Archaeology, Archaeology Research

Upper Pool – medieval

Here’s the second part of a piece on the past of the Tooley Street area: this one tackles the medieval period…

Archaeological evidence for occupation of this area between the Roman and medieval periods is pretty scant. As I mentioned, the river level had risen and our area of the Horsely Eyot was subject to periodic flooding. In addition, whilst Roman London had been situated on the opposite bank, early Saxon London was actually over a mile to the west, on a completely separate site. Whilst the Romans had established a bridge near London Bridge, this appears to have fallen into disrepair until the 10th century, and the Southwark settlement appears to have been equally abandoned.

As a consequence of this change in settlement patterns, and the rising river levels, the area north of Tooley Street appears not to have been settled, and may have been too wet even for grazing. However with the arrival of the Normans comes a rising population, the movement of the capital to London, and a grand new London Bridge that was the only bridge across the Thames until the 18th century.

As a result, it seems like the residents of London didn’t much bother with our area. However, the open green spaces and expansive views across the river did attract the rich. They had enough resources to start the drainage and ground-raising works necessary to make the area habitable.

Thus records show that the western part of the site was owned by the Abbey of Malling in Kent during the first half of the 13th century. That might sound strange, considering how far away the Abbey was from our site, but during the medieval period the abbeys wielded considerable power and wealth, and operated much like modern companies buying up land or houses which were profitable.

The Abbey found profit in the marshy area by building two tidal mills, and there is record of the abbey selling it in the 1240s for a cask of wine and £100, an large sum of money showing how valuable the land had become. From this time the archaeological evidence shows a series of grand houses in our area during the medieval period.

This fashion appears to have started in the 14th century when Edward II built a house on the area around Morgans Lane. It was constructed between 1324-5 and is known as ‘The Rosary’; it even appears to have had its own moat and stone walls, and timber structures in the moat seem to suggest that it was used for farming fish.

Several members of the royal family lived there, and it was the first royal residence to be built on the south bank. The positioning would have given a good view of the Tower, as well as the Thames and London in all its glory.

This may be why Henry Yevele, who renovated Westminster Hall bought the western part of the site in the 1380s. He was in charge of the Kings’ works at the Tower, and he appears to have had the profitable tidal mills rebuilt here in 1388. As Edward II built a new palace to the east, at what is now Platform Wharf in Rotherhithe, it is possible that he occupied The Rosary.

Then in the mid-15th century Sir John Fastolf had a grand enough house built that it earnt the monicker “Fastolf’s Palace”. John Fastolf went on to give his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff. It too appears to have a moat, causeway and stone walls. When he died in 1459 there was much interest in the site, and it continued to be used by the rich and famous:

In 1460 Duchess of York moved in with her three children, George (Duke of Clarence), Margaret (Duchess of Burgundy) and Richard (later King Richard III). Here they were visited by their older brother Edward, later to be Edward IV.

These moated houses were probably designed to imitate the rural manorial mansions of the time, situated within a much emptier landscape than today. The Thames was still wider than today, the land more waterlogged, and it was probably utilised for grazing during this period. Thus the houses and their moats were set within a landscape of gardens and common land that would seem rural today.

However, all this expensive high-status peace and quiet was not to last! But I’ll leave the 16th century to the next post. Fortunately it looks like the medieval archaeology of this site is getting some publication this year. Of course, it seems to be a decade or so late, but publication of the pre-PPG16 stuff is slow, and there very little money to pay for the work.

Information derived from reports by Museum of London Archaeology, some of which can be found online under the Southwark fieldwork summaries, or general fieldwork summaries (search for ‘Tooley Street’ for starters), or under “Excavation Reviews” in the back issues of London Archaeologist available at ADS here.

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