The Great Hall at Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace lays South East of London and is just four miles away from Greenwich. It’s position made it an ideal location for a royal palace, as it was close enough to the capital, but still offered a retreat away from the city. The site was not always a royal palace. It was originally a manor house owned by various bishops until it was gifted to the future Edward II in 1305.[1] Successive monarch spent large amounts of money to alter the palace to their own needs. One of the most considerable alterations was made by Edward IV in the 1470s.

Eltham was one of Edward IV’s favourite residences. With the palace’s proximity to nearby Greenwich Palace, Edward and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, shared their time, together and separately, between the two sites.[2] With the couple spending a lot of their time at the Eltham, upgrades were needed. An extensive building project began, including adding new royal apartments. However, the most significant building added was the Great Hall. Whilst a great hall had existed previously, it didn’t meet Edward’s standard for the rebuild and a new building was required. Before Edward’s time, great halls were places of communal activity throughout the day. However, their function had changed with the addition of separate rooms, reducing the great hall to a space mainly used for large functions and to show off wealth.[3]

The Great Hall was designed by Edward’s chief mason and carpenter in a style influenced by the hall at Westminster, which is now one of the only buildings left of the former Palace of Westminster.[4] It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide, with a large oak roof and high stained glass windows to let in light. It would have originally been lavishly furnished, especially with tapestries. Motifs of Edward’s emblem, the rose en soleil, or rose with a sun, were placed on both sides of the entranceway into the hall.[5] The emblem was itself a mixture of two Yorkist symbols, the white rose, and the sun in splendour, so there was no denying who’s space a guest was walking into.

Eltham Palace Great Hall, Tom Parnell, Wikimedia Commons

After the rebuilding, Elizabeth gave birth to her second youngest child, Catherine, in Eltham in 1479, and a year later, Edward moved his substantial library there.[6] This showed just how much the couple valued Eltham’s new buildings, but these would pale in comparison to the new Great Hall’s greatest ever event. At Christmas 1482, Edward held a massive feast for over 2,000 guests. Whilst Edward wouldn’t have known at the time, this ostentatious banquet was to be the last time he visited before his death in April 1483.[7]

Sadly for the palace at Eltham, Edward was the last monarch to consider Eltham as a favourite residence. Henry VII only used it as a nursery for this children, meaning that when his son, Henry VIII became king, he no longer used it much, as his favourite palaces were Greenwich and Hampton Court, which also allowed easy access to London.[8] By the time of the Stuart era, the palace was much neglected, so much so in fact that Charles I was the last ever monarch to visit.[9] Things became even worse after the palace was sold to Nathaniel Rich in 1651. He began to demolish buildings and even stripped the Great Hall’s roof of lead!

Jackson, R. J., Eltham Palace, Kent. A paper, etc (1896) British Library

It was in this sorry state the site stayed in for around 200 years before anyone took any notice. It had been converted into farm buildings, with the Great Hall being used as a barn.[10] In a strange way, it was this use as a barn that had kept it still standing, although rather ruined. It’s ruined state was looked on romantically, until protests were made to improve the stability of the building. This was done, but with little love for the surviving buildings for the history they portrayed. This is easily seen when it was also regularly used as a tennis court by those who lived nearby.[11]

It wasn’t until the 1930s, when the millionaire Courtauld family moved in and began restoration work, alongside building a brand new art deco house inspired by the existing architecture, that the building began to be cared for again properly.[12] The stained glass currently in the Great Hall is sadly not original, but was replaced with new glass in the 1930s thanks to the Courtaulds.[13]

Today there is no fear of a return to a state of abandonment for Eltham Palace, not just thanks to the Courtaulds and the threat of bombing during the Second World War. English Heritage, who now own the whole site, originally were given rights to the Great Hall in 1984, and at last it was acknowledged as one of the finest examples of a medieval hall still in existence, for which we also have to thank Edward IV’s design, but also the men who built it.


[1] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[2] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[3] Thompson, M., The Medieval Hall: the Basis of Secular Domestic Life, 600-1600 AD (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1995), p. 153

[4] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’, https://exploring-london.com/2018/08/10/treasures-of-london-the-great-hall-at-eltham-palace/

[5] Bedford, K., Eltham Through Time (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013)

[6] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[7] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[11] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[12] Ibid

[13] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’, https://exploring-london.com/2018/08/10/treasures-of-london-the-great-hall-at-eltham-palace/

The Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers

It’s funny where you find something you didn’t know before. Just like many others during the pandemic, I’ve spent more time rewatching old TV programmes. Recently I watched some episodes of Auf Weidersehen Pet, an old British comedy about a group of labourers from the North East of England who look for building work abroad. Some of the last episodes of the programme, which are about 20 years old, have the characters helping a Native American tribe to build a bridge, which they brought from England, on land on their reservation. I had no idea before watching these episodes, despite being fascinated by Native American history (which if you’re a regular reader, you’ll have guessed by now), that Native Americans were fundamental in constructing high-rise buildings. So I decided to do some research into this and the story behind it is amazing.

The Mohawks, who are part of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, are known in their mother tongue as Mohowawogs. This was anglicized to Mohawks by Europeans.[1] They traditionally lived along the Hudson River, which straddles the American/Canadian border. Prior to European settlers coming to the area, their lands made up much of what is now known as New England, but as with all Native Americans, they have been forced onto reservations. The Mohawks now mainly live on the Kahnawake Reservation in Quebec, which lays on the shore of the St Laurence River, just outside of Montreal. Their association with building steel bridges and skyscrapers began by accident.

The Wreckage of the Quebec Bridge Collapse of 1907 in Holgate, Henry; Derry, John, G. G.; Galbraith, John, Royal Commission Quebec Bridge Inquiry Report, Sessional Paper No 154. S.E. Dawson printer to the King Ottawa. Appendix 19, figure 20, Wikimedia Commons

In 1886, the Dominion Bridge Company began work on a bridge over the St Laurence River for the Canadian Pacific Railway.[2] As the bridge was to be built on Mohawk land, permission to build the bridge relied upon some of the Mohawk men being employed by the company. Initially they were used as day labourers to suppliers.[3] Many of those employed were young men who attempted to climb the structure on their lunch breaks, proving that they were more than adept to working at height. This meant the company promoted them to working on the bridge. They realised the advantages of continuing in this type of employment would include a stable job and good wages to support their families. However, this would also include long periods away from home.

