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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sir Christopher Wren lived here

Sir Christopher Wren, house, St Paul's, visit London
No he didn’t.  And neither did Catherine of Aragon.  What?!  Well, my reader may have seen the plaque on the wall of 49 Bankside, London SE1 – I know I have – which proudly says:

“Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral.”

And goes on to say:

“Here also in 1502 Catherine, Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first Queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.”

The house is parked conveniently between Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre, a pretty little Queen Anne thing with cream render and red door, and is passed by hundreds of people every day.  Regrettably, it wasn’t built until around 1710, the year the new St Paul’s was finished – so, probably nothing to do with Chris and about 200 years too late for Cathy.

Allegedly, the plaque (which is of unknown age) was placed there in 1945 by the house's mildly eccentric owner, Malcolm Munthe.  Apparently, Sir Chris lodged a few doors further west, past the power station.  But it is said that the plaque was taken at face value by redevelopers working through bomb-damaged London after the Second World War, which might have saved the house from being flattened.

Cardinal Cap Alley, Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, power station
The location is an historic one, though.  The house stands on the site of an old inn called the Cardinal’s Hat, much frequented by the boisterous rowdies that used to indulge their beastly japes on Bankside.  Who knows, Shakespeare himself might have popped in for a swift pint after a show.  Samuel Pepys certainly did, no doubt prowling for comely wenches.  The pub has left its legacy in the name Cardinal Wharf and, to the left of No 49 you can see Cardinal Cap Alley – which apparently dates back to the 14th century.

There is a book, “The House by the Thames and the People Who Lived There” by Gillian Tyndall that reveals all.  I haven’t read it, but word is that it’s meticulously researched and chronicles the house’s owners almost from its first lick of paint.  The second coat is due any time soon.  I should stress that the property is in private ownership, not open to the public and you are asked to limit your gawping.

But, had Sir Christopher Wren resided there, he would have got a smashing view of his creation across the water – particularly after the Millennium Bridge had been built in 2000 (reopening in 2002 after serious wobble correction). 

Millennium Bridge, pedestrian, London, wobbly

I think Sir Christopher Wren would have appreciated this.

London at night, St Paul's, south bank

And he'd have found it easier to treat himself to a night out.

St Paul's, Paternoster Square, City of London sights

Hopefully, he'd have been delighted with this.

Plaques in London, Wren, Catherine of Aragon

But he had nothing to do with this.


  1. Very good Mike I like the way you looked into this. Somehow I doubt he would have gotten away with it now adays

  2. It's funny how people have twisted history around over the ages. We had the privilege of visiting St. Paul's while in London. Beautiful photos of St. Paul's and the Millennium Bridge.

    1. People are twisting history right now!

  3. I've just spent an entertaining hour googling Malcolm Munthe - mildly eccentric indeed!

  4. It's a neat building regardless.

    Beautiful shots of the city, Mike.

  5. Is it any wonder that people love spending time in London? There's interesting little tidbits of history everywhere. Clever move on Munthe's part. I'm so glad Millennium Bridge was constructed before I ever visited London. And although St. Paul's is breathtaking, the Millennium Bridge does not detract from it, but inconspicuously moves us from the south bank to the beautiful cathedral.

  6. This did make me smile Mike especially after my post on katharine's grave digger with all the dates :-) I suppose it adds some romance to the house. The millennium bridge is my favourite one especially now that it doesn't sway!

    1. A coincidence, Chel, as I hadn't seen your post when I published...weird, or what?

  7. This is a really fascinating article, Mike, I loved it.

    1. Thanks Adrian - and thanks for visiting A Bit About Britain. Drop by again soon.


Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.