Book 2, Ch. 27: Tower Ward

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

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John Noorthouck, 'Book 2, Ch. 27: Tower Ward', in A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark( London, 1773), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

John Noorthouck, 'Book 2, Ch. 27: Tower Ward', in A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark( London, 1773), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

John Noorthouck. "Book 2, Ch. 27: Tower Ward". A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. (London, 1773), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.

In this section


Tower-street ward.


Tower-street, which gives name to this ward, is so called from the circumstance of its leading in a direct line to the principal entrance of the Tower. The ward is bounded on the east by Tower-hill and by Aldgate ward; on the north by Langbourn ward; on the west by Billingsgate ward; and on the south by the river Thames. Within these boundaries are contained Towerstreet, a part of Thames-street, Seething-lane, Mark-lane, Mincing-lane, Hart-street, Idle-lane, St. Dunstan's-hill, Harp-lane, Water-lane, Beer-lane, with many others, and a considerable number of courts and alleys.

Figure 27:

Plan of Tower ward

Custom House.

The building of most consideration in this ward, is the Custom House for the port of London. It is situated near the east end of Thames-street, with its front open to the river. Formerly the business of the Customs was transacted in a more irregular manner at Billingsgate; where we have an account of customs imposed on imports by king Ethelred in the year 979 (fn. 1) : but in the reign of queen Elizabeth a building was erected here for this purpose. In the year 1559, an act being passed that goods should be no where landed, but in such places as were appointed by the commissioners of the revenue (fn. 2), this was the spot fixed upon for the entries in the port of London; and here a Custom House was ordered to be erected: it was however destroyed by fire with the rest of the city in 1666, and was rebuilt with additions two years after by king Charles II. in a much more magnificent and commodious manner, at the expence of 10,000l. but that edifice being also destroyed in the same manner in 1718, the structure was erected in its place.

Figure 28:

Custom House and Excise Office

This edifice is substantially built with brick and stone, and has underneath and on each side, large warehouses for the reception of goods on the public account. The side of the Thames, for a great extent, is filled with wharfs, keys, and cranes for landing them. The Custom House is 189 feet in length: the center is 27 feet deep, and the wings considerably more. The center stands back from the river; the wings approach much nearer to it, and the building is judiciously and handsomely decorated with the orders of architecture: under the wings is a colonade of the Tuscan order, and the upper story is ornamented with Ionic columns and pediments. It consists of two floors, in the uppermost of which is a magnificent room fifteen feet high, that runs almost the whole length of the building: this is called the Long Room, and here sit the commissioners of the customs, with their officers and clerks. The inner part is well disposed, and sufficiently enlightened; and the entrances are so well contrived, as to answer all the purposes of convenience (fn. 3).

The business transacted here is under the management of nine commissioners, whose authority extends over all the ports of England; and whose salaries are 1000l. per annum each. The customs imposed on goods are of a very complicated nature, and depend upon a great number of acts of parliament, in which alterations are made every year more or less, as commercial circumstances vary. Hence there are few who know how to clear goods at the Custom House, without employing one of those brokers who regularly attend in the Long Room to transact business of this nature by commission.

Trinity House.

About the middle of Water-lane, on the west side, stands the Trinity house, belonging to the fraternity of the Holy Trinity in the parish of Deptford Strond. This society was founded in the year 1515, by Sir Thomas Spert, knt. comptroller of the navy to Henry VIII. for the regulation of seamen and the convenience of ships and mariners on our coasts. They were incorporated by the abovementioned prince, who confirmed to them not only the ancient rights and privileges of the company of Mariners of England, which had been incorporated before; but also their several possessions at Deptford. King James II. in the year 1685, confirmed all that his predecessors had done in favour of this society, by the name of The master, wardens, and assistants of the guild or fraternity of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the parish of Deptford Strond, in the county of Kent. At present the corporation is governed by a master, 4 wardens, 8 assistants, and 18 elder brethren. The inferior members of this society are called younger brethren; into which number any master or mate, skilled in navigation, may be admitted, until vacancies happen among the elder brethren.

The master, wardens, assistants, and elder brethren, are invested, by act of parliament, with power to examine the mathematical children of Christ'shospital (fn. 4); to examine the masters of his majesty's ships of war; to appoint pilots in and out of the river Thames; to fine such as act in those capacities without their leave, to settle the rules of pilotage, to erect light-houses and sea-marks upon the coasts of this kingdom for the security of navigation, and to receive one halfpenny a ton for every such light and mark; to licence poor mariners (non-freemen) to ply on the Thames; to prevent aliens from serving in English ships; to punish seamen for desertion or mutiny in the merchants service; and to hear and determine the complaints of officers and seamen in the said service, subject to an appeal to the Lords of the admiralty. They are intrusted with the ballast-office for cleaning and deepening the river Thames, by taking ballast from thence to supply all ships that sail out of the Thames, at the rate of 1s. a ton, brought to the ship's side. Their estates and incomes are so considerable, that they relieve about 3000 poor seamen, their widows, and orphans, at the expence of 6000l. and upward annually. They have four alms-houses; two at Deptford, and two at Mile end.

