Tag Archives: Southwark Cathedral

DARK AGE LONDON contd.

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Building Works

Within the walls of the City, the first St Paul’s Cathedral was founded by Bishop Mellitus and the Kentish King Ethelburg in 604, a matter of a few short years after the arrival of the Gregorian mission in 597.  Again as the  Venerable Bede put it:  “In the Year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, ordained … Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons … .  … [W]hen this province … received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see … ”.  The   first cathedral  went on to be destroyed by fire in 675.  The second, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built during the  Bishopric of  Erkenwald, between 675-85,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.  The  third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

The church of All Hallows Barking was  originally built in  around 675.  That of St Peter-upon-Cornhill was built at least as long ago as 1038, being  mentioned in the will of Bishop Aelfric, who died in that year.  And that of St Lawrence Jewry at least as long ago as 1046, wood from a coffin in the churchyard being  dendrochronologically dated to  that year.   Many other churches are of probable or possible Saxon origin, the best substantiated being  St Benet Fink, where a grave-slab tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to  the late tenth or early eleventh century has been found.  The palace of the Mercian King Offa was originally built in the eighth century.   What is now known as Queenhithe was first recorded, as “Ethered’s Hithe”, in 898; and it is evident, from dendrochronologically-dated timbers re-used in a revetment on the river-front, that an arcaded “aisled hall” – in context most likely a royal palace or other high-status building – was built here between 956-79.  And Billingsgate was first recorded in around 1000.

Without the walls, in Southwark, the nunnery of St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral) was founded in 606.  In  Westminster, the parish church of St Clement Danes on the Strand, “so called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”,  was at least purportedly originally  built in wood by Alfred in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone by Cnut in the early tenth; and in Camden, the church of St Andrew Holborn, in wood, at least as long ago as 951, being referred to as an “old wooden church” in a Charter of that year.  Also in Westminster, the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter was founded by Bishop Dunstan and King Edgar in 960, on what was then Thorney Island (and, according to legend, the site of a church founded by Sebert in 604); and the Palace of Westminster, by Cnut, in 1016.  The Monastery was subsequently  rebuilt, as Westminster Abbey, under Edward “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065; and the Palace was also rebuilt at this  time.   A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote in 1065: “Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The King [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die in 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles … ”.

The layout  of the streets in the Saxon City of Lundenburg  was essentially  longitudinal, such as to allow easy access  to Lundenwic to the west.  The principal streets were Eastcheap to the east and Cheapside to the west, with Leadenhall Street and Cornhill to the north, and Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street to the south, of the old Roman Basilica and Forum in the centre (note in this context that the Saxons appear to have held Roman ruins in superstitious awe, a line in an Old English poem entitled “The Ruin” referring to them as “enta geweorc” or “labours of giants”).  Saxon street names were characteristically blunt, often  referring simply to available goods or services (“c(h)eap” meant  “market”).

Surviving Structures

Structures that survive from Saxon and Viking London  are extremely few and far between.

Essentially nothing now  remains of the original Saxon fabric in St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral),  or St Lawrence Jewry.  Nothing remains either of the palace of the Mercian King Offa, incorporated into St Alban Wood Street, in turn severely damaged during  the Blitz of the Second World War, and substantially demolished in the post-war period.  Nor anything of  Queenhithe or Billingsgate, other than the names  (and the aforementioned timbers from Queenhithe, now in the Museum of London).  Nor of the folkmoot or husting.

However, there are surviving – seventh-century and later – Saxon remains in the church of All Hallows Barking.  These include a fine stone arch possibly as old as the late seventh century, c. 675, incorporating Roman tiles; and, in the crypt, two stone crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Saxon Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts, a characteristic of “Dark Age” iconography.

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There is also some surviving precisely-dated eleventh-century  and  imprecisely-dated pre-eleventh-century stone-work fabric  in  the church of St Bride, off Fleet Street, the latter of which has been postulated, although not proven, to date to the late fifth or early sixth century, the church’s purported founder Bride, or Bridget, the   Abbess of Kildare in Ireland, living  from 450-525.    And in Westminster Abbey, there is a surviving eleventh-century shrine to Edward “The Confessor”.  And an eleventh-century crypt, containing the Chapel of the Pyx.

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Further  afield, there is a Saxon altar-stone in St Pancras Old Church in Camden, tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to the late sixth century, around  the time of the conversion of the Saxons by St Augustine in 597, and the construction of the first incarnation of St Paul’s Cathedral in 604 (interestingly, the land on which the church stands was granted to  St Paul’s in 604).  The  altar-stone, inlaid into  a Georgian altar-table, depicts five crosses, whose unusual forms are remarkably  reminiscent of that on the tomb on a small island in the Firth of Lorne believed to be of Columba’s mother Eithne, who died in the late sixth century.   There is also a Saxon rood (cross) in the church of St Dunstan and All Saints in Stepney, of the tenth.

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And five miles east of Epping, in a dappled clearing in the dark heart of the ancient  wild-wood that today bears its name, there is the extraordinary church  of St Andrew in Greensted. Greensted Church, as it is more commonly known, is purportedly the oldest wooden church  in the world.  The original  church on the site was probably built at least as long ago as the middle of the seventh century, the   time that St Cedd set about converting the East Saxons to Christianity from his base at Bradwell-on-Sea  (incidentally, Cedd went on to attend the Synod of Whitby in 664, and to die of the plague in Northumbria later that same year).  Sadly, though, the only remaining physical evidence as to the existence of this structure  is in the form of post-holes discovered during an archaeological excavation in 1960.  Work began on the present church in the middle of the eleventh century  (dendrochronological evidence acquired in 1995 indicating  that the trees used in its  construction were felled between 1060-3).   Nearly a thousand years later, much  of nave  still stands, incorporated into later extensions.  It  was evidently originally windowless, aside from some small “eag-thyrels” or eye-holes, and a single larger “niche”, known by many as  a lepers’ “squint”.  Rather wonderfully, scorch-marks can still be seen  on some of the wall timbers, suggesting that  the gloomy interior was once lit by wall-mounted lamps.   Adze-marks can also still be seen on some timbers.

Southwark Cathedral (1539)

 

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On this day in 1539, the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie was dissolved, the priory church then becoming the parish church of St Saviour, and eventually the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral).

The cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming a priory in 1106.  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).

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The interior contains  many interesting features , including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275 …

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… a stained-glass window commemorating Geoffrey Chaucer, who would have walked past the Cathedral on the  pilgrimage to Canterbury that he immortalised as “The Canterbury Tales” …

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… the burial-place of William Shakespeare’s brother Edmond …

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… the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible …

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… and a chapel dedicated to local-boy-made-good John Harvard, who was baptised here, and who, after most of his family died in an outbreak of plague in 1626, set sail for the Americas to start a new life.  The university that he established there bears his name to this day.

 

 

 

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.

 

Blessing of the River Thames

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Next Sunday is the day of the annual ceremony of the “Blessing of the River Thames”.  Representatives from the church of St Magnus the Martyr and from Southwark Cathedral will process from their respective starting points on the north and south banks of the Thames to meet at a point midway across the river on London Bridge.  There, at 12:30, they will jointly conduct a short religious service blessing the river, during which a wooden cross will be cast into it.

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; the second under Jack Cade, in 1450; and the third under Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank  during the “Cornish Revolt”, in 1497.

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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.