Above: The amazingly detailed drawing by Brewer of the Palace of Westminster, showing how it would have looked about 1500.
Henry William Brewer (1836-1903) was a London based architectural illustrator active in the late 19th century. Brewer is little known today but he made many drawings of famous places in London which showed how they might have looked before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1536.
Brewer completed many drawings of monastic sites within and without the walls of the City of London. He also made many drawings of other towns and cities around England, including Birmingham and Cambridge. There is no guarantee that his drawings are totally correct because most of his work was completed in the 1880s and archaeological research has provided historians with more recent information since his time. Having said that, his drawings give a very good idea of how parts of London used to look.
Brewer’s interest was very much related to London before the monasteries were closed. This could have been because he had a religious interest in England at the time when it was Roman Catholic. Whatever his reason, a well-drawn view of London is always welcome because it gives us some idea of what hat location looked like in times gone by.
The view of the Palace of Westminster looks down on the buildings from a point that would today be equivalent to standing on the roof of St Thomas’s Hospital and looking across the Thames. The palace buildings suffered almost total destruction in a fire of 1512. This view, therefore, seeks to shown the palace before that event. The only two buildings to survive that fire were the Jewel Tower, which Brewer has faithfully recorded on his drawing, and the Great Hall (also called Westminster Hall) that was completed around 1399. In the background is Westminster Abbey. The abbey remains unchanged from those times, along with the Chapter House and Henry VII’s Chapel. The main difference between the abbey then and the abbey today is that two west towers were added to the nave by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1734.
Subscription members can download a specially prepared large pdf version (from the members Website), showing the Palace of Westminster, in much greater detail than the picture at the top of this article. To help understand the drawing, Brewer’s original descriptions have been added to the large pdf drawing, identifying the buildings by name and what they were used for.