Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Wards of Old London: Langbourn & Candlewick - Falstaff's Eastcheap

We have now completed three journeys through the Roman and Medieval walled city of London: the first following the main east-west road, from Farringdon Ward Within to Aldgate Ward; the second following the course of the Thames, from Tower Street Ward to Castle Baynard Ward; and the third following the line of the city walls, from Aldersgate Ward Within to Broad Street Ward. Whilst these journeys have taken us through most of the intramural wards, there are two in the south-eastern quadrant of the city that we have missed out: Langbourn and Candlewick.

Langbourn and Candlewick Wards, 18th Century map, British Library (image is in the Public Domain).


Much of what the visitor sees in these two wards today has been shaped by the planners and builders of the Victorian era, although a notable exception is the tower of All Hallows Staining Church, which has survived from the early Fourteenth Century.

The Medieval tower of All Hallows Staining. Photo: John Armagh (image is in the Public Domain).


Some flavour of the Medieval character of this part of the city may be had from John Lydgate's poem, "London Lickpenny," which tells of a countryman who comes to London to settle a property dispute in the courts, but finds that he can get nowhere without the funds to pay lawyers and bribe judges. Walking the streets of the city, he is assailed by many temptations, none of which he can afford. Eventually, he is robbed of his hood, but lacks the money even to buy it back, when he finds it for sale, not far from where he lost it.

"Then unto London I did me hie,
Of all the land it beareth the prize,
'Hot peascods!' one began to cry,
'Strawberry ripe!' and 'Cherries in the rise!'
One bade me come near and buy some spice,
Pepper and saffron they gan me bede,
But for lack of money I might not speed ...

Then went I forth by London Stone,
Throughout all Can'wick Street.
Drapers much cloth me offered anon;
Then comes me one cried 'Hot sheep's feet!'
One cried 'Mackerel!' 'Rushes green!' another gan greet;
One bade me buy a hood to cover my head,
But for want of money I might not be sped.

Then I hied me into East Cheap;
One cries 'Ribs of beef!' and many a pie;
Pewter pots they clattered on a heap,
There was harp, pipe and minstrelsie.
'Yea, by cock!' 'Nay, by cock!' some began to cry;
Some sang of Jenkin and Julian for their meed,
But for lack of money, I might not speed."

Lydgate (c1370-1451) was a Benedictine monk, but his religious duties seem not to have constrained his literary output, which was greater than those of Chaucer and Shakespeare combined. Few critics today would place him in the same league as Chaucer or Shakespeare in terms of quality, but his patrons at the time included Henry V; Henry VI; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. As a young man, he met Chaucer, and subsequently befriended his son, Thomas. Remarkably, a graffito by Lydgate survives at Saint Mary's Church at Lydgate, in Suffolk.

Graffito from St Mary's, Lydgate, reading "John Lydgate - made on this Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude (image is in the Public Domain).


Eastcheap itself functioned as a meat market throughout the Middle Ages. Shakespeare has his characters, Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal, and Mistress Quickly, carousing in The Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap. This was a real tavern, which certainly existed in Shakespeare's time, but may or may not have existed during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V.

Eastcheap Market in 1598, Hugh Alley (image is in the Public Domain).
The Boar's Head Tavern in 1829, shortly before its demolition (image is in the Public Domain).
The Neo-Gothic building that stands on the site of the tavern today was built as a warehouse in 1868. Photo: BH2008 (licensed under GNU). 


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.


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