Category Archives: Spring 2016

Object Handling at the Museum of London 2016

The Museum of London is located in the Barbican, an area that had been rebuilt throughout the 1960s after substantive war damage during World War Two. We were lucky enough to have a curator exclusive to our group who was able to explain the layout of the museum and the reasoning of why it was laid out in this specific way. Although we concentrated on the medieval galleries the museum holds artefacts from the Roman era all the way to present day. The common theme that runs through the gallery is the River Thames and this was evident on the glass panels that had river symbols on it and names of fish that were resident of the Thames.IMG_2692

As this museum is a purpose built building rather than a converted stately home the designers had much more scope to design the museum to best display its artefacts and this is evident in the way the objects are displayed with its special low lighting that preserves the artefacts.

The objects on display varied enormously from decorated pieces of masonry to gaming artefacts such as counters and dice as well as items of clothing such as shoes.

We had the opportunity to have a good look around the medieval gallery and there was a particularly interesting exhibition where in an alcove there was a projection of the records of the names of people on a rolling screen of who had died during the Black death along with their occupation.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the excursion was the object handling. We had the privilege of handling many objects from the medieval era that have been found in London, many found in the river Thames or on sights of historical significance. Looking at many different objects from coins to horse shoes the object that we feel best sums up daily life in London that also allowed us to draw parallels to modern London was the money box. This particular moneybox (see picture) was in remarkable condition and was made from Surrey white ware, which was a cheap and common material in the period. The box itself was generally glazed with a green glaze, known as Tudor green.


Many of these money boxes were found in their place of origin, in and around Surrey, but many were found at places of commerce and trade such as the Globe Theatre. The money box animates medieval London life and highlights how much the London economy was so intertwined with aspects of leisure and everyday life. This can easily be associated with modern London and shows how trade and commerce have always played an important role in the life of Londoners. The money box can be compared to the card machine or the modern bank, an invention that allows people to pay for items, a service or an experience or save money safely by minimising the human interception in the transaction. Like many other exhibits and objects on display at the Museum of London, the money box enables us to relate to the everyday lives of Londoners in the medieval period.

money box 1

Westminster Abbey and Monarchical Power

Westminster Abbey represents monastic history dating back to 960 AD. The Abbey itself was first built by Edward the Confessor in 1065 and was later rebuilt by Henry III in 1245. This history was evident as we entered and stood by the Cloisters, a sunny courtyard around which monks would have walked on day to day business.



Moving on we entered the Nave and the tall vaulted ceiling made evident the importance of this Abbey as a centre of religious and architectural development. Its importance as a centre of royal power was made further evident as we were able to look upon the coronation chair. Edward I built the coronation chair in 1301 to house the Stone of Scone and the chair is reflective of the history of royal coronations dating back to William the Conqueror.


Moving through the Nave, we were able to view the grave of the unknown soldier, one of a selection of memorials to soldiers from the two world wars. In front of us were two impressive altars, of which the high altar was particularly interesting. This altar was concealed from the masses as they were not supposed to see the transubstantiation

We then entered the Lady Chapel and it was difficult not to miss the impressive ceiling. Known as the pendant Fan Vault, this beautiful structure was known as the climax of English medieval vault design and was one example of the grand and decorative gothic style which began to emerge in the medieval period. This was not the original Lady Chapel however. In 1220 Henry III lay the foundation stone of the old Lady Chapel which became a famous musical institution. This was demolished in 1502 when Henry VII put forward plans for a new Lady Chapel.

Despite the gothic architecture, there were still remnants of the old Romanesque architectural influences. We entered the Romanesque chapel contrasting its dark and compact atmosphere with the open nature of the nave.


The central point of the Abbey is the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, around which we sat and listened to a prayer. The tombs size and opulence made clear the importance of Edward as the patron saint of the Abbey. Later kings attempted to be buried as close to Edward as possible, further emphasising his central importance to the Abbey.



Poets’ corner was a place of interest, an area dedicated to some of the greatest British writers with memorials and busts and their burial places. We passed this area on the way to chapter house, an octagonal room in which Monks would meet daily to read a chapter from the rule of St. Benedict. The room was decorated from scenes of the revelation, an apocalyptic story of the bible. This was a feature that would have been noticeable prior to reformation, as much of the Abbey was decorated in a similar manner.

