Saturday, 19 October 2013

Come and Find the Lost City of London in our New Home! (Goodbye Blogger, and Hello Wordpress!)

We have migrated! From now on you will find our new blogs (and copies of all the previous ones) over on

This combines - in one place - aspects of our previous website and this blog. In its old incarnation, I had never been terribly happy with our website - the design looked pretty terrible, and it was all on one page, which didn't look terribly professional.

A considerable advantage of using the Wordpress format is that we now have menu tabs across the top for separate pages on our Schedule of Walks and  on our Private Walks, as well as a Home page giving some general information about what we offer and who we are, another separate tab for the published book, a Gallery tab, and the Blog itself. There is also a nice big link to our facebook page on the side.

Still a work in progress, but I'm pleased so far.

The domain name now points towards the same wordpress site. So that's much neater.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The “Lion Sermon” and the Church of St Katharine Cree

Today (Thursday October 17th 2013) I attended the 371st annual “Lion Sermon” in the church of St Katharine Cree on  Leadenhall Street.    It was by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, and on the subject of, and I paraphrase,  “Freedom, and what it means in the metaphorical Lion’s Den of the modern world”.   Freedom, and the  Human Rights of Dignity, Equality and Fairness (“and the greatest of these is Equality”).  Admirable sentiments, especially resonant in a church that at the time of the Civil War in the 1640s stood for the supposed “divine” rights of the king over those of the commoner.

The sermons have been given in the church on  the nearest Thursday to 16th October every year since 1643, in remembrance of the Merchant Adventurer (of the Levant Company) and later Lord Mayor of London Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on that day. 

The church itself was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory sometime before 1291 (being mentioned in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Nicholas IV), and possibly around 1280, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Late Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in a style transitional between Late Gothic and Neo-ClassicalIt was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although later required to be restored  in 1878-9, and again, after being damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in  1956-62.   The interior contains some Late Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Neo-Classical ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.  It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) as well as to  Sir  John Gayer (d. 1649).  The church was  consecrated in 1631 by Archbishop Laud, who went on to be executed in 1645 for his close association with the then-king, Charles I, and for his persecution of Puritans. The Father Smith organ, once played by Purcell and Handel, dates to 1686.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Building of England

October 16th 2013 

I’ve just got back from an extraordinarily stimulating – and free - Gresham lecture at the Museum of London.  It was by the Gresham Professor of the Built Environment - and Chief Executive of English Heritage - Simon Thurley, and on the subject of “The Building of England” (which is also the subject of his forthcoming book of the same name, due out next month). 

Thurley argued, provocatively but persuasively, that much of what has been written of the architecture of England has focussed  narrowly on details of individual style, architects or buildings, and in so doing has lost sight of the bigger picture, of the wider world, and of why rather than how people build. 

In his holistic interpretation, architectural innovation has always been   associated with centres of financial wealth, the geographic locations of which have tended to move over the course of history as the nature of the economy has evolved  from agricultural - pastoral, then arable – to industrial (and ultimately technological or service-based). 

Uniquely, London has always been a centre of financial wealth and of architectural innovation. And not the least so  in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666, which  provided planners with the opportunity to create the world’s first stone-built, coal-burning, essentially modern city.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Southwark Cathedral

14th October - On this day in 1539, the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie was dissolved, the priory church then becoming the parish church of St Saviour, and eventually Southwark Cathedral (and the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie).

Southwark Cathedral is visited on our “Historic Southwark – Shakespeare’s London and more” walk.

Please note that this walk, or indeed any of our others, can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Knights Templar and Hospitaller

The Knights Templar came into being in around 1129 as an Order of “fighting monks” tasked principally with the protection of  Christians on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and with participation in Crusades, and incidentally with infrastructure and finance.  They soon became immensely wealthy and powerful, and at the same time the subject of much mistrust, on account of the secrecy surrounding  their activity, making themselves many dangerous enemies as well as friends.

On 13th October 1307 – according to myth the original unlucky “Friday the Thirteenth”,  the leaders of the Knights Templar were arrested on a  variety of charges, at least some no doubt trumped up by debtors and other vested interests, under a warrant reading “God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the Kingdom” (“Dieu n'est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans le Royaume").  They were later tortured into confessing to having “spat three times on the Cross” (" … craché trois fois sur la Croix … “), and done to death by being burned at the stake, and the entire Order was  eventually disbanded, essentially to be superseded by that of the Knights Hospitaller.

Interestingly, there are two Knights Templar or Hospitaller sites still in existence in London.

