Tag Archives: Westminster Hall

MEDIEVAL LONDON contd.

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

Building Works

The Normans built the first stone buildings within and without the walls of the City for hundreds of   years.

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These included a number intended to symbolise their sovereign authority over the Saxons: the  White Tower in the Tower of London, built, of Caen Stone, from 1076-1101 onwards; the first Baynard’s Castle and Montfichet’s Tower, also built in the late eleventh century; and, further afield, Windsor Castle, built between 1070-86.  The   first Baynard’s Castle and Montfichet’s Tower were both built, a little to the south-west of St Paul’s, in the late eleventh century (Baynard’s Castle by Ralph Baynard, and Montfichet’s Tower by Richard de Montfichet, both of them Norman noblemen).  They were then both demolished in the early thirteenth (Blackfriars Priory was built on the site of the first Baynard’s Castle in the late thirteenth, in 1276).

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The Normans also initiated a major phase of church and other religious house building in the late eleventh to early twelfth centuries, in the Norman or Romanesque style.  The collegiate church and monastery of St Martin-le-Grand was originally founded by two brothers, Ingelric and Girard, in around 1056; the parish church of St Mary-le-Bow, or Bow Church, by the Norman King William I’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, in around 1077-87; the Cluniac Priory and Abbey of St Saviour,  or Bermondsey Abbey, in 1082;  the parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth sometime before 1086; what is now known as “Old St Paul’s”, by Bishop Maurice and his successors sometime  after 1087; the parish church of St Giles Cripplegate in around 1100; Holy Trinity Priory, by the Canons of Augustine, in 1108; the Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew in 1123; the Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, in Clerkenwell, the English home of the Knights Hospitaller, in 1144; the Augustinian Priory of St Mary, also in Clerkenwell, in 1145; the Royal Hospital of St Katharine by the Tower, in 1148; and the round nave of  Temple Church, the English home of the Knights Templar,  modelled on the Church  of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in 1160-85; and  the nunnery  of St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral) was refounded as a priory in 1106.

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Important new secular public buildings of the Norman period  included  Westminster Hall, built in 1097-99; and the Guildhall, built sometime before 1128.

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Later, the Plantagenets added inner and outer curtain walls to the  Tower of London in the thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries; built Savoy Palace in the early fourteenth, in 1324; the second Baynard’s Castle also in the early fourteenth, in around 1338; and the Royal Wardrobe in the late fourteenth, in 1361; in Westminster, the Jewel Tower (part of the Palace of Westminster), in 1365-6; and, further afield, a manor-house on the then-waterfront  in Rotherhithe in 1349-53.  Also  further afield, a succession of Plantagenet Kings  extended Windsor Castle.   The second Baynard’s Castle was built, in a river-front location,  in the early  fourteenth century, around 1338, and rebuilt in early fifteenth, around 1428, and possibly again in the late fifteenth.  It was used by a succession of Kings and  Queens in the late fifteenth to sixteenth  centuries, before being essentially completely  destroyed in the Great Fire in the seventeenth.  It was the London headquarters of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses.  According to the chronicler Fabian,   The Earl of March  was hailed King Edward IV here, before he was formally crowned in Westminster Abbey, in 1461  (“[T]he Earls of March and Warwick with a great power of men, …  entered into the City of London, the which was of the citizens joyously received, and … the said earl caused to be mustered his people …, … whereupon it was demanded of the said people whether … Henry [VI] were worthy to reign as king any longer or no.  Whereunto the people cried hugely and said Nay, Nay.  And after it was asked of them whether they would have the Earl of March as their king and they cried with one voice, Yea, Yea.  After the which admission thus by the commons assented, certain captains were assigned to bear report unto the said Earl of March then being lodged in his place called Baynard’s Castle”).  Later, in 1483, Richard III is believed to have asserted his claim to the throne, over that of Edward’s infant sons, here.

The Plantagenets also continued the church and religious house building or rebuilding programme in the later Medieval, in the Gothic style.

