Home | The Drake Exploration Society

In Drake's Wake

Drake in London

Michael Turner

During Easter of this year in Stratford-upon-Avon, I noticed the book "Walking Shakespeare's London", by Nicholas Robins, New Holland, London, 2004. To me, this equated to Walking in Drake's Wake, since both men spent much time in London in the 1590s. The author stresses that due to the Great Fire of London in 1666 very few buildings that Shakespeare could have seen remain. I photographed some of the mentioned buildings; three of which were outside the city's north wall. Susan Jackson and I wondered if Drake would have ever forged his way through some of the narrow, crowded and dirty streets before reaching the more opulent parts of outer north London around Clerkenwell; being three-quarters of a mile north of the River Thames. However in 1577 Drake was part of the queen's entourage that held court near St Albans. [See "In Drake's Wake, Volume 2, The World Voyage"] As I stated in Volume 3, in 1587 Sir Francis visited Lord Burghley at Theobalds at Waltham Cross. Therefore Drake certainly passed in this direction and may have seen some of these wonderfully preserved buildings as he travelled northwards. For my photography I was delighted to realise that at weekends the City of London was almost devoid of cars and people. Most of what follows has been harvested from Robins's excellent work and has been incorporated into my final book in the "In Drake's Wake" series, "Volume 4 Drake in England", comprising around 65,000 words, set for publication later this year.

Public Edifices

The Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower

A few metres to the south-east of Westminster Abbey is the 14th-century Jewel Tower. The empty moat once drew its water from the River Thames. This fragment of the ancient Palace of Westminster served as a depository for royal clothes, furs, jewels and plate. The tower is open to the public and is a photographic delight as illustrated.

There were the neighbouring churches of St Andrew Undershaft and St Helen's Bishopsgate towards the north-east, situated north of Leadenhall Street. A famous parishioner of the former church was the writer John Stow; to whom we owe so much of what we know about Drake's London and Drake himself and who was buried here in 1605. William Shakespeare lived in the ward of Bishopsgate. It is possible that Drake and Shakespeare also met, probably when Shakespeare's company performed at Plymouth in the spring of 1588. Crosby Hall dates from 1466 and was located at Crosby Square located west from the two above named churches. However due to urban development in 1910, Crosby Hall was moved brick-by-brick to Cheyne Walk at Chelsea. It has become a sightseeing feature on the River Thames boat trips. It is a private residence. Shakespeare wrote this former city mansion into his play Richard III. Therefore Drake definitely would have seen this house. The Lord Mayor of London entertained here in the 1590s.

Six hundred metres to the west of the above described churches is the guildhall, most of which was built in the reigns of Henry IV and V between 1399 and 1422. The porch however, dates from the 18th century. In Drake's day this building served as the centre for civic government and was the venue for some important trials. Here the lord mayor would have entertained Drake. Contrary to regulations the security guard very kindly allowed me to photograph the interior of the great hall.

On either side of the street called London Wall are remains from the Roman wall. A plaque in adjacent Noble Street states that the Romans built a rectangular fort in this area between 100 and 200AD which included a three kilometre long defensive stone wall. In Drake's day the Roman wall, with its rounded defensive towers, bounded London from Blackfriars to the Tower and had seven gates: Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. Between the 12th and 17th centuries a large section of the walls and gates were repaired. None of the gates remain. Due to road widening Ludgate was demolished. Drake would have seen the statue of the queen and those of King Lud and his two sons that adorned the gate. Fortunately these statutes are preserved against the wall of St Dunstan-in-the-West Church, situated on the west end on the north side of Fleet Street.

A few metres outside the wall is the medieval Church of St Giles without Cripplegate. One of its most famous parishioners was John Foxe author of the Book of Martyrs; an endless gazetteer of Protestant martyrdom which was mandatory reading for Elizabethans. Drake had frequently read passages from it aloud to his crew during his world voyage. One of Drake's Spanish prisoners asked him about the text. Drake turned the pages to display the illustrations, one of them showing a man at the stake, engulfed in flames. "Look at this book!" Drake commented, "You can see those who are martyred in Castile." It was he said, "a very good book." Drake may well have worshipped with Foxe in this church or attended one of his sermons since Foxe had a preaching licence. Drake referred to Foxe as his father in God and seems to have corresponded with him regularly. The only letter that survives is one that Drake wrote to Foxe on 27 April 1587, from Cape Sagres, Portugal - housed in the British Library. However Foxe did not read the letter because he died on 18 April. Foxe, who lived in Milton Street two minutes walk to the north-east, was buried in his parish church. The church staff indicated to me that the unmarked tomb lay midway along the south side of the nave. Therefore Drake would have certainly paid his respects at his grave; one occasion could have been whilst he was on his way to visit Burghley at Theobalds in July.