One  is Temple Church, in a precinct off Fleet Street.  The church was originally built in around 1160-85, in an architectural style transitional between Norman (Romanesque) and Early English Gothic, and in 1220-40, in a style that is decidedly Gothic.  It has been restored or rebuilt on a number of occasions subsequently, most recently by Carden & Godfrey between 1947-57, following bomb damage sustained during the Blitz of the Second World War.  The round tower and nave are twelfth-century, and modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  The famous Purbeck Marble effigies of Knights Templar in the interior are  thirteenth-century.
Temple Church

Temple Church

Temple Church effigy

The other is the Priory of St John, in a precinct in Clerkenwell.  The Priory was originally built in around 1145, destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, rebuilt by Prior John Redington immediately afterwards and restored by Prior Thomas Docwra in 1504, and dissolved in 1540.  The former priory and later parish church, also with a circular tower and nave, was substantially destroyed during an air raid  on the last night of the Blitz, 10th May, 1941, and subsequently rebuilt.  Remarkably, the original crypt of 1145 still survives.  A separate gate-house of 1504 also survives.  The gate-house served between 1560-1608 - that is, immediately after the Dissolution - as the “Office of the Revels” (how wonderful!), where theatrical performances were licensed, and sets and costumed procured.  It re-entered the possession of the  by-then Order of (the Hospital of) St John in 1873, and now houses the Order’s museum.
Modern St John's church with circular outline of Medieval nave in front

St John's Gate-House

Temple Church is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong”, “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” and “Tower to Temple – The Heart of the City” walks; St John’s on the “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong” one.

Please note that these walks, or indeed any of our others, can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Far-Flung Lost London I – Walthamstow

Long ago, outside a chip shop in Walthamstow (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself), stood the “Ancient House”, dating to the fifteenth century.  Miraculously, it stands there still, in the secluded  enclave of Walthamstow Village, alongside the church of St Mary, originally built in the twelfth century (although much modified subsequently), and the Monoux alms-houses, originally built in the sixteenth.

From there it’s a very varied  and interesting three-hour walk to the City, by way of Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes, the Lea River, Hackney Wick, Victoria Park, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch (using the Shard for orientation).

Sunday, 6 October 2013

To Live and Die in Charterhouse

October 6th – Today is the anniversary of the death in 1101 of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order (of hermit-monks).

The Carthusian monastery, or “Chartrouse” in  Charterhouse Square was built  in 1371 by Sir Walter (de) Manny, “a stranger born, lord of the town of Manny, in the diocese of Cambray, beyond the seas,  who for service done to  Edward III was made Knight of the Garter” (Stow).  In fact, the site was first consecrated as a burial ground for victims of the “Black Death” in 1348-9 (again as Stow put it, “A great pestilence ... overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”).    

During the Reformation, in 1535, the Prior, John Houghton and six monks were executed at Tyburn, and a further nine monks died in prison (Houghton was later made a saint).  After the associated Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1537-8, the site became a private residence, originally owned by Sir Edward North, the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, from 1545; and then a  charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest by Thomas  Sutton, the one-time Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts and the richest man in England, from 1611  (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872).  

Remarkably, much still survives here from the Medieval to post-Medieval, Tudor to Stuart period, either in it’s original state, or restored thereto by Seely and Paget following damage sustained during an incendiary bombing raid in 1941.  Perhaps the most notable buildings, fragments of buildings or fitments are Sutton’s memorial in what is now the Chapel, but was once the Chapter House, dating to 1614; 
Sutton memorial (1614)
Faith, Hope and Charity (1625)

North’s Great Hall, dating at least in part to the 1540s; his Great Chamber, also dating at least in part to the 1540s, and one of the finest in all England, where Queen Elizabeth I more than once held court, at great cost to her host; 
Great Hall (1540s)

Great Chamber (1540s)

Wash-House Court, dating back to the early 1530s, in the case of the brick buildings, and to an even  earlier part of monastic period, in the case of the stone ones; 
Wash-House Court  (monastic period,  to 1530s)

and the doorway to “Cell B”, in the Norfolk Cloister, complete with  it’s guichet or serving hatch, dating all the way back to the time of the original foundation of the monastery in 1371.
Cell B, with guichet, Norfolk Cloister (1371)

A “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at the Charterhouse site.  Excavations at  the associated “Crossrail” development site  are still ongoing.   To date, they have unearthed a number of skeletons, believed to be from the Black Death burial ground.

Charterhouse  is visited, although not entered, on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong” walk.

Please note that this or indeed any of our other walks can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).