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All Hallows Staining, Austin Friars Priory, Blackfriars Priory, the Charterhouse, Holywell Priory, St Andrew Undershaft, St Clare without Aldgate (also known as Holy Trinity Minories), St Ethelburga, St Etheldreda, St Helen, St Katharine Cree, St Leonard Shoreditch, St Mary Aldermary, St Mary-at-Hill, St Mary Graces, St Mary-le-Strand, St Mary of Bethlehem (“Bedlam”), St Mary Rotherhithe, St Mary Spital, St Mary within Cripplegate (also known as Elsing Spital), St Mary Magdalene Bermondsey, St Olave Hart Street, St Sepulchre, the rectangular chancel  of Temple Church, possibly modelled on the Second Temple of Solomon, or on the Temple of the Lord (otherwise known as the Dome of the Rock), in Jerusalem, Whitefriars Priory, and Winchester Palace, among others, were all built at this time; and St Giles Cripplegate, St Mary-at-Lambeth, St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral), ”Old St Paul’s”, and Westminster Abbey, among others, rebuilt or extended.

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“Old St Paul’s” was evidently an impressive building by the end of the Medieval period, measuring some 600’ in length, and, according to some estimates, over 500’ in height, inclusive of the spire, which  was destroyed by lightning in 1444, and rebuilt  in 1462 (only to be destroyed by lightning again in 1561).  The “old” Chapter House, built in 1332 by the Master Mason William Ramsay, who went on to die of the “Black Death” in 1349, was the earliest example in London of the Perpendicular Gothic style that was to remain the fashion  for the next two hundred years.  Sadly, only the octagonal outline of the foundations survives, in the  churchyard on the south side of the cathedral.  Perhaps even more sadly, the celebrated wall-painting of the “Dance of Death” in the  Pardon Cloister of the north side of the cathedral, commissioned by John Carpenter during his tenure as Town Clerk, between 1417-38, was destroyed in 1549, that is, before the Great Fire, on the orders of Protector Somerset.  The painting  is said to have been based on the “Danse Macabre” in the Cimetiere des Innocents  in Paris.  According to Stow, “the metres, or posey of this dance, were translated out of French into English by John Lidgate, monk of Bury”.  The Master Mason  Henry (de) Reyns, generally known simply as Master Henry  (fl. 1243-53), is known to have worked extensively on the reconstruction of Westminster Abbey under Henry III in the thirteenth century; and also, incidentally, on the Tower of London.  The Master Mason Henry Yevele (c. 1320-1400) worked on Westminster Abbey in the fourteenth century,  on, among other things, the tombs of Edward III and Richard II, as well as on the tomb of John of Gaunt in “Old St Paul’s”, and the  Charterhouse; and also, incidentally,  on the Tower of London, the  Savoy Palace, and the Palace of Westminster, including the Jewel Tower and Westminster Hall.

Important new  secular public building works of the Plantagenet period included London Bridge, rebuilt between 1176-1209.

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Also Westminster Hall, rebuilt in 1394-1401, in part by Hugh Herland (c. 1330-c. 1411), who was responsible for the spectacular hammerbeam roof.  And  its City rival, the Guildhall,  rebuilt in 1411-30, by John Croxton(e) (fl. 1411-47).  Incidentally, Herland also worked on the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey; Croxton(e), on Leadenhall Market and Garner.

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New private buildings of the period included a number of Inns of Court; and Livery Company Halls.  Some of the  latter, such as the Merchant Taylors’, were particularly grand, including  gardens, grounds and alms-houses – for “decayed” members of the company – as well as Great Halls (and kitchens), offices and private chapels.

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New private residences included that of the wealthy grocer and twice Mayor Stephen Browne, in  Billingsgate, which was evidently sufficiently grand as to have included  its own quay; and that of the wealthy grocer John Crosby, immediately south of the church of St Helen on  Bishopsgate, later owned by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III), Thomas More, and Walter Ralegh, which Stow described as “very large and beautiful”.  The cheaper  ones of the common man, such as those recently excavated on  Poultry,  were evidently built out of timber and thatch in the  eleventh and twelfth centuries, and of stone (or brick) and tile from the thirteenth onwards, after the use of combustible materials in construction was banned by the Mayor – Henry FitzAilwyn de Londonestone – following the terrible fire of 1212, in which thousands of people died.

The Medieval street layout, so organically developed or evolved, and so modified, after the Roman and Saxon  ones as to be unrecognisable, was less in the form of a grid than of an intricate, almost beguiling, maze or web, although there were many streets  parallel and many perpendicular to the river, some of the latter on land reclaimed.  The intricately intermingled alley-ways and court-yards were the capillaries and alveoles of the City, where persons  might pause, albeit fleetingly among the seething, and rest and refresh body and soul; the lanes and thoroughfares its  veins and arteries, moving people and trade far and wide.  Horse-drawn carts and wagons were widely used to  transport goods.