The church is also the eternal resting place of another of Drake's intimate contemporaries. Sir Martin Frobisher who fought alongside Drake at Cartagena in 1586 and vented his distaste of Drake's actions during the Armada battles of 1588 died in Plymouth. On 15 November 1594 Frobisher was wounded whilst fighting the Spanish off France. His soft organs were buried in St Andrew's Church, Plymouth on 22 November and his body at St Giles without Cripplegate.

Four hundred metres to the north-west is of St Giles without Cripplegate is Charterhouse, which was once the most important Carthusian monastery in England. Only the gatehouse and parts of the chapel remain. Queen Elizabeth stayed here twice. Although it was an honour to host the queen's court, such an event often financially ruined the host and Lord North was no exception. Thomas Howard, the Earl of Suffolk, of the famous Howard family then became the new owner. Thomas's cousin was Lord Howard of Effingham, whom Drake had served under during the Armada battles of 1588.

As Drake could have seen this building in passing, I contented myself with a picture of the buildings protruding behind the wall.

Two hundred metres to the north-west is St John's Gate at Clerkenwell that dates from 1504. This was the main gate to the priory of the Knights of St John. In Drake's day it served as an office for the Master of the Revels, the royal servant responsible for licensing plays for public performance.

Gatehouse of the church of St Bartholomew the Great

Gatehouse of the church of St Bartholomew the Great

Five hundred metres to the south-east is one of Tudor London's most notable landmarks - the church of St Bartholomew the Great. The visitor has the unusual experience of entering the churchyard by walking under its half-timbered, medieval gatehouse as illustrated here. It is the most atmospheric church that I have visited. There was the minimum amount of modern fixtures. The ambience was set with piped ecclesiastical music, as shafts of sunlight pierced the mist of incense, amid the nave's stout, circular columns that supported the roof. On its south side, I photographed the tomb of Sir Walter Mildmay, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1566 until his death on 31 May 1589 and one of Drake's parliamentary friends. He could have invested in Drake's world voyage and accounted for the eventual value of the treasure once secured in the Tower of London. On the north side of the high altar is an even older tomb; that of Prior Rahere who died on 20 September 1143. He founded the church.

The present tomb and effigy dates from 1405. Near Mildway's tomb is the early 16th-century door built by Prior Bolton. The font, built in 1405, is one of only two pre-Reformation fonts in London. Drake would have prayed in this church and visited the tomb of Sir Walter Mildmay.

Five hundred metres to the west Drake would have passed and may have visited the much restored Ye Olde Mitre Tavern that dates from 1546 when visiting Sir Christopher Hatton at Ely House.

On the north side of Drake's London house at Dowgate, in the middle of Cannon Street, he would have seen the London Stone that has been famous since the 12th-century. The first known written reference is from an early 10th-century book belonging to Ethelstone the King of the West Saxons; in which some places are described as being "near unto London stone." The stone's information plaque has a reference from 1188 to Henry, son of Ailwin de Londenstane, subsequently Lord Mayor of London. Robins [57] writes that originally the stone may have been used by the Romans from which to measure all distances from London. It may have been a relic from the Roman governor's palace; the remains of which lie beneath Cannon Street Station. In Drake's day, it was "fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken, and the stone itself unshaken." The stone features in Shakespeare's play Henry VI. This limestone block can be viewed opposite Cannon Street Station, against a building behind white railings; which along with the reflective glass and light bulbs, prevent the worthwhile use of a camera. However on my second passing, I noticed security guards entering the building. I was granted entry and photographed a much clearer view which ought to be available to the public.

To Deptford

Sailing east from London Drake would have noticed on the north bank the Prospect of Whitby built in 1520. This tavern still stands. Drake in his capacity of as a member of the navy board and a commissioner to oversee the efficient administration of the queen's navy would definitely have visited Henry VIII's Royal Dockyard and naval stores at Deptford, as well as those at Chatham. At Deptford were two docks - the Private for merchant ships and the Royal for the navy. Between them lay a complex of sheds, ropeyards and warehouses. This was an efficient factory, where the input of timber produced ships to serve the nation's growing maritime needs in war, trade and exploration. The arches overlooking Deptford Strand are the only remains of Tudor times. They indicate that former warehouses have been converted into riverside houses. The dockyard also had symbolic and ceremonial functions. Frobisher set off from here in 1576 in search of the North West Passage. Later Sir Walter Raleigh sailed from here to establish his colony in Virginia. Living on opposite sides of Deptford Green were Lord Howard of Effingham and Sir John Hawkins. No doubt Drake would have visited them; at least on military affairs. Francis Drake had also served under John Hawkins during his slaving voyages. Sir John was working to reform and develop the dockyard where he designed the race-built galleon that proved decisive in repelling the Spanish Armada. Drake would have noticed and may have prayed in St Nicholas Church at the south end of Deptford Green. Playwright Christopher Marlowe mentioned Drake in one of his plays. Marlowe was murdered on Deptford Strand on 30 May 1593 and buried in the church. Only the tower remains from Drake's day.

