Henry Tudor, had a pretty tenuous claim on the English throne. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was a great granddaughter of John of Gaunt (third son of Edward III), so he had only a smidgin of royal blood in his veins, but this was enough to make him the leading candidate for the crown for the House of Lancaster in the late 1400s.
Because we’re in the century of the Wars of the Roses, the country riven by conflict and the throne passing from Yorkists (white rose) to Lancastrians (red) and back again.
Under the Bloomberg European headquarters building in the City is the ‘London Mithraeum’, a glimpse into an obscure part of Roman London.
Obscure not just because many of the rituals of the cult/religion of Mithras are unknown to us – these rituals were communicated from initiates to novices by speech and example rather than being written – but also because Mithraic temples were underground, dark spaces emulating caves, where the mysteries of the cult were revealed.
[This review was first published on The London Society website in February 2022]
As a London Blue Badge Guide I take Americans around London – the Tower, the Abbey, through the alleys and courts of the City, museums and galleries – all the internationally famous points of the capital. But I always encourage them to spend an evening in a pub, because it is there that you will see the real London – the colleagues having a couple of drinks before going home, the old friends meeting up, laughing and teasing each other, the couple on a date, the guy in the corner reading a book. You get the hustle and bustle of London: the noise, the joshing, the laughter.
A good pub (and to steal a friend’s aphorism, any pub where you’ve just ordered your second drink is a good pub) has a mix of ages and classes, of men and women and others, separate groups but sharing a common experience. (Expressed better by Phin Harper at the end of this book, “in pubs the divergent lives of diverse citizens barrel into each other – mutually enriched through sharing space, architecture and company”.)
[This review was first published on The London Society Website in February 2021]
Followers of the OnLondon twitter feed will know that every week, among the pieces on London’s politics, transport and planning, up pops a tweet about London’s history.
Vic Keegan’s ‘Lost London’ column has been a feature of the website since its inception, bringing stories of the capital through its built environment. These include London’s oldest structure – 6,000 year old wooden piles in the river at Vauxhall – the huge Northumberland House at Charing Cross, and this week’s offering (number 182), Robert Smirke’s General Post Office at St Martin’s le Grand.
When Joseph Bazalgette created his marvellous (and still used) sewer system the 1860s, he pushed back the banks of the Thames and buried his main ‘Low Level’ pipes in the reclaimed land. This is now The Embankment, ground that throughout history was subject to the twice-daily wash of the tides, now parks, roads and the riverside pavement. This reclamation of land from the river led to a couple of foreshore constructions to be landlocked.
Exhibit 1 is the great archway entrance to Somerset House. Now a glass fronted doorway facing the road and the river it was, until Bazalgette, an open arch, through which boats could be rowed to deposit their occupants into the heart of the complex.
Apparently the expression “higgledy-piggledy” is not much known in the US; my use of the phrase to an American tour group as we passed a ramshackle old house was greeted with incomprehension.
But higgledy-piggledy is the perfect description of the house at 44 Queen Anne’s Gate in Westminster, a stone’s throw from St James’s Park underground station; if you look at the photos illustrating this post you’d be hard-pressed to find a straight line that remains in the entire building.
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.
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.
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:
A short piece I did for Essential Surrey on Putney’s history, and some of the famous people associated with the area.
Now 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.
As you wander around London you might see, either on an old sign, or painted up on a wall, the message “commit no nuisance”. There’s an example below from the sign on the south side of Waterloo Bridge – “2: COMMITTING NUISANCE – no person shall commit any nuisance on any bridge…”
Charming, yes? A Victorian injunction to always behave oneself in a pleasant and decorous manner? (The signs and notices are always a good 100 years old.)
What they’re really saying is – “Men, don’t p*** against the wall”
In the days before public toilets (indeed, before proper plumbing in most pubs and houses), the more respectable citizens were frequently up in arms about the ‘lower orders’ relieving themselves in public. You’ll find more about this – and more physical deterrents used to prevent al fresco micturation – in Lee Jackson’s excellent book, Dirty Old London.