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BISHOPSGATE STREET, CROSBY HALL,
Derivation of the Word Bishopsgate - Crosby Place
- Its Present Condition - When Built — Character of its Founder
Its Tenants: Richard the Third, Read, Emperor Maximilian, Rest, Sir Thomas More, Bond, Spencer, First Earl of Northampton, Countess of Pembroke, Duc de Sully, Second Earl of Northampton — Sir Stephen Langham Gresham House Sir Paul Pindar.
BISHOPSGATE STREET derives its name from one of the ancient city gates, which spanned the street where the thoroughfare called London Wall now divides Bishopsgate Within from Bishopsgate Without the walls. The gate in question is said to have been originally built about the year 680, by Erkenwald, Bishop of London. Shortly after the Conquest it was repaired and beautified by William, one of the successors of Erkenwald in the metropolitan see, and from these circumstances, and from its having been ornamented with the statues of the two bishops, it derived its name of Bishopsgate. It was finally rebuilt in 1479, in the reign of Edward the Fourth. The ancient houses which not long since ren
dered the aspect of Bishopsgate Street so interesting to the antiquary, are fast disappearing. Fortunately, however, a few still remain ; enabling us to form a tolerable notion of the appearance of an aristocratic street in London in the days of Henry the Seventh.
Passing down Bishopsgate Street, a small gateway on the right leads us into Crosby Square, the site of that magnificent mansion, Crosby Place, the stately hall of which is still standing. The escape from the noise and bustle of the streets to this quiet spot is of itself a relief; but how delightful are our sensations on finding ourselves gazing on those time-honoured walls, within which the usurper Richard hatched his crooked counsels; where Sir Thomas More is said to have composed his great work, the “Utopia," and where the great minister, Sully, lodged, when he arrived in England on that well-known embassy, of which his own pen has bequeathed us so interesting a description !
Of the vast size of old Crosby Place, the immense extent of its still existing vaults affords sufficient evidence. All that now remains to us and rich indeed are we in their possession — are the council-chamber, the throne-room, and the old hall. The throne-room, with its oak ceiling divided into compartments, and its graceful window extending from the ceiling to the floor, has been deservedly admired. But the magnificent hall it is, with its host of historical associations, which
makes us feel that we are standing on classic ground. There it is that we recall the days when it was the scene of the revel and the dance ; when the wise, the witty, and the princely feasted at its festive board; when its vaulted roof echoed back the merry sounds of music; when a thousand tapers flashed on the tapestried walls; when gentle dalliance took place in its oriel window; and where, not improbably, Richard the Third himself may have led off one of the stately dances of the period with the Lady Anne. Nearly four centuries have passed since its princely founder laid his hand to its foundation-stone; and yet it still remains, with its glorious roof, its fine proportions, and its beautiful oriel window, as perfect as when the architect gave his finishing touch to it in the days of the Plantagenets.
Crosby Place was built in the reign of Edward the Fourth, on some ground rented from Alice Ashfield, prioress of the adjoining convent of St. Helen's. The founder was the powerful citizen and soldier, Sir John Crosby, whose monument is still a conspicuous object in St. Helen's Church. He was sheriff of London in 1471, an alderman, a warden of the Grocers' Company, and represented the city of London in Parliament from 1461 to 1466. He lived in the days when the wealth and commerce of London were monopolised by the few, and when its merchants were indeed princes. In figuring to our imaginations
a lord mayor or alderman of the time of the Plantagenets, we must carefully avoid confounding him with some pursy and respectable lord mayor or alderman of our own time. We might as well attempt to identify a corpulent peer of the nineteenth century, slumbering on the easy benches of the House of Lords, with the stalwart barons who combated on the field of Tewkesbury, or who bore off the palm on the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Sir John Crosby was the prototype of a class introduced at the Norman Conquest, and which expired with the Tudors and Plantagenets; a class of men who united the citizen with the warrior, and the merchant with the courtier, the diplomatist, and man of letters. Of such a calibre were Sir William Walworth, who dashed Wat Tyler to the earth at Smithfield; and Sir Thomas Sutton, the princely founder of the Charter House, whom we find at one time accumulating wealth in his quiet counting-house, at another, superintending the firing of the great guns at the siege of Edinburgh, and lastly, crowning a useful existence by founding the noble establishment to which we have just referred. Where are such illustrious citizens to be found in our own days ? Such a man was Sir John Crosby. Vast apparently as was his wealth, and peaceful as were his daily occupations, he was, nevertheless, an active partisan in the struggle between the Houses of York and Lancaster. We find him welcoming Edward the Fourth on his
landing at Ravenspur, and receiving knighthood for his reward; the following year he was sent, with Sir John Scott and others, on a secret mission to the Duke of Burgundy; and not long afterward we find him negotiating at the court of the Duke of Brittany for the surrender of the persons of the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Richmond, afterward Henry the Seventh. Sir John Crosby died in 1475, apparently only a short time after the completion of his stately mansion.
According to Shakespeare, Crosby Place was the residence of the Duke of Gloucester, afterward Richard the Third, as early as the time of Henry the Sixth's decease, in 1471. In the famous wooing scene between Richard and the Lady Anne, the former exclaims :
" That it would please thee, leave these sad designs
Anne. With all my heart; and much it joys me too,
I« Richard III.,” Act I., Scene 2. Shakespeare again introduces Crosby Place in the scene between Gloucester and the murderers: