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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

The great house Richard III granted to John Howard….

Tower Royal - AGAS Map

Location of Tower Royal on the AGAS Map, circa 1570 – indicated by blue arrow

There was once a royal house, sometimes referred to as a palace, in the street named The Riole in London’s Vintry Ward, and Richard III granted it to his good friend and ally, John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. The great house was called the Tower Royal, and, like so much of medieval London, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The name Tower Royal was new to me, so I began to investigate. As a matter of interest, there is still an area in the city of London called Tower Royal (EC4N), to which, I am informed, the nearest station is Cannon Street.

Tower Royal area of modern London

This map source has the following to say (and good luck if you’re not dizzy after trying to picture it all!):-

“On the South ſide of this ſtreete from Budge Row, lieth a lane turning downe by the weſt gate of the Tower Royall, and to the ſouth ende of the ſtone Wall beyond the ſaid gate, is of this ward, and is accounted a part of the Royall ſtreete, agaynſt this weſt gate of the Tower Royall, is one other lane, that runneth weſt to Cordwainer ſtreete, and this is called Turnebaſe lane: on the ſouthſide whereof is a peece of Wringwren lane, to the Northweſt corner of Saint Thomas Church the Apoſtle.”

Got it? Well, it is clear enough as far as the second comma. Tower Royal is indeed south, just down Royall Street from Budge Row, on the left, behind a high stone wall. You can see the location clearly on the top illustration on this page, shown by the suitably royal-blue arrow.

As far as the nearby churches, in the medieval period, are concerned, see the illustration below. Number 84 in the illustration below is St Michael Paternoster Royal, and number 63 is St Martin Vintry, which is at the southern end of The Riole. This street appears under a variety of names, including Whyttyngton Colleage, as in the illustration at the beginning of this article, which is taken from The A to Z of Elizabethan London, published by the London Topographical Society.

location of Tower Royal

According to The London Encyclopaedia, edited by Weinreb and Hibbert, The Tower Royal:-

“…[was] first heard of in the 13th century, [and] was named after the wine merchants from Le Riole, near Bordeaux, who lived in the area. In 1320 it came into the possession of Edward III, who granted it in 1331 to Queen Philippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe here. On her death, the King gave it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster. But in 1371 Joan, Princess of Wales, mother of the future Richard II, was living there. In 1381 her son rode here to tell her of the suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. By 1598 it was, according to Stow, neglected and used for stabling the King’s horses. It was burned down in the Great Fire…”

So, no mention of Richard III or John Howard. But then, there’s a long span between 1381 and 1598!

And then I found the following in John Strype’s Survey of London :-

“At the upper end of this Street [The Riole], is the Tower Royal, whereof that street taketh name. This Tower and great place was so called, of pertaining to the Kings of this Realm: but by whom the same was builded, or of what Antiquity continued, I have not read more, than in the Reign of King Edward I. second, fourth, and seventh years, it was the tenement of Simon Beawmes. Also, that in the 36th of Edward III. the same was called the Royal, in the Parish of Michael de Pater noster: and that in the three and fortieth of his Reign, he gave it by the name of his Inne, called the Royal, in his City of London, in value twenty pounds by year, unto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster. Notwithstanding, in the Reign of Richard II. it was called, The Queens Wardrobe, as appeareth by this that followeth.

“King Richard, having in Smithfield overcome and dispersed the Rebels, he, his Lords and all his Company, entred the City of London, with great joy, and went to the Lady Princess his Mother, who was then lodged in the Tower-Royal, called the Queens Wardrope, where she had remained three days and two nights, right sore abashed. But when she saw the King her Son, she was greatly rejoyced and said, Ah Son, what great sorrow have I suffered for you this day! The King answered and said; Certainly, Madam, I know it well, but now rejoyce, and thank God, for I have this day recovered mine heritage, and the Realm of England, which I had near-hand lost.

