Coldharbour – An Important Medieval London House


A segment of the Visscher Panorama of London 1616 showing Coldharbour after the earlier medieval house had been demolished by the Earl of Shrewsbury c.1585 and rebuilt up to the waterfront.  The rebuild incorporated many tenements ‘now letten out for great rents to people of all sorts’ (Stow).   Image Peter Harrington Rare Books.

Further to my post on L’Erber,  another famous house from those turbulent times,  was the equally impressive Coldharbour.   This imposing house had numerous illustrious owners including Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.  Margaret carried out major renovation work to the house and I will return to this later.


Margaret Beaufort.  Margaret took possession of Coldharbour in 1485 overseeing extensive renovations.  Her future daughter in law Elizabeth of York lived there prior to her delayed marriage to Henry Tudor.

First mention of building in the area –  a messauge and tenements –  where Coldharbour House would eventually be built crops up in 1297.    I’m now going to mention in the interest of clarity  that it has been said in a recent article  that there were two Coldharbours –  one of which appears to be an insignificant one to the west of our Coldharbour separated by a narrow lane known as Wolsey Lane. However I remain unconvinced about this theory  and I have chosen to  base much of this post on the information  contained in the  excellent in depth articles on London’s Medieval Houses by the late C L Kingsford M.A Vice President of the London Topographical Society and Marjorie B Honeybourne M.A., F.S.A.(1). 


The Reconstructed Map of London Under Richard II. Marjorie B Honeybourne M.A., F.S.A  Coldharbour House shown in the middle,  Pountney’s Inn slightly to the north separated by the thoroughfare then known as The Ropery , L’Eber to the north west.  

One certain error that crops up now and again is that Coldharbour was at one time known as Pountney’s Inn –  indeed Stow even made this mistake –  no doubt because the owner of Pountney’s Inn, the immensely rich Sir John de Pulteney,  built much of Coldharbour as well as the  nearby Pountney’s Inn where he sometimes lived.   Pountney’s Inn stood a little to the north of Coldharbour with a lane to the west of it known as Wolsies Lane.  Is this where the belief that there were two Coldharbours comes from?  Both Coldharbour and Pountney’s can clearly be seen in Marjorie Honeybourne’s map of London in the Time of Richard II.   Nevertheless the great mansion with its appurtenances and sprawling tenements referred to in this post  covered the area between Thames Street (then known as The Ropery) and  the church of All Hallows the Less  to the north,  the River Thames at Hay Wharf  to the south,  to the east by Weston Lane and to the west by Wolsyes Gate (2). Frustratingly no depictions of the front of the medieval Coldharbour house were made or if they were,  they have not  survived.   The famous view of it seen from the back, and opening up on the river Thames in the Hollar etching dated 1647 was made after the original medieval house had been pulled down by the earl of Shrewsbury c.1585 although some of the original medieval house may have been incorporated into the new build.  When Shrewsbury  rebuilt, adding more tenements, he extended the house down to the water front doing away with the medieval garden.  The area this garden covered can be seen in  the earlier  Wyngaerde Panorama dated 1543 between the southern range of the house and the waterfront.  This medieval garden was mentioned by Thomas Lytley/Litley, the man who was in charge of the renovations carried out by Margaret Beaufort in 1485:  The Glasier callid Nicholas Hawkyn. For iiij olde casys newe glasyd ouer the garden on the water syde….

untitled                 The medieval Coldharbour from the Wyngaerde Panorama c.1543 clearly showing an open area – the medieval garden –  between the house and the river and mentioned  in the accounts left by Lytley. 


The same view after the old medieval house had been torn down and rebuilt by the Earl of Shrewsbury.  From Wenceslas Hollars etching made later in 1647 showing Coldharbour now opening up onto the river.

