Category Archives: History

A bit of historical background and historic events

Step inside Whitehall’s jewel: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office building

Exploring George Gilbert Scott’s stunning government offices in Westminster.

Foreign Office exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building’s neo-classical exterior

Many UK Government buildings in Westminster date back to the Victorian era. It was an age when no expense was spared when it came to decorating buildings’ exteriors and interiors, when structures were created to ‘make a statement’ about the people within them. Although the Palace of Westminster gets most of the attention from Londoners and visitors to the capital alike, there is also another remarkable piece of architecture housing a government department. At the time it was built, Britain was at the height of colonial power, so had an extensive budget with which to impressive foreign visitors.

When it came to settling on the final design for what we know today as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Building, it was an arduous process to get there. As was (and still is) common at the time, a competition was launched in 1856 to choose the design for the Foreign Office and neighbouring War Office. English architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) ended up in third place in the competition with his original Gothic revival design (see the designs in the RIBA archives), which also incorporated the War Office. However, it was Scott’s former pupil Henry Edward Coe (1826-1885) and his then-partner HH Hofland’s French Visconti-type design which was chosen for the Foreign Office. However, Coe and Hofland’s plans were ditched the following year when Prime Minister Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), brought in the government’s favoured architect Sir James Pennethorne (1801-1871), who had originally designed plans for the Foreign Office a few years previously, but had not entered the competition. Lord Palmerston’s decision to dismiss the competition results outraged the architecture industry, with Scott leading the protest against it. In 1858, Lord Palmerston lost power and Scott was given the commission. It was around this time, the plans for the War Office were ditched in favour of the India Office, established in 1858 to take over the governing of India from the East India Company.

The dome topping the Grand Staircase depicts female figures representing countries of the world

 

The grand staircase is designed to impress

In June 1859, Lord Palmerston was re-elected and kicked up a fuss over Scott’s neo-Gothic design, demanding he redesign something neo-Classical, which the architect described as “a style contrary to my life’s labours”. Scott feared ditching his signature style would leave his reputation as one of the key Gothic Revival architects “irreparably injured”. However, Scott decided turning down the opportunity would be unwise, bought some books on Italian architecture and headed to Paris to study classical buildings, such as the Louvre. The India Office insisted he collaborate with their Surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), who designed the interior of their office, leaving Scott to focus on the classical exterior of both offices. The plans were finally approved by the Government in 1861, with construction completed in 1868. The Foreign Office was located on the north-west corner of the building with the India office on the south-west corner, while the Colonial Office and Home Office were added on the eastern side in 1875. Fortunately, Scott’s fears about his reputation were unfounded, with support from his peers and the public. “Even Mr (John) Ruskin said I had done right,” wrote Scott in his Personal & Professional Recollections in 1879. As for Scott’s original Gothic vision of the Foreign Office, it was used as the basis for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras.

The Victorian ceiling stencils and gilding have been restored in the Grand Locarno Suite

On completion, it was the first purpose-built Foreign Office, which by that point had been in existence for nearly 80 years. The white, Portland stone façade features many classical elements, including balustrades, columns and pediments. Dotted around are sculptures of former monarchs and politicians as well as allegorical figures of Law, Commerce and Art by English sculptors Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905) and John Birnie Philip (1824-1875). Most enter the complex through the grand arched entrance on King Charles street leading to a large outdoor courtyard. Read the rest of this entry

From criminals to cocktails: How one London hotel started life as a Magistrates Court

The former courthouse in Soho hosted some high profile trials featuring John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, Christine Keeler and Mick Jagger.

Courthouse hotel exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Edwardian-built Courthouse Hotel in Soho

Great Marlborough Street in Soho features an amalgamation of architecture styles. From the mock Tudor timbers of Liberty to the dazzling Art Deco detailing of Palladium House, there’s quite an array of designs. One imposing building is the Courthouse Hotel – its name giving a clear reference to the building’s former life.

