In and Out of London Or, the Half-holidays of a Town Clerk

Loftie, W. J.

1880

I.-TOPOGRAPHY.

 

WHEN we consider the extraordinary growth of London, both in size and population, within the last few years, and that this growth is not the only way in which it has altered within the memory

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of many still living, we cannot be surprised that the changes of all kinds in four hundred years should be much greater. This consideration does not, however, diminish the interest we feel in tracing those changes. Londoners are not alone in their feelings about their city. All England shares in their pride. And now-a-days the great increase of facilities for locomotion has rendered the features of the Metropolis more or less familiar to almost everyone, even in remote parts of the kingdom; and most of those who have visited it will confess to having experienced a feeling of something very like awe when they saw for the first time those thoroughfares whose names were already household words to them.

To an Englishman, Westminster Hall and the Abbey, St. Paul's and the Tower of London, are crowded with associations; but not only in such remarkable places as these does he feel an interest, but even in the very streets, alleys, and turnings which conduct him to them. It is impossible to pass Whitehall without thinking of Charles I. It is hard to pass the Marble Arch without thinking of . The open space of Lincoln's Inn Fields constantly reminds us of William Lord Russell and his execution there; we think we see the great square filled with anxious faces, and the mourning coach which conveyed the dying patriot turning out of Queen- street; we fancy we hear him repeat, as he sees the great assembly, the opening lines of the 149th Psalm

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0 praise ye the Lord, prepare your glad voice

His praise in the great assembly to sing;

and adding,

I am about to praise Him in a greater company than this.

Nor as we pass along the Strand and under Temple Bar, can we forget how often Johnson and his friends walked along there and under the same arch, and especially the walk he and Goldsmith took to Westminster and back, and how they looked up at the heads of the unfornate Scots rebels of , which still grinned from their spikes on the top of the gate. Nor can we repress a shudder as we glance from Ludgate-hill along the Old Bailey; nor a sigh of pity when King- street, Westminster, reminds us of Edmund Spenser, who died there

for lake of bread;

or when Brooke-street, , recalls the death in similar circumstances of the boy Chatterton. Almost every corner in London teems with such recollections, but I will endeavour in the present paper to confine my attention to a view of the size and state of the city -say in the commencement of the reign of Henry V.

One sentence will show how very different its aspect was then from what we see now. The inhabited portion was almost confined to the City proper. Although the population of that portion was large- considerably larger than it is now-the area was very small, the houses being for the most part within the walls. The merchants lived in their places of business, and every house and street was crowded with citizens. They did not, as now, resort

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to the City only in the day-time for business, and keep villas in the suburbs. Few except the monks dared to live beyond the protection of the City walls.

These walls commenced at the Tower, between which and the wall there was a ditch; and we read of Edward III. ordering the ditch to be cleared lest it should overflow into that fortress. No wonder that we find about the same time a bill for medicines supplied to the unfortunate King of Scots, who had been imprisoned there for eleven years. The bill amounts to £2 12s. 9d. This sum represents between £40 and £50 in our money. From the Tower the wall passed northward as far as Aldgate, which was really a gate in those days. A gate was still standing on the spot a hundred years ago; in fact, very few of the City gates had been demolished when George III. came to the throne.

Outside Aldgate there was a small village or hamlet called Whitechapel, and near it a monastery of the White Friars, or Friars Minors, which has given its name to the Minories. A little farther to the north there was another monastery and hospital dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, and the open country round was known as the Hospital or 'Spital Fields. Shoreditch lay a little to the west, and was the estate of an honourable family of the name of Shore, many of whom were City merchants. One of them, a jeweller, was husband to Jane Shore.

Then outside Moorgate was a moor or heath, and in the hollow nearer the City wall a piece of marshy

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ground which is often said to have given its name to the district of Finsbury. The street now called London-wall still shows the marks of the great foss which ran under the wall; and parts of the fortifications themselves may still be seen a little to the west of Moorgate, at Cripplegate churchyard. In the same direction there was a small gate or barbican, which has given its name to a modern street; and to the number of beggars who assembled here
we may attribute the name of the neighbouring church, which stood outside the walls, and was

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perhaps resorted to by mendicants because they were forbidden the exercise of their trade in the City.

