THE ARCHITECTURE OF CROSBY HALL.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE ANCIENT PORTIONS OF THE BUILDING AT THE TIME OF ITS DEMOLITION. BY W. D. CAROE, F.S.A.
As the only extant example of the most important factor in a metropolitan palatial residence of its time this Hall possessed a peculiar
interest. It had been fortuitously handed down to us, a remnant
of the highest type of the architecture of its period, erected when the
near termination of the Civil Wars was permitting a fuller attention to
domestic needs and comforts.
The extent of Crosby Place and the plan of its buildings are fully discussed
in a previous portion of this monograph. The hall, at the time of its
erection, formed no doubt the chief and most ornamental portion of the
whole edifice, but, if we may judge from the recorded remains of the adjoining parlour and solar, or "great chamber" (called recently the throne
room), it is evident that the whole place was one of great richness and
Work of restoration had been, in the first half of last century so ruthless
in connection with the north-western wing of the outer courtyard, containing the parlour and great chamber, that no architectural description
of such ancient work as remained to us is called for. A solitary fragment
of the south wall of the wing still remains, and unless condemned by some
exacting or anti-historical district surveyor, probably will remain, embedded in the party wall of the buildings of The International Banking
Corporation which now occupy the site of the courtyard. This fragment is worth noting as the last remnant, when the work of demolition is completed, of ancient Crosby Place, save some vaults now outside
the curtilage. When these modern bank buildings in their turn reach the
housebreaker, this built-up fragment may perhaps excite the curiosity
and speculation of the latter-day antiquary. Mr. Norman has so fully
examined what is known from documentary evidence of the history and
form of this part of the building, that I need not go further than call attention to the cusping of the elaborate roof (Plate 23), which was of much
interest, and resembled that occurring in St. George's Chapel, Windsor,
and also in the restored cloisters of St. Stephen at Westminster.
It is well to make a further note upon the folly of needless renewal by
way of restoration. When Blackburn rebuilt this part, instead of preserving and repairing what he found, it is clear from existing drawings
that he tried to reproduce the old details, suiting them, however, to his
convenience. But the old roof was destroyed and a copy in fir and papiermâché substituted for it. This was patent enough to a keen observer. It
was announced, however, as a discovery at the recent demolition, and
ignorantly (if not wilfully) used to cast doubts upon the authenticity of
the ancient roof of the hall itself.
I confine myself now to an examination of the hall proper and its immediate adjuncts, and John Britton's plan of 1813, as being the earliest
in any measure complete, may be adopted for reference (Plate 20). Its
inaccuracies, already alluded to in general terms upon page 34 (supra),
must be particularly noted. He locates Crosby Square instead of Great St.
Helen's at the north end of the hall, probably a slip or engraver's error.
In the chamber at the north end he shows a large opening giving upon
Great St. Helen's. This was doubtless originally a window, and had been
cut out for warehouse purposes to which the building was given over.
Plate 7 gives us some further information, and shows also the original
entrance doorway (at f, Plate 20). Some part of this doorway remained
until recently and is shown by Hammon, but its composition had been
altered in the process of restoration. This entrance led into a narrow
vestibule, which in its turn gave upon the northern annexe to the hall
on the left hand, and upon the parlour on the right.
Passing to the great hall, we have a plain parallelogram divided by
windows and roof principals into eight bays, exclusive of the western
gallery. The internal area, not counting the gallery, is 53 feet by 27 feet.
The gallery adds 13 feet to the length.
The segmental ceiling, having a blunt four-centred arch, is divided transversely into four compartments, making thirty-two compartments in all,
and each compartment is again subdivided by heavy longitudinal and
transverse subsidiary ribs with bold bosses at every intersection. Between
these subdivisions the constructional curved rafters are made to show.
At the intersection of the main transverse and longitudinal ribs are a
series of pendants, twenty-seven in all, including the half pendants at the
ends, and from these pendants spring a system of four-centred arches in
every direction with traceried and cusped perforated spandrils over them,
the whole securing an effect of great richness combined with solidity
of construction (Plate 10).
The chief transverse ribs or principals are brought down the wall 4 feet
6 inches below the springing line on to stone corbels, treated as pendants
to correspond in general form with the timber pendants of the roof
At this point a curious and interesting idiosyncrasy of construction may
be noted. These corbels were cut upon long bonding stones reaching
about 2 feet 6 inches into the wall. Upon the table of the corbel was
fixed a flat piece of iron, bottle-shaped on plan, the base outwards over the
corbel and the head in the wall. The length of the iron is 1 foot 4 inches,
greatest width over the corbel 4¾ inches, and the thickness 7/16; inch.
