W. J. (William John) Loftie.

Rambles in and near London : or, London afternoons online

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The houses built upon it were crowded with inhabitants.
Richard II. had a serious quarrel with them, 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 out 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
mother of Edward I. Over the gate at the Southwark
end you will see the blackened skulls of some of the victims
of the recent disturbances ; 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
west of the bridge, within the City walls ; the Church and
Hall of the Blackfriars ; and outside, the Whitefriars,
the New Temple, Exeter House, the Savoy, Whitehall,
and far hi the south-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, Exeter House belonged to the Bishops of


Exeter ; and Baynard'a Castle was a little later the city
domicile of a lady whose children played a very prominent
part in the affairs of the kingdom during the fifteenth
century. Here Cicely Duchess of York, mother of
Edward IV., kept a kind of Court. She was cousin of
the King-Maker, being herself a Neville, the daughter of
his uncle, the Earl of Westmorland. I speak more at
length of her in my chapter on Berkhampstead.*

Near the foot of London Bridge stands the Church of
St. Mary Overies, otherwise called St. Saviour's. It i
one of the largest and handsomest churches in London
and was destined to be the only one of any importance,
after Westminster Abbey, which survived till the twentieth
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 II.

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 tc
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 Geoffrey Chaucer. He
was Clerk of the Works at Westminster, and lived in a
house at the east end of the church, where the great chapel
of Henry VII. stands now. He wrote poetry which
endeared him to later ages, so that Spenser and Prior and
Cowley and many since have been buried in the same
corner of the south transept, beside him. In the Chapel
of St. Edward, close by, lies the body of Richard, his master,
who died, or was murdered, in the same year, 1400. f

* See Chapter IX., p. 105.
t See Chapter V., p. 64.


At Southwark the " Tabard Ion," as you pass by, is
probably crowded with pilgrims Betting off for a visit to
the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury. Becket was
looked upon as a special patron by Londoners, and St.
Thomas's Hospital, which was then an almshouse, close
to the bridge foot, bore ample testimony for centuries to
the liberality of the pilgrims. St. Thomas's Chapel,
dedicated to the same Saint, was on one of the piers of the
bridge, and the Traitor's Gate at the Tower also bore his
name. In fact, for centuries he was called St. Thomas
" of London," and the house in which he was born was
pointed out in Cheap. It must have been one of the
first houses built in the Market Place, if indeed this is
not a fiction, like that about his mother. She was fabled
to be a Saracenic Princess, who followed Gilbert Becket
from the Crusades, knowing no English but a Gilbert,"
and " London." Rohese Becket and her husband, the
Portreeve, were really of Norman extraction. Agnes,
his sister, married into the old City family of Agodshalf
(in Latin, Ex parte Dei), and the Irish Butlers, Earls and
Marquesses of Ormond, claim to represent them. So
that Anne Boleyn, some time Queen of England, whose
grandmother was a Butler, was descended from the saint's
sister. The Mercers' Chapel now marks the site.

The aspect of London, viewed from a slight distance,
must have been very different from anything we can see in
England now. No doubt the streets were no better than
what we should call lanes, but there were wide open spaces
the two Market Places, on which stand chiefly booths,
with but few houses, stretching diagonally from Newgate
to the Tower and plenty of gardens and trees, with very
little smoke. There was no wheeled traffic. Many burdens
were laid upon men's shoulders, and horses carried packs


and panniers. The roadways were but roughly paved,
and the mud was proverbial, as well as the summer dust ;
but from, say, the other side of the river these things were
not apparent. The low hills right and left of Walbrook
rose gently, reflecting in the surface of the stream the
outlines of many spires and roofs, the colours of ruddy
tiles and of shady trees, the tall grey steeple of St. Paul's
covered with lead and wooden " slats," and soaring more
than five hundred feet into the blue sky. Flanking it as a
centre were many church towers, some square like
St. Michael's on Cornhill, some pointed like the Austin
Friars, some ending in such features as the arches,
only finished in 1512, which made St. Mary's in the
midst of Cheap so famous. The houses, even the great
Guildhall, and such palaces as Crosby's, and Baynard's,
and Pountney's, were far below the churches, but
the louvres on many halls and the fantastic patterns
of many tall red chimneys added to the variety, while
coloured banners floated almost everywhere. Some
called the traveller's attention to an Inn, some bore the
ensigns of a Holy Guild, or of a wealthy Company, while
others again marked the dwelling of some mighty lord
from the country, or some abbot, attending Parliament,
or the Court. High, pointed, narrow arches 'spanned
the Fleet, the Walbrook, and the moat of the Tower.
Gathering all in a close embrace were the brown, frowning
battlements and bastions of the old wall, patched and
worn and mended, but while cannon was unknown,
impregnable. Their gloom was relieved here and there
by a course of brickwork, which was pointed out to the
stranger as Eoman, and by the City Gates, with their
baileys and their deep archways, half hiding the massive
door and falling portcullis. To the east of the Tower
were the low green meadows of the Lea, to the west of


Newgate the long suburban street of Ilolborn stretched
up the hill among the gardens and meadows. In
the foreground along the river, which was the chief
highway, the houses of the nobles and the Bishops
succeeded each other past Charing and on to the King's
great Hall, and the Abbey of Westminster, while in the
background pleasant villages and orchards and long green
lanes led the eye through St. Pancras and Islington, through
little Hoxton and great Hackney, to Hampstead and
Highgate on the well- wooded hills of Middlesex beyond.