On 29 August 1907, the Quebec Bridge collapsed, killing 96 men who were working on it, 35 of which were Mohawks. In fact, only 11 men were ever recovered alive following the collapse.[4] The disaster had been caused due to financial issues with Quebec Bridge Company who were in charge of the bridge’s construction. The company had purposefully chosen a cheaper design that required less steel than was necessary for a bridge of its size, meaning it couldn’t take the weight needed.[5] The bodies of the Mohawks who sadly lost their lives were returned to the Kahnawake Reservation. Their graves were marked with steel beams to show how they had died, a tradition which is still continued.[6]

New York skyscrapers from Jersey City (1908), Library of National Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Whilst the dangers of working at height wouldn’t have been lost on the Mohawks or any of the other men working on such projects, a decision was made to stop such large scale deaths from happening again. The Mohawk women proposed that any men wishing to become steelworkers should be split into smaller groups to work on different projects, rather than only focusing on one.[7] With this decision, the Mohawks were able to work on many different building projects around America. However, they mostly concentrated on the many skyscrapers that were being built in New York in the early 20th century. They are known to have worked in the city as early as 1901, but it was only from the 1920s that they began to work on the numerous high-rise buildings that the city became known for.[8]

Mohawks have helped construct some of the most iconic buildings in New York. Here is a list of just some of them: Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, World Trade Centre, Chrysler Building, United Nations Secretariat Building and Madison Square Gardens.[9] It’s amazing to realise just how much the building of skyscrapers at this time relied upon not just Native Americans, but also other emigrants. It is thought that more than a dozen ethnicities worked on skyscrapers during their construction.[10] Perhaps the Mohawks were so good at it as they were a people who “fostered cooperation and community effort”, which can be seen in the gangs they worked with on the construction sites.[11] We have all probably seen that most famous photograph of workers eating their lunch on a girder hanging in the sky. At least three of them men in that picture are Mohawk.[12]

Lunch atop a Skyscraper, published in the New York Herald-Tribune, Oct2 1932, Wikimedia Commons

As it’s coming up to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, I feel it rather appropriate to talk about the Mohawks role on that fateful day. As previously mentioned, many had helped build the Twin Towers during their construction between 1968 and 1972. Around 500 men worked on the construction, 200 of which were Mohawks.[13] The last girder put in place in skyscrapers in New York are usually signed by the people working on it. In the case of the World Trade Centre, it was a Mohawk gang.[14] There were also other buildings in the complex added after this date. However, many rushed to the World Trade Centre as they were working on nearby building sites. They offered help to survivors and also helped in the clearing of wreckage and search for victims following the attack.[15] For this reason, I feel it rather fitting that many of them then went on to work on the Freedom Tower and memorial that are now on the site of the World Trade Centre.[16]

Many Mohawks still continue to work in steel construction. Following the demand for them in New York, many chose to move their families to New York as it was around a 12 hour journey from Kahnawake to the city. They mainly lived around 4th Avenue and many grocery stores selling traditional Native foods and church that spoke in their native tongue also tended to their needs.[17] However, since a freeway/motorway was built in the 1970s, many chose to move back to their homeland as the commute was made easier.[18]

I hope that as the anniversary for both the Quebec Bridge disaster and 9/11 are both coming up, that this post has helped show the reliance the steel construction industry has had (and continues to have) on the Mohawks. At the time of the Quebec Bridge disaster, none of the Mohawk fatalities were ever mentioned in the news.[19] I hope that this goes at least some wat to highlight the legacy they, and all those Mohawks who have worked on these important projects, have left us with.


[1] Weitzman, D., Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City (New York: Roaring Brook Pres, 2010), p. 4.

[2] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/;  Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[3] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[4] University of North Carolina, The Collapse of the Quebec Bridge, 1907, https://eng-resources.uncc.edu/failurecasestudies/bridge-failure-cases/the-collapse-of-the-quebec-bridge-1907/

[5] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[6] Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[7] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[8] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[9]The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Budd, J., ‘High and Mighty’, The Guardian, 19 June 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/jun/19/artsfeatures1

[10] Korum, J. J., The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940 (Boston: Branden Books, 2008)

[11] Weitzman, D., Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City (New York: Roaring Brook Pres, 2010), p. 4.

[12] Budd, J., ‘High and Mighty’, The Guardian, 19 June 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/jun/19/artsfeatures1

[13] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[14] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[15] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[16] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[17] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[18] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[19] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

Cleveland Pools, Bath: The Oldest Outdoor Swimming Pool in Britain

Bath is a wonderful example of Georgian period architecture. I visited for the first time for a long weekend in 2019. We were meant to be going back last year for a full week but with the pandemic, will be going in September instead. The city has had a long association with water an bathing. The Romans occupied the city and named it Aquae Sulis, meaning the Waters of Sulis, a British goddess who the Romans identified as a version of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy.[1] The site is one of the most complete Roman bathing complexes in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s now part of a World Heritage Site.

Roman Baths in Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The city’s waters were still a huge draw for people in the Georgian era. During this time, doctors were advising their patients to take bath in mineral rich waters for medical reasons. The Pump Rooms were a place to receive medical treatment, but also a place for those in fashionable society to be seen. However, despite the city’s rich and long heritage with bathing, I had no idea until recently that that Cleveland Pools existed, despite it being the UK’s only surviving Georgian era open-air swimming pool.[2]

Building on the Bath’s reputation for its water, as well as the banning of nude bathing in the River Avon in 1801, it was decided to build a subscription pool for swimming in.[3] The design was meant to reflect the Georgian style most prominent in the area, which explains the crescent shape of the original changing rooms. It looks like a mini version of the famous Royal Crescent on the other side of the River Avon to the Pools.[4] It was built in 1815 and was originally marketed as a place for the ‘gentleman of Bath’.[5] It is believed that the pool, along with the caretaker’s cottage, were built by a local builder called Newton, following a design created by local architect, John Pinch.[6] Water originally pooled in from the River Avon which was located next to the pools.[7]

Royal Crescent, Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The pool was remained quite popular and after much demand, a ladies pool was added following renovations in 1827, including a perpetual shower bath, although I’m not quite sure what one of those is.[8] The appeal to families continued well into the Victorian period, when the pool was once again expanded to include a children’s pool.[9] It was certainly a place to go during for the Victorians as in 1867, a man named Mr W. Evans was in charge and he sought to teach swimming at the pools, as well as having entertaining gala parties with his pet baboon.[10]

Sadly though, the popularity of Cleveland Pools was not to last. It went through many hands from the end of the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century. This is probably why it still remained largely subscription run, other than for a brief period in 1901 when entry was free.[11] Finally in 1984, it closed as the competition with indoor pools became too great. Following closure, it was briefly turned into a trout farm.[12] When this ended, it was left in a state of disrepair.

Cleveland Pools, Bath, from river side of lower pool, Rwendland (2010), Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, it was put up for sale by the Local Council, who then owned it, at the same time it was placed on English Heritage’s At Risk Register.[13] In 2004, the Cleveland Pools Trust was established to try and save the building. In 2006, Cleveland Pools’ listed status was upgraded from Grade II status to Grade II*.[14] Grade II buildings are classed as those of national importance and of special interest, whereas Grade II* buildings are classed as ones of specific importance that are of greater importance than those in Grade II.[15]

Thankfully, that is not the end of Cleveland Pools. After 17 years of campaigning for recognition and money for restoration, the Trust was given money back in Spring. It received £4.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.[16] Building work also started in the Spring, and it’s hoped that people will be able to swim there from 2022. It is somewhat of a hidden gem and I hope that this lovely and important site finally gets the love it once had. I hope that I will be able to visit when the site is fully renovated and brought up to scratch again.

