London’s history is one of the many reasons that millions of tourists descend each year on the city. Some of its most famous landmarks, including the Tower of London, London Bridge and Westminster Palace were all constructed during the period known as ‘Medieval Britain’. Although there still remains some evidence of earlier periods in London’s history, such as the remains of a Roman wall in the garden of the Barbican and a stretch of wall close to the Museum of London known, aptly, as London Wall. Alongside these early parts of London’s history and the towering Medieval landmarks, there are also remnants of Medieval London which aren’t as frequented by tourists but which are still worth checking out if you are interested in the city’s rich history, and you know where to look:-
The Temple Church
One of the oldest remaining churches in London, the Temple Church can be found just a short distance from the River Thames. This 12th century church was built by the Knights Templar and is said to have been their English headquarters. During the 13th century it served as the royal treasury, and it suffered significant damage during the Second World War with many parts having to be rebuilt and restored. One of the most recognisable features of the church is the round shape, a design feature which was commonly used by the Knights Templar when building churches.
The River Fleet
The River Fleet is one of a number of London’s waterways which are known as ‘The Lost Rivers’; subterranean sources of water which were used as early as Roman times and which enabled the city to thrive and grow through trade. As the city grew, however, so did the population and along with this there was an increase in pollution and waste which had a huge impact on the city’s rivers. The River Fleet was one of these and large parts of it were eventually bricked over; however it is still possible to head down to Blackfriars Bridge and see where the River Fleet feeds into the River Thames.
Just a short walk from one of the most iconic modern buildings in the city, a symbol of the wealth and power of London, lies an area which was once one of the poorest and most violent parts of the city. It is this South London area, just minutes from the likes of The Shard and Southwark Cathedral which is home to the Crossbones Graveyard. It is said that the Crossbones Graveyard was primarily the final resting place for the ‘outcasts’ of the city, namely women who were thought to have been working in the sex trade and many of the bodies were simply dumped here, rather than being offered a proper Christian burial. It is thought that as many as 15,000 paupers had been left to rest here when it closed in the 1850s. Nowadays the Graveyard is marked by red railings on which people have tied colourful scraps of fabric and ribbon, to mark the sad way in which many of London’s poorest people were treated on their deaths.
Known as ‘the prison that gave its name to all others’ the Clink Prison was once one of the most notorious prisons in England as well as being the country’s oldest. There is now a museum on the former site of the prison, which is located in the heart of Southwark, once one of the roughest and most volatile parts of the city. Sitting just on the other side of the River Thames to the City of London, it was where Londoners went to get alternative forms of entertainment; of course London is still at the forefront of nightlife and entertainment but the clubs in Shoreditch, for example, are likely to be a much safer place to spend the evening than this part of the city once was. The museum offers an insight into the history of the prison through interactive and educational exhibits and activities and is well worth a trip if you are visiting other Medieval landmarks in the area.
St Olave Hart Street
Situated between the City of London and Whitechapel, making it easy to reach if you are staying at the M by Montcalm Shoreditch London Tech City Hotel, Saint Olaves is a rare example of a medieval church which survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although parts of it were damaged during the Second World War, the majority of the church you see today is the original building. This church has a rich and potentially intriguing history; it is thought to have been built on the site where King Olaf II of Norway rallied his troops to drive the Vikings from London, it was built next to the home of Francis Walsingham, master spy of Queen Elizabeth I during the 16th century, and it is claimed that it was often used as a meeting place under cover of coming to worship at the church; it is also said that two of Queen Elizabeth’s spies are buried in the church and finally, it is the resting place of Samuel Pepys.
Although much changed in the present day, The Strand was where the most prestigious houses in London were located; with a great view of the River Thames it was ideal for getting around London and many of the city’s most prominent religious figures had homes in this part of the city. Perhaps the most significant home on this stretch was Savoy Palace; home to Edward III. Unfortunately, it was burned to the ground during the late 1300s; the Savoy Hotel now sits on the original site of the Savoy Palace, it is still worth walking along this part of the city and imagining how it must have looked back in Medieval Britain when there was such wealth for the upper classes of the country.