Today, it is a pleasure to welcome author Toni Mount to the History … the Interesting Bits to celebrate the release of the latest instalment of Toni’s Seb Foxley mysteries.
The Crown Sild, Cheapside, London
When I began writing my new Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Bone, I had never heard of the Crown Sild but it came to my attention when I was lucky enough to be given a wonderful book of drawings: Old London – Illustrated . The book contains numerous reconstructed scenes of medieval London and Westminster by H.W. Brewer [d.1903] with explanatory texts and there, in Plate 10, ‘Cheapside from the east’, was a marvellously ornate two-storey Gothic building on the south side of London’s main east-west thoroughfare, labelled ‘Crown Sild or Sildam’. What on earth was it? I was intrigued.
In the text, discussing the church of St Mary-le-Bow, it tells us:
In front of Bow Church was a costly building of stone, known as the “Crown Sild” or “Sildam”, with an open arcade in the upper story (sic) facing the street, which was used by Royalty and their visitors for witnessing tournaments, pageants and processions. The tower of the present church has a balcony overlooking the street, placed there by Wren to commemorate the “Crown Sild”.
Surprisingly for this ‘costly building of stone’, I discovered that ‘sild’ is the medieval word for a shed! That’s a very posh shed. ‘Wren’ is Sir Christopher who rebuilt the church after it was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666, along with the ‘shed’ next door. But why was the Sild built, what was it used for and is there any evidence of it remaining?
The story goes that the Sild was constructed by King Edward III, following a disaster in September 1331. The king planned to hold a magnificent tournament to celebrate the birth of his son and heir, Prince Edward of Woodstock [later known as the Black Prince] the year before. The tournament would take place in the heart of the City of London, in its widest street, Cheapside. Carpenters were commissioned to build a large wooden grandstand for Queen Philippa and her ladies to sit and watch the spectacle in comfort. King Edward would take part in tournament himself, a risky endeavour since fatalities were not unknown but he was young and daring and determined to impress the ladies and his fellow knights.
However, it wasn’t the king who almost came to grief that day.
As the queen and her ladies took their places on the cushioned benches among the flower garlands and bunting, the hastily constructed wooden grandstand began to creak and groan, then to sway and crack before it gave way beneath the royal and noble spectators. The whole edifice collapsed to the great horror of those looking on, including the king. By a miracle, no one was killed but there must have been injuries among the ladies, although the queen was badly shaken but otherwise unharmed. The hot-blooded king’s rage was terrible.
He ordered that all the carpenters involved in the construction of the grandstand be arrested and hanged forthwith, there and then, on the spot. Fortunately, the queen was a shocked by this as by her brush with death and had wits enough to go on her knees before her irate husband. She begged him to spare the carpenters and, willing to grant her every wish at that moment, Edward let the carpenters live. He also insisted that the tournament continue as planned. A disaster wasn’t going to deter this royal showman. But, for any future, similar events in Cheapside, he wasn’t going to risk the queen’s life in the hands of those incompetent carpenters. Instead, he commissioned the stone masons to build a permanent grandstand at the best vantage point beside St Mary-le-Bow Church, fit for royalty with all the comforts and shelter from the weather. This was the Crown Sild.
We don’t know how often royalty made use of it. Tournaments were held more frequently at Smithfield, outside the city walls, where there was far more space for the crowds. But the procession of the monarch on the eve of their coronation travelled from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace via Cheapside so the citizens could see the new king or queen and the sild would be the best viewpoint. Other processions, pageants, street festivals and entertainments took place in Cheapside too and the last royal spectators to use the sild for such an event were Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn.
By the later fifteenth century, when not in use by VIPs, the lower level was rented by the Vintners’ Company and used as storage for their barrels of wine. This is the sild as I describe it in my novel The Colour of Bone when Seb Foxley, the artist-cum-sleuth, his family and friends pay to watch the street entertainments from this ‘royal box’ with disastrous consequences which have nothing to do with it collapsing beneath them – you’ll have to read the book if you want to know what happens.
At the head of this blog, I also asked whether there is any evidence of the Crown Sild remaining today? I don’t know what may lie among the foundations of the shops and office buildings along modern Cheapside, constructed after the devastation of the bombing during World War II but back in Victorian times, a letter was written concerning it. Here are the relevant bits from a letter written by Thomas Lott, Esq. F.S.A. to Sir Henry Ellis, K.H., Secretary of the Society of Antiquities on 19th December 1844, ‘describing some remains of ancient buildings to the west side of Bow Churchyard’:
…It is not generally known that there exist, in its immediate neighbourhood, subterranean
architectural remains, although evidently of a later date, yet of a very interesting character.
Having occasion to inspect several of the houses on the west side of Bow Church-yard, the property of the parish, I was surprised, on descending into the cellars, to find (as the foundation of three of the houses) stone vaultings of very substantial masonry.
On a subsequent visit (accompanied by my friend Mr. Chaffers, who has kindly assisted me in describing the place), we found beneath the house No. 5, occupied by Messrs. Groucock, a square vaulted chamber, 12 feet by 7 feet 3 inches in height, with a slightly pointed arch of ribbed masonry, similar to some of those of the Old London Bridge. We were informed that
there had been, in the centre of the floor, an excavation, which appeared formerly to have been used as a bath, but which was now arched over and converted into a cesspool.
