The records of the buildings

Pages 33-54

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

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The records; Blackburn; Papworth

The unique interest attaching to Crosby Place, always prominent among our city mansions, and till lately their sole survivor, has provided an unfailing subject for the pen of each historian of London, and has persuaded not a few to make it the theme of a special work. Of these accounts by far the most scholarly and complete is that by Edward L. Blackburn, architect, entitled "An Architectural and Historical Account of Crosby Hall," published in 1834, and a careful collation of the several descriptions and drawings establishes the accuracy, and—in points regarding which no certainty is possible—the great probability, of much that he wrote. This, however, applies only to his research among the buildings of which he had cognisance; for the discoveries of vaults, unknown to Blackburn, by J. Woody Papworth, brother of the well-known Wyatt Papworth, in 1841, have, without damaging his main conclusions, considerably amplified his conjectural general plan. Papworth entered the field of research to prepare for the somewhat fanciful reconstruction of Crosby Place, for which the Royal Institute of British Architects had offered the Soane Medallion, the most coveted of their annual prizes. He succeeded in winning the medal, and his drawings are preserved at the Institute library. With them is an elaborate MS. memoir of Crosby Place, which, in contrast to their purely hypothetical character, is a work of real historical value.

Wilkinson; Nash and Davis

Pictorially, Wilkinson in his Londina Illustrata (1819) is our best authority, and although he has allowed some slight errors or inconsistencies to appear he is, in the main, unobscured by the rash invention that mars the work of some of his contemporaries. It is true that Wilkinson restores for us the north side of the outer court, but his artist, Frederick Nash—whom Turner declared to be the finest architectural painter of his day—has done this with so much skill, and has, moreover, made so fine a drawing, that we can be nothing but grateful to him. Next to Wilkinson the MS. notes of this same Nash and his friend Valentine Davis in the library of the R.I.B.A. are most important in preserving for us many details of the building as early as 1804, if we may accept the date subsequently written upon the cover in another hand, but these notes are intelligible only to the trained architect and do not give complete information.

Britton, Pugin; Hammon; Carlos; Malcolm

Of the others Britton (1813) and Pugin (1825) give us beautiful and elaborate drawings of the principal features, which form a delightful contribution to their record of Gothic architecture, but, unfortunately, they have taken no steps to ensure the complete reliability of their drawings, and thus, the one by inaccurate details, the other by an ill-considered restoration, has each forfeited his claim to our unqualified gratitude.

H.J. Hammon (1844) is not to be trusted in regard to the ancient part of the building, and, indeed, it is fair to say that his work does not pretend to any historical accuracy. Beyond further elaborating Papworth's invention, his main purpose was to delineate the restoration of the buildings by John Davies, architect, and in this he had, of course, no difficulty. His book presents us with drawings of the building as it has come down to us with fair accuracy. A pamphlet by E. J. Carlos (second edition, 1832), though of a very slight character, furnishes a few useful details; and J. P. Malcolm in his Londinium Redivivum (1803), Thos. Allen in his "History of London" (1830), and the several other writers who will be found included in the bibliography, help us in various ways to build up again in imagination the fairmansion which has at length succumbed to its destiny, after more than two centuries of adverse fortune at the hands of the destroyer and the restorer alike.

In the following brief critical examination of the records of the ancient buildings of Crosby Place we shall take Mr. Blackburn's book as our guide, and refer to the other authorities as occasion demands. Blackburn was the first architect to attempt the restoration of the building, beginning in 1836; and even were his arguments not so carefully given, his testimony would necessarily have greatest weight since he was the first expert upon the scene who has given us the full results of his investigation.

Boundaries of the estate; The lease

At the outset we have to face the most puzzling portion of our task—the delineation of the boundaries of the original estate and the disposition of the main buildings thereon. Blackburn and Hammon have attempted thisin somewhat different ways, and although it is impossible to arrive at any final conclusion on points of detail, it is easy to state our small amount of definite information.

The site of Crosby Place belonged to St. Helen's Priory, and occupied a position directly south of the Priory Close in Bishopsgate Street. On the southern portion of this estate stood originally a large mansion in which had lived a Genoese merchant, Cataneo Pinelli; and this house Sir John Crosby leased from the Convent for some time before he acquired the land lying between it and the Close for the purpose of extending his buildings.

The lease of the first property is not extant, but a copy of the second lease, namely, that of 1466, embodying a very careful description of the new property, is given on page 65. It will be seen that the original estate of Pinelli's is briefly dismissed with words of which these are a translation : "All that tenement with the rooms, 'solars,' cellars, and the garden adjoining and facing the same tenement, and other appurtenances, once in the tenure of Cataneo Pinelli, merchant of Genoa, and then in the tenure of the said John. And which the same John lately held under the lease of Alice Wodehous, late prioress of the house or church aforesaid, and of the Convent of the same place, situate and lying in Bisshoppesgatestrete in the parish of Saint Helen aforesaid in London." Evidently the boundaries of this property were well known, and it seems probable that they would have been carefully defined in the original lease and therefore were not repeated here. Following the words of the lease we read " together with a certain lane which extends in length from the east gate of the said tenement as far as the corner or south end of a certain small lane turning northwards into the Close of the Priory aforesaid." This takes us to the east gate of Pinelli's house, which remained also the eastern or back entrance to Crosby Place. It was situated either in or very near the position of the east entrance to the present Crosby Square, at the end of the lane which leads to St. Mary Axe. This is made quite clear by a later reference in the same lease as follows: " the aforesaid lane from the said tenement in a straight line as far as a certain road turning south by the church of Saint Andrew in Cornhill, London." The "road" evidently being St. Mary Axe, which turns southward towards St. Andrew Undershaft, to which Cornhill formerly extended.