Originally without the ‘Great’, Marlborough Street was built in the early 18th century, the road being named to commemorate John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), following his 1704 victory at the Battle of Blenheim. The site of courthouse was originally three houses (19-21), where various affluent families lived over the decades. In 1793, No.21 became one of seven police offices across the capital, established by Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 following the success of the Bow Street court and its ‘runners’ – the precursor of the Metropolitan police. Each location was staffed by three magistrates and up to six officers. Crime had risen steadily in the capital as its population boomed, so the offices could house suspects following arrest and host criminal trials. Other offices were opened in Clerkenwell, Shadwell, Shoreditch, Southwark, Whitechapel, St James and St Margaret Westminster. The police office was expanded to incorporate the rear grounds of No.20 in 1856, although tenants continued to live in the building until 1892.

Courthouse hotel Marlborough Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Iron bars separate the lobby lounge from the hotel bar

Police courts were utilised for a wide range of ‘criminal’ activities, including assault, theft, animal cruelty, desertion, solicitation, gambling, matrimonial disputes, small debts, drunk and disorderly conduct, and ‘loitering with intent’. More serious cases to be heard in front of a jury would be heard in the Old Bailey or a Crown Court, although sometimes the preliminary hearings would take place in the magistrates’ courts.

During the 19th century, many famous names passed through the doors of Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court – on both sides of the law. In 1835, a young Charles Dickens (1812-1870) used to cover cases while reporting for the Morning Chronicle. A decade later, Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873), the future Napoleon III, was a witness in a fraud case while exiled in London. The beginning of Oscar Wilde‘s (1854-1900) case against John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (1844-1900) for libel began at the courthouse in 1895, before moving to the Old Bailey. The author and poet launched a private prosecution of Douglas (father of his then-lover Lord Alfred Douglas) after the Scottish nobleman described him as a “sodomite” on a calling card. The case was dropped, but Wilde was famously charged and convicted of gross indecency soon after and sentenced to two years in prison.

An Edwardian makeover

As the 20th century dawned, it was time for the court to be updated. Architect John Dixon Butler (1861–1920) was responsible as the Metropolitan Police’s architect and surveyor. Butler, who succeeded his architect father John Butler in the role, began his tenure with Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), assisting on the building of New Scotland Yard. During his career, he designed over 200 courts and police stations, including Charing Cross, Wapping, Hackney, Highbury Vale, Hampstead, Muswell Hill, and Tottenham.

Butler’s new design for Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court was a three-storey building made of Portland stone in a restrained free Classical style. Details such as Ionic pilasters, arched windows, and a grand central pedestal topped by the Royal Arms all lend to the building’s imposing style as a location for law and order. Butler’s new design did manage to incorporate some of the original Georgian building, including three late 18th century chimney pieces, two of which are white marble and still exist today. The courthouse was built by Messrs. Patman and Fotheringham and was completed in 1913. Read the rest of this entry

The history of the Effra River | South London’s lost waterway

Discover the story of one of London’s lost rivers, which has been driven underground.

Belair Park Dulwich Effra River © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

There have been debates about whether or not the water in Belair Park in West Dulwich is from one of  the Effra’s tributaries

For centuries, the River Thames wasn’t the only big expansion of water in the capital, with many rivers and streams flowing in all directions across the capital. Before water was piped around the capital, Londoners relied on their local rivers for washing, fishing… and some other less sanitary activities.

One of these London rivers was the Effra, which is now mostly subterranean. It started life as a tributary of the River Thames, and now runs through south London’s Victorian sewers. There has been much debate of the name ‘Effra’, which is believed to been first associated with the river in the late 18th century/early 19th century. English art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), who grew up in Herne Hill, suggested the name was “doubtless shortened from Effrena, signifying the unbridled river”. Other suggestions include it originating from the Anglo Saxon word “efer” (translates as “bank”) or from the Celtic term “yfrid” (which means “torrent”). Various 18th century maps label the River as “Brixton Creek”, “The Wash” or “Shore”. Another recent suggestion is Effra is a corrupted word of “Heathrow” – the name of a 70 acre estate located south of Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. In the 1790s, the land belonging to Heathrow Manor was called Effra Farm. It’s been suggested the section running through the Brixton farm was called Effra, before being expanded to include the whole river.

