‘Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?’
‘Tis brief, my
’ *


This beauty is reputed to have been given by John of Gaunt (1340-1399) to his mistress and subsequent third wife, Katheryn Swinford (1350-1403).  The inscription reads ‘alas for fayte’ which was probably a nod to Gaunt and Katherine’s illicit love affair.  

Medieval Posy rings!  What a delight they are and how I have longed to own one but the bank balance say No and unless I dig one up in my garden that is likely to remain the case.   Posy, or poesy rings,  took their name from the old French word poésy which alluded to the short poetic  engraving – usually  inside the ring but sometimes on the outside –  and which worn next to the skin would only be known to the giver and recipient. Popular from medieval  to the 17th century I am focussing here on the earlier medieval ones.  How nice to think that in those times when, broadly speaking,  only the lower classes were  able to wed someone of their own choice –  betrothed couples, who were often marrying the partner of their parents choice or even older couples where the status of their spouse was paramount –  were often going into marriage with feelings of affection or that love grew later.  Anyway its all extremely romantic and whats not to like?    However to  return to the ring said to have belonged to Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.


The engraving, worn next to the skin and therefore only known to the giver and recipient, reads ‘alas for fayte’



Katherine Swynford,  Duchess of Lancaster’s posy ring.  All photos thanks to Berganza Jewellers who sold the ring to a private buyer. 

Described as being set centrally with a cabonchon sapphire,  the sprays of flowers were originally enhanced with enamel.  C.1360-1400 with documentation relating to the provenance of the ring.  


A recently discovered posy ring found by a metal detectorist in Dorset:


Described as two intertwining gold bands symbolising two lives joined together.  Set with a diamond in the centre and the inscription in French ‘leo vos tien foi tenes le moy’ which translates as ‘I keep faith with you, keep it with me’. 

After its discovery, the ring was sent to the British Museum to be dated and authenticated.   Experts who researched the ring were able to identify the man who had owned the land where it was found – Sir Thomas Brook – and have gone on to speculate that he may have given this valuable ring to his wife,  Joan,  on the occasion of their wedding day in 1388.   The ring was found in an area covering the site of a medieval bowling alley and possibly Lady Joan may have lost the ring while playing an early form of croquet.  Who knows?  It’s a charming story though and has a ring of truth about it (did you see what I just did there!).   Anyway – it’s easy to image the lady’s horror, whoever she was, when she realised her beautiful ring was missing and mourning its loss long afterwards.

             ******IMG_9240Gold band.  Early 15th century. Engraved on the outside on the interior +hert.tought.lyfe.and.lust.   Victoria and Albert Museum.



Made c.1250-1300.   Set with a polished cabochon sapphire.  Engraved around the edges with the words AVE MARIA GRA[CIA],AMOR VINCI[T] O[M]NIA – Translates as Hail Mary.  Love Conquers all/Love overcomes all things.  Given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Dame Joan Evans.



Mid 15th century.  Gold set with a spinel.  Inscribed on the outside ‘pour amor, say douc’, meaning ‘for love, so sweet’. This ring was found on the Thames foreshore at Bankside.  Now in the Museum of London.


This ring was discovered by a metal detectorist on the 19th April 2015 in a field nearby to the village of Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire. Double bezel mounted with a cabochon ruby and emerald.  Photo Warski. 

English 15th Century. Engraved in Norman French ‘ne meur bon’  followed by an image of a heart which translates as ‘a good heart never dies’. The ring was declared treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996) and local museums were given the chance to buy it from the finder. However sadly none of the museums were able to raise the funds and it was sold privately.



Gold and inscribed on the outside with the words ‘tout pour vous’ which translates as ‘all for you’ and  sprays of flowers that were once enamelled.  Made in the 15th century and discovered near Thame, Oxfordshire


Not a posy ring but an early finger ring dating from c1400. Found by a metal detectorist in the area of Bolnhurst and Keysoe (Bedfordshire) in 2013.  Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Now I know, I know  –  this is not a true posy ring but I’m sneaking it in as its far, far too lovely not to.  Dating from around the time of  the reign of Richard II the ring would have been set off by the sumptuous fashions of the times. Two pearls of the original four pearls  are missing but the pomegranate-red garnet is still intact.


Now here is the little hidden detail that has given me cause to include it although of course its not an engraving as such  – the letters A and M are artfully included beneath the decorated shoulder of the ring….

The collet is supported by two gold, openwork letters – A and M – underneath the decorated shoulders of the ring – as the invocation of Ave Maria  (Hail Mary).   How sumptuous is that! Perhaps my favourite of all the rings I’ve come across in my search for posy rings…



Apologies for the quality of this photo.  I’ve included it because of the poignancy behind it.  Discovered  by archaeologists from MoLA during the excavations at St Mary Spital the outside of this ring is engraved with the words ‘[Je] ne weil aymer autre vous’ (I am not seeking to love anyone but you). 

St. Mary Spital Augustinian Priory and Hospital was founded in II97 and was the second largest infirmary in London covering the area known today as Spital Square.  It stood for over 400 years until it was demolished in 1540.  It had two infirmaries the smallest one of which was for higher status patiences.  It was in the rubble of one of these infirmaries that this ring was found after being lost  presumably by one of the patients whose story is lost to us now.



This gold ring is very small and  thought to have been made for a child.  Dated to the mid to late 15th Century.  Now in the London Museum.

This small ring measures just 17 mm across.   The size indicates it was a child’s ring and possibly for a betrothal.  Decorated with engraved leaves which originally  had alternating black and white enamelling.  Interior of the ring inscribed with the words ‘nul autre’ (none other). 

I hope you have enjoyed our little meander into medieval posy rings – and now  I shall return to digging my garden….

*Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.  William Shakespeare.

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Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages. Edited by Professor Daniel Wakelin.  Published by the Bodleian Library Oxford.

Under the Dreaming Spires of Oxford – well Oxford University to be precise – a group of students have compiled and transcribed this entertaining selection of remedies from  medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library  Here in their book – Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages, edited by Professor Daniel Wakelin,  the remedies are reproduced with one page in the original Middle English and a translation on the facing page in  modern English (1).  Make no mistake about it, this little book is a delight, and if it doesn’t raise a chuckle even on the most glummest of days then nothing will.  It should be remembered the remedies in the book have been chosen for their sheer wackiness. This places them apart from the numerous other more sensible, mundane remedies that medieval people used,  perhaps if they could not afford a doctor,  but which in some cases, would have been a better and safer option, with many of the ingredients such as verbena and fennel still used in the herbal supplements used today.  However, returning to the book, not all of the remedies included therein were for nasty diseases or debilitating illnesses but cover a wide spectrum of conditions ranging from a Leaky Bottom/For goyng out of the foundement  to those who had an annoying abundance of zits –  or zitties to be precise  –  or even unwelcome freckles/frekenes –  to those who wished, understandably,  to stop dogs barking at them.  There was also solutions for those who were uncomfortable with people staring at them such as making yourself disappear.  Worryingly a remedy for returning oneself back to visibility was not included.  Perhaps the invisibility wore off gradually in its own good time? Great fun but not without its risks.

The students who took part in Professor Wakelin’s course, which teaches people to read manuscripts from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries ‘tested their research skills on these medical manuscripts: the handwriting and the medical terms are a challenge. But having sat in the library pained by this work, they came back cured by laughter at the rude or remarkable remedies they found. They hope, now that they’ve transcribed and translated them, that you will enjoy them too’(2). Well I for one thoroughly enjoyed them and heartily recommend this charming little book. Below is just a sample of the delights therein. For clarity it should be noted the illustrations are not included in the book.


A  scribe busy at his work.  BL.Royal I 8III, f.24 the British library

For goying out of the foundement/For a Leaky Bottom

Tak henne egges and seth tham in vynegre, and mell it with oyle of lorellmes and sett thin ars theron oft times, till it be hole.  Another: Tak poudre of herte horne and cast to thin ars.  Another: Tak frankencence and seth it in water, and wesche the sore therwith, and late the breth go vp in to the foundement.

Take hens eggs and boil them in vinegar, and mix it with  oil of laurels, and sit your arse in it many times until it’s healed. Another. Take powder of a hart’s horn and put it up your arse.  Another take frankincense and boil it in water, and wash the sore with it and let the steam from it go up your bottom.

To save one from sword or gone ore any wepen/To protect yourself from a sword, gun or any other weapon

Write thes words and letters in virgin parchment and carri them aboute you : ff velle tofetis achætum + zadit   + tizadit + zadan abi atit + zadne et = æd b + abiat + + + b x in + d + + h + z + o + eliam + l + ff + m + P + v + j.  Yf you be in dought of thes, prove it apon a dogge which is all rede.

Write these words and letters on blank parchment and carry them around with you: ff velle tofetis achætum + zadit   + tizadit + zadan abi atit + zadne et = æd b + abiat + + + b x in + d + + h + z + o + eliam + l + ff + m + P + v + j. If you doubt this will work test on a dog which is completely red.


This poor gentleman obviously did not have the necessary paperwork with him on the very day he needed it the most….

However in the eventuality that the above did not have the desired effect and one found oneself badly bashed up – although still alive – help was still available:

For a man that is sore ybete/ For a man who’s been painfully beaten

Tak weyhore and boyle it in good feyn ale, and drynk it ferst a morwe and last an evene; and make hym a bed in hot horse dongge, and ley hym therinne.

Take cudweed and boil it in fine ale, and drink it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and make the patient a bed in a pile of steaming horse dung, and lay him in it.

ce255a29316cdd5536_The booted man discovered on the Tideway site at Chambers Wharf in London (c) MOLA Headland Infrastructure

The remains of one unfortunate who did not survive the horse dung treatment being examined by 21st century archaeologists.  With apologies to the Museum of London (MOLA).

For swellynge of ballokys/For swollen bollocks

Take bene mele and vyngre, and tempere hem well togidere and make a plaster thereof, and ley therto, but lete it come a ny no feer,  for it mote be colde.  And if thu have gret benys, stampe hem and tempere hem with hony, and make a plaster, and ley to the sore al colde.  Also take rewe and wermode, stampe hem in a morter, and temper hem togidere with hony, and make a colde plaster, and ley therto.  