The lane from the back gate

The first thing that is defined in the lease, therefore, in addition to Pinelli's house, is the lane from the back gate, now part of Great St. Helen's, and possession is given as far as the end of a little lane turning north into St. Helen's Close. Blackburn and Hammon have both attempted to identify a passage which is said to have passed through No. 6, Great St. Helen's, and to have led immediately behind Crosby Square to the east gate, as this "little lane," the former citing Horwood's map of 1799, which indicates part of this way, to support his view. This forced interpretation of the lease presumably originated in the effort to make the later limits of the estate coincide with the earlier; but there can be little doubt that the words as they stand point to that part of Great St. Helen's, which does, in fact, turn north into the Priory Close. The lease later on gives Crosby the right of way through the whole length of the lane into St. Mary Axe, but here it distinctly gives him possession as far as the little lane that turns northwards into the Close. The other interpretation in making the east gate the termination of both lanes deprives of meaning the words "usqu' ad cornerum sive finem, etc." and also makes unnecessary the subsequent paragraph in which the prioress stipulates that the inhabitants of the Priory shall be allowed free passage through the lane and apparently through the estate to Bishopsgate Street. The "little lane," or that part of Great St. Helen's which runs between Bishopsgate Street and St. Mary Axe, was an ancient thoroughfare leading from both sides to the parish church, and it is on record that the nuns frequently attempted to destroy the right of way. (fn. 1) The lane could scarcely have assumed its present strange course had it not bounded some valuable private land.

Sketch Plan drawn from map by Ogilby and Morgan, 1677. W. H. G.

Sketch Plan, drawn from the Ordnance Survey, 1894. W. H. G.

Boundary in Bishopsgate Street

Immediately after describing this lane, which is carefully included in each recitation of the property, the lease proceeds to Bishopsgate Street and defines the north-western limits of the estate. The description is in such detail and so clear that it can be summarised as follows without fear of dispute. From the north wall of Pinelli's house (against which the front gateway of Crosby Place was afterwards built, in the precise situation of the present entrance to Crosby Square) six houses are described in Bishopsgate Street, until we reach the Priory Close. The Close was entered through an archway, above which was a belfry (campanile), and just within the Close, adjoining the gateway and the last of the six houses, was a seventh house formerly tenanted by a widow named Katherine Catesby. Blackburn states that the sixth house in Bishopsgate Street projected beyond the gate about ten feet; the site was afterwards occupied by the "White Lion" public-house, which existed in his day. The lease states, furthermore, that the boundary line extended eastwards 58 feet and a half in a direct line from the outer angle of the belfry, past Katherine Catesby's house, and enclosed an adjacent piece of vacant land, round which it turned southward to a house formerly tenanted by Robert Smyth. This last, together with another house in the tenancy of Sir John Crosby himself, is mentioned as being within the Close. These make up the total of nine houses (novem messuagios) of the lease.

Boundary towards the Close of St. Helen's

Here our information ceases, and there have been several attempts to trace the remaining confines of the property, none of which, however, are convincing. In view of the scrupulous care with which this small corner of the estate has been described in the lease it would seem plausible to suppose that from the last two houses (which are situated jointly within the Close) the outline of the property would follow that of the Close itself, which would be well known and clearly defined, returning round Great St. Helen's to the east gate already mentioned. We know, however, from the conventual leases that there were several houses in the Close, and one of these must almost certainly have been within the portion just described. The last act of the prioress and nuns before the dissolution was to let this house to the then tenant of Crosby Hall—Antonio Bonvisi— in these terms (quoted from the confirmation of the lease by Edward VI. in 1547) : "AND ALSO all that tenement or chamber with all cellars. upper chambers, and other appurtenances situate and being in a certain alley below the close of the said late Priory constructed and built over the 'larder howse' and the 'cole-howse' of the said tenement called Crosbyes Place, once in the tenure of Juliana (fn. 2) Francys." The alley is mentioned in several leases and is in all likelihood the same as the parva venella of Crosby's Latin lease. If, then, there were houses bordering on the Close (fn. 3) and continuing along the lane, the boundary of Crosby Place would pass at their rear. This point will be further discussed in reference to the plan of the buildings.

Southern limits of estate

It remains, then, to seek the extent of the southern and original portion of the estate, that belonging to Pinelli's house. Starting from the East Gate, Blackburn considers that the boundary line "returned almost at right angles to the west about 43 feet and then extended due south," following thus the eastern wall of the house and garden of No. 4, Crosby Square, the only spot, by the way, on the whole estate that preserved till the past year (1907) something of its ancient natural beauty. We shall refer to this last of the city gardens again, but its interest at this point consists in its east and south walls having formed the south-east limit of Crosby Place, the south wall being also the parish boundary. Ogilby and Morgan's map (1677) shows this quite plainly as part of the gardens of Crosby Place, and seems also to suggest that they are contained within its west wall, along which the parish boundary turns northwards before it resumes its westerly course to Bishopsgate Street. If the limit of Crosby Place was that of the parish boundary it would pass down the site of the north wall of the Wesleyan Centenary Hall (lately rebuilt), to which point the vaults of the house are said to have reached. Blackburn and Hammon, however, continue the line of the south garden wall, and in confirmation of this it may be said that during recent excavations at this point a mediæval wall of good rubble, 3 feet thick, was found, extending from the present ground level to a depth of some 14 feet of made earth, which apparently continued in a straight line both east and west of the garden. The south wall was on the old foundation, and the east and west walls were found to be upon the site of cross walls of less size but of similar date, the former being of some length, as we should expect from the above description of the property. Whichever line it followed the boundary of the site seems to have approached Bishopsgate Street within some 30 or 40 feet, and to have returned to the great house in an irregular course behind the houses which bordered the highway.

Such was in all probability the estate leased by Sir John Crosby in 1466, and immediately afterwards he planned his new buildings with (in his own words) "great and notable cost," including those apartments which have remained to us, for the greater part in their original extent and in situ, although restored and modified in various ways.

