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Guest post by London Historians Member Caroline Swan.

main_9781445661117_1It’s a fairly common occurrence for builders to uncover disused burial grounds in London; it can feel as though the entire city is built on top of a vast graveyard. Many visitors and Londoners alike are fascinated by London’s multitude of burial grounds and London’s Hidden Burial Grounds will no doubt be of interest to those who have wondered where Londoners were laid to rest in the centuries before edge-of-town cemeteries and cremations became the norm.

Rather than focusing on London’s famous suburban Victorian cemeteries, such as Highgate and Kensal Green, Robert Bard and Adrian Miles take the reader on a journey through central London’s lost burial grounds, little patches of ground that today serve as parks or playgrounds, or have disappeared altogether. The authors clearly covered many miles whilst researching this book, visiting the featured sites and taking photographs, many of which are featured (in colour) in the book, alongside historic images and some wonderful photographs from the archives of Museum of London Archaeology.

This book draws extensively on two key nineteenth-century sources: Gatherings from Graveyards by George Alfred Walker (1839) and The London Burial Grounds by Isabella Holmes (1896). Both of these figures had an interest in improving the health of Londoners – Walker, a surgeon, wanted to see inner-city graveyards shut, as he was concerned that overcrowded burial grounds were the cause of high levels of disease and mortality in the areas surrounding them, while Holmes campaigned for disused cemeteries to be transformed into parks and playgrounds for the use of people with little access to outside space.

London’s Hidden Burial Grounds is divided into three main sections: “Plague Pits and Pest Fields,” “London’s Worst Nineteenth Century Burial Grounds,” and “Disused and Hidden Jewish Burial Grounds.” The chapter on plague pits and pesthouse grounds looks at sites from both of London’s famous plague outbreaks, in 1349 and 1665, as well as other sites of mass graves such as workhouse burying grounds. These sites are generally indistinguishable as burial grounds today – one of the featured burial grounds is now beneath a multi-story car park in Soho. Many of the Jewish burial grounds featured in the book’s final chapter are also hidden, but behind high walls and locked gates in unassuming corners of the East End.

The main part of the book is dedicated to the huge number of little churchyards and urban burial grounds that began to disappear during the nineteenth century. Many of the burial grounds used in London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were profit-making ventures run by often unscrupulous owners who crammed thousands of bodies into spaces that were nowhere near big enough. George Alfred Walker’s investigations helped to uncover the horrific practices going on in many of these places; the famous scandals of Spa Fields and the Enon Chapel are recounted here, along with accounts of churchyards literally overflowing with the dead. Bard and Walker also include an account of a woman thought to have died of cholera who, not actually dead, broke out of her coffin en route to burial in Southwark. The horrors of these overcrowded graveyards makes for grim but compelling reading – it is hard to imagine the sights and smells that Londoners must have been confronted with when visiting any of these places.

London’s Hidden Burial Grounds sheds light on the often-overlooked history of burials in London before the advent of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries and their successors, and makes for a great guide to central London’s forgotten cemeteries. It is superbly illustrated with colour photographs, while an extensive bibliography includes a wide range of titles for further reading. The use of archaeological reports adds another dimension to the story, providing physical evidence to back up the often-lurid Victorian accounts of overcrowded, squalid burial grounds. All in all, it makes one grateful that the persistence of the likes of George Alfred Walker paid off and that the people of London are no longer forced to bury their loved ones in such dreadful places.

London’s Hidden Burial Grounds by Robert Bard & Adrian Miles, is published by Amberley, 2017. Cover price is £14.99.

 

 

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430 years ago today – also a Tuesday – Anthony Babington and six of his co-conspirators were executed. A guest post by Mathew Lyons.


On Tuesday 20th of September 1586, seven Catholic men were bound to hurdles in the Tower of London – one of them, a priest named John Ballard, on a single sled, the others two-a-piece – and were dragged westward on their final slow journey through the city’s autumnal streets to a hastily erected scaffold in the open fields ‘at the upper end of Holborn, hard by the highway-side to St Giles’, probably somewhere a little to the north west of what is now Lincoln’s Inn Fields, then known as Cup Field. The crowd gathered at the scaffold numbered in thousands. The authorities had fenced off the site to stop horsemen blocking the view, and had also raised the gallows ‘mighty high’, so that everyone could see justice being done.

