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Tag: English Civil War

Bromley Hall (1490)

A grim stretch of the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach is hardly where you’d expect to find London’s oldest brick building – or an English Civil War gunpowder factory, for that matter.

Bromley Hall is easy to miss. Many times I’ve driven around the A12 paying little attention to the endless exhaust-strained offices, boarded-up factories and self-storage hangers. The carriageway passes right by the door, so you’re also unlikely to see it from afar.

The early Tudor house was built in 1490 by Holy Trinity Priory, on the site of the earlier Lower Bramerley Manor. Seized during the dissolution of the monasteries, it was refurbished by Henry VII before being used as a gunpowder factory in the 1640s. The building was later used as a printing works and private house before becoming a nurses residence and training hospital in the late 19th century.

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Where was Prince Rupert’s House?

Re-post of an article originally for

A watercolour of Prince Rupert’s Palace in Beech Street, Barbican, from the garden (1796). © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

I knew that after fleeing into exile in 1644 Prince Rupert had a naval career before returning to England after the Restoration, but was surprised to find that one of his private houses survived into the 19th century.

Or did it? This was meant to be a post about the building’s location and architecture, until I started digging a little deeper …

Biographies record that Rupert lived in Westminster and Windsor Castle after he returned to England in September 1660, though online sources (mostly from 18th and 19th century texts) mention him living in Beech Lane/Street (the name seems to fluctuate on maps from this time) near the Barbican. A number of surviving images, mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, purport to show a three-storey, bay-windowed property, such as the watercolour above, variously titled ‘Prince Rupert’s Palace’ or ‘Prince Rupert’s House. This set me off comparing maps to find exactly where the house had stood (the Layers of London site is an excellent tool for this).

Having some idea of the rough location, I stopped to consider a wider set of written sources, looking more carefully through my Rupert biographies. This stopped me in my tracks. Neither Maurice Ashley, Frank Kitson or Charles Spencer mentions Beech Lane/Street, and none of their descriptions of Rupert’s arrival in London indicates where the prince initially resided.

I was leaning towards thinking that ‘Prince Rupert’s Palace’ (or Prince Rupert’s House) was actually a Victorian misattribution, when I found this reference from a 1910 book on mezzotints:

It was at Drury House, his ivy-grown gabled Elizabethan mansion, in quiet Beech Lane in the Barbican, off Aldersgate Street, that Prince Rupert received John Evelyn on March 13. 

Old English Mezzotints, Malcolm C. Salaman (1910)

It’s well-known that Rupert dabbled in mezzotint printmaking, but more useful is the reference to Evelyn’s diary; all would be confirmed if it linked Rupert directly to Beech Lane. As the complete diary text is freely available online, I searched for Rupert’s name. It appears five times, twice in 1661 with reference to him teaching Evelyn mezzotint (the other later entries are irrelevant), on 21st February and 13th March (as mentioned in the Salaman extract, above): 

21st February, 1661:
Prince Rupert first showed me how to grave in 
mezzo tinto.

13th March, 1661 (Evelyn visits Lambeth in the morning, which I have omitted here):
This afternoon, Prince Rupert showed me, with his own hands, the new way of graving, called mezzo tinto, which afterward, by his permission, I published in my History of Chalcography; this set so many artists on work, that they soon arrived to the perfection it is since come to, emulating the tenderest miniatures.

Our Society now gave in my relation of the Peak of Teneriffe, in the Great Canaries, to be added to more queries concerning divers natural things reported of that island.

I returned home with my Cousin, Tuke, now going for France, as sent by his Majesty to condole the death of that great Minister and politician, Count Mazarine.

But no mention of Beech Lane. However another later source which also mentions Evelyn’s visits to Rupert suggested another primary source (highlighted):

Beech Lane, Barbican, where Prince Rupert resided, and worked on his chemical experiments and his mezzotint plates, was probably so called, says Stow, from Nicholas de la Beech, Lieutenant of the Tower, who was deprived of his office by Edward III. Stow, whose clue we ever follow, describes the lane, in Elizabeth’s time, as stretching from Redcross Street to Whitecross Street, and adorned with ” beautiful houses of stone, brick, and timber.” An old house in Barbican belonging to the Abbot of Ramsay was afterwards called Drury House, from the worshipful owner, Sir Drew Drury, also of Drury Lane. This was the house Prince Rupert afterwards occupied; and parts of the mansion were in existence as late as 1796. Here lived the fiery prince, whom Time had softened into a rough old philosopher, fond of old soldiers, and somewhat of a butt at Whitehall among the scoffing Rochesters of his day, who were all à la mode de France. Here Evelyn visited Rupert. In the parish books of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, a guinea is set down as payment to the ringers on the occasion of Charles II. visiting the prince at his Barbican house. In Strype’s time the street had lost its gentility, and was inhabited by clothes-salesmen, and on the site of the old watch-tower fronting Redcross Street, stood an ignoble watchhouse for the brawling Mohocks of the day.

Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally re-published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London (1878).

This source is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it names the St Giles, Cripplegate, parish books as documenting a visit by Charles II to Rupert in Beech Lane. Conversely, it feeds my suspicions by suggesting that at the time Rupert was meant to have lived there, the street was part of an area that had declined in status since Tudor times (‘Strype’ is a reference to John Strype, the historian who published a detailed survey of London in 1720, so a good few decades later than the supposed royal visit). When Rupert returned to England in 1661 he was a divisive figure – surely he would been accommodated in crown property for his own safety, rather than in a declining street inhabited by traders?

Following-up the reference to the Charles II visit (and unable to access parish records from St Giles, Cripplegate, online) I found more useful references, though this time from the early 20th century. These extracts from John Badderley’s History of Cripplegate (1910) give the building a more specific location, but again cast doubt on the veracity of whether Rupert actually lived in Beech Lane. This first extract provides extra details on the house’s location:

On the south side of Beech Lane is the shadow of the residence of Prince Rupert, so memorable for his transactions in the reign of Charles I. About 1830 a handsome building (which stood until 1865, when a larger building was erected) was built by a Mr. William Bassingham, who had resided and carried on his business of a gas engineer here for several years before that time, being rated for his old house in 1820 at 12. This stood at the south-east corner of the south side of the lane (with a frontage in Whitecross Street), on the site of, or in close vicinity to, the spot where Prince Rupert’s house mentioned above was probably situated. Glovers’ Hall Court stands nearly 100 yards further westward, and in 1840 contained houses of a very poor character; a tenement, shed and stables were valued as little as 12. In 1850 the assessment on seven houses in the lane was 121, in which amount the above house (assessed at 60) was included. These old houses were soon after demolished, and three warehouses now standing on the south side erected, which run back to and are also lighted in Glovers’ Hall Court. (p.208)

While the second extract repeats the claim that Charles II visited Rupert at the same address and again mentions the St Giles records: 

The house of which an illustration is given (below) stood in Beech Lane, a street running between almost the northern end of Whitecross Street and Barbican. Particulars of Prince Rupert’s life in this house are given in the chapter devoted to ” Men of Note.” It was here that his cousin Charles II often visited him, and took part in his scientific experiments. An entry in the parish books of St. Giles records the payment of a guinea to the ringers of the church bells on the occasion of a visit of the King to Prince Rupert.  (p.208)

In the same book the ‘Men of Note’ chapter as referenced above repeats some of what we already know, but crucially differs from other sources in suggesting that Rupert was living at Beech Street not on arriving in England, but towards the end of his life (he lived another 22 years, dying in 1682):

In the house at the corner of Whitecross Street and Beech Lane, inhabited in the early part of the seventeenth century by Sir Dru Drurie, lived this brilliant Cavalier. As is well known he took a great part in the Civil War, and after the Restoration occupied many important public positions, the last being First Lord of the Admiralty in 1679. Little is known of the last years of his life; probably much of his time was taken up in the various scientific experiments he conducted in the above house. His cousin, King Charles II, shared his tastes and visited him at his laboratory, where he devoted much attention to improvements in war material, inventing a method of making gunpowder of ten times the ordinary strength, a mode of manufacturing hail-shot, a gun somewhat on the principle of the revolver, and a new method of boring cannon. He is said to have invented “Princes-metal,” a mixture of copper and zinc. He studied the art of engraving and engraved with his own hands. (p.293)

There’s lots to go on here, with a previous owner and Rupert’s involvement with what would become the Royal Society suggesting that more useful evidence might be found in archive sources. However there’s another revealing passage about Beech Lane which, while referencing the supposed home of another 17th century figure, reflects my own suspicions about ‘Prince Rupert’s House’ at this stage (of what admittedly has been a limited search). Badderley also goes on to say:

Upon an old water spout, there is the date 1653, which in all probability is that of its erection. It stood within a few yards of the site of the old mansion called Whittington’s College in Sweedon’s Passage, Grub Street. It has been stated that General Monk lived here, when planning the Restoration, but there is no proof of this. It may be that he occasionally occupied the house during that eventful time; at any rate, it was known as General Monk’s House for many years before its demolition.