Take ground beans and vinegar, and blend them well together, and make a plaster from it, and lay it on the swelling,  but never let it get close to the fire because it must be cold. And if you have large beans, grind them and blend them with honey, and make a plaster and lay it on the sore all cold. Also, take rue and wormwood, grind them in a mortar and blend them well together and make a cold plaster and lay that on the swelling..


Medieval manuscript illustrations of gentlemen with swollen bits being a slight tad too explicit for this blog, here, instead, is a depiction of a man with earache.  Hopefully this will suffice……..


Treatment for earache.  Artwork from the late 13th-century French work ‘Li Livres dou Sante’.

For love/For love

Take thi swetyng yn a fayre bason and clene and afterwarde put hyt yn a wytrial of glas, and put therto the shavyng of the nedder party of thy fete and a lytyl of thy oune dong ydryet at the sune, and put therto a more of valurion.  And take to drynke, whane that ever ye will, and he schall love the apon the lyght of thyn yene.  And thys ys best experiment to gete love of what creature that thou wolt.  And Y, Gelberte, have ypreved that ofte tymys, for trewthe.

Catch your sweat in a nice clean basin and afterwards mix it with sulphuric salt, and add to it some shavings from the back of your feet and a little of your own dung dried in the sun, and add a root of the herb valerian. And take a swig whenever you want, and he will love you as soon as he catches your eye. This is the best proven method to win love from whomever you want.  And I, Gilbert, have proved this many times in truth


Gibert gets lucky yet again…  ‘Tender Embrace’ artist Master of Guillebert de Mets c.1425.  Flanders. Walters Art Museum.

Medicine for a man that is costyf/Medicine for a man who is constipated.

Tak and roste oynones, and ley to his navele, ymenged with may botre, and make hym wortes of hockes and stanmarche, percilie of violet; and gyf hym ete therwith sour bred, and drynke smal ale; and gyf hym a subposotorie of a talwe candele in hys fundement.  And so use it, for thou be hol. 

 Take and roast onions, and lay them on his navel, mixed with unsalted butter, and make him a vegetable stew made of mallow plants, horse parsley and parsley of violet, and give them to him to eat with sour bread, and give him light ale to drink, and give him as a suppository a tallow candle up his bottom. And do all this, so that you get better

To mak a man to pyse wele/To make a man piss well.

Take him and set hym in a vat nakyd, and close hym upe to the hede drafe, as it comyth fro the ale, the space of an owre.  Than wache hym in hoot water, and brynge hym to bede, tyl he have wel slepte.  

Take him, and put him naked in a vat, and cover him up to the head in new dregs that have come from brewing the ale, for an hour long. Then wash him in hot water, and put him to bed until he’s slept well.

Another maner medicyne to make heer to growe/ Another kind of medicine to make hair grow

Take ladanum, and disolve it in puryd hony; and take an herbe that hatte capillus verginis (that is to say mayden heer) and stampe hym in a morter of bras, and hony therwith.  And when it is smale inowghe, wryng it thurw a canevas, and put therto the ladanum, and set it on the fyre, and lete it boyle or velme but onys, and set it doun and let it kele.  This wil make heere grewe ovyr alle.

Take the resin of the citrus bush and dissolve it in purified honey, and take a herb called capillus virginis (that is Maidenhair fern) and grind it in a mortar made of brass, with honey in it.  And when it’s ground down finely enough strain it through canvas, and add the resin and set it on the fire, let it boil or bubble over only once, then take it off the fire and let it cool. This will make hair grow everywhere


Beehives. Tacuinum Sanitatis  (14th century)

For the emerawdys/For haemorrhoids

Take botyr and talwghe, bote claryfied, and white oyle and alum icalcit, of all ylyche moche.  Sette hem in a panne over a leuke fyre, til they been resolvyd.  Than sette it doun and stere it, til it be colde.  Anoynte hym that hath the emerawdys wyth this oynement, as far wythine the fundement as thou mayst, and then take a rostid oynoun and, as hoot as he may suffre, bynde it to his fundement.  Serve hym thus ofte and he schal be hole.

Take butter and animal fat, both purified, and white oil and a reduction of alum salt, the same amount of each. Set them in a pan over a lukewarm fire, until they’re liquefied. Then take it off the fire and stir it, until it’s cold. Anoint the man who has the haemorrhoids with this ointment, as deep inside his bottom as you can, and then take a roasted onion and, as hot as he can bear, bind it to his bottom. Treat him like this often and he’ll soon get better.

For bledyng at the nose/For a nosebleed.

Yif a man blede at the nose, take and ley his ballokkys in vinegre; and take a clowte and wete it wel in vynegre, and than wete wel the place bytwene his browys and al his forhed.  And if it be a woman, take and ley hir brestys in vinegre.  And it schall staunche anoone ryght.  

If a man is bleeding from his nose, grasp his bollocks and lay them in vinegar, and take a cloth and douse it well in vinegar, and then wet the spot between his eyebrows and all his forehead. And if it’s a woman, grasp her breasts and leave them in vinegar, and the nosebleed will stop right away


I hope you have enjoyed these delightful, if rather earthy, examples of our ancestors remedies for their, sometimes,  embarrassing medical problems.  As Professor Wakelin points out the remedies also leave us with an insight into the ‘ingenuity and bravery of the men and women of the Middle Ages’ who paved the way for today’s medications and herbal treatments that we sometimes take for granted.  Bravo and we salute you!


Two women exchange a remedy.  Le Régime de Corps c.1265.  British Library MS Sloane 2435

  1. Daniel Wakelin is the  Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English, University of Oxford.
  2. Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages. p.11. Ed.Prof. Daniel Wakelin. Bodleian Library.

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The peaceful garden…a tranquil spot to sit a while in the busy heart of the City of London.  Photo Haarkon 

St Dunstan-in-the-East was already ancient when John Stow wrote about it in his Survey of London Written in the Year 1598.  Not to be confused with St Dunstan-in-the West, Stow described the church as a fair and large church of an ancient building and within a large churchyard’.   First mentioned in records in 1271-2 although it would have, of course,  been older.  It had also been known at different times  as St Dunstan towards the Tower c.1271;   St Dunstan by the Tower c.1293  and St Danstan near Fanchurch in 1361 (1).     Time having finally caught up with this grand old lady and, by then being in a  perilous state,  the church was rebuilt c.1633.  I’ve been unable to discover how much, if any,  of the old medieval church was preserved and incorporated in this rebuilding but it is known that one window still retained its geometrical tracery from c.1260.  Also unknown is what become of the burials of the numerous medieval Londoners inside the church  but I fear the worse.


Wisteria overhangs a doorway… Photo Wikipedia.

Standing within a  parish that was home to many affluent Londoners the interior of  the church was rich with their tombs and monuments.  Thanks to Stow we know some of their names and the dates they were buried: 

John Kenington, parson,  1374; William Islip, parson 1382; John Kryoll and his brother Thomas 1400; Nicholas Bond, Thomas Barry both merchants, 1445; Robert Shelly 1442, Robert Pepper, grocer (obvs!); John Norwich Grocer, 1390; Alice Brome wife to John Coventry, sometime mayor of London 1433; William Isaack, draper and alderman 1508; John Ricroft sergeant of the larder to Henry VII and his son Henry VIII, 1532; Sir Bartholomew James, Draper, mayor, 1479, buried under a fair monument with his lady; Ralph Greenway, grocer,  Alderman, put under the stone of Robert Pepper, 1559;  Thomas Bledlow, one of the sheriffs 1472;  James Bacon, fishmonger, sheriff, 1573; Sir  Richard Champion, Draper, mayor, 1568;  Henry Hudson, Skinner, Alderman 1555;  Sir  James Garnado, knight; William Hariot, draper, mayor 1481, buried in a fair chapel by him built, 1517; John Tate, son to Sir John Tate, in the same chapel in the north wall;  Sir Christopher Draper, ironmonger, mayor 1566, buried 1580.  And many other worshipful personages besides whose monuments are all together defaced (2).

Only just 33 years after the rebuild of 1633 disaster struck.  In 1666, on the evening of the third day of the Great Fire of London,  Wednesday 5th September,  the terrible conflagration reached St Dunstan’s.  Stout efforts were made  – ‘a strenuous contest had waged for the preservation of St Dunstan-in-the-East’  – led by John Dolben, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster.   Dolben had been a soldier priest in the English Civil War and had fought for the Royalists at Oxford.  At Marston Moor while carrying the colours he had received a musket ball in the shoulder.  Whilst in York when it was besieged he was shot in the thigh breaking the bone.  This was not a man to stand by idly while London went up in flames!   ‘The peril of the fire revived the soldier spirit beneath the cassock.  Assembling the Westminster school boys in a strong company,  he marched at their head through the city to the eastern limits of the fire, and there kept them hard at work for many hours, fetching water from the back of Saint Dunstan’s.   They extinguished the flames in the houses crowded closely together and the church isolated by their efforts, conspicuous over the City by reason of its high leaden and steeple,  stood after the Fire of London was out,  grievously defaced, it is true, but perhaps not the mere ruin to which so many others were reduced’ (3). 

St Dunstan had survived albeit blooded with almost all of the side walls standing.   The repairs and rebuilding including the Spire and Tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren,  would amount to £1,071 and were completed more speedily than many other more badly damaged churches.  We know it was still in a ruinous state in 1668  thanks the helpful entry  Samuel Pepys made into his  Diary on Thursday 23 April of that year.   Mr Pepys who had spent the day at the Cocke Alehouse with some female friends eating lobster and being mightily merry,  as you do,  described in his diary what happened when after he had dropped the ladies off home,  he attempted to take a short cut home through the ruins of St Dunstan’s: ‘it being now ten at night; and so got a link; and, walking towards home,  just at my entrance into the ruines at St Dunstan’s I was met by two rogues with clubs, who come towards us. So I went back, and walked home quite round by the wall, and got well home, and to bed weary, but pleased at my day’s pleasure, but yet displeased at my expence, and time I lose’  (I could say serve him right but that would lead me to  digress….. ).  To return to Sir Christopher Wren who,  it was said,  was  particularly proud of St Dunstan’s.   Upon being told one morning that a hurricane had damaged many London spires, he remarked, “Not St. Dunstan’s, I am quite sure”. 