The names of the men were – Ballard aside – Anthony Babington, John Savage, Robert Barnwell, Chidiock Tichbourne, Charles Tilney, and Edward Abingdon. (Seven more conspirators and their accomplices would die the following day: Edward Jones, Thomas Salisbury, John Charnock, Robert Gage, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy and Henry Donne, elder brother of the poet.) Most of them were minor courtiers, well-connected, wealthy; it was said they wore fine silks on this, their last day. Just a week before they had been tried at Westminster and found guilty of treason; six weeks before that, they had still been free men. But then had come intimations of arrest – one story is that Babington was alerted by catching sight of a message delivered to a dining companion named Scudamore and realising that Scudamore was, in fact, one of Walsingham’s men – followed by dispersal and desperate flight, Babington and four others taking to what was then still wild woodland beyond the city at St John’s Wood.

babington

Contemporary illustration of the Babington conspirators.

The authorities searched the houses of some thirty known recusants around London. Almost all were outside the city walls in places such as Hoxton, Clerkenwell, Highgate, Enfield, Islington, Newington and Westminster. One conspirator, John Charnock, was captured on the road from Willesden, where he too had slept in the woods. Babington and his companions, hungry and fearful, disguised their clothing and cut their hair, smeared their faces with green walnut shells, and then – with watches guarding every road out of London – made their way cross-country to what they hoped would be a safe house near Harrow-on-the-Hill. Servants there noticed the strangers’ arrival, their oddness; furtive conversations and the gold lacework of a fine cloak over coarse yellow fustian doublets. The five were finally taken, hiding in the barn. Bells rang out across the city as news of their arrest spread; fires were lit and psalms sung, song and smoke rising together in the late summer air.

And now the men were to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Although the exact site of the gallows is unknown, we do know that it was chosen for symbolic purposes: the men had used these fields for secret meetings as they plotted to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her on the throne with Mary, Queen of Scots. Indeed, much of their conspiracy seems local to this area, just beyond the city’s western edge where streets and houses seeped into pasture, and where, on warm spring days, women dried their washing out in the fields, weighting down the sheets with rocks and stones. If in some senses the locale emphasises the marginality of their deadly enterprise, it also perhaps hints at a fatal detachment from reality.

Two of the conspirators’ favoured inns were nearby: The Plough, which seems to have been close to Fickett’s Field, between Cup Field and The Strand, and The Rose Tavern, which was on the south side of the Strand itself, just without Temple Bar on the corner of Thanet Place, and well-known for its garden. (A character in Middleton’s Roaring Girls claims to ‘have caught a cold in my head… by sitting up late in the Rose Tavern’.) Savage, Charnock and Babington had rooms in Holborn, the latter at a place called Hern’s Rents, an address he shared – coincidentally or otherwise – with another would-be Catholic regicide, Edmund Neville, who also used to walk in the fields with his co-conspirator, William Parry. Just eighteen months earlier, Neville had betrayed Parry to Walsingham – and to the fate that now awaited Babington and his friends.

Francis Walsingham, circa 1585, attr. John de Critz the Elder. National Portrait Gallery.

Francis Walsingham, circa 1585, attr. John de Critz the Elder. National Portrait Gallery.

It was customary for a traitor’s death to come by hanging, and for the blood rituals to be enacted on his corpse. This day, however, was different. One after another, the men were left to swing briefly by the neck – until they were half-dead, an onlooker wrote – and then cut down from the gallows, still alive and conscious, and made to watch as the executioner hacked off their genitals and dug out their guts – and then eventually their hearts – with his knife. As their insides were cast into a burning brazier, each man’s body was then dismembered, and the severed head set above the gallows.

As the historian William Camden – a likely an eye-witness – noted, the day’s events were ‘not without some note of cruelty’

The first man to die, was Ballard, arguably the plot’s ringleader. The second, its lynchpin, was Babington. He alone of the men standing beside the scaffold awaiting their fate watched Ballard’s agony’s unflinchingly, coolly, not even deigning to remove his hat; the others turned away, fell to their knees and bared their heads in prayer. But when it was his turn to suffer, and he was pulled down breathing from the gallows to face the executioner’s knife, he cried again and again Parce mihi Domine Iesu, Spare me Lord Jesus.


A longer version of this article was first published in London Historians Members’ newsletter of December 2011. A pdf version can be found on our Articles page. Scroll down to December 2011. LH Member Mathew Lyons is a writer, historian and author of The Favourite, which relates the story of Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Ralegh.

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A guest post by London Historians Member, Christopher West.

DSC03440blogEntering the Docks from Tower Bridge Road, you will see the cast-iron grey Tuscan Columns which adorn International House- these were saved from the original Hardwick warehouses built for the Telford Docks, opening in 1828. Walk along the new waterside pathway and notice the original wall, complete with mooring rope rings, looking up at the grey columns and at the nearby historical Thames Barges.

