Sectional preface

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 5, East London. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1930.

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'Sectional preface', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 5, East London, (London, 1930) pp. xix-xxiii. British History Online [accessed 17 April 2024]

In this section



(i) Earthworks, etc.

Apart from the remains of earthworks at Blackheath and Charlton, reasonably assigned to the Roman period and described in Vol. III, p. 150, there are few monuments of this class in the area under review. The most important is the group of tumuli, probably of the pagan Saxon period, in Greenwich Park. Other earthworks include unclassified mounds at Plumstead and Blackheath and the moats of the Tower of London (entirely re-cut), Eltham Palace and Well Hall, Eltham; the two latter are still partly wet.

(ii) Ecclesiastical and Secular Architecture. Building Materials: Stone, Brick, etc.

The materials and methods of building in the area of East London follow so closely those already described for West London and the City that it will be unnecessary here to do more than record the fact. Southwark, though it escaped the Great Fire of 1666, was itself devastated by a more local outbreak in 1676; the circumstances here, therefore, equate very closely with those in the City itself. The intensive settlement of the nearer suburbs during the 19th century has led, as in W. London, to the obliteration of nearly all the early features of the suburban parishes, and only occasionally, as in parts of Eltham, has any trace of the earlier aspect of the village been preserved.

Ecclesiastical Buildings.

Only four mediæval churches have survived more or less complete, the churches of St. Saviour Southwark (except its nave), St. Dunstan Stepney, St. Mary Stratford Bow and St. Peter ad Vincula. The parish churches of the district have been in whole or in part re-built, though remains of the mediæval fabric survive at Plumstead, Bermondsey (St. Mary Magdalene), Hackney, Deptford, Lewisham and Lee.

The earliest ecclesiastical building, surviving, is St. John's chapel in the White Tower; it is one of the most valuable examples of late 11th-century work in the country. The 13th century is well represented by the presbytery and chapel-aisle of St. Saviour Southwark, where a few traces of earlier work also exist. The 14th century is also exemplified at the same church, but of this and the succeeding century and a half the surviving examples in other churches are of mediocre design and small importance; such are the arcades of Stepney church, St. Mary Stratford Bow and St. Peter ad Vincula and the towers of Hackney, Lewisham and Deptford.

Post-Reformation building is represented by Charlton church, a brick structure with a tower and porch built c. 1640, the brick tower of Plumstead church built in 1664, Bermondsey church re-built in 1680, St. Nicholas Deptford, re-built c. 1697, and three early 18th-century churches, St. Mary Rotherhithe, St. Alfege Greenwich and St. Thomas Southwark. Of the above the brick towers of Charlton and Plumstead are interesting examples of a transitional period, and St. Alfege Greenwich is an important Renaissance building.

Monastic and Collegiate Buildings.

The only monastic building of importance in the area is the church of St. Saviour Southwark, formerly part of the Augustinian priory of St. Mary Overy, and now the cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark. In spite of the destruction and re-building of its nave and the destruction of two added chapels, it still preserves the greater part of its mediæval fabric.

The remains of the Cluniac Abbey of Bermondsey are now reduced to a fragment of one of the gates. Some hardly recognizable fragments of the Benedictine nunnery of St. Leonard Bromley are perhaps incorporated in the parish church and one wall of the church of the Minorite nuns without Aldgate is incorporated in the church of Holy Trinity Minories. Of the Cistercian Abbey of Tower Hill, the Augustinian Nunnery of Holywell, the Grey Friars of Greenwich and the alien priory of Lewisham there are now no remains. The collegiate church and hospital of St. Katherine by the Tower was destroyed in 1827 to give place to St. Katherine's Docks and the fittings removed to Regent's Park (Vol. II, p. 88a). Of St. Thomas' Hospital, a mediæval foundation, a range of early 18th-century building was suffered to survive when that institution was removed to Lambeth.

The Almshouse-class of building, on the other hand, is extremely well represented in the district, the surviving establishments being of all sizes from the vast foundation of Greenwich Hospital, to such tiny establishments as Bow Lane Almshouses. Between the two extremes comes a long succession of examples which includes Morden College, Trinity Hospital Mile End Road, Trinity Hospital Greenwich, Boone's and Colfe's Almshouses Lewisham, and the Draper's Almshouses near the Mile End Road.

Secular Buildings.

Foremost among the secular buildings of E. London stands the great fortress of the Tower; it includes one of the earliest and in some ways the finest of the Norman keeps of England and a series of towers, gates and other buildings which illustrate the military architecture of nearly every subsequent mediæval period. The Tower, furthermore, in its final form, is perhaps the most complete surviving example of an English concentric fortress, and this in spite of the fact that its individual parts have suffered extensively from destruction and restoration.