River Effra marker © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

A marker in West Norwood showing the course of the Effra

The course of the Effra River and its tributaries ran thorough the centre of south London (don’t take the postcodes of bordering SE and SW neighbourhoods so literally!), through Upper and West Norwood, Brixton, Herne Hill, Dulwich, Vauxhall, and Kennington. There has been much debate whether or not the lake in Belair Park in West Dulwich was made by damning one of the Effra’s tributaries in the 19th century, if so it would be the only part of the River currently visible above ground. However, the lake is just a few minutes walk from the old Croxted Road (formerly Croxted Lane), where the Effra did run through. When the river was open, it had an average width of 12ft and was around 6ft deep.

Over the centuries, the river and its tributaries were diverted. By the 18th century, the Effra was pretty filthy as rivers were commonly used for waste disposal. In the 1840s, the commissioners of Surrey and East Kent Sewers began the process of culverting the Effra. Civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891) incorporated what was left of the open Effra into his revolutionary sewer system in the 1860s. Along the way, huge metal stink pipes were erected to safely expel the gases in the sewer. You can still spot the stink pipes dotted around south London, they look like extra tall lampposts with the light missing. While the river is now subterranean, nods to its existence remain in the local streets. For example Brixton is home to Effra Road, Effra Parade and Brixton Water Lane.

Meanwhile, in more recent times, the course of the Effra has been marked by cast iron plaques dotted throughout Lambeth. Design agency Atelier Works teamed up with local artist Faranak to design 14 different illustrations of flowing water for 30cm plaques in 2016. They can be spotted in pavements on various sites along the river’s 6 mile course. The typescript reads: “The hidden River Effra is beneath your feet.” Some of the plaques sightings include outside the Meath Estate on Dulwich Road (Herne Hill), Rosendale Road just south of the junction with the South Circular (West Dulwich), Robson Road (south side opposite No.5/6, West Norwood), the junction of Rattray Road/Mervan Road (Brixton), among others.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.


📚 Further reading:

  • London’s Lost River. Paul Talling, 2011.
  • River Effra: South London’s Secret Spine. Jon Newman, 2016.
  • London’s Hidden Rivers: A walker’s guide to the subterranean waterways of London. David Fathers, 2017.

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Trading, theatre and Tudor merchants | The story of The Royal Exchange

The current Royal Exchange is the third iteration to stand on the site at Bank.

Royal Exchange exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Royal Exchange on Cornhill is the third building on the site

Today, an exchange building is generally utilised for telecommunications or foreign currency. However, as a commercial building, exchanges date back to at least the 13th century. In London, many of the capital’s former exchanges are long gone, and if they do still exist, conduct business using different methods. However, one of the London’s oldest exchanges still exists, albeit not the original building.

Royal Exchange clock tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The eastern side of the Exchange

Standing at the Bank junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle Street is The Royal Exchange, which dates back to the 16th century. It was founded by Tudor merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), who had been trading in Bourse of Antwerp, the world’s first commodities exchange. He obtained land and permission from the City of London’s Court of Alderman to establish a centre of commerce. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) opened the first exchange in January 1571 and gave the building a royal title, along with a license to sell alcohol and valuable goods. Gresham later added two additional floors above the trading floor, with units leased out for retail. This savvy move essentially created Britain’s first shopping mall. Originally, stockbrokers weren’t allowed into the Royal Exchange because of their reputation for being rude, so conducted their trading in the nearby coffee shops.

Gresham’s original Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September 1666. Its replacement was designed by architect Edward Jarman (1605-1668) and opened in 1669. It was a stone, Baroque building with piazzas, arched entrances to the inner court and a 178ft high tower with clock and bells. The second Royal Exchange was full of merchants and brokers. In 1713, Lloyd’s of London acquired two rooms in the building. However, the building followed the fate of its predecessor and burned down in January 1838. It is believed the blaze may have been caused by an overheated stove in Lloyd’s Coffee House in nearby Lombard Street. Read the rest of this entry

Explore the unlocked city as Open House London 2020 returns with a difference

Find out what’s on at Open House London this year, including event types, safety measures and changes due to the pandemic.

