The history of Crosby Place

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

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Philip Norman. W D Caroe, 'The history of Crosby Place', Survey of London Monograph 9, Crosby Place, (London, 1908), pp. 15-32. British History Online [accessed 23 June 2024].

Philip Norman. W D Caroe. "The history of Crosby Place", in Survey of London Monograph 9, Crosby Place, (London, 1908) 15-32. British History Online, accessed June 23, 2024,

Norman, Philip. Caroe, W D. "The history of Crosby Place", Survey of London Monograph 9, Crosby Place, (London, 1908). 15-32. British History Online. Web. 23 June 2024,


The early history of Crosby Place is intimately connected with that of the Benedictine Priory of the Nuns of St. Helen hard by, founded by William, son of William the goldsmith, about the year 1212, when a nave or choir for the use of the nuns was added to the north side of the existing nave of St. Helen's parish church, near Bishopsgate Street.

It was in the year 1466 that Sir John Crosby, a citizen of great wealth and influence, who was then occupying a house which had been previously tenanted on an earlier lease from the nuns of St. Helen's by Cataneo Pinelli, a merchant of distinguished Genoese family, obtained from "Dame Alice Ashfelde, Pryoresse of the convent," a lease for 99 years of certain lands and tenements, including that in which he then dwelt, to the south and south-west of the priory precinct and adjoining it, at a rent of £11 6s. 8d. a year, and there he erected his magnificent mansion, which must have been partly on the site of Roman buildings, for remains of them have been discovered again and again. These include a tesselated pavement somewhat resembling one at Bignor, beneath the south-west angle of Crosby Square, together with some ancient foundations described in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1836, other Roman pavements in 1871 and 1873, and again one in 1902. Stow speaks of the house as being "of stone and timber, very large and beautiful, and the highest at that time in London."

Sir John was a man of good family, though a silly tradition is repeated by Stow that his surname had its origin because he was found by a cross. It is almost certain that another Sir John Crosby, also an alderman, who died about 1376, leaving a son John in minority, was his grandfather. They all of them owned the manor of Hanworth, near Hampton Court. The founder of Crosby Place appears to have been by trade a woolman, but belonged to the Grocers' Company, of which, in 1463–4, he served the office of warden. In 1466 he was elected a member of Parliament for London, and also an auditor of the City accounts. In 1468 he became alderman for Broad Street ward. In 1470, during the brief resuscitation of Henry VI., he was elected sheriff in spite of the fact that he appears to have been a zealous Yorkist. On May 14th of the following year, when that party had once more gained the upper hand, he bravely helped to repel the attack of the bastard Falconbridge on London, and on the 21st of that month, with other prominent citizens, he met King Edward IV. between Shoreditch and Islington on the monarch's return to London from his crowning triumph of Tewkesbury. The next day he received the honour of knighthood. Thomas Heywood, in his play of Edward IV., alludes to these events, but makes out that Crosby was mayor, not sheriff. According to Heywood, after being knighted he thus soliloquizes:

"Ay, marry Crosby, this befits thee well.

But some will marvel that with scarlet gown I wear a gilded rapier at my side."

In the play Jane Shore officiates as mayoress, whereby the King first becomes acquainted with her.

In the two following years Sir John was employed by King Edward in confidential missions to the Duke of Burgundy; he was also mayor of the Staple of Calais.

The building of Crosby Place must have taken some time, and, as Stow records, "Sir John died in 1475, so short a space enjoyed he that sumptuous building." He was buried in the neighbouring church of St. Helen, where in the chapel of the Holy Ghost, on the south side of the choir, his fine altar tomb exists in good condition, but is now perched so high up that the details can with difficulty be seen. It is composed of freestone, and has on it his recumbent figure and that of his first wife, Agnes, the material of these being alabaster. He is in plate armour, with a mantle over the shoulders, and a collar of roses and suns alternating, the latter a badge of Edward IV. assumed after the battle of Mortimer's Cross, when a mock sun appeared, which was thought to be an omen of victory. His head is resting on his helmet and his feet on a griffin. There is no sword, but a dagger on his right side. The wife is in a close cap, and her head rests on a cushion covered with a veil, which is held by a little angel on each side. She appears to have a collar of roses; at her feet are two small dogs. The Latin inscription, which has disappeared, is printed by Weever, and records the deaths of five children, apparently by his first wife. On the tomb are shields of arms, among them those of Crosby, viz.: Sable, a chevron Ermine between three rams trippant Argent, armed and hoofed Or. The crest, also a ram trippant; on the helmet of an esquire, formed the central boss of the groined roof of the bay window in the hall.

Crosby's will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, February 6th, 1475. The executors were Thomas Rigby and William Bracebridge. The former was Common Serjeant in the year 1459, and his technical knowledge must have been useful in the preparation of so long and elaborate a document, a copy of which we print in the appendix. Bracebridge, citizen and draper, was associated with Sir John in his second mission to Burgundy, and was also during some years a member of Parliament for London. Among other noteworthy bequests was a sum of £100 for the repair of Bishopsgate and the walls adjoining, provided that the work should be begun within ten years. This was effected as part of a general scheme of restoration during the mayoralty of Sir Ralph Joceline in 1477. At the beginning of the 19th century the testator's arms were still in existence, though much defaced, on a part of the wall at or near Bethlehem Hospital. He left 500 marks for "the renewing and reforming of the church," and money for a priest to say mass for his soul, and to the prioress and convent of St. Helen. To his second wife, Anne, who survived him, he bequeathed £2,000 in money, jewels, clothing and household goods, also Crosby Place during her life, or if she were about to have a child at the time of his decease, during the minority of her child; and, if no child were born, to his wife for the residue of the term should she live so long. After the death of his wife with no child before the expiration of the lease, he bequeathed the remainder of it to his executors, and directed them to sell the same and to dispose of the money so obtained for the benefit of his soul and the souls of his wives and children. As to the real estate, in the event of all his family dying out, including his cousin Peter Christemas, he left the remainder to the Grocers' Company to be spent in various ways, which he fully specified. In accordance with the provisions of his will, money was given for the building of the brick tower of Theydon Garnon church in Essex, as might be learnt from an inscription there now partly defaced. The date is 1520.