One of the first owners, William de Hereford, prominent London Citizen, goldsmith, alderman of Aldgate Ward,  sheriff and representative of the City in the Parliament of 1296,  bequeathed his messuage and rents in the parish of All Hallows, Haywharf,   to his sons William and Robert on his death in 1297.  Hereford’s widow, Margery,  married Sir John Abel and her son Robert de Hereford demised the house to his mother and her new husband,  Sir Abel,  for a term of 10 years in 1317.  However on being widowed in 1319 Sir Abel leased the house then known as ‘Coldherherghe‘ to a gentleman by the name of Henry de Stowe, a draper,  for a rent of 33s.4d. to be paid to Robert de Hereford.  When Robert died a  few years he left two daughters, Idonia who married Sir Ralph Bigot and Maud who married Sir Stephen Cosenton.   In 1334 the  Bigots and the  Cosentons both had sons by the name of  John who sold their shares of the house to Sir John de Pulteney.  Pulteney, four times mayor, was one of the wealthiest citizens of the times and it was he that was behind much of the enhancement of the house including the building of a new church,  All Hallows the Less (also known as All Hallows on the Cellars ‘for it standeth on vaults’) incorporating its steeple over the arched main gateway into Coldharbour (3).  All Hallows the Less should not be confused with the nearby All Hallows the Great (also known for a while as All Hallows at Hay because of the hay sold nearby at Hay Wharf as well as All Hallows the More) which stood to the west of the new All Hallows separated by narrow lane then known as Wolsyes Gate  – please keep at the back dear reader. ….   Pulteney however  did not live himself at Coldharbour but a stones throw  away at Pountneys Inn in St Lawrence Pountney parish north of Coldharbour as well as at his beautiful manor house,  Penshurst Place, Kent which he had built in 1341.    From then on the tenants became increasingly illustrious which gives us an indication of the size and splendour of the house.  These earlier tenants included William de Montagu, Earl of Salisbury who leased it in 1346 the year he was made a Knight Batchelor (4).     In February 1347 Pulteney leased the house to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, for life with reversion to his heirs.  In his will dated 14 November 1348 and proved in 1349, Pulteney  directed that ‘le Coldherberwe‘ was to be sold and that one Henry Pykard should have the refusal of it for 1000 marks.  However Pulteney’s widow, Margaret, had a life interest of one third in Coldharbour as dower.  In 1353 Margaret and her new  husband, Sir Nicholas de Loveyne,  purchased Coldharbour from Pulteney’s executors.    Edward, the Black Prince was said to have resided there between 1371 and 1376 but between 1370-1377 it was in the possession of Alice Perrers (c.1348-1400) mistress to Edward III then at the ‘height of her powers‘   Perrers further enhanced Coldharbour including a mysterious building known as le Toure.  After her fall from grace,  John of Gaunt in 1378  obtained a grant for life for the new Inn lately belonging to Alice Perrers near the Thames’ as well as other houses built by her nearby.  Gaunt surrendered his grant but a year later and on the 13 May 1379 Coldharbour and its ‘appurtenances‘ were granted during the King’s pleasure to Edmund of Langley, afterwards Duke of York.  Confusingly Perrers seems to have recovered some right in Coldharbour because it was from her that John Holland, earl of Huntingdon and half brother to Richard II,  acquired le Toure in about 1390. Holland also went on to purchase from other holders the lands, messuages, shops, cellars and sollars in Coldharbourlane which had also once belonged to Perrers as well as two cellars by and beneath the church of All Hallows the Less.   Coldharbour was growing and growing and in 1397 Huntingdon entertained Richard II there.  However in those times of ups, downs and swift turnarounds in 1400 Coldharbour was forfeited to the crown on Huntingdon’s attainder and by 18 March of that year Henry IV was living there.  Henry would later grant Coldharbour for life to his half brother, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset who was living there in February 1410.   By the time of Beaufort’s death on the 16th March 1410 Coldharbour, or part of it,  seems to have become known as a hospice by the name of Le Toure.  Could this Le Toure refer to the Le Toure that Perrers built?  However on the 18th March 1410 Henry Prince of Wales, later Henry V, was granted ‘quoddam hispitium sive placeam vocatam le Coldherbergh‘.  It is thought that Henry made the manor house his London residence while he ruled for his father in 1410-11.  Henry IV himself was at Coldharbour in February 1412 when he received the Duke of Burgundy’s ambassadors.  Coldharbour would later be restored to the Hollands and was occupied by Henry IV’s sister Elizabeth, widow of the Earl of Huntingdon.  Elizabeth died at ‘Colde Herborowe‘ on the 28 November 1426 (5).   