Aldersgate stood close to where the General Post- office has been built; and next came Newgate, which seems to have been used as a prison for London and Middlesex as early as . Holborn Bars were a kind of outwork to Newgate, and there was some fortification near them, the site of which is indicated by Castle-street. Then came Ludgate, and, as an outwork, Temple Bar, within which was the river Fleet and the Fleet Bridge where now is Farringdon-street; and the wall ended close to where Blackfriars Bridge now stands.

There was some protection also along the river; and we hear of Dowgate and Billingsgate among other modes of access to the water; but except a

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strongly fortified castle at each end of London Bridge, there were few attempts at defence on that side.

If we return to Ludgate and pass out through the gate (which was said to have been called after a mythical personage ever so many centuries before Julius Caesar, but which more probably is called from the river or flood), we find ourselves at the small bridge which conducts us over the Flood, or Fleet. Vessels are moored in this little river as high as the bridge; on the right we have the pleasant gardens and gentle slope of the Earl of Lincoln's grounds; and beyond, at the top of the ascent, we see his house. About the time of which I speak it was no longer in the Earl's hands, and the lawyers' chambers were very soon to convert it into Lincoln's Inn.

More than a hundred years before, or in , we find the Earl of that time complaining to Parliament-which sat then at Carlisle on account of the King's expedition to Scotland-that vessels could hardly reach the bridge on the Fleet, so much was it impeded by rubbish thrown into it; and reciting that hitherto they had been able to go up as far as King's Cross, where there had been wharves for the reception of merchandise.

If we pursue our way along what is now Fleet- street, we pass on the left, just before we reach Temple Bar, the great monastery of the Knights Templars, then called the New Temple, to distinguish it from their former habitation near .

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In this place the King's jewels or were deposited for safety by most of the sovereigns until the time of Henry III. King John had begun to use the Tower for this purpose, and thither the regalia were finally removed in .

Passing through Temple Bar, we find ourselves in open country. The road, now the Strand, is a mere muddy track, overgrown with bushes, and skirted on the right by gardens and thickets. On the left, between the road and the river, are a few half-fortified town houses of the great nobility, Arundel House, which came first, being perhaps the most important. Pleasure grounds and gardens are round them and the Temple, and walks along the Thames, like what we still see at Richmond and Twickenham. At St. Clement's Church there are a few houses, said to be the remains of a colony of Danes who settled here before the Conquest; many of them are pleasure houses and taverns, much resorted to by the youth of the City, who come to drink of the water of the neighbouring holy well, and to play at various games in the open fields of Lincoln's Inn. And probably here they are often entertained with stories about the grim Danish king, son of Canute, who lies buried in the neighbouring church; how, when he had killed himself by his gluttony at , his body was buried in Westminster Abbey, and was dug up again by his brother and successor and thrown into the Thames; and how one day a fisherman, drawing his net to shore,

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was astonished at the unusual weight until the royal body was discovered; and how it finally found a resting-place under the fane of St. Clement.

Going on still to the westward, we come to what was called Aldwych-road, where now stand Wych- street and Drury-lane; and leaving on our left the garden of the Convent of Westminster, we pass on the right the church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and emerge in the Oxford-road, near the pleasantly situated village of .

As we pass through St. Giles's Fields we shall probably see a body of soldiers encamped in the open ground, and perhaps encounter a gang of poor wretches marching towards the City in chains. For here, within a few days, has been held a meeting of the followers of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham; and here they have been set upon by the young King, Henry V., in person, and made prisoners. The King has been told by his religious advisers that the followers of the new religion design nothing less than the subversion of his throne; and, therefore, short time is allowed for question or investigation: thirty Lollards expiate their supposed crime on the gallows, while their leader escapes to Wales. Nor is his fate eventually preferable to theirs, for in a year or two he is taken, and, his legs having been broken, he is hung up in his armour and roasted to death over a slow fire.

