Above: Artists impression of the manor house (made after the archaeological dig in 1985). Notice the corbel chimney shown in the wall, running up to the chimney at the top of the roof.
For the many people who are interested in London’s history, the thought of developers erecting new, often overbearing, housing or offices fills the mind with horror. However, having land redeveloped can bring benefits as well. That was particularly the case with the site of the old manor house which is situated about a mile east of Tower Bridge.
Before the 1980s the the land on which it once stood had been a large Victorian warehouse. After demolition the land remained empty for many years and plants and small trees soon sprung up on the site. The 1980s were the years when the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) were starting to redevelop the large expanse of land, occupied by docks and warehouses, that we now call Docklands. The site of the ancient manor house was excavated by an archaeological team who, because of the large piece of land, started work with a large mechanical digger. As one of the archaeologists recounted later, almost the first blow struck by the digger hit a large very solid object. They immediately stopped work and started to use spades and trowels and were rewarded with the find of one of the corners of the ancient stonework.
Although many people think that the Norman kings (and those who followed them) all lived either at the Tower of London or at the Palace of Westminster, it should be pointed out that the royalty owned many buildings across what is now Inner London. One of them was the long-forgotten manor house used by Edward III. Edward was king from 1327 until 1377. As well as this building there were others on land along the Thames. The Museum of London was aware of the site but no real evidence had ever been seen before the dig. It revealed the footings of two long walls meeting at a corner with evidence that the original building has been surrounded by a moat – supplied by water from the Thames.
Above: A few stones from the corbel chimney are still to be seen in one of the old walls.
Many of the so-called palaces were used as hunting lodges. There is a mention of housing the king’s falcons ‘in a chamber’ which suggests that Edward III, who was an expert falconer, used the building for the sport of hunting using falcons on the river or on the marshes of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. By the 16th century the road we now know as Rotherhithe Street had been constructed on reclaimed land between the manor house and the Thames. The old building was sold by the Crown and became known as the ‘moated place’.
In the 17th century the site became used by a pottery making Delftware – a copy of actual Dutch pottery. Large quantities of spoiled sherds were found on the site during the archaeological dig, indicating the site of a kiln. The site was re-used again in the 18th and 19th centuries when warehouses were built on the land. Remarkably the north wall of the old manor house was still standing in 1907, incorporated into one of the warehouses. Its site was carefully mapped but the wall was later demolished which meant that there was no remaining evidence above ground of the old manor house when the dig was carried out in the 1980s.
There are also two indirect pointers to the royal manor house to be found nearby: (1) The land around a royal residence was often called a ‘Paradise’. On what would be the south side of the site of the old manor house is a thoroughfare called Paradise Street whose name is a reference to the royal property. (2) A short distance east of the site of the manor house remains an ancient set of river stairs with the intriguing name of Kings Stairs. It would seem that street maps have been alluding to the royal residence over the centuries.
Above: View looking towards Tower Bridge (which would be visible behind the blank end wall of the terrace of modern houses).
Once the remains of the manor house had been revealed there were grand plans put forward by the LDDC to build a modern structure over the top of the old walls and to establish a museum for the local area. As is often the case, there was no money to see the project through and the exposed walls were left in a grassed area on public view.