The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3
This house was built by sir John Crosby, grocer and woolman, in place of certain tenements, with their appurtenances, let to him by Alice Ashfield, prioress of St. Helen's, and the convent, on a years lease, from the year to the year , for the annual rent of . It was built of stone and timber, was very large and beautiful, and the highest at that time in London. He was of the sheriffs, and an alderman in the year , knighted by Edward IV. in the year , and died , enjoying this stately building but a short time.
What the contents and particulars of the demise granted to sir John by the prioress were, may be understood by the grant of Crosby Place, and the appurtenances, made by king Henry VIII. to Anthony Bonvixi, an Italian merchant, Wherein are mentioned, , the great messuage or tenement commonly called Crosby Place, with a certain venell, lane or passage, that extended in length from the east part of the said tenement, to the corner of the south end of a certain little lane north, bending unto the priory close: also messuages, situate and lying in the said parish of St. Helen; whereof were situate and lying between the front of the said tenement and the front of the bell-house, or steeple, and the messuages mentioned before; together with a certain void piece of land, situate in the said parish, extending in length towards the east by the said messuage, which Catherine Catesby formerly held, from the outward part of the plat or post of the bell-house, abutting upon the north part of the said messuages, and the , unto the church-yard there, feet and a half assize; and thence extending in breadth towards the south, directly to a certain tenement there, formerly in the tenure of Robert Smith: and messuages more of the said messuages jointly, situate within the close of the priory; of which was heretofore in the tenure of the said Robert Smith. And these were the tenements and appurtenances held of the priory of St. Helen by sir John Crosby.
Richard, duke of Gloucester, and lord protector, afterwards king of England, by the name of Richard III., was lodged in this house.
While his nephew, Edward V. reigned, he here contrived his plots; and here the citizens came to him with the professions of their love, and desiring him to accept the crown.
The inimitable Shakespear, in his historical play of Richard the , notices Crosby Place, in the scene between Gloucester and lady Anne, widow of Prince Edward, whom the former was supposed to have killed, in the presence of Edward IV. and his brother
Clarence. After his artful and successful courtship of the lady, he is made by the poet to address her in these words:
Since which time, among other, Antonio Bonvixi, a rich merchant of Italy, dwelled there; on whom king Henry VIII. bestowed it, anno , with all belonging to it; as it appears by the copy of the grant, running thus:
After him German Cioll dwelt here.
Then William Bond, alderman, increased this house in height, by building a turret on the top thereof. He died in the year , and was buried in St. Helen's church. Divers ambassadors have been lodged in this edifice; namely, in the year , Henry Ramelius, chancellor of Denmark, ambassador unto the queen's majesty of England from Frederick II. king of Denmark. An ambassador of France, &c. Sir John Spencer, alderman, purchased this house, made great reparations, kept his mayoralty here, and afterwards built a very large warehouse near thereunto.
In the of king James I. when divers ambassadors came into England, monsieur de Rosney, great treasurer of France, with his retinue (which was very splendid) were here lodged; the house then belonging to sir John Spencer.
Within Bishopsgate also, and very likely in this house, were lodged the youngest son of William prince of Orange, monsieur Fulke, and the learned monsieur Barnevelt, who came from the states of Holland and Zealand.
Upon a survey of the existing remains of Crosby house and the adjacent neighbourhood, it will be found that the description of the mansion with its adjuncts in the reign of Henry VIIIth, singularly agrees
|with the state of the site at present; modern houses having supplied the places of such parts of the old mansion as have been destroyed. Entering by the gateway from , the hall arrests the eye of the passenger; the remains consist of a lofty wall pierced by windows. The architecture is the last declension of the pointed style; each window is divided by a single mullion into lights, with cinquefoil arched heads, bounded by weather cornices; of the windows now forms the entrance to the hall, being ascended by a lofty flight of stone steps, beyond which is seen the oriel, a semi-octagonal bow, lighted by windows of a similar character with the others in the hall; the perpendicular of the wall is finished by a coping. A passage cut through the walls of the hall leads into a quadrangle, which was once the great court of the mansion, it is now occupied by modern houses, and called ; at the south eastern angle a passage under the houses leads through a brick arch of some degree of antiquity, into a narrow lane, which leads to , and unites with the corner of another passage, which forms the communication between St.Helen's and , being the lanes described in the grant of king Henry.|
Where the steeple of St. Helen's church formerly stood cannot. be ascertained at the present day, but it is highly probable that the campanile, which the grant refers to, occupied the site of the present gateway between Great St. Helens and , and in that situation served for the double purpose of a bell tower and a gateway to the close.