Back in the 10th century, King Edgar gave this land to a group of knights who traded here, then in c 1147 the Royal Hospital of St Katharine was founded, on the orders of Queen Matilda, by the then proprietor, an Augustinian Priory at Aldgate, governed by a Master, three Brothers and three Sisters. Later, a Church was added and a community that became known as St Katharine’s Precinct developed. Some of the land was sold to allow the Tower Of London to build the East side of its moat and the precinct developed its own orchards, school, court, prison, factories, breweries and various types of housing. It had a ‘dokke’ at least from the 14th century.

Medieval Church of St Katharine by the Tower. Image by Jane Young.

Medieval Church of St Katharine by the Tower. Image by Jane Young.

Sadly and controversially, the ancient Royal Hospital, Church and more than four thousand people were removed in 1825, to make way for the new Telford Docks, which was built in a record three years, opening in 1825, trading in luxury items from all over the world. The Royal Hospital and Church were relocated at Regent’s Park, together with splendidly preserved relics, which are still in use at today’s Royal Foundation Of St Katharine at Limehouse. Throughout its history, Royal patronage has remained (usually the Queen) and today’s Master was appointed by the current Queen, continuing the tradition which has survived since the 12th century.

Builders Taylor Woodrow renovated the Docks, following the closure in 1968, first having to clear war damage and demolish derelict buildings. When pulling down the brick walls of a late 18th century warehouse, a grand wooden framework was discovered, so it was moved 70 metres and became the basis for today’s Dickens Inn. Modern offices were built in place of the Hardwick warehouses, including Commodity Quay, which housed two thousand commodity traders and Reuters News Agency. Ivory House (1852) was turned into luxury flats and numerous others were added surrounding the East Dock. Various shops and restaurants were built, creating the ‘Yacht Haven’, eventually becoming the sparkling Marina that we know and cherish. Still on show today are the Telford Bridge, numerous sculptures by Paula Haughney, (representing luxury items such as turtle shells, herbs, spices and exotic feathers), Wendy Taylor’s famous Timepiece and various other treasures.

Dickens Inn at St Katharine Docks

Dickens Inn at St Katharine Docks

Starbucks Coffee Shop is on the site of the ancient Hospital. It was built as the Coronarium, an all denomination chapel, again featuring original Tuscan Columns; unfortunately, after 19 years of use, it was closed, to reopen as a coffee shop. The mural in the window depicts a sketch of the intended new Docks c 1823.

Today, St Katharine Docks hosts boats from all over the World, as well as historical vessels which include the Royal Barge Gloriana, Havengore, which carried Churchill’s body in State, Flamant Rose, which belonged to Edith Piaf and the majestic Thames Barges.

Christopher West has written a book, The Story Of St Katharine’s, which chronicles the area from the tenth century to today.  He can be contacted on thestoryofstk@outlook.com.

St Katharine Dock today.

St Katharine Docks today.

St Katharine Dock today.

St Katharine Docks today.

St Katharine Dock today, view upriver.

St Katharine Docks today, view upriver.

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dick whittingtonWe all know the rags to riches story of Dick Whittington, his cat and his rise to become Lord Mayor of London. Also, we’ve heard or read about the great Victorian philanthropists such as Angela Burdett-Coutts, George Peabody, Andrew Carnegie. Octavia Hill. But Dick Whittington didn’t invent philanthropy in London and nor was the Victorian period an isolated beacon in a long dark history of nobody giving a damn. No, the City has a long tradition of benefactors through the ages and the act of founding, supporting, endowing has constantly taken place.

A new exhibition opening today at the ancient Charterhouse demonstrates this clearly. The institution itself is a perfect exemplar, for in 1611, business mogul Thomas Sutton made provision for a home there for 80 poor men (the “Brothers”) and a school for 40 poor children, both institutions which survive to this day. Daniel Defoe called it “the greatest gift that was ever given for charity, by any one man, public or private, in this nation.”

tomb of thomas sutton

The tomb of Thomas Sutton (1532 – 1611), chapel, Charterhouse.

Philanthropy: the City Story tells us of much besides. How the maintenance of old London Bridge from the very beginning in the early 13th century was underpinned by charity from the City, hence the Bridge House Estates, the umbrella body which has that role to this day, and much else besides; the story of Thomas Coram and his Foundling hospital; schools and hospitals for the less wealthy; food relief. And so on.

But while acts of charity themselves and philanthropy have been continuous, the types of people and institutions who undertaken them have constantly changed and especially so since the Tudor hey-day of Gresham and Sutton. With the growth of non-conformity, so grew an incredibly strong tradition of charity, Quakerism being an outstanding example. Similarly, over the years, London’s Jewish community – particularly as concentrated in East London – benefitted from the more successful among their numbers. But while much evolves, there are constants, the most obvious manifestation being our Livery companies, Corporate benefactors in the Middle Ages as today.

