Tag Archives: London Bridge

The Great Fire of 1212

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On this day in 1212, there was a great fire in Southwark that reportedly killed thousands of people, many of them trapped on London Bridge.  According to a near-contemporary account:

“An exceeding great multitude of people passing the Bridge, either to extinguish or quench it, or else to gaze at and behold it, suddenly the north part, by blowing of the south wind, was also set on fire, and the people which were even now passing the Bridge, perceiving the same, would have returned, but were stopped by the fire.”

The fire badly damaged the recently-built bridge, leaving it only partially usable for years afterwards, and necessitating a partial rebuild.

It also damaged  Southwark Cathedral, necessitating a partial rebuild.

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Some of the masonry  used in the rebuilding of the cathedral  was salvaged from the fire debris and shows signs of fire damage.

London Bridge and Southwark Cathedral are visited on our standard “Historic Southwark” walk and on our “Medieval London” and “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London” 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).

 

 

Jack Cade’s rebellion (1450)

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On this day in 1450 Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  and thousands of armed supporters entered London “to punish evil ministers and procure a redress of grievances”.  Cade went on to strike  the “London Stone” on Cannon Street  with his sword, and declare himself “Lord of this City” (*); and in this capacity to oversee the show-trial at the Guildhall and subsequent execution on Cheapside of the corrupt Lord High Treasurer, James Fiennes, Baron of Saye and Sele, and his son-in-law William Crowmer.    Unfortunately for Cade, in succeeding days he lost what support he had for his cause among the citizens of London, as his followers descended into drunken  rioting and looting in the City.  Eventually, on July 8th, the citizens drove him and his followers from the City, after a pitched battle on London Bridge, during which scores of combatants were killed (**).

The “London Stone” is  visited on our “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights” and “Rebellious London” 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).

(*) An act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI:

“Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign.  And now, henceforward, it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer”.

(**) Cade was later captured and executed in Sussex, as part of the so-called  “Harvest of the Heads” of the rebel ringleaders, whereupon  his   body was brought to London and beheaded and quartered in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark, and his head was put upon a pike on London Bridge.

English Pride Dented On St George’s Day (1390)

 

The joust on London Bridge on St George's Day, 1390

On this day, St George’s Day, in 1390, English pride was  dented by the defeat of the Englishman Lord Welles by the Scotsman Sir David Lindsay in a friendly joust in front of King Richard (II) – on London Bridge!  As Gordon Home put it in his Medieval London, citing  the primary source of Hector Boece:

“At the sound of the trumpets the two champions hurled themselves at each other, and either splintered his lance without effect in dismounting his adversary.  Welles had directed his spear at his opponent’s head and hit him fairly on the visor, but the Scottish champion kept his seat so steadily that some of the spectators … shouted out that Lindsay had strapped himself to his saddle.  Thereupon the gallant Scot proved his honesty by vaulting to the ground and on to his horse’s back again in his heavy armour.  A second course followed with equal fortune, but at the third Welles was fairly overthrown.  The victor at once dismounted, and in the best spirit went to assist his fallen opponent …  [and] … never failed to call daily upon him during such time as he was confined to bed by the bruises and the severe shock of the fall”. 

London Bridge  is visited on our “Historic Southwark” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” 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).

A Latter-Day Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury – London to Shooters Hill

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas (a) Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 29th December, 1170 (by knights acting on what they had interpreted as an instruction from the  King, Henry II).  The site became an important one of pilgrimage throughout the later Middle Ages (the penitent Henry making the journey barefoot in 1174, the year after Thomas was made a saint).  The practice of pilgrimage ceased after the Reformation and Dissolution under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, but may be said to have resumed in later  centuries.  Research published by the Chaucer Society in the nineteenth century suggests that the route taken by pilgrims from London to Canterbury ran more less along the line of the old Roman road of Watling Street – or its modern equivalent, the A2 – through Dartford, Rochester and Faversham (note in this context that Rochester is mentioned in the Monk’s prologue, Sittingbourne in the Wife of Bath’s prologue, and Boughton-under-Blean, which is near Faversham, in the Canon Yeoman’s prologue, in “The Canterbury Tales”).  Further research from this time suggests that the journey along this – sixty-mile or so – route would probably have taken four days, with overnight stops at each of the three aforementioned towns (where suitable accommodation was available).  I follow in the pilgrims’  tracks …

City of London

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Thomas Becket was born on Cheapside  in the City of London in circa 1120, the son of Gilbert, a merchant of Norman ancestry, and Matilda.  He was educated at Merton Priory, and later at one of the  grammar schools    in London, possibly St Paul’s, before entering the church, and eventually rising to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

There is a chapel dedicated to him inside the Mercers’ Livery Company Hall at the corner of Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane.

London Bridge

“Old” London Bridge was rebuilt, by Peter, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, in 1176-1209, and stood until 1831 (an alcove still survives in the grounds of Guy’s  Hospital).

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There were scores of buildings on it then, including a chapel dedicated to St Thomas (depicted in a stained glass window in the church of St Magus the Martyr).

Southwark

Southwark was first recorded as “Sudwerca” in the “Domesday Book” of 1086, taking its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  It  was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fire in 1676.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings (including prisons such as the Clink, King’s Bench, Marshalsea and White Lion), industries (including tanning) and activities (including – in the numerous “stews” – prostitution, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds).

Southwark Cathedral

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What is now Southwark Cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming the priory of St Mary Overie in 1106, the  parish church of St Saviour  following the Dissolution in 1540, and Southwark Cathedral and the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie in 1905.  Being over  the “rie” or river, the church was undamaged in the Great Fire, and also survived the bombing of the Blitz.  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).  The interior contains  many memorials, including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275, and the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible.