Drake would have no doubt inspected the berth and the foundations of the walls intended to preserve the Golden Hind, housed in an earth dock within one of the two creeks that remain at Deptford. Sir Francis may have been aware that his famous ship would rot away. Robins states that its cabin was used as a hospitality suite for visitors. It was, on at least one occasion, searched by the authorities on suspicion of being one of the "secret and unsuspected places" where meat was illegally eaten during Lent. Shakespeare's contemporary and friend playwright Ben Jonson, in a play, refers to having a meal aboard the Golden Hind, "the ship in which Sir Francis Drake hath encircled the world, where we shall make merry and give toast to a successful voyage." Just before the Golden Hind was broken up, the Venetian Ambassador to the court of King James I wrote "that the remains of the Golden Hind look like the bare bleached bones of a dead horse."

Personal Properties Visited


After returning from the world voyage in 1580, Sir Francis Drake spent much time in London; which from 1588 onwards became his second home. By including his circles of friends, business partners and acquaintances, we can confidently reconstruct and extrapolate his life as a politician, courtier and naval merchant in this fascinating city. His lifestyle outlines his geographical movements and builds a picture of his activities amid the great and the good who wielded power over England.

One of the earliest portraits we have of Drake was by the great miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard who lived in Gutter Lane, that runs north off Cheapside near St Paul's Cathedral. Drake may have sat for Hilliard at this address in 1581, or visited the Hilliard family. Francis Hilliard, son of Nicholas was Drake's godson. This date and Drake's age of forty-two years is written around the edge. Hilliard also painted Queen Elizabeth and Raleigh. Hilliard is buried in the Church of St Martin in the Fields. This completely rebuilt church stands on the site of the original in Duncannon Street, just off the east edge of Trafalgar Square. In Drake's day the church relinquished its position in open country and became a fashionable residential street.

Numerous government ministers, associates and friends included Francis Russell the Second Earl of Bedford of Bedford House on the site of present-day Russell Square. He was Drake's godfather. Robert, the Second Earl of Essex, lived in Essex House. Robert resided here from 1588. The "stately place" [Spenser, in Robins, 95] was located a few metres south of the Strand between Little Essex Street and Middle Temple Lane. A pub aptly named The Devereux occupies part of the site and a plaque outlines the Essex connection. There was Lord Arundel of Arundel House located on the Strand immediately east of present-day Arundel Street. Arundel bequeathed Drake a gold ring. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's Secretary of State resided on the north side of the Strand, which is now immediately west of Burleigh Street. Burghley's home would have overlooked fields that bordered the north edge of the Strand: which was the fashionable address to have.

A modern day Durham House stands on the site of the original between the Strand and John Adam Street. This was originally a palace for the Bishops of Durham. After the Reformation it became Crown property. Elizabeth made great use of it, bestowing it upon those who went in and out of her favour. Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester resided here, followed by Sir Henry Sidney to be succeeded by the Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex - Leicester's stepson and finally Sir Walter Raleigh who from 1583 kept a splendid apartment for twenty years with a turret-study overlooking the river. It was here that Drake with George Gifford relieved the Earl of Leicester of £41 at the gambling table. Another protégé of Leicester was Walter Raleigh. Drake must have met Raleigh in maritime or Devonian circles or around Leicester. Raleigh would encourage the queen to select Drake to visit Leicester in the Netherlands the following year of 1586.

Sir Christopher Hatton resided at Ely House, the late 14th-century palace of the Bishops of Ely and its fourteen acre estate now Hatton Garden. Chancellor Hatton leased the house from the queen for an annual rent of £10, ten loads of hay and a rose picked at midsummer. In the 1580s, when the see of Ely was unoccupied, Hatton built himself a house in the orchard of the bishop's palace; hence the famous street name Hatton Garden. Ely House was demolished in the 18th-century with the exception of the late 13th-century chapel of St Etheldreda.

Due to adjoining buildings, only the front of this now Roman Catholic chapel can be photographed. I arrived at 1pm on a Sunday as the building was closed. I was lucky to intercept the priest as he was leaving. He graciously retraced his steps and allowed me to photograph the nave and the crypt. Drake would have definitely prayed here during his countless visits to his patron. Hatton was also a patron of poet Edmund Spenser, and backed the voyages of Drake and Frobisher. Greville Street immediately to the north remembers the politician, patron, poet and intimate of Sir Philip Sidney. Sir Fulke Greville and Drake attended the funeral of Sir Philip Sidney.

Susan Jackson adds Barn Elms near Chelsea was Sir Francis Walsingham's country home. His London residence was sited near the Tower of London.

-Back to top ^^