Sir John, being lord of the manor of Hanworth, appointed the rector in 1471. Five years afterwards there was a presentation by the trustees of his estate ("Feoffati Dominus de Hanworth," as Newcourt puts it), and in 1498 one John Crosby presented to the living. It has long been an open question if he was a posthumous son of Sir John, his possible birth being foreshadowed in the will. This difficulty has now been solved. Among the documents at the hall of the Grocers' Company Mr. Goss has found positive reference to the son, who grew to manhood, and at the time of the presentation would have been about 23 years of age. If further proof of the son's existence were required it is given in a subsequent page of our monograph. Mention is made in Sir John's will of a daughter, Joan or Johanna Crosby otherwise Talbot, to whom he left 200 marks on her coming of age or marrying, also the manor of Hanworth should issue by his second wife fail. But she probably died between the time of his executing the will on March 6th, 1471, and his own decease about four years afterwards. The alternative surname suggests that she may have been a natural child. On the other hand, the name Johanna appears as that of one of the children on the Crosby monument.

It is not known how long Anne Crosby resided at the mansion as a widow during the minority of her son, but in 1483, eight years after her husband's death, we find it in the occupation of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, afterwards King Richard III. Fabyan, in his Chronicle, tells us how "the Duke caused the King" (Edward V.) "to be removed unto the Tower and his broder with hym, and the Duke lodged himselfe in Crosbyes Place in Bisshoppesgate Strete." Holinshed also relates that "little by little all folke withdrew from the Tower, and drew unto Crosbies in Bishops gates Street, where the Protector kept his houshold. The Protector had the resort; the King in maner desolate." He evidently copies from Hall, whose words are almost identical. Here it seems that informal councils were held in which the Duke of Buckingham took a leading part, as we are told by Sir Thomas More in his "Life of Edward V." Finally the house is immortalised by Shakespeare in no less than three passages of his play called "Richard III.," wherein Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, appoints it as a place of meeting. These, although well known, I shall venture to quote once again.

First, in addressing Anne Nevill, whom he afterwards married, she having been betrothed to Edward, Prince of Wales, slain at Tewkesbury or assassinated after the battle, he begs her as a favour that she will—

"Leave these sad designs
To him that hath most cause to be a mourner, And presently repair to Crosby House." (fn. 1)

An anachronism this, as his marriage took place long before he lodged in that building.

Later in the play the following dialogue takes place between him and a hired murderer:—

Gloucester. "Are you now going to dispatch this deed ?
First Murderer. We are, my Lord; and come to have the warrant, That we may be admitted where he is.
Gloucester. Well thought upon; I have it here about me.
(Gives the warrant.)
When you have done, repair to Crosby Place."
And, thirdly, he addresses Catesby thus:—
Gloucester. "Shall we hear from you, Catesby, ere we sleep ?
Catesby. You shall, my Lord.
Gloucester. At Crosby Place, there shall you find us both."

There is a special reason why Shakespeare should have mentioned the house thus often. He must have known it intimately, for our best authorities now accept the fact first discovered by Mr. Joseph Hunter from the parish books, that in 1598 he was a resident in St. Helen's parish, his name appearing there in an assessment roll for the collection of subsidies. We shall presently see that an "Antonio" was intimately connected with Crosby Place before Shakespeare's time, and the latter doubtless knew him well by reputation. It may be worth while to point out that this Italian name occurs in no less than seven of Shakespeare's plays, oftener perhaps than any other.

The statement made by recent writers that the crown was offered to Richard at Crosby Place is not, as far as I am aware, derived from early evidence, Sir Thomas More placing that event at Baynard's Castle, and being supported by Hall, Grafton, and Holinshed. Shakespeare also lays the scene there, after Buckingham has harangued the citizens. Stow says that "Richard Duke of Gloucester, being elected by the nobles and commons in the Guildhall, took on him the title of the realm and kingdom as imposed upon him in this Baynard's Castle." Strype, however, in his edition of Stow (1720) speaks of the citizens coming to him at Crosby Place, and desiring him to accept the crown.

Little or nothing is known about the mansion for a few years after Richard's tenure of it, but from a Cottonian manuscript lately edited by Mr. C. L. Kingsford, I learn that on Candlemas Eve, 1495–96, "the frost enduryng, was receyued into London an honorable Ambassade from the Duke of Burgoyn, which was conveyd by dyvers lordes and gentilmen into Crosbyes place and there logged; whereof the chief man of them was called Lord Bevir or otherwise Erle of Camfere."

The next occupant recorded was Sir Bartholomew Reed, goldsmith (his name is spelt in various ways), to whom, on January 24th, 1501 (or 16 Henry VII.), the original lease was assigned by the executor of William Bracebridge, then deceased, who had been Sir John Crosby's surviving executor. Reed kept his mayoralty here in 1502, and gave a most elaborate banquet "to more than 100 persons of great estate."Stow says that it could not possibly have taken place at Goldsmith's Hall, which, though "a proper house," was not large enough, and that for such a feast "Westminster Hall would hardly have sufficed." He must have been unaware that Reed then occupied Crosby Place. Grafton in his Chronicles, copying from Hall, tells us how this year "Maximilian the Emperour, hearing that Queene Elizabeth (wife of Henry VII.) was deceased, sent into England a solempne Ambassade of the which Lorde Cazimire, Marques of Bradenburgh his cosyn, accompanied with a Byshop, an Erle, and a great number of gentlemen well appareled, was principall Ambassadour, which were triumphantly receaved into London and was lodged at Crosbyes Place." Reed, who was son of Robert Reed of Cromer, where he founded a free school, and who also left money for an obit at the church of St. John Zachary in London, did not long survive his year of office. He died in 1505, and was buried at the Charterhouse, leaving a widow Elizabeth who was his executrix. To her a release of the estate was granted on May 9th, 21 Henry VII., or 1506, by William Fermer and his wife Johanna born Marlowe, executors of the will of John Crosby "nuper de London gentilman," Sir John's son, who is thus proved to have been no longer living. The deed which embodies these facts has been seen by the writer.