Beyond the road by which we have arrived at from the Strand, and running nearly parallel

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to it, is St. Martin's-lane. Commencing at the village of Charing, it passes St. Martin's Chapel, on the site of which a church was erected by Henry VIII., then really

in the fields,

like St. Giles's, and a little farther on, the entrance to the great Reading-road, now . The foot of the lane at Charing is marked by a cross, sacred to the memory of Queen Eleanor, the wife of Edward I. Some have fancifully derived the name of Charing from the French words chere reine, referring to Edward's love for his queen; but, unfortunately for such a pretty idea, the village has borne the same appellation from Saxon times. Near the cross is the magnificent palace of the Archbishops of York, surrounded by pleasant gardens, and a park which stretches away to Westminster. This palace was afterwards known as Whitehall, the gardens as Spring Gardens, and the park as St. James's.

Near the cross, where now stand the Nelson Column and Sir Edwin Landseer's lions, was an aviary or mews for the King's hawks. The word signifies, in the technical language of falconry, a moulting-place. That falcons were in great esteem in those days will be proved by the fact that,-unless the law has been very recently repealed-it is still felony, by Act of Parliament, to steal a hawk. The following extract from the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward I. relates to the royal mews at :--

For timber whereof to make the King's mews, and carriage of the same

from Kingston to the said mews as well by land as by water: divers keys for the same, and for repairing the keys of the gerfalcon's bath: for iron rings for the curtain of the mews before the said falcons: and for turfs bought for the herbary of the said falcons . . . £25 . Os. . 2d.

This sum represents no less than £500 of our money, not counting the twopence. It was in the same days that the Bishop of Hereford paid his falconer 3s. 4d. a half-year! The royal mews remained here as stables until the reign of George IV.

We must pass for the present the great palace of the Savoy, of which the twice-restored chapel still remains to this nineteenth century; and returning towards the City by the Oxford-road, we find ourselves at the top of -hill. In the valley below runs the Fleet, and frowning from the opposite steep we see the city towers, and high above them all, to the right, the spire of St. Paul's, at that time the tallest steeple in Christendom, if, as some say, it was 180 feet higher than the ball and cross on the top of Sir 's dome. Immediately opposite us we see the tower of St. Sepulchre's, just at the top of the hill, and outside the fortifications of Newgate; and as we begin to descend, we pass St. Andrew's on the right and the palace of the Bishop of Ely on the left. This palace was famous for its gardens, which are referred to by Shakespeare. Hatton-garden and Ely place preserve for us indications of the site.

A little farther up on the slope we pass through crocus beds (now Saffron-hill), and find ourselves at the entrance of Cow-lane, by which we ascend the hill and enter . Cow-lane has but few houses in it. It is not a pleasant place in which to live; for just at the end, as we emerge on the open space, we pass a spot known as the Elms; and if you are curious in such matters, you may see the great elmwood gibbets, placed here by Henry III. Perhaps as you go by some of Lord Cobham's unhappy followers are still suspended on them.

Crossing , we come to the porches of a magnificent church, the west end of which projects far into the open space. It is St. Bartholomew's Church, and the priory buildings surround it. A beautiful doorway leads into the south aisle of the nave. This doorway is destined to remain a witness to the splendour of the other buildings, and in the days of Queen Victoria to form the entrance to St. Bartholomew's Churchyard. But you care little to look at the church or priory, for opposite the gate is a post about three feet thick and eight high. It is charred all over, as if it had been partially burnt. It is sunk deep in the ground at the foot, and has two or three iron staples and rings driven into each side. You shudder and pass on.

Turning to the right, with the wall on your left hand, you follow what is now Giltspur-street, where probably races were held, as well as tournaments.

