Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Temple church (photograph post)




The Temple church is one of the oldest in London and has a truly fascinating history. Built from 1160 it displays the characteristics of transitional style of architecture, the period between the styles of Norman and early English. The church was taken over by lawyers in later medieval times when they moved to the temple and has remained in their care since as a private chapel. The church has been restored many times, most recently after the war after when it experiencing much damage along with much of the temple district. The temple district is gated which means access to the church can sometimes be difficult (always best to check opening times) therefore this post which is more focused on photographs will take a tour of the buildings in an attempts to capture the feel of the building for those unable to visit.



Starting from the front the contrast in styles between the chancel which is Early English and the nave which is mostly Norman. It should first be brought to the attention of the visitor the unconventional layout of the church in which the nave is round with a rectangle chancel with no transepts, it is one of only a handful of examples in England of the round churches which were based on the ones found in the holy land. When putting a date (style of building) to a building the style of window is often one of most 
obvious places to start, in this building it is interesting as when construction started (on the nave) it was primarily in the Norman style with small rounded windows, but by the time they finished it is primarily in the Early English style (the classic Early English three pointed arches (large central window with one either side)). Inside the nave there is evidence for the transitional style with the introduction of the pointed Gothic arch, but we shall get to that later.



Before we enter the church via the west door into the nave some other parts of interest on the outside of the church should be inspected. On the other side of the nave stone rubble is used rather than the smart finely cut stone as this was not intended to be on display, indeed often these areas would have been obscured by buildings which were built right up to the church, these were often only demolished by the Victorians during their notorious restorations. Another point of interest is the Victorian bell tower which is almost completely invisible from many views of the church, and a good thing too as its an insensitive and ugly addition, not even using similar stone. 


Perhaps the most impressive Norman feature of the church is the Norman entrance porch, probably the finest Norman arch in London. The west door, most most impressive is also relatively unrestored, compared to much of the church and other Norman arches. 




The image above shows the work of Victorian restores (the 3 left capitals and shafts) and the original Norman work (the 3 right capitals and shafts). We now enter the church through the west door.



The view when entering the church by the west door is being circular 'round' and the chancel being straight. there are no transects and no central tower. 




On the floor of the nave are medieval tombs to the knights who fought in the holy land. They appear ravaged by time and history, however this appearance is relatively new as they were the casualty of a direct hit during the blitz, in some cases they have had to be reassembled as they were damaged by the collapse of the roof.






Running the along the wall of the nave is evidence of the transitional style, pointed arches over the seating. The sculptured heads between each arch along the nave are an interesting feature but not original as most were replaced during the restoration by Robert Smirke in 1828 who among other things replaced the heads along the wall of the round. It is dubiously claimed that they were all copied from the originals, however how closely is of course unknown. We will now proceed to the chancel. 

The chancel was added after the nave from 1220




The alter piece is one of the few pieces of furniture from Wrens restoration to survive the blitz. This dates from the 1680's restoration by Wren who added furnishings and white washed the walls.








The Early English windows in the chancel and the height of the roof supported on slim Purbeck marble columns gives the church a generous light. Much of the furniture is modern due to extensive war damage.

In its long history of restorations the most devastating and extensive restoration was in 1840 by Sidney Smirke and Decimus Burton. This restoration was described as of the most 'violent kind' and making the 'fabric (of the church) entirely new' in old London churches (by Elizabeth and Wayland young). Despite all the restorations and the war damage the church does still retain its character and is still a stimulating place to visit. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Old St Paul's Cathedral


Old St Pauls was the medieval predecessor of Sir Christopher Wrens current classical masterpiece. The cathedral of St Paul has been at the heart of life in London for over 900 years, although there has been a church dedicated to St Paul the apostle since the start of the seventh century on Ludgate Hill. The history of St Paul's can be split into three key stages which are: Early history, decline and Post fire of London. Old St Pauls is the only medieval cathedral (which survived the medieval age) to be entirely destroyed in England.