Within a few years we find another great citizen occupying the mansion, namely, Sir John Rest, grocer, mayor in 1516–17 (the year of "Evil May-day") or lord mayor as we will now call him. And here it may be thought allowable to make a slight digression regarding the title of the highest civic dignitary. The earliest reference to the Lord Mayor that has been traced in the Guildhall records occurs on April 24th, 1504, although it has been said that some such title was used incidentally in a charter of Edward III. (1354) permitting the serjeants of the City to bear gold or silver maces, with the royal arms or otherwise, and in the reign of Edward IV., as we are told by Dr. Reginald Sharpe, the mayor for the time being is recorded both as "Mayor" and as the "honourable lord the Maire," also as "my lord the Maire." It is believed by those best able to judge that the prefix "Lord" is in London borne by prescriptive right and not by any formal act of authority on the part of the King.

With regard to Sir John Rest, the following facts are perhaps worth recording. His native place was Peterborough, and he became free of the Grocers' Company by apprenticeship in 1490. He was a warden of it in 1502, and held the office of "upper master" in 1515 and again in 1521. He appears to have died in 1523, being buried in the church of the Crossed or Crutched Friars. In due course Sir John Rest, or rather his executors, made way for an illustrious tenant, Sir Thomas More, about whom, and about subsequent owners and tenants during the greater part of the 15th century, most interesting facts can be learnt from a series of deeds which, although some of them have been already referred to by the Rev. Thomas Hugo and others, have never yet been systematically investigated. It will be right, therefore, to say a few words on the subject. In the course of last summer eight original documents relating to Crosby Place were disposed of in London. The earliest in date was that bought by Mr. Bernard Quaritch at Messrs. Sotheby's on July 19th, from which the present owner, who by his own wish remains anonymous, has kindly given me important information.

At Messrs. Puttick and Simpson's, on June 20th, the remaining seven deeds, of a somewhat later period, passed into the appropriate hands of Mr. Charles W. F. Goss for the Governors of the Bishopsgate Institute. This gentleman, who is distinguished by his knowledge of matters relating to London, with great generosity gave me information from his documents before the publication of his recent work in which they have now appeared. Messrs. Coates and Marsh are also the fortunate owners of original deeds relating to this property and its owners and occupants, and have behaved with equal kindness.

Sir Thomas More was essentially a City man, born in Milk Street, Cheapside, educated partly at St. Anthony's school in Threadneedle Street, and undoubtedly residing in Bucklersbury, to be near his father, during his first marriage which ended in 1511. In the previous year he had been made under-sheriff of London, and in May 1515 he left England as envoy on an embassy to Flanders to secure by treaty further protection of English commerce and interests. He received 13s. 4d. a day—a sum insufficient (he told Erasmus) to maintain himself abroad as well as his wife and children in London. He was absent six months or more, and is said to have composed the second part of the "Utopia" during the next year, completing it in October. Although it has often been accepted as a fact that he wrote this at Crosby Place, there is no evidence to connect him with that mansion until after the death of Sir John Rest. It seems, however, probable that, on account of his various occupations and duties in the City, and the growing favour of the King, who was much at Baynard's Castle, More, after his return from abroad, would often have occupied a London residence. (fn. 2) Indeed, from 1518, when he was introduced to the Privy Council and nominated master of requests, or examiner of petitions presented to the King on his progress through the country, he undoubtedly spent much of his time at Court. There is some ground for supposing that he kept on the house in Bucklersbury, part of which street belongs to the parish of St. Stephen Walbrook, for in the marriage licence of his daughter Margaret with William Roper, dated July 2nd, 1521, she is described as of that parish.

From the deed sold by Mr. Quaritch last summer I am able to state a fact until recently quite unknown. In that document, which relates to the subsequent sale of Crosby Place by More to Antonio Bonvisi, mention is made of a pair of indentures between More and the executors of Sir John Rest, which I take to show the real date of his purchase. We also learn therein that Sir John Rest was not a sub-tenant but held the original lease of the property. The amount that More paid to the said executors was £150, and the date was June 1st, 1523. As he sold the lease of Crosby Place with its appurtenances to Bonvisi for £200 in January 1524 it can only have been in his possession during a few months, and it is a question if he ever resided there at all. Some years before this, perhaps even before 1517, he had begun to make for himself his delightful home in Chelsea. (fn. 3) I wish with all my heart that I could conscientiously connect him with Crosby Place for a longer time. However, the fact remains that he possessed it and passed it on to one of his greatest friends.