If you would like to know more about Cleveland Pools, do take a look at their website, where they post updates on how the building is going. Check it out here.


[1] Bath’s Historic Venues, Roman Bath’s History, https://www.bathvenues.co.uk/roman-baths-history

[2] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[3] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[4] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[5] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[6] English Heritage, Cleveland Baths, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1396146

[7] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[8] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[9] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[10] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[11] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[12] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[13] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[14] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[15] British Listed Buildings, What Are Listed Buildings, https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/site/about-listed-buildings/#.YOHja-hKhPY

[16] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery in London is perhaps one of the most curious and unique sights in the whole of the city. It is certainly one that I have wanted to visit myself for a long time. As I live so far away from London, it’s still on the list for places to go at some point in the future. For those of you unfamiliar with the cemetery, you may be asking why a place of burial would be a good place to visit. It is actually well known for its unique architecture, most notably the Circle of Lebanon, a circle of burial vaults designed in the style of classical architecture. Whilst the cemetery now boasts some renown, I only discovered recently how the very existence of this amazing place full of history and notable people was once under threat.

Highgate Cemetery from Prickett, F. and Potter, G. W’s, The History and Antiquities of Highgate, Middlesex (1842), British Library

During the early part of the nineteenth century, London’s population was booming, sadly so too was its death rate. The inner-city plots allocated for burials were unable to cope with the sheer numbers of burials needed. This meant that bodies were very much placed into the same graves as strangers, and even given quick lime to help them decompose quicker to make room for future burials! For public health reasons, the authorities decided new and better provisions needed to be made.[1] Many new out of city places were brought, including the site that would become Highgate Cemetery. Initially, 17 acres of land, costing £3,500 (or around £211,000 in today’s money) were brought in 1836, with the cemetery officially opening three years later.[2]

People of all classes were buried at the cemetery, but it is the richer plots for which the cemetery became well-known for. Architecture based on Gothic, Egyptian and Classical architecture all became a draw for people, making it a unique place to be buried. The wealthy competed for more elaborate grave monuments to add to the existing architecture of the chapels and vaults. This competition certainly encouraged others to be buried at the site.[3] In total, there are around 850 notable people buried there, ranging from author, George Eliot, Karl Marx, and Elizabeth Siddal, a model for many famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings.[4] Karl Marx’s grave at the cemetery is said to be the most visited grave in London.[5] My favourite story is of bare-knuckle fighter, Tom Sayers, who had the biggest funeral held at the cemetery, possibly even in the whole of London, which was attended by 10,000 people, with his beloved dog as the chief mourner.[6] Sayers was popular because he was known to fight opponents who were bigger than himself, but only ever lost one fight in his career.[7]

Photograph of Tom Sayers with his trophies taken by F. W. Nicholls (1860), Wikimedia Commons

For many years, the cemetery was the place to be buried and it had to be extended by another 20 acres in 1856.[8] This popularity wasn’t to last those as it began to decline following the First World War. Many of the gardeners who worked there were called up to fight, leaving the site looking a bit shabby. From then on, a slow decline in popularity occurred until 1975, when The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was established to restore and maintain the site.[9] Now the cemetery is known to attract not just tourists, but also all kinds of wildlife.

It has become a place of historic interest, but also an active public space. Talks, tours and other events are often used to cater for the needs of visitors, giving it new meaning and life, just those buried there, but those living who are connected to the place, whether they be members of staff, the Friends group that run it, local, and of course the visitors.[10] The most recent high profile burial at Highgate is that of George Michael who sadly died in 2017. Whilst his death is still very current and still private, I hope that with time, he too will come to be looked on with the same reverence that is given to the older burials in the cemetery.

J. Armagh, Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery (2007), Wikimedia Commons

[1] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[2] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[3] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[4] Johnson, B., ‘Highgate Cemetery’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Highgate-Cemetery/

[5] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[6] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[7] Britannica Encyclopaedia, Tom Sayer, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tom-Sayers

[8] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[9] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[10] Mader, M., ‘Public Events at a Historic-Religious Site’, in Mader, M., Saviello, A. and Scolari, B. (eds), Highgate Cemetery: Image Practices in Past and Present (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft Mbh & Co, 2020), p. 180.

Fastolf Place: The London Home of Sir John Fastolf

Sir John Fastolf was a veteran of the Hundred Years War in France. He spent around 30 years there and was often charged with the responsibility of various castles, forts, and towns, as well as being a member of the Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France’s, household.[1] His military career proved to be a profitable one and on his retirement in 1439, aged nearly 60, he built himself great houses. The main one that remains, albeit in ruins, is Caister Castle in Norfolk. I have already done a post on that which can be found here. However, the other place he split his time when he was needed in London for business or other reasons, was Fastolf Place in Southwark.

Parker, Sir John Fastolf, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Fastolf rented the site, which was then known as Dunley Place after a previous family of owners, almost as soon as he returned to England. He must have found it homely as he decided to buy it in 1446 and soon went about renovating it to his own taste. The previous site had a watermill and many houses, but this was all about to change.[2] After the new site was transformed into a modern moated manor house, it had a wharf to move people and goods up the Thames, gardens, drawbridge, stables, bakehouse, and larder house.[3] The amount of money he spent on it shows just how much money he had acquired from his time in France. To buy the place he paid £546, 13 shillings and 4 pence (around £351,500 in today’s money); the renovations cost £1,000 (or around £643,000 today).[4]

Fastolf Place had a varied history. Before it was a private residence, it had once been a nunnery, but even in Fastolf’s lifetime, it had changed from peaceful surroundings, to one of turmoil. With the accession of Henry VI, the wars in France that had been such a huge part of Fastolf’s life were slowly coming apart. The English possession in Northern France, particularly Normandy, had reverted to French hands. This was upsetting for large parts of the general populous who had seen Normandy as an English right.[5] Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 was partly fuelled by this upheaval. These rebels marched and occupied London, hoping that the Government would do something about the demands they had. Fastolf wasn’t immune to this as Fastolf Place was threatened by the rebels as they claimed Fastolf was a traitor for being a part of the Normandy army, despite being retired for some time by 1450.[6] It was only because of a servant who risked his life and was himself threatened with having his head cut off, that saved the residence.[7]