Brixton Windmill © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Brixton Windmill is one of the buildings taking part

With the Covid-19 pandemic still continuing, “normal life” is still a way off from returning. So this year, Open House London is expanded to the Open House Festival, with additional events taking place over a longer period than the usual weekend. This annual event is essentially a festival of architecture and history, where some of London’s most interesting buildings open their doors to the public for free. From private homes to government buildings to offices and hidden historical sites, it’s a great opportunity to explore the capital beyond what is usually accessible. Open House London is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I’ve seen inside some amazing buildings in previous years. It’s also an opportunity to visit some London attractions, such as museums (that you would usually have to pay for) for free. The main weekend takes place 19-20 September 2020, with more activities taking place up to 27 September. As part of the festival, Open House Families will be hosting various events around the capital for children to discover the city’s architecture and history.

Is Open House London different this year because of Covid-19?

Yes. Many buildings that usually take part are unable to open safely this year, so many are offering virtual, online experiences instead. Those venues that are allowing physical visits will be subjected to typical safety requirements, including social distancing, restrictions on group sizes (rule of six applies), one way systems and requirements to wear a face mask and bring hand sanitiser. You will also be required to give your information as part of the Government’s Test and Trace scheme. Open City is advising Londoners to stay local to their homes so travelling long distance and using public transport is kept to a minimum. In addition to virtual and physical building visits, there will also be guided and self-guided walking and cycling tours.

Do I need to book in advance?

For the buildings that are allowing physical visits, some are requiring people book in advance, while others are allowing walk ups. However, at the walk ups, you should be prepared to wait depending on the capacity already present. Organisers will be prioritising safety so will ensure visitors have enough space to socially distance while inside the building. Those who have pre-booked tickets are advised to have a digital copy on their phone, unless otherwise advised by the ticket provider.

Be aware, government restrictions and advice could change at any time so keep visiting the Open House website frequently for the most up to date information.

Metro Girl’s favourite Open House London posts

Check out MG’s blog archives of previous Open House London visits to buildings taking part in this year’s festival:

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Step into a neon wonderland at Gods Own Junkyard in Walthamstow

This year, there will also be podcasts, Open House films and publication of a new book, The Alternative Guide to the London Boroughs. Wherever you explore – be it virtually or in person – I wish you a safe and fun Open House London experience!

  • Open House London 2020 takes place 19-20 September, while the Open House Festival runs from 19-27 September 2020. For more information, visit the Open House London website.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

For a guide to what’s on in London in October 2020, click here.

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Tower Subway | The story behind London’s lost underwater railway

This short-lived river tunnel provided a test run for the engineering used to build the world’s first deep-level railway, aka London’s tube.

Tower Hill Subway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The 1920s reconstruction of the subway entrance on the Tower Hill side

Situated just a few hundred metres from the Tower of London is a remnant of a lost transport system. A short circular building near the junction of Petty Wales and Lower Thames Street commemorates the former Tower Subway, which briefly transported passengers under the river in the 1870s. Although it closed 150 years ago, this 20th century reconstruction of its northern entrance reminds us of a pioneering piece of Victorian engineering.

The population of London swelled hugely during the Victorian era, prompting widespread building of bridges and transport to move the masses around the capital. The Thames Tunnel, which originally opened to pedestrians in 1843, was converted to train use by 1869. Meanwhile, the first tube, the Metropolitan Railway, opened in 1863. Keen to capitalize on the growing demand for these new transport methods, London-born engineer Peter W Barlow (1809-1885) patented a new method of tunnelling, in the hope of creating a network of tunnels to carry people under the city. City bosses were wary of the cost after the spiralling budget, deaths in construction and the 18 years it had taken to build the Thames Tunnel. However, Barlow’s pupil James Henry Greathead (1844-1896) said he could make the first cylindrical tunnelling shield (patented by Barlow) and use it to build a transport tunnel system under the Thames for £9,400.

