Vic Keegan’s Lost London 32: the remains of Thomas Cromwell’s garden

by Victor Keegan

The photo shows all that remains of Thomas Cromwell’s garden, part of a two acre site he developed when Henry VIII’s chief of staff into one of the grandest private residences in London. Initially, he took a 99 year lease on part of a property owned by the monks of Austin Friars in the City of London before expanding it by means of purchases and enforced acquisitions from a 14 room house into a 50 room urban mansion where he could conduct his business and entertain the king, should the occasion arise.

One of the people dispossessed by Cromwell was the father of John Stow, author of A Survey of London, first published in 1598. Stow saw his father’s garden “encroached for the making of Thomas Cromwell’s pleasure-grounds”. 

It was quite usual, and very canny, for monasteries to rent out properties to dignitaries as it gave them much needed income and also influence at court. Among other Austin Friars tenants were ambassadors from France and the Holy Roman Empire, and Erasmus, who apparently left without paying his bill.

In 1543, after Cromwell’s execution and the dissolution of the monasteries, the site was purchased from Henry VIII by the Drapers livery company for £1,200. They still own the hall on Throgmorton Street and what remains of the garden, complete with (recent) mulberry trees.

The garden can be seen through a window in the Drapers Hall, or on one of the few days during the year when it is open to the public, or from the road called Austin Friars at the back. Cromwell was beheaded at the Tower of London, where his remains are buried in the chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula.

Instalments 1-31 of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here. Vic’s book of London poems can be bought here.

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