Antonio Bonvisi belonged to an ancient family of Lucca which had settled in England before his time, and he was perhaps born in this country. Already a thriving merchant in London as early as 1513, three years previously, on payment of £20, he had received the freedom of the city. He dealt in wool, jewels, and foreign articles, and acted as banker to the Government, transmitting money and letters to ambassadors in France, Italy, and elsewhere. He was a patron and friend of learned men, especially of those who had visited and studied in Italy. More, in one of his last letters from the Tower, speaks of himself as having been for nearly forty years "not a guest but a continual nursling of the house of Bonvisi." The latter was also godfather to one of his grandsons, Augustine. His great-grandson Cresacre More tells us that a short time before the execution, "Sir Thomas, as one that had been invited to a solemn banquet, changed himself into his best apparel, and put on his silk camlet gown, which his entire friend Mr. Anthony Bonvise had given him" whilst he was in prison. The Lieutenant of the Tower begged him to change them, for the executioner to whom they would come as perquisites was but a "gavill" or worthless fellow. "What,"said More, "shall I account him a gavill that will do me this day so singular a benefit ?" He was persuaded, however, to exchange it for "a gown of friese," but gave the executioner "of that little money which was left him one angel."

It has been shown that Crosby built his mansion on ground belonging to the prioress and nuns of St. Helen's, and they continued to possess the fee simple until the Dissolution. On March 28th, 1538, they leased to Antonio Bonvisi, their great messuage with all houses, solars, cellars, gardens, &c., called "Crosbyes Place," together with nine messuages belonging to the same, for a term of 71 years immediately after the completion of the term of 99 years which had been granted to Sir John Crosby and had 28 years to run. The rent was to be the same, viz. £11 6s. 8d. from the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The deed, still in existence, has the large seal of the Priory. On October 6th, 1538, they also let to Bonvisi a tenement, with solars, cellars, &c., situated in a certain alley within their close over his larder house and coal house, and lately in the tenure of Juliana Francys for 80 years at a rent of 10s., which will be referred to again in our "critical and comparative notes."

This was their last act as owners of the property, and on November 25th of that year (30 Henry VIII.), not 1539 as wrongly stated by the editors of Dugdale, they surrendered their convent to the King, and were shortly afterwards expelled from the home which had been in possession of their order for more than three centuries.

Thus Henry became ground landlord of Crosby Place: he allowed Bonvisi to continue as leaseholder, and in August 1542 he granted to him, in return for the sum of £207 18s. 4d. and certain property in Essex which had belonged to the Black Friars, the fee simple of the house, together with all solars, gardens, lanes, messuages, tenements, void pieces of ground and all other appurtenances thereunto belonging," the payment being made to Sir Edward North, who is described as " Treasurer of the Revenue of the Augmentations of the King." The acquittance is dated August 28th. Bonvisi was opposed to the Reformation, insomuch that Wriothesley calls him "a rank Papist," and after a time his religious principles gave him a sense of insecurity in England. On April 1st, 1547, early in the reign of Edward VI., he made over Crosby Place for 90 years to William Roper of Eltham and William Rastell as tenants, the former his son-in-law, the latter, son of John Rastell the printer, and nephew of Sir Thomas More, who edited More's works "wrytten in the Englysh tongue," and in 1558 became a judge. Roper, as we well know, wrote the sympathetic life of More, and was husband of Margaret his devoted daughter. On June 22nd of that year (1547) Bonvisi obtained licence to convey the property to Richard Heywood and John Webb in trust for himself for life, and after his death to the use of Peter Crowle, Anthony Roper (son of William), Germain Cioll, and John Rither, cofferer of the King's household, and the heirs of their bodies in regular succession, and on July 1st he executed a will leaving it to the same persons in the same order, and confirming Roper and Rastell in the lease. The deed of feoffment was dated July 4th. One month later, namely, on August 2nd, 1547, when Antonio Bonvisi is described as living there, Roper and Rastell leased the place to Germain Cioll and Benedict Bonvisi. Shortly after this, Benedict Bonvisi, Heywood, Webb, Roper, Rastell, and Germain Cioll, at varying intervals, fled to the Continent, all of them being under suspicion on account of their faith, with the possible exception of Cioll, who remained till October 20th, 1550.

Antonio Bonvisi still continued to be owner, but on September 25th, 3rd Edward VI., he, too, "fled, withdrewe himself without and departed out of England unto the places beyond the sea without lycens of his soverayne lord," and Crosby Place was seized by the sheriffs of London on February 7th, 1550, having been forfeited to King Edward VI., who made it over, on June 18th, 1553, to Sir Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy. Mr.C. Trice Martin tells us that in the general pardon of 1553 Bonvisi was excepted, together with Cardinal Pole and a few others. On the death of Edward, July 6th, in the same year, and succession of his half-sister Mary, there was, of course, a complete change of policy with regard to religious matters. Pressure was doubtless put on Lord Darcy to give up the estate, so that we find among Mr. Goss's documents a grant by him of the fee simple of Crosby Place to Antonio Bonvisi and of the old lease to Benedict Bonvisi and Germain Cioll, dated the 10th May in the 1st year of Queen Mary or 1554.

There is no evidence that Antonio Bonvisi again resided at Crosby Place, we do not even know that he came back to England. From an indenture dated June 26th, 1554, only a few weeks after Lord Darcy's surrender, it appears that Peter Crowle had then come into the use of the property, his name, as we have seen, standing second in the original deed of settlement to which Heywood and Webb were parties, and in the will executed shortly afterwards. This indenture of June 26th, 1554, proves that Bonvisi was still the owner, as Crowle promises that he "shall at all times hereafter do and act as Anthony Bonvisi shall desire." On June 6th, 1555, the Earl of Devonshire, writing to James Bassett, says that he is going to pass a little time in Lorraine and to visit Mr. "Bonvise," who has promised to advance him money on Bassett's credit. Again, in the next month he writes to Bonvisi that he has need of a thousand crowns, which he desires him to pay into the hands of Thomas Gresham, and in another letter addressed to Bonvisi he thanks him for the order he has taken for payment of the thousand crowns and sends him his bill for the same. Although the Christian name is not given in any of these letters we may fairly assume that it was Antonio, and that he was then living abroad. The "Inquisitio post mortem" of Antonio Bonvisi, an inquiry to find out what land deceased owned in England at the time of his death, took place in 1559 before Sir Thomas Leigh, then Lord Mayor, the document recording it being now at the Record Office. He died December 7th, 1558, Benedict, son of his brother Martin and 30 years of age, being named as his heir. Crosby Place, with the garden, offices, and other buildings attached, is stated therein to be "held of the Queen in chief by service of a fortieth part of one knight's fee and a yearly rental of 23s. 8d. payable at Michaelmas, in the name of a tenth for all demands payable to the Crown, and worth clear £11 16s. 8d." From that time we have no further record of Benedict Bonvisi.

