Revels, Thomas Cawarden, and part of it used as his Office.

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A little later, in 1576, the Great Hall came to be adapted for use as the first Blackfriars Theatre; and, in 1600, the Parliament Hall, the scene of the aforementioned earlier real-life high drama, the second Blackfriars Theatre.  The second Theatre came to be owned by Shakespeare’s company, by then known as the “King’s Men”, in 1609, after the incumbent troupe of child-actors gave grave offence to the King, James I, during one of the performances they put on there in 1608.    Shakespeare evidently wrote some of his later plays, including “A Winter’s Tale”, “Cymbeline” and “The Tempest”, specifically for performance in the indoor arena of the “Second Blackfriars”, incorporating noticeably lengthier musical interludes, presumably designed to  keep the audience amused while the wicks on the lighting-candles were   trimmed midway through the performance.

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In 1613, according to the surviving Deed of Conveyance,  he bought for then princely sum of £140 a  “dwelling house or Tenement … within the Precinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London … ; part of which said Tenement is erected over a great gate …”, presumably as an investment.

Essentially the entirety of Blackfriars, and indeed the greater part  of the City of London, was then burned down during the Great Fire of 1666 (the theatre by then already  having been closed down during the Civil War of 1642-51).

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The friendless church  of St Ann was never rebuilt, and the parish was united with that of St Andrew.

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Most of what was rebuilt was burned down again during the Blitz of the Second World War, much of it during the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” on the night of 29th/30th December, 1940.

To walk in Blackfriars is to walk in history.  More than anything, it is to walk  in the footsteps of Medieval monks and lay persons; and   to inhabit, however briefly,  their spiritual as well as their physical world.

Blackfriars is 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 “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).

“Her Majesty departed this life” (John Manningham, 1603)

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On this day in 1603, John Manningham wrote:

“This morning about three at clock her Majesty [Elizabeth I] departed this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from the tree … .  About ten at clock the Council and divers noblemen having been awhile in consultation, proclaimed James VI, King of Scots, the King of England, France and Ireland, beginning at Whitehall gates, where Sir Robert Cecil read the proclamation which he carried in his hand, and after read again in Cheapside.  Many noblemen, lords spiritual and temporal, knights, five trumpets, many heralds.  The gates at Ludgate and portcullis were shut and down, by the Lord Mayor [Robert Lee]’s command, who was there present, with the Aldermen, etc., and until he had a …  promise … that they would proclaim the King of Scots King of England, he would not open.  Upon the death of a king or queen in London the Lord Mayor of London is the greatest magistrate in England”.

Elizabeth’s reign was  widely, although by no means universally,  regarded as some sort of “Golden Age” of – comparative – stability, peace and prosperity, of exploration and discovery, and of the arts, in particular the performing arts, bringing “Melody and joy and comfort to all true Englishmen and women”.

Theobalds House

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A “prodigy-house” called  Theobalds House was built at the heart of a Hertfordshire park-estate in 1564-85, by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, one of Elizabeth I’s most trusted advisers (the queen is known to have visited him here on a number of occasions).  After William’s death in 1598, it passed to his son Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury; in 1607, to James I; and after James’s death here in 1625, to his son Charles I.   It was substantially demolished in 1650, during the Commonwealth that came into being after Charles’s  execution in 1649.  Some  romantic ruins remain.

A new house called The Cedars was built, a little to the north-west of Theobalds House, in 1762, by the then owner, George Prescott (the estate in the meantime having  had passed through the hands of the Dukes of Albemarle, who were granted it  after the Restoration of the Monarchy, and the Earls of Portland).  The house later passed through the Prescott family, and thence, in 1820, to the Meuxes  (*).  When Hadworth Meux died in 1929, it  became in turn a hotel, a school, and adult education centre, and a conference centre, and as of 2015 is once more a hotel.