Publication of London Records Greatness of John Stow the
Antiquary Houses in the Fourteenth Century The Interior
Furniture Domestic Details Prices of Provisions
" House- Warming " of Westminster Hall Medicine and
Surgery Overcrowding Pestilence Abolishing the Belies
of Slavery Growth of Romanist Doctrines Ecclesiastical
Parties The Friars London and the Wars The
Manufacture of Armour an Important Industry The City
Dagger Street Scenes.

WITHIN a few years a large number of records have been
printed and published as to London life before the Wars
of the Roses. Mainly by the munificence of the Cor-
poration many valuable volumes have been issued. Old
papers relating to houses, dress, food, furniture, and all
those things which concerned the daily life of the citizens,
have been made public, and an immense stock has been
added to the information we could boast of even thirty
years ago. Though they were very little known until
lately, London is better provided with authentic historical
documents than any other city in the world. The series
stored at Guildhall, from which Dr. Reginald Sharpe
draws from time to time such wonderful accounts of
London life and manners in the Middle Ages, goes back to
the thirteenth century. At St. Paul's, too, are many
old manuscripts, some of which, going back another


hundred years and more, have also been copied and printed
for the Library Committee of the City. History, without
records at once to guide and sustain it, would teach us
very little. When we have these documents before us
we can form our own opinions as to many events which
previously we had to accept without question or thought.
A revolution has in fact taken place as to our know-
ledge of everything that happened before the Reformation.
One result of better education and comparative freedom in
matters of knowledge and opinion, was the appearance in
hia true character of John Stow, a man, in his own depart-
ment, fit to stand beside Shakespeare and Bacon and Hooker
among the worthies who glorified " the spacious times
of great Elizabeth." For his age and his opportunities
he was indeed wonderful. He advanced so much further
than any other historian of his time that only now have
we overtaken him only now can we judge of what he
tells us, or employ ordinary criticism in dealing with his
marvellous " Survey." Where he had any opportunities
of using his eyesight the " monstrous observations "
of which his contemporary Ben Jonson speaks we may
accept what he says as almost infallible. But he was
very imperfectly acquainted with Latin especially mediae-
val Latin and could hardly read manuscript more than
a hundred years older than his own time. From his com-
plete ignorance of old English or Anglo-Saxon, coupled
with a most irrepressible habit of guessing, he is a very
untrustworthy guide in the explanation of place names.
He derives Holborn from Old Bourn, Ludgate from King
Lud, Cripplegate from cripples resorting there, Aldersgate
from alders growing there, and so on. Yet Stow's guesses
in philology are still accepted and gravely propounded
as solutions of questions which can only be answered by
means_which Stow could^not employ : he had no Old

(From a Print by Henry Shaw, after John Schoreel.)


English dictionary, nor could he consult the researches of
Professor Skeat. He lived in an uncritical age, and must
neither be followed blindly nor, on the other hand, rejected
because his ideas of historical method and historical
accuracy differed from those now in vogue.

It is always interesting to look through these newly
edited records and meet unexpectedly passages which
apparently were seen by Stow in the course of his inquiries.
Some of his facts were gathered from documents which
have now perished or disappeared. But when we compare
his work with that of his contemporaries in the same
field Verstegan, for example, or even the great Camden
we are more and more surprised at the thorough character
of his research and the absence of those prejudices which
mar so many learned treatises.

Our first inquiry should be as to the houses which
formed the London streets in the fourteenth century.
We know that from the time of Henry, the first mayor,
two hundred years before, the citizens were forbidden
to continue building inflammable houses to the common
danger, and many provisions as to walls, roofs, and especially
chimneys, were made. But these laws were not retro-
spective. We may be sure that even as late as the reign
of Richard II. there were many wooden houses in London,
many roofed with thatch, or " slats," many with chimneys
formed of " tuns," or barrels. For drainage there were
cesspits, for water there were wells, and though the fact
has been questioned, it is difficult to doubt that the cessation
of the plague after the Great Fire was much more caused
by the filling up of wells with cinders and ashes than by
the " purification by fire " to which we often hear it vaguely
ascribed. That similar fires did not cause the same effect
is easily understood when we remember that in 1666 the
New River was waiting at the gates, ready for those who


Ixrfore the fire used wells, and were not obliged to make
choice of the clean wnter.

