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Pix & notes: Hall Place

Hall Place is a manor house in Bexley, southeast of London, neatly divided between the Tudor portion and the seventeenth century addition. The photograph here, showing the division, comesHallPlace1 from Wikipedia. It drizzled all day when I visited in November 2011. In fact, it was so dismal a day, that everyone else stayed home and the house-minders clung to their teacups in the office. I love the English drizzle myself, it being a rare phenomenon in Texas.

You can reach Bexley on the train with your Oyster card (I think.) It’s a pretty village in which I spent no time at all, heading directly off on the route described in Andrew Duncan’s Favourite London Walks. I’ve done several of Duncan’s walks now, though I prefer to copy the pages I want and leave the heavy glossy-paper book at home. (Must’ve gotten this book there, because they don’t have it at Amazon. They do have a similar one.)

The history of the house

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From St. Mary’s churchyard. If I were Sir John, this is where I’d want to spend eternity.

Sir John Champneys, a wealthy merchant, built this fine house in 1537. He was a member of the Worshipful Company of Skinners, who traded in skins and furs. I wonder if he traded furs from Russia and Scandinavia. He was active in City affairs, serving as Sheriff in 1522 and Lord Mayor in 1534. As I suspected, that’s when he was knighted.

That seems to be all we know: he was mayor, he built a house which still stands. But those were turbulent times. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536, but Sir John was evidently unaffected by those political coils and tumults. He died of plague, they say, and was buried at St. Mary Virgin, through whose churchyard I walked on Duncan’s route.

Another wealthy merchant, Sir Robert Austen, bought the house in 1649 and added that strikingly unmatched second wing of red bricks. What was he thinking? He was created the 1st Baronet Austen on 10 July 1649, on the eve of the English Civil War. Charles I was beheaded in January… so how was this creation accomplished? Cromwell didn’t make baronets. Sir Robert must have been a cavalier or, more likely, a supplier of money to the king in exile. Handy to have a house not far from the mouth of the Thames.

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Denise Orme and Robert Evett in The Merveilleuses, 1906

I didn’t know these things when I visited. Even the booklet from the Heritage House merely noted that the family prospered. I choose to believe they prospered through those tumultuous years by giving money to both sides. Well, if you don’t want to be slandered by novelists in four hundred years, leave a decent biography!

In the late eighteenth century, Francis Dashwood inherited the estate. The Dashwoods came in through the last Sir Robert Austen’s wife. Francis Dashwood leased the place to Reverend Richard Jeffreys, who turned it into a school for young gentlemen. 80 boys lived there in its hey-day, judging by the number of beds sold when the school moved out.

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US Army Signal Corps at work

 

After some remodeling, the house went through a period of short-term rentals to “the aristocratic and the fashionable,” including musical hall actress Denise Orme and her husband, Lord Churston. Aha! That means this house is suitable for a Professor & Mrs. Moriarty story. Somewhere down the line, I’ll do a good old-fashioned country house murder.

Lady Limerick’s son-in-law bought the house in 1926, on her behalf, it would seem, because on her death in 1943 the Bexley Council took possession. In January, 1944, the US Army Signal Corps took over the house for an intercept station code-named Santa Fe. Cryptographers and Morse code operators lived there, passing messages on to the more famous Bletchley Park.

The interior

They left me entirely alone in here. Apparently, I do not look like a vandal. The rooms were mostly empty, except for very bright halogen lights. The great hall had an assortment of ordinary folding tables and chairs. They must use this nice big room for meetings. I always imagine meetings along the lines of those in The Vicar of Dibley.

The best part was the children’s area, near the old chapel. No kids and no minders, so I got to play with everything. They have little drawers you can open to smell lavender and rosemary, boxes with holes you can put your hands in to feel lambswool, displays of toys and a typical meal on a ship (not appealing) and pictures to give you the flavor of life in Tudor times. Great fun, if a little elementary. They should make such displays for novelists, with real pistols and recipes for contraceptives and political conundrums; you know, grown up stuff.

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The parlor. This is where all the oak paneling I use in headers and backgrounds comes from.

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The great hall. Minstrels can play in the gallery upstairs.
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Great hall windows.

 

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The exterior

Oh, it was a dark and drizzly day! Not too cold with a wool sweater and a rain coat. Thank Photoshop for brightening these up enough to show a bit of color. 

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Brick side

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The dark squares are flint, the light ones clunch, a sort of fine limestone. Stones were salvaged from Dissolved churches.

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The Great Green Teddy-Bear Garden

These are supposed to be heraldic animals, like dragons. Ha! They are fat, grinning teddy bears made of shrubbery. I love topiaries, the more fanciful, the better. Further proof that creativity knows no limits. Enjoy!

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Pix & notes: Blackfriars

Lady Elizabeth Russell lived in Blackfriars, as you know by now if you’ve been reading this blog. If you just tuned in, here’s Lady Russell, part one and Lady Russell, part two. Those posts are largely based on Chris Laoutaris’s biography of that august personage. A central theme for that book is Lady Russell’s successful obstructing of Shakespeare and Co.’s efforts to establish an indoor theater in “her parish,” so he goes to great lengths to reconstruct the district and figure out who lived where, when. I don’t concern myself with the Shakespeare conflict, but since Lady Russell’s a recurring character in my Francis Bacon mystery series, I want to know how to move my people around in that space. Besides, I love poring over old maps and house plans.

In the beginning

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Baynard’s Castle, kiped from the Londonist, who don’t cite their source either.

In the Middle Ages, there were three castles on the north side of the Thames between St. Paul’s Cathedral and Whitefriars, a Carmelite priory just east of the Inner Temple, which was a redoubt of lawyers even then.

