Friday, 13 April 2012

Prince Henry’s room – Inner temple gateway (No. 17, Fleet Street)

(1) (2)

The inner temple gateway is one of few medieval buildings surviving on the busy medieval thoroughfare of Fleet Street which linked the city of London to Westminster. Most were lost due to damage during the great fire and subsequent redevelopment. Prince Henry’s room was originally built in 1610 although much of what can be seen heavily restored from the 1905 restoration. It was restored due to the discovery in 1900 that the nineteenth century facade (2) was obscuring the original seventeenth century half-timbered front (1). In picture (2) just above the parapet one can just make out the two roofs which appear to be gables in (1) but look more hipped in (2), most likely restored afterwards. This shows to the extent that a facade was just stuck on the front of the seventeenth century building. The old facade apart from the oriel windows was preserved under thick layers of paint which covered the whole front. The facade was restored to its original form with the reconstruction of the oriel windows giving it its 1610 appearance. The ground floor was altered in the mid eighteenth century including the arch surrounding the gateway. In 1905 during the restoration the whole building was moved back to widen fleet street. 

It was tavern known by the name of the ‘prince’s arms’ after its claim that prince Henry of Wales who was the eldest son of King James I had a room on the 1st floor set aside for him as a council chamber. However, this theory is dispelled as records state that the building was built as a tavern and it used the name two years before the prince was born. 

In 1975 the first floor 'Prince Henry's room' was acquired by the Samuel Pepys club as a museum in which they display memorabilia of his life. Samuel Pepys was born on fleet street and lived in the local area for a number of years. The inside of the building on the first floor has some fascinating Jacobean panelling and plastering, the museum displaying the Samuel Pepys Exhibition conveniently allows one to look inside the interior of the building. The panelling around the room is original seventeen century Jacobean work. The ceiling (which can be glimpsed from the image above ©)  is described as the 'best remaining Jacobean-enriched plaster ceilings in London'. The timer framing is also of note with the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner describing it as 'the best pieces of half-timber work in London'.    

If you want to learn more about Samuel Pepys visit this website:
Other medieval houses 
If you want to learn more about the history of Fleet street and its development why not take a walking tour by visiting:  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

41&42 Cloth Fair

This early seventeenth century survivor of the fire of London, the blitz and bulldozers claims to be the oldest house in London still standing. This unique building was almost lost in the late 1920’s as it was scheduled for demolition as part of a sanitary improvement scheme and slum Clearance by the Corporation of London. Unlike most of its neighbours including the Dick Whittington Inn it was luckily saved and subsequently restored in 1930 as offices.

The ground floor is much altered from its original form and looks unspectacular; it is easy to walk past without noticing the fine historic building above. The upper part of the building consists of a red brick front with a pair of a rectangular timber bays topped with pediments. The building is completed with a timber attic gable. 

Left © is an image of the building prior to its restoration taken in 1904. As can be seen the distinction between the two pictures is not too great, the alteration of the ground floor is perhaps the greatest difference. The windows too also differ being restored from Georgian sash windows to more authentic led glass windows. Overall the restoration was sympathetic to the building respecting its features and retaining its character. It was recognised in 2000 for its sensitive restoration and original features and Won a heritage award. It is a grade 2* listed building by English heritage meaning it is of special architectural interest.  

Monday, 9 April 2012

Destruction of Wych street

Wych Street looking eastward, 1867.

Wych street was an ancient medieval street full of old gabled sixteenth and seventeenth century houses (As the photograph left © of 1867 illustrates). It was thought of by many as the most picturesque street in London and was considered a important relic of London's medieval past. However this did not stop its demise as nothing remains now, even the street line has now disappeared. It was demolished by the London County Council in a grand improvement scheme from 1901-1905 as part of the wider redevelopment of the Holborn area which created the roads of Kingsway and Aldwych. The scheme involved a new huge road (Kingsway) which destroyed any piece of history in thew way of progress. As the streets were so picturesque this made them narrow and hard to navigate through and thus a new through road was thought to be needed to ease the traffic congestion. The scheme involved wide spread destruction of over 600 historic buildings being destroyed.

It was not just Wych street which was destroyed the whole historic district was demolished for the kingsway road, nearby ancient streets such as little Drury lane and Holywell street were also erased from history. Whats worse is that much of this area was not affected by the great fire of London meaning there were many streets packed with ancient houses of projecting jetties and gables. Although they were considered slums at their time of destruction with bad sanitation, they were historically very important streets. This area packed with ancient streets and courts which had evolved over hundreds of years was raised to the ground in a period of just four years for a series of large characterless roads lined with dull Edwardian buildings. The street is now located in the middle of the crescent of Aldwych and the strand which is now dominated by a series of large but architecturally undistinguished Edwardian office blocks including the BBC World service and Australia house.  

Below is a map © from the early Twentieth Century which shows the new roads along with the streets which once stood there. Wych street is located at the bottom by number 21 marked on the map. 

There is additional information available including more images at

St Bartholomew gatehouse

This fascinating fragment of old London is one of the earliest surviving timber framed facades in the city. It was the gatehouse to the Norman priory church of St Bartholomew-the-great. It was built atop the entrance to the south aisle of the nave of St Bartholomew's after the dissolution of the monasteries when the nave was demolished (shown in yellow on image bottom). The gateway is the remains of the south aisle door (shown in red) with parts of the stone work dating to the thirteenth century. The timber framed building above was added by William Scudamore as a residence in 1595. The gatehouse is of a simple design with two stories, the second overhanging slightly and a small attic gable. The shield of the residence of the family is shown at the front just below the first floor windows and at the rear.  

Until 1916 this gem was obscured by a polite Georgian front, the old Elizabethan facade was only discovered when damage was sustained from a nearby German Zeppelin raid during World War One. After the war in 1932 the building was repaired and its old timber facade restored. Today it is photographed countless times by tourists before they visit the church of St Bartholomew which is just through the gateway. 

The sculptor William Silver Frith was heavily involved in the restoration of the building. He designing the war memorial to the right of the entrance arch in 1917 to honor those fallen and the wooden sculptor on the second floor between the windows. The gatehouse is listed by English Heritage as grade 2* due to the rare surviving original timber frame. It has served for many years as the rectory for the rector of St Bartholomew. In 1948 Phyllis Wallbank, the wife of the rector set up the gatehouse Montessori school, a independent school. It began in the living room of the building with only eight pupils, although it has now expanded to several hundred and has moved close to Victoria park. 

The image above © shows the old Georgian facade before the restoration. The image bottom © shows a sixteenth century map of the church of St Bartholomew.