The Old Palace of Bromley

Pages 33-40

Survey of London: Volume 1, Bromley-By-Bow. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1900.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.


In this section


Ground Landlord, Leaseholders, &c.

The London School Board.

General description and date of structure.

The house was designed on a rectangular plan similar to Hardwicke and Montacute, with corner towers on the principal front, which faced to the east. It stood on the eastern side of the grounds, facing St. Leonard's-street. On the south side of the house were a few later additions.

The stables and offices, which were built round a quadrangle in plan, stood a little to the south of the building, adjoining St. Leonard's-street.

The house was mainly of two periods, early James I. (1606) and late 18th century, c. 1750. It also contained oak panelling and fitments of the time of Charles II. or James II. The stable buildings belonged apparently to this period.

To the first or Jacobean period belonged the whole structure of the house, the floors, walls, ceilings, roofs, and most of the chimney stacks. The walls were of red brick, and though the older windows had been replaced by the sash windows of the second or middle 18th century period, there was sufficient evidence to point to their earlier condition, viz., large moulded wood mullions and transomes with square lights and in other parts angle bays shaped with moulded red bricks; these angle bays had also moulded brick cornices with string courses and bases. A great many of the moulded bricks which formed part of the mullions, angles, string courses, &c., of these windows, were built up again in the walls, when these windows were replaced by the sliding sashes. Many parts of the original massive oak window frames were also discovered built up in the walls, over fire-place openings, when these were reduced in width, and in the pyramidal roofs of the towers, which were also altered in the same period. One of the old mullioned windows was discovered in situ in the pulling down, at the south side of the house.

On the face of the chimney-stack on the south side was a stone, set in a panel, with moulded brick dentils round, bearing the date Ānno 1606, incised in the stone, the figures being run with lead (see plate 27). The whole of the eastern face of the building, with the towers, was re-fronted in the 18th century, the sash frames, large wood moulded and blocked eaves cornice, and flat narrow bands of brickwork being substituted for the original architectural features. The west front was also treated in a similar manner, being subsequently cemented all over. Instead of the eaves cornice, however, a flat brick parapet was placed along the top of the wall.

Within there were some 24 rooms of greater or less interest. The best of these was the large state room on the ground floor, of which the walls were covered with beautifully moulded oak panelling, with carved pilasters at intervals, and at the ceiling level a richly ornamented wood frieze with carved arabesque panels, modillions, and cornice. A great feature in the room was the richly moulded and panelled plaster ceiling, planned on a pattern of intersecting squares, with beautifully modelled and enriched pendants hanging from the point of intersection of the ribs, and circular panels with the heads of Alexander, Hector, and Joshua (dux), modelled in mezzo relievo.

The central panel in the whole ceiling contained the shield of James I., bearing quarterly, 1st and 4th the arms of England and France quartered; 2nd, Scotland; 3rd, Ireland; encircled by the garter with motto,

HO[N]I · SOIT · QVI · MAL · Y · PE[N]SE ·

at the sides the letters I.R., and crown over. The same shield, with the garter and crown, but without the initials, was also carved on the panel of the great oak chimney piece. The whole of this room with its ceiling was, owing to the intervention of certain members of the Survey Committee, saved from destruction, and is at present at the South Kensington Museum.

In addition to this ceiling there were two others, one on the ground floor (see plan, plate 20), and the third—the finest of the three—in the room above the state room, on the upper floor (see plan, plate 21). That on the ground floor was complete, and treated similarly to that in the state room, being also planned on a pattern of intersecting squares, richly moulded, with ornamentation along the ribs and in the panels. The ceiling of the room on the upper floor, that over the state room, which has been destroyed, was by a master hand, and suggested the treatment of some of the famous ceilings at Audley-end. Only a third of it remained, however, the rest having been removed, possibly in the past century, and owing to some accident, as care appeared to have been taken to preserve what was left. When entire it consisted of six circles, about 10 feet in diameter, three along and two across the room, touching each other and the walls. These were intersected by other circles and quatrefoils. The ribs were ornamented with a running design of leaves, with various fruits, wood nuts, &c. At the intersections of the ribs were grotesque heads, surrounded with wreaths of flowers. The panels were ornamented with various designs, pomegranates, shell ornaments and others. The ceilings of these rooms had been very thickly coated with various relays of whitewash, but the delicacy of the work was easily discovered when it was scraped off.

