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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Blackfriars then and now
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.