(*) The Meuxes, of brewery fame, made extensive alterations and added extensions to the house during the nineteenth century.  In 1888, Lady Meux, a banjo-playing former barmaid, re-erected at its  entrance Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar, a gate-house that had  formerly stood between Fleet Street in the  City of London and the Strand in Westminster (until it had to be taken down to allow for the free flow of traffic).  Temple Bar was moved again in 2004, this time  back to the City of London, to Paternoster Square, just north-west of St Paul’s Cathedral.

 

 

James I’s Triumphal Entry into London (1604)

On this day in 1604, James I, the newly crowned first Stuart King of England, entered  the City of London, and thence processed to  Westminster to attend his first parliament, amid much pomp and pageant.  A number of contemporary accounts of the event still survive, including those of Thomas Dekker, Gilbert Dugdale, Ben Jonson and Stephen Harrison, and also that of the King himself, who wrote,  with characteristic bombast:

“The people of all sorts rode and ran, nay, rather flew to meet me, their eyes flaming nothing but sparkles of affection, their mouths and tongues uttering nothing but sounds of joy, their hands, feet, and all the rest of their members in their gestures discovering a passionate longing and earnestness to meet and embrace their new sovereign.”

On its way from the City to Westminster, the  procession passed beneath  a series of allegorically-themed triumphal arches, designed by the aforementioned Stephen Harrison, that formed the backdrops for entertainments by some of the finest writers of the day, including Dekker, Jonson, Middleton and Webster (see also April 22nd posting on Charles II’s Coronation Cavalcade).

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The first triumphal arch, on Fenchurch Street, was the Arch of Londinium, representing the City of London.  The entertainment performed here portrayed the personification of British Monarchy, Divine Wisdom, and the  Genius of the City (alongside  Gladness, Veneration, Prompitude, Vigilance, Loving Affection and Unanimity).

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The second, on Gracious [Gracechurch] Street, was the Arch of the Italians (*), also symbolically depicting James receiving the crown of England …

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… and the third, at the [Royal] Exchange, the Arch of the Dutchmen (**).

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The fourth, at the Great Conduit at the eastern end of Cheapside, was the Arch of New Arabia.

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The  fifth, at the Little Conduit at the western end of Cheapside, was the  Arch of the Bower of Plenty, also symbolically depicting Peace, the nine Muses,  and the seven Liberal Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astrology).

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The sixth, at the Conduit on Fleet Street, was the Arch of the New World.

The seventh, and the last in the City of London, at Temple Bar, was the Temple of Janus (there was an eighth on the Strand in the City of Westminster).

(*) There had been an Italian community in the immediately surrounding area – centred on Lombard Street – since the late thirteenth century.

(**) There had been a Dutch community in the immediately surrounding area – centred on the Dutch Church on Austin Friars – since the mid-sixteenth century.

 

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.

 

The rebuilding of Aldersgate (1617)

Aldersgate

According to John Richardson’s “Annals of London”, four hundred years ago, in 1617, the city gate of Aldersgate was rebuilt.  The new gate featured images of James I both on the outside and on the inside, commemorating the occasion when the then future  king had entered the City of London through the old gate to claim the  throne  in 1603 (the outside also featured images of the prophets Jeremiah and Samuel).

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It was damaged during the Great Fire of 1666, and eventually demolished in 1761.

The Gunpowder Day Sermon (John Donne, 1622)

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On this day in 1622, on the seventeenth anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, the Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne, felt compelled to give a sermon reassuring the congregation as to the ongoing commitment to the Protestant cause of the King, who was himself widely suspected of harbouring Catholic sympathies.   In his sermon, Donne described the King as “in his heart, as farre from submitting us to that Idolatry, and Superstition, which did heretofore oppresse us, as his immediate Predecessor [Elizabeth I], whose memory  is justly precious to you, was”.

There is a virtual reconstruction of the event at www.vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu.  It shows the sermon being given outside the cathedral, at (St) Paul’s Cross, whereas the original was actually given indoors on account  of inclement weather (“ a vicious squall of November rain”).

St Paul’s Cathedral is visited, although not entered, on various of our walks,  including the “Rebellious London” themed special.

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).