Surviving Structures

Essentially nothing now  remains of the the majority of the Medieval seats of power, religious houses and secular  buildings that stood within and without the walls of the City of London before the Great Fire.

However, the Tower of London, which survived the fire, survives still, substantially intact, within the walls of the City London, the Chapel of St John in the White Tower representing  a fine example of the  Norman or Romanesque architectural style.  And on nearby Tower Hill are the remaining ruins of the Medieval Postern Gate.  The Jewel Tower, part of the Palace of Westminster, also stands, in the City of Westminster.  And the footings and some of the standing structure of Edward III’s manor-house, in Rotherhithe.

Moreover, of the 97 parish churches within the walls of the City, 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 the fire, and survive still, with at least some pre-fire structures standing, above ground (note  also that St Alban Wood Street, St Mary Aldermary, St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Mary-at-Hill and St Michael Cornhill were rebuilt after the fire incorporating into their designs significant portions of pre-fire structure).  St Helen, (re)built in 1210, stands  as an exemplar   of the Early – English – Gothic architectural style of the early thirteenth century.     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, were also  undamaged in the fire but either demolished or rebuilt afterwards; 49 were burned down in the fire and rebuilt afterwards; and 35 were burned down in the fire and not rebuilt afterwards.    Without the walls, St Bartholomew the Great, St Bartholomew the Less, St Etheldreda, St Giles Cripplegate, St Margaret Westminster, St Mary Overie  (Southwark Cathedral, Temple Church and Westminster Abbey also still stand.   St Etheldreda, built in 1294, stands as an exemplar of the Decorated Gothic style of the late thirteenth century, which was never as   flamboyant as on the continent.

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Rather  further afield, ten miles or so to the north-west, stands St Martin Ruislip, with its late Medieval, ?fifteenth-century, wall-painting depicting the “Seven Deadly Sins”, that miraculously survived the Reformation.

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And, within or without the walls, precious fragments  of Bermondsey Abbey, Blackfriars Priory, the Charterhouse, Holy Trinity Priory, the Priory of St John, the Priory of St Mary Spital, Whitefriars Priory and Winchester Palace, that survived the Reformation and Dissolution, remain.

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The surviving parts of  the “rambling nest of Medieval and Renaissance buildings” in the Charterhouse that date back to the monastic period include not only the doorway to “Cell B” in the Norfolk Cloister, with its guichet or serving hatch, but also some stone buildings in Wash-House Court.   Many of the buildings, fragments of buildings, and  fitments on the site sustained damage during the Blitz of the Second World War, and had to be  restored to their original state in  the post-war period (by Seely and Paget).

Furthermore, Westminster Hall still stands, in Westminster; as do the Guildhall, in the City of London; the Hall of Barnard’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court, without the City walls; and parts of the Merchant Taylors’ Hall, one of the Livery Companies’  Halls,  within.  Westminster Hall is fortunate to still stand, as it must have come close to  being  washed away by the great flood of 1241, chronicled by Matthew Paris, during which “such deluges of rain fell, that the river Thames, overflowing its usual bounds and its ancient banks, spread itself over the country towards Lambeth … and took possession, far and wide, of the houses and fields in that part” and “ …  people rode into the great hall at Westminster on horseback”.  The private residence of Crosby Hall, that once stood in Bishopsgate in the City, now stands at a new location in Chelsea.

“London is drowning and I live by the river” (Matthew Paris, 1241)

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On this day, the Feast of St Edmund, in 1241, began  a great rain-storm.   Matthew Paris wrote:

“[D]istinct thunder attended by lightning, a sad presage of the approach of a lengthened tempest, alarmed the hearts and ears of mortals; nor was the warning false, for it was followed by continued unseasonable weather, and by an unpleasant and disturbed state of the air, which continued for several days.  Such deluges of rain fell, that the river Thames, overflowing its usual bounds and its ancient banks, spread itself over the country towards Lambeth … and took possession, far and wide, of the houses and fields in that part.  Owing to the inundation of the water, people rode into the great hall at Westminster on horseback.  … Thus the year passed away, … generating epidemics and quartan agues [outbreaks of a strain of malaria characterised by a fever every fourth day, caused by the parasitic protozoan Plasmodium malariae, in turn transmitted by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito]”.

Matthew Paris was a Benedictine monk, scribe, illuminator of manuscripts and chronicler, based at St Albans Abbey. He was of French origin.