Fastolf Place on the Londinvm Feracissimi Angliae Regni Metropolis, 1572

John Fastolf died at Fastolf Place on the 5th of November 1459 aged 79, but that was not the end of the building’s history. It passed onto the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, who founded Magdalen College at the University of Oxford.[8] He finally sold the site to give money to the college in 1484, but not before he had briefly rented the house out to Cecily, the Duchess of York, in the late summer of 1460.[9] Both she and her youngest children, George (future Duke of Clarence), Richard (future Richard III), and Margaret (future Duchess of Burgundy), used the house as a safe place following the Yorkish victory at the Battle of Northampton in July 1460.[10] This was probably thought to be a safer place to stay than anywhere closer to the City of London. Cecily didn’t stay there long but left her children behind in the care of the household and their older brother Edward, Earl of March (future Edward IV), who visited them there every day.[11]

After the house left the ownership of the Bishop of Winchester, it passed through many tenants, including Sir Thomas Cockayne of Ashbourne in Derbyshire during Edward VI’s reign.[12] These types of people were on a similar social standing to John Fastolf, so there is certainly some continuation there. The last mention there is to the house Fastolf knew was in a lease in 1663.[13] When excavations took place in the area surrounding the known site of the townhouse in the 1980s and 1990s, remains of it were never found, suggesting that anything that was left over had been destroyed by later building projects.[14]

The site of the Boar’s Head, Southwark, London: map of the borough with key. Etching, 1755. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Whilst there are no remains of Fastolf Place, other buildings owned by John Fastolf in the Southwark area did last longer. He owned some houses and a pub known as the Boar’s Head along the Borough High Street of Southwark. The Boar’s Head was part of a court of buildings which made up the pub and 10 to 12 houses.[15] All of these were owned by Fastolf after his return to England. These remained until 1830 when they were demolished to make way for extensions of nearby St Thomas’ Hospital.[16]


[1] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff: Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2010), p. 37.

[2] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 138.

[3] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark: The Home of the Duke of York’s Family, 1460’, The Ricardian, 5.72 (1981), p. 312; Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 138.

[4] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[5] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 118.

[6] N. Davis (ed), The Paston Letters and Papers, Part 2 (1976) cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 312.

[7] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 122.

[8] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol6/pp76-89

[9] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 312.

[10] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[11] N. Davis (ed), The Paston Letters and Papers, Part 2 (1976) cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[12] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 313.

[13] Magdalen College, Oxford: Lease of Southwark Watermills 1663, cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 313.

[14] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 120.

[15] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol6/pp76-89

[16] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol6/pp76-89

Audley End- Aristocrats, Avenues and Espionage: a Guest Post by Laura Adkins

This guest post has kindly been written by Laura Adkins, the creator of the For The Love of History Blog, which I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about ones found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.

One of the grandest houses in England, Audley End stands proudly in the countryside of Saffron Walden. Its origins date back to the 10th Century, where it began life as Walden Abbey, given to Thomas, Lord Audley, by Henry VIII, who converted the monastery into a house. 

The rooms are high and hung with beautiful tapestries: the beds amply decorated with golden velvet and silk bed hangings and covers.’

From the account of the visit of Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to Audley End, September 1613

In this post, I will be exploring three parts of Audley’s history, those who lived there – the Howards, its beautiful gardens designed by the one and only Capability Brown and its role in WW2 and the polish resistance.

Aristocrats:

The creator of the current structure of Audley End was Thomas Howard, part of the infamous Howard family. He inherited the House in 1605 and set about transforming the site into a country estate fit enough for royalty as he wanted to show off his wealth. Unfortunately, not much survives of his transformations and what we know from his estate comes from archives and documentary evidence. We know work began in 1605 and completed around 1614. Along with his uncle Henry Howard and Bernard Janssen, a Flemish mason, the three set about creating one of the greatest houses in Jacobean England.[1] Audley End had all the parts one expects in a Jacobean Mansion including symmetrical inner court, lodgings for his guests, including one for both the King and a separate one for the Queen for when they would stay. Today the house is only half the size of what it once was.

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk by Unknown Artist, National Portrait Gallery

The Howard family’s rise to power began in 1483, when King Richard III created John Howard the Duke of Norfolk. This was the third time that the Title of Duke of Norfolk had been used, and John had blood links to the first ever Duke of Norfolk – Thomas Mowbray (made 1st Duke of Norfolk in 1397). The head of the Howards would not only hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, but that of Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, and Earl of Norfolk in addition to holding six baronies. They were a powerful family, who in the reign of the Tudors were ones to watch out for. Thomas Howard, son of John would be successful in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden with two of his nieces – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard being married to King Henry VIII. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, would hold the title of Lord Admiral and lead the English against the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For more on this infamous family, I suggest reading House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson.

In 1751, after the 10th Earl’s death, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth brought Audley End which in turn would be inherited by her nephew, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, on the agreement that he took the surname of Griffin. John was a retired soldier and MP for Andover. He had fought and was wounded at the Battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760 during the Seven Years War.

Sir John, who became Lord Howard, would make more transformations to Audley End, most of which is what we can see today. He hired the architect Robert Adam to transform the house and Capability Brown the landscape. Adam’s work can be seen in the ground floor reception rooms on the south front today. Over time, Sir John started to pick up the architectural bug and his second wife, Katherine the decor. They both, respectively, became amateur architect and decorator and thus set about making many of their own changes to the house. The central range was rebuilt to reconnect the two wings of the house, along with a unique service gallery and detached service wing, all under the eye of Sir John.

Audley End would be one of the first houses to have a flushing water closet (installed in 1775) along with a bell system for the family of the house to call their domestic staff. Today, much of what can be seen at Audley End is a result of Richard Neville, who in the 1820s remodelled the house taking it back to its Jacobean roots.

Audley End, Wikimedia Commons

Avenues:

The beginnings of formal gardens at Audley End were started during the conversion of the monastery into house. It would be Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who would begin the transformation of the gardens into a more formal landscape. However, the landscape that we see today was mostly the result of one Capability Brown.

I mentioned above that in 1763, Griffin hired John Adam to assist with the interior development, he had Capability Brown do the same with the estate. Brown’s brief was to widen the river running through the estate, building a ha-ha and transforming the overall look of the gardens into Brown’s ‘naturalistic style’. He would create new roads towards the house, including one with a bridge, which was designed by Adam’s and is a Grade I listed structure. Brown was to be paid £660 (around £1,150,000 today) for his work in three payments, the last being on completion.

The two would eventually fall out with the result being Griffin dismissing Brown and getting the unknown Joseph Hicks to finish the work. However, the elements of Brown’s work are there for all to see and appreciate, including sweeps of grass, water flowing towards the house, long curving drives with stunning views for visitors and wooded areas to hide service buildings.

Espionage:

When I visited Audley End many years ago, I did not really pay much attention to a monument within the estate, remembering fallen soldiers from WW2. It was not until planning this post that Danielle mentioned the Polish secret missions that made me go back and re look at Audley End’s history in the 20th Century.

In 1941, like a number of other country estates, Audley End was requisitioned by the Army to be used as a training facility. By 1943, those who trained there was exclusively Polish Soldiers. They were undergoing training to assist them when they were secretly returned to German occupied Poland and assist the Polish resistance.