Remains of original house of Cataneo Pinelli

The house formerly tenanted by Cataneo Pinelli, has been mentioned above as reaching the southern part of the entrance now leading from Bishopsgate Street to Crosby Square. In support of this statement we have not only the words of the lease which describes the land from the front of the house, along the street towards the Priory, but the record of the existence until quite recently of a vault in this position which had unmistakeable evidence of a date prior to Crosby's building (see Plate No. 14). All the other vaults which have remained in their original state were formed of elliptical brick arches, but this vault was built with stone ribs in two quadripartite bays, the web being of chalk. Furthermore, the apartment above this, of which considerable portions existed in Blackburn's day, was not of the same dimensions as the vault, being several feet less in length. This room on the ground floor was of the date of Crosby's building and formed its south wing, being brought into line with the north wing which contained the great parlour. Sir John Crosby appears thus to have pulled down the northern portion of Pinelli's house and rebuilt it further from the street. In the " Plans and Particulars of Crosby Hall Estate" (1871) this vault is described as in two portions, one part belonging to No. 1, Crosby Square, the other to No. 28, Bishopsgate Street. It was finally destroyed in June, 1899, when the existing business premises were built. (fn. 4)

Plan of Crosby Place

From the south wing northward the whole building was evidently of Crosby's planning, and he arranged his new rooms on three sides of an outer courtyard, without interfering with the houses in Bishopsgate Street. The principal range of buildings which formed the east side of this court was projected northwards towards the Priory Close (from which there was a side entrance), and it evidently stretched also some considerable distance toward the south, as indicated by the vaults shown in Wilkinson's plan (Plate 19) and corroborated by Papworth. In Ogilby and Morgan's map (1677) the southern line of buildings is clearly shown, and since the vaults are described as of brick and of the same character as the others, it seems likely that they were Sir John Crosby's work. This remark applies also to the vaults discovered by Papworth between the eastern range of buildings and the street (see plan). It is more than likely that the greater part of Pinelli's house was taken down, although it is possible that a somewhat similar arrangement was again adopted to avoid excavation, and the two small courtyards are perhaps a correct indication of the earlier house. We may note here that the vault D which appears detached in Wilkinson is almost certainly not intended to be in its correct relation to the rest of the buildings. Papworth identifies it with the portion marked D on plan 19, and since the dimensions tally, this seems a reasonable conclusion. In the conjectural plan published with this, an attempt has been made to harmonise the information contained in the plans of Wilkinson and Papworth, and the published "Particulars of the Crosby Hall Estate," since parts of these are mutually destructive.

When we pass on to the area which lies east of the principal range, we are confronted with many difficulties. It is here that Crosby Square now stands, and all traces of the former buildings have been long obliterated. We consult Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1677, but find nothing that can help us to form any clear judgment, and our investigation turns upon little more than a balance of probabilities. In by far the larger number of mediæval plans the great hall divides the inner and outer courtyards, the communication between which is effected by a passage screened from one end of the hall. As we shall see later on, the passage and screen no doubt existed in the hall of Crosby Place, but it is very doubtful whether there was another courtyard directly east of this. Blackburn and Hammon both imply that the reason was the proximity of the boundary line which latterly touched the east wall of the hall, but the former writer concedes the possibility of a different limit which should admit of the projection of the north-west wing backwards in an easterly direction. It seems, however, improbable that this was the case. It must be remembered that Sir John Crosby's buildings were merely an extension of an existing building, and their main object undoubtedly was to add fitting state apartments to an already large mansion. If we were to expect to find here the orthodox plan, we should require the first or outer courtyard to be surrounded by the offices, but instead we find it enclosed by the best rooms of the place. This irregularity may have been due to its position within the city walls, since town houses tend partly to reverse the plans of the countrymansion, in placing their important front towards the street; but, however this may be, it makes the task of reconstruction more than ever conjectural. The unbroken range of windows along the east wall of the hall shows that no wing on that side could have been built of any height, although the raised sills of the two extreme northern lights would admit of something low. The adjoining building, however, which necessitated the raising of these windows was probably a part of one of the two houses in the Close mentioned in the lease. These do not appear to have been pulled down by Sir John Crosby, since they are again expressly mentioned in the grant of Crosby Place to Antonio Bonvisi by Henry VIII., and also in subsequent leases: a reference to the plan will show how closely they must have approached to the side.

The inner courtyard

There is, however, evidence for an inner court, further south, though perhaps erected after the hall. A mediæval wall at the south end of the hall continued eastward, and some portion, on the authority of Blackburn, remains under No. 8, Crosby Square. Blackburn takes this to be the north wall of the northern range of the court, but Hammon, following Papworth, makes it the south wall. The latter view, which would place the range much in the position of the present houses of the Square, seems to be refuted by the fact that it would block the southern hall windows and the light to the vault, which latter still remains and is shown correctly in Wilkinson's plan. On the other hand, Ogilby and Morgan's map shows a building very much in this position—indeed, it indicates a complete courtyard considerably smaller than the present square, the buildings around which are shaded with the cross-hatching that marks the rest of Crosby Place. If this were so, Blackburn's conjectural wing would have lain in the centre of the yard, which could scarcely have been unless this part of the house was entirely rebuilt. The testimony of the map must, however, be received with caution, since it obviously does not show the south wing of the outer courtyard in its original form. The map is dated 1677, and the fire which demolished so much of this part of the house occurred not later than 1676, and very possibly earlier. It is uncertain, then, whether Ogilby's survey was made before this catastrophe, and even if correct it is quite possible that it shows buildings erected after Sir John Crosby's tenancy.

The east gate

Archway formerly beneath East side of Crosby Square. From Wilkinson.

The only portion of the building on this side which survived the construction of the Square was the east or back gate, which was apparently an isolated gateway, some 50 feet away from the eastern courtyard. This gateway existed in its original position till early in the last century—for the engraving in Wilkinson, although showing a later archway (erected probably at the time of the building of the Square) indicates the stone jambs of an earlier opening. Carlos mentions the fact of its removal, and the substitution of a "bressummer" or beam, and from this and the words of Crosby's lease we should locate it in the present position of the eastern opening to the Square. Ogilby and Morgan's map does not show the gate, but indicates a small space into which the lane opens.

