Tag Archives: Survey of London

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Four

Knightrider Street, EC4V

London is an ever-changing city and testament to that is Knightrider Street. Today it is a rather insignificant alley but in its prime was a major City thoroughfare. In its modern incarnation it runs parallel to Carter Lane to the north and Queen Victoria Street, running from Addle Hill in the west to Peter’s Hill in the east. Formerly, it was much longer, extending further east and, possibly, running into Queen Victoria Street, although this is far from certain, and marked the boundary between a number of City wards. How times have changed.

The street first appeared in documents as far back as 1322, where it appeared as Knyghtrdestrete. The inestimable antiquarian, John Stow, gave an explanation of how the name came about, in his 1598 Survey of London. According to Stow, it “was so called (as is supposed) of Knights well armed and mounted at the Tower Royall, ryding from thence through that street, west to Creede Lane, and so out at Ludgate towards Smithfield when they were there to turney, joust or otherwise to shew activities before the king and states of Realme.”

Others doubt the veracity of Stow’s explanation, charming as it is to imagine knights of the realm riding out in all their splendour for a session at the jousting lists. The problem is that knightrider didn’t exist as a word at the time. In Middle English rider was synonymous with a knight and, perhaps, the street was simply called Rider Street with Knight added as a prefix at a later date, when the association between rider and knight was blurred. Who knows?

The middle section of the street was known as Old Fish Street and at least from the 12th century there was a fish market, piscaria, there. This alone suggests that the thoroughfare, irrespective of its name, dated to that period, if not well before.

Visitors to the street will find, if they walk eastwards, crossing Godliman Street, on their left-hand side The Centre Page pub at no 29, previously the Horn Tavern until the name change in 2002. It has a name check in Pepys’ diaries, Samuel noting on April 13th 1663 “and so I called at the wardrobe on my way home and there spoke at the Horn Tavern with Mr Moore a word or two.” Guy Fawkes is also said to have met there, whilst plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, suggesting that it was well established before Pepys’ visit.

The pub was badly damaged during the Great Fire but was rebuilt, operating as a fashionable coffee-house, where the Free and Easy under the Rose Society, a form of Freemasons, met from 1758, as well as a tavern. It was here, according to Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, that Winkle, Snodgrass and Tupman sent out for “a bottle or two of very good wine” to sustain their leader during his sojourn in Fleet prison. It was damaged during the blitz but dusted itself down and got back into business. If you visit it these days you will find that there is a corner dedicated to David Hasselhoff, for obvious reasons.

Thomas Linacre lived in the Stone House on the street and it was there that he founded the College of Physicians on September 23rd 1518. Its powers to regulate physicians were extended to cover all of England, not just London, by Act of Parlaiment in 1523. Stow notes that a public lecture in what he termed as Chirugerie was given there every Wednesday and Friday, a custom which was instituted on 6th May 1584.

Stow also noted that from 1570 Doctors of “the Ciuill Law and Arches” kept quarters, known as Doctors’ Commons, and lodged on the street, probably where the BT Faraday building is today. The Commons were destroyed in the Great Fire but rebuilt shortly thereafter, before being demolished in 1867.

Time has not served this street well, methinks.

The Streets Of London – Part Seventy Four

Wardrobe Place, EC4

Walk westwards from St Paul’s along Carter Lane and halfway down on your left, just after Addle Hill, you will come across an archway in the buildings which, if you turn into it, will take you to a small, cobbled courtyard known as Wardrobe Place.

It owes its name to the fact that from 1359 until its abolition in 1782, when its powers were assumed by the Treasury, the King’s (and the occasional Queen’s) Wardrobe was sited here. Originally based in the Tower of London the Wardrobe was where the royal vestments and armaments were housed. But it also was the centre of the monarch’s economic power, where their personal fortunes were stored and where Royal Household accounts were maintained and taxes raised. It soon outgrew its rather cramped quarters in the Tower and following a relatively temporary relocation to Lombard Street between 1311 and 1359, Edward III made the decision to relocate once again.

The royal eyes fixed on the mansion of Sir John Beauchampe who had rather conveniently just died. As John Stow recorded in his Survey of London, published in 1598, “then is the kings greate Wardrobe, Sir John Beauchampe, knight of the Garter, Constable of Dover, Warden of the Sinke Portes builded this house, was lodged there, deceased in the yeare 1359.  His Executors sold the house to King Edware the third.” Having relocated there, the Wardrobe appears to have been a hotbed of intrigue, Stow noting that “The secret letters and writings touching the estate of the Realme, were wont to be enroled in the Kings Wardrobe, and not in the Chauncery, as appeareth by the records”.

