An Elizabethan Prisoner’s Graffiti

The Tower of London, famous though it is for prisoners, had no dungeons as such: the incarcerated would be held in rooms in different buildings throughout the Tower’s 12 acres (5 hectares), and one’s treatment depended a great deal on how wealthy or how well-connected one was.

So Hew Draper, a Bristol innkeeper, is unlikely to have had a luxurious time when he was sent to the Tower in March 1560, at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I. The Tower was not a prison for ‘common criminals’, but for those who beliefs, actions or existence were a threat to the state, and so it is with Draper, accused of ‘practising sorcery’. (Draper claimed that although he had been interested in magic, he had destroyed all of his magical books.)

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“Exquisite Pain” in St Bart’s

The church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield is one of the jewels of London. A breathtakingly beautiful architectural gem that has occupied its site for 900 years.

It is one of the capital’s oldest parish churches, founded as it was in 1123 by Rahere, a courtier (some say the jester) to Henry I, the son of the Conqueror. Rahere had been on a pilgrimage to Rome when he fell ill, promising God that if he were spared he would build a hospital for the poor on his return to London. After his recovery he had a vision of St Bartholomew who told him the place where the church should be founded, just outside the City walls in Smithfield.

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The Chapel of St John the Evangelist

One of the loveliest and most peaceful spaces in London is literally in the centre of one of the busiest. The Tower of London gets some two million visitors a year, and in high season one can wait several hours to shuffle past the Crown Jewels, and the space in the White Tower around the armour of Henry VIII and Charles I is as jammed as Selfridges on the first day of the sale.

But walk up to the next level of the Tower and you go through an absolute architectural gem – the Chapel of St John the Evangelist – which manages to be utterly tranquil despite the hordes.

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2021 – the StuffAboutLondon year in review

Thanks very much for following the blog this year, and for coming on the virtual tours (and the handful of real life walks) that have been organised. There have been over 8,000 visitors to with over 11,000 views – a record year on both counts. It is very much appreciated.

There’ll be more posts in the new year (or perhaps sooner if I get too Scrooge like over Christmas) and for those of you who like lists, here are a couple of lists you might like. The first is of the top (most read) posts on the blog this year and the second the top five new posts. Cue ‘Pick of the Pops’ theme music:

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The statue of William IV, Greenwich

WHAT: Statue of William IV

WHERE: Greenwich Park (map)

BY WHOM: Samuel Nixon

WHEN: 1844

Poor old William IV. The last of the Hanoverian kings of Britain, he is all but forgotten today, succeeded as he was by his niece Victoria (whose name is virtually a synonym for the entire 19th century), and preceded by his brother, the rakish, obscenely extravagant George IV (who gave us the Regency).

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Video: Square Stories – favourite squares in London, Oxford and Bath

Another video chat with the gang from UKToursOnline. This time we get competitive looking at “squares” – there are the London garden squares including Russell Square and the gardens of Notting Hill, and the elegant and exclusive St James’s; Georgian splendour of Queen’s Square in Bath and Oxford’s wonderful Radcliffe Square. We’ll also take you on a trip around Trafalgar and Parliament Squares.

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Ottobah Cugoano – an 18th century freed slave and abolitionist

Much of the narrative on the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire is framed by the actions of the white British campaigners – Josiah Wedgewood; Wilberforce, Thornton and the ‘Clapham Sect’ – with the voices and deeds of former slaves either pushed to the background or disregarded entirely.

However, in recent years the life and works of Olaudah Equiano has become better appreciated. Equiano was a former slave from the Kingdom of Benin, who lived in London as a free man and who published an autobiography that helped publicise the horrors of slavery and of the slave trade to Georgian society.

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Churchill War Rooms

With us all locked down it’s impossible to do tours at present, so I’ll be experimenting with some online tours. This is the first effort (at the risk of underselling it, I’m hoping they’ll improve with practice) – an introduction to the Churchill War Rooms.

I’ll do a couple more on the Cabinet Room and the Map Room in the next couple of weeks, but this one attempts to set the context for their creation and introduce a couple of characters that you may not have heard of.

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The Bomb Damage maps

During the war the London County Council surveyors chronicled the devastation caused by enemy bombing on the capital. Hand colouring street level OS maps, they plotted the buildings damaged; generally speaking, the darker the colour, the more the devastation – black was “total destruction”, purple “damaged beyond repair”, right through to yellow “blast damage: minor in nature”.

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Up on the Roof – the Walkie Talkie’s Sky Garden

I’ve tried hard to like the Walkie Talkie, Rafael Vinoly’s skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. The thing dominates the surrounding streets, blocking out the whole sky from the narrow cobbled alleyways that lead up to Eastcheap, and its solitary position away from the cluster of tall glass and steel buildings that form the new vertical City means it intrudes into views from Waterloo Bridge and along the south bank, as well as seeming to loom over the Tower of London.

It is blessed, though, with a wonderful, free viewing gallery – a couple of floors of space some 150m up – higher than the London Eye – and with a 360 degree view of the capital.

This is the Sky Garden. The architect’s plans (of course) were for a mini-Kew, a verdant ‘public park’ accessible to all; it hasn’t quite worked out like that (of course). The accessibility involves navigating a clunky website to book tickets (which are released every other Monday), queuing to get through ticket barriers, trudging through airport-style security, and then queuing for the lift.

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