Pages 13-14

Survey of London Monograph 9, Crosby Place. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1908.

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It is a fact usually forgotten that throughout the middle ages London was one of the most beautiful towns in Christendom. A combination of circumstances brought about this happy result. In those days the tidal river (to which, indeed, it owed its existence), just broad enough for the finest aërial effects, was spanned by a bridge more picturesque than the Ponte Vecchio at Florence or the Rialto. On the banks of the Thames were stately buildings, and along the river there must have been a constant passing and repassing of decorated barges owned by great people, of craft laden with merchandize, and of boats innumerable plying for hire. From time to time sports of various kinds and water pageants gave brightness to the scene. It had its dark side, too, when some unfortunate being was hurried to Traitor's Gate, the entrance by water to the Tower of London, which still survives to show us what a great Norman fortress of rare character was like.

The City, standing for the most part on low hills, was richly furnished with ecclesiastical buildings both within and without the defensive walls, these latter a legacy of the Romans, which existed in good condition, being thoroughly repaired as late as the year 1476, in the mayoralty of Sir Ralph Joceline. On about the highest point within this boundary stood old St. Paul's Cathedral, its steeple with lofty spire crowning and dominating the whole. Of the hundred and thirteen parish churches mentioned by Fabyan, the chronicler, we still have eight: to these may be added part of Austin Friars' church, the Norman crypt of St.Mary-le-Bow, and a few other fragments, for the most part drastically restored.

The Guildhall was early the centre of civic life. By the first quarter of the 15th century it had already been to a large extent "new edyfied and of an olde lytell cottage made into a fayre and goodly house." Of this rebuilding the fine crypt and porch and part of the walls still remain, but the many halls of the City Companies almost without exception perished in the Great Fire, or in process of time have been replaced by modern structures, the only traces of mediæval work in them spared to us being portions of Merchant Taylors' Hall, Threadneedle Street.

Thus ancient public buildings in the City are few and far between, while, owing to a variety of causes, the private houses of citizens will soon altogether have disappeared. These were chiefly of timber or half-timbered construction. Stow, writing in 1598, records the existence of stone mansions, but as of something remarkable and uncommon. Of such mansions none seems to have roused his admiration more than "the great house called Crosby Place," the finest of its time in London, of which the hall, now, alas! delivered over to the tender mercies of the housebreaker, was one of the best examples we possessed of the domestic architecture of England in the 15th century. The building was also of extreme interest in connection with past events and personages. Shakespeare must have known it well, and it had been in the hands of royalty, of famous citizens, of high nobles, of many foreign ministers and envoys, and of at least one belonging to the first rank of Englishmen. The following historical account is supplemented by a description of the building from the pen of Mr. W.D. Caröe, F.S.A., who has made great efforts to save it from destruction. For the notes on the various records that furnish material for its architectural and topographical history we are chiefly indebted to Mr. Walter H. Godfrey.


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