The gardens

The south side of the courtyard Blackburn considers to have been enclosed merely by a wall, and it may be mentioned that the buildings which Ogilby shows here are separated by a line from the main block, which may indicate a comparatively modern addition. It is pretty certain that further south lies the site of the gardens of Crosby Place, and in all likelihood the inner court looked out upon these. Here is situated No. 4, Crosby Square, sold by the Freemans in the early seventies of last century. It was built some years after the formation of the Square and still contains a delightful staircase with good carving of the period. This house possessed until the autumn of last year (1907) a beautiful little garden with a water basin and fountain, marked on the Ordnance map. There is a certain mournful appropriateness in the disappearance of this last relic of natural beauty, with its picturesque thorn and fig trees, only just before the destruction of the great hall itself. (Plates 16, 17.)

The outer courtyard; The "foregate"; The postern and bay window of great parlour; Doorway removed to Fawley Court

Doorway from Crosby Hall now part of the Dairy at Fawley Court, Bucks.

It is some relief to turn from the uncertainties of long-forgotten boundaries to the more tangible remains which we have seen so lately, and of which we have records. The outer courtyard of Crosby Place is, as we have shown, clearly defined. Not only have we plans of the vaults beneath the north, east, and south ranges of buildings, but in Blackburn's day the whole of these walls existed either intact or in part above ground, and their dimensions are given by Nash and Davis. The wall also that bounded the western side of the court, dividing it from Bishopsgate Street, was to be seen at the back of the houses there. To quote Blackburn: "It still goes up as high as the parapet of the hall, and is faced with squared stone, of the same description as that used in other external portions of the building, but shows no openings towards the court." The entrance to the courtyard was at the southern end of this wall, through the "foregate" (mentioned thus in the lease to Alderman Wm. Bond), which stood against the wall of the south wing. As the visitor approached he saw right in front of him the main doorway of the great hall, this latter stretching across the whole east side of the court; to his left were the state rooms—the great parlour below and the great chamber above—and to his right the large apartment, which it has been conjectured was the private chapel. The most prominent features of these buildings were the two bay windows, running the full height of the structure, the one being the chief ornament of the hall itself, the other belonging to the great parlour and the room above. Between these two bays, which were some 15 feet apart, was the curious postern leading from the court into the great parlour. Nash, in the beautiful engraving published by Wilkinson, has essayed to restore for us the appearance of this angle of the building, and although we may hesitate to accept his restoration of the great parlour bay, it is evident that in the spacing and form of the windows he is but following what was almost certainly the original design. It is quite possible, too, that he had authority for the drawing of the bay, since Wilkinson expressly says that this was taken down thirty years previously and built on to an adjoining house to form a staircase, and Nash may have owed his details to a special examination of this staircase, supposing it to have been then in existence. We are inclined to attach more weight to this supposition since he publishes another drawing of the interior of the great parlour and chamber showing the bay. In view of Wilkinson's clear statement in 1816, we may safely set aside Hammon's remark in 1844 that this bay was removed to the dairy at Fawley Court, Bucks, the residence of Mr. Freeman, sometime owner of Crosby Hall. A careful inspection of the dairy reveals only an arched doorway of fifteenth century work, and this corroborates Wilkinson, who says that certain portions of ornamental stonework were removed by Mr. Freeman for this purpose. Blackburn mentions the plinth and foundation of the bay as still standing and "projecting into the kitchen of the house built in the forecourt," and even from Ogilby and Morgan's plan we can see that Nash cannot be far wrong.

We are, however, anticipating our investigation of the interior of the building, which shall be taken in detail in its turn. Before we leave Nash's drawing it may be noted that Blackburn taxes him with having omitted the postern in his view. It is pretty certain, however, that the bay window of the hall hides the door; and, indeed, a close examination of the print will show that the postern has not altogether escaped his pencil.

The porch to postern

Between these two bay windows Blackburn describes the foundation of a curious wall (see plan) which stood some 6 feet from the north wall of the court, and enclosed the immediate space into which the postern opened. If this was in reality an original wall as Blackburn states, his conjecture is perfectly feasible that it formed a cloistered porch to the postern, being constructed probably as an open screen, the mouldings of which joined the centre mullion of the hall bay. Since this particular mullion had perished before Blackburn's day he is unable to give any further evidence on the point.

The south wing

The apartment occupying the south wing is marked as the chapel on Papworth's plan, but Blackburn contents himself with the label "appropriation uncertain." The supposition that this was the chapel is based upon three slender considerations. In the first place the room is roughly orientated, although the eastern end is inconveniently attached to the main building. In the second place the groined stonework in the crypt has already been mentioned in contrast to the brick vaults under the rest of the house. Thirdly, a certain number of encaustic tiles were discovered in the vault of a similar character to those used in ecclesiastical buildings. Against these arguments we have to point out that the portions of the room remaining in the early years of last century do not strengthen the idea of ecclesiastical purpose.

From a drawing by Frederick Nash.

The "angel" corbel

Nash and Davis have given a plan of the room showing a door and details of the curious double window in its south wall, and Blackburn corroborates with a description of the window which he saw still in situ in the parlour of a Mr. Colley's house, erected on this very place. The arch mouldings of the two lights of this window rested, in the centre, upon a corbel carved in the form of an angel, of which Nash and Davis give a sketch. This corbel was evidently secured by Mr. Lewis N. Cottingham for his famous museum in the Waterloo Road, since the catalogue of the sale of the contents in 1850 has the following: "Lot 992. A moulded and panelled corbel from Crosby Hall; and one of the same character terminating with an angel supporting a shield." Blackburn concludes that the room was some 14 feet high, approximating to the height of the great parlour, and that it had a story above it. This, if correct, together with the character of the windows, makes it unlikely that the apartment was designed as a chapel, although it may have been used as such. The ribbed stone vault may be attributed, with a greater show of probability, to the earlier building of Pinelli, as discussed above, and it must be added that the encaustic tiles, unfortunately for the argument, were not found here alone but also in the great hall and the adjoining room. (fn. 5)

View of groined vault. From Wilkinson.

