No. 34, Great Tower Court

Survey of London: Volume 15, All Hallows, Barking-By-The-Tower, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1934.

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'No. 34, Great Tower Court', Survey of London: Volume 15, All Hallows, Barking-By-The-Tower, Pt II, (London, 1934), pp. 23-30. British History Online [accessed 14 June 2024].

. "No. 34, Great Tower Court", in Survey of London: Volume 15, All Hallows, Barking-By-The-Tower, Pt II, (London, 1934) 23-30. British History Online, accessed June 14, 2024,

. "No. 34, Great Tower Court", Survey of London: Volume 15, All Hallows, Barking-By-The-Tower, Pt II, (London, 1934). 23-30. British History Online. Web. 14 June 2024,

In this section


Ground landlord, leaseholders, etc.

The freehold belongs to the Rev. William Gordon of Bath. The house is tenanted as follows:—Ground floor and vaults: Messrs. Dent, Urwick and Yeatman. First floor (north): Messrs. Wilkinson and Gaviller; (south): The Thames Coal Company, who also have the south-east room on the second floor. Second floor (north): Messrs. Butler and Meadow, Limited; (south-west): Messrs. G. Moore and Sons.

Architectural description and date of structure

This building is of particular interest as a rare example of a City merchant's house of the 17th century. Its date can be determined by the building lease granted after the Fire of London by Henry Banks (Banckys) to Richard Beckford in 1668 (see p. 29). The lease provides that Beckford shall build as many houses as shall be accommodated by the site, upon which a number of buildings had stood before the Fire, but we are uncertain as to whether the rebuilding followed the lines of the original lay-out, or was developed on a new plan. The point is an important one since it would be of great interest if we could establish that the Great House (No. 34) lying within its court, the buildings on the frontages of Tower Street and Water Lane, and the front and back entrances which gave on these streets respectively, represented a pre-fire group. They are certainly consistent with medieval usage, and such evidence as we have seems to point to there having been an original house of some size in this very position, the frontages being let to various tenants—a treatment of the site which can be paralleled by that of Sir John Crosby in Bishopsgate and many other instances elsewhere.

It seems certain that Beckford rebuilt the Great House for his own occupation, and the courtyard was known as Beckford Court. (fn. 1) It is possible that he even incorporated some part of an earlier building in the new structure, but there are no obvious signs of this beyond the use of some older material. The extensive range of brick vaults that lie beneath the basement of the house, the courtyard and the adjoining houses seem in the main, at least, to be contemporary with the superstructure.

The entrance to the courtyard is between Nos. 33 and 35 Great Tower Street, their upper storeys being carried over a carriage-way which probably in earlier days entered through a gatehouse.

The house itself is rectangular in plan, the frontages (north and south) measuring 47 feet and the depth 50 feet. The north elevation, which contains the principal entrance, is of three storeys with an attic lighted by three dormers in the roof. The roof is of tile, hipped at the angles, and rises now from behind a parapet below which is a bold wooden cornice with modillions, coupled over the piers which divide the windows, and in groups of three at each end. The first and second storeys have five regularly spaced sash windows with wide flush frames and rubbed brick arches, the sashes being of the late 1 8th century. A plain projecting brick band traverses the front at each floor level. The ground floor has been rearranged and skilfully dressed in Georgian times with a wooden entablature supported by panelled pilasters and plain pedestals. To the west of the entrance each of the two compartments is furnished with twin windows to give the maximum light to the counting-house, and beneath the windows is a panelled dado. To the east are single windows wider than those to the floors above. Beneath that next the entrance are the double doors leading to the cellars of the basement, below which again are the vaulted cellars already referred to.

Courtyard and old warehouse at side.

Counting-house on the ground floor.

The entrance door is a charming composition, a six-panelled door being flanked by windows, within miniature pilasters that carry a moulded head, and above this under the main entablature are three glazed compartments. The centre one over the door has a fanlight with semicircular and radiating glazing bars, while the side ones are each of four panes within an ellipse with flattened sides. The door is approached on the outside by a short flight of steps which run parallel with the building, the steps and landing being provided with a simple wrought-iron railing. Beneath the steps is an arched stone opening (to the east) designed as a dog kennel, but now used to ventilate the vaults below. A sketch made in 1909 shows the old stables that adjoined the house on the west, and that have since been rebuilt.

The plan of the house is simply arranged, there being a suite of rooms on each floor north and south of a corridor, which contains the principal staircase at its west end, and a secondary stair to the east. This corridor is approached, on the ground floor, by a vestibule between two large rooms, through an elliptical 18th-century arch, containing a fanlight of Chippendale Gothic design. The two lower flights of the staircase have been replaced by a plain Georgian stair, well-cut string and shaped stair-ends, the original balustrading being retained only from the second to the third floor. The secondary stair has been partly removed and partly remade.

