Little slices of London's history

Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell, and a botched execution

Drapers plaque websiteNow that we’re in the middle of ‘Wolf Hall’, the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s superb novels about Thomas Cromwell, it seems a good time to revisit Austin Friars, where Cromwell lived.

Austin Friars is one of several London streets whose names fall into the ‘doubling up’ category. Like streets such as Piccadilly, Strand, Haymarket, Cheapside, and many others, they don’t have street, lane, road, or anything like that in their name. A few other examples are London Wall (not too difficult to figure out), Bevis Marks, Petty France, Shad Thames, and The Baulk.

Austin Friars 2 cropAustin Friars takes its name from a dissolved Augustinian friary established in the 13th century and dissolved in 1538. In addition to the priory buildings, some of the land belonging to the friars was used for buildings rented out to people such as Cromwell. Cromwell continued to extend his estate by obtaining more of the friary land and building one of the largest private mansions in the city.

Throgmorton pillarIt wasn’t just friary land that Cromwell acquired, according to London historian John Stow, whose father had a house in Throgmorton Street. When Cromwell decided to extend his nearby garden, he just moved Stow senior’s house. As Stow junior puts it: “this house they loosed from the ground, and bare upon rollers into my father’s garden twenty-two feet, ere my father heard thereof; no warning was given him”.

When Cromwell was executed following his fall from Henry VIII’s favour, his estate was seized and sold off. His execution was a fine example of the punishment not necessarily fitting the crime. The decapitation was seriously botched and, according to a contemporary chronicler, Cromwell “paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office”.

Drapers Hall Plaque copy
Coat of arms of the Drapers Company

The Drapers Company, which is one of the twelve great livery companies of London, bought his mansion from Henry VIII for the sum of about £1,200. The house then became Draper’s Hall, which is at one end of Throgmorton Avenue – a private road that runs from Throgmorton Street to London Wall. The Hall, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, was rebuilt but was again severely damaged by fire in 1772.

8 responses to “Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell, and a botched execution”

  1. I am enjoying Wolf Hall on TV. And I was interested to read about Drapers Hall here. I visited the garden there in June 2013 and posted this:

    1. Love the photos, thanks for sharing.

  2. That’s a great story about moving the house on rollers.
    Also loving the series on TV, Rylance is brilliant as TC.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Hey, Pete, good to hear from you and thanks, as ever, for your comments. I have been eking out both books and the TV series as I don’t want to get to the end of any of them! I am working on a blog post about the city livery companies, and I am sure you will have some useful info on them!

  3. […] ← Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell, and a botched execution […]

  4. […] to the story on Thomas Cromwell, Throgmorton Avenue, and Drapers’ Hall (with thanks to @CityandLivery: I have just learned that the first Coat of Arms awarded to a body […]

  5. […] How Thomas Cromwell helped John Stow’s father to move […]

  6. […] and an imposing venue for entertaining powerful visitors.Cromwell’s estate burned down in the Great Fire of 1666. But thanks to new archival research, history buffs (and fans of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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