Coldharbour seems then to have passed on to her son, John 2nd Earl of Huntingdon, afterwards Duke of Exeter. When Exeter died in 1447 he was succeeded by his son Henry Holland.    This Henry Holland, duke of Exeter married Anne, Edward’s IV sister and on forfeiture of his lands in 1461 for supporting the Lancastrian side Anne was able to hold on to  some of them including Coldharbour.    Anne died in 1476 and Coldharbour was granted to Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen.  In 1480 Edward’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy was lodged there during a visit to England.   Four shillings was spent on a travas with two curtains of green sarsenet for the chapel; sheets, fustions, an arras depicting the story of Helen and Paris,  plus various rings and hooks being issued by the Great Wardrobe to enhance her stay there.   After Elizabeth Woodville’s eventual fall  Richard III granted Coldharbour to the College of Heralds in 1483,  but their stay was to be brief.  Upon Henry Tudor taking the throne after the Battle of Bosworth Coldharbour was granted to his mother Margaret Beaufort.    Margaret  who was speedily in possession of Coldharbour by September 1485 gave the house a through refurbishment in readiness for the stay of Elizabeth of York prior to her marriage to Margaret’s beloved man cub, Henry,  while he procrastinated over marrying her. Elizabeth had been taken to Coldharbour directly after being brought down from Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire,  after her uncle,  Richard III’s,  tragic defeat at Bosworth.  But she was not alone.  With her came the young Edward Stafford son of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who had been executed by Richard in 1483 after he rebelled.  Edward,  whose mother was Catherine Woodville, a sister to Elizabeth Woodville and thus an aunt to Elizabeth of York, was also given a room at Coldharbour.  Accompanying them on their journey from Yorkshire was another young lad with royal blood coursing through his veins  –  Edward Earl of Warwick, son of George Duke of Clarence.  This young man was not so fortunate as his fellow travellers and after either  a very brief stay at Coldharbour or perhaps on arrival in London  he was swiftly transported to The Tower of London never to leave until his execution on the 28 November 1499.   That is another story and I won’t go into it here but I’ve covered it in another post to be found here.

Elizabeth of York may have held pleasant memories of Coldharbour for later, when she was queen,  she would  spend a week there with one of her sons –   ‘my lord of York’  (later Henry VIII).   After Margaret’s death in 1509, her grandson, Henry VIII, granted ‘Coldharborough’  for life to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  November 1539 found the Bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall (what a marvellous name!) living at Coldharbour.   He was confined there in 1543 upon his fall, rise and further final fall again.  Edward VI then granted the house  to Francis Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury in 1553.  The ending for this great but admittedly ancient, house was in sight.  In 1598 Stow described Coldharbour, as a great house,  and still entered entered by the  arched gate under the tower of  All Hallows the Less  which had been built by Sir John de Pulteney in the 14th century.    However he added ‘the last deseaced Earl of Shrewsbury took it down, and in place thereof built a great number of small tenements, now letten out for great rents to people of all sorts’.  