Staircase from vaults

On the south side of the groined vault Wilkinson's plan shows a stairway, entered by a door, which led to the buildings east of the apartment above, but his view, taken from the doorway marked B on his plan, shows a flight of steps beginning on the right—that is, north. Although these appear to be modern and are not shown on the plan, yet their position seems to tally with a statement of Blackburn's, which other wise stands alone and unproved. He says, speaking of this south wing: "Indications of a bay or oriel similar to that of the north range also occur; though it would also seem to have formed a staircase turret from the fact that at about its probable situation the two or three last steps of a stone staircase leading to the vaults under Mr. Colley's house were discovered during some alterations there. The bottom step was in a small arched doorway opening in the north wall of the vault. It may be conjectured that this staircase led from the rooms on the upper floor to the courtyard and foregate or downwards to the cellars." In this case the outer courtyard would contain three octagonal projections, one on each of the three sides, and with the rows of beautifully proportioned windows must have been a scene of great charm when the southern sun lit the two bays, and heightened that quality of richness so characteristic of our Gothic mansions.

View of vaults taken from point marked a on plan (Plate 14). From Wilkinson.

Entrance to hall; The position of screen and extent of roof; The gallery

The main entrance to the house follows the usually observed custom, in being placed at the end of the hall, and in opening upon a passage divided from the hall itself by a screen. All trace of the entrance has, however, been swept away, and the south wall was entirely rebuilt, apparently at the same time as No. 8, Crosby Square, since the brickwork is of similar date (17th century). The position of the original south wall is shown by the end of the vault in Wilkinson's plan (fn. 6); the position of the screen, by the termination of the roof, which was certainly never carried further than the pier between the second and third windows of the hall. The section through the hall (Plate 28) should be consulted, and it will be seen that the first and second windows are separated only by a stone pier, which does not admit of the corbel placed between the other windows for the purpose of supporting the roof principals. The fact that clinches the matter is that the last truss—between the second and third window —is moulded on one side only, and must, therefore, have been placed against a wall which occupied the position of the modern arched screen shown in the drawings. The modern brick wall immediately below this is thus in the probable position of the earlier wooden screen, over which would be the ancient gallery. Indeed, the timbers which are being taken down at the time of writing from the floor over the archway into Crosby Square are almost certainly the original timbers of the gallery floor. They are much worm-eaten and measure 15 inches by 7 inches in thickness. Whether the south wall originally possessed the three usual doorways to the buttery, kitchen, &c. cannot of course be ascertained, but we may assume that this was the first intention. Subsequently, perhaps immediately after the erection of the hall, the east wing was built, and in it must have been placed the kitchen and offices, since it is difficult to see in what other part could have been situated the "larder-howse" and "cole-howse" adjoining the tenement which has already been mentioned as leased to Bonvisi. It is a little curious that this wing, having a south aspect and a view towards the gardens, should be devoted to such minor domestic uses, but no doubt the rooms on the first floor formed part of the suites of sleeping apartments.

Wall adjoining No. 8, Crosby Square

A lease, dated April 17th, 1679 (in the possession of the writer), refers to the building of the two houses on the north side of Crosby Square, the first of which is evidently No. 8 now adjoining the east end of the passage that formerly passed beyond the screen of the hall. This house extends some distance along the east wall and blocks two of the windows north of the screen. These windows were not destroyed but merely converted into blank panels, and the stone wall was left untouched. Southwards from the screen, however, the wall was taken down and rebuilt in brickwork, and it is impossible to tell whether there was a repetition on this side of the two double windows separated by a mullion which occur on the west. Britton in his elevation inserts these windows, but omits the doorway below that would almost certainly have led, in the first instance to the open air, and latterly to the east wing. A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine (1834, Part I., p. 400), who was living in No. 8, Crosby Square at the time, in the course of certain comments on Mr. Blackburn's book, states that these two windows still existed in the walls of his house, but he is evidently under a misapprehension and must refer to the two adjoining windows, since the wall at this point has been entirely rebuilt with 17th century bricks.

The hall

The hall itself, that is to say, the portion covered by the original roof, has come down to us exactly as Sir John Crosby left it, with the exception of the renewal of a few details. The ornamental roof never extended beyond the eight bays shown on the drawings, since the extreme principal on the north, like that on the south, is moulded on one side only. There seem, however, to be signs of the continuation of ordinary roof timbers at the same height and pitch, and this is quite possible since the building at the north end was certainly two, perhaps three, storeys in height. On the north, therefore, the roof must have terminated against the stone wall which divided the hall from these apartments; fragments only of the wall existed when Britton made his plan in 1813. On the south, as already described, it finished against what was probably a wooden screen, in which was the opening to the gallery and the passage below. The position of the double window and the character of the wall make it certain that the gallery was open to the hall.

The fireplace and louvre

The main features of the beautiful hall have been fully described by Mr. Caröe in another part of this volume. There are, however, one or two controversial points which must be noticed. It is impossible to demonstrate conclusively whether the fireplace was inserted when the hall was built, but its setting had every appearance of being original. The existence of the louvre, and the fact that the eight windows in the east wall are equidistant from one another, leaving barely room for a flue, lend colour to the suggestion that it was a later insertion. On the other hand, the character of the fireplace here and of that in the adjoining room agree with the hall in date, and it would hardly be remarkable that the louvre should be inserted as well. The spacing of the windows was dependent entirely on the bays of the roof, and it is not surprising if much ingenuity were exercised to diminish the chimney stack till it would pass within the narrow space between them.