In 1810 St Dunstan had become again ruinous and a  further rebuild would take place in 1816,  with thankfully, Wren’s Tower and Steeple being incorporated.   However in the last quarter of the year 1940 St Dunstan was badly bombed during the Blitz although miraculously both Wren’s Tower and Steeple, as well as some walls survived intact.  A decision was made not to rebuild this time but instead to turn the remains into a peaceful and tranquil garden.    St Dunstan,  not for the first time almost nearly utterly destroyed,  arose yet again,  phoenix like,  from its ruinous state.   Although no longer in its former guise as a church but a beautiful and atmospheric ruin,  I’m sure if inclined,  it would still be an appropriate place to sit and offer up a prayer.

Today a serene haven, awash with wisteria and ivy,  in the middle of the hurly and burly of the City of London,  St Dunstan-in-the-East  provides a welcome refuge for the  office workers, tourists and Londoners who go there to seek a tranquil spot in which to sit and rest for awhile.



A traceried window at St Dunstan-in-theWest. Photos


An early postcard of the interior of St Dunstan-in-the-East.


19th etching of St Dunstan-in-the-East.  Unknown artist. 

  1.   A Dictionary of London 1912. Henry A Harben.
  2. A Survey of London Written in the Year 1598 p.p.129.130
  3. The Great Fire of London p. 55. W G Bell.

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The Cheapside Hoard.  Discovered beneath the floor of an ancient cellar during the demolition of 30-32 Cheapside in 1912. How the owners of such jewels must have shimmered in the candlelight.  Photo 1websurfer@Flikr.

The Cheapside Hoard as it has become known was discovered in June 1912 at 30-32 Cheapside when workmen were demolishing a trio of 17th century post-Great Fire of London houses.  The cellars of the original medieval houses destroyed in that fire of 1666 had survived the conflagration and it was somewhere from beneath their floors that the Hoard was recovered.   Although the exact spot is now lost to us newspaper reports of the time recorded that the cellar was 16 foot below street level.  This would accord with modern archaeological findings which have uncovered other footings and remains of other similar brick lines structures at the same depth.  Also unknown is what type of receptacles were used, if any,  to bury the Hoard in.   I will return to this later but for now let’s take a little look at Cheapside itself. From early medieval times Cheapside was famous for its mercers, goldsmiths and jewellers  (the terms jeweller and goldsmith were largely interchangeable in those times and sometimes both terms were applied to the same person in the same documents) who sold their sumptuous wares there.   Known as early as 1067 as Westceape  (to differentiate it from Eastcheap, the market at the east end of the city) and the Chepe of London in 1257,  it was undoubtedly  one of the glories of old London, wide enough for a market – from which it first got its name – to be held in the middle of it as well as joustings (1),

30-32 Cheapside was situated on the corner where it joined Friday Street and was owned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths whose ownership it had been in for centuries.  In the 15th century Thomas Wood, a goldsmith who was also a Sheriff of London at one time, had there built a large timber framed structure, four stories high,  which he would later give to the Goldsmiths Company in 1491.  Comprising of 10 houses and 14 shops,  Stow  in 1598,  was to describe this structure as ‘the most beautiful frame of fair houses and shops in England’.  This structure became known as Goldsmiths Row.  Later on further houses and shops would spring up along that area of Cheapside which would eventually become generally known as Goldsmiths Row.  It was somewhere in this area that our goldsmith plied his trade.  Behind the handsome facades would spring up numerous workshops, vaults,  countinghouses,  gilding chambers, storerooms as well as living accommodation (2).  No doubt this led to a lot of coming and goings, old tenants and new tenants etc.,  Unsurprisingly all was not always harmonious with squabbles breaking out which sometimes caused the Goldsmiths Company  itself to get involved and arbitrate.   One example is when one tenant,  George Lansdale,   caused other tenants to complain  when he set up a furnace in his cellar which  ‘he doth verie dangerouslie mainteyne  and work’.  It transpired that George had tunnelled  through his privy  walls  to vent the smoke into the street so that noxious fumes wafted through the adjourning properties ‘ to his neighbours great disquiet of mind’.  When George refused to remove the furnace he was henceforth hauled off to prison.  Another situation which caused great indignation arose when John Hawes took  sneaky advantage of his neighbour Edward Wheeler‘s absence in the country to break down the wall between them.  He then extended his own property by a few inches but worse still exposed parts of Wheeler’s  study ‘wherein were  divers writings’ and other personal papers.   This was just not on and  Officers from the Company  inspected the damage.  Hawes had to pay Wheeler 20 shillings in reparation (3). 

The properties we are interested  had five stories with garrets at the top and cellars running beneath them.   Over time they had become multi tenanted with rooms divided into smaller rooms and shops so it is now impossible to know which tenant,  subtenant  or even sub-subtenant was responsible for the burying of the Hoard.   It’s all rather mysterious however the most popular theory seems to be that it was buried by our unknown goldsmith prior to making an escape before the Great Fire of London reached  the wooden façade of his home and workplace.   However as the fire did not wreak its terrible destruction on Cheapside until its third day, Wednesday 5 September,  it’s puzzling why our most certainly usually astute goldsmith did not make his escape with his stock well before then.  Indeed most of the Cheapside goldsmiths having sufficient warning had already stored their valuables in the Tower of London and ‘thanks to this wise precaution their individual losses were insignificant compared with those of other tradesmen’ (4).  Could the burying of the Hoard have occurred in 1665 when the Great Plague cut its deadly swathe across London and Londoners left in droves if able to do so?   But this scenario also begs the question why was the valuable stock not taken when the owner made his escape if he indeed did.  Was he one of the casualties of that terrible pestilance?    Perhaps there was some sort of skulduggery involved.  Robbery, even murder?   Frustratingly we will never know and presumably the person who buried it died quite soon after having done so.

The Discovery.

Stony Jack

George Fabian Lawrence aka Stony Jack in his office at Wandsworth. 

Now enters our story – drumroll! – a gentleman by the name of George Fabian Lawrence aka Stony Jack (1862-1939).  Mr Lawrence had a multifacited career as a pawnbroker, dealer, collector of antiquities and sometime employee of both the Guildhall and London Museum (5).    He had struck up an understanding and rapport  with the labourers who were regularly employed in the demolition of the buildings of old London.  They became aware that if they handed anything over of interest to him they would be rewarded.  Often to be found wandering around building sites Mr Lawrence would later say that “ I got to know a lot of navvies.  I thought what a lot of stuff was being lost because they did not know what to look for.  I decided to try to teach them.  I taught them that every scrap of metal, pottery, glass, or leather that has been lying under London may have a story to tell the archaeologist, and is worth saving.  They were apt pupils and hardly a Saturday passed without someone bringing me something.   I got 15,000 objects out of the soil of London in 15 years for the London museum alone.’ (6).   

In turn the navvies would duly pass on the word that the ‘bloke at Wandsworth who buys old stones and bits of pottery. Got a little shop full of them.   He’s a good sport is Stony Jack. If you dig up an old pot or a coin and take it to him, he’ll tell you what it is and buy it off you.  And if you take him rubbish, he’ll still give you the price of half a pint’.  

Even though accustomed as Mr Lawrence was to navvies bringing  him interesting finds he must have thought all his Christmas’ had arrived at once the day the first navvy rocked up at his door bearing a sackful of treasures unearthed from beneath the cellar at  30-32 Cheapside.  One of the navvies made the comment ‘We’ve struck a toy shop I thinks guv’nor!‘ when he unloaded his brightly coloured finds still encased in clods of earth.   In the following days other navvies would turn up, their pockets or even hats full of treasures until the amount of their finds accumulated to almost 500 pieces – all now piled up in Mr Lawrence’s office.  While nearly all the discoveries were taken to Mr Lawrence its clear that  a small amount was sold to other purchasers and it was said some navvies disappeared for long periods being able to live off the rewards they had received when they sold their findings elsewhere.  Casting that thought aside though and on with story –  Mr Lawrence wished to hand on the Hoard to a new and at that time,  still unopened museum, which was then taking shape.  This was the London Museum.  Excited phone calls took place and the Hoard was taken to the home of the Director  of the embryonic museum, Mr Lewis Harcourt later Viscount Harcourt,  in Berkeley Square.   A  silence then followed on the Hoard  for the next two years until the opening of the London Museum.   However, cutting to the chase, following both the British Museum and  Victoria and Albert Museum catching  wind of the Hoard there then ensued what can only be called an rather unseemly tug of war.  To pour oil on troubled waters some items from the hoard were given to the British Museum.  This understandably left the Victoria and Albert Museum feeling slightly miffed leading to a flurry of disgruntled memos to the Treasury asking if the treasure had been dealt with in the correct way. i.e. as treasure trove.  However by then the Hoard had slipped through the Treasury’s net and would remain where it was i.e the greater part of it in the London Museum.  Some 80 items were given to the City Guildhall Museum but in the passage of time both the Guild and the Museum of London were to unite and the bulk of the hoard  was once again under the same roof.

The Hoard Itself.

Here is just a small selection  from the fabulous treasures in the Hoard.


Scent bottle – enamelled gold, opals, opaline chalcedony, diamonds, rubies and pink sapphires.  

IMG_9065Fan handle.  Suspension loop to attach to a belt. Photo Museum of London


Fan handle: Columbian emeralds and white enamel.  Feathers  could be held in the flared opening while a loop allowed the fan to be attached to a belt.   Museum of London; photo by Robert Weldon/GIA


Gold wirework pendant decorated with enamel and pearls which would be stitched onto the edges of garment. Several of these were included in the hoard.  



Two of the numerous buttons in the hoard.  This one cloisonné enamel. The one above gold with rubies.  Museum of London; photo by Robert Weldon/GIA


Thought to be one of  the most valuable items in the Hoare – the emerald cased watch.

 Gold pendant  in form of a cross, enamelled at back and set with light-coloured rose-cut amethysts.  Photo Museum of London.   


Pin with the head in the shape of a ship the hull formed from a large baroque Pearl.  Shaft modern.Photo Museum of London. 

IMG_9047A pendant of emerald and enamelled gold in the form of a grapevine.