It is interesting to note that the circular panels of the ceiling of the north-west room on the ground floor contained smaller circular ornamental panels of exactly the same design and detail as those of the ceiling in Sir Paul Pindar's house in Bishopsgate, now in the South Kensington Museum (see drawing in Roland Paul's "Vanishing London," 1893). This circumstance is noteworthy, as there were only six years between the dates of the two buildings, and the ceilings may therefore have been by the same hand.

There were also two modelled plaster friezes of the 1606 date left round the top of the walls of the north-west rooms of ground and first floors. The design of that in the lower room, which was separated from the ceiling by a small ogee plaster cornice, was of severe scroll leaves of acanthus character, with shell ornaments alternately reversed, boldly modelled. The frieze in the upper room was of the more usual Elizabethan strapwork scroll, with a beautiful pattern of interlacing stems with various fruits and flowers, and much more delicate in feeling and execution. Both these friezes were complete, and extended all round the rooms, although hidden by the 18th century panelling, which covered the walls from floor to ceiling. There were also the remains of another frieze, the narrowest of the three, over the fireplace of the room over the state room, and partly hidden by the later chimneypiece. This was of scroll pattern, ornamented with honeysuckles, pinks, and other details.

Of the carved stone fireplaces, oak panelling and dadoes, and other details of the Jacobean period, there were a great many still left in the palace.

In the upper room on the west side, which was wainscoted with panelling of the middle 18th century period, were two beautiful mantelpieces: one, in wood, of the Charles II. time, and another, in stone, of the 1606 period, well carved and delicately coloured and gilded, which was discovered underneath the later one.

There were also similar carved stone mantelpieces of the same date in the north-west rooms of the ground and upper floors. That in the bottom room had a frieze ornamented with vine leaves and scrolls, and a shield in the centre, which, so far as could be seen, bore no heraldic charges. The fireplace in the upper room had a frieze ornamented with scrolls and dolphin heads. Several of the original solid oak door frames, with moulded sides and ornamental stops at bottom were also left in various parts of the house, and are noted on the plan. One of these, which had a semicircular arch at the top, and stood at G on the ground plan, is now preserved at South Kensington Museum.

The interior 18th century work had also much that was beautiful. It would seem that in about 1750 the Palace had been converted into two houses, probably residences for city merchants, of whom many lived in this parish at the time (witness the tombstones in Bromley churchyard, and the church registers, see page 11).

The underground passage, about which local tradition had many tales to tell, was proved to exist during the work of demolition. It was of Tudor four-centred arch form, about five feet in width and height. Starting from the cellar outside the north tower, it ran northwards for a short distance, but had been blocked up in several places.

Built into the lower part of the west wall, at the north corner, was a piece of Purbeck marble, with carved cinque-foiled head of 15th century date carved on it. This might seem to indicate that the house was built in part from the remains of the old Nunnery of Bromley St. Leonard's, the "Convent of Stratford atte Bowe" of Chaucer's Prioress' Tale, on the site of which is now the parish church of St. Mary (see pages 11–12).

There were also discovered, built into blocked-up window openings and other places, parts of bay window angles, mullions, string courses, and plinth in moulded red bricks, that may either have been brought from the nunnery as above stated, or possibly have formed part of the original design of the palace before the alterations of the 18th century period.

Condition of repair.

The palace was demolished by the London School Board at the beginning of the compilation of this register. On the eve of its destruction the house was in admirable repair, the timbers perfect, the fitments and interior panelling for the most part preserved. The early Jacobean stone carving on the mantelpieces was still crisp and new, and the plaster work of the ceilings of much thickness and sound consistency. The original oak staircase in the southern part of the house, with its massive moulded newels, handrails, and balusters was also in perfect preservation.

Historical notes.

Tradition and Evidence.—According to tradition the old palace is connected with the name of King James I. The king is supposed to have founded a settlement in the parish early in the 17th century of persons mainly of Scotch nationality, and at the same time built this house as an occasional residence or hunting lodge for himself. Though there is no record of this in the parish histories it appears to be borne out by various pieces of evidence:—(i.) The arms, mottoes, crest and initials of James I. were placed in the centre of the ceiling and over the fireplace of the state room, now in the South Kensington Museum. (ii.) Mrs. Papineau, who lived in the southern part of the palace from 1859 to 1873, states that there was a large medallion of James I. and his wife, Anne of Denmark, on the fireplace in the room above the state room. (iii.) The Manor of Bromley was in the possession of the Crown at or about the time of the erection of the building (see pages 15 and 16), although there does not appear to be any record of the house among the surveyor's accounts of the period of its building preserved in the Record Office. The rolls of Andrew Kerwyn, paymaster of the works on the royal castles and residences for 1605–1607, include in all nineteen buildings, but the house is not mentioned therein as being in course of erection or under repair; neither is it included in the same rolls in the allowances for alterations and repairs to the various houses used by the king and court while on progress. The following piece of evidence, however, would seem to account for the omission. (iv.) Among the domestic state papers in the Record Office is a recommendation from the Council to the king, that certain lands and tenements in Bromley be granted to Sir Arthur Ingram. Although the old palace is not particularly mentioned, it is probable that the grant includes it. The date is given as March, 1617, and is as follows:—

