You don't really expect to find a Tudor mansion nestling amongst the suburbs and council estates of Tottenham, but there is one, and it's called the Bruce Castle Museum. There has been a house on the site since medieval times and in 1514, it became the property of William Compton, who held the position of 'groom of the bed chamber' to Henry VIII. This meant he had the dubious honour of assisting the King with going to the toilet, amongst other things.
Much of the house was rebuilt in the 17th century, but a curious Tudor hangover still survives to this day, a round tower situated just to the left of the main house as you enter. The exact use for the tower is not known, but one of theories is that it was a 'hawks mews' a place to rear birds for hunting and was made using local clay, at a time when the whole surrounding area would have been open space, something that is hard to imagine when you visit today.
In 1626 the house was owned by Hugh Hare, 1st Lord Coleraine, a man who suffered an unfortunate death in 1667 by choking on a turkey bone. His son, Henry Hare took over the building with his wife Constantia Lucy, whose death at the mansion is shrouded in mystery and is said to haunt Bruce Castle to this day. It was Henry Hare, who in the 1680's was responsible for the drastic re-modelling of the house, much of which survives to this day.
In 1827, Bruce Castle was bought by the Hill family who turned it in to a progressive private boarding school, adding an extra wing to house the school. Unusually for the time, Rowland Hill and his brother Arthur (who were joint headmasters) did not approve of corporal punishment to discipline their students. Rowland Hill is now remembered, not for his school, but for inventing the Penny Black postage stamp and the postal system which occurred later, when he left to join the Post Office.
The school closed in 1891 and was sold to Tottenham Urban District Council. The grounds became the first public park in the area, and the building, Tottenham's first public museum, which opened in 1906.
Bruce Castle is now a Grade I listed building and houses a small local history museum, the London Borough of Haringey archives, permanent and temporary exhibitions and a small cafe. It perhaps doesn't boast the splendour of a National Trust property, but never-the-less is a wonderful historical gem that has somehow survived through so much change and development in the area, and is also free to look around. If you do visit, you might like to nip across to All Hallow's church behind Bruce Castle. It was first founded in 1150 and the earliest parts of the current church date from the early 14th century.
Bruce Castle Museum is open Wed - Sun (1pm - 5pm), Lordship Lane, London, N17 8NU.
If you've ever been down (or up) Clerkenwell Road, you would have passed a big gate way just up the hill from Farringdon Road, and if you'd spied it, would have probably thought 'Jeepers ... that looks like it's straight out of a film set ... of a period film of some sort ... like a film that's set ages ago, maybe one that Cate Blanchett's in.' You would be quite correct in this assumption, because it's been there since 1504 and for me is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaphorical iceberg is formed of the rich history of the area that has so many stories, so many facets and such a wide reach spanning centuries, that to write about it here would do it an injustice. Instead, I shall furnish you with a few bits of information and leave it up to you whether you visit or not. Oh yes, the gate is called St John's Gate and looks like this.
So, in an unsatisfactory nutshell ... up until the point when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and began taking away land that belonged to them (often referred to as the Dissolution of the monasteries) much of London (and the rest of the country for that matter) was dotted with huge swathes of land that belonged to various monastic orders. The area around Clerkenwell belonged to the Order of St John, the Hospitallers, whose origins date back to the late 11th century in a role caring for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. The gate I just mentioned was a later addition, which lead in to a Priory that included a couple of large halls, dormitories, buttery, refectory, counting house, kitchen, stables, orchards, gardens, fish ponds and unusually for a monastic precinct, an armoury (those pilgrimages often got violent). After the Dissolution, I think Henry VIII used the Priory as a store house before giving it to his daughter Mary, who used it as a private palace.
The Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers, had an unexpected renaissance in the 19th century, when it became apparent that there was little or no provision for the aid of injured people in civilian life, particularly those succumbing to fatal injuries in the work place, at public events or indeed at home. For this reason, in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association was founded, continuing the same ethos that the original order begun, all those centuries earlier. As you know, St John Ambulance still very much exists today, continuing to carry out what the Victorian's called rather aptly 'Ambulance Crusades'.
You can uncover this fascinating history over two sites. St John's Gate houses a museum (free to enter, and free to exit) detailing all of this stuff, and if you cross over the road you will find hiding beneath the facade of a reasonably modern building, the 12th century Priory crypt, one of London's few remaining Norman structures along with another small museum, garden and church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in WWII.
Also, just as an aside, William Hogarth (well known pictorial chronicler of debauched 18th century London) lived for 5 years in the east tower of St John's Gate, as his father ran a coffee shop there. Samuel Johnson wrote parliamentary reports there long before anyone approached him with the idea of compiling a dictionary, Charles Dickens visited the Jerusalem Tavern which popped up there in 1760 (of course he did) and the west tower currently houses one of the few remaining Tudor spiral staircases in England (although you can only see this if you join one of their tours at 11am or 2.30pm on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays). Also, if that's not enough name dropping, in the 16th century, the Priory housed the office of the Master of Revels (which sounds like a pretty cool job) responsible for licensing and organising all court entertainments and plays, and 30 of William Shakespeare's plays were licensed there.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (10am - 5pm), so if you're in the area or work nearby then why not pop in.