The stunning Salamander broach.  Columbian emeralds,  Indian diamonds and white enamelled legs.  



Three examples of the numerous rings in the hoard. The top one with a superb diamond. 

IMG_9184A bodkin.  One of three in the Hoard.  This one gold and turquoise in the shape of a shepherd’s crook.    To pin a coil of hair in place.  Photo Museum of London.


Sapphire Pendant.  Possibly for wearing in the hair.  


The charming parrot or popinjay cameo.  Carved from Columbian emerald.  Popinjays,  as parrots were then  more commonly known.  were popular pets since medieval times.  Henry VII was known to be particularly fond of them but I digress…

At the time of writing anyone travelling to the Museum of London to view the Hoard will be unlucky as it is not on display for the time being.   However a purpose-built gallery for permanent display of the Hoard is planned for the Museum’s new home in West Smithfield which is scheduled to open in 2024.

I have drawn heavily for this post from Hazel Forsyth’s excellent book The Cheapside Hoard, London’s lost Jewels, Museum of London’s informative website and the beautiful photography of Robert Weldon/GIA.  Many thanks.  

  1.  A London Dictionary of London p.186.  Henry A Harben 1912.
  2. The Cheapside Hoard,  London’s Lost Jewels p.22. Hazel Forsyth.
  3. The Cheapside Hoard:  London’s Lost Jewels p.24. Hazel Forsyth.
  4. The Great Fire of London p.64. Walter G Bell.
  5. The Cheapside Hoard,  London’s Lost Jewels p.45 Hazel Forsyth
  6.  Daily Express 27 June 1928.

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The façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house in Bishopgate.  Now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Photo Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

Sir Paul Pindar acquired the site in what was then known as  Bishopsgate Street Without in 1597 and begun building the house, later known as Pindar’s House shortly afterward at the corner of Half Moon Street then known as Half Moon Alley (1).     Bishopsgate standing just outside the city walls meant the house managed  to survive the Great Fire of London as well as a further disastrous fire in 1765 when many of the other fine timber buildings were destroyed.     After Sir Paul’s death the house morphed into a tavern called ‘Pindar’s Head’.   Sadly it was unable to  survive awful neglect nor the march of progress I’m afraid to say.  In 1890 it was demolished to make room for an enlargement of Liverpool Street Station.    Over the centuries prior to the demolition the ground floor had been much altered but the upper two stories of  the façade remained much in their original state and it was this wonderful frontage which  was presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London where it remains today.  From this small surviver of what had once been a grand mansion we able to to catch a glimpse of how splendid the old  buildings of the well to do were in Old London.  On the first floor behind the projecting window lay a large reception  room with fine moulded plaster ceilings, an elaborate chimneypiece and oak panelling.


Stype’s map of Bishopsgate in 1720.  Sir Paul Pindar’s house is arrowed and stands on the corner of  Half Moon Street known as Half Moon Alley in Sir Paul’s time.  


Photo c.1890 showing the house when it was a tavern known as the Sir Paul Pindar. The entrance to Half Moon Street formerly Half Moon Allen can be seen to the right.


First floor exterior.  Photo Victoria and Albert Collections. Still with glass although this has sadly been removed as it was not contemporaneous with the rest of the façade  Personally I think this was a bad move as with the glass, which was still very old, there was a much better impression of how the house looked in its heyday.  Still I am not an expert. 


Close up of first floor façade.


Second floor of the house.  Glass removed.

Room on the first floor. Etching by John Thomas Smith c.1815.

Façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house now minus the glass.


Sir Paul Pindar  Unknown artist.  1794 Engraving on paper.

Sir Paul Pindar c.1565–1650 was a successful and very wealthy merchant and diplomat  who would go on to be Ambassador to Constantinople – now Istanbul.  Born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, he was the second son of Thomas Pindar of that town and it was the initial intention that he would go to university.  However the young Pindar chose to go down the mercantile route and he became  apprenticed aged 16  to Mr Parvish an Italian merchant.   Paul, who must have made a good impression of himself on his master,  would find himself sent to Venice as his master’s representative where he stayed for the next 15 years.  While there he used his time wisely, prospering and gaining useful knowledge of Italian banking systems.  Robert Ashton, Sir Paul Pindar’s biographer tells us:  ‘this bore fruit in the later years of James I’s reign in Pindar’s interesting, though disregarded, proposal for the establishment of an English national bank which would benefit the crown by furnishingexacte knowledge of the trewe estate of everye perticular man, by meanes wherof dewties might be Imposed proportionable to the effectuall valliditie of mens trewe Estates’ While this consideration alone might account for the failure of such proposals to attract the English mercantile community—at least before 1694—even more significant was Pindar’s suggestion that deposits in the bank would provide a potential source of loanable funds ‘uppon which his Majestie may prevayell at pleazure eyther by Consente or withoute the privitie of the Propryetaryes at all tymes’ (2). 

During his stint as English Ambassador,  which begun about 1611,  he was knighted while on a visit to England in 1620 by James Ist.  He was by this time wealthy enough to have ‘purchased a diamond from Turkey valued at £30,000 which he sold on to James Ist on credit to wear at divers times on days of great solemnity’.   The diamond was next sold to Charles Ist by whom  it was transmitted into funds for securing the safety of  Queen Henrietta Maria and her children during the Civil War (3).   Sir Paul  would finally return to live permanently in England in 1623 after which he would invest much of his wealth into the management of custom farms.   His wealth allowed him to make generous financial gifts including £10,000 towards the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral.  He has been described as an ardent royalist making  massive personal loans to both James Ist and Charles Ist, particularly to the latter in 1638–9 ‘when he advanced in all about £93,000, £8000 of which was for a large pendant diamond for the king in May 1638. ‘This Sir Paul,  observed Sir Edmund Rossingham, ‘never fails the King when he has most need‘.    However Charles’ downfall and execution in 1649 meant that his debts to Sir Paul were never repaid.  This would sadly leave Sir Paul, at the very end of his long life,  with massive debts when he died aged 85 on the 22 August 1650.  He would be buried  on 3 September in his parish church,  St Botolph without Bishopsgate, to which  he had been a generous benefactor.   This church was demolished in 1729 but we do know  his epitaph read he was ‘faithful in negotiation, foreign and domestick, eminent for piety charity, loyalty and prudence’.   He had never married and in his will dated 24 June 1646 he left one-third of his estate to the children of his nephew who had predeceased him, and another third to his executor and kinsman, William Toomes. Tragically in 1655 William Toomes  ‘took his own life after failing to satisfy Pindar’s debts and legacies since, of the £236,000 at which Pindar’s estate had been valued in 1639, desperate debts now preponderated.  Also largely irrecoverable was the final third of the estate, consisting of miscellaneous legacies to friends and relatives (4). 

Although the final months  of Sir Paul likely were troubled with money worries as the reality of not being able to pay his debts kicked in,  I would like to think that he was still in his fine house, looked after and supported by loyal friends.  For he was a kind man and perhaps his only fault was to be too trusting and loyal to people who were not worthy of neither..

  1.  A London Dictionary p.476 Harben H A Harben. 1912.
  2. Pindar, Sir Paul (1565/6–1650) Robert Ashton.  Oxford DNB 3 January 2008. See also BL, Lansdowne MS 108, art. 90.
  3. Medieval Houses in St Giles Cripplegate and St Botolph Bishopsgate.  Rosemary Weinstein. London Topographical Society Journalol. Vol.XXV 1985. 
  4. Pindar, Sir Paul (1565/6–1650). Robert Ashton.  Oxford DNB 3 January 2008

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A delightful artist’s impression of ‘Richard Whittington dispensing his charities’.  Artist Henrietta Ray before 1905 oil on canvas.  Royal exchange.

Even the most disinterested in history children would recognise the name Dick/Richard Whittington and also his best, and only friend,  his cat,  most of them being familiar with the rather delightful folk story, which dates back to the 17th century,  as well as perhaps even more so,  the pantomime.   As they watch and excitedly yell ‘Behind You. …  !’ etc., they are probably unaware that Richard Whittington was a real man who lived in medieval times  and although sadly he did not have a cat he did much good and the results of his benevolence still, astonishingly,  survive up until today.

Richard Whittington c.1350-1423 was born in Pauntley Court Manor House in the small village of  Pauntley , Gloucestershire and presumably he was baptised in the ancient parish church there,  St John the Evangelist.    He  was the son of Sir William Whittington d.1358, a landowner and  Joan Maunsel (1).


Pauntley Court Manor house today.  It was here that Richard Whittington was born c.1350


St John the Evangelist Church, Pauntley, Gloucestershire.  It’s highly likely Richard  was baptised in this ancient church.

It is said  Richard’s father was experiencing some financial difficulty but in any case being the third and youngest son and thus highly unlikely to stand much chance of coming into a useful inheritance he was apprenticed at an unknown date to a London mercer.  The mercers of those times dealt with the wonderful luxurious fabrics worn by the nobility and  well to do:  silk, linen, fustian, worsted, and luxury small goods, and the wealthiest of the trade expected to participate in the export of English wool, woollen cloth, and worsted, and to import the other merceries (2).    While some young men may have ended up bitter,  twisted  and truculent by being sent away from their families to take up a trade instead of effortlessly inheriting the family jewels,  young Richard seems to have taken to it like a duck to water becoming very proficient in his trade but perhaps it is more a modern trait to endlessly whinge about how unfair life can be and how hard done by you are.     He supplied his luxury goods to members of  the royal court and in doing so he  became a favourite of Richard II.   These members of the  nobility included  John of Gaunt,  Thomas of Woodstock, Henry Bolinbroke (the future Henry IV),  the Staffords and ‘royal favourite Robert de Vere to whom he supplied nearly £2,000 worth of mercery’.   The king himself now turned to Richard to supply his wants and needs.  Initially it was quite modest buys including in 1389 £11 for two cloths of gold which the king gifted to two knights who had come down from Scotland as messengers.   However  in 1392-4 Richard’s career as a mercer was on a roll when he sold goods worth £3,474 16s 8 and half pence to the Royal Wardrobe.  These goods includes velvets, cloths of gold, damasks taffetas and gold embroidered velvets.   Richard Whittington had arrived as they say.  Anne Sutton wrote that Richard II and his uncle Thomas of Woodstock were perhaps Richard’s most profit spinning customers.  Clearly the   goods Richard supplied, some from Italy,  must have been exquisite – he has been described by Caroline Barron as a  connoisseur of works of craftsmanship – and when Bolingbroke took the throne as Henry IV,  Richard would continue to supply Henry’s court with luxury wares.    These would include some of the sumptuous  fabrics required for the marriages of the king’s daughters Philippa and Blanche such as 10 cloths of gold for Blanche’s marriage at a total cost of £215 13s 4d and pearls and cloths of gold costing £248 10s 6d for Philippa’s nuptials.  