The next on the list of those on whom the property had been entailed was Germain Cioll, of whose nationality I am doubtful. It has been suggested in Burgon's "Life of Gresham" that he was of Spanish origin and that he came over to England in the train of Philip II., but he was evidently here much earlier. He married at the church of St. Michael, Bassishaw, February 20th, 1554, and held the office of churchwarden of St. Helen's in 1566, which denotes that he was then at least a Protestant. There is an assignment of Crosby Place and its appurtenances to him and his wife Cicely, by Peter Crowle, dated on the last day of February 1560, and they came into full possession of the property in June 1561, after nominal tenure of the fee simple by James (fn. 4) and Thomas Altham during the earlier months of that year, a friendly arrangement, no doubt, the reasons for which are not now apparent. Cicely was a daughter of Sir John Gresham and cousin of Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange, who lived in Bishopsgate Street hard by. He had been apprenticed to her father and left her by will £100. Among existing documents we find in Latin a pardon for Germain Cioll, dated January 15th, 1st Elizabeth, or 1558, the offences laid to his charge being conspiracy and treason. On January 25th, 1561, the house was let by Germain to his brother John, and to John Frier, doctor of physic.

After a time Germain Cioll, who was a merchant and during the reign of Queen Mary had been engaged in the service of the State, got into difficulties, as we learn from the following petition addressed to Cecil by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566 :— "I am so bold as to send you a letter that my cousin Ciole hath written unto me, wherein I praie you, for my sake, to helpe him to his money if it be possible, in this his great necessitie, whom I will insure you is fallen in decay only by sea and Bankrowts." This explains the reason why Crosby Place with five messuages or tenements was sold on May 15th, 1566, to William Bond, alderman, for £1,600, Germain Cioll reserving four tenements, besides some chambers near the hall, to which allusion will presently be made. His wife, who survived him, seems in spite of his losses to have been fairly well off. She occupied one of the tenements till her death on January 10th, 1609, and refers to it in her will as her "dwelling-house" in Bishopsgate Street. She left money for the poor of St. Helen's, and of the parish of St. Michael's Bassishaw, and was buried in her father's vault at the east end of the south aisle of the latter church. The entrance to this vault was exposed to view on the destruction of St. Michael's about the year 1898. Alderman Bond, the purchaser of the mansion from Cioll, increased it in height by building a turret on the top, probably of some portion that has long ago disappeared. He died in 1576, Sir Thomas Gresham being one of the witnesses of his will. He left the property to his widow Margaret for life if she remained unmarried. In the event of her marrying again it was to go to his second son, William, for life, he paying £13 13s. 4d. a year to each of the younger sons, Nicholas and Martin; if William died, Nicholas would succeed on payment of £20 a year to Martin, with remainder to the eldest son, Daniel, and his heirs. It appears that William, the second son, continued, with his mother, to reside there. His brother Nicholas for a time occupied a tenement adjoining, which was purchased by William, and is described as being in the close of St. Helen and to have had a garden plot and orchard attached to it. From the inscription on the tomb of the elder William Bond in the neighbouring church of St. Helen, which has the effigies of himself, his wife and their children, we learn that he was a person of energy and importance. It runs as follows:— "Here lyeth the body of William Bond, alderman, and sometime sheriff of London; a merchant adventurer, and most famous in his age for his great adven tures both by sea and land." As monumental epitaphs always take the form of panegyric the writer does not mention that on November 7th, 1564, "for his contemptuous behaviour in traphicking to Narva contrary to the commandement given him by the Boarde, by the Queene's order" Bond "was comitted to the Flete," where he was kept for a week in close confinement, as appears from a manuscript in the Privy Council Office.

There is also in St. Helen's church a quaint monument to Martin Bond, son of the alderman. He was a captain of train-bands, present at Tilbury camp in 1588, when Queen Elizabeth reviewed her citizen soldiers there during the time of the Spanish Armada, and he is figured sitting in armour at the door of his tent. To the left a page holds his horse, while two sentries are on guard, in the costume of the period, and carrying match-locks. The whole composition, though somewhat rudely wrought, is spirited and lifelike. He died in May, 1643, being then of the parish of St. Katherine Creechurch. There is an almost precisely similar monument, but of earlier date, in the church of Barking, Essex, to Sir Charles Montagu, presumably also a captain of train-bands, and a local magnate. Martin Bond laid the foundations of the new Aldgate in 1607. Some Roman coins were found on the site, and he had two copied in stone as medallions, and placed on the outer side of the gate. Besides being twice M.P. for London he was treasurer and a benefactor of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, where his portrait is preserved, also a pewter inkstand presented by him, with his name and the date 1619. He belonged to the Haberdashers' Company.

