Having for the past few days been concerned with the course (in the 14th century) of the old Walbrook, one of London’s “lost” rivers, I was pleased to come upon this article which indicates that the lost river is being acknowledged once again. Well, naturally, it hasn’t been mislaid at all, but was covered over centuries ago and now forms part of the capital’s sewer system.
The article referred to above is not new, but was to me. For once, the dreaded modern sculpture seems to be excellent. Something novel that is visually explanatory and really does bring back to life a river that has been hidden away for years.
Now all I need to know is where it actually meandered in the 14th century. It seems it was apt to change its course from time to time….
Ah, what a romantic picture the title of this post conjures. It is certainly not descriptive of the now invisible Walbrook , which had to be covered because it stank so much. Well, the smell was one of the reasons for it being enclosed. I have recently been researching the Walbrook’s exact course. Or, at least, trying to. From the wilds of Gloucestershire, I have been an armchair researcher. No tramping around sewer systems for me!
The stream has been covered over and built upon since the mid-15th century, but before then it was a very important feature, cutting the capital almost exactly in half from north to south. North being its source in the area outside the old city wall, now known as Finsbury; south being the shore of the Thames at Dowgate, where it is believed there was originally a delta. The Walbrook is thought to have split into two branches, and this lower portion of its course is called Dowgate, because it was a water gate in the Roman wall around the capital. At least, this is what I understand.
It wasn’t a long river, and the extent of its navigability is unknown. Some historians claim that barges could pass upstream as far as Bucklersbury (and Sir Thomas More’s first marital home at the Old Barge/Barge Inn).
“….We turn into Bucklersbury and stand outside St Stephen Walbrook, one of Wren’s fairest creations. In its earlier incarnation it was [Sir Thomas] More’s parish church, and his first wife was buried within its walls. Ackroyd dismisses the firm ground upon which we stand, indicating where the river Walbrook would have run, just past the church. ‘His house was called the Old Barge, and barges would come and dock just outside. It’s funny to think of it now. The river was the main means of communication. It wasn’t exactly like Venice, but closer to Venice than it is now.’
“Bucklersbury is now home to forbidding cliffs of offices, but More’s residence would have been as intimidating, in its way. He was a successful lawyer, close to the courts of two kings, and from 1510 under-sheriff of London. ‘It was a big house,’ Ackroyd says. A surviving inventory details ‘a gret cage fir birds’, ‘a gret mapp of all the world’ and ‘a table (picture) of Sir Thomas More’s face’.”
Now, I don’t know when the Old Barge/Barge Inn was built, but if the Walbrook was culverted in the mid-15th century, I can’t help thinking it would have invisible to More, who was born in 1478, married in 1505, and moved to Chelsea in 1520. This being so, I don’t really see how barges could still have been sailing there during his time at the Old Barge/Barge Inn.
The origin of the story of the Walbrook having been navigable to the Olde Barge appears to have been William Maitland, in his History and Survey of London:-
The author of a PhD thesis reasons that the Walbrook may only have been navigable as far as Cloak Lane, as also shown in the map above, and described as follows:-
“…Zone A carries the estuarine stretch of the Walbrook. The bed of the river flattens slightly south of Cannon Street and this trend continues through to the Thames. As HWST was 1.50m OD at the beginning of the Roman period and the riverbed was at 0.30m OD, the Walbrook would have been tidal through the whole of this stretch and into the southern half of the Bloomberg Development. However, HWST fell to 0.00m OD by the middle of the 1st C and remained at this lower level until the 4th C. Under these conditions, the Walbrook would have been tidal only as far as Cloak Lane to the south of Cannon Street…”
But this very detailed and technical thesis also concludes that in fact the Walbrook was only of service to vessels for about 50 yards from the Thames.
In The London Encyclopaedia, Christopher Hibbert insists that the Walbrook was never navigable. Anywhere. Full stop.
Someone has to be wrong. And yet, is the very name of More’s home an indication of its original situation? After all, why call something the Old Barge Inn if it had nothing whatsoever to do with barges? So, in Chaucer’s time, might the Walbrook indeed have been navigable to this point at Bucklersbury? As Maitland would appear to have believed?
Another disputed point about the Walbrook’s course is whether or not it formed a meander immediately north of the Chaucer residence in (Upper) Thames Street. This is because in 1873, F.J. Furnivall discovered an important document that had a bearing on Chaucer’s property. It was a quitclaim deed, dated 19th June 1381, in which [one] Geoffrey Chaucer named himself as the son of John Chaucer, vintner of London, and released his interest in a tenement once owned by his father, located in Thames Street in the City of London.
Thames Street is still a very long street, now divided into two portions, Upper and Lower, and so it is necessary to define this building’s whereabouts more accurately. The above deed, which was written in Latin, was printed in Life-Records of Chaucer, published by the Chaucer Society in 1900, and again in the Crow-Olsen Chaucer Life-Records, and describes the location of the tenement as follows:-
The whole area is now loomed over by Cannon Street Station, of course, but certain points in the translation above are important. I was always under the impression that the Walbrook simply flowed north to south, passing to the east of the Chaucer residence. Well, according to the image above, it did indeed pass to the east, but also to the north, because there was a meander there in Chaucer’s time. The Walbrook flowed quite swiftly from its source, but on nearing the Thames, the land flattened considerably, and the river seems to have indulged in a curve.
