Above: The large piece of land with Durham House standing on it. We can see the Great Hall with its large roof and what look like three large church windows along its southern side. Along the riverside is a high wall with a small doorway in it. That is the watergate with adjoining stairs.
Of the many turnings and side-streets on the south side of the Strand, this is the only street name to relate to the London residence of one of England’s bishops. People today often commute long distances to work in London. Although they also complain about the train service, it is possible to live at Brighton, Southend, Cambridge and many other distant locations and commute to London on a daily basis. If we go back in time to the 12th and 13th centuries, such ideas of high-speed travel had not even been dreamt of.
In those early times there was also no ‘parliament’ as we know it today. The King of England expected all his Lords and others in a position of power to gather around him when he wished to discuss affairs of State or to pass any laws. That was a time when the monarch ruled almost as a dictator. In the winter months he would celebrate Christmas for weeks on end and also spend several weeks hunting in various parts of England. It was mainly in the summer months that the King would convene to meet his trusted courtiers and if you were not at the meeting you would not have your say on the matters being discussed.
The Lords have always been of two types – Lords Temporal and Lords Spiritual. The Lords Temporal are those who have been created Lords, with a title or an inherited title. The Lords Spiritual are the archbishops and bishops who are entitled to attend affairs of State and still continue to attend the House of Lords to this day.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, because the King usually discussed affairs of State in the summer months, bishops from across England and Wales used to make the journey to London just once each year. They set off in the spring and stayed at their London residence for several months, returning to where they came from in September or October, before the weather made the rough tracks too bad to travel on. Lest you think that it was just the bishop who travelled to London, it should be pointed out that he had a retinue of between 200 and 400 people! They all stayed with him in London and so very large premises were require to accommodate the bishop and those who attended him.
You may be aware that the Bishop Ely lived at Ely Place – on the north side of Holborn. You may also know that Lambeth Palace has been the London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury for many centuries. In the same way, land on the south side of the Strand was mainly occupied by London residences owned by no less than nine bishops from cities in England and also in Wales.
One such house was the London residence of the Bishop of Durham. He had a particularly long way to travel, a journey that took anything up to two weeks to complete. He, like all the other bishops, brought with him several other chaplains, his cooks and seamstresses and those with many other skills as well as a whole ‘army’ of servants. In addition they all travelled on horseback so blacksmiths and saddlers also came along to provide for the needs of the horses and everything that was related to their needs. It is not difficult to see how the numbers mounted up, reaching well over a hundred and even more.
If you know where Charing Cross Station is, you will know Villiers Street running on its eastern side. A turning off it is John Adam Street and a turning off that is Durham House Street, named to remember the enormous building that once stood there. As the print shows, it was a vast building with rather grim walls. On the southern side the boundary walls rose beside the Thames and there was a water-gate and stairs where the bishop could take a boat and be rowed the relatively short distance to the Palace of Westminster – to attend the meetings of the King.
There is a reference to the Bishop of Durham’s house in London in 1237. The buildings included a courtyard, a chapel, a great hall and gardens.
Durham House was vacated by the bishop after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The ‘old order changing’ – with Henry VIII now head of the ‘Church of England’ and bishops lost their interest in attending the King at Westminster. Most of the properties along the Strand, held by the bishops were acquired by dukes. In the case of Durham House, it was acquired by the Crown. Henry VIII was in possession of the house by 1529 when he twice attended services in the chapel and allocated the house as a residence for Anne Boleyn.
In 1536, due to the Dissolution, Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, was turned out of Durham House by Henry VIII. Tunstall was given the manor of Coldharbour in Thames Street (now known as Upper Thames Street) in exchange. Durham House passed to the Crown and thereafter was used for diplomatic entertainment and lodging.
Lady Jane Grey was married 21 May 1553 to Guildford Dudley in the house.
In 1584 Elizabeth I leased part of the house to Walter Ralegh. It is said that one of his servants threw a tankard of ale over his master’s head thinking that he was on fire while smoking in one of the rooms, a habit that was new in England in those days.
On the accession of James I, in 1603, Walter Ralegh received notice to quit and Toby Matthew, Bishop of Durham, regained possession for the Bishops who had owned the land until 1536.
In 1607-08 the Earl of Salisbury obtained the gatehouse and adjoining buildings and built the New Exchange – an early form of shopping precinct. Most of the ancient buildings were pulled down in 1660.
Completing the story, the Adam brothers obtained a lease of the site of Durham House in 1769. The last remains of the ancient buildings were cleared away 1769-70 and the brothers began laying out streets and houses and also building a large residential block called The Adelphi.
Durham House occupied land on the west side of Ivy Bridge Lane. Durham House Street
perpetuates the name of the London residence of the bishop.