Besides providing wonderful things he also made many loans to Richard II as well as Henry IV and his son, Henry V.   At the time of Richard II was evicted from the throne he still owed £1,000 to our Richard.  The newly crowned Henry IV agreed that Richard should be repaid this amount.   Richard’s career,  now a very wealthy man, had evolved into that of a successful money lender particularly to kings and those of the nobility including Sir Simon Burley and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset.    From 23 August 1388 to 23 July 1422, he made least 59 separate loans to the Crown of sums ranging from £4 to £2,833 (3).

About 1402 Richard made an advantageous marriage to  Alice, daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn, a wealthy landowner who had no male heirs.  This marriage thus brought with it  the prospect of a generous inheritance.  In 1402 Fitzwaryn actually settled properties in Somerset and Wiltshire upon his daughter and new son-in-law but Richard,  ever preferring liquid capital to property,  offered the titles to his brother-in-law,  John Chideok,  for the sum of £340 (4).  However as things came to pass Alice predeceased both her father and husband.   Sadly there would be no children –  or surviving children –  from the marriage which seems to have been happy and when Alice fell mortally ill in 1409/10 Richard obtained a special licence from the king to bring a renowned Jewish doctor –  Master Thomas Sampson from Mierbeawe  – over from the continent to treat her.  After Alice’s death Richard would remain a widower for the rest of his life. 


Blue plaque outside 20 College Hill, EC4, the site of Richard Whittington’s London house.   College Hill which was first known c.1231 as Pasternosterchurchstreet commemorating the church that stood nearby later shortened to Pasternosterstret by 1265 and then to  ‘La Riole’  c.1303 after the foreign wine merchants to dwelt there named it after La Reole in Burgundy. It has also been known as Whytyngton Colledge.     

Other than his London house he owned only a small handful of properties one of these being  the manor of Over Lypiatt in Gloucestershire.   This particular property however had belonged to Philip Maunsell,  his maternal uncle up until 1395 when it was assigned in satisfaction for a debt of £500 to Richard Whittington,  the celebrated mayor of London.  This property Richard would eventually leave to his brother, Robert (5).


Here are listed just some of the innumerous offices held by Whittington:

Common councillor, Coleman Street Ward 31 July 1384-86

Alderman of Broad Street Ward 12 March  1394- 24,  June 1397.  Lime Street Ward by 13 February  1398

Mayor of London 8 June 1397-13,  October 1398,  13 October 1406-7 and 1419-20.

Sheriff,  London and Middlesex, March 1393-4.

MP for the city of London 1416

Commissions to make arrests, London March,  April, 1394, November 1407; of gaol delivery October  1397, June 1398;  oyer and terminer Sept. 1401,  March,  April,  October 1403, November 1405, May 1406, November, 1407, June, July 1409, May 1414, Feb. 1416, December 1417, November 1418.

To supervise the collection of Peter’s Pence in England August 1409; of inquiry, London January 1412 (liability for taxation), Dec. 1412 (seizure of merchandise),  January 1414 (Lollards at large), July 1418 (possessions of Sir John Oldcastle).

Appointed to to administer revenues for building work at Westminster Abbey December  1413; recruit carpenters for the same March 1414.

Warden, Mercers’ Company 24 June 1395-6, 1401-2, 1408-9

Member of Henry IV’s council 1 Nov. 1399-18,  July 1400.

Collector of the Wool Custom, London 6 Oct. 1401-5,  November 1405, 20 February 1407-26,  July 1410

Receiver General in England for Edward, earl of Rutland, by 7 May 1402

Mayor of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1405.  Calais by 25 Dec. 1406 – 14 July 1413 (6).


Arms of Richard Whittington.  Drawing by E B Price.


Ah! I hear you say, but were not works of charity considered de rigueur for the wealthy of those times.  And yes although that is true Richard was always a generous benefactor,  giving to numerous good causes throughout his life and prior to his death,  so much so that his reputation as such has come down to us through the centuries.

In 1401/02 he donated £6 13s 4d  towards the building of a new nave at Westminster Abbey, perhaps because it was a project of his late patron, Richard II.

In 1409 he purchased the land close to his London home which lay next to his parish church and then acquired a licence to give it in mortmain to the rector, to allow the church to be rebuilt and a cemetery added. The task of rebuilding was completed by his executors.

In 1411 he contributed most of the funds for building and outfitting a library at Greyfriars including the amount of £400 for the books alone. The library at the Guildhall was also to benefit from his largesse.    

He funded a refuge for ‘yong wemen that hadde done amysse in trust of good mendement’  i.e. unmarried mothers at St Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark (7).

He financed numerous new conduits and fountains giving Londoners access to clean water. These included the fountains in St Gile’s Courtyard and north of the church of St Botolph.

Other good works included  the building of a public toilet known as Whittington’s Longhouse which had a total of 128 seats: 64 for men and 64 for women.  This was built on a dock overlooking the Thames in Walbrook Street in the parish of St Martin Vintry.  Survived until the Great Fire 1666 when it was rebuilt albeit on a more modest scale.


When he drew up his will on the 5 September 1421, childless and a widower, he left all to charity other than the above mentioned manor of Over Lypiatt.  The will which is long and very detailed can be found here for anyone who wishes to delve more deeply but here are just a few snippets:

I bequeath £100 to cover the costs of my funeral expenses and for saying vespers after my death, the Placebo and Dirige  and on the following day a requiem mass; together with a monthly remembrance for my soul, the souls of my father, my mother, my wife Alice, and all those to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I bequeath 1d. for every poor man,  woman and child, to be distributed on the day of my funeral

I bequeath 40s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street, London

I bequeath 40s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, London.  I bequeath 40s. towards the structural fabric of St. Alphege church, London, that they may pray for my soul and those of the aforementioned. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of that parish

£10 to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people in the hospitals of St Mary without Bishopsgate, St Mary of Bethlem and St. Thomas in Southwark, and among the lepers of Lock, Hackney, and St Giles without Holborn. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among the poor brothers and sisters of the hospital of Elsing Spital.

For the repair and improvement of roads in bad condition, £100 to be distributed as my executors determine best, where the necessity is most felt.

I bequeath for distribution among those imprisoned in Newgate, Ludgate, Fleet, Marshalsea and the King’s Bench 40s. each week for as long as £500 holds out.

I leave to my executors named below the entire tenement in which I live in the parish of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, London, and all lands and tenements that I hold in the parish of St. Andrew, near Castle Baynard, London, and in the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, as well as in the parish of St. Botolph outside Bishopsgate, in the same city; so that after my death they may sell them as soon as they may conveniently do so and distribute the proceeds for the good of my soul and the souls already mentioned….

I wish that my executors have in their custody a chest, secured with three locks, containing my goods and jewels, to be distributed for the good of my soul; and that none of those who are my executors remove anything from the same except in the presence or with the consent of all as a group. I further wish that my executors maintain and support my household together with meals for my personal servants for one year following my death, as they determine best (8).

Upon his death in March 1423 Whittington was buried in the church he had rebuilt,  St Michael Paternoster Royal,  which stood on the corner of  La Riole,  now College Hill where his house once stood.    This street before it was renamed La Riole was known as Paternosterstret because of the rosaries that were made there and later Whytyngton College   In his will he had requested to be buried on the north side of the altar.   He had rebuilt the church as a collegiate church, that is administered by a college of priests, known as Whittington College, hence the renaming of the lane to College Hill.  This church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but rebuilt.  A stone now marks the site of Richard’s original burial site in the rebuilt church.


Stone marking the site of the burial place and monument of Richard Whittington in the now rebuilt St Michael Paternoster Royal.  Photo

A rather shocking postscript to this story is told by Stow:

‘This Richard Whittington was in this church three times buried,  first by his executors under a fair monument, then in the reign of Edward VI,  the parson of the church, thinking some great riches, as he said, to be buried with him, caused his monument to be broken, his body to be spoiled of his leaden sheet,  and again the second time to be buried,  and in the reign of Queen Mary,  the parishioners were forced forced to take him up to lap him in lead as afore, to bury him the third time and to replace his monument or the like over him again which remaineth and so he resteth’ (9).

It is one of the few times reading the usually very reliable Stow that I hoped he may have got it wrong so awful is it.  I do hope the odious unnamed parson’s remains ended up on a dung heap where they belonged.   But I digress and its best left unsaid what I would really like to say about this vile creature, whose name remains unknown, while our good Richard Whittington lives on after over 500 years.  As Anne Sutton put it so succulently ‘What has survived, to be cherished and turned into a legend after his death, is the sense of civic and humanitarian duty which made him leave his personal fortune to the poor’.   Bravo dear man…you did well.


View of St Michael’s seen from along College Street as it appears today.   College Street,  formerly Elbow/Eldebowe/Bow Lane  should not to be confused with nearby College Hill where Richard Whittington’s house once stood (10).  The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt.  This church was badly damaged when hit by a bomb in 1944 leaving only the walls and tower standing.  As can be seen today these were incorporated when the church was rebuilt.    Re-opened in 1968.  Contains a large glass window commemorating Richard Whittington and his cat.

In 1436 a  fine epitaph was penned for Whittington by the author of The Libelle of Englyshe Polyce :

‘And in worship nowe think I on the sonne Of marchaundy Richarde of Whitingdone, That loodes starre and chefe chosen floure. Whate hathe by hym oure England of honoure, And whate profite hathe bene of his richesse, And yet lasteth dayly in worthinesse, That penne and papere may not me suffice Him to describe, so high he was of prise, Above marchaundis to sett him one the beste! I can no more, but God have hym in reste’  (11).