During the occupation of Crosby Place by the Bonds several ambassadors were lodged there. Soon after the purchase of the property, viz. in 1569, the Duke of Alva having sent an agent, Monsieur d'Assonleville, to demand the restitution of certain treasure, on his arrival in London he was placed more or less in the custody of Alderman Bond, being lodged with his train at Crosby Place, where intercourse with the Spanish ambassador was forbidden. After fruitless efforts to obtain what he wanted he took his departure on March 8th. Stow mentions as a tenant or visitor, "in the year 1586 Henry Ramelius, chancellor of Denmark, ambassador unto the Queen's majesty of England from Frederick II., the King of Denmark, and ambassador of France, &c." In the St. Helen's parish register it is recorded that Nicholas Fylio, secretary of the French ambassador, was buried September 23rd, 1592.

In 1594 the Bonds sold Crosby Place to Sir John Spencer, who, according to Stow, "made great reparations, kept his mayoralty there, and since built a most large warehouse near thereunto," on the site of which now stands the Jewish Synagogue in Great St. Helens, designed by Mr. Davies, one of the "restorers" of Crosby Hall. He was a merchant, member of the Clothworkers' Company, and alderman of Langbourn Ward, who from his success in business was known as "Rich Spencer." Strype says that in the first year of James I., that is in 1603, "when divers ambassadors came into England, Monsieur de Rosney, Great Treasurer of France, afterwards the Duc de Sully," with his retinue, which was very splendid, was there lodged. In his "Memoirs" Sully gives a detailed description of his movements on arriving in London that year as ambassador. He landed near the Tower, and was driven, amidst a great concourse of people, to the house of the Earl of Beaumont, said to be the one formerly in Butcher Row, Strand, of which there is a well-known engraving. He supped and stayed that night and dined there the following day. After this he was "accommodated with apartments in a very handsome house situated in a great square," evidently in the city. This is thought to have been Crosby Place, and it was on his very first evening there that, owing to the fact of an Englishman having been killed by one of his followers in a street broil, he got into trouble with the Lord Mayor and with a tumultuous assemblage of citizens, and had to use all his powers of diplomacy. Apartments in Arundel House were then being prepared for him, to which he afterwards removed. Others whom Strype mentions as being at Crosby Place during the first year of James I. are "the youngest son of William Prince of Orange, Monsieur Fulke, and the learned Monsieur Barnevelt, who came from the States of Holland and Zealand." The Duc de Boron is said to have been at the house in 1601, and the Russian ambassador in 1618.

By his wife, Alice Bromfield, Sir John had an only child, Elizabeth, who, against her father's wish, married William, second Lord Compton (afterwards first Earl of Northampton). If we may believe the old story, he carried off his lady love concealed in a baker's basket, from Canonbury House, Islington, Sir John's country residence, which still belongs to the Northampton family. After the birth of her child in 1601 a reconciliation took place, as some say through the influence of Queen Elizabeth, and Sir John eventually left her his fortune, variously estimated at from five hundred to eight hundred thousand pounds, a sum so vast that the inheritance of it is thought for a time to have turned the brain of his sonin-law. The heiress helped him to spend it freely, if we may judge by her letter to him written about 1616–1617, and printed in the European Magazine for June 1782, wherein she states her requirements, while apparently priding herself on their moderation. A few of them are as follow :— £1,600 a year paid quarterly for apparel and £600 a year for charity, £8,000 for jewels and £6,000 for a pearl chain ; two coaches, one lined with velvet and two gentlewomen, as "it is an indecent thing for a gentlewoman to stand mumping alone when God hath blessed her lord and lady with a great estate." After mentioning many other things that appeared to her to be necessary, she concludes thus: "So now that I have declared to you my mind what I would have, and what I would not have, I pray you when you be an Earl, to allow me £1,000 more than I now desired and double attendance. Your loving wife,

Eliza Compton."

Spencer died on March 3rd, 1610; his funeral at St. Helen's was sumptuous, and on a fine monument at that church the effigies of him and his lady repose side by side, their daughter, who in life seems to have been so little inclined to obedience, meekly kneeling at their feet.

Four months after Sir John's death, Lord Compton, his son-in-law, bought back two of the four messuages, reserved in the sale of Crosby Place by the Ciolls to Bond. It is, however, doubtful if he ever resided there, for in a lease of 1615, in which the place is let for 21 years to William Russell at a rent of £200 a year, it is said that the house was then or late in the tenure of the Dowager Countess of Pembroke, the "Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother," of Ben Jonson's epitaph.

For some years after this the East India Company were renting the place or part of it, as proved by various documents. From the State papers Mr. Goss has published a curious series of extracts bridging over this period, which had escaped my notice. I venture to cull the following:— "September 12, 1627. Ordered that the turret and other decayed places of Crosby House be forthwith repaired." "March 30, 1631. The stone warehouse at Crosby House, which is much decayed, to be forth with repaired." "May 10–20, 1633. Report of Alderman Abdy that he hath been informed of a purpose in the Earl of Northampton to resume Crosby House into his hands at the expiration of the Company's lease, which will be within four or five years, whereupon he is intreated, or any other of the Committees known to his Lordship, to acquaint him with the report and know his answer, that so the Company may prepare and settle themselves accordingly."

Lord Compton was created Earl of Northampton in 1618, and died in 1630. From him the mansion descended to his son Spencer, 2nd Earl, who was certainly occupying it in 1638, immediately after the Company's tenure, as is proved by a curious lease of that year for the supply of water to the house by the New River Company. He died a hero's death when fighting for the King at Hopton Heath in 1642, and two years before this had leased it to Sir John Langham, Sheriff of London in 1642, for a period of 99 years. Sir John, by trade a Turkey merchant, was an ardent supporter of monarchy ; and with other prominent citizens was twice sent to the Tower for resisting decrees of Parliament. It seems strange that during his tenure of Crosby House it was used as a temporary prison for Loyalists, or "malignants" as they were sometimes called. But this was perhaps only when he held the office of sheriff. The following notices of such imprisonment have appeared in print. On October 31st, 1642, the House of Commons ordered "the removal of ten prisoners from Crosby Place to Gresham Colledge"; and on December 19th, 1642, the prisoners who had been committed to Crosby Place and Gresham College were to be sent to Lambert House. Sir Kenelm Digby is said to have been confined at Crosby Place, but I can only find mention of his imprisonment in 1642, first as recorded in Sir Roger Twysden's "Journal," at the "Three Tobacco Pipes nigh Charing Cross," where his conversation "made the prison a place of delight," and afterwards at Winchester House, Southwark. Sir John Langham was M.P. for the City of London in 1654, and for Southwark in 1660, he was knighted by Charles II. at the Hague when on a deputation urging him to come to England just before the Restoration, and shortly afterwards made a baronet. He died at Crosby Place May 13th, 1671, in the 88th year of his age, and with his death its palmy days were numbered. After that we have not much to tell but a story of destruction and decay.