The head is turned down 2 inches with a jagged shank for running with
lead into the stone. Over the iron, which, excepting the lug, was laid
upon and not let into the stone, was a piece of deerskin with the hair still
upon it and the hair laid downwards. The woodwork of the principals
was separated from the stone of the corbels by the iron and skin, which
seems to have fulfilled the function of a moveable joint. The irons have
very neatly engraved upon them an arrow head, the mark no doubt of
the ironsmith. They remained unrusted and the skin intact at the day of
demolition, but where restored corbels had been introduced they were
From these stone corbels or pendants, which are hollow-sided on plan
and exactly fill the wall space between each of the windows, there also
spring timber wall arches forming a label to the four-centred window
head, with traceried spandrils over them as before, and supporting a rich
cornice ornamented in each bay by seven deeply cut and bossed quatrefoils (Plate 11). The very careful arrangement by which roof and windows
are brought into one complete and interdependent design is one of the
chief features of the conception, and alone puts this remarkable composition in the forefront of its period and class.
Upon the west side and occupying the third and fourth bays from the
north end stood the great bay window (known as the oriel) deeply recessed and elaborately groined. The composition of this, and the manner
in which the curtain arch, occupying the width of two bays of the roof,
is again worked in with the latter so as to continue the general lines of
the scheme is masterly. The window is set out in five sides of an octagon,
three and a half of which are pierced by two-light windows, each with
double battlemented transoms. The remaining northern side and half
the southern are filled by blank panels, matching the windows, a frequent device in work of this period, where an adjacent building or the
thickness of the wall blocks the light, as in this instance. In these windows the double cusping of the two lower tiers of lights should be noticed;
added richness is thus given to these lights over those of the ordinary
windows. The form of vault is that known as lierne. The figure forms five
sides of an octagon. The main ribs spring from single groin shafts in the
angles of the octagon which are brought down to the floor level by elongated bases. There is a ridge rib (slightly domed) rising from the head
of each compartment and meeting the main ribs in a very magnificent
boss, ornamented with an esquire's helm, mantling and torse bearing
the crest of John Crosby. There is no shield, which reminds us of the
freedom of heraldic treatment in those days. The shield itself occurs
isolated in diminutive form upon one of the smaller bosses. The lierne
ribs cross one another at the ridges in a boss, and at the crossing are intersected by a horizontal rib taking the lines of the octagon. Secondary
liernes and wall ribs complete the scheme, the latter forming scoinson
arches over the windows. The setting out of the ribs is carefully marked
upon the bed of the springer stones, thereby showing that the springers
were worked upon the banker.
The centre of the fifth bay of the main roof from the north end is
occupied by a hexagonal opening recently used as a light shaft. This,
no doubt, was originally designed as the ordinary lantern for the emission
of smoke from a central hearth or brazier, but in Britton's and Pugin's
time it was filled in by richly ribbed panelling, of which both authors
give a plan. The existing hexagonal curb proves to be of oak, but in
parts of doubtful authenticity. I see no grounds for doubting, however, what the draughtsmen have indicated. There was thus provision
made for the hall lantern as well as the fireplace. It has been supposed
that the fireplace was a later introduction. It was upon the east wall
opposite to the bay, but a little further north. Although patched and
restored it undoubtedly belonged to the 15th century (Plate 36). The
construction of the flue as revealed by the demolition suggested its
originality, and it seems probable that the lantern was closed, if not
in the first instance, at a very early time. The fireplace had been a not
uncommon feature, especially in smaller halls, from an earlier date than
this. Opposite the fireplace was a door leading to the western apartment.
This doorway was a restoration of the original.
Returning now to the window arcade on the west wall, the two northern
bays are filled by blank panels necessitated by the existence of the northern
wing abutting against the wall in this direction. The sills of these panels
were some 3 feet above the ordinary sill line. Opposite these blank windows Britton shows two others with glazed lights but similarly raised sills
(Plate 21). It is probable that there was a lower building on the east
side which necessitated the variation, and the panels opposite were made
to match. This solution is, however, problematical, since the sloping
boundary line may have approached the east wall very closely (Plate 25).
The canted wall of the northern annexe suggests the previous existence
of buildings belonging to the convent, square with the line of the Close.
The rich roof was carried only as far as the eighth bay from the north.
In the southern portion beyond this the windows exist only on the west
side. They are the same in design but differently located, being brought
together so that there is no wall space separating them. Since this leaves
no room for the roof principals or corbels, it alone is proof that the main
roof never extended southward beyond its present termination; but in
addition to this it has been found that the last existing roof principal is
smaller than the others and moulded upon one side only, from which it is
perfectly evident that there must have been some form of partition cutting off the southern part. The roadway leading to Crosby Square passed
through this portion of the hall beneath the gallery. This and the opening
for it in the west wall were constructed by Edward Blore, architect, in 1831,
and at the same time he restored the wall and windows over the opening.
No doubt originally there was on the ground floor the usual screen cutting
the hall off from the passage which led to the butteries and kitchens after
the orthodox manner, while on the first floor the space over the passage
may have formed a landing to the principal stairs and a connecting link
between the first floors of those wings of the Place which occupied
roughly the two sides of what is now known as Crosby Square and was
then the garden or inner court. Of the east wall over the gallery nothing
remained. The wall had been removed, and the back of the wall of the
17th century adjoining house (now No. 8, Crosby Square), closed in
the space. Britton (Plate 21) repeats here the pair of windows as on the
opposite side. If they ever existed, the buildings which probably abutted
here must have had only a low elevation.