The cathedral was begun in 1087 after a fire of the same year destroyed the Anglo-Saxon Cathedral, along with much of Anglo-Saxon London. Construction of a much larger cathedral began, although another fire in 1136 hindered its progress. Most of the Cathedral which survived into the seventeenth century dated from the period between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. At the first stage of competition the cathedral was Norman in character, the nave (which was the major Norman wok to survive later additions) was 12 bays long and could be compared in appearance to the style of Durham with rounded arches held with large columns. In the subsequent centuries the cathedral was greatly enlarged and added to, a major period of rebuilding was in the late fourteenth century. The most notable of the fourteenth century additions was the thin needle spire which was constructed on top of the tower. The spire measured 489 feet high and was 85 feet higher than Salisbury, making it the tallest in the world. Also built in the fourteenth century were the cloisters and the chapter house. The main cloisters were unusual as they consisted of two stories, making them quite unique in England. The chapter house of 1332 is believed by some to be the earliest use of Perpendicular Gothic in England and well before the construction of the famous cloisters at Gloucester. The Norman east end was demolished some time between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as it was considered too small and a new choir was added much enlarged built in the latest modern Gothic style. The new choir was double the size of the one it replaced which made the cathedral some 585 feet long, larger than the current cathedral and made it one of the longest in the world at the time.

In 1561 the decline of the cathedral began when a fire destroyed the great spire. The spire which was believed to be struck by a lighting strike caught on fire and fell, coming crashing down onto the roof below. After the event the roof was restored but the spire was not. This event marked the turning point in the cathedrals fortunes as it set in to a long period of decline and neglect. Henry VIII dissolution of the monasteries lead to further decline in the fortunes of the cathedral as the monastic buildings such as the cloister and chapels along with the shrines which pilgrims visited were all destroyed. The cathedral was also stripped of its decoration and its famous glass was destroyed. These events only a couple of years apart had a devastating impact on the building. After the reformation when large ceremonies became less frequent the cathedral became less important after and was no longer maintained with such care. The cathedral became generally less visited by worshipers and pilgrims although the outdoor pulpit of St Paul's cross still attracted large audiences in the cathedral close. The grand nave was known as 'St Paul's walk' in which gentleman assembled to exchange news as well as buy products as it was home to many markets. After the reformation the cathedral was used for more secular uses with many shops crowded into the cathedral close. The close was said to have the largest concentration of bookshops anywhere in London. 

The old cathedral had many features of particular note. One was the great rose window on the east facade of the Cathedral which was filled with some impressive stained glass. The central tower too should be noted as it dominated the London skyline for some 400 years. 

There was a slight upturn in fortunes for the cathedral in the early seventeenth century as a restoration project was planned by the famous architect Indigo Jones, perhaps the most important restoration project of the old cathedral. It had been in a bad state of repair after years of neglect since the Tudor times. James I tried in 1608 to force a restoration of the cathedral onto those responsible, however, it was only in 1628 that the bishop Laud finally collected the necessary funds for the restoration and finally work began. Jones was commissioned in 1634 to produce a detailed survey of the building of which many of his drawings survive. From 1634 he was placed in charge of the restoration work to St Paul's. The Gothic choir and chancel were carefully restored but the Norman parts including the nave were re-cased in a classical rusticated manner, reflecting the fashion of the day. At the west end he erected a grand classical facade with a 56 ft high Corinthian portico of 10 columns, framing the portico on either side were two towers (shown above©)The south tower was a re-cased tower of the medieval parish church of St-Gregory-by-St Paul's. Indigo Jones was forced to keep the church after much protest when it began to be demolished. This addition was relatively undamaged by the great fire but was nonetheless demolished along with the rest of the cathedral. At the outbreak of the English civil war in 1642 restoration work was halted with much of Indigo Jones restoration plan still yet to be implemented. 

During the civil war the cathedral further deterioration due to its occupation by unsympathetic parliament forces where it had been badly treated, sometimes deliberately. The overall state of the building and its medieval fabric was unsound and the central tower looked to in a state of impending collapse. The tower had been previously been shored up several times already to prevent its short term collapse, it was in need of serious structural work to save the deteriorating tower. The architect Sir Christopher Wren (architect of the new St Pauls) had been concerned about St Paul's for many years, returning from one of his trips abroad he became immediately involved in the discussions on the essential restoration of the cathedralThe dire state of the building was obvious to everyone at the time who visited it and it increasingly became an embarrassment to many in London as its mighty cathedral was in serious danger of collapse.