To retrace our steps for a few moments. The great fire of London is sometimes said to have injured the outlying parts of the building, but this, I feel sure, is a mistake. According to the plan called "An exact surveigh of the streets, &c. within the ruins of the city of London—first described in six Plats 10 Decmr Ao Domi 1666 and reduced into one entire Plat" by the engraver George Vertue, the fire did not come near it, and we know that until our own time Crosby Hall Chambers, Bishopsgate Street remained in existence, a short distance south of the passage to Crosby Square and once within the grounds of the mansion. This building was at least as old as 1533, that being the date on a mantel piece there. The Bank of Scotland now stands on the site and the mantelpiece is in the Board Room. There were of late in Great St. Helen's houses equally ancient, while to the south-east, at no great distance, is the 16th century church of St. Andrew Undershaft. However, within a short time of Langham's death a destructive fire took place in the southern portion of Crosby Place, and although, luckily, the splendid hall and other chambers escaped intact, what was left of the building ceased to be used as a residential mansion. On the ruins Crosby Square arose soon afterwards with gardens on the south side.

The freehold belonged to the Comptons till, in 1678, it was sold to Edward Cranfield by James, third Earl of Northampton. From him, in 1692, it passed to William Freeman, who after holding part of the property on a sublease, also this year bought from Sir Stephen Langham the remainder of his leasehold interest.

There is no occasion to repeat the later history of Crosby Place with very much detail. Sir John Langham had various sons, more than one of whom lived in the parish. The eldest, James, who succeeded him in the baronetcy, was already knighted in 1660, when his first wife, Mary, died and was buried in St. Helen's church. A younger son, the Stephen above referred to, knighted in 1676, is thought to have resided in the house for a short time after the father's death, perhaps till the unfortunate fire occurred there. I find many references to this son in the registers of St. Helen's. The earliest is an announcement that his intended marriage with "Mistris Marie Hoste, daughter of Mr. Derrick Hoste of Mortlake in the Countie of Surrey, Marchant," had been " published 3 seuerall lord's daies in the Prish Church, vizt the 23rd and 30th daies of Aprill and 7th daie of May, 1654, and noe exception made against it." The next entry tells us that on May 8th the wedding took place before "one of the Aldermen and Justices of the Peace wt in the Cittie of London." Stephen is described as "of the prish of Saint Hellens, Marchant, sonne of John Langham of the said prish, Esquier." This ceremony was carried out in accordance with an Act passed by the Little Parliament in 1653, by which marriage was pronounced to be merely a civil contract. But, to return to the main subject of our paper, by 1672 the hall was converted in part into a Pres by terian meeting house, of which some notable men held the ministry; the first of them was Thomas Watson, ejected minister of St.Stephen's, Walbrook, whose career is sketched in the Dictionary of National Biography. It continued to be so used for nearly a hundred years, the last sermon being preached there October 1st, 1769, after which the congregation migrated to Maze Pond, Southwark. James Relly, Universalist, who had preached at a chapel in Bartholomew Close, then took the lease and held it until his death in 1678. Relly was head of a sect of his own, which did not thrive in this country, but he made a convert of John Murray, founder of the Universalist churches in America.

It is difficult to say in what particular part of Crosby House was the "General Post Office" so marked in Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1677. In connection with it the following paragraph quoted by the Rev. Charles Mackenzie from the "Mercury or Advertisements concerning Trade" for May 23, 1678, is of considerable interest :—"At Crosby House in Bishopgate Street where the late General Post Office was kept, there will be held a public sale of a very considerable quantity of goods, lately belonging to a person deceased, being fine tapestry hangings, new and old, with carpets, damask, mohair and other rich beds, bedding, &c., &c. ... a very good chariot, and a Black Girl about fifteen years of age." At this time the building was appropriated to various uses ; the ground floor of the banquetting hall was a warehouse, in the occupation of one Granado Chester, a grocer. On a level with the minstrels' gallery a floor had been inserted, making a first storey, then recently used by the dissenting congregation. A staircase ascending on the outside of the hall led to this floor through an entrance made in the upper part of the bay window. Either then or shortly afterwards a second floor was added for the reception of foreign products. The two rooms, latterly known as the "throne room" and the "council room," which ran west at right angles to the hall, and had formed the north wing of the outer court of the original building, were then held at £160 a year by the "Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies," who had returned to the premises formerly occupied by them. These rooms, the lower one of which is called in the deed of Cioll's sale to William Bond the great parlour and that above it the great chamber, had a fine bay window run ning up from the ground like that of the hall, but between 1780 and 1690 it was alienated from the hall, being handed over to a Mr. Hall of the adjoining house, perhaps belonging to the firm of packers mentioned below, that he might make a staircase in it, and in the spring of 1816, according to Wilkinson's Londina Illustrata, all the beautiful pillars and ornamental masonry of the council room were taken down by order of Mr. Strickland Freeman, then owner, and used to adorn a dairy he was building at Henley-on-Thames. Wilkinson, writing about 1817, says that "until within the last fifteen years many fragments of stained glass adorned and beautified several of the windows, but they have been accidentally broken and given away to the antiquarian visitors who have occasionally investigated the place." It may be well to record the fact that the stained glass latterly in the hall was modern. The arms and badges in the various lights of the bay window were designed and presented by Thomas Willement, F.S.A. An account of them appears in the "Mirror" for December, 1844. The other windows had the arms of subscribers to the restoration.