Greathead’s project kicked off in February 1869, with the cast iron shield used to dig through the London clay – the first time this construction method had been used. The tunnel was 1,340 ft long, connecting Tower Hill on the north of the River Thames with Vine Lane near Tooley Street on the south. Inside the tunnel was a 2ft 6in gauge railway, which carried up to 12 passengers under the river in a cable-hauled wooden carriage in about 70 seconds. The lifts from street level to the tracks, as well as the cable car, were powered by a 4hp stationary steam engine on the London Bridge side of the tunnel. The rapid construction proved the tunnelling shield was a success and it was later used to build the City and South London Railway, the world’s first deep-level underground railway.

The Tower Subway carriage in the Illustrated London News 1870

The tunnel was completed in less than a year with it taking its first passengers in February 1870. It appeared to have a ‘soft launch’ in April 1870, before being opened to the public four months later. Robert Miles commented in the British Almanac that the brief journey wasn’t exactly pleasant: “The temperature of the Subway is certainly rather high, but it only has to be borne with for a brief space. The passage is somewhat rough, the movements of the omnibus being jerky, especially at starting.” Initially, there were plans for similar tunnels at Gravesend, Woolwich and Greenwich, Cannon Street and Borough. However, by 7 December that year, the Tower Subway cable car ceased after the company ran into financial problems. Just a few weeks later, the tunnel was converted for pedestrian use, with customers paying a halfpenny to use it. The lifts were removed and replaced by a flight of 96 stairs, with gas lights being placed throughout the tunnel. At the height of its popularity, 20,000 people a week were using the tunnel, despite its reputation for being dark and claustrophobic.

As the end of the century approached, the Tower Subway’s fate was sealed when Tower Bridge opened locally in 1894. The latter was not only free to use, but pedestrians had the choice of crossing the river at vehicle level or by using the high-level walkways – a much more pleasant option than a dark, cramped tunnel. By 1897, the Tower Subway company applied to dissolve the company and closed the tunnel the following year. It sold the tunnel for £3,000 to the London Hydraulic Power Company (LHPC), who used it for power mains.

The original Tower Hill entrance to the Subway was later demolished, with the LHPC building a reconstruction in 1926, with lettering commemorating the original construction date. The tunnel was damaged by a Nazi bomb in December 1940, but amazingly its lining wasn’t penetrate and it was able to be repaired. Meanwhile, the original Vine Lane entrance on the south side of the Thames was later demolished around the 1980s-1990s.

  • Tower Hill Subway, Tower Hill, EC3R 5BT. Nearest station: Tower Hill, Fenchurch Street or Tower Gateway.

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Travel to the ancient world with the Crystal Palace dinosaurs

The history of the Victorian life-sized models of prehistoric dinosaurs and mammals in Crystal Palace Park.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Iguanodon © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Victorian sculptures of Iguanodons at Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace is famous for many things – its football club (actually located in Selhurst), its telecommunications tower (South London’s very own Eiffel Tower) and for being the site of the actual Crystal Palace building. However, it is also famous for another unique sight – the world’s first dinosaur statues.

Following the success of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, the building was such a success, it was erected permanently on a huge site on Sydenham Hill in 1854. The Crystal Palace was sort of a theme park-cum-museum for Victorians, bringing attractions, antiquities and experiences most had never seen before. To accompany the palace, the surrounding land (in what is now the park) was landscaped with many features added, including lakes, a maze, and rides. Towards the south-west corner of the park, a dinosaur park was created by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894), with landscaping by architect (and creator of the Crystal Palace) Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) and Professor David T Ansted (1814-1880).