In 1663 a commission was set up to oversee the restoration of the cathedral. Its primary step was to obtain a report form the survey-general sir John Denham. He concluded that the demolition of the nave and tower was needed but the rest of the church could be maintained. However, the commission did not act on advice as it was keen to secure further opinions. The architect Roger Pratt suggested leaving the building well alone allowing it to deteriorate on its own accord and waiting for the tower to collapse instead of paying for it to be demolished. Finally Wren was asked to report, he agreed that the tower should come down and cited the reconstruction of crossing on new lines with a classical dome as the focal point. In 1666 Wren put forward a design in which he re-cased the exterior in classical form stating it should be 'after a good roman manner' and also  comprehensively modernised the cathedral with the introduction of classical windows and heavy cornices. In a meeting in August of the same year many influential figures of the cathedral met including the bishop, Pratt and Wren. Pratt objected to Wrens proposals predominantly on the ground of cost but was overruled. Wrens plan was initially agreed to and work was ready to begin as soon as funds could be raised. Six days later the great fire began to burn.

The fire did considerable damage to the cathedral, destroying most of the east side including the great rose window and the recently restored choir. It also finally brought the tower crashing down. The nave was mostly unaffected as was the new west end and both remained in a relatively stable condition. Thus the fire did not automatically mean a total re-building was required, just a more radical restoration. Wren was asked to report the condition of the cathedral, in his report he  reluctantly cited to compromise to agree to only demolish what was left of the choir and the tower. his suggestion was adopted.  If all had gone as planned today we would have had some of the Old nave of the cathedral. However in 1668 when building began to get underway masonry fell from the nave through the aisle vault bringing down more masonry. The building was in danger of further damage and the collapse led to an agreement of a total demolition. The remains of the cathedral were demolished using Gun powder as the stones had been smoldered together with lead. England's first and only classical cathedral was begun to the design of Christopher Wren. 

Very little of the old cathedral survived but perhaps the pieces of greatest significance are the monuments. In the crypt of the cathedral is a small number of monuments pre-dating the current building grouped together. The monuments which survived the fire can be identified by the damage they have sustained, many of the figures have legs and arms missing, most of the damage would have been sustained from the turbulent years of the seventeenth  century before the fire- mostly from the civil war. The best of the only a handful of monuments which survived the fire is the poets John Donne shown above©. From 1631, it shows the poet wrapped in a sheet and standing on a urn under a Romanesque arch. If you look under the urn a trace of the destruction of the fire can be seen in the form of faint scorch marks. Much of the new cathedral was built using rumble from the old cathedral to save in the cost of materials. Underneath the precisely cut pieces of Portland stone are thousands of pieces of old St Paul's. 


There are many images of old St Pauls, in various panoramas of London as well as architectural drawings of the church. There are also two models of the cathedral which I know of. One is in the crypt of the new cathedral while the other is in the museum of London's 'Medieval London' area pictured left  

Although it is perhaps unfortunate that nothing of the old medieval cathedral is still standing, In my opinion the current cathedral is an improvement from an over restored and mutilated cathedral. There would be very little historical fabric left after the restorations and damage it had sustained. St Pauls cathedral is unique in England as a classical cathedral and despite the loss of such a medieval masterpiece as old St Pauls I am much more in love with Christopher Wrens image for St Pauls. If one wants to see a medieval cathedral worthy masterpiece there is always Westminster abbey. 


© New St Pauls is the fifth church on the site at Ludgate hill.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Brief history of St Bartholomew-the-Great

The church of St Bartholomew-the-great is one of the oldest parish churches in London and can boast some of the best Romanesque work in the capital. Building began in 1123 with the construction of the Norman chancel and apse of the church, it is the work of this period which has left the largest legacy for the building. The church is certainly a lucky survivor, it could well have been lost at the dissolution if it had not be converted into a parish church, the great fire did not travel as far north as the church and the bombs of the second world war which obliterated the nearby Barbican area and St Giles church thankfully missed much of the Smithfield area. Its survival means it is still one of the most atmospheric churches in London with a fascinating history.

