Vic Keegan’s Lost London 40: the invisible Baynard Castle

by Victor Keegan

It may not look much, but this brutalist BT building, Baynard House, which City workers pass by oblivious of its history, is a scheduled ancient monument. It is interesting not for what you see but for what is buried underneath – the remains of the fascinating Baynard’s Castle, which was destroyed in 1666 in the Great Fire of London.

The first structure was built for Ralph Baynard, a henchman of William the Conqueror, but in around 1275 the land was handed over to the Dominicans so that they could extend their adjacent monastery at Blackfriars, and so a second castle was built nearby.

In the 1970s and 1980s, frantic excavations under Baynard House and the City of London School involving umpteen volunteers revealed extensive remains of the second castle, covering an area 65 metres long and up to 55 metres wide. They included foundations and sections of walls which were sealed and will now lie forever buried and out of public view unless the current building is demolished.

Baynard Castle, the only one in London, has its own place in history as the venue for a meeting between a group of noblemen and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, most notably in 1483. The Duke of Buckingham presented a petition and, in Shakespeare’s words, proclaimed Richard King Richard III: “I salute you with this royal title: Long live kind Richard, England’s worthy king!”

It was in the hall of Baynard’s Castle that Edward IV (1442-1483) assumed the title of King and summoned the bishops, peers and judges to meet him in council. The castle later passed to Henry VI, who granted it to Richard, Duke of York. In about 1500, Henry VII transformed it into a royal residence and stayed at the castle on several occasions.

It was considerably extended in the 16th century and Henry VIII, ever generous with other people’s property, passed it on to several of his wives, including Catherine of Aragon. 

Seldom has something as invisible as Baynard’s Castle played such a significant role in English history.

Footnote: The official description by the archeologists is as follows: “It was built with four wings around a central courtyard. The foundations of the north wing include the remains of the walls, gatehouse and gate tower. On its southernmost side, which originally fronted the river, is part of the 16th century foundations of a series of five small projecting towers between two large multi-angular end towers. There is a cobbled landward entrance in the north wall. A riverside entrance in one of the small south towers is attested in documentary sources”.

Previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London are gathered here. You can buy a copy of Vic’s book of London poems here.

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