As to the actual design and fabric of a house built
in the fourteenth century we have abundant evidence.
In 1308, for example, William Hanyngton, a wealthy
furrier, a member of the Skinners' Company, owner of
houses in various parts of the City, and himself living
in the parish of St. Stephen-upon-Walbrook, called in the
services of Simon of Canterbury, a caq>enter, to enlarge
and improve his house. Simon accordingly went before
the Mayor and Aldermen and signed a contract by which
he undertook to work into his design an old kitchen and
a living room, and to make for William a house of some
pretensions in the fashion of the day. It was to have
a courtyard, to be entered by a suitable porch from the
street. In the court was to be a stable, from which we
infer that the porch or passage was large enough to admit
a horse. We still see such entrances in old country inns.
On one side was to be the hall, on the other a large chamber
connected with the kitchen and a larder. But the most
important feature of the new house was the number
and size of the upper rooms. Not only were there three
of these on the first floor, but one at least had a garret
over it. We may note that this was not a civic palace
like Crosby Hall, but an ordinaiy citizen's dwelling.
William Hanyngton died there in 1313, leaving a widow
and three children ; and we may infer that, though he
filled no civic office, he was in easy circumstances, from
his bequest of 1 towards the funds for building and
maintaining London Bridge.

There are several other examples in the records. One
of them is particularly interesting. The Archdeacon of
Middlesex, the year after Master Hanyngton had arranged
for his house in Walbrook, complained to the Dean and


Chapter about the house in which he lived an official
residence, it would seem, on the south side of the precinct.
He was much affected by the noise of men and horses in
the neighbouring streets which must have been what we
know as " Knightrider Street," a suggestive name and
he especially complained of the mean prospect of the
opposite houses, and the want of quiet in the Chamber
called " Bosamunde," probably from the pictures or tapestry
on the walls. He therefore asked leave to build, and
mentioned a space reaching from the roadway to a certain
pear tree and some vines, which were not to be touched.
A little later, in the reign of Henry VI., there are several
such estimates and descriptions. In one we read of three
shops, and over each were to be several stories of living
rooms, including principal chambers, drawingrooms and
bedrooms ; and they were to be ceiled and to have windows.
Previously light and air were luxuries; and people were
driven into the open air unless they could afford large
halls, where rain and wind were more easily defied.

We do not find it easy to conceive the discomfort,
at least from our point of view, of the citizens' daily life.
By the way, a fashion very common at that period and
for long after was to call a room by the name of the classical
or sacred story depicted in the tapestry or painting on
the walls. A Chamber of Diana matched that of Rosa-
munde hi the precincts of St. Paul's. At Westminster,
in what was the Abbot's house, they still show chambers
called Jericho and Jerusalem ; and others in the Palace,
which formed the royal nursery, were Heaven and Hell
and Purgatory, and adjoined the great hall.

It is hard to imagine the state of people who lived
without what to us are such ordinary things as glass
windows, or writing paper, or printed books. Yet in
London, down to the year 1400, such things were


almost, pome of them quite, unknown. Street lamps, as I
have mentioned on an earlier page, were made com-
pulsory in 1416. Chimneys wero often made of wood
before 1419, when it was ordered that any henceforth
constructed, except of stone, tiles, or plaster, should be
pulled down. Glass was very dear, and only to be
had in small pieces, so that few completely glazed
windows were to be seen except in churches ; and the
poorer citizens were obliged to content themselves with
lattices, or with very small windows almost filled up with
stone or wooden tracery. In the houses of some of the
wealthy nobility sets of glass windows were made to be
removed, and were taken from place to place, as their
owner changed his residence. Crockery was almost
unknown, except as a great rarity from Italy ; and a
glass or majolica basin or drinking cup was worth more
than its weight in gold. The common people used horn,
or perhaps in some cases iron and pewter cups and
drinking vessels, and the richer sort silver, silver gilt, and
even gold, onyx and agate.

Crosby Hall, which still remains, and is now very
appropriately turned into an eating house, gives us a fair
idea of what the houses of the upper class in London were
like in the early part of the fifteenth century ; but this
is an extremely magnificent example, and, as we have
just seen, the houses of people in an inferior rank were
very different. Not, indeed, that such a house as Crosby
Hall was then would be considered comfortable nowadays.
The vast rooms, the through draughts, the badly fitting
doors and smoky fire-places, and the very imperfect
drainage and ventilation must have more than made
up for the beauty of the carving, and the magnificence of
the hangings on the walls or for the general splendour
of the furniture and the richness of the stained glass.