In the mid 19th century, Victorians were further behind in their knowledge of dinosaurs than we are today. Palaeontologists and archaeologists of the time were still trying to piece together exactly what the prehistoric creatures looked like by studying fossils. When you visit the dinosaur sculptures of Crystal Palace today, you may well find it humorous to see how the Victorians’ believed they appeared. However, it’s important to acknowledge the people who made them just didn’t have the science we have today.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Megaloceros © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Megaloceros

 

Crystal_Palace Great Exhibition © Wellcome Images

An engraving of the sculptures, the Crystal Palace itself and other attractions in the grounds by George Baxter (1804–1867). Year unknown.
© Wellcome Images

Thirty sculptures from the prehistoric world were placed across three islands, grouped in species and following a rough timeline of their existence (Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras). The park made history as Hawkins’ creations were the first full-scale models of the extinct creatures in the world. The new Crystal Palace Company commissioned him to sculpture the ancient creatures, with advice from palaeontologist and biologist Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892). Hawkins set up a studio in the park and spent months creating replicas of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric mammals in 1853-1855. Using the scientific advice of Owen and other experts, the dinosaurs’ skin, claws and how they stood was mostly due to guess work by Hawkins. Read the rest of this entry

Adelaide House | The story of London’s first skyscraper

The history of the City’s pioneering, art deco office block and the hotel which came before it.

Adelaide House London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Adelaide House stands on the north side of London Bridge

Standing on the north side of London Bridge, two impressive buildings form the unofficial gateways to the City – Fishmongers Hall on the western side and Adelaide House opposite. While the Hall dates back to 1830s, Adelaide House is a 20th century, Modernist construction. Although Adelaide House has only been standing a little shy of a century, its name has origins dating back to the same period as the current Fishmongers’ Hall.

In 1831, the New London Bridge opened slightly west of the original location of the Old London Bridge. Opening the capital’s iconic crossing were King William IV (1765-1837) and Queen Adelaide (1792-1849), with the monarch  honoured with the road approaching the bridge being named King William Street. The old London Bridge Waterworks had been demolished to make way for Adelaide Place and a neo-classical block, the Adelaide Hotel. With four storeys visible on the London Bridge side, the building featured Corinthian pilasters and a ornamental balustrade on the roof level. Looming over the London Bridge Wharf, it was a perfect location for a hotel. The wharf guaranteed a regular hotel clientele as it was busy with cargo and passenger steamships. One company operating out of the Wharf was the New Medway Steam Packet Company, which offered cruises down the Thames to the Essex and Kent coastline. The Adelaide Hotel was open by 1835 and had expansive views over the river, as well as typical amenities such as a restaurant and ladies’ coffee room. The Handbook of London, published in 1849, describes the Adelaide as a “third-class hotel”, although Adams’s Pocket London guide two years later is more complementary: “A spacious establishment in high repute”. Despite the handy location, the Adelaide Hotel wasn’t a huge success and was converted into offices in the 1850s and renamed the Adelaide Buildings.

Adelaide Hotel London Bridge

A photo of the Adelaide Hotel (circled) and the ‘New London Bridge’, (both since demolished) in the mid 19th century.
(Close-up from J Davis Burton image on Wikimedia Commons)

The Adelaide Buildings were home to various companies over the decades, but one dominant tenant was the Pearl Insurance company. Originally started in the East End in 1857, the company expanded and moved to the Adelaide Buildings in 1878, where it remained until 1914 when it headed west to High Holborn. (See a London Metropolitan Archives photo of the building in 1913).  Read the rest of this entry

Austin Friars | The history of one of London’s lost monasteries

This City of London road was named after a 13th century religious order.

Austin Friars road © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The winding road of Austin Friars


Austin Friars gateway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Victorian gateway to Austin Friars

Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, the City of London was home to several monastic orders. Although a few buildings were preserved in existing churches, others were demolished and their legacy today is often only a street name. After King Henry VIII established the dramatic religious change so he could marry Anne Boleyn, he swiftly closed a succession of London monasteries. Those shuttered include the Bermondsey Abbey, Blackfriars, Charterhouse Priory (Smithfield), Crutched Friars, Grey Friars, Holywell Priory (Shoreditch), St Bartholomew’s Priory, St. Helen’s priory (Bishopsgate), St Martin’s le Grand, Whitefriars (Fleet Street), among others.