In a different category, the remains of the royal Palace of Eltham are almost equally important, for here alone has the original site of a mediæval palace been suffered to survive largely without the encroachment of later building. It is true that of the actual structure little beside the mid 15th-century great Hall, the contemporary bridge and the foundations of buildings bordering on the moat are still standing, but the hall and bridge are largely as they were left by their builders, and the plan of the whole establishment has been preserved in the drawings of an Elizabethan architect.

The early 16th-century brick undercroft at Greenwich Hospital and a fragment at St. Alfege Vicarage represent the surviving remains of the Tudor palace of Placentia, and another fragment of Tudor royal building is preserved on the site of the old Dockyard at Deptford.

Amongst lesser mediæval buildings mention may be made of the palace of the Bishops of Winchester in Southwark, of which much of the shell of the 14th-century great Hall remains incorporated in a modern warehouse; there is also a 15th-century river-side building at Rotherhithe.

The early Renaissance and Elizabethan periods are represented in the domestic architecture of the district by St. John's Institute Hackney, Brook House Hackney and by an outbuilding at Well Hall, Eltham, and of the Jacobean period there are several notable examples. Charlton House is a large and very complete country mansion begun about 1607, and the Queen's House at Greenwich is a Palladian building begun in 1618, from the designs of Ingio Jones, for Queen Anne of Denmark. It is perhaps the earliest example of this style in the country. The mid 17th-century brick house, now used as a Presbytery, on Croom's Hill, Greenwich, is also worthy of note.

Late 17th-century building is represented by a long series of excellent examples, beginning with Eltham Lodge (1663–5). King Charles' Block Greenwich Hospital (begun 1662) from the design of John Webb and continued by Sir C. Wren and others, the Royal Observatory (1675–6) also by Wren, Morden College (1695) and Trinity Hospital Mile End Road (1695). Among lesser buildings, not definitely dated, may be mentioned No. 37 Stepney Green, Lewisham Vicarage and the Manor House, Croom's Hill. There are brick summer-houses at Charlton House and Croom's Hill. All the buildings mentioned above are stone or brick buildings, but the district includes also a few timber-framed structures, of which one, the George Inn, Southwark, is worthy of note, as being now the sole surviving example in London of the galleried inn. The existing structure dates from the latter part of the 17th century, but represents a much older tradition. Mention may also be made of the timberframed front with enriched barge-boards of the King's House, Tower of London.


Bells: There is said to be a bell with a mediæval inscription in Woolwich church, but it is now inaccessible.

Brasses: The brasses of the district are almost confined to the churches of Camberwell, Hackney and Lee, the collections include palimpsests, one at Hackney being on a section of a large Flemish plate. At the same place is a figure in a cap and cope of Dr. Urswick, Dean of York and Windsor, 1521.

Chests: Two chests are worthy of note, one an Italian chest at Southwark Cathedral and the second an iron chest with elaborate locks at Christ Church Southwark.

Communion Tables and Rails: There is a good Jacobean communion-table at Stratford Bow church and late 17th and early 18th-century examples at Southwark Cathedral and Greenwich. The only rails of importance are the elaborate early 18th-century wrought-iron rails and gates at St. Alfege, Greenwich.

Fireplaces and Overmantels: The earliest fireplaces are the simple late 11th-century round-arched recesses in the White Tower, Tower of London, and there are 13th-century stone fireplaces, with pyramidal hoods resting on corbels, in the Salt and Byward Towers. Early 16th-century stone fireplaces with depressed heads are to be found in St. John's Institute, Hackney, the King's House, Tower of London, and the Greyhound Inn, Eltham. The latter fireplaces include the handsome series at Charlton House, including one with carved figures, and there are enriched Jacobean overmantels at Eltham Lodge and the Presbytery, Croom's Hill.

Fonts: There is a 15th-century font at Stratford Bow church and another, probably of the 18th century, in the same church. The 17th-century font at Charlton is of some interest, as is the early 18th-century example at St. Alfege, Greenwich.

Glass: There is some early 16th-century heraldic and other glass in the windows of St. John's Chapel in the White Tower, but the finest work of this type in the district is the beautiful Flemish Crucifixion in the E. window of the chapel of Trinity Hospital, Greenwich; this is of early 16th-century date, but is accompanied by some late 16th-century heraldic glass of the Howard family. Other heraldic glass, of the 17th century, occurs at Trinity Hospital, Mile End Road, and at Charlton church. Charlton church also contains a complete 17th-century window with partly restored figures of Christ, Moses and Aaron. The only other figure-subjects are to be seen at Shoreditch church, where the E. window has large panels of incidents in the life of Jacob and the Last Supper; this glass was given by Thomas Austen in 1634.