This house has been twice burnt down; once at the fire of London, and the last time in the year 1718. Among the curiosities preserved in the hall, is a flag taken from the Spaniards by Sir Francis Drake, whose picture is also there: a large and exact model of a ship entirely rigged; two large globes; and in the parlour are five drawings curiously performed by the pen, of several engagements at sea in the reign of king Charles II.

Corn Exchange.

On the east side of Mark-lane, near Tower-street, is the building erected some few years since for a Corn Exchange; the corn market having been before held at Bear key. From the street there is an ascent of three steps to a range of eight lofty Doric columns, those at the corners being coupled; between them are iron rails, and three iron gates. These columns, with two others on the inside, support a plain building two stories high, which contains two coffee houses, to which there are ascents by a flight of handsome stone steps on each hand underneath the edifice. On entering the iron gates you pass by these steps into a small square paved all over with broad stones: this is surrounded by a colonade, composed of six columns on each side, and four at the ends, reckoning the corners twice. Above the entablature is a handsome balustrade surrounding the whole square, with an elegant vase placed over each column. The space around within the colonade is very broad, with sash windows on the top, to give the greater light to the cornfactors who sit round the court below. Each has a kind of desk before him, on which are several handfuls of corn, and from these small samples are every market day sold many thousands of quarters.

Coal meters office.

In Church-alley St. Dunstan's hill stands the Coal Meters office; where the upper coal meters enter all the ships that arrive in the port of London with coals, and the quantity measured or weighed: as well to ascertain the duties to be paid, as to prevent impositions and frauds with respect to the subject.

Clothworkers hall.

Near the north east end of Mincing-lane is situated Clothworkers-hall, a neat brick building, with fluted columns crowned with Corinthian capitals of stone. The great hall is a lofty room, wainscotted to the ceiling, where is curious fret-work. The skreen at the south end is of oak, adorned with four pilasters, their entablature and compass pediment of the Corinthian order, enriched with their arms and palm branches. The west end is adorned with the figures of king James and king Charles I. richly carved, as big as life, in their robes, with regalia, all gilt and highly finished; a spacious window of stained glass; and the king's arms; also those of Sir John Robinson, Bart. lieutenant of the Tower of London, lord-mayor of the city in the year 1663, and president of the artillery company.

Bakers hall.

In Hart-lane Tower-street, is Bakers-hall, a plain building, where formerly stood the house of John Chicheley, chamberlain of London.

St. Dunstans in the East.

Between Idle-lane and St. Dunstan's-hill stands the parish church of St. Dunstan's in the East, so distinguished from St. Dunstan's in Fleet-street, which is denominated in the west. The patronage of this church was antiently in the prior and canons of Canterbury, who in the year 1365 transferred it to their archbishop, in whose successors it remains as one of their peculiars. The fire of London, in 1666, did not so far hurt this church as to prevent its being put into good repair, within 18 months, for divine service. The steeple was delayed ten years longer. It is built in the modern gothic style, 87 feet in length, 63 in breadth, and 33 in height to the roof; is well enlightened, and agreeably disposed within. The steeple is 125 feet high, and well constructed in the gothic manner. The tower is light, supported by outworks at the angles, and divided into three stages, terminating at the corners by four handsome pinnacles. In the midst rises the spire, not from a solid base, but on the narrow crowns of four gothic arches; a bold attempt in architecture, and one proof, among many, of the great skill of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren. It has however been justly censured as a capital fault to construct this spire on a principle, the only effect of which is to excite an apprehension of its falling whenever the wind blows hard (fn. 5).

Allhallows Barking.

At the south east corner of Seething-lane is the church of Allhallows Barking, which, having escaped the fire of London, carries the marks of that period, when architecture was not well understood in England. We may judge of its antiquity from a chapel which king Richard I. founded therein upward of 500 years ago. It was antiently a vicarage in the gift of the abbess and nuns of the convent at Barking in Essex; and after their dissolution was granted by Henry VIII. to the archbishop of Canterbury, in whose successors it still remains. This church is of considerable size, being 180 feet long, 67 broad, and 35 high: the steeple is a plain tower, with a well proportioned turret, about 80 feet high altogether. A battlement is carried all round the body of the church, which is well enlightened by two ranges of gothic windows (fn. 6).

St. Olave Hart street.

In Hart-street, at the north west corner of Seething-lane, is situated the church of St. Olave Hart-street, dedicated to Olave or Olaus king of Norway; who took the part of the English against the Danes in support of the Christian religion. For this reason, and for his sufferings on account of this religion in his own country, he was honoured with canonization. The patronage has always been in private hands.

The present structure, which escaped burning in 1666, is of considerable antiquity; since that time it has had several repairs and additions, particularly the new portico. It is a mixed building, with respect to its materials, as well as its form, part being of square stone, part of irregular stone, and part of brick. The body, which is square, is 54 feet in length, and the same in breadth; the height of the roof is 30 feet, and that of the steeple 60. The windows are large and gothic, and every thing plain except the portico, which is formed of Corinthian pilasters, with an arched pediment. The tower, which consists of a single stage above the roof, is also extremely plain, and the turret wherewith it is crowned is well proportioned.


  • 1. Anderson's Hist. of Com. vol. I. p. 52.
  • 2. Stat. 1 Eliz. c. 11.
  • 3. English Architecture p. 73.
  • 4. Vid. p. 618.
  • 5. English Architecture, p. 47.
  • 6. Idem, p. 42.