One last thing.  While it is true Richard Whittington, as far as we know, did not own a cat, its of course also perfectly possible that he did.  After all, then as now,  there is no better way to  to get rid of mices and so forth.  Therefore I would venture to say Richard Whittington did in fact own a cat although of course not the adventurous cat portrayed in panto but no doubt an affectionate and companionable fellow.   It therefore follows surely the Whittington family cat should have some sort of memorial too?  Look no further than Westminster Abbey who erected a stained glass window to Whittington and his cat, depicted here as ginger, on the north side of the nave:   Richard Whittington and his cat shown in the memorial window to

And here we have – drum roll –  the most famous moggie of medieval times –  Richard Whittington’s cat! Westminster abbey on the north side of the nave…

  1. Florilegium Urbanum Whittington’s Charity.  Online article.
  2. Whittington, Richard (Dick) c.1450-1423.  Oxford DNB.  Anne F Sutton
  3. ‘Richard Whittington’, Studies in London Hist. ed. Hollaender and Kellaway.  C M Barron.  See also
  4. Caroline Barron, “Richard Whittington: the man behind the myth”, Studies in London History  ed. A.E.J. Hollaender and William Kellaway, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1969
  5. BHO. A History of the County of Gloucestershire V II. 
  7. Stow p.274.
  8. Online article Florilegium Urbaniam – Religion -Whittington’s Charity.
  9.  Stow p.216.
  10. A Dictionary of London p.164. Editor I. I.  Greaves. London 1916.
  11. Libelle of Englyshe Polyce ed. Warner.

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Gainsborough Old Hall.  Photo thanks to Graham Oxford Photography Street.

Sir Thomas Burgh was the builder  of Gainsborough Hall, as seen today,  after inheriting the original building in 1455 on the death of his mother Elizabeth Percy,  when he was 24 years old.  The building and enhancement, which took place over the course of  20 years, was enabled by  Thomas becoming a very wealthy man ‘through the force of his personality,  sage advice (he was counsellor to three monarchs),  administrative and business acumen and skill in serving four kings in turn – Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor to become the leading magnet in the country (1)   Thomas clearly was one of those adept and charming characters who can both run with the hounds and play with the foxes being awarded lands by Henry VI but later to become and remain one of Edward IV’s favourites. He was appointed Constable of Lincoln and Bolingbroke castles in 1461 – both traditionally Lancastrian prizes –  made an esquire of the king’s body on 2 April 1461 four days after the battle of Towton,  which meant of course he would wait personally on the king in his private chambers,  knighted by February 1463, and was  Master of the Kings Horse by February 1464.    He consolidated the authority of the new dynasty in and around Lincolnshire as Hastings and Herbert where doing in the Midlands and Wales and was similarly rewarded as they were with lands and offices (2). But in those turbulent  times trouble was never far away, and Thomas’ rise and rise had caused resentment, jealousy and anger – then as now one man’s gain could well be another man’s loss.    In late 1469 trouble was brewing in Lincolnshire and this instability was exploited by members of the Welles family led by Richard, Lord Welles,  his son Robert and his brothers-in-law,   Sir Thomas de la Launde  and Sir Thomas Dymmock,  who to settle a private feud went full tonto when they attacked and sacked the Hall.   The Warkworth Chronicle reported ‘the Lorde Willowby,  the Lorde Welles his son,  Thomas Delalond  knyght, and Sere Thomas Dymmoke knyght,  the Kynges  Champyon,  droff oute of Lyncolneschyre  Sere Thomas à Burghe,  a knyght  of the Kynges howse and pullede downe his place and toke all his goodes and cataylle that thei myght find’ (3).  Warkworth may have over egged the pudding slightly with the remark pullede downe his place’ -as pointed out by Nicholas Bennett  – as much of the surviving structure of the Hall predates 1469.  However Emery points out that while it’s possible parts of the Hall were unaffected by the attack  the west range was indeed so damaged that it had to be rebuilt in 1479 (4). Certainly the attack and sacking  must have been extremely violent and a horrendous experience for the inhabitants resulting in Thomas and his family fleeing to Yorkshire. This  volatile situation escalated eventually culminating in  an enraged and galvanised Edward IV marching on Lincolnshire to quell what had now become a full blown rebellion at the Battle of Empingham  – also known as Losecoat Field – near Stamford on the 12th March 1470.  I have only touched lightly here upon the rather confusing toing and froing that took place in the weeks which led to Empingham but for those who would like to delve deeper I can recommend reading The Road to Losecoat Field: The Story of the First Lincolnshire Rebellion by Nicolas Bennett.  After the rebellion – which later became known as the First Lincolnshire Rising –  had been crushed and Lord Welles executed, Thomas’ wealth was enhanced by the reversion of the lands forfeited by the executed lord.   Thomas’ powers would be  eclipsed for a while with the readeption of Henry VI until Edward’s triumphant return to the throne in 1471.  When Edward died rather suddenly in 1483 and Richard III became king Thomas was able to seamlessly and successfully transfer himself to the new king’s household retaining all his old offices.  On October 10th 1483 Richard III would spend the night at the Hall on his way to London from York.  That night Richard dictated a letter to a John Crackenthorppe, Receyvor,  instructing him to pay Humphrey Metcalfe, a servant, ‘for thexpenses of oure housholde at oure Castelle of Carlile the somme of fyve hundreth markes’ signing off with Yevene etc at Gaynesburghe the xth day of Octobre the furst yere of oure Reigne (5).  Richard would go on to  create  Thomas a Knight of the Garter.   However following the death of Richard at Bosworth in 1485 –  a battle at  which there is no indication Thomas was present  –   the accession of Henry Tudor brought about the loss of his gains from Richard as well as several of his Lincolnshire offices.  Nevertheless he did manage to maintain his position of royal councillor – no doubt Henry recognised his skills and wisdom – and in 1487 he received a personal summons to parliament.  Rosemary Horrox wrote there is no evidence he took his seat in the Lords and in his will he described himself simply as ‘Thomas Burgh knight‘ (6). IMG_9145

Thomas died on the 18th March 1496, a goodly life span for those times and still an extremely wealthy man.  He requested in his will that  his body was to be buried next to his wife Margaret –  daughter of Thomas, Lord Ros/Roos who had died on 10th December 1488 –  in the chapel he had built in the nearby All Saints Parish Church in  Gainsborough  – ‘wheresoever it happen to decease in my newe chapel’   Besides requesting that a perpetual chantry was to be founded for himself, Margaret,  his parents, his ancestors and all Christian souls he also left  instructions on the design of the tomb he wanted built for himself and his wife at the north end of the altar in his chapel.   Today only the tower of the medieval church remains today having been drastically rebuilt in the 18th century.  I have been unable to discover what became of the tomb of Thomas and his wife.  Perhaps they still lie there in a vault but sadly I fear the worst.


All Hallows Church Gainsborough where Sir Thomas Burgh asked to be buried next to his wife.   Only the tower of the medieval church remains the rest is Georgian.   Thomas would have known this church very well and passed regularly through the old doorway shown here.  



 A benign carved lion peers down from over an old doorway.  Photo Lee Beel@Alamy

There is no sweeping grand entrance to Gainsborough Old Hall, no avenue of ancient oaks or sheep safely grazing that you find with many  other similar ancient and impressive manor houses.   Gainsborough Old Hall has been aptly described by Anthony Emery as a ‘major country house in an urban setting.  When it was first built in the early 15th century it stood on the edge of a small inland port but, with the passage of time,  it now stands slap bang  in the middle of a depressing 19th century agricultural town’.   Having never been to Gainsborough I cannot really say, but to be honest,  on the whole time and progress does not deal kindly with architecture especially that which is centuries old and indeed in the 1960s some bright spark suggested the Hall be demolished to make way for a car park.   The Hall had managed to retain much of its original surroundings with its grounds extending to the parish church, the River Trent to the west and open land to the north until the arrival of the late 19th century when warehouses rose between the Hall and the river and, rather shockingly,  housing estates swallowed up the Hall’s grounds.  Nevertheless the Hall, now standing on ‘a lawn in a back street’,  has miraculously survived and make no mistake about it – it is undeniably a truly wonderful survivor and has been described, justifiably experts say,  as ‘one of the country’s best preserved medieval manors’.  

Leyland tell us that the Hall was originally surrounded by a moat.  This may be why two 19th century houses to the immediate north of the hall  suffered from subsidence probably as a result of poor infilling of the moat when it was emptied.  As was the usual plan for  later medieval  manor houses of that period  the private apartments would have been in the east range facing the quieter  inner court and furthest away from the main entrance.   For the greater part English oak was used for the close studded timber framing that is in abundance and which was  almost certainly sourced locally from the great swathe of forest that once formed a part of the surrounding estate  although towards the end of the period of building more brick was used (6).

The Great Hall.


The Great Hall Looking towards the High Table.  Photo Craig Thornber

In the time of Thomas the floor of the Great Hall was not tiled as it is today but would have been of compressed earth which sometimes would have been ‘consolidated by the addition of a layer of fresh ox blood’ . It would then have been strewn with rushes known as thresh which soaked up spillages and was easily scooped up and replaced with fresh when required.  Of note is the beautiful dressed stone bay window with Perpendicular  traceried openings.


The bay window with its perpendicular tracery in the Great Hall.  Photo Ben Abel@Flickr


 The medieval bay window from the exterior.  Photo Glass Angel@Flickr.

As usual with great halls from the period at one end was the dais on which the lord’s table stood and at the other end were doors leading, conveniently,  to the kitchen, buttery and pantry.  There may also have been a minstrels gallery above these doors.  Heating was via an open fire in the the middle of the hall supplement by open braziers dotted around.  The smoke would have escaped through an open louvre in the the roof, the original of  which has now been moved to a bedroom in the tower.

The Kitchen

The kitchen is amongst the best preserved medieval kitchens in England with two massive fireplaces.  There is also a twin oven built into one of the walls possibly for pastries etc., Looking up the chimney by the built in ovens there can be seen the bricks jutting out that aided the young boys sent up to ‘sweep them’.   A louvre similar to that in the Great Hall as well as  helping  to get rid of the excess steam, smoke and fumes would also give some extra light.   This medieval louvre has not survived and the one seen today is 19th century.   Ladders would have led to the servants quarters.