The Black Death


This past week’s excursion took the class around the areas of Medieval London that had particular relevance to the Black Death. Our purpose was to understand the impact that they had on London during the plague. The first stop on our tour was the Royal Mint, which was built on Saint Mary Graces. St. Mary Graces was a Cistercian abbey built between 1350-1539; however, prior to being built, the primary function of the area was the mass burial of Londoners who had fallen victim to the plague. Unfortunately, the Mint has been closed to the public for the last few years, so we were unable to access the excavation site of St. Mary Graces. However, it is quite fitting to find the Royal Mint closed, because throughout history the land has repeatedly been left unused and reused. There were several efforts to build on the land as an abbey, then a manor, and then eventually as a Royal Navy Yard. Finally, the Mint that occupies the site today was built. Over time, all have failed to remain open and conducive to London and its citizens.


Our next stop was a section of the Medieval wall of London, the wall stands in complete contrast to the predominantly modern surroundings.


London’s street names provide a link back to its medieval history. Streets such as Crutched Friars, which we passed during our walk, refer to old church orders. Even if the street has been completely rebuilt, history is very slow to change. 


St. Helen’s medieval church in Bishopsgate was out next stop. Although the church dates back to the 12th century, its structure has been continuously restored with a number of materials. A rather subtle contrast between old and new, which the picture suggests.


Our last stop was the Guildhall. Guildhall was a place for business, trade and housed authority. ‘Guild’ primarily means to pay, yield or produce, London Guilds were essentially trade associations and were highly influential.  Eventually, the Guildhall rose in prestige and prominence to serve as early Medieval London’s town hall. 


Addressing women’s involvement in guilds was a particularly relevant theme of our excursion. This was reflected in the primary documents and manuscripts that we addressed inside the Guildhall. One document was the transfer of property from daughter to mother during the highpoint of the plague. The fact that a letter was written to document the exchange of land suggests that law and order was still followed during the time of the plague. This shows that despite the impact of the plague, society still was able to function normally. Another manuscript that we looked at was a historical record of a guild that spanned decades over time. Most interestingly was the change of language, from French and Latin to English as the book pages and date progressed. It was a fascinating example of the transformation of language in London.

Overall, the excursion was an interesting way to fully experience London and see its growth from the Medieval era to the modern. The similarities and contrasts between the past and present allow us to see London’s history as a whole.

1381 Revolt

While very few medieval London buildings exist today, much of the layout and streets still remain along with rebuilt churches. On the afternoon of June 13th 1381, the rebels from Southwark and Kent gathered at the south end of the London Bridge, the only passage into London at the time. The old bridge was slightly east of the modern day bridge and aligned with the St Magnus church, which still stands today. People that came into London would have walked by the church upon crossing the bridge. As we saw in St Magnus, the old bridge also contained many shops and the St Thomas Becket chapel. The many religious buildings demonstrated the power of the church at the time, explaining the rebels’ decision to execute several archbishops later on. After threatening and forcing the keepers to lower the bridge, they crossed into London and began heading toward the Savoy Palace.

LondonStoneAfter crossing the London Bridge and visiting St Magnus Church, we began to make our way northwest toward St Mary-le-bow Church. The first landmark we came upon was the Monument to the Great Fire of London itself, which was built in the same spot where St. Margarets Fish Street Hill had been located as that was the first church to burn down during the fire. From the Monument we continued on our path and took a quick stop at a local WH Smith shop. Surprisingly, this little store holds one of the oldest pieces of surviving London history: the London Stone. No one is entirely sure what the stone was originally used for, but it has been around for almost 1000 years and is one of London’s great treasures and mysteries.

Carrying on our journey, we headed towards St Paul’s Cathedral, stopping to see an old narrow medieval street, now a shopping alley, as an example of the historical surroundings the peasants would have travelled through.


Due to adverse weather conditions we were unable to visit the Tower of London on this day, but when faced with the Tower itself, it is easy to imagine the intimidating icon it once was in medieval London. Once we reached the Cathedral, we considered how information was shared during the time of the revolt; there were no nationalised newspapers or magazines; information was spread through word of mouth. Though this seems like a rather slow form of communication from a modern perspective, the extent of the Revolt of 1381 is proof as to its effectiveness during this period.



Our final destination was the location of the original Savoy Palace. After walking along the Strand, which was historically a very desirable location for nobility and currently remains a site of luxury hotels and notable buildings, we came across the Savoy Hotel. An impressive display of gold, mirrors, and historical plaques lined the entranceway to the Hotel. During the 1381 revolt, the Palace was destroyed by the rebels; years later, the Savoy Hospital took its place, and after that was burned down, the Savoy Hotel was built many years later. The Savoy Chapel exists right next to the Savoy Hotel; unfortunately, the gate to the Savoy chapel was closed, so we were not able to venture in.