The principal remains of this noble building consist of apartments, viz. the hall, the council-chamber, and an ante-room, forming sides of a quadrangle. The hall has, on the east side, beautiful flat pointed windows, and on the west side , with another beautiful octangular oriel window, whose finely executed roof is made of stone from Caen in Normandy. The ceiling of the hall is a flat-pointed arch, with longitudinal and transverse beams, highly ornamented, and whose intersections form small flat-pointed arches, with the same number of conical pendants, of which the centre is far superior to the rest, but all most exquisitely wrought. The intermediate spaces are simply filled in with stiles and Gothic mouldings, on the edges. The whole is of oak. The arches rest on Corbel. corbels, attached to the walls; of a Pendant which and a pendant is here engraved.
An ornamented frieze forms a border of the roof of the great hall. It is composed of various carved devices in wood, representing grotesque heads, white roses (the regal badge of Edward IV.), antique shields, and other emblematical devices, totally dissimilar with another.
There is a chimney in good preservation, feet inches wide and feet high. This noble room is of atone, feet in length, in width, and feet in height. The floor was originally paved with stone, chequer-ways, but is now almost defaced. The council-room has a very rich flat-pointed arched ceiling, entirely of oak timber, composed of transverse beams, or principal rafters, highly ornamented with enriched half circles; in the compartments are square sunk pannels, filled in with quatrefoils, making a pleasing contrast between this room and the hall: it measures feet in length, and in width.
Until within the last years many fragments of stained glass adorned and beautified several of the windows; but they have been accidentally broken and given away to the antiquarian visitors who have occasionally investigated the place. Both the bow windows on the south side of the council-room were taken down about years since to form a staircase to the adjoining dwelling-house, then the residence of Mr. Hall.
Very small vestiges of its former splendid character distinguish the upper part, and once ornamented roof of the council-chamber: of the oak carvings, not the smallest fragment is left; and the ancient windows have given place to large modern sashes, resembling those of a carpenter's workshop. The ancient fire-place, opposite the lower bow window of the council-chamber, must have appeared very grand in its pristine state: within the memory of some persons employed on the premises, vestiges of its having been sumptuously gilt were quite apparent. This part of the building consisted of chambers, the lower and upper, the divisions by the floor being between the bow windows.
At the north-east end of the upper part of the council chamber is a gothic door, communicating formerly with other parts of the building, with a carved stone door case, evidently coeval with the building of the room. At the extreme north-west end of the hall is a small gothic door, that probably might lead to a music gallery on the north-west side, the door being nearly elevated to half the height of the roof.
The late duke of Norfolk occasionally visited Crosby-hall, and was so much pleased with the roof, that he employed an artist to make correct drawings of the whole, and built his celebrated banquetting room, at Arundel castle, Sussex, precisely on the model of mahogany. In the spring of , this beautiful edifice was plundered of the whole of the handsome stone-work pillars and ornamental masonry of the council-chamber, by order of the proprietor, Strickland Freeman, esq., who removed them to his seat at Henley-upon-Thames; and, with the most barbarous taste, erected a dairy with them! The masons were employed weeks on this occasion, and all the fragments injured in the dilapidation were carefully cemented and packed safe, previous to removal into
|the country. The building is at present in the occupation of Messrs. Holmes and Co., packers.|
Nearly opposite , on the west side of , is an entrance to the ; the front and principal part of which is in ward.
Returning to the east side of the street, is an arched entrance to Great St Helen's, on the north side of which are alms-houses for poor men of the Skinners' company, founded by sir A. Judd, knt., , and rebuilt by the company in .
On the south side of the same place is a large mansion, formerly the residence of sir J. Lawrence, lord mayor in . It is of red brick, with pilasters of the same, the capitals, which are composed, being of stone. In the middle of of them are the inscriptions ALI. . In the lane to the east of this edifice is a similar mansion, only smaller, of red brick; both are fine specimens of the domestic style of architecture of the early part of the century.
, which is the next street to the north of the last, is the site of the priory of St. Helen's, the last remains of which were most wantonly destroyed in . At the west end of Little St. Helen's (as the small passage formerly occupying this site was called,) was an old meeting-house of antique exterior, probably erected in the reign of Charles II., and at the end was
 Maitland, ii, p. 801.