Ground Floor

The rooms on the ground floor are occupied by Messrs. Dent, Urwick and Yeatman, a firm of wine merchants who came here in 1821. The northeast room is panelled throughout with early 18th-century painted panelling with bolection mouldings. A window looking east, to the right of the fireplace, retains its 17th-century sash with heavy glazing bars. The room has cased beams to the ceiling, good ceiling cornice, window seats, and a blocked elliptical archway that communicated formerly with the east end of the corridor. The fireplace is the same date as the panelling, with a fluted frieze to the chimney-piece, and a centre panel carved with a scallop shell. There is a deep cove round the chimney breast at ceiling level.

The counting-house to the west of the entrance has been extended, and the wall which connected the fireplace with the north wall has been removed, a new fireplace being constructed on the north face of the stack, over which are now fixed the pilasters and mouldings of the old chimney-piece. The counting-house retains its old moulded cornice and ceiling beams, and the most interesting fittings are some fine 18th-century wrought-iron railings and gates of attractive design. The southern range of rooms, which included the original kitchen of the house, have been altered in modern times.

First Floor

The most important rooms in the house are those facing north on the first floor. They are occupied by Messrs. Wilkinson and Gaviller, West India merchants. Their tenancy began in 1848, but the business was founded by Henry Lascelles, whose son Edwin built Harewood, the home of the Earls of Harewood. In 1735 it was known as Lascelles and Maxwell. The firm possesses a series of letter-books, dating from 1743, which are full of observations on current events and have considerable historical value. (fn. 2)


There are two rooms, both richly panelled with painted panelling, but differing somewhat in detail. It has been suggested that they originally formed one large dining or state room, but in spite of the awkward junction of the partition with the central window, and the lack of conformity between the ceiling beams and the present arrangement, it seems probable that the two fireplaces imply two rooms, though their respective proportions may have been altered. The larger room (to the west) has now a Georgian fireplace with fluted frieze and panelled pilasters, but its panelling, bold modillion cornice and enriched architrave may date back to the 17th century. The public counter is protected by wood balustrading of interesting design. The inner room has a plain cornice, but retains an elaborate carved chimneypiece which is probably contemporary with the house. The fire opening is flanked by panelled pilasters with boldly carved drops extending their full length. The frieze has elaborate carving, with a shaped centre panel containing a swag, and over the pilasters are carved eagles. The enriched cornice breaks forward over the eagles, and over the upper projections or ears of the panel.

A corner of the dining-room.

The southern suite of rooms on the first floor, occupied by The Thames Coal Company, is panelled throughout, and Mr. Woodall Corbet has recently stripped the paint from the panels of the eastern room, showing the material to be of pine. The architraves to the doors are bolection-moulded and of the date of the house. A series of lay panels over, the height of the doors, shows signs of refixing, and the fireplace is modern.

Second Floor

The rooms facing the north on the second floor are occupied by Messrs. Butler and Meadow Ltd., and are panelled throughout. Good Georgian fireplaces are in each room. The west room is entered from the corridor by an original six-panelled bolection-moulded door.

On the opposite side (south) are two rooms in different occupations; that to the east (Captain Robinson of The Thames Coal Company) having a good early fireplace with large-eared architrave. That to the west (Messrs. G. Moore and Sons) has also an old fireplace, an oak cupboard door of a date earlier than the house, and a small fixed counter with miniature 18th-century balustrade.

Third Floor

The original stair is still in position from the second to the third floor (Plates 59, 60, 61). It consists of square newels, moulded handrail and continuous string, and bold spiral-turned balusters. Between each baluster has been inserted a slender support of square section similar to those in the stair below.

