Lost London: Crosby Hall

My son recently gave me for my birthday a book which could be described as a tome Panoramas of Lost London by Philip Davies an extra large format copy containing over 200 black and white photographs of London before redevelopment.

It is heartbreaking to see how much of London remained untouched for centuries until the Victorians razed great swathes of the city in their quest for modernity.

[H]itler tried to finish the job, but it was during the 1960s that we destroyed far more than aerial bombardment had done and finished off the job of removing all traces of the medieval city.

One surprising survivor remains unknown to thousands of motorists as they drive past it each day little realising its importance, the fascinating story of a building’s survival and the present owner’s obsession for all things Tudor.

Crosby Hall has been described by Simon Thurley director of English Heritage as:

The most important surviving secular domestic medieval building in London, Sir John Crosby’s great hall has on several occasions been snatched from the brink of demolition, which after a 400-year gap, it is being incorporated back into a private house.

Forget Russian oligarchs and over-paid footballers, the property on Cheyne Walk almost opposite Battersea Bridge is probably the largest house in private ownership in London, a house whose nucleus started in the City of London.

Built in Bishopsgate between 1466 and 1475 for rich City merchant Sir John Crosby, it was later purchased by Sir Thomas More and now is located at the site of More’s Chelsea garden.

King Richard III and Sir Walter Ralegh both used it as their temporary home and it later was the head office of The Honourable East India Company. But eventually it was reduced to warehouses before scheduled for demolition (and no doubt inclusion in my book) in 1908.

Realising its importance as the most precious medieval survivor in the Square Mile the entire building was moved brick by brick to Chelsea and after much soul searching into what should become of its use it was leased to the British Federation of University Women who promptly built an Arts and Crafts residential block at right angles to the building’s Great Hall.

In 1988 the freehold was bought by Christopher Moran an enthusiastic – and rich – lover of all things Tudor who had already spent 20 years thinking about the Hall. Seven years were than consumed obtaining the relevant planning permissions and if you think your kitchen extension was a nightmare have a thought for Christopher Moran who has since 1995 employed up to 100 specialist builders with the help of dozens of Tudor scholars on his project creating an 85 room house, built exactly as Tudor craftsmen would have done over 500 years ago.

For the £50 million it is estimated to cost he gets a courtyard garden designed by the Marchioness of Salisbury based on her own garden at Hatfield House surrounding a Tudor fountain to the goddess Diana, that itself took more than three years to create. Facing the River are solid oak doors weighing 3 tonnes, The College of Arms have devised for him a coat of arms to surmount the doors. The lost art of double-struck pointing has been mastered in order to ensure that the new brickwork looks exactly as it would have done when Sir John Crosby moved in and a house – well fit for a king.

Simon Thurley, Director of English Heritage has written a more detailed account of Crosby Hall which originally was published in Country Life magazine.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 12th July 2013

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