One order within the City of London boundaries was Austin Friars – located in between the present stations of Bank and Liverpool Street. The Austin Friars was an Augustinian order, believed to have arrived in England in the 1260s. They acquired land from two older churches, with St Olave Broad Street apparently being demolished to make way for the friary. Over the years, the friary’s wealth grew, allowing them to gain more land, eventually covering 5.5 acres. The complex was surrounded by a high wall, bordering London Wall, Throgmorton Street and Broad Street. Within their boundaries were a church, accommodation, garden and other buildings for dining and studying. The complex was entered by at least three gates, the main entrance being on Throgmorton Street. The friary was home to about 60 friars by the 13th century and was popular with London’s elite.

Drapers Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Drapers’ Hall was built on the site of Austin Friars

On the western edge of the friary, courtier Thomas Cromwell, Earl Of Essex (1485-1540) began leasing a home from the friary in the 1520s. It was a three-storey building with 14 rooms and a garden. By 1532, Cromwell’s power and influence at Henry VIII‘s court had grown so he expanded his Austin Friars home to reflect his rising status. He ended up with a huge property covering 2 acres with another 1.5 acres of garden. A few years later, Austin Friars came to an end in November 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester (1483/5-1572), took over the Friars’ house and cloisters and erected a townhouse on the site, which was later demolished in 1844. Two years later, Cromwell’s days at Austin Friars were also over after he was imprisoned and executed for treason and heresy. His house was acquired by the Crown and sold three years later to the Drapers’ Company for their hall, but was burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and rebuilt. Read the rest of this entry

Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich reopens for summer 2020

Visitors can safely check out the grounds, Painted Hall, and other buildings of the iconic Greenwich attraction.

greenwich Old Royal Naval College

The grounds of the Old Royal Naval College is Greenwich are reopening to the public following lockdown

The historic heart of Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College, is reopening to the public this month following lockdown. Implementing safety measures in line with government guidance, the iconic 17th century complex will be opening its doors to its building and grounds from 13 July 2020. Londoners and tourists alike will be able to safely visit the stunning Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery. The safety of visitors and staff will be prioritised with people advised to book in advance, with limited tickets available daily to ensure social distancing. As well being able to check out some of the college’s famous sights, there will also be special events and entertainment for the remainder of the summer season.

The Painted Hall Old Royal Naval College

The Painted Hall is re-opening to visitors

The Old Royal Naval College’s buildings were designed by Sir Christopher Wren and date back to the 17th century and early 18th century. Its glorious Painted Hall, painted by James Thornhill, re-opened late last year following several years of restoration. (Read about Metro Girl’s visit to see the ceiling up close during the project).

Visitors to the Old Royal Naval College can learn about its centuries of history with a new smartphone tour, free on the Smartify app. Families will enjoy the Building Detectives treasure trail tour for children aged 5-12 years.

Kicking off on 28 August – 12 September is the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, with plenty of events taking place within the grounds. This year’s festival will celebrate the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic – the NHS, along with the strength of community spirit and the environment. Roaming film club Luna Cinema will also be pitching up for alfresco cinema screenings in August. Meanwhile, Amber Markets are also planning to return later this year with global street food.

To mark Black History Month in October, the ORNC will launch a new exhibition exploring the history of the black sailors in the British Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries, curated by black British historian S.I. Martin.

  • Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN. Nearest stations: Greenwich, Cutty Sark or Maze Hill. For more information, visit the ORNC website.
  • The grounds will be open daily 7am-7pm. The Painted Hall, King William Undercroft, Visitor Centre Shop and Ticket Desk will be open daily from 10am–5pm. The Chapel will be open from 10am–2pm for private prayer. (The Victorian Skittle Alley remains closed). Spaces must be booked in advance for tours and the ORNC recommends visitors bring their own headphones for use with the multimedia guides. Guided tours will be limited to a maximum of five people. Groups larger than 25 will not be permitted to visit the site. No cash payments will be accept: Card and mobile payments preferred.

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