If you wander around London and in particular Mayfair, St James's Street and Piccadilly (or indeed many other parts of the UK), you might notice a particular shop displaying a small, or occasionally large coat of arms with a bit of blurb saying 'By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen'. It basically means that they supply goods or services to the Royal Family. This one belongs to H. R Higgins, specialist supplier of fine coffee and tea.
It's not just The Queen though, it could be for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH The Prince of Wales ... AKA 'The Big Three'.
About 800 individuals or companies hold prestigious Royal Warrants and it could be an individual practicing traditional crafts or a massive computer company. Either way, it is supposed to signify a mark of quality and they can apply for Royal Warrant status after they've been supplying any one of 'The Big Three' with whatever it is they supply, for five years. However, if you're a fan of 'After Eight' mints (like me), or Jacob's Cream Crackers (can't say I'm a massive fan), then you might have noticed that the Royal Warrant has been subtly omitted from their product packaging in recent years. It seems that some companies just aren't feeling the prestige as much as they once did.
That aside, you can pretty much guarantee that many of the companies and shops that are proud owners of a Royal Warrants have been around for donkeys and in some cases continued to serve the Royal Family for centuries. H. R Higgins (above) on that note are pretty new to the game, only receiving there's in 1979 I think.
The earliest record of a Royal Charter dates back to 1155 and was granted by Henry II to the Weavers' Company. Also, perusing lists of Royal Tradesmen over the years, shines an intriguing light on how things have changed. Henry VIII for instance employed a guy called Thomas Hewytt to 'Serve the court with Swanes and Cranes', whilst Charles II, in 1684 couldn't possibly survive without his Sword Cutter, Operator for the Teeth and very importantly, his Goffe-Club Maker. The whole operation was formalised by Queen Victoria in 1840 and Royal Warrants are now granted and overseen by what is now called the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Here are some of my favourite holders of Royal Warrants (in no particular order):
Lock & Co - Hatters
Lock & Co have been making hats since 1676, which makes them the oldest hat shop in the world. They have provided hats for Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. In fact, you can see drawings they still have inside the shop of Nelson's hat measurements. They also are responsible for bringing about the once ubiquitous 'bowler hat' although, they'd call it the Coke (I might tell you why another time). To give you an idea of the kudos they have in the world of hat making, they once received a postcard from overseas, addressed simply to 'the best hatters in the world, London.' Enough said.
Berry Bros & Rudd - Wine & Spirit Merchants
Although they sell alcohol, confusingly, Berry Bros & Rudd have a picture of a coffee grinder on the sign outside their 315 year old shop. The reason being that when they started off at the end of the 17th century, they sold coffee to the reasonably newish coffee houses that had been popping up. They have some huge coffee scales, and the likes of Lord Byron and William Pitt have sat on them to be weighed. They still have all the leather bound volumes of various people's weights inside the rickety shop and until recently boasted the largest wine cellars in London; a whopping 8,000 square feet over two floors. They began their Royal connection back during the reign of King George III.
Floris - Perfumers
I really like Floris on Jermyn Street. I very much doubt that when people meet me, they think, 'this guy likes to buy luxury fragrances' but I've always found the staff in Floris to be incredibly friendly and helpful, despite my obvious lack of interest in smelly water. Founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris, as a perfumers, comb maker and purveyor of shaving products, they received their first Royal Warrant from George IV in 1820 as his Smooth Pointed Comb Maker. Aside from an amazing array of fragrances, they have a tiny little pseudo museum in the back room, which among other things includes a letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Floris thanking him for his 'beautiful sweet-smelling nosegays'.
Paxton & Whitfield - Cheesemonger
Despite the name, which could almost be bywords for 'quality' and 'cheese', the seed of the business was actually sown by a bloke called Stephen Cullum who had a cheese stall in Aldwych Market back in 1742. His son Sam, moved the business to west London where many of his wealthy customers were based and took on two new partners, Henry Paxton and Charles Whitfield who somehow in 1797 managed to join their two names to become what is still today Paxton & Whitfield. They received their first Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1850 and have had mixed blessings over the years, as the popularity of cheese has waxed and waned, not mention rationing in the 1940's when they were forced to become a regular grocery shop. I'm very pleased to say they seem to be doing pretty well at the moment, with shops also in Stratford Upon Avon, Bath and the Cotswolds.
Hatchards - Booksellers
Hatchards, started by John Hatchard in 1797 has the distinction of being London's oldest bookshop. Based on Piccadilly, just next to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy of Arts, it's famous for the myriad of authors and politicians that have done book signings there and is crammed with books over five floors. They also hold Royal Warrants for all of 'The Big Three' and if you're a bit worried that Waterstones just a hop and a skip down the road might be stealing their business, then in fact, Waterstones bought Hatchards, but kept the much older and more prestigious name. It does mean though that if someone buys you Waterstones vouchers, you can use them in Hatchards too. Bonus.
And last but not least ...
John Anderson Hire Ltd - Portable Toilet Hire
Pretty much every Sunday I visit Columbia Road Flower Market on my east end walk. Every Sunday, there is a guy asleep in a land rover, behind which he has towed (for the use of visitors to the market) a portable toilet. Emblazoned on the doors of his vehicle is the Royal Warrant (which you can see above). Every time I use the toilet, which I do every Sunday, the emptying of my bladder feels that little bit more special, knowing that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II might have used the very same one ... albeit probably not the gents. So thank you very much John Anderson Hire Ltd for the wonderful service.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.