It appears there was some right of sanctuary attached to Coldharbour for the Lord Mayor of the time wrote in a report to Sir Robert Cecil  regarding some keys found upon the person of one Edmund Williamson  ‘I do think they are for chamber which I hear he has in Cold Herbert,  which is a privileged place,  and therefore the authority of our City does not reach thither;  yet the same place may be searched by the help of the Earl of Shrewsbury’

The final ending came for the comparatively newly built Coldharbour and both the churches of All Hallows the Less and All Hallows the Great when they were all lost on the night of Sunday 2nd September 1666 in the Great Fire of London, a spectacle witnessed by Pepys from his boat on the river,  But maybe we should not lament too much the destruction of this second 16th century Coldharbour for Walter G. Bell in his marvellous book covering the fire wrote ‘The flames sweeping along the Thames-side,  at least did good service by ridding London of Coldharbour’s pestilential alleys.  This, till the Dissolution half a century before the Fire,  had been one of the smaller sanctuaries where debtors and vagabonds herded together in a nest of foul tenements erected by the Earl of Shrewsbury when he pulled down the historic house known as Coldharbour’   All Hallows the Less would never be rebuilt.  Ancient stairs and foundations were still to be found until 1843.   Waterman’s Hall was built on the site of Coldharbour, the hall finally being sold in 1776 to Calvert’s Brewery which was later absorbed into the City of London Brewery.    Mondial House completed in the mid 1970s now covers a large part of the medieval house.  Such is progress.  I am now going for a lay down in a darkened room.  

Now to return to Margaret Beaufort’s tenure of Coldharbour and her refurbishments.  We are very lucky that  the extant accounts covering these enhancements have survived.   Upon Margaret taking possession in September 1485, Henry VII ordered Thomas Lytley to supervise the necessary improvements and repairs required after the occupation of the Heralds: 

Where of late oure trusty and welbeloued servaunt Thomas Lytley, late oone of the customers of the subsidie of iij s. in the tonne and xij d. of the lb. in oure poorts of London, by oure commaundement by mouthe, hathe spent and employed upon certaine reparacions and bildinges within oure place called Cold Harburghe in oure Citie of London aforesaid.

Under Lytley’s  supervision the not modest amount of £28 18s 2d was spent that Autumn alone which included the building of a new chimney, new lattices and glass for numerous windows and casements.  Numerous locks and keys had apparently vanished never to be found and needed to be replaced.  The walls were recoloured with red Motty, Cole and Oker (eat your heart out Farrow and Ball!)  Built in fitments, which made up a lot of the furniture in a medieval house,  had to be renewed, leads and tiles were made good and the garden was given an overhaul.  It is Mr Lytney we have to thank for recording in great detail in his accounts book which had Liber de Parcellis Repakacionum  emblazoned on the cover. All the  expenditure of  renovations was dutifully noted down as well as helpfully attaching bills and receipts of the various workmen employed.  The work was described as being done on behalf  of My lady the King’s mother and the  indications are that Margaret actually lived at Coldharbour while the work was going on, no doubt to keep her beady eye on things.    We know that there were forty rooms in the house including a Great Hall which had a door opening up to the garden where  a great vine grew.  The rooms on this south range of the house had views of the river which lay just beyond the garden from its newly glazed windows.  Besides the Great Hall was a Little Hall which Kingsford thinks may have been a private dining room.  

Two of the rooms of interest are the one called Lady Elizabeth’s Chamber and the chamber belonging to the young Edward Stafford.  Elizabeth’s chamber was provided with a table and two trestles costing 2s and 8d,  four boards costing 8d and six sawdelet bars fitted to the west window. I have to say I don’t have a clue as to what ‘sawdelet bars’ are and their use although its tempting to think they were bars at the window to stop young Elizabeth doing a runner.   Also supplied was a new key for Elizabeth’s Wardrobe which may have been a small adjoining room.   Little Edward Stafford’s chamber had a new door plus new glass in the windows.  There was also a high window over a door at the stairfoot on the backside of the chamber.  

Other chambers were allocated to Margaret’s Officers of the Household, namely Reginald Bray,  obviously,  Thomas Fowler and John Denton.   The windows of Bray’s and Denton’s chambers were newly glazed with Normandy Glass and Bray also had a new cupboard costing 2s and 4d.  Fowler needed a new chimney.  How very cosy.