Angela Burdett-Coutts

Angela Burdett-Coutts

Christ's scholar. Christ's School in Newgate Street was a charity school on which many others were modelled.

Christ’s scholar. Christ’s Hospital in Newgate Street was a charity school on which many others were modelled.

But should there be a need for well-off people look after the less fortunate? Some would argue that in a “decent” society there shouldn’t be that requirement. It’s an ancient debate and it is not shirked here. Outgoing Lord Mayor, alderman Roger Gifford, notes that philanthropy is not entirely selfless, calling it in the City context “enlightened self-interest”, pointing out that the City’s success goes hand-in-hand with investment in community matters. Do you agree?

"£.s.d. The Religion of England". 1870. Many 19C Victorian radicals and reformers didn't believe society's problems could be solved with philanthropy.

“£.s.d. The Religion of England”. 1870. Many 19C Victorian radicals and reformers didn’t believe society’s problems could be solved with philanthropy.

The other Big Question the show asks, directing it mainly at ambitious young professionals in the Square Mile: where are tomorrow’s philanthropists and where are they going to steer philanthropy in the years, decades, centuries into the future? Indeed Philanthropy: The City Story is merely an early step in a longer term project that will continue to develop these themes. In parallel, the Charterhouse will be used increasingly frequently until it will be open to the public with a new museum sometime in 2016. Fabulous news.

An engaging show, rich in history. Crucially, a quite rare opportunity to visit the Charterhouse and in particular its exquisite ancient chapel containing the tomb of Thomas Sutton. But the run is quite short, don’t miss out. There is also a series of free evening talks and debates associated with the exhibition.

philanthropy, the city storyPhilanthropy: The City Story opens today (30 October) and runs until 30 November. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from noon till 5pm. Entrance is free. The exhibition is a partnership between the Charterhouse, Museum of London, the City of London Corporation’s charity City Bridge Trust and City Philanthropy.

London philanthropy hot-spots map.

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As is the British way, most of this part of England is heavily skiving or otherwise having fun today and blaming it on what nowadays is called a “weather event”. Why should I miss out? This frivilous post has nothing to do with London, but does with history. Sort of. So please indulge me, or just skip this post.

Innocent X

Pope Innocent X by Velazquez (1650).

Last week we heard on the news that the Vatican has started its own cricket team.

Fondly recalling my undergraduate days at Royal Holloway it got me to thinking about my perfect Vatican XI. Deeply ensconced as I once was in Medieval Europe, the Crusades etc, some popes of note loomed large. Here goes.

My Vatican XI

1 Leo I (440 – 461) – Turned Attila and his Huns back at the very gates of Rome. Who better to open the batting?
2 John Paul II (1978 – 2005) – Steady bat, long time at the crease. Crowd-pleasing.
3 Gregory VII – (1073 – 1085) Hildebrand. Fearless, gregarious, extroverted. After a period or papal vulnerability, stamped the church’s authority over the Holy Roman empire in the person of the emperor Henry IV. Perfect for Number 3.
4 Adrian IV (772 – 795) (c) – as the only English pope, has to be skipper. Also 24 years in the middle a cracking innings for those times.
5 Nicholas V (1447 – 1455)
6 Pius II (1458 – 1464)
Near contemporaries, these highly cultured gentlemen were the first of the humanist popes who sponsored the rivival of ancient art, architecture and philosophy. So very stylish with bat in hand, though always vulnerable, not unlike David Gower, one imagines. Nicholas was in post when Constantinople finally fell to the Turks. Lacked the authority to do anything about it.
7 Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) (w)
Not a pope but one of the leading theologians in church history.  And smart, despite his nickname of Dumb Ox, owing to his bulk. So a large and deceptively nimble presence behind the stumps. And just the chap to come in after a bit of a middle-order collapse.
8 Julius II (1503 – 1513)
9 Innocent X (1644 – 1655)
10 Urban VIII (1623 – 1644)
Pace attack. These three no-nonsense, aggressive pontiffs perfect to keep the opposition on the back foot.  Led by Julius II, “the warrior pope”, he spent most of his reign pillaging Italy at the head of his mercenary troops. Constantly at war too with Michelangelo whom he got to paint the Sistine chapel. Innocent X. Check the Velazquez portrait (above), that’s all you need to know. Urban VIII. Patron of Bernini and scourge of Galileo. Famously melted priceless bronze decorations to make cannons. Over 20 years in the job so good man to wag the tail when needed.
11 Alexander VI (1492 – 1503) The Borgia pope, avaricious, sneaky, tricky, full of guile and deception, but enjoyed his fun too. Perfect spin bowler attributes.