The Medieval Kitchen.  Photo

The Tower and East Range

It is believed that the Tower was added to the East range in the mid 1480s.   Consisting of three floors connected by a spiral stone staircase with a room and garderobe on each one it’s believed the Tower may have been used for Thomas’ family.   Mention is made of a tower in Thomas’ will  ‘And also I will if my son Thomas  life at the day of my buriell that he have the bedde of the lowe tower and hanging and counterpoint of the said towere’


Unlike other buildings from the period where the rooms were generally ‘linked’ the Hall has a number of interesting  and atmospheric corridors.  The one on the East wing is reputed to be haunted by a female ghost, dressed in grey, obvs, who after reaching the leaded lights changes direction and heads through a doorway leading towards the Tower.  It has been suggested this may be the ghost of Queen Catherine Howard, who stayed at the Hall with her spouse, the fragrant Henry VIII.  The guide book suggests if you should happen upon her do ask her who she and solve the mystery.  Yikes and Not A Chance!


One of the intriguing passage ways at the Hall, one of which is said to be haunted by a lady in a grey dress.   Perhaps not somewhere you would like to linger when night falls and the shadows lengthen…

I have only touched briefly here upon Gainsborough Old Hall – home to Sir Thomas Burgh and his family during the period covering his life there.  There is much more should you wish to delve including the three day visit by Henry VIII and his ill fated wife, Catherine Howard in August 1541.  If ever you should chance up that way a visit surely a visit to check out Gainsborough Old Hall should be high on the list of Interesting Places To Visit!

  1. Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Volume II.  p.p.243-250. Anthony Emery.
  2. Ibid.
  3. A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth by John Warkworth.  
  4.  The Road to Losecoat Field: The story of the first Lincolnshire Rising. Nicholas Bennett. Article in The Ricardian Vol XXX 2020. 
  5.  Harleian Manuscript 433 Vol II p.28.  Ed Rosemary Horrox and P W Hammond.
  6. Burgh, Thomas, Baron Burgh (c.1430-1496). Rosemary Horrox.
  7. Gainsborough Old Hall Guide Book. p.3.Sue Allen

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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.







Shrine of many ribbons at the entrance to Crossbones Cemetery.  Photo Kay Nicols. 

It’s harder to find a more sadder place in South London than the site of Crossbones Burial Ground, Redcross Way,  which is a side street tucked away off the busy Borough High Street, South London.   It’s safe to say that many Londoners are not aware about the existence of this sad place so hidden away is it.  John Stow first mentioned the burial place in 1598 in his History of London.   He wrote “ I have read of ancient men of good credit report that single women were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Womens churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church.”(1).

Those buried there were the poorest of society and predominantly women and children. A large number of these women were prostitutes known as ‘Winchester Geese‘  so named because the Lord of Manor at that time was the Bishop of Winchester who  licensed  and taxed the Southwark brothels which lay just outside of the stricter jurisdiction of the City of London.    This taxation secured another source of income for  the church to add to their ever burgeoning coffers.  The crown also tried to regulate the Southwark brothels then known as ‘stews‘ and In 1161, Henry II laid down 39 rules known as the “Ordinances Touching the Government of the Stewholders in Southwark Under the Direction of the Bishop of Winchester.  These rules included :

No stewholder was to prevent his ‘geese’ from entering or leaving the premises at will.  Each prostitute had to pay 14 pence per week for her chamber.

Constables were to search each brothel regularly to check that no woman was being held there against her wishes.  Any such woman was to be escorted to safety and out of reach of her stewholder.

No stewholder was  to lend one of his prostitutes more than 6 shillings and  8d.  This was designed to prevent girls from being enslaved by running up large debts.

No prostitute to be prevented from boarding wherever she wished.

No stew to open for business on a religious holiday except between the hours of noon and 2 pm.

No stewholder to knowingly accept a nun or another man’s wife for whoring without the Bishop’s permission….I know.. I know…you couldn’t make it up…!

No stewholder was to imprison any customers on the premises for not paying their bills.

No prostitute to wear an apron which was the garment of a respectable woman

Prostitutes were not allowed to throw stones or pull faces at passers by if they refused to enter the stew.(2)

Nevertheless completely unabashed from profiting financially from their Winchester Geese the church ordained that they would not be allowed burial in consecrated land.  In such highly religious times this must have been devastating for those unfortunates who no doubt  would have found it impossible to extricate themselves from prostitution.     After 1769 as well as the Winchester Geese the cemetery also became the last resting place of paupers, people who had died in the local work house, and unfortunates found drowned in the River Thames.     Over the centuries they were buried there, layer upon sad layer, and in  1832 a letter from parish authorities had noted the ground was “so very full of coffins that it is necessary to bury within two feet of the surface,” and that “the effluviem is so very offensive that we fear the consequences may be very injurious to the surrounding neighborhood.”(3). 

In 1853 following a petition made by a Mrs Gwilt, involvement by the Board of Health and finally on orders from Lord Palmerstone,  all future burials  were stopped on the grounds that the site was ‘completely overcharged with dead’.

   Incredibly in 1883 the site was sold as a building site.  However on the 10th November 1883,   Lord Brabazon – bless him – fired off a furious letter to the Times demanding the burial site be saved from any further desecration and the area retained as an open space for the use and enjoyment of the people. For a while it was used in the 20th century as a timber yard and for an ever shorter while,  a fair ground.  But locals remembered the original use of the land and in the 1990s,  when an offshoot of the building of the Jubilee Line was about to be built,  an opportunity arose to  excavate a small area to the east and around 140 bodies were recovered.  Tests carried out  by the Museum of London  on these remains found them in the main  to be infected with smallpox, tuberculosis, osteoarthritis and scurvy (4). These remains found just below todays surface  are thought to date from the last 50 years that the site was in use i.e. 1800 to 1853. Over one third of the remains recovered consisted  of perinatal infants,  that is babies who died immediately before or very soon after birth with individuals under 1 year of age making up a further 11%, indicating a high infant mortality rate (5).   The remaining undisturbed burials now lay in a more peaceful setting through the efforts of the Friends of Crossbones who have transformed the area into a peaceful haven and communal garden.

One of the entrances known poignantly  as the Goose Wing entrance has a wooden carving designed by local wood carver Arthur de Mowbray which represents the spirit of Crossbones – a goose stretching her wings and protecting her outcast children –  as well as visitors to the site..


Entrance known as Goose Entrance representing the spirit of Crossbones,  a goose with outstretched wings protecting her outcast children as well as visitors to the site. Photo

Thanks to History Cold Case, a history documentary that went out in 2018,  the identity of one of the  skeletons – that of a young woman whose remains were excavated by the Museum of London in 1992 from the area in the cemetery where an electrical substation was to be built for the Jubilee Line extension – has been discovered.  The archaeologists discovered that although the latest burials ie.1830-1853,  discovered not far from the surface , had been made in coffins,  they were of the poorest quality recycled wood.  Equipped with the  approximate date of the young woman’s burial  further investigation  by a team of experts enabled her to be identified.  Her name was Elizabeth Marshall.  Careful analysis of her remains would reveal Elizabeth would not have lived  beyond her 19th year and possibly had died as young as 15 or 16.  Life had dealt Elizabeth the most cruelest set of cards for her body, as well as  her face had been  ravished by syphilis.  Not one bone in her body was untouched by the disease and her suffering must have been intense.  As each expert revealed their findings the facts became more and more sadder.   Her syphilis was so advanced that she must have have contracted it when she was but a child.  To add to Elizabeth’s woes, her contraction of syphilis would mean that she was in the lowest class of prostitute – to put it bluntly the stage where prostitute meets beggar.   Her height of just 4′ 7″ would indicate that she was malnourished throughout most of her short life as would the fact that she also suffered from rickets.   She was tracked down as dying on the 15th August 1851 in Magdalen Ward which was the ward for women suffering from venereal disease in St Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark.  But it was not the syphillis that had finally killed Elizabeth but pneumonia  Her address was given as St Thomas’ so it is likely that she was homeless,  although her body did show signs of high levels of mercury,  so at one time she had received ‘treatment’ in an attempt to cure her.  But of course there was no cure.  And Elizabeth, I hope she finally found the peace and tranquility that had eluded her during her lifetime.    Professor Caroline Wilkinson, who recreated the face of Richard III, has recreated Elizabeth’s face.   For those that would like to watch the programme themselves, I recommend it, here is the link:

There is a vigil held on the 23rd day of every month at the Ribbon Gates on Redcross Way, SE1,  for those interested in visiting the burial ground and paying their respects.

Finally I am indebted to the various articles on Crossbones including, a history of the site to found here

1.  A Survey of London Written in the Year 1598. p.341. John Stow

2. Birth of the Liberty. Paul Slade

3. The London Graveyard that Became a Memorial for the City’s Seedier Past. Bess Lovejoy. Smithsonian Magazine.  Article 2014.

4. Brickley and Miles.  The Cross Bones Burial Ground. 1999.  MoLAS

5.  See The Museum of London’s website for info 

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in:

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.





Ralph Neville, 2nd Earl of Westmorland c.1406-1484 and one of his wives.  Fine oak effigy once in Brancepeth Church, County Durham.  Destroyed 1998. Drawn by Charles Stothard c.1815.