The items listed in the accounts are too numerous to list here so I have chosen just a small random example here:

On the Cover. LIBER DE PARCELLIS REPAKACIONUM factarum super placeam sine hospicium vocatum Coldeherburgh in London per mandatum domini Regis Henrici VII Thome Litley, Supervisori earundem Reparacionum, attribut. Anno regni eiusdem domini Regis primo.

Thes be the parcelles of Reparacions or other empcions made and done att Coldherberugh in the tyme of Thomas Roggers and Thomas Litley, ouerseers ther ; paid by the said Thomas Litley of the some of vij li. ij s. viij d., which the said Thomas Roggers deliuered to the said Thomas Litley by a bill endented by commaundement of my lady the Kynges moder in the monyth of September, the first yere of regne of Kyng Harry the vij 

To ij men which bereth xx lodes fagottes and talow woode from the stere  (possibly the stair to the water gate) the place with cowchyng of the same, xviij d.   A laborer which dyd find the masshon of morter, watter and of all such thynges accordyng to the same crafte, iij dayes, xv d.   To Hermon the glasyer for the mendyng of the Gret Chamber glasses wyndowes, the which glassier tok a  gret (i.e. a contract to work by quantity) of Thos. Roggers and Thos. Litley, ouerseers to the same.

A gardiner ij days, xvj d. A laborer workyng and dressing the hyerbes for the gardenes, ij days, ix d. Another gardiner, j day, viij d. A mason mendyng of the gret chambre upon the Water side, iij days ij s.

Wages—26 Oct of  Carpenters, daubers, labourers, tilers, ij Carpenters which dyd make the fourmes of the seid halle, xvj d.   A laborer for carriage of dung from the stable of Coldherber to the waterside.  A gardener and his child.   John Cosin, mason, for the makyng of an owen, for which the said Cosin took a gret, iij s. iiij d.

Among the bills and receipts a  bille of John Laurence, joynour, dwellynge in the parysh of Seynt James at Garlik hythe in London : To my lady the Kynges Moder. 

A tabyl and a payr of traystelles, vj s. viij d.  Stolles, v s. iij d.   Makyng of ij peces of lateyces, liiij fote, xiij s. vj d.   iij peces of lateyces seten in the Steward chamber, v s.   A pece of latyce in the countynghouse, ij s v d.  For furvyng of viij soylles of the Wyndow, wher the seid new lateyces are set, xij d.   ij long Wannyscotes bought for the Gate at Coltherber, ij s. iiij d.   ij Fourmes for the Chapell at Coltherber, ij s. viij d.  A Tabyll and a payre of Traystelles, v s.   A close chayre for my lady, v s.  Makyng a fourme, for fyndyng of the fete and the lancelles therto for the Controllers Chamber.  For departyng of ij gret chestes and joynyng ayen of the same, which are now setten in the Wardrobe at Coldherber, xij d.      A pece of latthys standing in the hey (high) wyndow ouer my lord of Bokynghames loging, contayning xv fote, iij s. ix d.  John Laurence, the joiner.  was finally paid on the 7 April 1486 a total amount of 70s 6d.

Amounts  payable to John Clerk, ‘loker’: A new lok within the Great Chambre, otherwyse called my lordes Wardrobe, vij d. The key of the same lok,  it was lost by my lordes servauntes and so the said loker maad an other key, iij d.  An other key maad for the steyr dore be the Cookes Chambre, iij d. A holow key for a stayer dore betwene the two yates, iiij d.

ij barres of Iern for a Cauderon sett in a fourneyse  in the seid boylling house, ij s.   ij keyes and ij staples for the Porters logge, viij d.   A new key for a spruse chest in the Celer, iiij d.   A new key for the Wardrobe for my Lady Elizabeth, iij d.   ij gret keys for the Wynne Celer dore,  xvj d.