This now-lost river is also described as being crossed by many bridges. Right. Well, I have found vague references to unnamed bridges and some references to specific bridges, but there’s one bridge which I think must have existed, yet it is never mentioned. What happened when the Walbrook crossed (Upper) Thames Street?
All this is important to me, because the characters in my work in progress have to move around in this very area. But there is a resounding blank when it comes to the intersection with Thames Street. I want my characters to proceed to and fro along this important thoroughfare, and if I am to describe their surroundings with any vividness and accuracy, I cannot ignore the Walbrook.
Thames Street seems to have originated as the waterfront itself, but gradually the buildings and wharves on the Thames extended south, resulting in Thames Street becoming a little further inland. It was that much further inland in Chaucer’s time. So, what happened when the considerable traffic of the city came to the Walbrook? Did they all pole-vault? Of course not, so there must have been a proper crossing. Mustn’t there?
Well, two things. One, was there a fixed bridge? If the Walbrook was navigable for barges, then the flow must have been considerably lower than Thames Street, in order to permit vessels to pass beneath. Or two, the bridge must have been a drawbridge/swingbridge. I refuse to believe there was a ferry. Or a ford.
So, what is the answer? Which version of the Walbrook is the true one? Was there a meander behind the Chaucer residence? Did Sir Thomas More reside beside thronged waters that were the scene of commerce and bustle? What happened at the intersection between the Walbrook and Thames Street? Was the Walbrook even navigable at all?
We all know that when medieval nobles moved between their properties, they often/usually took their luxury items with them, such as tapestries. These were then hung anew in whichever house/castle the lord had gone to.
It had never occurred to me how much trouble this must have caused for those in charge of things such as tapestries. Tapestries were precious, and often specified in wills and other inventories. Just what had to be gone through in order to raise them in their new position?
This article shows how the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio coped with such particularly precious Renaissance tapestries. And this is today, let alone Medieval England!
Finding the original town plans of London, before the Great Fire of 1666, is always intriguing, and very rewarding indeed for those of us who love all things medieval. So, in this respect, I welcome the Tudors. I already have books of London maps, published by the London Topographical Society, of our capital in the Elizabethan, Georgian and Regency periods, and very detailed and rewarding they are.
But now I find that the British Historic Towns Atlas, in association with the London Topographical Society, publishes foldable maps, in the same form as Ordnance Survey Landranger maps, and so on. Intrigued, I purchased the Tudor map of London, which reveals the city in about 1520, which is much closer in time to the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII. It is a very beautiful thing, and led me to browse the streets just for the sake of it.
If you go to their website you will find their range of maps, but most, if not all, are later than Tudor. Mostly 19th century, in fact, as York, which dates from 1850. Bristol is a series of detailed chronicological articles available on line. You will have to delve through the website in the hope of finding what you want.
But the 1520 map of “Tudor” London is excellent. I recommend it.
Last night I watched (on PBS America) a BBC2 Timewatch episode entitled The Mysteries of the Medieval Ship. It concerned the discovery, in June 2002, of a foundered/scuttled medieval vessel of some size, buried in the oozing mud of the Severn Sea – well, the oozing mud of the River Usk, at Newport, to be precise. But Severn Sea mud is the same, whichever estuary, and it takes prisoners, with the result that this particular ship has survived almost intact, and is that only such large 15th-century vessel to have done so in the United Kingdom.
Dendrochronology dates the timbers to around late 40s of the 15th century, and the oak identified as from northern Spain or Gascony, the latter possibility being just within English tenure, before France took it back.
It is believed that the ship had been berthed for repairs, but sank when supports gave way. And the fact of these repairs leads to a strong link to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who turned upon King Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26th July, 1469. Warwick won the battle, and among those he executed afterward was his predecessor as Lord of Newport, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
There is a letter, signed by Warwick, concerning the repairs to just such a vessel as has now been discovered, at the time berthed in Newport. Here is the modernised text, taken from here :-
Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.
We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……
Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)
It may not be the same ship, of course, but the retrieved vessel had been armed (stone cannon balls found among the timbers) and there seems a strong possibility that far from being a peaceful merchantman, she may have been one of his pirate vessels. Warwick was known to dabble in piracy.
This mysterious ship is something to be cared for and treasured. She may not be the Mary Rose, but she is of more interest to those of us who prefer the 15th century. Especially when a figure like Warwick seems to be part of her history.
There is much to be found online about this extraordinary medieval discovery, and the following links are but a few:-
To historians, Ricardians in particular, Clements Markham is best known as the writer who built on the earlier research of Horace Walpole and others to rehabilitate the last Plantagenet during the Edwardian era. In this capacity, his rivalry with James Gairdner is legendary and he wrote a biography of Edward VI, however Markham was a man of many more talents.