Baynard’s Castle survived through Elizabethan times, during which it was the property of the Earl of Pembroke. It was demolished by the great fire of 1666. Montifiquet Castle was pulled down in 1276 to make room for Dominican friars, who wore black capes. BHO (British History Online) is silent about the third Norman fortification. I’m not sure where it could have been squeezed in. Bridewell Palace wasn’t there yet, but its place was occupied by an inn.

King Edward I and Queen Eleanor lavishly supported the black friars, whose monastery rose up beside the Fleet River, which didn’t stink in those halcyon days. Henry VIII dissolved that monastery along with all the rest, sending the friars packing. Edward VI sold the hall and prior’s lodgings to Sir Francis Bryan, a courtier, afterwards granting Sir Francis Cawarden, Master of the Revels, the whole house and precincts. By that time, Bridewell had been built across the Fleet, which was growing stinkier by the year, what with London’s burgeoning population and booming industries.

Lady Russell’s habitation

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Blackfriars in Lady Russell’s time, as recreated by Chris Laoutaris

Elizabeth Russell’s house and gardens are at the top left, at the corner of Carter Lane and Water Lane. Carter Lane is still there, which helps orient on new maps.

Her neighbors, working clockwise, were Richard Field with his printing press and a nice-sized garden, followed by William de Lawne in the square tower at the top right. The big dashed-line areas on the right are “Part of William More’s mansion and gardens.” Sir William acquired the whole kit and kaboodle from Thomas Cawarden in 1559. His personal chunk of the liberty may have continued off the page toward the east.

St. Anne’s Church, which for Elizabeth’s time was a cramped upstairs chamber, comes next. Coming around the bottom of the dial, we find the mansion of George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, one of Shakespeare’s patrons; Shakespeare’s Blackfriars theatre, comprising seven upper rooms formerly belonging to Wm De Lawne; Farrant’s theatre; and the strangely articulated residence of William Brooke, Lord Cobham. At the far left edge, abutting the west side of Lady Russell’s house, we find two more pieces of William de Lawne’s establishment and one more house at the top right corner inhabited by Peter Buram.

These places must have been pretty nice inside, with lots of oak paneling and diamond-paned windows, though it’s hard to envision the floorplans. We must remember that there are two and three stories in these structures, with floors that don’t always line up. There were other smaller establishments tucked in here and there too, over time, perhaps, like a goldsmith’s shop and other upscale trades.There must have been a lot of jostling among the great and lesser folks alike.

I continue to refuse to try to cram the stuff about Shakespeare into one of my posts… maybe someday I’ll set a book in the conflict, but until then, I can’t face it!

Blackfriars in the middle

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Anthony Van Dyck self portrait

The middle being the centuries between my periods of novelistic interest. I skip swiftly past them.

Bridges were built over the Thames at Blackfriars, the first in 1760. They had to fill in the Fleet Ditch, as it was called by then. They kept trying to rename these bridges, but the people continued to call them Blackfriars, century after century.

Artists enjoyed the district, including Anthony Van Dyck, inventor of the micro-beard, who enjoyed Charles I’s patronage as well.

“The king’s printing-office for proclamations, &c., used to be in Printing-house Square, but was removed in 1770; and we must not forget that where a Norman fortress once rose to oppress the weak, to guard the spoils of robbers, and to protect the oppressor, the Times printing-office now stands, to diffuse its ceaseless floods of knowledge, to spread its resistless ægis over the poor and the oppressed, and ever to use its vast power to extend liberty and crush injustice, whatever shape the Proteus assumes, whether it sits upon a throne or lurks in a swindler’s office.”

The Bridges of Blackfriars

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Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, early nineteenth century

 A later incarnation was a two-level bridge with carriages below and pedestrians above. The expense was huge and the outcry loud.

“The Quarterly Review, of April, 1872, contains the following bitter criticisms of the new double bridge:—”With Blackfriars Bridge,” says the writer, “we find the public thoroughly well pleased, though the design is really a wonder of depravity. Polished granite columns of amazing thickness, with carved capitals of stupendous weight, all made to give shop-room for an apple-woman, or a convenient platform for a suicide. The parapet is a fiddlefaddle of pretty cast-iron arcading, out of scale with the columns, incongruous with the capitals, and quite unsuited for a work that should be simply grand in its usefulness; and at each corner of the bridge is a huge block of masonry, àpropos of nothing, a well-known evidence of desperate imbecility.””

Whew! Was the architect the first to jump off his bridge, after reading that ungentle review?

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Here’s a bridge over the meandering Fleet, much more than a ditch, at least by Texas standards. Water courses have highly localized names. Ditch might mean, “slow-moving and full of garbage,” in that variety of English. It connects Blackfriars on the right with whatever is on the left… Bridewell or its replacement, presumably. This drawing is Old Blackfriars Bridge. “From the work usually known as ‘James’s Views,’ published May 9, 1825.” Source: Old Manchester, Plate 38. 

 

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Blackfriars Bridge today. Nice, huh?

 

Blackfriars then and now

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Blackfriars on the Agas map, 1561. I think I got those yellow lines right. That’s the Fleet River angling northward to the left of our district of interest.
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Part of Blackfriars on John Rocque’s 1746 map of london. See the word DITCH? That’s our friend the Fleet.
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Blackfriars today. That white road running up the middle is Farringdon Road, built over the Fleet River in the mid-nineteenth century.
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Somewhere in there. The whole area was bombed to smithereens, but property lines are amazingly persistent.
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St. Ann’s church yard. These are persistent too, especially now that working people have to smoke outside.

References

British History Online, Blackfriars: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1/pp200-219 

Laoutaris, Chris. 2015. Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe. London: Penguin Books.