Condition of repair


Historical notes

Reference has been made in the foregoing architectural description to the position of this house, set back in its own court behind the buildings that face Great Tower Street, and to the probability that this maintains a medieval arrangement. Such records as we have on the Hustings Rolls concerning the area confirm the inference that the site was early occupied by a house of importance, and a careful comparison of the entries on the Rolls reveals the fact that in 1366 and in 1373 it was occupied by Sir Thomas de Salisbury, Kt.; then by Henry Somer, followed by John Bolle (before 1466), and that about the year 1473 it was acquired, with certain of the street frontage, by (Sir) Robert Tate. Its identification with the hitherto unknown site of the mansion house of (Sir) Robert Tate, who built the Chapel of St. Thomas on the north side of the Royal Lady Chapel in All Hallows Churchyard, and who was so important a figure in the parish, is of considerable interest. It is not necessary to trace, in this place, all the steps by which this conclusion is reached, but it may be stated that there are sufficient entries on the Hustings Rolls to establish the relationship of the properties on the Great Tower Street frontage between Water and Beer Lanes, three of which were either owned by or contributed to the revenues of the Wardens of London Bridge. The most easterly of these Bridge House estates adjoined the house at the corner of Beer Lane and was acquired in 1378 from Margery, daughter of John Hunteman, who had been given it in 1331 by her uncle, Adam Hunteman. (Sir) Robert Tate acquired a 50 years' lease of this house from the Wardens in 1473, and the western boundary is given as a tenement already belonging to him. The latter, which consisted of two messuages, bounded east and west by tenements of London Bridge, belonged at one time to Henry Somer, and was disposed of in 1466 by the widow and executor of John Bolle, both these names being associated apparently with the Great House to the south. The third property, west of the foregoing, was given to the London Bridge Estate in 1373 by Richard Albon and his wife Margery. This also was leased by the Wardens to (Sir) Robert Tate for 50 years in 1473, and here the eastern boundary was his property. The southern boundary in 1373 was Thomas de Salisbury, Kt., and in 1473 a tenement of (Sir) Robert Tate, on the site of No. 43. The next house westwards, which is referred to more than once as Grimsby's tenement, belonged at one time to Sir Simon de Codington, Kt., and other members of his family, and a quitrent which was due from it to the Wardens of London Bridge was the subject of an agreement in 1473 with (Sir) Robert Tate, who had evidently acquired the house with its neighbours. "Grimsby's tenement" was bounded west and south by a brewhouse which, in 1360, belonged to Adam Hamond and lay north of a house of Thomas Perle. In 1366 the brewhouse was in the possession of William de Tottenham (Tudenham), who in a document disposing of Perle's property is given as the adjoining owner to the north of the latter. Perle's eastern neighbour was Sir Thomas de Salisbury, which agrees with the other references to the site of No. 34; and his western frontage was on Sporier's (Water) Lane, obviously just below the bend in the roadway.


In 1480 (Sir) Robert Tate was still paying rent to the Bridge House Estate, and at his death in 1500 he left "the great messuage wherein I dwell, set in the parish of All Hallows Barking beside the Tower of London" to his widow Margery, with remainder to his son Robert. It is not certain whether the property became part of the endowments of Tate's Chantry in the Royal Lady Chapel, which were taken into the king's hands at the dissolution of the Chantries in Edward VI's reign. In 1634 the rents due to the Wardens of London Bridge were being paid by Lady Hunte, and her assignees appear in the accounts until Michaelmas 1683, when 43 quarters were owing, amounting to £49 6s. 8d.

The site of this house and of those adjoining it was occupied before the Fire of London by the "mansion-house" of Sir William Russell, Bt., of Chippenham, Cambridgeshire. (fn. 3) He was a director of the Company of Merchants of London, an adventurer in the Muscovy Company and a free brother of the East India Company, having bought the adventure of his father-in-law, Sir Francis Cherry, whose burial is recorded in the Parish Register of All Hallows on 14th April, 1605. He was Treasurer of the Navy from 1618 to 1627, and was created a baronet in 1630. Two of his grandchildren married children of Oliver Cromwell. He was married three times:—(1) Elizabeth Cherry, who died in 1626; (2) Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Gerard of Burnell, Cambridgeshire; and (3) Elizabeth, daughter of Michael Smallpage, of Chichester, and widow of John Wheatley. His marriage to Mrs. Elizabeth Wheatley is recorded in the parish register under date of 11th April, 1628, and the baptism of his son William on 7th December following. He died in 1654. (fn. 4)

Sir Wm. Russell.

On 21st March, 1653, Sir William Russell, together with Sir John Wolstenholme, of Nostell, Yorks, and Sir Robert Fenn, of Kensington, sold the house in Great Tower Street, amongst other properties, to Richard Banks (Banckys), citizen and clothworker. This transaction is recorded in the will of Banks, dated 15th June, 1654, and also the conveyance of the previous day by him and his wife Elizabeth to his brother Daniel, and Thomas Gaudy, in trust for the purposes of his will. In the latter document the whole of the properties are set out in detail, commencing with "all the messuage or mansion-house late of Sir William Russell and now of John Gold," and including three inns (the Ship, the Plough and the King's Head) and other tenements in or near Tower Street, a vault or wine-cellar, also in Tower Street, and 8 acres of pasture in the Isle of Dogs.


Richard Banks left the property in trust to his brother Daniel and Thomas Gaudy, "of for and concerning one messuage & certain tenements and a vault or wine-cellar therein," to the use of his wife during her life. It would seem that after her death his trustees were to hold them for the use of Henry Banks, of Thakeham, Sussex, for the latter had executed a deed with Daniel on 19th January, 1654–5, concerning the same properties.