The paving; The daïs; Wall surface; Bay window in hall

In a lecture on Crosby Place, afterwards printed (1842), the Rev. Chas. Mackenzie states that a different kind of stone was used in the paving beneath the louvre. Mr. Blackburn, however, says: "There is no appearance of a hearth in the paving, which retains its original arrangement." We will not attempt to reconcile these statements; but even supposing that the paving were original and that the position for a hearth were marked by a different stone, it is possible that this was merely the prevalent custom, or provision for a contingency that might at any time occur, in which the old methods could be resumed. The design of the paving, in small diagonal squares, traversed by straight bands, apparently of Purbeck marble, is well shown on the engraving from Wilkinson—and it will be seen that it covers the whole surface of the floor to the north wall, from which point the view is drawn. In the 15th century we should expect to find here a raised daïs, which would include the fireplace on the left, the bay window and doorway on the right. Blackburn, however, failed to find any trace of the daïs, the reason for which may be that it was formed of wood in order that it might be removed on occasion. Edward S. Prior, in his "History of Gothic Art in England," refers to the decline in the 15th century of the custom of dining in the great hall, with the whole household, and the size of the adjoining "great parlour" suggests that the new fashion obtained here. The north end of the hall, on the other hand, is clearly designed for the accommodation of the principal personages, otherwise the bay window would never have been placed in its somewhat confined position against the return wing. It is not unlikely, too, that the raised sills of the windows were occasioned by the use of tapestry and hangings to adorn this end of the hall. Blackburn says that the remaining wall surface was "worked fair" from the roof to the level of the window sills, and that below this, as far as the floor, it was plastered to receive tapestry. The original plaster he described as "still nearly perfect." Regarding the beautiful bay window or oriel on the west side of the hall, the reader is referred to the careful measured drawings on Plate 33 and to Mr. Caröe's notes. The stonework is original, with the exception of various repairs and the restoration of those lights that were destroyed to afford an entrance to the upper part of the hall when it was divided into two storeys in the 18th century. Carter's fine engraving (Plate 2) shows how this was effected, but it will be observed that the upper lights were not in any way impaired; and it is thus very strange to find Pugin erring in his detail of this window. The cusping of the two lower lights is enclosed with a square moulding, and is enriched with subsidiary cusps in all but two of the curves of the cinquefoil; but in the upper part of the window, where each pair of lights is drawn under the curve of one arch, the cusping remains simple and of the same pattern as the other windows of the hall. Pugin, however, repeats the enriched form in his detail of the upper lights and gives a totally different effect. In addition to this, his section through the mullion is incorrect, and he omits the lowest of the three "set-offs" to the external buttresses, the bay window being the only part of the building in which buttresses occur. In the absence of Blackburn's evidence these differences might have been set down to unskilful "restoration," but his definite testimony sets the matter at rest, and we must conclude that Pugin's drawings were made from incomplete and imperfect data.

Apartments to the north of hall; Entrance from the Priory Close

It has been already stated that we have no particulars of the north wall of the hall, it having been destroyed before any records were made. The plan of the room, however, and of the passage adjoining it on the north, can be defined not only from the walls of the vaults, but from what remained of the external and divisional walls. There was an entrance here from the Priory Close, shown on Plate 7, and this doorway, largely restored, remained in its original position till the last. The three square-headed lights shown above the door were evidently an insertion of the 16th century, and were replaced by arched heads in the restoration of John Davies. The door and window as they appeared in 1832 form the subject of the frontispiece to Blackburn's book, and the mouldings are given by Hammon. This door led into a passage or vestibule which communicated, on the left with the room to the north of the hall, on the right with the great parlour. From the Rev. Chas. Mackenzie's description it seems probable that there was evidence for the positions of these doorways, as shown on Britton's plan. He says that the one leading to the great parlour was carefully preserved, and the other is clearly shown by Wilkinson (Plate 7). It is likely that one of the doorways was that removed to Fawley Court, and shown on page 43. Whether there was a door from the passage, leading directly into the hall, is uncertain. Britton shows this blocked up. There would probably, however, be some entrance from the hall to the north room, and thence by the passage to the outside door. The room itself must have been a private ante-room, but nothing remained to show its character or that of the apartments over it. The north wall had been so far demolished that Wilkinson was unable to give us any indication, in his sketch of this end, of the nature of the window, the position of which he shows by an irregular opening.

Apartments adjoining the great parlour; The staircase

Before discussing the details of the great parlour and great chamber, which occupied the north-west wing, it may perhaps be well to consider two rooms which adjoined its north wall and projected outwards towards the Close. The foundations of these are partly shown on Wilkinson's plan of the vaults. Papworth states that they were modern additions and Wilkinson shows no remains of them above ground in his north view. We have, however, very conclusive testimony to their early date, although they were perhaps not part of the first plan, since the external angle to which they were built has retained its original stones, and the ancient wall shows no trace of further extension. Blackburn says of this: "The angle at the north termination of the hall is a perfectly quoined angle and certainly extended no further than 7 ft. 9 ins. from the north wall of the throne room [great chamber]. It is still perfect as high as any of the old work can be traced, which is almost 32 feet." The information which we have, regarding the two rooms, is contained in the deed of sale of Crosby Place by Germain Cioll and his wife to William Bond in 1566 (now in the Bishopsgate Institute), of which mention has been made on a previous page. We have seen that they then retained four tenements. They also kept possession of "one chambre lyinge on the north side of the wall of bricke and stone of the great chambre, which great chambre is over and above the greate parlour of the saied Crosbies Place conteyninge from the saied wall of bricke and stone northward twentie foote of assise and from the west part thereof to the east two and twentie foote of assise; and all the rowmes under the same to the maen grounde and a garret directlie on the same chambre adjoyninge likewise to the wall of bricke and stone aforesaid—and likewise excepted and reserved one little garret or loft conteyninge about twelve foote square adjoyninge to the east ende of the said garret last mentioned directlie on the toppe of the staires leadinge up to the greate chambre of the saied Crosbies Place." The dimensions stated here tally exactly with those shown on the foundations in Wilkinson's plan, and the position of the rooms is so precisely stated that there is no difficulty in placing them as shown on our conjectural plan and marked Rand S. These additions were probably in half-timberwork, the portion S being three storeys at least in height, and the part R containing the staircase with a room over it in the roof. The site of the latter was recently occupied by an office and rooms over, approximately of the size of the earlier building (see Plates 24, 25). Britton indicates the walls of the staircase in his plan, but the stairs which he shows are probably conjectural. That the original staircase was in this position is beyond doubt since the doorway in the external wall of the upper room or great chamber remained in situ, a drawing of it being given by Hammon, who shows it moulded inside and plain outside, besides which a second door opened on to this same space from the upper apartment to the north of the hall through the return wall. Of this Blackburn says: "The latter door and that of the throne room [great chamber], although within 3 feet of each other, are at different levels, the springing of the arch of the last being about even with the sill of the first, on the outside of which are attached two stone steps, apparently of a staircase descending from it. The mouldings of this door are also on the inside, plain splays being outside." Papworth has pointed out that Blackburn has unconsciously inverted his sentence, since the door from the great chamber was some feet above that leading from the other apartment. For "first" we should therefore read "last" or "latter," and vice versâ. This staircase may have been originally in the open, a common feature of the 15th century, and have been enclosed subsequently. The position of the door which led to it from the great parlour is shown on the plan. (fn. 7)