From 1230 the transepts and crossing were added along with a great nave. The transepts survive to this day but most of the nave was lost during the dissolution in the 16th century. After the dissolution the priory was converted into a parish church for the local area. Although the great nave was lost and the transepts were exposed and degraded into a ruinous state many of the monastic buildings were not destroyed such as the lady chapel (which was turned into a private house) and much of the cloisters (of which a fragment still survives). The south end of the nave was sold to construct a private house which incorporated part of the 13th century south door in the gateway of St Bartholomew-the-Great. The area between the church and the gateway was partly used as a burial ground but was also sold for development. The current tower was added in 1638 between the north transept and the one remaining bay of the great nave as a grander entrance to the building. 

Inside the church, the apse and the chancel (shown left©) displays some of the best Norman work in London if not the south east of England. The east end of the church is most impressive due to the size and scale of the Norman work with a triforium and a clerestory (two stages respectively) above the chancel arcade which give it a sense of grandeur lacking in many of the cities medieval churches. When the triforium and the chancel arcades are viewed together they create one of the most impressive portraits of Norman architecture in the country. The east end of the church is without doubt spectacular, but the west end by the crossing, is awkward and disappointing. The destruction of the nave has given the church a strange shape with all the emphasis on the east end of the building. The church would be much more aesthetically pleasing with with the old nave rather than the bland and over sized organ which now dominants the west end. The cloister off the north transept is an interesting but unfortunately much restored fragment of the monastic past of the church (only part of one side remains).



The church was restored several times during the Victorian era first in 1860 and secondly in 1886 by the architect Aston Web (who would go on to design the iconic but dull facade of Buckingham palace in 1913). Both restorations were relativity sympathetic to the church -unlike many in the city during this time. Inside the most obvious outcome of the works was the restoration of the apse which had been dissected with a flat wall at some point probably in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The wall was removed and the original curve reinstated. Thus the restoration did make a positive contribution to the building as (I am sure most would agree) the east end is much more pleasant after the restoration. The stark contrast in appearance before and after the restoration can be seen in the two pictures above©. An external addition to the building was a new entrance porch at the base of the tower which was by Aston during his restoration. 

EndNote
This building is of person importance to me. It was visiting this building which first gave me the inspiration to write this blog, my first post was of the gatehouse which leads into the church. This is a post I have wanted to write for some time but I hadn't got round to before as I have kept finding new fragments of the medieval city which interest me (not to say there are no more fragments of medieval London to discover, on the contrary). Before visiting the church I knew little of the medieval legacy of the city which I have cataloged in this blog, it was a genuine moment of enlightenment. Before my visit I assumed like many others that there was nothing left of the medieval city after the fire, bombing and demolition of the last 400 years or so. I hope this blog has inspired others to investigate and research the rich legacy of medieval buildings in London.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

74-75 Long lane


Long lane in Smithfield is a road which runs parallel with Cloth fair, this area of London is rich with medieval remains as the Great Fire which destroyed so much elsewhere did not reach as far north as Smithfield. Numbers 74-75 Long lane (pictured left © 74- right & 75-left) are late sixteenth century townhouses probably built around 1598 as a development of five houses. They are now only a handful of such townhouses to survive in London which pre-date the Great Fire of London. Much of the historic core of the buildings survives but the facades of both have been altered substantially, in the case of number 75 it was rebuilt in the Victorian era along with 76 (which may also contain a heavily altered older core) whilst number 74 was remodeled in the late Georgian era. Rebuilding of the facade rather than the whole house was common place in all periods as it was obviously much cheaper than rebuilding the entire site from scratch. They were often remodeled to give the house a more modern and fashionable look. The rebuilt facade of number 74 has kept the jettied front of the building in which the upper stories  do slightly project out into the street. The top (which is relatively modern) is hung with mathematical tiles, quite uncommon in London, whilst below it is fronted with conventional London brick. The four circular objects are braces which serve a structural purpose added after the new facade, giving the building additional strength as well as extra character. 