It remains to refer to those parts of the vaults which were beneath the
hall and its northern annexe, all of which were original. Built of brick,
in one span, the main crypt forms a barrel vault beneath the hall, including the whole of the roadway leading to Crosby Square. Here, at its
southern end, at the south-east angle, is the commencement of the long
vault shown in Wilkinson's plan (Plate 19), while under the northern
annexe, where it is separated from the rest by a thick wall, the vault
is reversed. The vault under the parlour was of precisely the same
character. The main crypt beneath the hall was originally lighted by
six four-centred windows, three of which looked east and three west
upon the outer court; the northern portion by one similar light towards
Great St. Helen's which had been preserved. The outer walls were carried to a depth of about 15 feet below the present ground level, and
rested on the natural soil which was here brick earth. (fn. 1) The barrel vault,
two bricks thick, sprang from a set-off, 4 inches wide, 4 feet 3 inches
above crypt floor line, and rose 5 feet to the apex, almost to the level
of the hall floor. The intermediate walls shown on Plate 29 were modern
introductions, and when they were built the floor space between them
was lowered 2 feet 6 inches. The vault was actually four-centred, but
almost elliptical. The bricks are of precisely the same size and quality
as those used in the spandrils of the upper walls over the windows, and
we may gather that the vault was probably turned when the builders
had adopted brick for the completion of their walls above the roof springing. The arch joints were very true and of excellent white mortar, but
they were not truly radiated. They sloped a little outwards through the
whole archivolt and a V-shaped key of Kentish rag stone was inserted at
the apex. The six main crypt lights are shown correctly upon Wilkinson's
plan (Plate 19), those upon the west side being wider than those opposite.
Their construction was unusual. The openings were four-centred unglazed
lights fitted with shutters and the usual ironwork. The inner splay
was wide and the splayed sill long and sloping to the springing of the vault.
Just beneath the level of the hall floor a four-centred stone scoinson arch
was turned, only 3 inches thick, and over this was a discharging arch at
the level of the outer head. The space between the two arches was filled
with a brick spandril again only 3 inches thick, this spandril forming
part of the hall wall: this arrangement had not been disclosed earlier and
is not shown upon the measured drawings. Had the brick vault been
continuous across the windows it is clear the latter would have been
wholly obliterated. The brick vault was therefore pierced and over the
piercing an oval vault was turned (Plate 19), the whole arrangement
being ingenious. At the level of the scoinson arches rough stone corbels
were inserted along the walls, evidently for the purpose of carrying
the supports to the floor, which must have been of wood. Whether the
haunches of the vault were filled in or not originally does not appear.
A few words upon material are called for. The outer walls were 3 feet
3 inches thick, increased to 3 feet 7 inches below the vault. They were
faced with Kentish rag and filled with clunch, flint, ragstone, and fragments of brick roofing tile and floor tiles, some of the latter encaustic.
Britton is imaginative in showing the interior walls of ashlar. Above the
window arches brick was the material, 8½ inchest to 9 inches by 4¼ inches
by 2 inches being the size, the same brick as used for the vault of the
basement. The dressed stone was generally Reigate freestone (greensand), as employed in Westminster Abbey. The external repairs upon
the west side and the refacing of the west wall had been executed in
Bath stone with some Caen, the former probably being used by Blackburn and the latter by Blore. Considerable restoration had been carried
out to the oriel but the vault over it was absolutely genuine and untouched,
and from the fact that the original iron tie at the springing remained
intact—a very interesting piece of construction—it is clear that the oriel
was preserved to us generally in an authentic form. The roof was of
oak. The carved pateræ, a feature of the design, were cut upon the
solid in the first instance, but at one of the restorations many of them
had been cut out and foolish substitutes in fir inserted. The general construction of the roof was admirable, but an unusual feature was the use
of large nails as well as oak pins. These nails were in perfect preservation and some of them 8 inches long.
No notice of Crosby Hall can be complete without a reference to its noble
proportions, and the fine effect of its plain walls contrasting with the rich
and harmonious scheme of windows and roof. It was not one of the
great halls in size, but even in its forlorn condition, with its suspicion
of early 19th century restorations upon it and the later veneer of eating-house vulgarities to alloy its charm, it yet stood a monument of the
highly developed artistic taste of a great building age. In it was displayed
a combination of simplicity of parts, of solidity of construction, and of
richness of detail where richness is called for—the whole a striking and
impressive unity, put together without conscious effort, a lesson of repose to the modern architect. Fortunate are we to be the successors of
those who could produce work of this high class, unworthy when as in
this case, we fail to appreciate or understand our fortune.
Tenderly and reverently treated, Crosby Hall might have shaken off with
ease those evidences of neglect or attention by which the commonplace
and unappreciative are too readily deceived. It might thus have remained
for long years a type of noble architecture, the last, but a worthy and living
record of mediæval London. That London should allow such a record to
be wiped out for any cause whatever is a fact surely that passes comprehension. She is adding to the legacy of vain regrets which future generations will sadly inherit.
In conclusion let it be recorded that William Wilkins, in erecting the
New Hall for King's College, Cambridge, in 1824, paid Crosby Hall the
compliment of adopting its roof, which he reproduced in plaster.