On 13th November, 1668, Henry Banks let to Richard Beckford certain tofts or parcels of land in Tower Street and Beer Lane "upon which stood several messuages but were burnt down in the late dreadful fire." These were let on a building lease for 99 years for the yearly rent of £100. Beckford covenanted at his own cost to erect and build upon the site so many good and substantial messuages or tenements as should enclose and take in all the old forefronts according to the rules and regulations laid down in the Act of Parliament for rebuilding the City of London. In a further deed of the same date reference is made to the fact that the lands fronting Tower Street before the Fire were let to Godfrey Haverampe, while two in Beer Lane were let to Mary Riley and William Wood.

In these deeds no actual reference is made to the Great House, but in an assessment of 1673 (fn. 5) we find a house for which Richard Beckford pays a rate of 10s. 10d. among others paying only 5s. This indicates that he himself occupied what is now No. 34 Great Tower Street, and explains the name of Beckford Court, by which the yard of the house came to be called.

The reversion of the property fell to Mary, daughter and only child of Daniel Banks, who married the Rev. Edward Moulding, of Wickenford, co. Worcester, and who was also niece and heir to James Banks. Among the title-deeds are particulars of a lease to which Mary Moulding was party, which gives the persons in occupation of the houses at the time of her marriage. From this we see that Frances Mary Beckford, widow, was living in the Great House.

It must have been soon after this that the house was leased to Alderman (Sir) Humphrey Edwin. From the rate books we can complete the list as follows:

1683–1688. Alderman Humphrey Edwin, while John Brookes occupies the warehouse in Water Lane.
1689–1690. Sir Humphrey Edwin for house and warehouse.
1691–1692. [No entries.]
1693–1694. Richard Merryweather.
1695–1697. [No entries.]
1698–1706. William Fisher.
1707–1708. Robert Dunkley.
1709–1712. Sir Robert Dunkley.
1713–1724. Thomas Evans.
1725. [No entry.]
1726. [Blank.]
1727–1728. [No entries.]
1729–1758. John Hanbury (tobacconist).
1759–1783. Executors of Osgood Hanbury.
1784–18—. John Lloyd.

Richard Beckford, clothworker, the builder and first occupant of the Great House, was Alderman of Bread Street Ward in 1667. He was Master of the Clothworkers' Company in 1670, and died in 1679. (fn. 6) He was churchwarden of All Hallows, 1675–6.

Humphrey Edwin (Barber-Surgeon, translated to Skinners 1690), who occupied the Great House certainly between 1683 and 1690, was Alderman of Tower Ward 1687–8, of Cheap Ward 1688–9, and again of Tower Ward 1689–1707. He was knighted on 18th November, 1687, and was Commissioner of Excise 1689–91. He was Master of the Barber Surgeons' Company in 1688, and of the Skinners' Company in 1691. (fn. 7) He was elected Lord Mayor in 1697, and died in 1707. See also Dict. Nat. Biog.

Richard Merryweather, whose name appears only twice in the rate-lists in 1693–1694, was also in occupation of the Great House in 1695. This is revealed by an assessment on all inhabitants of the parish for the purposes of the charges that were just coming into force for births, marriages and deaths. The assessment is at the Guildhall, London, and from it we see that Merryweather's household consisted of twenty persons. After himself come the names of his wife Naomi and his daughter Mary; then follow John Lateward, William Lateward and Naomi Lateward. John is described as "son," so presumably he had married Richard's daughter Naomi. In addition there are nine servants, a married lodger and his wife, and two single lodgers, both over twenty-five years of age and worth at least £600 of stock and therefore liable to special assessment.

Robert Dunckley, who occupied the Great House between the years 1707 and 1712, was a member of the Court of Common Council, and his name appears on three occasions in Beaven's Aldermen of the City of London as nominating aldermen. He was churchwarden of All Hallows in 1712 and in the registers there is a record of the baptism of his daughter Mary on 27th January, 1708–9.


  • 1. Blome's plan (Plate ). In his article on the house in The Pall Mall Magazine (March, 1910), Mr. Walter Bell refers to a tradition that this was the home of Alderman William Beckford, Lord Mayor in 1762 and 1769. The story no doubt arose through confusing the two men, who, as far as is known, were not even related.
  • 2. See Walter Bell in The Pall Mall Magazine, March 1910.
  • 3. We are indebted to the Rev. William Gordon, the present owner of the property, for the information derived from the title-deeds.
  • 4. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 5. Guildhall MSS.
  • 6. A. B. Beaven, The Aldermen of the City of London, ii, pp. 100, etc.
  • 7. Ibid. i, pp. 105, 106, etc.