Before 1790 the hall was tenanted, under the Freemans, by Messrs. Holmes & Hall, packers, who, we may be sure, further mutilated it, until in 1831, their lease having run out, the site was advertised to be let for building, which meant the destruction of everything. Then, as now, public feeling was aroused against such an act of vandalism. A meeting was held on May 8th, 1832, at the City of London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street, "to take into consideration the best means to be adopted for preserving and restoring Crosby Hall," Alderman W. T. Copeland, M.P., being in the chair. A committee was formed, among its members being the Marquess of Northampton, Lord Grenville, Lord Nugent, Sir Stephen Glynne, Francis Chantrey, the famous sculptor (not yet knighted) E. Blore, J. C. Buckler, and W. Tite, the architects; Etty, the painter; antiquaries such as A. J. Kempe, J. B. Nichols and J. Gough Nichols, John Rickman, and many others. A short historical and antiquarian notice of the Hall appeared from the pen of Mr. E. J. Carlos, one of the committee, in the Gentleman's Magazine for November 1832, which was also published separately. Money was subscribed, the Grocers' Company giving £100. About that time William Freeman, the owner, having attained his majority, a new lease for 99 years was granted. The work of repair was then begun under the direction of Blore, who gave his services gratuitously. In March 1835 the funds at the disposal of the Committee had been exhausted by the expense of repairing the hall and the removal of the floor that cumbered it. A generous lady, Miss Hackett, came forward and "proposed to take the lease with all the clauses, covenants, and options contained therein, and to uphold the fabric according to the terms of the lease, and the resolutions of the Committee so as to preserve its ancient character. To carry into effect the engagements of the Committee by making an entrance into Bishopsgate Street, and to offer the hall at a moderate rental to the Gresham Committee for the use of the lecturers under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, or to appropriate the same to some other public object or objects connected with science, literature or the arts." This lady further agreed to discharge all the outstanding liabilities incurred by the Committee in the execution of their trust beyond the amount of the subscription. Under Miss Hackett the first stone of the new work was laid, June 27th, 1836, in that part of the building known as the Council Room and Throne Room. Mr. W. T. Copeland, M.P., then Lord Mayor, made an appropriate speech anticipating with much satisfaction that the stone which he placed there would be the foundation stone of Gresham College. He afterwards led the way into the hall, where a banquet was prepared in the old English style, the floor being strewn with rushes.

Mr. E. L. Blackburn, architect, who wrote the interesting "Architectural and Historical Account of Crosby Place," was the architect then appointed. Under his superintendence the south wall of the throne and councilrooms, with their windows, was rebuilt, and the roof repaired. We learn from Baron Bunsen's Memoirs that, in March 1839, Mrs. Fry was here "presiding over a bazaar of works and books, to be sold for the benefit of female prisoners and convicts." He rightly calls it "glorious Crosby Hall." Negotiations with the Gresham Committee came to an end, a matter for regret, as the hall would have been most suitable for lectures, and it would be hard to devise a building more dismal or inappropriate than the present Gresham College. After the failure of the negotiations a company of proprietors was formed who purchased Miss Hackett's interest, appointed Mr. John Davies their architect, and completed the work of repair and restoration, adapting the building to the requirements of the Crosby Hall Literary and Scientific Institution, which began to occupy it in 1842. Strange to say, in spite of large sums which had been spent, no steps were then taken to safeguard the building from future attack, and the institution above named appealing to no one in particular, with difficulty dragged on its existence until it gave place to the City of London evening classes, an equally unsuccessful venture. Then for seven years the old hall was used by a wine merchant. In 1868 it became a restaurant. In 1871 the whole of the property was put up to auction by the Freeman family, much of it being sold, including houses in Bishopsgate Street, Crosby Square and Great St. Helen's, but they bought in the hall for £22,500, only to sell it privately to Messrs. Gordon & Co. shortly afterwards. It continued to be used as a restaurant until, during last spring, the sad news was suddenly sprung upon us that it had been sold to a bank for immediate demolition. Alas ! the secret had been too well kept. Gallant efforts were made to rescue this unique fabric, but it was found impossible to raise the huge sum demanded. Thus it comes about that to the amazement of foreigners and to our abiding shame and sorrow Crosby Hall has ceased to be.


  • 1. In the quarto edition Shakespeare has "Crosby Place," in the folio edition published after his death it is "Crosby House."
  • 2. Cresacre More says of him when much in favour, that at one time "it pleased his majesty and the queen after the council had supped, at supper time commonly to call for him to hear his pleasant jests." The result being that "he could scarce once in a month get leave to go home to his wife and children, whom he had now placed at Chelsey three miles from London by the water's side." He therefore "much misliking the restraint of his liberty began to dissemble his mirth," and by degrees "was not so ordinarily sent for."
  • 3. More added to his property at Chelsea about the time of the sale of Crosby Place. In the "Feet of Fines" for Middlesex two purchases by him are recorded in 1524, one of a messuage and seven-and-a-half acres of land in Chelsea and Kensington for £20, the other of twenty-seven acres in Chelsea for £30.
  • 4. *James Altham had been sheriff of London in 1557. He married Elizabeth, sister of Sir Thomas Blancke, Lord Mayor in 1583, and his son Sir James Altham became a judge.