Friday, 15 September 2006

A Local Link to Pre-Reformation Days


Much of Greater London may seem little more than a sprawl of modern suburbs, but if you scratch the surface you soon find links to the more distant past. My new parish of Kingsland grew as a suburb in the early nineteenth century - and there are some quite pleasant terraced streets - but the name of one of the local stations, 'Canonbury,' takes us immediately back to the Middle Ages. The name 'Canonbury' originates from the 'Canons Burgh' - the manor which belonged first to the bishops of London and then, from 1253, to the Augustinian Canons of St Bartholomew's Priory in Smithfield. Another part of London to the west, Canons Park (on the Jubilee Line), also got its name from this religious house.

Above are pictures of Canonbury House and Tower (Canonbury Place, N1), which I passed on my afternoon stroll today. The tower (which you can see above) dates from the rebuilding of the manor by Prior William Bolton just before the Reformation (mercifully he died in 1532, just before things got really sticky). Apparently you can still see traces of his heraldic device on parts of the building, so I must go back with camera in hand to find these.

At the Dissolution the manor passed into lay hands - including, for a few years, Thomas Cromwell (boo, hiss). Famous residents have included Samuel Humphreys (Handel's librettist), Ephraim Chambers (the encyclopaedist), Oliver Goldsmith and Washington Irving.

It's great to have a link to Catholic England just five minutes walk from the presbytery, even though part of the building is now used for the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which describes itself as 'an educational institution for the independent study of Freemasonry and the traditions linked to it, and of mystical and esoteric traditions worldwide.' I wonder what the good Prior Bolton would think of all this!

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