“This Tower seemeth to have been (at that time) of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whom they listed: as in my Annals I have shewed; the Princess being forced to flye came to this Tower Royal, where she was lodged, and remained safe as ye have heard. And it may be also supposed, that the King himself was at that time lodged there. I read, that in the year 1386. Lyon King of Armony, being chased out of his Realm by the Tartarians, received innumerable gifts of the King and of his Nobles, the King then lying in the Royal. Where he also granted to the said King of Armony, a Charter of a thousand pounds by year during his Life. This for proof may suffice, that Kings of England have been lodged in this Tower, though the same (of later time) hath been neglected, and turned into stabling for the Kings horses, and now let out to divers Men, and divided into Tenemens.

“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels.”

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk

The Gatehouse Gazeteer has more to say:- http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/4620.html

Royal Tower, dating from before Edward I (possibly from Henry I), used, at times as the Queens Wardrobe, as guest lodgings and sometime let out as a lodging. Was near to St Michael Paternoster.

“Tower Royall was of old time the kings house, king Stephen was there lodged, but sithence called the Queenes Wardrobe: the Princesse, mother to king Richard the 2. in the 4. of his raigne was lodged there, being forced to flie from the tower of London, when the Rebels possessed it: But on the 15. of June (saith Frosard) Wat Tylar being slaine, the king went to this Ladie Princesse his mother, then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrobe, where she had tarried 2. daies and 2. nights: which Tower (saith the Record of Edward the 3. the 36. yeare) was in the Parish of S. Michael de Pater noster, &c. In the yere 1386, king Richard with Queene Anne his wife, kept their Christmasse at Eltham, whither came to him Lion king of Ermony, vnder pretence to reforme peace, betwixt the kinges of England and France, but what his comming profited he only vnderstood: for besides innumerable giftes that he receyued of the King, and of the Nobles, the king lying then in this (Tower) Royall at the Queenes Wardrobe in London, graunted to him a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. He was, as hee affirmed, chased out of his kingdome by the Tartarians. (Stow p. 44-)

“At the vpper end of this streete, is the Tower Royall, whereof that streete taketh name: this Tower and great place was so called, of pertayning to the kinges of this Realme, but by whome the same was first builded, or of what antiquity continued, I haue not read, more then that in the raigne of Edward the first, the second, fourth and seuenth yeares, it was the tenement of Symon Beawmes, also that in the 36 of Edward the 3. the same was called the Royall, in the parrish of S. Michael de pater noster, & that in the 43. of his raigne, hee gaue it by the name of his Inne, called the Royall in the cittie of London, in value xx.l. by yeare, vnto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster: notwithstanding in the raigne of Richard the second it was called the Queenes Wardrope, as appeareth by this that followeth, king Richarde hauing in Smithfield ouercome and dispersed his Rebels, hee, his Lordes and all his Company, entered the Citty of London, with great ioy, and went to the Lady Princes his mother, who was then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrope, where shee had remayned three dayes and two nightes, right sore abashed, but when shee saw the king her sonne, she was greatelie reioyced and saide. Ah sonne, what great sorrow haue I suffered for you this day. The king aunswered and saide, certainely Madam I know it well, but now reioyce, and thanke God, for I haue this day recouered mine heritage, and the Realme of England, which I had neare hand lost.

“Frosarde.; King Richard lodged in the Tower Royall.

“This Tower seemeth to haue beene at that time of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whome they listed, as in mine Annales I haue shewed, the princesse being forced to flye came to this Tower Royall, where shee was lodged and remayned safe as yee haue heard, and it may bee also supposed that the king himselfe was at that time lodged there. I read that in the yeare 1386. Lyon king of Armonie, being chased out of his Realme by the Tartarians, receyued innumerable giftes of the King and of his Nobles, the king then lying in the Royall, where hee also granted to the saide king of Armonie, a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. This for proofe may suffice, that kinges of England haue beene lodged in this Tower, though the same of later time haue been neglected and turned into stabling for the kinges horses, and now letten out to diuers men, and diuided into Tenements. (Stow p. 238-)

“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels. (Stype Bk3 p. 6)”

That, I am afraid, is about all I have been able to find about this long-lost once-royal residence. There are no illustrations, except for the old maps. Unless someone out there knows otherwise…?

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