The great parlour and great chamber

It now remains only to consider the north-west wing which adjoined the hall itself and contained the great parlour below, and the great chamber above. It will have been noticed that these are the names given to the two rooms in the deed of sale just quoted, and they were the usual terms used at the time. Gotch in his work on the English Renaissance reminds us that Shakespeare makes even so inconsiderable a person as Slender tell Falstaff that he has a "great chamber" in his house, and we have mentioned before the growing tendency to provide the private apartment which Blackburn calls the "great dining parlour." Writers upon the subject of Crosby Hall have, however, almost invariably made use of the comparatively modern terms of council chamber and throne room as applied to the "great parlour" and "great chamber" respectively; but even on this point they are not agreed, and the Rev. Charles Mackenzie refers to the upper room as the council chamber. Whatever the reason that occasioned these names we prefer to adhere to the earlier nomenclature in this description.

Windows, &c., in great parlour and great chamber; Britton's and Wilkinson's plans

The size of the whole wing is determined by the vault which remained, and indeed sufficient portions of the walls were in existence in 1836 to guide Blackburn in his restoration of the building to its original size and proportions. Wilkinson's view (Plate 6) shows the interior, with the intermediate floor removed for the purpose of presenting the two rooms in one view. The drawing is made from the west end. In the distance, through a breach in the stonework, are to be seen three of the windows of the great hall, and in the east wall are shown the two doorways, of which the right-hand one led into the hall and remained in situ to the end. In the south wall (on the right) beginning from the east, there are three double windows on the upper floor, in the first of which only one light was glazed, the other being a blank panel where the bay window of the hall adjoined (see also Plate 4). These windows are separated by niches. Below the first window was situated the "postern" which was noticed in our description of the courtyard, and of which details may be found in Hammon. The double windows and niches are repeated below. Then follows the bay window, which occurs on both floors, and is in each case flanked by niches showing two blank recessed panels divided by a small battlemented transom. The two parts of the bay window are divided by a floor, and each possesses an elaborately ribbed roof of stone provided with deeply moulded curtain arches. Part of these arches and the shafts that supported them still remain in the wall, being built into the adjoining offices. They were restored in 1836, but the bay windows themselves were removed, as stated on page 43, and have long ago disappeared. Between the bay window and the west wall there was one two-light window on each floor. The correctness of this view of Wilkinson's has been somewhat called in question through the publication by Britton of a different arrangement (Plate 20), but there is little doubt that Wilkinson is right and Britton wrong. It will be seen that the only serious divergence is that the latter places the jambs of a second bay with two more niches between the first bay and the postern. A glance at the plan, however, will show the utter impossibility of this in view of the proximity of the hall bay, and it can only be conjectured that Britton was misled by the record of the two bay windows one above the other, construing this to mean side by side. Blackburn states that this portion of the wall had been replaced by timber framing, but the double window on the west of the bay and that over the postern existed to point to the original design, and he corroborates Wilkinson in every particular. The design of the roof affords additional support to this view, and Malcolm, writing so early as 1803 in his Londinium Redivivum, expressly mentions that between the windows are "niches with pillars connected by pointed arches with those further on."

Details of windows

These windows in the south wall were the only source of light, in Blackburn's opinion, to the great parlour and great chamber. They were very similar in design to the lower lights of the hall bay, having the same elaborate cusping. One other window existed in the north wall of the former on the west side of the fireplace, and its panelled jamb is shown on the left-hand side of Wilkinson's view. Blackburn describes the window on page 40 of his book, and suggests that it might "have been introduced during the reparations by Alderman Bond," since it appeared to be later than the other work.


The original stone chimneypiece of the great parlour, as shown on the drawing, has been preserved. It is similar to that in the great hall. The upper room evidently also possessed a fireplace on the north wall, but Blackburn does not speak of it as existing, and Wilkinson shows only an opening where it had been. Beyond, in the same wall, are to be seen the doorways leading to the staircase already mentioned, and there were indications of another opening between this and the fireplace communicating with the small room on the north side. There would probably be no doorway from the great chamber to the apartments to the north of the hall since they were on a different level. The original west wall which adjoined the backs of the tenements in Bishopsgate Street seems to have had no feature, so far as it had been preserved.

Roof of great chamber; Ceiling of great parlour; Roof formerly in Cottingham's museum