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What was St Mary’s re-established its  public infirmary as St Thomas’s Hospital in the early thirteenth century (the hospital later relocated to Lambeth).

Winchester  Palace

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On nearby Clink Street are the remains of Winchester Palace (and also the site of the Clink Prison).  The palace was originally built in the twelfth century by King Stephen’s brother Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester (at this time, Southwark was in the Diocese of Winchester).  It was subsequently rebuilt in the late thirteenth to fourteenth century, and remained in use until the time of the Civil War in the seventeenth, when it was portioned off.  It was substantially destroyed by a fire in the nineteenth century, with only parts of the Great Hall surviving to this day.  The Great Hall dates to the twelfth century, circa 1144; the “Rose Window” to the fourteenth (and possibly to the Bishopric of William of Wykeham, circa 1367-98).

Borough High Street

Borough  was first recorded as “Southwarke borrow” in 1559, taking its name from the Old English  “burh”.  Borough High Street is  part of, and was once known as,  Stane Street, the Roman road to the south, and Borough Market was first established in the thirteenth century.

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Famously, there were some  fifty  inns and other drinking establishments on and around Borough High Street at the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, including the “Tabard” and  “White Hart”, which were known to and written about by Chaucer and Shakespeare.  They all survived that fire, although many were burnt down in the  Great Fire of Southwark in 1676.  The “Tabard” and the “White Hart” were later rebuilt, but  no longer stand, having been demolished in the late nineteenth century.   The “George”, originally built sometime before 1542, was also rebuilt after the Great Fire of Southwark, in 1677, as a galleried inn, and still stands.

Crossbones Graveyard

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Just off Borough High Street, at the corner of  Union Street and Redcross Way, is the unconsecrated burial ground known as the “Crossbones Graveyard”.  Here from Medieval times were interred the “Outcast Dead”, including the “Winchester Geese”, which is to say women who worked as prostitutes in brothels or “stews” licensed by the Bishops of Winchester.  An “Ordinance for the Governance of the Stews” was  issued  by King Henry II in 1161.

Tabard Street

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The church of St George the Martyr, at the corner  of Borough High Street and Tabard Street, was originally built in the twelfth century,  and rebuilt in the fourteenth (and again in the eighteenth, in the Neo-Classical style).  Henry V was met here by the Aldermen and Mayor of London upon his triumphal return from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

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Old Kent Road

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The “Thomas a Becket” public house on the Old Kent Road stands on the site of the “St Thomas a Watering”, alluded to as follows in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”:

“And forth we rode a little more than pace

Unto the watering of St Thomas … ”

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A little further east is the former North Peckham Civic Centre, featuring a fine mosaic mural by Adam Kossowski depicting, among other things, that very scene.

Deptford

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Deptford was first recorded as “Depeford” in 1293, taking name from the Old English “deop”, meaning deep, and “ford” (across the Ravensbourne).  The church of St Nicholas was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, and  subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth, and again in the late seventeenth, in 1697, only to be badly damaged during the Blitz.  The fourteenth-century tower still stands.  Christopher Marlowe is buried in the churchyard.

Blackheath

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Extraordinarily, in the Middle Ages, no fewer than three rebel armies gathered on the high windswept at the top of  Blackheath Hill preparatory to marching on London: the first under Wat Tyler during the  “Peasants’ Revolt”, in 1381 (see June 15th posting); the second under Jack Cade, in 1450 (see May 8th posting); and the third under Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank  during the “Cornish Revolt” , in 1497 (see June 17th posting).

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Shooters Hill

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Shooters Hill is one of the highest points in, and  at the outermost  edge of, London, and commands fine  views of the city to the west …

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… and of the open countryside of Kent to the east.

Bohemian Medieval London (Wenzel Schaseck and Gabriel Tetzel, 1465)

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Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London,  this one written by Wenzel Schaseck from Birkov in what is now the Czech Republic, who visited London – as part of the  diplomatic delegation of Leo of Rozmital – in 1465 …

“London is a grand and beautiful city and has two castles. In the first, located at the very end of the city surrounded by the ocean’s gulf, lives the English King. He was present at the time of our arrival. Across the gulf there is a bridge made of stone and quite long, and houses have been built on both sides of it stretching its full length. I have never seen such a quantity of kite birds as I have here. Harming them is forbidden and is punishable by death”.

… and this one by Gabriel Tetzel, from Grafenberg in what is now Germany,   who also visited London – as part of the same delegation –  in 1465 …

“We have passed through Canterbury through the English kingdom all the way to the capital, which is home to the English King. Its name is London and it is a very vigorous and busy city, conducting trade with all lands. In this city there are many craftsmen, and mainly goldsmiths and drapers, beautiful women and expensive food”.

London Bridge Waterworks (1582)

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On this day, December 24th,  in 1582, the Dutchman Pieter Maritz’s London Bridge Waterworks began supplying fresh water from the Thames to private houses in the City of London.  His rather rickety-looking apparatus actually worked well, and indeed, in the original demonstration to City officials, forced a jet over the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr!   It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but thereafter replaced by his grandson, and  it continued in use, after a fashion, until the early nineteenth century.

London Bridge is visited on various of our walks, including the “Historic Southwark” standard.

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).

The “Sheep Drive” over London Bridge

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Today is the day of  the annual “Sheep Drive”  over London Bridge, with Freemen of the City of London ceremonially exercising their historical right, dating back to the Middle Ages,  to drive sheep over the bridge without payment of a toll.  Nowadays, the ceremony, which is organised by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, also serves to raise money for charitable causes.  This year, it is to be accompanied by a Wool Fair, to promote the wool trade, at Monument.