"Maie it please your Excellent Matie
Accordinge to yor highnes good pleasure signified by Sr Robert Naunton wee have considered of Sr Arthur Ingram his petic[i]on, And find that there was paid unto yor Matie for the tithes in the peticon mentioned p. ann. vi l xvj the last of December 1613 the some of xlixl xiis And likewise that the said Tithes were formerly passed by yor Matie in ffee farme to ffrancis Morice and ffrancis philips the xxvth of September in the vijth yere of yor happie raigne of England as pte of a value of 5000l p. ann. and compounded for by Sr William Rider & Sr Walter Cope knights and others

And touchinge the Tenemts and lands now desired to be passed by Sr Arthur Ingram, wee find they are pcell of the Mannor of Bromley wch came to the Crowne by exchange from Sr Raph Sadler knight and the pcls p. ann. viijl. viijs. ivd. were leased by the said Sadler for 99 years before the exchange of wch terme there is 39 yeres yet to come and of pt. of the same p. ann. vl. vjs. vlljd. there is a lease in Rev[er]sion for xxj yeres after the expiration of the former lease And the other pcls desired to passe are Copiholdt of Inheritance, and are of the yerely rent of xxijs viijd

The premisses desired to be passed exceede the value of the Tithes to be surrendered p. ann. lxijs ffor wch if Sr Arthur pay unto yor Matie the some of one hundred & twentie pounds the estates and values being considered, In our opinion he giveth yor highnes the full worth of the same, wch wee haue thought fitt to certifie unto yor Matie and wth all we haue caused a bill to be prepared of a graunte of the p[re]misses in ffee farme readye for yor Mate signature, and humblye leave the same to yor highnes gratious pleasure"

Fr. Bacon Tho. Lake
T. Suffolke Ful. Cœsar

Dunstan, History of Bromley, and Ford, Account of Bow and its neighbourhood, &c., are the only writers who mention the house, and Dunstan's statements and inferences are quite inaccurate and misleading. He only exhibits ignorance of existing work, and carelessness in study of the records when, passing on from describing the arms of Charles II., formerly fixed in the Church, but now in the Good Shepherd's Mission Hall (see page 29), he says:— "And hence (to the loyalists temp. Charles II.) may be inferred the origin of those arms at present to be seen in the drawing room of a large brick house near the Church, which has been for nearly the past 50 years occupied as a boarding and day school. On account of which arms being found there it has been fondly imagined that it was originally a royal palace, and hence of late years it has assumed the distinctive appellation of the 'Palace House School.' We will not stop to enquire into the numerous fanciful tales related concerning this house, but it is sufficient to say that they have not the least foundation in authentic history." Ford refers to the house in the following manner:—

Great James the First, that sapient King
Whose praises I delight to sing;
Ironically I mean,
For he was treacherous, mean, and base,
And seeking High and Mighty place,
Forsook his Mother Queen:—

But let him have been what he may,
He lived at Bromley in his day:
His hunting seat remains:
And some apartments there you'll find,
Most rich examples of their kind,
Will pay you for your pains.

Outside there's nothing now, to show
The house was built so long ago:
But inside you will see,
The pendant ceiling, pannel'd wall,
Rich chimnies, Royal arms, and all
Just as it used to be.

Then all was country around,
The Forest near—then open ground
With Stebonheath close by.
And hunting was the favourite sport,
Of James the first, and all his court:
To make the hours fly.

Lysons states that the manor house of the upper manor, in which the old palace was situated, was built by Sir John Jacob in the reign of Charles I. (see page 15), and as there is no mention of a previous manor house it may be assumed that the palace, even if were not what tradition states, was used as the manor house for the first 30 years or so of its existence.