There was a change of usage after Charles the First lost its head, the Wardrobe being converted into an orphanage. The restoration of the monarchy and the appointment of the Earl of Sandwich as Master of the Royal Wardrobe saw the eviction of the orphans, although they did not go without a fight. Samuel Pepys, a frequent visitor to the Wardrobe, reported that the orphans sang to the Earl in a last desperate attempt to remain but the crusty fellow was unmoved and showed them the door. Six years later the building was consumed by the flames of the Great Fire.

One of the iconic images of wartime London is St Paul’s cathedral during the blitz. Miraculously, the area to the west of the cathedral, including Wardrobe Place, escaped relatively unscathed and the buildings on the western side of the square are fine examples of town houses dating from the post-conflagration rebuild of the city. No2, Wardrobe Place dates to around 1680 and is a Grade II listed building, retaining “its late-C17 domestic plan and stair, panelling and other original or early features. The two overmantel paintings have outstanding interest as early examples of a once-widespread artisan tradition, and are now of great rarity.” These wall paintings were rediscovered in the 1970s following some rebuilding work.

By 1720 John Strype, in his Survey of London, noted that “the Garden of the King’s Wardrobe is converted into a large and square court, with good houses”, what is now Wardrobe Place. The houses are mainly, if not exclusively, offices now but a still visible painted sign on the wall of No 6, bearing the legend “Snashall & Son. Printers, Stationers and Account Book Manufacturers”, gives a sense of the type of businesses that were to be found in what is now a pleasant oasis in a busy part of the City. Signs such as this must have been an everyday sight in days of yore.

The Streets Of London – Part Forty One


Redcross Way, SE1

If you walk down Southwark Bridge Road away from the river, turn left into Union Street, then the second road on your right is a rather unprepossessing street, Redcross Way. My attention was taken by some railings, a plaque and some tributes which had seen better days. What I had come across was a relic of the final resting place of many of the poor of Southwark, Cross Bones Graveyard.

Outside of the boundaries of the City of London the area beyond the south bank of the Thames, what we now know as Bankside and Southwark, had a rather racy reputation. There was only one bridge across the river at the time, the old London Bridge, and so those coming from the south into London or setting out on their journey from London had to travel through the district. Pretty much everything that was banned or disapproved by the City elders was to be found in abundance sarf of the river. The area was noted for its dangerous taverns, licentiousness including theatrical performances, blood sports and prostitution.

The many sex workers to be found in mediaeval Southwark were known as Winchester geese because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester who owned much of the land in the area. The first printed reference to the graveyard is as the last resting place for these poor women and is to be found in John Stow’s Survey of London, published in 1598. He reported, “I have heard ancient men of good credit report that these single women were forbidden the rights of the Church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground, called the single woman’s churchyard, appointed for them, far from the parish church”.

Whether Stow is an ancient man of good credit is not clear but his account of the origins of this graveyard has been given credence over the centuries. But it is clear whether from its origin or at another point of time the graveyard was used to bury people other than sex workers and particularly those who fell within the boundaries of the parish of St Saviour. Some 15,000 were said to be buried there.

Excavations carried out by the Museum of London in 1992 on 148 graves, dating from between 1800 and 1853, showed that two-thirds of the bodies were of children under the age of five, 11% under the age of one. Of the adults there the majority were women over the age of 36. Causes of death included smallpox, scurvy, rickets and tuberculosis. The dig also showed that the graveyard was particularly overcrowded with bodies piled atop of each other.

And it was overcrowding that saw the closure of the graveyard. Closure came in 1853 because, according to contemporaries, it was “completely overcharged with dead” and further burials were considered “inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency”.

Attempts were made to reuse the site for building purposes and even as a site for a fairground but these met with fierce opposition from the local residents. However, once the remains of the graveyard were transported to Brookwood warehouses and other commercial buildings were erected on the site. The building of the Jubilee line required an archaeological dig of the area and an electricity substation was built on the land. The railings and plaque are pretty much all that remains of this once overcrowded graveyard.