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Tag: London

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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Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross (2014)

Coal Drops Yard
Looking across a bridge between the two coal drops sheds. The western shed (pictured) has restaurants and retail units on both floor. In the background are retained gas holders, now housing apartments. Image: Struan Bates.

A couple of evening photos from the Coal Drops Yard redevelopment. I worked for a number of years at King’s Place on York Road, and witnessed the adjacent Granary Square transformation, though at the time the coal sheds shown in these images (built in 1851 and 1860 and used for storing coal from Yorkshire before it was transported on Regent’s Canal) lay boarded-up and abandoned after their later use as warehouses and nightclubs.

Coal Drops Yard
Units along one side of the eastern shed. Image: Struan Bates.

The wider development of the area continues apace, and appears successful, with one’s attention still largely drawn to the architecture over the former coal sheds’ commercial occupants. The Granary Square development in particular also has a very different feel in the daytime, attracting more families to the canal steps and fountains.

The whole King’s Cross development has not been without controversy, however, with questions raised over affordable housing and ‘pseudo-public spaces’.

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Forty Hall (1629)

Forty Hall. Image: Struan Bates.

I suspect there’s a lot more to discover about Forty Hall. The 1629 date quoted for the house we see today appears too early; it has more in common with the angular, astylar boxes built after the Restoration. That said, there are earlier stylistic precedents (e.g. Coleshill , usually given a date of 1650).

Forty Hall was built for Nicholas Rainton, a former Mayor of London, who was imprisoned for refusing to help Charles I raise a loan, and who died in 1646 (interesting monument in St Andrew’s, Enfield – Nicholas Stone?) A lottery bid put together by the hall and English Heritage in 2008 suggested a ‘clever artisan builder’ probably designed the house, but no name is suggested. Little information can then be found about Forty’s architectural development between Rainton dying and the property leaving the family’s possession in 1696. I’ve not seen Peter Mills‘ name associated, but Forty immediately brings to mind Thorpe Hall … just a thought.

Forty has a fascinating interior, too; the photos below were taken on a flying visit, but give a good impression of it inside and out:

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.

Image: Struan Bates.
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The People’s Piazza: A History of Covent Garden (BBC)

I finally got round to watching The People’s Piazza: A History of Covent Garden on iPlayer. As with many of the best documentaries, the researchers had done a great job of finding people who had direct involvement with the subject at hand, including men and women who had worked in the market in the pre- and post-war periods. There was some great archive footage, and the framing of developments around historical figures worked well.

Inigo Jones’ St Paul’s church loomed large, though its architectural history wasn’t explored. It’s still surprising how Jones integrated the most ‘primitive’ Tuscan order with elegant surrounding townhouses, and in doing so delivering London’s first formal open space. Jones had seen the opportunity to employ the Tuscan’s earthy and robust dimensions in an ecclesiastical building after agreeing with the Earl of Bedford to deliver the ‘handsomest barn in England’. The huge east front pedimented portico of St Paul’s (sixty feet across), with its widely-spaced pair of large columns flanked by square pilasters, had no precedent in England, and the sight of a quasi-Tuscan temple would have been all the more dramatic for its urban setting. The church’s double-square interior displayed Jones’ preference for harmonic ratios, with symmetrical, tall, rounded-headed pairs of windows on the east and west facades complementing circular windows above the church’s ‘entrances’ (the east one is fake).

Flanking St Paul’s were a pair of arches, also Tuscan, with rusticated pilasters. These were positioned away from the church and joined by a wide, low wall, at a distance proportionate to the columnation of the church’s portico. The cumulative effect of their inclusion, visible in later etchings and paintings, again demonstrated Jones’ inclination for horizontality, but at Covent Garden going a step further to confidently bestow a residential skyline with the gravity of the Tuscan order.

No drawings in Jones’ hand survive for the the tall, narrow houses he designed for the north and east sides of Covent Garden, but later pictorial evidence shows that they were narrow, classical structures, with vaulted, rusticated, arcade walkways (‘piazzas’) spanning the terraces, with steep roofs and dormer windows. Summerson argued that the whole of Covent Garden was a ‘comprehensive essay in the Tuscan mood’, with Jones adapting a Serlio  design for his Covent Garden houses to deliver elegant continuity around three sides of the square. The effect is seen in later paintings: a band of red, upper-story brickwork runs around the square – smart, but subordinate to the bright, rusticated ashlar line leading the eye to its termination at the new, understated, Protestant, place of worship.

The point here isn’t to establish whether Jones’ unified application of the Tuscan order was faithful to antiquity, but more to recognise that what Jones had created was the first classical city square in England. Its influence was soon felt in surrounding streets, with Jones directing similar classical projects in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Great Queen Street. Jones had arrived at his own urban vernacular, the forerunner of London street architecture. Crucially, these buildings and spaces would be experienced by the public, not just kings and courtiers.

At this point Jones still had what might have been the crowning glories of his Westminster Palace and St Paul’s cathedral developments on the horizon, though the former didn’t come to fruition and the latter was demolished. Whatever the aesthetic merit of Jones’ work on the west front of the cathedral, it’s Jones’ influence on secular architecture that was revolutionary, though his buildings alone may not have been enough to secure that legacy.

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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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