Monuments: The funeral monuments of E. London include five mediæval effigies—a cross-legged knight in oak at Southwark Cathedral, the stone effigy of John Gower, 1408, and a cadaver in the same church, and the alabaster figures of Sir Richard Cholmoundeley, 1544, and his wife at St. Peter ad Vincula. There is a handsome recessed tomb with a Gothic canopy in Stepney church. The finest 16th-century monument is probably the marble wall-memorial with kneeling effigies of two generations of the Blount family in St. Peter ad Vincula. There are handsome Jacobean and later monuments in Southwark Cathedral to Lancelot Andrewes, 1626, Richard Humble, 1616, Richard Trehearne, 1618, and Joyce Austin, 1626; in Charlton church to Catherine Newton, 1629 by Nicholas Stone; at Stepney church to Robert Clarke, 1610; at Bromley church to W. Ferrers, 1625, and at St. Nicholas Deptford to Roger Boyle, 1615. Late 17th and early 18th-century monuments and tablets are best represented at Charlton church, Southwark Cathedral, St. Nicholas Deptford, Bromley church, Shoreditch church and St. Peter ad Vincula.

Organs and Organ-cases: There is an organ by Bernard Schmidt with its original case at St. Peter ad Vincula, and another by the same maker with a good carved case at St. Nicholas Deptford. Other organs and cases at Greenwich and Bermondsey may be mentioned.

Paintings: The Queen's House at Greenwich has a painted ceiling of the period of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. The finest example of this type of decoration is in the Painted Hall and adjoining chambers at Greenwich Hospital. This is the work of Sir James Thornhill and was begun in 1707. There is a framed portrait of Queen Anne at St. Nicholas Deptford.

Panelling: Early 16th-century linen-fold panelling is preserved at St. John's Institute, Hackney, which also contains later panelling of simple type.

Plaster-work: There is an enriched plaster ceiling of c. 1600 in a house in Bow Road (215–17) and others with heraldic enrichments in Brooke House Hackney and Charlton House. Later 17th-century enriched ceilings are to be seen at the Queen's House Greenwich, Eltham Lodge, Greenwich Hospital, the Royal Observatory and the Garden House of No. 52 Croom's Hill, Greenwich.

Plate: The finest piece of plate in the district is the remarkable 14th-century dish with an enamelled boss in the middle at Bermondsey church. There is a rich 16th-century dish at Rotherhithe. Of the five Elizabethan cups noted, two (at St. George the Martyr Southwark and Stepney) date from 1559 and one, at Dulwich College, is enriched with scallop-shells. The same institution possesses also a richly chased dish and stand-paten.

Pulpits: There is a handsome Jacobean pulpit at St. Nicholas Deptford and a simpler pulpit of the date of the church (c. 1630–40) at Charlton. Later pulpits include a fine example with a sounding-board at St. Alfege Greenwich and others at Bermondsey and at Trinity Hospital, Mile End Road.

Reredoses: Southwark Cathedral possesses an example of the great reredosscreens of the 15th century consisting of ranges of niches for images and occupying almost the whole of the E. wall of the presbytery. It may be compared with other examples of the same class at Winchester, St. Alban's, Christchurch, and three of the Oxford Colleges.

The late 17th and early 18th-century type of oak reredos is best exemplified at St. Nicholas Deptford where, with the adjacent panelling and carved enrichments, it forms a handsome composition. Simpler examples of the same period may be noted at St. Thomas Southwark, Morden College and Rotherhithe.

Rood: Perhaps the most remarkable fitting recorded in the volume is the stone rood-panel at St. Dunstan's Stepney. In the Inventory it is ascribed to c. 1000, but so little is yet known with certainty of the stone-carving of that age that the ascription must be regarded as provisional. The carving however, has several features which point in that direction; the acanthus border is an obvious derivative from the borders of Carolingian ivories, crudely rendered, and may be compared with the similar border of one of the panels at Chichester Cathedral, generally assigned to the first half of the 11th century. The representation of the sun and moon flanking the head of the cross is a well-known convention of the 10th century, and becomes rare after the Conquest, and finally the form of the cross itself can also be paralleled in the 10th–11th-century manuscripts.

Royal Arms: The royal arms is combined with a portrait of Queen Anne at St. Nicholas Deptford and there is a painted Stuart achievement on canvas at Charlton. Carvings of the royal arms occur at St. George the Martyr Southwark, Whitechapel, Deptford, Greenwich, Shadwell and Wapping.

Staircases: Charlton House contains a fine Jacobean staircase of the early years of the 17th century with enriched newels and pilaster-balusters. A simple example of this period is to be seen at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich. The great staircase at Eltham Lodge has the balusters replaced by panels of elaborate scrolled and pierced carving of c. 1665. The secondary staircase in the same house is fitted with balusters of Palladian form. Late 17th and early 18th-century staircases are best represented at 113 High Street, Eltham, 80 Leman Street, Whitechapel, the Old Court House, Well Close Square, the old building of St. Thomas' Hospital, the house in Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green, and the house No. 37 Stepney Green. There are staircases with wrought-iron balusters at the Queen's House Greenwich and at Greenwich Hospital.