Scorer: Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498) Not a pope, but a firebrand Dominican preacher who held both religious and laity to account for slack moral practices – usuary, sumptuary, gambling, promiscuity, etc. Inspirational and popular till the fun-loving Florentines got bored with his puritanism and burned him in the town square. But good at keeping score, one imagines.

So there you have it. If I were back at boarding school playing pencil cricket instead of doing prep, this would be – in my opinion – a formidible Vatican XI.

List of popes.

Hat-tip to LH Member Deborah Metters @rosamundi for egging on this tomfoolery.

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The Rainborowes, Adrian Tinniswood

It was appropriate and a little strange seeing the Commons assert its authority during the Syria debate while at that very moment reading of the House doing a similar thing about two thirds through this new book by Adrian Tinniswood. For most of The Rainborowes takes part during the English Civil War. Centre stage is Thomas Rainborowe – the Colonel Rainsborough of Putney Debates fame – who among many things, is a Puritan Leveller and seige specialist par excellence. Utterly loathed by the Royalists, he is widely admired by his men and Parliamentary leaders alike; he is physically courageous, intelligent, militarily talented and not unambitious politically. Could he rather than Cromwell have become the head of a Republican England? It’s not unthinkable, but Thomas was too intransigent, too doctrinaire, too – well – left wing.

Thomas Rainborowe

Thomas Rainborowe

Although he is the leading light in this story, Thomas is but one of a remarkable family of siblings who experienced first-hand the tumult and violence of the Civil War or eking out an existence in colonial Boston. Or both. But we start with the telling of how their father and patriarch of the family, William Rainborowe senior, establishes the family fortunes as a merchant mariner of the Levant trade and also as the scourge of Barbary pirates along North Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. He ruthlessly leads the successful blockade of the pirate stronghold of New Sallee, freeing hundreds of English captives destined for slavery. But his adventures against Irish rebels a few years on were signally less successful.

William senior leaves us just as the Civil War kicks off. His sons and daughters are intermarrying into an extended network of ambitious Puritan families on both sides of the Atlantic, in London and in colonial Boston. His daughters Martha and Judith marry into the elite of Boston Puritan society many of whom also have origins in East London; his sons Thomas and William Junior – the latter returning from New England – fight for Parliament against the king.

That’s the basic narrative, a lot of history there. Two generations of a high-achieving London maritime family in a relatively short and tumultuous period of violence and rapid change which witnesses the birth of one nation and the re-birth of another.

The author has succeeded totally in arranging and compiling a huge amount of evidence – particularly with regard to complex trans-Atlantic family networks. –  and delivering a compelling, pacy work of history. It encompasses on one hand intimate domesticity – the Puritan household – to warfare on a grand scale, on land and on sea. He achieves this seemingly effortlessly, though it is perfectly clear that a lot of hard work lies behind this fabulous account.

I fully expect The Rainborowes to be cited on those book of the year lists you see in the pre-Christmas newspaper supplements.

There is a section of well-chosen images at the centre of the book, which include a portrait of Thomas Rainborowe (above) and others, engravings featuring the Thames and contemporary ships (very fancy, no wonder they were expensive), and what I particularly like: crude contemporary propaganda pamphlets, both religious and political.

The book has two maps, always a good thing: The British Isles showing the main Civil War sites featured; and the Massachusetts Coast. Plus, there is a contemporary one of Old and New Sallee, in the images pages. Index, Notes, Bibliography, all present, thorough and excellent.

The Rainborowes (407pp) by Adrian Tinniswood is published by JonathanCape on 5 September. Cover price is £25.00 but available for less.

Putney Debates.

Thomas Rainborowe’s famous quote at St Mary’s, Putney, where he clashed with Cromwell.

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This show has been on at Somerset House for a while now and has just over a month to run. It comprises large scale black and white photographs of Hawksmoor’s London churches. These are complemented with models of their towers or facades suspended on wires from the ceiling.

The exhibition curated by Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard University Graduate School of Design. It features the work of architectural photographer Hélène Binet. Using digital plans, the models were made from resin.

Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1661–1736) was the brilliant protege of Christopher Wren, most of whose London churches have survived.

They are beautifully and simply presented in this exhibition: the approach is wholly successful. Recommended.

nicholas hawksmoor

nicholas hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor:  Methodical Imaginings runs until 2 September at Somerset House. Entrance in free.

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