WWII Reenactment at Audley End

Code named station 43 (overseen by the Special Operations Executive), the Polish agents, under the command of Captain Alfons Mackowiak (Alan Mack). They would undergo various training in guerrilla warfare which included close combat, assignation, forgery, planting booby traps and of course learning how to parachute out of a plane. In total 527 soldiers passed the training and were sent into Poland. Sadly, 108 of these were either killed in action or at concentration camps and are remembered on the memorial I mentioned above. The soldiers would be known as the Cichociemni (the silent and Unseen). They would be involved in many missions, including recovering a German V2 rocket and smuggling into England.

‘Between 1942 and 1944 Polish members of the Special Operations Executive trained in this house for missions in their homeland. This memorial commemorates those who parachuted into enemy occupied Poland and gave their lives for the freedom of this and their own country.’ Listed Grade II © Historic England Archive PLB/K030323

In 1948, the house was handed over to the nation. Today it is managed by English Heritage, and accessible to the public, for more information on visiting times, exhibitions and events head to https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/

[1] Drury, P (…) English Heritage Guidebooks – Audley End

Sources:

Borger, J (2016) Honouring ‘silent and unseen’ fighters who led Polish resistance. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/10/honouring-poland-silent-unseen-fighters-resistance-nazi-british [Accessed 04.08/20]

English Heritage (2020) Audley End House and Gardens. Available from:  www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/ [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2020) Audley End. Available from: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000312 [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2019) The Secret War: Resistance in Britain During the Second World War. Avalbne from: https://heritagecalling.com/2019/11/05/the-secret-war-resistance-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war/ [Accessed 05/08/20] Landscape Institute(2016) About Capability Brown. Available from:  http://www.capabilitybrown.org/  [Accessed 4/8/20]

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

As someone whose first interest in history was the Wars of the Roses, I first came across Horace Walpole through his book Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III, in which he defended the reputation of Richard, including denying popular views that he murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Horace was the rather eccentric son of Britain’s first prime minster, Robert Walpole. He was a historian, collector, social and political commentator, writer, and author. He is perhaps most well known for writing the first gothic novel, and for leaving behind around 7,000 letters, and an account of the historical items in his collection at Strawberry Hill, his house in Twickenham.[1] Strawberry Hill itself is one of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture and reflects Walpole’s interest in the medieval. The unique house was a source of fascination to the polite middle classes who were becoming interested in the country houses of the rich. However, this was not how the building began its life.

Horace Walpole by John Giles Eccardt (1754), © National Portrait Gallery, London

As a younger son, Horace didn’t have his own country seat to use as a summer residence and he looked for the perfect place to convert into one. In 1747, he acquired the site in Twickenham, when it was as a rather ordinary late-seventeenth century cottage called Chopped Straw Hall.[2] It came with 5 acres of land but before long, it expanded to include 46 acres.[3] The beginning of the transformation into the building Horace wished was initially low key. The first mention of any connection to the Gothic was mentioned in a letter from Horace to a friend on the 28th of September 1749, where he mentioned about creating battlements.[4] From then on, the Gothic architecture would be developed by the ‘Committee of Taste’, including Walpole and two of his friends, John Chute and Richard Bentley. Chute had met Walpole on the Grand Tour around Europe and owned his own Tudor Gothic home in Hampshire, whereas Bentley created the drawings and plans based on Walpole and Chute’s ideas.[5] These ideas were mainly inspired by Gothic features seen elsewhere.

E. Rooker, Strawberry Hill near Twickenham (1774), British Library

The rooms created for Strawberry Hill were purposefully created to be an exaggerated and theatrical version of the classic Gothic architecture seen in the medieval period.[6] The style created was from Walpole’s imagination, but had elements that were recognisable as Gothic. It meant that a more theatrical version of the Gothic was created for the brash Georgian era. As what we now call Gothic Revival was in its infancy, there was not yet any set rules for the style. Walpole’s version of this was certainly theatrical and reflected the uniqueness of the objects he collected.[7] The building work, not including the contents, cost £21,000, around £925,000 in today’s money, so it was a rather expensive renovation project.[8]

The collection that was created at Strawberry Hill was a rather random collection almost in the style of a cabinet of curiosities but were collected by Walpole to create a museum to England’s history and heritage, especially time periods that were not seen as fashionable at the time.[9] The Georgians very much focused on items from ancient civilisations like Rome or Greece, but Walpole’s focus was very much on the medieval, right through to the Stuarts in the previous century. Some of the treasured items in his collection included locks of hair of Edward IV and Mary I, a hat that once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, a comb of Mary Queen of Scots and a watch of George II.[10] The way these items were displayed and described were based on a mixture of “provenance, description, association and imagination”, possibly saying more about Walpole than the items.[11] Despite the criticism this has brought Walpole, both in his own time and now, there is no doubting that he tried to widen the circle of what was worthy to study as history.

Print from: A description of the villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford, at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex: with an inventory of the furniture, pictures, curiosities, & c. Strawberry-Hill, printed by Thomas Kirgate, 1784, Rijksmuseum

To create the museum like home he wanted, it was essential for Strawberry Hill was open to the public to see the collections. This is where Walpole’s selectively anti-social behaviour really shone through. Whilst he was open to hosting foreign ambassadors, royalty, and aristocracy, it was the middling classes he found rather annoying.[12] In a letter to Sir Horace Mann dated 30th of July 1783, he wrote of the many visitors coming to Strawberry Hill, which meant he was “tormented all day and every day by people that come to see my house”.[13] He was especially peeved by the visitors who came as an escape from the illnesses circulating in London, suggesting “You see the plague! You are the plague.”[14] In a list of visitors kept for Strawberry Hill between 1784 and 1797, it shows that when the house was open between May and September, around 300 people a year viewed the house.[15]

The tour around the house is not self-guided as we would understand from a county house visit today. They would have been shown round by the housekeeper on a set route. Walpole was often known to hide under his bed when the housekeeper showed groups around.[16] Despite the aggravation these visitors caused, the house was never shut to visitors during Walpole’s lifetime. Perhaps this was partly because these tourists were the reason for his ‘museum’ existing. Instead, he chose to curb their behaviour by only allowing visitors with tickets given out with his signature on to be admitted. From 1784, a page of rules was also given to prospective tourists to ensure they knew the rules they had to follow to gain admittance. First and foremost, anyone applying for a tour would have to give their name and the number in their party, alongside the date they wished to attend. This information would be then given to the housekeeper if Walpole agreed to allow the party around the house.[17] Further rules would also have to be abided by:

  1. The person applying must give at least a day or two’s notice and would only be allowed to be a party of 4 people. Also, only one party to be shown around per day.
  2. The day given on the ticket would be valid for the day shown and if more than 4 people arrived without prior permission, the housekeeper would be allowed to turn them away.
  3. The party could only be shown around between 12 and 3 pm.
  4. No group would be admitted after dinner.
  5. If the ticket couldn’t be used on the date written on it, then prior knowledge must be given so another party could be allowed the opportunity to go.
  6. No children.

