Remnants of Early Modern London: a field trip
In this post, one of our students, Kerstin Grunwald-Hope, reflects on a recent field trip to London run by Dr Tracey Hill for the strand ‘Early Modern London’.
After taking the train from Bath to London and then the tube to Farringdon, the sound through a gully grate of the ancient Fleet River, now part of the London sewer system, rushing past under our feet was our evocative introduction to the remnants of early modern London.
During our visit to the London Metropolitan Archives, we were given an interesting talk by David Luck, senior archivist, about the extent of the collection, the procedure of how to order and view original material from the archives and how to use the online and paper catalogues. Tracey then showed us prints of the famous Agas map as well as beautiful maps by the renowned Dutch map makers and engravers Braun and Hogenberg and Visscher, all depicting in stunning detail the 16th and 17th century City of London. To finish our visit in the archives, we had some free time to undertake our own research and if possible find out when exactly the Fleet River was covered over (first in 1733 from Holborn Bridge to Fleet Street and then in 1766 from Fleet Bridge to the Thames).
During our walking tour of Clerkenwell, we passed through St John’s Gate which now houses the Museum of the Order of St John where we saw exhibits telling the story of the Order from its origins in 11th century Jerusalem to its current involvement with St John Ambulance. We also were able to see the actual well which gives the ward of Clerkenwell its name. It is now embedded in a modern office-type building and can only be glimpsed at through a glass wall.
We then made our way back to the City to our hotel near Liverpool Street with Tracey pointing out buildings, symbols and remnants of early modern London as we went. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we had dinner at Ye Olde Watling Pub. The pub is claimed to date back to 1668 and to be built from old ships’ timbers by Sir Christopher Wren. The upstairs rooms, where we had our meal, are said to have been used as a drawing office during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral and to have catered for Wren’s workmen after the Great Fire.
The next morning, we walked to Bishopsgate for a visit to the church of St Helen and John Stow’s church St Andrew Undershaft. After having seen many drawings and photos of John Stow’s memorial, it was great to finally see it in the flesh in St Andrew Undershaft.
The depiction of Stow in a writing position is very rare for such memorials. It was also interesting to learn that the feather that the statue of Stow holds is a real feather and is replaced every few years. The ultra-modern surroundings of the churches such as the glass-fronted Gherkin and Shard formed a fascinating contrast to the two small stone church buildings with their intricate ornateness – little glimpses of history in a jungle of towering glass and metal.
We then went the Church of St Magnus the Martyr which houses a beautiful model of the old London Bridge, providing a great visualisation of the shops, houses and chapels that used to crowd the bridge. This chaotic mix made the bridge almost impassable and most people preferred to rely on the watermen to ferry them across to the other side of the river. St Magnus the Martyr also pinpoints where the old London Bridge used to touch the land on the north side of the river before the bridge was moved.
On our walk along the Thames, we passed the enormous Fishmongers’ Company Hall which demonstrated their continuous wealth and influence as one of the most important livery companies of the City of London. We also saw Queenhithe Dock which is the only remaining Anglo Saxon dock in the world and contributed to the development of medieval London. We then visited St Olave’s Church where Samuel Pepys erected a memorial to his wife who died at the age of 29 of a fever.
After lunch, we visited the Guildhall Library and had the chance to view and handle original manuscripts and early printed books. Tracey explained how information gained from manuscripts such as account and minute books play a vital role in contributing to literary research by for example contradicting prevailing assumptions about the involvement of playwrights in certain Lord Mayor shows. The manuscripts were beautifully written in secretary hand. The printed books included a 1640 collection of Ben Jonson’s work, all four early modern editions of Stow’s A Survey of London (1598, 1603, 1618 & 1633) and a 1597 edition of Edmund Spenser’s The shepheards calendar.
As part of our final walking tour we went to St Bartholomew’s Church in Smithfield which was unfortunately closed but it was still interesting to see how much the streets surrounding the church had retained their early modern character.
We then visited the Barbican area where sections of the Roman as well as medieval layers of the city wall can still be seen. After our final visit to St Giles Cripplegate which was Munday’s, Milton’s, Defoe’s and Speed’s local family church, we headed back to Paddington by tube for our train back to Bath.
All in all, a highly informative and fun field trip which really brought the authors and their works of the Early Modern London module to life and contributed enormously to my understanding of the location and period in question.