An interesting life if somewhat tinged by tragedy.    Ralph Neville 2nd Earl of Westmorland, born at Cockermouth in Cumbria (c.1406-1485) was the son of Lord John Neville (b.c1387) who died in Verneuil, possibly of dysentery,  while campaigning in France in 1420 and Elizabeth Holand (b.c.1388 d. 4 January 1423) daughter of Thomas Holand, Earl of Kent.  Lord John was the son and heir of the famous Ralph 1st Earl of Westmorland by his first wife Margaret Stafford.  It was the children Ralph 1st Earl had with Margaret that he would later go on to largely disinherit in favour of the children from his second wife Joan Beaufort.    Ralph,  the 1st Earl who died in 1425 thus outlived his heir John.  Westmorland’s grandson,  the second earl and  the Ralph (I’ll call him Ralph II from now on) we are concerned with here may have been an invalid if historians including Chrimes and W E Hampton are correct. (1)  It has to be said the face on the effigy, which appeared to be an attempt at a true likeness, seems to depict the face of a man who has endured illness and suffering or perhaps just reflects, on the other hand, a man who had reached a ripe old age.   A J Pollard suggests that in his later life Ralph may have succumbed to some kind of mental illness pointing out that William Worcestre noted in his Itinerary that he was ‘simple-minded‘ (innocens homo) and that Sir Thomas Neville, his younger brother (d. c.1461), once had his guardianship. ‘ However James Petre remains unconvinced and declaring the theory ‘unfounded’  because Worcestre’s remark remains the only reference there is to the possibility that Ralph II may have been incapacitated in some way either mentally or physically.   If Ralph did indeed suffer from some sort of ill health  then to add to his woes he had ‘inherited an earldom shorn of its  richest possessions through the influence of his grandfather’s second wife Joan Beaufort.’   Prof Ross explains it well….  ‘The old earl diverted most of the great Nevill estates to his second wife, Joan Beaufort, and so through her to their eldest son Richard, thus largely disinheriting young Ralph. By an elaborate series of fines and conveyances to trustees, the earl succeeded in depriving his grandson, Ralph, . . . of the bulk of the lands in favour of Joan, through whom they were transmitted to the younger branch of the family. . . . Ralph was left in possession only of the lordship of Brancepeth, County Durham, some manors in Lincolnshire, the Nevill Inn, Silver Street in London and some property in Ripon. To Joan went the original Nevill lordships of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire and Raby in Durham along with the family estates in Westmorland and Essex’

The long and unequal struggle to regain  the major part of  his inheritance  ‘which had been settled by his grandfather on his step-grandmother, and their family ‘ would dominate Ralph’s life with him claiming that his expected income of  £2600 had been reduced to £400 p.a. (2) Ralph II’s first wife –  who he married on the 7 May 1426, at Roche Abbey –  was Elizabeth Percy (b.c.1392 d.1436) daughter of the famous Henry Percy – who earned himself the sobriquet of ‘Hotspur’  – and widow of John,  Lord Clifford.  Ralph and Elizabeth would have a son John, named after his grandfather.  John was to die in 1450 of unknown causes.  The  death of his heir  must have brought fresh devastation to Ralph in an already troubled life.  John’s date of birth is unknown although he was married to Anne Holand daughter of the Duke of Exeter and suggestions of his age when he died range from early teens to early twenties.   The marriage was said to have been unconsummated which would indicate the bride and groom were both underage although his will makes it clear they shared a household.  This will has survived and makes poignant reading.  He requested to  ‘be buriede in the chirch in Hautenprice with in the quere in the mydds of the chauncell’ i.e. in the church of Haltemprice Priory, Yorkshire.  Hardly anything remains of the Priory today except perhaps a doorway leading into a now ruined farm house.  John made further requests leaving his ‘wiff all ye money that is due to me by my said lorde hir fadir. Also I bequeth all my furrs to my wiff Anne. Also I will that my said wiff have holly all the lyflode yat sche was indued inne even like as I have itt’.   This money owed to him by his father in law was from his wife’s marriage portion and would suggest that they had not been married long.  Requests were made for his servants to be paid, one of them Thomas Prowfott  for the rest of his life.  A request was made that  ‘myn executours ordayn an honest and a kunnyng prest to synge for my soule a twelmoneth, and yat he have for his sallary x. marc ‘and a horse by the name of Lyard Neville was bequeathed to the place where his body had lain at rest.   And thus John ‘the hope of a princely house’ was gone (3). The young widowed Anne Holand would go on to marry Sir John Neville, her dead husband’s uncle and their son Ralph – please  keep up at the back dear reader – would go on to become the third Earl.   This Sir John would die at the battle of Towton in 1461.  If Ralph II had his hopes dashed with the early death of his son his hopes were further dashed, on the whole, when he sought to have his grievances addressed concerning the unfair legacy left by his grandfather.  Ralph could not overcome the combined might of the junior branch of the Neville family led by a formidable Joan  Beaufort, his step grandmother, and her eldest son Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury.  After the death of Joan in November 1440 Raby was returned to Ralph but at a heavy price.  From this time forward Ralph who now lacked any ‘confidence in the impartiality of the royal council’ seemed to accept the inevitable and he played no future significant role in politics although he would still be included on every commission of the peace for Westmorland ‘from 1432 to 1459, every one for Northumberland and the North Riding from 1437 to 1460 and every one, but one, for the East Riding from 1443 to 1460.’ (4).  

By his second wife  Margaret Cobham (d.somewhere between 1466-1471)  daughter to Reginald Cobham (and  niece to the infamous Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester who would go on to be imprisoned for life after being found guilty of witchcraft)  Ralph would have but one child, a daughter named Margaret after her mother,  who died in infancy.   Although Ralph’s was a remarkably long life for those times, dying aged about 77, it was also a stressful one, with perhaps more than a fair share of tragedy,  when added to the equation of a life possibly blighted by both mental and physical ill health there were the long standing  repercussions resonating from the unjustness of his grandfather’s legacy to contend with.   Whatever his grandfather’s motives were – he suffered from a  complete  lack of  hindsight, as we all do –    his plans proved to be the catalyst for disaster for both branches of his family,  and there can be no dispute that the treatment of his family from his first marriage, in particular the second earl,  was woefully shabby, shabby, shabby….   This injustice of what amounted to the disinheriting of his sons by his first marriage would lead to years of  turmoil, destruction and bloodshed.  As J L Laynesmith puts it in her biography of Cicely Neville this injustice would ‘inevitably set generations of Nevilles at odds with one another and contributed to the baronial infighting of the Wars of the Roses’.  W E Hampton wrote:‘Ironically,  the brilliant and unjustly favoured offspring of his second marriage were to bring about the destruction of the houses of Lancaster and Beaufort while the issue of the first marriage, although injured by their stepmother,  were to support Lancaster and Beaufort with results disastrous to themselves’. (5)

For those who would like to go more in depth regarding the convoluted ups and downs of the arguments etc., that raged over the years emanating from the injustice of Ralph 1st Earl of Westmorland’s legacy I can recommend two Richardian articles available on line.  They are The Nevilles of Brancepeth and Raby 1425-1499. Part I 1425-1469. Nevill v Nevill. James Petre  and  The Nevills of Brancepeth and Raby 1425—1499. Part II 1470—1499: Recovery and Collapse James Petre.

Ralph 2nd Earl of Westmorland’s Burial Place. St Brandon’s Church Brancepeth.

St Brandon’s Church standing close by Brancepeth Castle and where Ralph’s grandmother Margaret Stafford had chosen to be buried, had stood for over 1000 years but tragically suffered from a catastrophic fire on the 16th September 1998 apparently due to an electrical fault.  The fire was described by Pevsner as ‘Probably the greatest single loss of the North East’s cultural heritage in the 20th century.’  Included in the heartbreaking losses were much wonderful medieval wood carving including the fine oak effigies of Ralph and one of his wives.    These effigies, possibly a pattern for an alabaster monument which may never have been completed through lack of funds, although originally on a tomb chest,  had at some time been placed upon the floor of the south side of the chancel.  Decent photographs of the monument have proved impossible to track down but we are indebted to Charles Stothard who made  beautiful engravings of the effigy when it still retained  some of its colour in the early 19th century. 


Another view of Stothard’s engraving…


Closeup of the beautiful artistic skill of Stothard in Ralph’s intricate belt buckle. 


The clearest photo I have been able to trace of the oak monument to Ralph and wife before its destruction.  Photo thanks to jmc4 Church Explorer.


Brancepeth Castle – A Neville Residence.


The Neville Tower, Link Block and Bulmer Tower at Brancepeth Castle, County Durham.

This range of buildings are the last remaining medieval remnants of the once majestic Brancepeth Castle which was first mentioned in 1216.  These were where the private apartments of the Nevilles were located and where Ralph II spent the the bulk of his latter years.   Of this range the ground floor of Bulmer Tower, with a large vaulted chamber lit by several windows,  is the least altered of the apartments although the upper floor was much altered by the 19th century architect John Paterson who we will return to later.    The  Neville Tower, which has managed to retain its original vaulting, had a bed chamber located on the top floor.  The original approach to these apartments from the courtyard has sadly been destroyed perhaps in the 16th century.  This courtyard entered via a ‘great toure‘ with a gateway was mentioned by Leland on his visit in 1534 when he noted the courtyard and its entrance was the castle’s greatest ‘pleasure‘.    The remainder of the castle was doomed by the endeavours of an over enthusiastic 19th century architect,  John Paterson.  Anthony Emery, the noted architectural historian,  explains that the additions by Paterson are so ‘overwhelming that they smother any appreciation of this important late mediaeval residence.   Unfortunately Patterson possessed little understanding of mediaeval design and form,  limited feelings for mediaeval workmanship and no appreciation for decoration or texture.   The diagonally machine-tooled stone use throughout his work has been admirably likened by Pevsner to the patterning of tweed cloth,   The result is stage scenery of the most dismal sort’ (6)   

And so we leave Sir Ralph Neville, 2nd Earl of Westmorland to his rest.  Let us hope his mortal remains still rest safely and peacefully in a hard to access vault somewhere in St Brandon’s church.  Let’s  also hope besides the enormous amounts of disappointments he encountered during his lifetime there were moments peppered with joy, perhaps in his marriages and his young children,  and  especially in the small but important victories  he gained from time to time.  

An archaeological report –  frustratingly no mention of medieval burials –  made since the fire in St Brandon’s , can be found here.

1. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.49. W E Hampton

2. Neville, Ralph, second earl of Westmorland. Oxford Dictionery of National Biography 23 September 2004 A J Pollard.

3. Testamentum Domini Johannis Nevill Militis, Filii et Heredis Radulphi Comitis Westmerland”, Test Ebor vol. 2, p.146

4. The Nevills of Brancepeth and Baby 1425—1499. Part I 1425-1469: Nevill v Nevill Ricardian article December 1981 James Petrie

5. Memorials of the Wars of The Roses p.49. W E Hampton.

6. Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales. Vol.1. Northern England. p.56 Anthony Emery.








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