By the end of the second world war number 74 (and more dangerously number 73 {right in picture left ©}) due to neglect and possible bomb damage. It was however restored after the war which is when the mathematical tiles were installed on the upper story. Number 73, perhaps a more interesting building with a gable and a large bay was not restored and demolished some time afterwards. 

Numbers 74 and 75 were listed grade 2 by English heritage in 1977 due to their rare (although significantly altered) survival and age.  


The buildings was originally two houses until the ninetieth century when the two shops underneath were installed. They are now linked together and is currently a sushi shop. The buildings were used as offices until recently until being converted back into use as shops and housing above. The alley way to the right of the image above connects to Cloth Fair and an alley 'East passage' which runs directly behind the buildings.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cloth Fair

Cloth fair is a medieval street in the heart of Smithfield which despite much alternation does retain some of its original character and atmosphere. It was one of the last streets in the city to maintain its medieval appearance, sadly mostly gone. The name 'Cloth fair' comes from the merchants who used to gathered to buy and sell goods during the Bartholomew market (one of these goods being cloth). 

Cloth fair through-out its history has had a strong relationship with the priory church of St Bartholomew which occupies most of the east side of the street. Until 1910 the street stood within the walls of the church with the gates locked every night creating a gated community. It was this gated community which helped the street avoided destruction in the great fire of London as the priory walls protected the area from being destroyed. In the early seventeenth century many houses were built for merchants in the city, of which number 41&42 Cloth Fair is the only remaining example. 

Although Cloth fair was a wealthy street in the medieval era with merchant housing by the Victorian period the street had developed like many other areas of inner-city London into slum dwellings. To a modern eye the buildings in the old pictures look picturesque and worthy of preservation, but one has to remember that they had very poor sanitation and many families shared small rooms in squalid conditions. The images left and below left © show the area in 1880, both are taken from the alley between the priory church and the back of the houses on the east side of Cloth Fair where today there is a patch of empty land. In the first picture the church buildings on the left and in the centre survive but those on the right have been demolished. 

Most of these ancient houses were demolished after the First World War and in the early 1920's during slum clearance schemes when sanitation was introduced and the area modernised by the Corporation of London. It seems a needless destruction of one of London's most historic medieval streets, however it is understandable why they were demolished as they were perceived as being old and costly to modernize and holding back progress. Despite this it is a shame they were not restored and retained as an example one of London's only surviving medieval streets. If these buildings had been retained it would have been one of the most important streets in England, comparable to elm hill in Norwich or the shambles in York. If only the planners of the early twentieth century had the foresight. Today we are left with still a splendid street but only a shadow of its former self. 

Of the old buildings in Cloth fair only one townhouse has survived which as previously mentioned is 41&42 Cloth Fair, known as the oldest house in London. As well another building attached to the church also survives (left and first 1880 picture). Of the buildings which were lost perhaps the most significant was the Whittington Inn which was the areas historic pub. 


The below right © is a picture of 1884 showing the west side of the street standing in what is now the green space by the church of St Bartholomew's with 41&42 cloth fair opposite. By 1916 this set of buildings had been demolished (not by enemy action). Below left © is another view of the street around the same time.    


Thursday, 31 January 2013

Church of St John of Jerusalem

Very little remains above ground of the once great priory church of St John of Jerusalem. The church has had a very colourful history being owned by many different religious and secular groups. St John of Jerusalem was founded by an order of solider monks who built forts and hospitals in the holy land in the year 1145 when ten acres of land was given to them near Clerkenwell just outside the city the London. It was here where they built their priory church, the design of the church was similar to the Temple church off fleet street having a round nave and small rectangular chancel. St Johns also had a crypt beneath the chancel which survives to this day. The priory church was built chiefly in the twelfth century but with some later additions with the nave being replaced with a more conventional rectangular one. Later a tower was added in the north west corner of the building. 