This post was meant to pinpoint the exact location of the Beech Lane house and describe its architecture though surviving images, but the research above now has me doubting whether the building was occupied by Prince Rupert at all. Should I find better evidence to that effect I’ll write a ‘part two’ looking at the building and its location in more detail.

To be continued!

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Sketch of Blickling Hall (1619)

I found an old sketch I did of Blickling Hall (1619) on a trip to Norfolk, where I also wrote an article about it and visited nearby Felbrigg Hall (1620).

Blickling Hall, built in 1619-20 by Robert Lyminge, who was also responsible for Hatfield House.

Both houses claim to be designed by Robert Lyminge, though Lyminge‘s claim to Felbrigg appears to apply largely to the Jacobean entrance front, as much of the rest was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lyminge’s involvement with Blickling is greater documented, and he was buried in the churchyard there in 1628.

Also particularly memorable from that trip to Blickling was the rather creepy pyramid mausoleum built for the Hobart family in 1793. I didn’t have time to sketch that – but you can read about it here.

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Churches built during the Commonwealth (1649-1660)

Re-post of article on churches built during the Commonwealth I originally wrote for

Staunton Harold church, Leicestershire (1653). Photo: David Stowell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Various numbers are quoted for how many churches were built during the Commonwealth (1649-1660), usually ranging from four to seven. A web search suggests no consensus, with the lack of clarity seeming to hinge on whether the churches were entirely new constructions, re-modellings of older ones, or whether you include Scotland or not.

Here’s a rundown of all the contenders, with a stab at some conclusions …

Holy Trinity and St Mary, Berwick-on-Tweed (1652)

Holy Trinity Church, Berwick-on-Tweed (1652). Photo: © Copyright Mark Anderson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Charles I originally gave money for the building of Holy Trinity and St Mary in Berwick-on-Tweed in 1641. Though the civil war intervened, funds were collected throughout the 1640s with John Young of Blackfriars finally being contracted to start work in 1650.

The building was modelled on St Katherine Cree in Aldgate (the only surviving Jacobean church in London), completed in 1652 and consecrated ten years later. The church’s website notes its features as:

With our mix of Gothic and Renaissance features, fine stained glass windows including 17thC Flemish Roundels sequestrated by Charles I from The Duke of Buckingham, unique Reredos by Sir Edwin Lutyens, original Communion Table used at our consecration in 1662, magnificent Rose Window, churchyard full of fascinating headstones including Viking and Plague Graves, there is much to interest.

A previous church had existed on the same site slightly to the south but was demolished shortly after the 17th century one was built.

Verdict: new building on ancient site

Staunton Harold, Leicestershire (1653)

Staunton Harold church, Leicestershire (1653). Photo: David Stowell  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I visited Staunton Harold Hall many times as a child, and often dropped into the church (now owned by the National Trust) with my parents. It was built in 1653 in the gothic revival style by Sir Robert Shirley, a Laudian whose opposition to Cromwellian puritanism drove his architectural act of rebellion. Incensed, Cromwell demanded that Shirley pay for a new ship for the navy, only for Shirley to refuse and later be imprisoned in the Tower.

Shirley died aged only 27, with the church finally being completed by others, including Shirley’s wife, in 1665. An inscription above the west tower reads:
In the year 1653 when all things Sacred were throughout ye nation, Either demolisht or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, Founded this church; Whose singular praise it is, to have done the best things in ye worst times, and hoped them in the most callamitous. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.

Verdict: new church

St Matthias Old Church, Poplar (1654) 

St Matthias Old Church, Poplar (1654). Photo: © Copyright ceridwen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Built by Mast of the Bricklayers’ Company John Tanner, St Matthias Old Church is bordered by Popular Recreation Ground, a fine Georgian terrace and the Lansbury Heritage Hotel. Both the church and the Lansbury building have connections with the East India Company founded in 1600 to focus on trade with the far east, before later coming inextricably linked with the expansion of the British Empire: St Matthias was built on the request of EIC shipyard workers who lived in Poplar and Blackwall. Various bequests were given, with the work completed in 1654. 

The church combines classical and gothic elements, with a barrel-vaulted roof supported by timber Tuscan columns. Rumour had it that the columns were made from ships’ masts, which some have suggested gives it a Dutch feel remeniscient of similar churches built in early-seventeenth century Amsterdam, however no evidence has come to light to support this.

Significantly modified in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, St Matthias survived Second World War bombing before being merged with St Anne’s, Limehouse. After the new congregation moved to St Anne’s, St Matthias was declared redundant in 1977 and deconsecrated. It is now an arts and community centre, governed by a Trust.