Proceeding northwards towards Cheapside, we found what appeared to be a continuation of the vault, beneath the houses Nos. 4 and 3. The arch of the vault here is plain, not ribbed, and more pointed. The masonry appears, from an aperture made to the warehouse above, to be of considerable thickness. This vault or crypt is 7 feet in height from the floor to the crown of
the arch, and is 9 feet in width, and 18 feet long. Beneath the house No. 4 is an outer vault. The entrance to both these vaults is by a depressed Tudor arch with plain spandrils, 6 feet high, the thickness of the walls about 4 feet.
In the thickness of the eastern wall, in the vault of the house No. 3, are cut triangular-headed niches, similar to those in which in ancient ecclesiastical edifices the basins containing the holy water, and sometimes lamps, were placed. … In some other parts of these vaults are modern imitations of these recesses. The vaulting beneath the house No. 2, appears to have been destroyed to add convenience to the warehouses; but the buildings, of which these are the vestiges, appear to have extended to Cheapside; for beneath a house in Cheapside, in a direct line with these buildings, and close to the street, is a massive stone wall.
I cannot think they were any portion of the Grammar School which Stowe says “was let out in the reign of Henry VIIth for fowr shillings a year, and a cellar for two shillings the year; two vaults under the church for fifteen shillings both.”
Mr. Chaffers seems disposed to think these may be the remains of the stone building erected by Edward the Third, from which to view the processions, jousts, &c. described thus by Stowe: “Within the north side of St Mary Bow, towards West Cheape, standeth one fair building of stone called in record Sildam, SL shed, &c. King Edward IIIrd. upon occasion, (viz. the falling of the wooden scaffold) caused this sild or shed to be made and strongly to be built of stone for himself, the Queen, and other estates, to stand in them to behold the joustings and other shows at their pleasure, and this house for a long time after served to that use, namely, in the reigns of Edward IIIrd and Richard IInd; but, in the year 1410, Henry IVth confirmed the said shed or building to Stephen Spilman and others, by the name of one new sildam, shed, or building, with shops, cellars, and edifices appertaining, called Crown Silde or Tamer Silde, situate in West Cheape, and in the parish of St Mary de Arcubus.”
According to the same author, notwithstanding this grant, the kings of England still occasionally repaired to the same building to view the shows; and we find a century afterwards, that “Henry VIIIth, his Queen, and nobles frequently came here to behold the great marching watches on the eves of St John and St Peter; remaining there until the morning.”
Thus it will be seen that this sild or shed, strongly built of stone, still remained in Stowe’s time, two hundred and fifty years after its erection, darkening (as Stowe says) the doors and windows on that side of the church. Mr. Chaffers states, it has been thought that the Crown sild stood on the spot between the tower of the present church and Bow Lane; but he does not think, from Stowe’s account, such could have been the case, as Stowe, speaking of Cordwainers Street, afterwards Hosier Lane, then Bow Lane, says:
“This street begins by West Cheape, and St Mary Bow Church is the head thereof on the west side, and runneth down south.” Had such a spacious building as the Crown-sild been situated between the church and Cheapside, Stowe would doubtless have mentioned it. There is no doubt, it was Crown property, as it now pays a trifling fee-farm rent to the Crown.
If this building was erected for purposes of a domestic kind … since the original building was destroyed, which was probably in the fire of London … there are no old maps of the parish to throw any light on the subject, nor do the ancient city maps and plans, which profess to contain elevations of the buildings, assist in the discovery.
I hazard no opinion on this matter, contenting myself with having thus drawn attention to it from those whose greater experience, more extensive research, and leisure opportunities will enable them to form a more correct judgment…
I remain, dear Sir,
Your faithful obedient Servant,
So now you know as much as I do.
As to whether the Crown Sild stood to the east or west side of St Mary-le-Bow Church, Brewer’s drawing shows it to the east whereas, if Lott’s friend Mr Chaffers is correct in thinking they had found its ancient vaults, it was to the west. Perhaps we shall never know. But you can have my version of the Crown Sild where traumatic events happen, if you read my latest Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Bone.
The Colour of Bone by Toni Mount:
It’s May 1480 in the City of London.
When workmen discover the body of a nun in a newly-opened tomb, Seb Foxley, a talented artist and bookseller is persuaded to assist in solving the mystery of her death when a member of the Duke of Gloucester’s household meets an untimely end. Evil is again abroad the crowded, grimy streets of medieval London and even in the grandest of royal mansions.
Some wicked rogue is setting fires in the city and no house is safe from the hungry flames. Will Seb and his loved ones come to grief when a man returns from the dead and Seb has to appear before the Lord Mayor?
Join our hero as he feasts with royalty yet struggles to save his own business and attempts to unravel this latest series of medieval mysteries.
About the author:
Toni Mount is a best-selling author of medieval non-fiction books. She is the creator of the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries and her work focuses on the ordinary lives of fascinating characters from history. She has a first class honours degree from the Open University and a Master degree by research from the University of Kent however her first career was as a scientist which brings an added dimension to her writing. Her detailed knowledge of the medieval period helps her create believable characters and realistic settings based on years of detailed study. You can find Toni at:
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Coming 30 May 2023!
King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon UK. (I will hopefully have a US release date shortly)
In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215.
A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.
You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.
©2023 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS and Toni Mount