Mending hynges and a pair of new hokes for the Stewards Chamber dore, iiij d.  A key and stapule for the steere dore, iiij d.   A new key for the Chamber dore ouer the gate, iij d.   Bolt and harneys for the Weket of the seid gate, vj d.   Key and staple to the Maister Cooks Chamber, iiij d. ij new keys deliuered to the secound Cook,  ij d.   ij Spryng lokes, eche of thaim with ij keys, on to the Wete Larder and an other to the Drey Larder,  ij s.  Staple and plate for the same, ij d.   Hook and staple for the cheyn of the Wekett of the great gate, ij d.   A new stree boket viij d.   Byndyng a new boket with iij new houppes, a bayle, and ij eyres of Iern for the same, xxd.   A half C. of xd. nayle white-tynned for the weket of the great gate, vj d.

A swepe (the swepe of a door was probably a bar hinged at one end to the door post and having a padlock at the other end)  Iern to the dor at the stere fote vpon the bak syd of my lord of Buckyngham Chamber, weying xij lb. di., price the lib. ij d., ij s. j d.  A new lok for the same swep, viij d.    iiij hinges and iiij hokes to the Pastre house, xx d.   Mendyng a lok in the Pantre dore, ij d.   New lok to the great Chamber dor, viij d.   A new key, iij d.   A stapyll to the same lok, j d.

iiij hookes to ij casses in my Lady Elizabeth Chamber, iiij d.   vj Sawdelettes  to the west wyndow in the same Chamber, weying v lb, x d.

For a Whillebarow for the store of the place in Coldherber, xiiij d.

Owed to John Davy, ‘Sandeman’ : xlij lode of sande, xxj s. viij lode of sande, iiij s. x lode of lome, iij s. iiij d.

For various glass:

Item, for viij fote of florysche glasse settin in the Great Chambre Wyndow ouer the Great Hale, price the fote vjd., iiij s.
Item,  for a casse of new glasse of {sic) conteynyng ij fote and a quarter sett in the seid Chambre, price the fote vj d. xiij d. 
Item, for Iij quarelles of Englyssh glasse sett in the wyndows of the seid Great Chambre, price of euery pece j d., iiij s. iiij d.
Item, for xiij fote of Duche glasse sett in the wyndows in my lord of Buckyngham Chamber, price of euery fote iiij d.  iiij s. x d. 
Item, for xiiij fote of Duche glasse set in ij Wyndows of the Great Chambyr ouer the lytyll Hale, price the fote vj d., vij s.
Item, for xxviij  fote of Normaundy glasse settin in the wyndows of my ladys her owen Chambre, price the fote vj d., xiiij s.

Item, for ij panes of new glasse for my lady chamber, in eyther pane iiij fote and di., w’ the Armes of my lord and my lady, iij s. ix d.

Item, for a skochyn w’ my ladys Armes set on the Watter side, xx d.

 Although we can now only imagine this now sadly lost house with its various grand tenants including kings, the nobility  and their families,  I hope you have enjoyed this little recce into the much longer list of the expenses etc., of Coldharbour House which at least gives us something of an idea of how splendid it once was.  

1.The Two Coldharbours of the City of London Vanessa Harding, M.A.  On Some London Houses of the Early Tudor Period. C.L. Kingsford. The Reconstructed Map of London Under Richard II. Marjorie B Honeybourne M.A., F.S.A

2. C.P.R. Edward VI, v. 130-1

3. A Survey of London Written in the Year 1598 p.93. John Stow.

4. A Dictionary of London.  Harben. Cal.P.R. Ed.III 1345-8 p.141. Shaw, Wm. A. (1971). The Knights of England: A Complete Record from the Earliest Time to the Present Day of the Knights of All the Orders of Chivalry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of the Knights Bachelors. Vol. 2. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 6

5. Historical Notes on  Medieval London Houses. London Topographical Record Vol.X p.94. 1914. C L Kingsford.

If you have enjoyed this post you might also like:

L’Erber – London Home to Warwick the Kingmaker and George Duke of Clarence

The Augustinian Priory of St Mary Merton and its Destruction.

Old London Bridge and Its Houses by Dorian Gerhold – a review.





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