Authorship.—It is evident that the palace was, both in planning and the ornamental details, the work of a master hand—possibly of John Thorpe. We know that he designed at least two buildings about this time in the neighbourhood, Charlton House, near Greenwich, built about 1612, by Sir Adam Newton, tutor to Henry, Prince of Wales (Richardson), and Kirby Castle, Bethnal Green, built for John Kirby, citizen of London (Gwilt). The former, which is still perfect, has many strong points of resemblance to the old palace before the 18th century alterations: the square towers flanking the entrance front, but carried a storey higher than the parapet of roofs, with a lead cupola on top; the roofs are hipped at the ends as in the old palace, and have carved stone balustrades; in the old palace these had been replaced by a large moulded wood cornice on the east facade, and a brick parapet, cemented over on the west. There were also sufficient remains of oak and brick mullioned bay windows, moulded brick string courses and plinths, to show that the general character of the work was, on a rather smaller scale, the same as Charlton House. The internal planning and arrangement of rooms was very similar to many of the plans in J. Thorpe's book of sketches.

Ceilings.—In addition to the points before mentioned, some of the details of the ceilings are exactly the same as in the buildings noted below. The planning of the two ceilings in the ground floor rooms appears to have been common; several of each type are illustrated by Gotch, Malcolm, and others. Balcarres House, Fife, N.B. (built temp. James VI., Scotland), has a ceiling in the "Panel Room" of the same design as that in the state room, with circular panels containing heads of Alexander, Hector and Joshua, apparently cast from the same moulds as those in the state room ceiling, but without the cherubs' heads and wings. Lord Balcarres, writing to the Chairman of the Survey Committee on this point, says: "We have no building records of Balcarres House. The type of ceiling is by no means uncommon hereabouts. It is always said this work (throughout Scotland) was done by Italians. I believe it can be shown that a great deal was done by Scotsmen who Italianized their names; as our singers do."

"The Workmen's Home," Bow-road, E., a large building of early 17th century date, contains a ceiling in the large room on the first floor of the same design as that in the north-west room of the palace, though the details are much plainer and of different character, except that the cherubs' heads are repeated as in the state room ceiling. This is supposed to be the house in which Lord Sheffield, who lived in Bow in 1612, resided. (See Brewer's Beauties of England and Wales, vol. x., part iv., page 285.) Sir Paul Pindar's house, Bishopsgate, had a ceiling of the same design as that in the state room. In another ceiling, part of which is preserved in the South Kensington Museum, was a panel exactly similar, except in the central part, to one of those in the room in north-west corner of the old palace. Chestnut House, Old Ford-road, Bow, a small building of late 18th century date, contains several fireplaces and overmantels, in stone, marble and oak, of the same date as the old palace. In one, at present the kitchen fireplace, are carved on the stone frieze dolphins' heads and foliage very similar to those on the fireplace in the north-west room on the first floor of the palace. In another, a carved oak, overmantel, now fixed in the wall of drawing room, are carved heads treated in the same way as those shown in the lithograph plate at the intersection of the ribs of first floor ceiling. These, together with the fact that Chestnut House was evidently built about the time of the remodelling of the palace, suggest that they were removed here from the latter building.

Later History and Demolition.— The house for about a century after being divided up was used as a boarding school and sometimes as residences. Among the residents was the painter, Mr. Woodin, whose son, the actor, and author of Olio of Oddities, also lived for some years in the "Manor House," Brunswick-road (see page 19). In 1874 the property came into the possession of Messrs. Hemingway, by purchase from G. G. Rutty, who established a colour works on the ground floor, and used the state room as a store, the northern part of the house being used as a club, and then a lodging house. Messrs. Hemingway, at the end of 1893, sold the property to the London School Board for the purpose of pulling down the house and erecting a Board School on the site, and the buildings were then sold again to a firm of house breakers for £250. Upon protests being made by members of the Survey Committee and other societies interested in the matter, the Board decided to buy back again the fireplace in the state room for £150, and replace it in one of the rooms of the new school. Meanwhile the authorities of South Kensington Museum had purchased the panelling and ceiling of the room and removed them to the Museum; the fireplace was therefore purchased again from the School Board, and the whole room temporarily set up in its present position.

