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 Bigod House/Norfolk Inn, the Mowbray residence at Broken Wharf

Research Ongoing

Getting our bearings: the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral. The white building seen through the tree on the right is called Norfolk House and lies to the south of the foundations of Bigod House, sometimes called Norfolk Inn, the medieval mansion of the Mowbray family and later of the Howard dukes of Norfolk. © Marilyn Roberts


On Claes Jan Visscher’s famous 1616 panorama of London, showing what the City was like in the year Shakespeare died and  fifty years before the Great Fire destroyed huge swathes of it, there can be found between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames foreshore a tall, oddly-shaped and very substantial structure which is labelled simply ‘the water house’.  This oddity had been constructed in the latter years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I by Sir Bevis Bulmer, a famous Tudor mining engineer, and was, according to antiquarian John Stow,

.... an Engin ... for the conveying and forcing of Thames Water, to serve in the middle and West Parts of the Citie.

This waterworks, and a ‘great brew house for beer’, stood amongst what remained of the former residence of the Dukes of Norfolk at Broken Wharf which Stow describes as being a large old building of stone, with arched gates.

Then: Visscher’s 1616 engraving shows the water house. The Broken Wharf itself lay between Queen Hithe and Paul’s Wharf           © Marilyn Roberts

Now: The white apartment block called Norfolk House is south of where the Mowbray house actually stood. © Marilyn Roberts

In 1542, when chaos was reigning at the more modern and comfortable ducal residence in Lambeth after Katherine Howard’s disgrace, Broken Wharf is described as,

...[ a] great capital messuage or mansion place late called the Duke of Norfolk’s place with all gardens, grounds, wharf, ground and curtilages lying and adjoining, thirteen other messuages and two gardens in Broken Wharf .

In the following years, for the rest of the Tudor dynasty and into the reigns of the Stuarts, the City leased the estate to fishmongers and other trades who required access to the river for water and transport, and the two most prominent activities seem still to have been brewing and the raising of Thames water.

The Broken Wharf itself survived as a barge dock until 1974 and the lane on the east side of the site of the old Mowbray property still goes by that name, but the house itself, the tenements to the west and all the adjacent businesses were razed to the ground by the Great Fire of September 1666, exactly one year after the deaths from plague had reached their peak in this parish, St Mary Somerset.

Broken Wharf: excavations in the 1980’s revealed that the sandy coloured building stands on what were tenements in the late Middle Ages and Tudor times. The parasols outside the restaurant attached to Norfolk House are where Trig Lane once cut through north-south from Thames Street; part of the lane itself was diverted west-east in the 1980’s because the huge office block is actually L-shaped and seals off the former exit. © Marilyn Roberts

Broken Wharf from the Millennium Bridge: Trig Lane now runs along the back of Norfolk House, but the old Mowbray house was further back and this part of the plot was probably used as business premises and shops in their day. © Marilyn Roberts


Although the apartment block, left, is called Norfolk House the actual Mowbray mansion was on the right of the picture. The huge L-shaped office block is called Lep House. The ‘new’ Trig Lane is centre and the photograph is taken from the lane still called Broken Wharf. © Marilyn Roberts

Upper Thames Street: the Lep building is so large it spills out of the old Mowbray plot and Upper Thames Street disappears under it. There has been a road here for over a thousand years and in the Tudor times there were mansions of wealthy courtiers. There was a church here in the Mowbrays’ day that was destroyed in the Great Fire. The building by Wren that replaced it was demolished except for the tower in the 1880’s. © M Roberts

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