Category Archives: lost london

The Monarch’s Champion

If you ever have a tour of the Houses of Parliament it is in Westminster Hall where you meet your guide. This is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, dating back to around 1100 when it was commissioned by William II (William Rufus), the son of the Conqueror.

Inside Westminster Hall

In this hall, with its magnificent hammerbeam ceiling, kings, queens and commoners have lain in state before their funerals; great trials have taken place, including those of William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes, and ‘King and Martyr’, Charles I.

It was also the scene for the Coronation Banquets, celebrations after the crowning of the new monarch in the nearby Westminster Abbey.

The most lavish of these – so lavish in fact, that future monarchs did away with the tradition for fear of appearing too profligate – was in 1821 for the coronation of that most extravagant of kings, George IV. The former Prince Regent’s banquet cost over £25,000 (the equivalent of £2.5-£3 million today) – the total cost of his coronation was £238,000, or well in excess of £25 million.

This was also the last time that the King’s Champion made their traditional appearance. Riding into the hall in full armour, the champion throws down his gauntlet three times, challenging to trial by combat anyone who disputes the new monarch’s right.

As with much of British society, the role of champion is an inherited one, belonging to the feudal holder of the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, which has been held since the 1300s by the male head of the Cymoke family.

Although not part of coronations since the 1821 Banquet, anyone wishing to challenge a future Charles III to be ‘the right heir to the Imperial Crown’ might want to note that Francis Dymoke, the present champion, is a 66 year old chartered accountant.

The King of Corsica

st-annes-1

St Anne’s churchyard is a small patch of open ground at the Shaftesbury Avenue end of Wardour Street, Soho.

Once the hang out of druggies and al-fresco drinkers, it’s now a pleasant enough quiet spot in a crowded part of the city, and even on the grey, chilly March day I wandered in there, there were plenty of people sat eating their lunches.

The essayist William Hazlitt is buried in the churchyard (he died in Frith Street – his old home now a very expensive hotel) as is Theodore I of Corsica, who has an epitaph on a plaque on the tower wall, written by Horace Walpole: Continue reading

Putney, SW15

A short piece I did for Essential Surrey on Putney’s history, and some of the famous people associated with the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow a thriving, popular and leafy suburb of London, Putney is recorded – as ‘Putenhie’ or ‘Putelei’ – in the Domesday Book as a ferry and a fishery, and for much of its history was a small village well outside the orbit of the capital. Despite this, it has produced or been the home of a number of people who had a significant impact on the country.

This includes Thomas Cromwell, the ‘enforcer’ to Henry VIII who rose from being the son of a Putney blacksmith to the King’s Chief Minister. It was Cromwell who pushed through the break with the Catholic Church and the dissolution of the monasteries, and Cromwell who was the moving force behind the executions of Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More. He met the same fate himself in 1540, when Henry had him beheaded on Tower Hill, after Cromwell had arranged Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, and Anne proved to be less attractive than her portrait (Henry is said to have called her ‘The Flanders Mare’.)

Cromwell is the anti-hero of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ (the third in the trilogy is due out this year), and Mantel unveiled the Putney Society’s plaque to Cromwell at Brewhouse Lane in 2013. However, all the historical evidence indicates that the home of his father was almost a mile away, on the fringes of Putney Heath, possibly on the present site of the Green Man pub, so why the Society chose the spot it did is something of a mystery. Continue reading

Bradley’s Spanish Bar

[Update: the good news, if you read the comments below, is that Bradley’s is safe until at least 2018. So even I might get around to visiting it again.]

[update 2: the not good news. the lockdown threatens the survival of the Bar. Jan de Vries has a fundraiser here to try and keep it going]
bradleys-spanish-bar-hanway-streetHanway Street, a narrow little cut-through (that hardly anyone actually uses to cut through) between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, has just been bought by developers, and that means another of London’s institutions will be swept away.

That is Bradley’s Spanish Bar, a place that I haven’t been in for nearly 20 years, but which has huge, fond memories of when I worked in Covent Garden and Soho in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Bradley’s was one of those places where you met up with friends, because it was a memorable place; once you’d been you never forgot it. Continue reading