His main career was as a geographer and explorer. He served in the Royal Navy and helped to search for Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared on an Arctic expedition, albeit to no avail. He then worked for the Inland Revenue and India Office before becoming geographer to Sir Robert Napier in Abyssinia. By now he was Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society, a post he occupied for a quarter of a century and became its President after a five-year sabbatical. In these roles, he became a patron of Robert Scott and supported him far more than he did Ernest Shackleton, becoming godfather to Sir Peter Scott, who became a naturalist after his father’s early death.
It is, presumably, through his experience as an explorer that Markham became a historian. As can be seen above right, he translated the life of Lazarillo de Tormes (above left) and wrote about many other explorers whilst reporting on his own voyages to the Arctic, the Antarctic, South America and Africa. Markham (below left) eventually wrote biographies of Edward VI and Richard III and died in 1916, in a house fire whilst trying to read by candlelight.
“If I can see further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Sir Isaac Newton.
So tomorrow’s royal wedding will involve a fleet of carriages – should be great to see, and I really hope the weather comes up trumps for the occasion. In this article, I noticed the following passage:-
“….The original Mews was built at Charing Cross to house King Richard II’s hawks in 1377, and was named for the “mewing” process that involves caging a hawk until it molts. The first Mews burned down in 1534 and was rebuilt by King Henry VIII, who kept the name but repurposed the structure for horses….”
So, if the original Mews was built for Richard II, and didn’t burn down until 1534, we can safely say that Richard III’s hawks were kept there too. In Charing Cross. Yes?
Arlington Court is not a particularly old building but it commemorates a family that can be traced back to the Battle of Hastings, with a twentieth century twist. It dates from 1820, however it is the third or possibly fourth grand house to occupy the same site since the sixteenth century. The grounds are extensive and the circular walk is reputed to take an hour; there is also a Carriage Museum. The whole estate lies about five miles from Barnstaple.
Until 1949 it was the home of the Chichester family, Sir John having married a Raleigh heiress in 1385. The Chichesters were recusants from 1577 but maintained a loyalty to the Crown through the following centuries. Another John Chichester was awarded a Baronetcy in 1840 but left only one son and Sir Bruce’s only child was a daughter, “Miss Rosalie”.
It is through her eyes (1865-1949) that visitors see the present house, as she survived her father by sixty-eight years and her mother by forty-one. Her many collections, including model ships and family portraits, and individual style dominate the many rooms. Sir Bruce’s widow married one of his cousins, Rector of the adjacent parish of Shirwell, and his grandson was the 1967 solo circumnavigator Francis Chichester (right), knighted on board his Gypsy Moth IV. The National Trust, to whom she left the house and grounds, added a model of this to his “aunt’s” collection.
I am certain that she would have welcomed this posthumous augmentation.
Here is a link to an interesting map and article on the murder hotspots of medieval London. Click on a dot and details pop up of that particular murder.
Most of the culprits either just simply disappeared pronto or skedaddled into sanctuary and frustratingly the outcomes are not shown. The vast majority of the victims were male, sadly one a small child, John de Burgh, aged 5 years old who died after being ‘cuffed’ after he stole a small amount of wool which he had hidden under his hat. One of the more audacious was the murder of the gatekeeper of Newgate Gaol, Nicholas at Mill, who was stabbed to death by two men who broke into Newgate to do so.
Its seems you were quite vulnerable if you were a clerk in holy orders, several of them being bumped off. Although priests seemed to be susceptible to ending up as murder victims they could actually give as good as they got with one priest, Alan de Hacford murdering Walter de Anne, the man he shared his lover, Alice de York with, after finding Walter and Alice sitting together. For reasons unknown Alice aided and abetted Alan, the pair of them fleeing afterwards.
Loud music then as now could lead to altercations with fatal results. In May 1324, Thomas Somer, a minstrel. incensed Thomas of Lynn, by playing outside his home after dusk. The householder Thomas chased Somer intending to bash him with a door-bar. After Thomas caught Somer and struck him, the musician pulled out a knife and fatally injured Thomas.
In this picture its the turn of musician to get it…
A few of the culprits were female including a fishmonger stabbed to death by his mistress. Surprisingly she didn’t batter him to death with a piece of cod!… joking.. .. while another woman, a prostitute by the name of Agnes ‘Houdy Doudy’ killed another woman, Lucy, the pregnant wife of Richard de Barstaple, by ‘striking her on the belly with fists and knees’. Yet another woman, a beggar known as Nicola from Cardiff, drowned her 3 month old baby, Alice, while ‘surreptitiously pretending to wash the child’ in a ditch.
Reasons for people getting murdered varied quite a bit from a suicidal man, John Pentyn, bashing his would be rescuer over the head with an iron stave to Roger Styward, who as a result of throwing eel skins in the street, received a fatal kicking. Servants died protecting their masters belongings. A violent altercation about a horse led to a murder while a planned gang rape ended in complete and utter mayhem.
Royalty was not exempt from the fallout of murder – John Gremet a groom of the kitchen of Queen Philippa – was murdered by another royal servant, Peter Tremenel.
A total of 142 murders are detailed sourced from the Coroners’ Rolls and credit and thanks to Prof Eisner at the Institute of Criminonology, University of Cambridge. Enjoy!