Verdict: new church

St Barnabas, Brampton Bryan (1656)

St Barnabas, Brampton Bryan

St Barnabus was completed in 1656 to replace the old Norman church destroyed during the 1643 siege of the castle, fifty metres north. The siege is well-documented, its primary sources often quoted in studies of the period as the six-week defence of the castle was commanded by a woman, Brilliana Harley. Historic England, citing a 1981 journal article, has it that Harley held the fortress:

… despite bombardments from a cannon on the church tower, and a poisoned water supply (which killed the cook).

Brilliana died soon after and a second siege the following year resulted in the new governor surrendering the castle.

The church appears to have been allowed to be rebuilt due to the standing of Brilliana’s husband, Sir Robert Harley, a staunch puritan and a long-standing political colleague of Cromwell. A distinguishing features is its hammer beam roof, possibly salvaged from the ruins of the castle. The church was altered in the nineteenth century, though a number of 17th century additions, such as the north vestry doorway, survive.

Verdict: new building on ancient site

Ninekirks (St Ninian’s), Brougham (1659-1660?)

Ninekirk’s, Brougham (1659). Photo: Ken Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

Sources disagree on when St Ninian’s (known locally as ‘Ninekirks’) was built, with a completion data of 1658-1660 suggested, though its planning certainly fell before 1660, so we’ll give it the benefit of doubt.

The site is remote: Ninekirks is located beside a bend in the River Eamont, in a field near the village of Brougham, Cumbria. A Norman church existed on what was thought originally to be a Roman settlement, with the building standing now a remarkably preserved 17th century re-building by Lady Anne Clifford

Ninekirks’ interior is white-washed, with a flag-stoned floor and original pew boxes (including family pews). Lady Anne’s restoration work is recorded in plasterwork above the altar. Repair work in the 19th century added a porch, though what remains is largely unaltered since 1660.

Verdict: new building on ancient site

Charles Church, Plymouth (1658 – Historic England date)

The ruins of Charles Church, Plymouth (now a war memorial). Photo: Partonez (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A tricky one, due to its long and rather tortuous birth. Charles Church, as the name alludes, was named by Charles I as a stipulation of its building. Plymouth was a puritan town, and the request to split the parish of St Andrew into two in 1634 led to protracted negotiations with King. This would would drag on to 1641, when royal assent was finally given for the construction of the new church. The Civil War interrupted building, though sources indicate that Charles Church was used for some baptisms, weddings and burials in the 1640s. Historic England has 1658 as a completion date for the building, with the church’s consecration finally coming in 1665.

Charles Church continued as a place of worship until March 1941, when it was destroyed during an air raid. Its Wikipedia page has a good listing of alterations made from the 18th to 20th centuries. What 17th century features survived until the Second World War, and may even be visible now in its ruined state, requires further investigation.

Verdict: not built during the Commonwealth (due to a large part of the church having been built/in use before it and consecration coming after it) 

St. Michael and All Angels, Great Houghton (1650)

St. Michael and All Angels, Great Houghton. Photo: Neil Theasby (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

St Michael and All Angels in Great Houghton (near Barnsley), was built in 1650 by Sir Edward Rodes, High Sheriff of Yorkshire and a Colonel of Horse under Cromwell as a private chapel for family and tenants. Cromwell is said to have visited and been pleased at its simple interior, and the chapel became a haven for non-conformist preachers in the later 17th century.

The chapel was only ‘episcopally licensed’ in 1849, with its dedication to St Michael and All Angels only coming in 1960. The church’s webpage has some before-and-after photos showing the results of renovation work in 2013.

Verdict: though originally a private chapel and not designed to serve a parish, St Michael’s was newly built for worship during the Commonwealth, so classing it as a new church.

In summary

How many churches were built during the Commonwealth? Half of the buildings listed above were completely new places of worship, and half were built to replace older, Norman, structures: to what extent their 17th century incarnations are built these earlier foundations, and incorporate more ancient features, requires more detailed enquiry.

The verdict:

New churches: 3 (Staunton Harold; St Matthias Old Church; St Michael’s, Great Houghton)

New/rebuilt building on previous church site: 3 (Holy Trinity, Berwick;  St Barnabas, Brampton Bryan; Ninekirks, Brougham

Work largely completed outside of Commonwealth period: 1 (Charles Church, Plymouth)

This brief summary of each church focuses on construction dates; others interesting angles to explore might be the motivations and allegiances of the people/patrons who built them (including the role of women), or what legal/ecclesiastical mechanisms allowed them to be built when they were.

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