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We must not delay to tell any old stories of the joustings here, but proceed at once past St. Sepulchre's Church, to enter the City through the New Gate, which King Henry has just completed, and which is already full of prisoners. If you are charitably disposed you will stop to put a farthing or two into the bag which you see hanging by a long string from one of the windows; and if you are rich, perhaps you will put in a penny, equal to a shilling at least of modern coinage. The bag is quickly drawn up and emptied by the poor starving wretches above. Frightful stories have been told of the condition of Newgate and all the prisons of those days; nor did they much improve until a period but little removed from our own. Strange to say, they were almost all either private property or were leased to a private individual, who made what he could out of the necessities of his miserable charge.

As you proceed through Newgate-street, you perceive that all along the left hand of the way the space is occupied by another monastery. This time it is the Grey Friars. The church, which is at the extremity of the street, is very magnificent. In later times, after the great fire, it was pulled down, and the present Christ Church built on part of the site; but in the reign of Henry V. the visitor was able to see some very remarkable tombs within its walls. These tombs were wantonly destroyed by a Lord Mayor of Queen Elizabeth's time. Among others, you might have seen the monuments of four

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queens-Margaret of France, the second wife of Edward I.; her niece, the wicked Isabella, whom Gray calls the

She-wolf of France;

her daughter, Joane of the Tower, Queen of Scotland; and Isabel Fitzwarren, in her own right Queen of the Isle of Man. Near them lies the body of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the infamous companion of Queen Isabella; to whom belongs the unenviable distinction of having been the first person hanged at . As if in mockery of death, we read that upon Queen Isabella's breast, in the tomb, was deposited the heart of

her murdered mate

in a golden vase.

Opposite the Grey Friars stands the town mansion of the great Earls of Warwick. Here in a few years will be held the semi-regal court of the King-maker, to whom the estate has descended by his marriage with one of the heiresses of the last of the Beauchamps. A few steps farther and we are in Paternoster-row, so called from the number of text-writers who lived there and in the neighbourhood of Ave Maria-lane, Amen-corner, and so on. Here also lived bead or rosary makers, which were popularly called paternosters and aves. The row was, if possible, narrower than it is now, and was bordered on one side by the wall of the great Cathedral-close. The wall is overhung with trees, probably belonging to gardens of the great Earl in Warwick-lane, and of the great Bishop whose palace formed part of the cathedral buildings. Among the Public Records is

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one of an inquest held on a boy who was killed by falling from the bough of an apple-tree in Paternoster-row.

At the north-east end of the Close is an archway; and here, if you are so disposed, you may enter to hear the sermon at Paul's Cross. Any description of the great cathedral would require a paper to itself; so we will not pause now, but enter Cheape or Cheapside, the great market-place of the City. It is very narrow; there is hardly room for one horse to pass along the centre of the street in most places; yet this is the chief thoroughfare towards St. Paul's and Ludgate-hill, as well as towards Newgate. The best way in those days, although the longest, was to turn down Old Change and through Carter-lane and Creed-lane; the way through St. Paul's Churchyard was altogether stopped by the cathedral precincts. Cheapside is full, in the wider parts, not only of shops, but of open stalls where all kinds of merchandise are exposed for sale.

London was already famous for the importance of its trade. The Hall of the Mercers' Company, one of the chief guilds of the City, stood about halfway along the street upon the site of the house in which the great was born. His father was a citizen and mercer of London, but there is no truth in the romantic story of his mother's Saracenic origin.

At the entrance to Cheapside, where a road or street leads towards Aldersgate, is the market cross;

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and as you go along you see the localities devoted to the different wares which are sold here: Bread- street, Milk-street, Honey-lane, and at the farther end the Poultry market, may be noticed. There is no open space opposite the Mansion House; in fact there is no Mansion House; the Lord Mayor lives in his own house, and entertains in the hall of the Company to which he belongs. Half way up the street is Guildhall, and opposite it Bow Church. In the open space between a great tournament was held in by Edward III., when a scaffolding fell, by which several persons were injured. Edward in a fury ordered the carpenters to be instantly hanged, but released them on Queen Philippa's intercession. At the extremity of Cheapside stands a church, where the Royal Exchange was built three centuries later; and another, St. Christopher's, where the Bank of England afterwards rose.

