Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St. Saviour and Christchurch Southwark). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1950.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 5: MONTAGUE CLOSE
Montague Close covers the site of the cloisters and conventual buildings of St. Mary's Priory. The records of the priory have all disappeared and as its property, apart from the church, passed into private hands immediately after the dissolution, little written information is available about the original disposition of the buildings. The whole area is now covered with warehouses and wharves, but some parts of the old fabric, including the east and north side of the cloister and the refectory, were still standing in 1795. (fn. 72) A view of the gateway into the close in 1811 is reproduced on Plate 39. The history of the priory cannot be given in full, but it is interesting to note that St. Thomas's Hospital had its origin there in the 12th century (it was refounded on the east side of Borough High Street as a separate institution by Peter des Roches in 1215) (fn. 34) and that John Gower, the poet, ended his days as a guest of the prior. (fn. 73) His tomb with his effigy is still preserved in the church (Plate 5).
Within a year or two of the dissolution, complaints were made in the manor court of Southwark that Sir Anthony Browne had opened a public bowling green in the close and was allowing gambling there. (fn. 21) The site of the priory with its houses, gardens and orchards was formally granted to Sir Anthony Browne, in 1544/5. (fn. 74)
Browne, although he was a staunch Roman Catholic, became possessed of much monastic property and remained a close friend of Henry VIII. His eldest son, Anthony, was created Viscount Montague after the marriage of Queen Mary with Philip of Spain. (fn. 75) It seems probable that Lord Montague lived in what had previously been the house of the prior of St. Mary Overy and utilised the other buildings for stabling, etc. (fn. n1) He died in 1593, leaving to his wife, Magdalen, his mansion house of "St. Mary Overies," for her life, with reversion to his grandson Anthony. (fn. 76)
Lady Montague continued to reside in the close after her husband's death. In 1599 she came under suspicion as a recusant and her house in Southwark was searched, but neither gunpowder nor weapons were found. (fn. 77) Tradition has it that the Gunpowder Plot was discovered by the delivery of an anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle in Montague Close, but the story appears to have arisen from a confusion between the names of Monteagle and Montague. Viscount Montague was committed to the Tower on 15th November, 1605, but was released in the following August on payment of £200. There is no evidence of his being concerned in the plot, though he wrote to his father-in-law, the Earl of Dorset, that "the bluddy executioner of that woefull tragedie," Guy Fawkes, had been his servant for four months, and had waited at his table about the time of his marriage (1591). (fn. 75)
In 1625, Viscount Montague and William, Lord Petre, a trustee, sold (fn. 78) Montague House and all his messuages, wharves and ground "in the close of St. Mary Overies between the middle gate of the close and the outer gate next unto Southwark" to Robert Bromfield and Thomas Overman. (fn. n2) Bromfield had had a lease of a wharf there since 1601 (fn. 79) and as soon as he got possession of the close he proceeded to build there, putting up in place of "meane Cottages and habitacons for the poorer sort of people that crouded themselves there togeather" houses "fit for men of better ability." (fn. 80) These are probably the houses shown in the engraving reproduced on Plate 40a.
In 1692/3 Montague House became the subject of a Chancery suit between Elizabeth Cressett, widow of Thomas Overman, and others. (fn. 81) From the description there given it appears that the "capitall messuage," that is Montague House, was then used for a pothouse. The property included a great hall with a staircase in the N.E. corner, and cellars below it, a counting house, "the fratree house conteining in length ninety foote and in breadth twenty and seaven foot and a half," the "fratree yard," a shed for soap making, "a colour house" and "a killnehouse of old building" abutting on the church wall. The vestry minutes record that a fire broke out there some years later causing great damage to the church and William Overman's encroachments were ordered to be removed. (fn. 16)
In 1775 there were sixty messuages and four wharves in the close, (fn. 17) most of them let from year to year and becoming ruinous. Many of these, including the eight almshouses erected by Mrs. Alice Shaw Overman in 1771, were taken down in 1830 in connection with the formation of the approach to new London Bridge.