These rules may sound strict, but there could be leniency given on all of them other than the no children one, as there was always a strict no children policy.[18]

T. Rowlinson, Temple at Strawberry Hill, from “Sketches from Nature” (1822), Metropolitan Museum

Sadly, after Horace died, the building was left rather neglected and unloved by its owners and the novelty of the building and its contents wore off for visitors, meaning no one really wished to visit as a tourist. As Horace died unmarried, the house went through various distant female relatives. It wasn’t until George, the 7th Earl of Waldegrave inherited it that the building was really hated. He decided to leave the house to ruin and sold off the collection in 1842.[19] It could have ended disastrously for this once unique and popular building if it hadn’t had been for George’s widow, Frances. She had been left a lot of money by George and went on to have another rich husband, meaning she could afford to add extensions to the house in a style like Walpole’s original fantasy Gothic.[20] It is her, alongside the current owners, St Mary’s University College, that we have to thank for the survival of such an unusual, and in my opinion beautiful, building that we can now enjoy.

I have yet to visit Strawberry Hill, but it’s certainly another one to add to my to visit list when things are better and we can travel again. Of particular interest to me is the cottage in the garden that once housed Walpole’s printing press which he used to publish he works from. This printing press was the first one to be privately owned in England, and strangely housed in the only building in the garden that wasn’t built in the Gothic style, instead it was built in traditional Georgian brick. I still wonder what Horace’s thinking was behind that.[21]


[1] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[2] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), p. xvii.

[3] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, Metropolitan Museum Studies, 5.1 (1934), p. 60.

[4] Cited in Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 62.

[5] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, pp. 63-64.

[6] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4.

[7] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4; Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[8] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 60.

[9] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4.

[10] P. Bains, ‘”All of the House of Forgery”: Walpole. Chatterton and Antiquarian Collecting’, Poetica, 39/40 (1993), cited in Mack, R., ‘Horace Walpole and the Objects of Literary History’, ELH, 75.2 (2008), p. 374.

[11] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, pp. 2-3.

[12] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[13] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist: A History of Country House Visiting (London: National Trust Enterprises Ltd, 1998), p. 91.

[14] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 91.

[15] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 92.

[16] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 92.

[17] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 96.

[18] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, pp. 96 and 98.

[19] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[20] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[21] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 87.

Eleanor Coade: A Little Remembered Georgian Businesswoman

Eleanor Coade was a very unusual woman for the Georgian times, but one I must admit I admire after recently coming across her story. She was a businesswoman in her own right, despite never being married. The business she owned wasn’t traditionally feminine either. She actually owned an artificial stone factory in Lambeth, London, which bore her name. Architecture was an incredibly male dominated industry, although it was common for upper class women to have a say in the decoration of the house they lived in, Eleanor is definitely one of the first I’ve come across who had a practical role. Her business was highly successful and as English Heritage describes the stone her factory produced was “one of the most widely used materials of the 18th century”.[1]

Eleanor was born on the 3rd of June 1733 in Exeter, Devon, to George Coade, a wealthy merchant, and his wife Eleanor. However, the wool trade George largely dealt in was soon in decline and in 1759, the family were forced to relocate to London because of bankruptcy, including s second one in 1769.[2] Perhaps this was what spurred Eleanor to set up her own business, hoping to help the family fortunes. It was certainly a family trait as her grandmother and uncle all ran successful businesses, something which her father had not quite inherited.

An allegory of agriculture: Ceres reclining amidst a collection of farm implements, she holds a sheaf of wheat and a scythe. Engraving by W. Bromley, 1789, after a sculptural panel by Mrs E. Coade. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

By 1766, Eleanor was listed as a linen draper who dealt in linen-based textiles. That business was definitely a success as the insurance for it raised from £200 (around £17,500 in today’s money), to £750 (around £65,500 in today’s money) in just one year![3] Sadly we don’t know her reasons for deciding to give up this business and buy up the failing artificial stone manufactory set up by Daniel Pidcot just 3 years later. Perhaps it was just boredom or a sense of adventure, or maybe she just found it more interesting. Whatever may be the case, it became obvious that she had a flare for running a business and knew what clients wanted. Eleanor alone wouldn’t have been able to afford the purchase, so she must have had help from someone. There are two options for that, her grandmother, Sarah Enchmarch, and uncle, Samuel Coade, as previously mentioned. Eleanor certainly did receive £500 from her grandmother’s will, for she had been a successful textile businesswoman for 25 years herself, following the death of her husband.[4] Eleanor also had close ties with her uncle, Samuel Coade. He had already bailed out his brother, Eleanor’s father, and in his own will, he specifically removed any of Eleanor’s outstanding debts she owed him, alongside providing a house for her in Lyme Regis, Dorset.[5]

With the purchase of the business, it was renamed Coade, and all of the bills were transferred into her name. However, as she was often called Mrs Coade, this has since created some confusion as to whether it was this Eleanor, or her mother that owned the business.[6] At that time, any woman who may have owned a business was customarily called Mrs, whether they were married or not. Despite no longer being the owner, Daniel Pidcot was kept on as a manager, probably to ease transition and to teach Eleanor about the artificial stone trade. This decision, whilst well meant, did come back to bite. In 1770, Daniel published an essay on artificial stone, and claimed that he had recently opened the manufactory, rather than in 1767, and with no mention of Eleanor being the real owner.[7] There was also more problems ahead behind the scenes, as Eleanor publicly retaliated. In September 1771 she published 2 notices about Daniel Pidcot in the newspapers. The first one placed in the Public Advertiser showed who the real owner was:

Whereas Mr Daniel Pidcot has represented himself as a partner in the manufactory conducted by him, ELEANOR COADE, the real proprietor, finds it needful to inform the public that the said Mr Pidcot is no other than a servant to her and that no contracts, or agreements, discharges or receipts will be allowed by her, unless signed by herself.[8]

The other notice publicised that Daniel Pidcot has left her employment and wouldn’t be returning.

Peter Mazell, The Font in Debden Church, Essex (c. 1786), British Library

It seems like the business had a bumpy start, but the success it would later see was all down to Eleanor and her business choices. Whilst the formula used for the artificial stone wasn’t invented by her, as it was based on much older ones, but she certainly altered it. The formula (although the exact one was a secret) roughly consisted of clay, flint, fine sand, glass and grog, clay that had already been fired and then ground into a powder. The particular type of clay used was purposefully sourced from Devon and Dorset, where Eleanor’s family came from, meaning this was probably the part she altered.[9] The added glass gave the stone it’s weatherproof quality, and it was this that made Coade stone so popular, especially for outdoor decoration.