(from a Print by Shaw, after the MS. of "Tobit," Royal MSS. 15 D 7.)


The town house of the Earls of Warwick, in Newgate
Street ; Baynard's Castle, in which the Duchess of York,
mother of Edward IV., lived ; Pembroke Place, on the
site of which stands Stationers' Hall, and Pulteney House,
were all very similar, varying more in size than in general

In these fine mansions a visitor would have found a
strange mixture of luxury and barbarism. He would
have seen the great hall used as a sleeping-place by the
servants of the family the bare floor being their bed, and
for a pillow a sheaf of rushes or straw ; while in the
chambers of the master and his equals he would have
seen the most elaborate and sumptuous couches, orna-
mented with heraldic devices of the richest kind, hung with
velvet or silk, and constructed of the softest down. Linen
sheets would not be so common, and in many instances
he would only find the bed arranged for lying upon, not in ;
but in others he would see counterpanes of damask or
satin, and sheets of the finest cloth of Cambray, or cambric.
The word counterpane is derived from the practice of
" paning " or striping various rich stuffs one with another.
Our words panel and pane are from the same source.
The walls would be hung with tapestry, generally orna-
mented with heraldic badges, but sometimes embroidered
with representations of scenes from the romances and
ballads which were popular at the time. For furniture
there would probably be in each chamber a chair or two
generally what we should call armchairs or else stools with-
out any back ; also a seat in the thickness of the wall under
the window, and a wardrobe, sometimes of great magni-
ficence, but more often a mere curtained recess, in which
to hang clothes. A more important article of furniture
would be the chest, or cabinet, which would also serve
for a table, and would be richly ornamented with


hinges, and perhaps painted or carved with shields of

The visitor would probably see no looking-glass, or else
only a small hand mirror of metal ; he would not tind any
wash-hand-standthough there might be a bath and he
would but seldom find a fire-place, though he might see a
brazier with charcoal. The door would be protected with
heavy curtains, and the window would not be made to open
and shut; nevertheless he would find a plentiful supply
of the outer air circulating in the room, some coming
through the imperfectly leaded window panes, some under
the ill-fitting door, and a great deal through the boards
of the walls and floor, though ceilings were now frequently
plastered. Carpets were more commonly used for wall-
hangings, though we read of their use for the floors in
the King's palace as early as the reign of Edward III.
There would be no hair brushes, though combs were in
common use ; and no pins, though brooches like skewers,
but ornamented with jewels, would be found ; metal
pins were first made alx>ut the reign of Edward IV. A
smaller bed would probably be found at the foot of the
great one for a servant or a guard ; and a little orator)'
would probably occur in one corner, fitted with an image,
a little reliquary, and a " paternoster " or rosary of beads.
In a few cases you might also find a volume of prayers, or
the " Book of Tribulation," containing the seven penitential
Psalms, and in another part of the room a volume of the
" Romaunt of St. Lancelot du Lac," or a " Chronicle of
the Wars," or one of the moral treatises of Rene d'Anjou,
the father of Margaret, the Queen of Henry VI., such as
" The Mortification of Vain Pleasure," or, perhaps, " A
Contest Between a Devoted Soul and a Heart full of
all Vanity " all of course in manuscript.

Descending to the reception rooms of the house, you


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would be struck by the general want of furniture every-
where apparent. In the great hall there would be forms
at either side of a long table, which itself would consist
of boards laid upon trestles, and removed after each meal.
The forms would then be set back against the wall, or taken
away altogether. A cross table at the upper end of the
hall would be provided for the lord of the mansion, who,
with his wife and principal guests, would sit under a canopy,
which would be not so much a matter of state as of necessity,
for protection from the draughts. Men all wore head
coverings, as they do still in the East, and women had
hoods and wimples, according to the fashion of the day.
The servants, and indeed all the family, high or low, except
those actually engaged in cooking or waiting, would dine
together ; and dinner would be the principal meal of the
day, a slight breakfast and a slighter supper preceding and
following it. The Duchess of York dined at eleven in
the forenoon, and supped at five ; these early hours were
general : the judges at Westminster sat only from eight
in the morning until eleven, when they adjourned for the
day. No doubt the difficulty of performing any labour,
literary or manual, except by daylight, led to these arrange-
ments. Candle light was bad, candles were dear ; the
only light always available during the short days of winter
being that of the fire which burnt in the middle of the
hall the smoke escaping by the louvre in the roof. The
hall of Westminster School was warmed in this way until
the year 1850, if not later ; and the same old method
may still be seen in occasional use at Penshurst Place, in
Kent. Crosby Hall is usually said to give us the earliest
example of a great hall with a fireplace, but a thirteenth
century fire-place and chimney are at Abingdon, and two

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Online LibraryW. J. (William John) LoftieRambles in and near London : or, London afternoons → online text (page 3 of 23)