So far as can be traced, the fittings, carved wood, stone, and plaster were disposed of in the following manner—
The whole of the state room and an arched oak doorway from hall, to South Kensington Museum.
All the remaining fireplaces of 1606 date, the oak panelling, balusters, newels and handrails of the main stairs, to a dealer in Brompton-road.
The two 18th century fireplaces, some Adams grates, the circular cupboard shown on ground plan (plate 20), and various cornice mouldings, to the Magpie and Stump House, Cheynewalk, Chelsea.
The remains of the ceilings of north-west room on ground floor, and room on first floor above state room, the three plaster friezes, the parts of original oak mullioned windows, the moulded bricks, and carved Purbeck marble to Mr. Ernest Godman, of Bromley-by-Bow.

Bibliographical references.

Ernest Godman, The Old Palace of Bromley-by-Bow, 1900, published by the Survey Committee in the series of monographs of famous London buildings, where the house is fully illustrated by plans and drawings, together with details of the plaster work, panelling, and carving.
J. Dunstan, History of Bromley, 1862, page 84, whose account of the house is, however, not trustworthy.
Roland Paul, Vanishing London, 1893, where a drawing of the fireplace and panelling in the state room is given.
C.R. Ashbee, Chapters in Workshop Reconstruction and Citizenship, 1894, pages 18–19, where the facts of the sale of the house by the London School Board are given.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, London, Annual Report, 1894, contains the protest made by the Society to the London School Board against the destruction of the palace, and the reply of the Board thereto, together with a number of facts as to the great historic and artistic interest of the building.
Daily Graphic, December 15th, 1898, where an illustration by H. W. Brewer, of the room as set up in the South Kensington Museum, and a note on the history of Bromley manors, are given.
The Artist, No. 204, December, 1896, which has a photograph of the fireplace of state room.
The Builders' Journal, No. 247, November, 1st, 1899, which has a photograph of part of ceiling of north-west room, ground floor.
Public Record Office, State Papers, Domestic, James I., vol. XC., 129.
Public Record Office, The Declaracon of Thaccompte of Andrewe Kerwyn gent Paymaster of the woorkes donne uppon the Tower of London and all other his highnes Honnors Caftles and Mannor Houses usually reserved for his Mate repaire and aboade. [Pipe Office, Declared Accounts, Works and Buildings, 1605–6, 1606–7.]
Some Account of the Antiquities of Bow, Middlesex, and its immediate neighbourhood, by an old inhabitant of Bow (W. Ford). Printed at Bow, 8vo., 1853.
Encyclopædia of Architecture, by Joseph Gwilt, 1842 edition. Articles on Elizabethan and Jacobean Architecture.
C.J. Richardson, volume of tracings of John Thorpe's Sketch Book, in South Kensington Museum (Art Library).
Architecture of Renaissance in England, J. A. Gotch, fo.London, 1891.
South Kensington Museum, Photographs of ceilings and panelling (Art Library).
There are also articles and letters relating to the history and protests against the destruction of the building in various London and local newspapers from December, 1893, to March, 1894.

In the Committee's MS. collection are—

* (1.) Plan of ground floor (measured drawing).
* (2.) Plan of first floor (measured drawing).
(3.) Plan showing the old Palace, with "Seven Stars" public-house and houses adjoining on the north side (measured drawing).
(4.) Plan showing position of Board School in relation to site of Old Palace (measured drawing).
(5.) View from north-east (line drawing).
(6.) View of east front and "Seven Stars" public-house adjoining (water colour).
(7.) View of south front (line drawing).
(8.) East front (measured drawing).
* (9.) Section looking south (measured drawing).
* (10.) Fireplace in state room, as re-erected in South Kensington Museum (photo).
* (11–12.) Details of carving on fireplace (2 photos).
* (13.) Details of upper part of fireplace (2 photos).
(14.) Fireplace in north-west room, first floor (measured drawing).
(15.) View along roof, looking north (line drawing).
(16.) Painting on outside brickwork, south side (pencil drawing).
(17.) Oak doorway, ground floor (measured drawing).
* (18.) Date tablet on south side of house (measured drawing).
(19.) Plan of modelled plaster ceiling, first floor (measured drawing).
* (20–23.) Details of modelled plaster from ceilings—panels, ornaments on ribs, and friezes (4 lithographs).
(24.) Circular panel in ceiling of north-west room, ground floor (line drawing).
(25.) View of main staircase (line drawing).
(26.) View from south-east, showing house and stables (line drawing).
(27.) Plan of ceiling of state room, now in South Kensington Museum (line drawing).
(28.) Details of rib and centre panel, ceiling in state room (line drawing).
[Those marked with asterisk are reproduced here.]