The designs created at the manufactory were mainly bespoke, although there were some pieces that could be replicated due to the use of moulds. Most of these designs were crated by the sculptor and chief designer, John Bacon, but Eleanor did do her own designs, as some were exhibited at the Society of Artists.[10] A lot of these were mainly interior decorations, as she was interested in interior, as well as exterior design. The generic designs including things such as statues, plaques and even chimneypieces to name a few.[11] Whether an indoor or an outdoor piece, they were always stamped with COADE to make sure no one ever forgot who made them.[12]

Keith Evans, Britannia Monument at Great Yarmouth, Wikimedia Commons

The popularity of her pieces began to increase, and Eleanor made a smart move by opening a showroom in 1798. This was located in a popular area near to Westminster Bridge, which was closer to her upper-class clients. The showroom showcased some of the company’s best pieces, as well as generic items to give clients an idea of what was on offer. The showroom also produced a booklet that took them on a guided tour through Coade designs and listed places where previous commissions were, ranging from country houses, to public places, even places abroad, such as Russia, South Africa and Brazil.[13] Sadly by 1817, fashions had changed and large commissions were no longer in fashion and the showroom was forced to close, but instead it was replaced with better advertising.[14]

Despite changing fashions, nothing could detract from the amazing commissions the company had already fulfilled. These included the Britannia sculpture for the Nelson Column in Great Yarmouth, the gate piers of Strawberry Hill, a candelabra for the Prince of Wales (future George IV) at Carlton House, and a gothic font and screen at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to name a few.[15] This is not an exhausted list as the commissions were many. With the amount of time that has passed, we cannot name how many, but English Heritage has claimed that there are over 650 surviving Coade stone examples around the world.[16] Including a few tombs, most notably William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who was buried in the same churchyard as her 20 year business partner and distant cousin, John Seely.[17]

Linwood, J., Tomb of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, St Mary’s Churchyard, Lambeth, Wikimedia Commons

In a world where women were not necessarily the first choice of business owner, Eleanor did remarkably well. I think it’s a shame that her name is not well known, despite the obvious success she enjoyed in her lifetime, despite being in a male dominated working environment. I hope this post has done a little to change that. Eleanor herself must have realised her own influence somewhat as following her death aged 88 on 16 November 1821, her will gave much of her estate away to charitable causes. Most of the beneficiaries of her will were single women. 3 married women were mentioned, but the will stipulated that the money given to them was not to be taken by their husbands.[18] Perhaps that is Eleanor’s great legacy, that she was, and hopefully still is, a great example to women about what they can achieve if only they put their minds to it.


[1] English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[2] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017), p. 16.

[3] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 16.

[4] Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[5] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[6] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[7] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[8] Cited in Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[9] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[10] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, pp. 19-20.

[11] Kelly, A., ‘Furnishings from the Coade Factory in Lambeth’, Furniture History, 10 (1974), p. 68.

[12] Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[13] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 22; English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[14] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23.

[15] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 24.

[16] English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[17] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23 and 27.

[18] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 25.

Lady Baillie’s Grand Parties at Leeds Castle

I haven’t visited Leeds Castle in Kent for around 10 years now, but it still has left an impression in me. It has often been described as the loveliest castle in England. I can easily see why with its impressive moat and medieval style architecture. It is even more appealing when you consider the women who were once in possession of this castle in its long history. From Eleanor of Castille, wife of Edward I, to Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII, many royal women saw the castle as their home. However, not is all as it seems. Much of what we can see today was mostly reconstructed by Olive Wilson, later to become Lady Baillie after marrying her 3rd husband, the last owner of the castle. When she had brought it in 1927 for £180,000 (just over £9 million today), it was in a neglected state for the last person to live inside the castle had died in 1870.[1]

Leeds Castle (2010), Herry Lawford, Wikimedia Commons

As someone with dual American and English nationalities, Olive was looking for an English retreat away from London. She certainly found it in Leeds Castle as she is said to have fell in love with it instantly, despite the sorry state it was then in. For the rebuild, she hired Armand-Albert Rateau and other French craftsman, for she believed the French would be able to restore a sense of history to the site.[2] Other local men were hired too, but the French ones were needed to source French materials, such as chimneypieces and oak doors. For all the historical items added, including replica eighteenth century furniture, modern living was also a priority. Underfloor heating and en-suite bathrooms made of onyx were added.[3] As if that wasn’t luxurious enough, in 1939 an open air and heated swimming pool was added to the grounds, complete with a wave machine and nearby cocktail bar.[4] The bar was decorated with a mural depicting Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, skating on a frozen pond surrounded by statues of women and children representing Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Hermann Goering and Duff Cooper.[5] These additions reflected the use of Leeds Castle as a prominent place of entertainment for the great and the good during the 1920s and 1930s.

 

Lady Baillie playing croquet

The types of people invited to the weekend parties at the castle ranged from film stars such as Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplain, to royals such as Edward, Prince of Wales and his mistress Wallace Simpson, to ambassadors, ministers and MPS.[6] The one I find the most intriguing is the Russian Grand Duke Dimitri Pavolovich, one of the conspirators suspected of being involved in the assassination of Rasputin in 1916. During these parties, activities such as golf, tennis, squash, croquet, boating or skating on the moat or picnicking in the vast parkland, all before a lavish dinner and merrymaking with music to gramophones or watching the latest film releases.[7] Despite all these wonderful images created by such events, its curious to think that Lady Baillie herself often didn’t see the guests following their arrival on Friday night, until sometime on the Sunday. In truth, she was described as more of a listener than a talker, and much preferred to leave people to their own devices. Her friend, the Duchess of Argyle described her as an eccentric, yet shy person, often taking up to 3 days, or even a week, before she felt able to show herself in the company of new guests.[8]

Despite all this, her parties were full of the rich and famous, who were able to seek privacy at Leeds, as Lady Baillie refused to allow the press near. The guests were allowed to wander around freely other than at night, when the unmarried male guests were placed in the Maiden’s Tower away from the rest of the castle to prevent bed hopping.[9] For this reason, some guests described her hospitality style as “relatively restrained in behaviour compared with many of her much more notorious contempories”.[10] Perhaps that is why guests often were able to have a candid experience, as seen in the case of actor, David Niven. He often left the party to play cards with the servants in the servants’ hall instead.[11]

David Niven in Enchantment (1948), Photograph in possession of SchroCat, Wikimedia Commons

The parties continued even during World War Two, although in a different form. Most of the castle was taken over as part of a war hospital for injured soldiers. They were moved into smaller parts of the castle and often included some of the soldiers being rehabilitated there. Many of these were sent home following their repatriation from Dunkirk and included severely burned pilots.[12] They were never again seen on the same large scale as before the war, especially as Lady Baillie’s health was on the decline.

Similar small-scale parties were also occasionally held for the castle staff at Christmas time. On Christmas Eve, a large party was held for the local children, whereas on New Year’s Eve, one was held for the castle servants. During these events, Lady Baillie was known to dance with the butler, and her husband danced with the housekeeper.[13] These events showed kindness to her staff and ensured her legacy was one of a ‘lovely lady’ by them following her death in 1974, before the castle was handed over to the nation in the form of a charitable trust. The care Olive put into restoring the castle was certainly a legacy to remember in terms of the architecture and interiors but showcasing these to large numbers of famous people is perhaps what she will be remembered for most.