You will have perceived that the number of churches in London is very great. Two centuries before the time of King Henry V. they were reckoned at 126 parish churches, besides the chapels of thirteen convents, and no fewer than seventy chantries and chapels attached to St. Paul's. The steeples of some of these churches were higher than any in modern London; and as there was not much smoke to obscure the view, the City must have looked very beautiful from a distance. That there was little smoke we infer from the fact that coal was still rare in London, and that, so unwholesome

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were its fumes considered, we hear of a man having been hanged for using it in the reign of Edward I. Indeed, nothing strikes us more when we study those times than the ease with which a man might get himself hanged; and it seems strange that three centuries were passed before our legislators learned the wisdom of the saying,

It is the worst use to which you can put a man.

Proceeding on our way through Cornhill, we pass St. Michael's Church, and, a little farther on, the street which leads to one of the outlets of the wall at Bishopsgate. Just within the gate we see the magnificent mansion which Sir John Crosby has almost completed. A bystander will perhaps inform us that the ground belongs to the prioress of St. Helen's (another convent !), and that Sir John pays her £11 6s. 8d. per annum for the lease. In the hall of the mansion you may see one of the first fireplaces used in England in such a building. Logs were usually burnt in the centre of the floor, and the smoke escaped-or, more probably, did not escape-by a hole in the roof. It was, therefore, customary on great occasions to burn spices and sweet-scented wood in those places. During the third mayoralty of Sir Richard Whittington, in , he entertained King Henry and his bride Katherine of France at a sumptuous banquet in Guildhall; and when they remarked upon the sweet perfume of the fire which burned in the centre, Sir Richard replied that with their graces' leave he would make it even

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more pleasant; and drawing forth the bonds which he held of the King for more than £60,000, which the King had borrowed towards his French expedition, he threw them into the fire. This story must be taken for what it is worth; it is told of other great kings and merchants, at home and abroad, and is probably no more true than the other famous story of the same Sir Richard's cat, or the collateral one that he let all his lands upon leases for nine lives! It is, however, true that King Henry obtained large sums of money in the City for his French wars, and that he even pawned the royal crown of England for 20,000 marks to the Bishop of Winchester.

Pawnbroking was not confined to the natives of London in those days; and if we turn to the right out of Cornhill, through Gracechurch-street, we shall pass the head-quarters of the business in Lombard-street, so called on account of the immigration of Italian jewellers and other merchants, who here drove a thriving trade in money-lending. The sign of the pawnbroker-the three golden balls -is derived from the arms of the great Medici, Dukes of Florence, which some of these merchants have hung over their doors in honour of their native sovereigns. This reminds us to observe that none of the houses are numbered, but that every shop has its sign, as taverns, brokers, barbers, and gold-beaters have still. The lighting of the streets as well as the numbering has been neglected hitherto; but in the beginning of this King's reign, Sir Henry Barton,

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the Lord Mayor, ordered the streets to be lighted with lamps, which was first done in the year .

Passing the end of Lombard-street, we find ourselves in another market, called Eastcheap; and among the taverns which surround it we shall probably be shown the in which, according to the popular belief, King Henry in his younger days has had many a frolic with his fat friend Sir John Fastolf. Sir John, however, has married a rich widow at Castle Combe, in Wiltshire, and settled down as a country gentleman, and is just now engaged in a lawsuit with his step-son, whom he hopes to keep out of the inheritance during his own lifetime; and King Henry has not less altered his manner of life, and is feasting, as we have seen, with the Lord Mayor instead of Dame Quickly.

From Eastcheap to the Tower is but a short way, and at the period we speak of, Tower-street would probably be full of young men on their way to join the great army which the King requires in France. Henry V. probably resides at the Tower just now, and with him his bride, Katherine of France. You had better not ask too many questions about the other queen, Henry's step-mother, who also perhaps is in residence here; those who show too much interest in her will probably be suspected of Lollardism; as Joan of Navarre has been lately accused of sorcery on account of her well-known leanings towards the followers of Cobham and Wickliffe.

