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The long-lost Walbrook makes a “reappearance”….

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….

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The Staple

In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.

From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597

The Walbrook – river of mystery…!

Showing the area of Dowgate in the centre of the riverfront.

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 area where the Walbrook begins, Finsbury and Moorfield, circa 1565

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.

Roman London, showing the mouth of the Walbrook in the red circle, immediately to the left of the palace.
Drawing of the outfall area at Dowgate, showing Cannon Street Station in the background.
Dowgate Dock, illustration from Besant.

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).

From:- Ericawagner’s blog

“….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’.”

The sites of More’s Old Barge Inn at top right, and Cloak Lane at bottom left.

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:-

From:- this thesis :-

“…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?

Bucklersbury

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.

A busy medieval street, maybe resembling Thames Street

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?

The blue circle marks the intersection of the Walbrook/Dowgate and 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.

This map very definitely shows a bridge over the Walbrook, immediately north from the Thames, in Thames Street. But was there one?

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?

See also: this map.

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/walbrook-dock/

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/walbrook-and-dowgate-overview/

http://www.lamas.org.uk/images/documents/Special_Papers/SP13%201991%20Middle%20Walbrook%20valley.pdf

https://guildhallhistoricalassociation.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/7-the-citys-rivers-the-walbrook-and-the-fleet.pdf

https://data.bloomberglp.com/company/sites/30/2017/11/BLA-web.pdf

Fancy a little shot at queek….?

a queek board

Queek/queak is a strange word, with at least three very different meanings of which I am aware.

Since the early 18th century, queak has meant a high-pitched squeak or screech, such as the call of a bird or squeal of a pig.

On the other hand, Queek Headtaker is “the legendary and much-feared Lord of the City of Pillars, Great Warlord of Clan Mors and the personal right-claw of Warlord Gnawdwell, the one and true Grand Ruler of Clan Mors.” This is from Warhammer, the wargame.

Thirdly, however, queek is a board game that was popular in the 14th century. It involved two players and a black-and-white chequered board like a chess or draughts/drafts. There was enthusiastic betting on this game, in which pebbles were thrown carefully on to the board, and money was laid upon whether it would land on black or white. It should have been straightforward. But, as always with the human race, things were rigged. There was a case from 1381 when an embroiderer from the Ropery district of London was indicted for corrupting a queek board, in which all the white squares were imperceptibly sunken, “so that all those who played the said board…were maliciously and deceitfully deprived of their property”.

Naughty embroiderer. But it just goes to prove that when it comes to betting, you can never trust anyone!

The above case is taken from London: a Travel Guide Through Time, by Dr Matthew Green. The image was found on Pinterest.

Digging up London’s surrounding ditch….

London Ditch at the end of the 16th century

We all know that medieval London was surrounded by great city walls, a lot of which dated from Roman times, and that there was a wide ditch outside the wall, to add to the capital’s defences. It gradually became silted up, and although it was dredged and cleared several times, it was encroached upon by building and eventually disappeared altogether.

In 2015 the ditch was investigated in the area of the street still called Minories, a name received from the Franciscan Abbey of St Clare, where the Minoresses were to be found. The abbey was the resort of many a highborn lady who wished, for various reasons, to retreat from the world. It was not a bare living, by any means, for many of them were in luxury, with their ladies-in-waiting and other necessities. And an occasional man was to live there as well, for instance the abbey’s Great House was the residence of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, who was murdered in Calais in 1397.

These ruins are of the second incarnation of the abbey, the first having been destroyed by fire in the early 16th century.

The abbey was outside Aldgate, amid a few houses and a lot of farms and fields, and was separated from the city wall by the great ditch. It is here that the archaeological digging and excavations went on. To learn more, go here

Wander the streets of London in 1520….

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.

The History of Southwark….

When it comes to medieval history, London and its environs always figure prominently. Well, it’s inevitable, since the king and Parliament were usually there. Not always, I grant you.

Anyway, I have come upon a very interesting and informative site about Southwark. A little ramble around it will certainly unearth something of interest to you.

For instance, the wall in the photograph above is all that remains of the notorious Marshalsea Prison. It is to the side of the John Harvard Library.

The evocative alleys of London….

(picture and words from the ianvisits.co.uk site, link below)

As always, while poking around the web for information about one thing, a site of great interest pops up unannounced. On this occasion, the site is this one, which can be delved into at leisure. It is amazing that so many ancient alleys are still there to be walked, and that their history can be traced through the old city of London, as it was before the Great Fire of 1666.

I recommend a visit….on line, if not in person. But for those who can spend their time at leisure in London, they could do a lot worse than investigate some of these ancient ways.

Wenceslaus Hollar, by Gillian Tindall…

 

Until now, I have not encountered any of the books of Gilliam Tindall, but some of them look as if they may be of interest to us. The one I came upon is here, which I intend to get, because I have always loved the beautifully detailed work of Wenceslaus Hollar, about whom I am eager to learn more.

But Gillian Tindall has written other books which may be worth a look …

The “mysterious” disappearance of Edward V….?

 

I have a number of beefs about the following extract from this article, which concerns eight unsolved royal mysteries. No, not about the present family, as shown in the above illustration (which is from the article). In the list, the third one is all that is of interest to Ricardians:-

“….3. The mysterious disappearance of King Edward V — shortly after he ascended the throne, his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester and ‘protector of the realm,’ sent him and his younger brother to London ‘for their protection.’ After the brothers were never seen again, the duke declared himself King Richard III….”

Firstly, I don’t really think Edward V ascended the throne. He never was the anointed king. This required a coronation. Secondly, we have the usual inference that Richard did away with his nephews. Thirdly, the younger boy wasn’t sent to London, he was already there. Fourthly, Richard accompanied the older boy to London, fully intending to arrange his coronation. Subsequent events took over, and Richard was invited to take the throne because he was the legitimate heir!

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