In 1381 Wat Tyler on his way to Smithfield to meet the king during the Peasants Revolt set fire to the church. The building was quickly rebuilt afterwards and continued to be used by the the order until the dissolution of monasteries. The dissolution in 1540 dissolved the order of St John and demolished all structures except the chancel. 

After the destruction of the dissolution the church was used for secular use becoming an office, the Master of the Revels which licensed plays including those of Shakespeare. The building was however quickly reverted back to religious use as a chapel and in the early eighteenth century it is recorded as being a Presbyterian meeting house. In 1721 it was bought and was mostly rebuilt giving it much the appearance it has today. In the late nineteenth century at the church above was 'restored' by the Victorians taking out many Georgian additions. From the same restoration project the twelfth century under the chancel was restored and cleaned and converted into a chapel. The church became the parish church of St John for some years until 1921 when it was given to the new order of St John of Jerusalem who used it as their chapel. During the Second World War the church was badly bombed, by the end of the war it was left a blackened shell. The order of st John restored and rebuilt the church afterwards, although not to original designs. One new positive feature is the cloister garden built in the 1950's. 

Unfortunately the church today is in my view a rather ugly mess of restoration and post war rebuilding. However, the twelfth century crypt (pictured left ©) survived the disasters inflicted on the church and is one of the most atmospheric and authentic medieval crypts in London and is well worth a visit. Another remnant of the priory church is St Johns gate which was originally the gateway to the priory. St Johns gate is just to south of the church on the road to Smithfield. 

First Picture © showing church post-war plans for the church. More information including opening hours at http://www.museumstjohn.org.uk/your_visit/index.html

Friday, 4 January 2013

Brief history of St Olave


This small medieval gem in the heart of the city of London has managed to retained an atmosphere of a country parish church. The church of St Olave's which stands on Hart street is dedicated to king Olave of Norway for his assistance against the Danish invaders in which he pulled down old London bridge thus stopping them from entering the city. This puts the start of the churches history over 1000 years ago just before the Norman conquest. The earlier church was mostly rebuilt in Perpendicular Gothic some time in the fifteenth century in which most of the current church dates, although there are some thirteen century fragments from the older church. The only other major alteration in its early history was the rebuilding of the top half of the tower which was rebuilt in brick on top of the earlier tower in the eighteen century. 

The church escaped the great fire due to a quick thinking of the diarist Samuel Pepys and local resident William Penn Senior who ordered the destruction of surrounding buildings to create a fire break which stopped the fire spreading to the church. However, it did not escape damage during the second Great fire during the Second World War when it received a direct hit leaving it a gutted shell. Whilst it underwent restoration the parish was moved to the nearby site of All Hallows staining where a temporary nave was built. The church was reopened after a long restored in 1954. Although it was badly damaged in the war it has been relevantly sensitively restored and it has managed to keep its medieval charm.


The church has many interesting features of note the first is the thirteenth century crypt which has managed to survive without much alteration or destruction. Another interesting feature is the vestry door is thought to be from the previous building dating from the thirteenth century. The graveyard also has an interesting history, it was raised up from street level in 1665 to bury the dead of the 1665 great plague, this is marked by the entrance arch to the church yard displaying 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Paul Pinders house

This house of a rich merchant stood on Bishopsgate since it was built around 1599 to its destruction for the expansion of Liverpool Street Station. It was built for the merchant Paul Pinder as a mansion outside the city walls on Bishopsgate due to its proximity to the city and his commercial interests but also due to its space which allowed him to have a large garden to the rear. What was built in 1599 was a new bay between two older properties to the left and right (Buildings to the left and right in the picture left made up the complex of the mansion). The building survived the Great fire of London but afterwards (after the death of Paul Pindar in 1650) was sub-divided and given over to the London work house. The house was demolished in 1890 for the eastern extension of Liverpool street station. There were many similar houses with impressive projecting jetties in medieval London but even then this house would have been striking. Its elaborate work carvings were meant to show off the wealth of the merchant. 