The execution of Bishop John Fisher (1535)

Fisher, as portrayed by Holbein

On this day in 1535, the 65 year old Bishop and  Cardinal John Fisher was executed for “misprision of treason”, for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  (The notoriously vengeful King had never forgiven Fisher for siding against him in the long-running dispute over his proposed divorce from Katherine of Aragon, and for arguing against him, and  for the indissolubility of marriage –  a principle that the Bishop swore he was prepared to die for – before the Papal  Legate in Blackfriars in 1529).  The Bishop had been tried and convicted at Westminster Hall on 17th June.  He had originally been sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 24th June, but when the King realised that this was the feast of St John the Baptist, he changed the date, reasoning that if he did not the public might forever associate John Fisher with his patronal namesake.  The Bishop  was eventually beheaded at Tower Hill on 22nd June (the feast of the first English Christian martyr, St Alban).  His head is said to have been shown to Anne Boleyn, who had expressed a desire to see it, and it was then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

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His body was buried in All Hallows-by-the-Tower (although later  reburied in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the Tower).

By all accounts, the  Bishop met his death in a state of anticipation that was at times almost joyous.  According to one:

“[W]hen they reached the scaffold, the rough men of his escort offered to help him up the ladder. But he smiled at them: ‘Nay, … ye shall see me go up to my death well enough myself; without help’.  And forthwith he began to climb, almost nimbly. As he reached the top the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and its light shone upon his face. He was heard to murmur some words from Psalm 33 … .   The masked headsman knelt …  to ask his pardon. And again the cardinal’s manliness dictated every word of his answer: ‘I forgive thee with all my heart, and I trust on Our Lord Thou shalt see me die even lustily’.   Then they stripped him …  and … a  gasp of pity went up at the sight of his …  body, nothing …  but skin and bones …  the flesh clean wasted away; and a very image of death … .  He was offered a final chance to save his life by acknowledging the royal supremacy, but …  turned to the crowd, and …  spoke these words: ‘Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my courage hath served me well … , so that …  I have not feared death; wherefore I desire you help me … with your prayers, that at the very …  instant of my death’s stroke, …  I then faint not in …  fear; and I pray God save the king and the realm, and …  send the king a good counsel’.   The …  courage of his spirit triumphing over the obvious weakness of his body, amazed them all, and a murmur of admiration was still rustling the crowd when they saw him go down on his knees and begin to pray. … Then he …  put his wasted neck upon the low block”.

Bishop John Fisher is honoured as a Saint by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, alongside Sir Thomas More.  The Catholic Church beatified him in 1886, and canonised him in 1935, and celebrates his feast day on 22nd June, the day of his execution.  The Church of England added him to the Calendar of Saints and Heroes in 1980, and celebrates his feast day on 6th July, the day of More’s execution.

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Westminster Hall

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On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).

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Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016.  Together  with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70).  It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.

 

The Mother of Parliaments

The Ship of State
Forever teatime

Today (3rd October) I went on a tour of the Houses of Parliament,  also known as The Palace of Westminster (*).  I found it a strangely moving experience, simply being in the space where so much history has been made.  And felt a particularly strong  surge of emotion on being reminded by the guide of Charles I’s  attempted unconstitutional arrest of five Members of Parliament here in 1642 – essentially the last in the series of events that led to the Civil War.  One of the said “Five  Members” was my distant relative John Hampden, who went on to fight on the Parliamentarian side in the War, and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chalgrove Field. 

The Old Palace was purportedly originally built for Cnut in around 1016, and subsequently rebuilt by Edward, “the Confessor” in 1042-65, and extended by succeeding kings, with Westminster Hall eventually becoming the seat of Parliament, to be succeeded, in 1548, by the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St. Stephen.

Westminster Hall exterior
Westminster Hall interior
Some of  the palace complex was  destroyed in a fire in 1512; and most of what remained, in another, in 1834, with essentially only Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower surviving to this day, together with parts of the Royal Chapel of St. Stephen, including the St Mary Undercroft.
Jewel Tower exterior
Jewel Tower interior
Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-9; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  The Jewel Tower was originally built by Henry Yevele, for Edward III, in 1365-6.
The New Palace was built by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, in the Victorian Gothic style, in 1837-58.
Victoran Gothic extravagance
Victorian Gothic aspiration

(*) For those wanting to see inside the Palace of Westminster – here is a link to the official website with details of how to book …
http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/