[1] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle (Leeds Castle: Leeds Castle Enterprises, 2007), p. 7.

[2] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 18.

[3] Leeds Castle Blog, ‘The Real Gatsby was a Woman: Lady Baillie and the Glamourous 1920s’, http://leeds-castle.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-real-gatsby-was-woman-lady-baillie.html

[4] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 54.

[5] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 54.

[6] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 34.

[7] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 35.

[8] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 54.

[9] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 36.

[10] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 36.

[11] Bignell, A., Lady Baillie at Leeds Castle, p. 53.

[12] Leeds Castle, ‘The Baillie Years’, https://www.leeds-castle.com/Visit/History/The+Lady+Baillie+Years

[13] Kent Online, ‘The Real Downton’, https://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/the-real-downton-a64777/

The Star Chamber at Bolsover Castle

Since 2016, I have volunteered at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire every summer as a guide. Sadly, this year I haven’t been able to return due to the pandemic, but the site is open daily between 10 am and 5 pm for pre-booked slots only.[1] I know I’m biased, but I would really recommend a visit if you can. It has a fascinating history and some wonderful period paintings which are well worth seeing. The castle is a wonderful mix of Stuart pleasure with the sense of nostalgia towards the medieval, as designed by father and son team Robert and John Smythson for the father and son owners, Charles and William Cavendish.[2] It has been recognised by some as “the most beautiful house in England, and one of the treasures of Western Europe”.[3] I will leave that judgement up to you if you ever visit, but I can imagine in its heyday, it would have been a spectacular sight to behold.

The first building phase of the current castle was between 1611 and 1617, following the footprint of an older medieval castle that was once in existence. This included the building known as the Little Castle, which was the main living accommodation until the Terrace Range was built in anticipation of a visit from Charles I and his wife, Henrietta Maria in 1634. The Little Castle was built as William Cavendish’s pleasure holiday home, as he mainly lived at Welbeck Abbey nearby. For this reason, it was sumptuously decorated and furnished. Each room had a theme and relevant imagery was used to show the classical and biblical knowledge of William.

The Little Castle (Author’s Own Image)

One of the most popular rooms in the Little Castle is the Star Chamber, mainly as it was refurnished in 2014 to replicate what it may have once looked like in the Stuart era, and as many visitors have noted, it feels the most homely. The tapestries are not original to the house, they are actually reproduced versions of original 17th century tapestries found at Blickling House in Norfolk. They were recreated by 3D printing onto linen but are still very effective.

The original interiors of the Little Castle, including the Star Chamber were completed roughly between 1619 and 1921. The Star Chamber itself was created as the main entertaining and reception space for the Castle. It would have originally been furnished with a large table to eat from, as well as many seats to be used either during banqueting or for watching or listening to entertainment, with a raised dais to be used by William and either his first wife, Elizabeth Basset, or his second wife, Margaret Lucas.

The Raised Dais (Author’s Own Image)

The theme of this room is biblical, with painted panels depicting old and new testament figures, the largest of which are King David and King Solomon. These contrast with the two painted panels in the corner, which would have once formed a door to a concealed privy. These depict men in armour, and it has been debated about who these are.[4] Some have claimed that it could be William and his brother. There was once another panel depicting a young boy with a pet cat, but sadly this was stolen.[5] Raylor argues that all the paintings in this room are an allegory for political and religious authority, which originated with these biblical figures, and was passed down not just to himself as the local landowner, but replicated in the monarchy.[6] This can be seen in the use of family crests, indicating where William’s personal authority comes from.

Interior of Star Chamber, showing ceiling, Wikimedia Commons

The reason the room is called the Star Chamber is because at some point following William’s death, an auditor named the rooms in an inventory. The Star Chamber took its name from the wonderfully elaborate ceiling, featuring 254 gold leaf stars. This was restored in 2000, when the coving had to be redone. During this process, the ceiling colour was changed. Prior to this, the colour had been a dark blue, to represent the night sky. During the investigation work, an original light blue colour was found underneath, and it was decided to return it to its sky-blue colour. The ceiling would have originally cost a fortune, as the sky-blue colour is blue verditer, which is created by smelting silver.[7] Also during the restoration, an original 17th century playing card was found underneath the coving. It was probably put there by one of the craftsmen who worked there, hoping to be remembered in some way centuries after he had completed his work. Unfortunately, the card is now at the British Museum, but it is only one of many hidden treasures found secreted away in many country houses across the country.

The Star Chamber Fireplace (Author’s Own Image)

The fireplaces throughout the Little Castle, are all made from Derbyshire stone and marble (other than the Italian Marble used in the Marble Closet) either mined in the Peak District, or more locally to the Castle. They all feature slightly different imagery, but the fireplace in the Star Chamber is the most carved and represents different parts of the Cavendish family. The Talbot dogs on the front are to remember George Talbot, the last of William’s grandmother, Bess of Hardwick’s husbands, and through who’s son, sold Bolsover to this side of the Cavendish family. The Cavendish crest is also wrapped around the sides. This is also the only fireplace to have received some damage. It was probably done by Parliamentarian forces who lived here during the Civil War, following William’s forced personal exile after his defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. Luckily for William, despite instructions to have the place destroyed, the Parliamentarians never did, instead choosing to sell it on in 1650.[8] William’s brother, Charles, saved stopped this sale by returning apologetically to England and brought back William’s estates.[9]

Despite not being able to return to Bolsover myself this year, I have extremely fond memories and hope to return next summer. I gave my first ever guided tour last year and it was received very well by visitors and was hoping to do some more this time, but sadly that wasn’t to be. I hope that this short history of one of the most popular rooms, although not my personal favourite (that’s the Heaven Closet), has been a guided tour of sorts, even if it’s in a very different way. By knowing the history and style of the house, it is almost like knowing William Cavendish himself. This very unique house is said to openly reflect his style and character.[10] If you ever have the chance to visit, remember that as you look around the rooms that are full of imagery that often seems to be puzzling to us. It’s just that for whatever reason, the meaning has somehow been lost to us to a certain extent.


[1] Bolsover Castle, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bolsover-castle/

[2] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook (London: English Heritage, Revised Edition, 2016), p. 3.

[3] T. Mowl, Elizabethan and Jacobean Style (1993), cited in Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”: William Cavendish, Ben Jonson, and the Decorative Scheme of Bolsover Castle’, Renaissance Quarterly, 52.2 (1999), p. 402.

[4] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 20.

[5] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 420.

[6] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 420.

[7] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 20.

[8] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 41.

[9] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 41.

[10] Raylor, T., ‘“Pleasure Concealed as Virtue”, p. 404.