OLD PALACE - Bromley By Bow

When I first arrived in Poplar it was some weeks before I became aware of Old Palace School, I wondered at the name and then passed by. I put the name away in the back of my mind with other assorted odds and ends as something to be explored later. It was much later that I was reminded of Old Palace by a reference to its demolition as marking the beginning of the 'Conservation Movement' in England. The action by The School Board of London has been described as "a most shameless piece of destruction" and a "folly". By way of compensation is has been said that this action at least awakened the public conscience to the need for a body that would make a survey of the memorials of Greater London and for action to be taken to conserve them.

On the site of the Old Palace a well designed Board School was built in accordance with ideas of that time, no doubt there was need of a school in the locality, but did its provision have to involve the act of wanton destruction that it did.

Old Palace was built for James 1 in 1606 for use as a hunting lodge and I wonder how much it was used as such. One has to remember of course that its situation was on the border of Essex which offered suitable open country side, including Epping Forest which still remains. The Palace was a grand residence of 24 rooms, including a State Room. It was built by John Thorpe on a site facing St. Leonard's Street near to Bow Bridge. Quite possibly some of the stone work from the remains of the disused priory was used in the new building, the priory being the nunnery of the Nun in Chaucer's story who learnt her French at Stratford atte Bow.

Some historians have suggested that King James I established a Scottish colony in this small village on the East side of London virtually on the banks of the River Lea, and at the gateway to the open Essex countryside. The fine plasterwork in and outside the house was, it is suggested the work of Scottish craftsmen. Not only was the plasterwork the work of craftsmen of high quality but so was the wood panelling. In at least one account about the building and its use, I have noted a suggestion of an association both with Freemasonry and Armada veterans.

The building was mainly of two periods the earliest in 1606 and then 1750 when more work was carried out. The stables were built in the second period. I have wondered about the use of the building during the time of the Commonwealth, was it used by Cromwell or one of his friends?

When it is stated that it was built as a hunting lodge, other occasional use is also suggested. What were these uses I wonder? From the perspective of the 21st century I find it hard to think of reasons for building a Royal residence in Bromley by Bow.

Before writing anything about the disposal of the furnishings of the house when it was condemned to be demolished, it would I think be good to record the future of the site. A London School Board school was built in 1896. During WW2 the school was evacuated and the building became a Fire Service Sub-Station. On the night of 19th/20th April 1940 the building was destroyed in a heavy blitz. The remains of the building were demolished in 1948 and in 1952 a new school was built on the original Old Palace site.

When Bromley Palace ceased to be used as a Royal residence is not recorded, I would think that it gradually dropped out of favour, I would guess that its life as a Hunting Lodge was for a variety of reasons a short one. The front of the building was replaced in the mid-seventeen hundreds. At the same time the building was divided into two Merchants Houses, the type of residence I imagine only affordable by the wealthy. Despite some of the splendid interior fittings of the Old Palace its status was clearly on the decline. It's next use was as a colour factory. Later use was as private residences and as a boarding school, its ownership passed through a number of different hands. Finally the building was sold to The London School Board, the purpose of the Board was the building of a school, but first it had to be demolished and it was sold again to a firm of house breakers for 250. Protests were made by those concerned at this act of vandalism and as a result the Board bought back the fire place for 150 with the intention of placing it in one of the rooms of the new school. The South Kensington Museum bought the panelling and ceiling of the room. The fireplace also was bought back by the Museum and the whole room set up in the museum. Other items were sold to a dealer in the Brompton Road.

As a result of the demolition of Old Palace, the modern Conservation movement began in order to preserve other architectural and historical buildings from destruction.

© Arthur Royall. May 2012

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