The last subject for our investigation is the once beautiful roof of the great chamber and the ceiling of the room below. Of the former we have the descriptions of Malcolm and Blackburn and the drawing of Wilkinson, all of whom, however, saw it only in a sadly despoiled condition. Pugin's and Britton's details (Plates 22, 23) revive much of its beauty for us, and we learn that its curved principals with their delicate cusps and pendantswere highly gilt and enclosed ribbed panels with tracery of elaborate design. E. J. Carlos (1832) says of this: "The quatrefoils and the rest of the ornamented wood work were removed from the ceiling previous to the year 1819; a great portion of which, and probably the ceiling of the apartment on the ground floor, or some portion of it, appears to have been purchased by Charles Yarnold, Esq., of Great St. Helen's, at the sale of whose museum on June 11th, 1825, the whole was purchased by L.N. Cottingham, Esq., architect, and at present forms the ceiling of his very interesting museum of English architecture and antiquities attached to his residence in the Waterloo Road." In another place Carlos quotes the information which Malcolm received from some workmen attached to Crosby Hall to the effect that there had been "a stuccoed gilded ceiling with pendants" to the great parlour also, and in a note he adds the following particulars from Mr. Cottingham: "The ceiling was horizontal—(in this respect it differed from the upper chamber)— and richly panelled." Cottingham's museum in the Waterloo Road was well known, and after the owner's death it was sold by auction, an illustrated catalogue of its contents dated 1850 being preserved in the British Museum. As frontispiece or cover to this catalogue is a line drawing (fn. 8) of a roof with the inscription, "Ceiling formerly in the Council Chamber at Crosby Hall." This illustration shows a flat ceiling of four panels in width, enriched with quatrefoils, and intersected in its length by arched principals adorned with cusps similar to that shown in the details of Pugin and Britton. But curious as is this association of the curved principals with a flat ceiling, it is still more strange to see in the centre a hexagonal opening, in all respects similar to the louvre in the great hall at Crosby Place. Three bays of the roof are shown beyond this opening. We think the importance of the subject warrants a full quotation from the catalogue, for although the descriptive memoir at the beginning contradicts the title of the drawing, the later reference to the roof apparently substantiates it. The memoir says: "The roof (of the first gallery) is an ancient one of great richness and beauty of carved oak, painted and gilt, from an old council chamber of a City corporation, temp. Rich. II., many years ago demolished; it is lighted by a Gothic lantern which occupies the position of the original opening for the louvre." In the body of the catalogue the roof is thus described: "Lot 291. A highly enriched panelled ceiling of oak with its corbels, spandrils, pendants, &c., painted and gilt. It is lighted by a lantern which occupies the position of the original opening for the louvre. This interesting ceiling (which is in the highest state of preservation) was taken from the council chamber, Crosby Hall, anciently called Crosby Place, the greater part of which still exists and is remarkable as one of the finest examples of the domestic architecture of the 15th century now remaining." It is impossible to pronounce with any certainty upon the value of these conflicting statements. The drawing in the catalogue certainly suggests the ceiling of the great parlour (i.e., the council chamber) since it is horizontal, as described by Cottingham himself. In this case, however, the existence of a louvre is impossible, nor have we any record of a hexagonal opening such as is shown, except in the great hall. Further, it is just possible that the lower ceiling, although flat, possessed curved principals similar to those of the upper room (since Malcolm states that the ornament of the ceiling was taken down to give more height to the room), and that these had pierced spandrils, as shown in the drawing. We are inclined to think, however, that Cottingham made up his roof from the various fragments which he had collected, using the horizontal panels of the lower ceiling, the cusping and curved ornament of the upper roof, and probably he inserted portions of the old hexagonal opening from the hall roof if we are right in our conjecture that the present one is, in part, a restoration of the original. He could not have used the roof of the great chamber in its entirety, since the beams themselves were not pulled down but robbed only of their adornments. It is therefore the more likely that an attempt was made to combine the two, and the writer of the catalogue must have been much misinformed. The roof was purchased at the sale by Mr. Walesby, formerly of 5, Waterloo Place, London, but we have been unable, as yet, to trace its present owner.

Our task is now complete, as far as it is possible to apply that word to this fragmentary investigation. The annals of Crosby Place have been written, and the greatest care has been taken in examining every particle of evidence as to its early beauty and grandeur. In thus affectionately recording those qualities in its architecture that move our deeper feelings, as we recall the stately building now destroyed, we pay only a fitting homage to one of the great periods of art and of artists—a period of renown which belonged to our own country, and in Crosby Place is seen so intimately associated with our own great city of London.

Note.—Although it has been generally taken for granted that every vestige of the original stained glass in Crosby Hall has disappeared, it may be of interest to add that the fragment sketched below is to be seen in the staircase window of No. 3, Crosby Square. The glass is evidently of early date, and it is quite possible that it is a relic from the hall, having been inserted here for preservation.


  • 1. "The Nuns endeavoured, during the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I., to stop up the lane or passage through the court of their House, from Bishopsgate Street to S. Mary Axe. In the thirty-third year of the former King they obtained a licence to include a lane lying across their ground, inasmuch as it had been found by inquest that no damage would accrue to the citizens of London. The licence was dated at Westminster, the 24th March, 33 Henry III., 1248–9. (Pat. 33 Hen. III. m. 7.) Some resistance, as it appears, was made to this inclusion, for in several subsequent inquests the jurors describe the lane as a common thoroughfare, from the Gate of the Nuns of S. Elen to the Church of S. Mary at Axe, called 'Seint Eleyne Lane,' through which there was always in ancient times a common passage for carts and horsemen, as well as for footpassengers. (Rot. Hundred, i., 409, 410, 420, 425, 426, 431.) Their obstruction was at least partially successful, and as such has descended to our own time. There is still no thoroughfare for carriages."—" The Last Ten Years of the Priory of St. Helen Bishopsgate." Rev. Thomas Hugo. 8vo. Lond., 1865.
  • 2. In other leases the tenant is called Julian.
  • 3. The very interesting survey of the Priory by the officers of Henry VIII. given by Hugo would lead one to suppose that the Close did not possess buildings on the south side, being "environed wth edificyons and buyldings" only on the north.
  • 4. See " Notes and Queries," 9th Series, Vol. III., pp. 367, 431. On the former page the vaulting is wrongly described as being on the left side of Crosby Hall, in place of the right. See also "Daily Graphic," 15 June, 1899.
  • 5. Rev. Chas. Mackenzie, "Crosby Place described in a Lecture." 1842.
  • 6. The measured drawings do not show this correctly, since the long vault under the hall has evidently been shortened at the north end.
  • 7. In 1756 Sambrooke Freeman, Esq., let to Joseph South and others, for seventeen years, the "hall, throne room" and "free egress up and down the back stairs," leading out of St. Helen's into the "said hall, throne room and galleries thereto belonging."—Blackburn.
  • 8. This illustration appeared also in "The Builder," November 8, 1851.