Its former location is now taken up by a large modern office building, (it would have been where the large arch is on the Bank of Scotland building on Bishopsgate). When it was demolished the facade was acquired by Victoria and Albert Museum in the interest of saving some of the vanishing medieval heritage of the city. The bottom of the facade was not retained due to the various alterations. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

1-3 Hare Court - middle temple lane

This row of interesting buildings of Hare court on middle temple lane I found on my way to the Temple Church. They may not be strictly 'medieval' being built in seventieth century but their scarcity and appearance I feel entitles them to a post. 

The set of three buildings are of the late seventeenth century being built around 1693. They were probably built by the lawyers of the middle temple for offices or perhaps residential quarters (I'm not sure on this). They appear to have miraculously survived the blitz in which so much of the temple area was devastated (which is evident from looking around the temple area at dates on the buildings which are mostly reconstructions).

The buildings themselves have little detail being a nondescript mass of white plastering interrupted by rows sash windows. The central building has on the upper floor weatherboarding which was a common material to use on a facade of a building of this date, the others could have originally also been faced like this. They are timber framed and the upper floors have a overhanging jetty to get the most space out of a modest building plot. They are all two star listed by English Heritage probably due to there rarity and survival in central London.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Staple Inn


When one walks down High Holborn today between the many modern office blocks there lies a curious fragment of the old medieval street in the form of the picturesque Staple Inn. This half timbered Inn gives an impression of High Holborn before the great fire and redevelopment in seventeenth century when it would have been lined with many similar buildings. The front facade is part of a larger complex of buildings including a hall built around a courtyard to the rear (although most of the other buildings were destroyed during the last war). The current front facade consists of two buildings, one was the original staple Inn (5 bays to the left), the other was a house of similar age (2 bays to the right). The distinction between the two is more evident on the early image left as during restorations the house was incorporated with the inn creating a larger front facade. The 5 bay Staple Inn was built in 1585 and was established as an 'inn of Chancery' which was a medieval school providing training in legal practices. The inn was also a wool staple where wool was weighed and taxed, which gives the inn its name. Staple Inn was once attached along with neighbouring Barnards Inn to Grays Inn, one of the four inns of courts. These 'partnerships' with larger law firms was common to many of the other inns of court and minor inns of chancery. The Staple Inn survived the great fire along with much of the Holborn area but took much damage during the second world war which was subsequently repaired.

As can be observer in the picture of 1880 above left the building was once covered by extensive plaster which obscured the original facade. This was removed during a restoration by Alfred Waterhouse relieving the semi-preserved original facade, Waterhouse also designed the opposite prudential assurance building. In his restoration of 1886 he removed many of the post-medieval alterations but overall was generally sympathetic. The building was again restored in 1937 on the eve of war, although this time it was much less-sympathetic with it being extensively rebuilt in part. Much of the visible woodwork dates from this restoration and only some Tudor elements actually survive. 

Just a few years after the restoration the Inn came under attack from German air raids which caused some damage to the building. However, a later air raid in 1944 was the most destructive in which the courtyard and the old hall were destroyed. The Inn was subsequently restored and remains a attractive example of a timber framed building once common in London. It is one of the most popular and heavily photographed buildings on the High Holborn road due to its striking difference from other dull buildings on the road. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as being 'no doubt the most impressive surviving example of timber building in London'. 

Hall   

Behind the facade of High Holborn through the Holborn gateway (through a ground floor passageway) is Staple inn courtyard with the staple inn hall on the opposite side of the courtyard. The old hall was built around 1580 as a banqueting hall. The building is of a basic design with a iconic hammer beam roof like many other great banqueting halls in medieval London. However, this hall is neither as significant nor as big as other halls in London. 

The courtyard on which the hall sits was a undisturbed historic and peaceful oasis in the centre of London until in 1944 the courtyard was hit by a flying German bomb. The hall was completely destroyed, although luckily the inn front was not too badly damaged. The oasis was restored along with a rebuilt hall, built as close as the original as possible and was reopened in the 1950's.


As is demonstrated on the two images left (before and after) the reconstruction was a close copy of the original. In my opinion the reconstruction was a success as the interior too which often loses atmosphere with reconstructions is maintained closely to the original. The picture on the left © shows the hall in 1880 whilst the picture on the bottom left © shows the hall today (2012).