We must not now delay to visit the Tower, but

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proceed at once to London Bridge in order to reach the Borough before dark. This bridge is the only one over the Thames in London. You cannot cross otherwise , except by boat. The bridge is covered with buildings, a gateway being at each end; and as you pass in through the archway and pay your toll, you could imagine yourself in a street and forget the river altogether, but for the noise of the mill-wheels which are worked under every arch by the rush of water through the narrow aperture. A roaring sound like this would be most appropriate in a modern street; but we must remember that in those days there were few or no carts or carriages, especially in the streets, and that the only sounds were those of human voices, or the trampling of horses, with the occasional clanking of a man in armour as he rode along.

Half way across is St. Thomas's Chapel, in which the engineer who built the bridge, Peter, curate of Colechurch in the City, lies buried. He died in , and his bridge stood until ! The housess built upon it were crowded with inhabitants. In the reign of Richard II. they fell into deep disgrace, for the King's mother, the widow of Edward the Black Prince, was insulted and pelted as she passed under one of the arches in a boat. Richard, who was always glad of an excuse for getting money It of the citizens, made them pay a heavy fine for This offence. The same insult had been offered many years before to Eleanor of Provence, the

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mother of Edward I. Over the gate at the Southwark end you will see the blackened skulls of some of the victims of the usurpation of Henry IV.; and will perhaps remember that, like the water gate at the Tower, this is called the Traitor's Gate.

If you look back at the City from the southern end of the bridge you get a very fair idea of the extent of it, and of the comparative sizes of the various buildings with which it is adorned. The limits are very sharply defined by the Tower on the right or eastern side, and the buildings of the Temple on the left. In the centre, towering above all competition, stands the great cathedral, with its glorious spire; while the other most prominent churches are those of St. Mary-le-Bow, in Cheapside; St. Michael's, in Cornhill; and the Grey Friars, near Newgate. Nearer the water's edge you observe the great pile of Baynard's Castle, within the City walls, near Blackfriars; and outside, the New Temple, Arundel House, the Savoy, Whitehall, and far in the west the clock tower of the royal palace at Westminster, the huge spireless shape of the Abbey, and the roof of Westminster Hall.

Of these, Arundel House is the seat of the great Earls of Arundel and Surrey; and Baynard's Castle is the present domicile of a lady whose children are to play a very prominent part in the affairs of the kingdom during the next forty years of the fifteenth century. Here Cicely, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV., keeps a kind of court. She is cousin

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of the King-maker, being herself a Neville, the daughter of his uncle the Earl of Westmoreland. I speak more at length of her in my chapter on Berkhamsted.

Near the foot of London Bridge stands the church of St. Mary Overies, otherwise called St. Saviour's. It is one of the largest and handsomest churches in London; and is destined to be the only one of any importance, after Westminster Abbey, which will survive till the nineteenth century. It forms a kind of cathedral for the Bishop of Winchester, who resides in a magnificent palace not far off, and who holds occasionally a court in the Lady-chapel for the trial of heretics. In the church is a monument over the burial-place of Sir John Gower, the poet of the reign of King Edward III.

Surrounding the church are some of the oldest buildings in London; and in fact some antiquaries have been of opinion that Southwark is more ancient than the City to which it belongs on the opposite bank:. In the principal street you will see an inn, just then becoming famous as the scene of part of a poem by one . He was Clerk of the Works at Westminster, and has recently died been buried near his royal master, Richard II., whose bones the young King had removed Langley, in Hertfordshire, and laid beside of his wife in the Confessor's Chapel. The Inn, as you pass by, is probably crowded pilgrims setting off for a visit to the shrine of

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St. Thomas of Canterbury, and some of them have perhaps taken the opportunity to say a prayer and leave a gift at the same saint's chapel on London Bridge.