In the post on the Firefighters’ Memorial we talked about the destruction caused by the Blitz – and Christchruch Greyfriars gives a hint of that devastation. This was a Wren church built after the 1666 Great Fire and gutted in WW2. Rather than being restored like so many others, it was turned into a garden. Flowerbeds mark where the pews once stood, and wooden frames with climbing plants show where the towers once stood in the nave.
Before Wren’s church it had been one of the largest churches in London. Originally it was part of a Franciscan friary (Franciscans wore grey habits, hence greyfriars). Four queens were buried in the friary grounds, including the wives of Edward I and Edward II , which stretched from King Edward Street (once known as ‘Stinking Lane’ by the way) right down to the City Wall at Newgate.
Buried under the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall is an extraordinary historical survivor.
Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar is one of the few remaining parts of Whitehall Palace – the main London residence of Kings and Queens (and Lord Protectors – because Oliver Cromwell also lived there) for over 150 years. Today Whitehall is the name of the broad road linking Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, or it’s used as a synonym for ‘government’, but Whitehall was once the biggest palace in Europe – bigger than the Vatican, bigger even than Versailles – covering over 93,000 square metres between the river and Green Park.
It became a royal palace when Henry VIII confiscated a residence called York Place from Cardinal Wolsey. As well as being Lord Chancellor of England and the most powerful commoner in the realm, Wolsey was also Archbishop of York whose London seat since the 13th century had been York Place.
When Wolsey failed to get Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled, he found himself at the wrong end of the King’s displeasure. His property became forfeit to the Crown and Henry got his hands on Hampton Court Palace and York Place. Henry then spent a huge sum (well over ten million in today’s money) developing and expanding it. He added more rooms, and tennis courts, and a cockpit, and even a tiltyard for jousts. It became know as Whitehall after the white stone used for the great hall. (“You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost. ‘Tis now the King’s, and called Whitehall.” (Shakespeare, “King Henry the Eighth”).
Henry married Anne Boleyn at Whitehall in 1533. And Jane Seymour in 1536. And he died there in 1547. Continue reading