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Paul Pindar’s House In Bishopsgate

April 26, 2019
by the gentle author

House of Sir Paul Pindar by John Wykeham Archer

When William Shakespeare walked along Bishopsgate around 1600, he would have observed the construction of one of the finest of the mansions that formerly lined this ancient thoroughfare, Sir Paul Pindar’s house situated on the west side of the highway beyond the City wall next to the Priory of St Mary Bethlehem.

Paul Pindar was a City merchant who became British Consul to Aleppo and subsequently James I’s Ambassador to Constantinople. Although he returned home from his postings regularly, he did not take permanent residence in his house until 1623 when he was fifty-eight and between 1617-18 it served as the London abode of Pietro Contarini, Venetian Ambassador to the Court of St James.

Who can say what precious gifts from Sultan Mehmet III comprised the inventory of Ottoman treasures that once filled this fine house in Bishopsgate? Pindar’s wealth and loyalty to the monarch was such that he made vast loans to James and Charles I who both dined at his house, as well as contributing ten thousand pounds to the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. Yet Charles’ overthrow in 1649 meant that Pindar was never repaid and he died with huge debts at the age of eighty-five in 1650. What times he had seen, in a life that stretched from the glory days of Elizabeth I to the decapitation of Charles I.

Remarkably, Paul Pindar’s house survived the Great Fire along with the rest of Bishopsgate which preserved its late-medieval character, lined with shambles and grand mansions, until it was redeveloped in the nineteenth century. His presence was memorialised when the building became a tavern by the name of The Paul Pindar in the eighteenth century.

Reading the correspondence of CR Ashbee from the eighteen-eighties in the archives of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Spital Sq, I was astonished to discover that, after Ashbee’s successfully campaign to save the Trinity Green Almshouses in Whitechapel, he pursued an ultimately fruitless attempt to rescue Paul Pindar’s house from the developers who were expanding Liverpool St Station.

In his poignant letters, arguments which remain familiar in our own time are advanced in the face of the unremitting commercial ambition of the railway magnates. CR Ashbee reminded them of the virtue in retaining an important and attractive building which carried the history of the place, even proposing that – if they could not keep it in its entirety –  preserving the facade integrated into their new railway station would prove a popular feature. His words were disregarded but, since Paul Pindar’s house stood where the Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool St Station is now, I cannot pass through without imagining what might have been and confronting the melancholy recognition that the former glories of Paul Pindar’s house are forever lost in time, as a place we can never visit.

The elaborately carved frontage, which concealed a residence much deeper than it was wide, was lopped off when the building was demolished in 1890 after surviving almost three hundred years in Bishopsgate. Once the oak joinery was dis-assembled, it was cleaned of any residual paint according to the curatorial practice of the time and installed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington when it opened in 1909. You can visit this today at the museum, where the intricate dark wooden facade of Paul Pindar’s beautiful house – familiar to James I, Charles I and perhaps to Shakespeare too – sits upon the wall as the enigmatic husk of something extraordinary. It is an exquisite husk, yet a husk nonetheless.

Sir Paul Pindar (1565–1650)

Paul Pindar’s House by F.Shepherd

View of Paul Pindar’s House, 1812

Street view, 1838

The Sir Paul Pindar by Theo Moore, 1890

The Sir Paul Pindar photographed by Henry Dixon, 1890

Paul Pindar’s House  as it appeared before demolition by J.Appleton, 1890

Facade of Paul Pindar’s House at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Bracket from Paul Pindar’s House at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Paul Pindar’s Summer House, Half Moon Alley, drawn by John Thomas Smith, c. 1800

Panelled room in Paul Pindar’s House

Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool St Station

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

The Romance of Old Bishopsgate

Charles Goss’ Bishopsgate Photographs

Vivian Betts of Bishopsgate

Business in Bishopsgate 1892

10 Responses leave one →
  1. David Wilson permalink
    April 26, 2019

    Hi Gentle Author

    If you aren’t familier with John Wykeham Archer’s work, do have a look at the BM’s entire collection of his drawings/water colours on their website. They date to the 1840s-1860s and deserve to be much more widely known. Archer derived a series of engravings derived from them in 1851, but the originals are more immediate, and provide a colourful counterpoint to the b&w Henry Dixon photos of some thirty years later. One of these days I’m going to arrange with the BM to get to study them in the flesh (the portfolio is stored offsite). They give us another poignant glimpse of a lost and curiously vulnerable London…

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 26, 2019

    What a fantastically decorative bit of architecture and what a great loss for London (sigh!)

  3. John Barrett permalink
    April 26, 2019

    I do love the Paul Pindar article Thanks GA Poet John is with you all the way on this one.

  4. Hayley Bell permalink
    April 26, 2019

    What an interesting story. And as you say, it proves that demolition and redevelopment of historic buildings is not just of our time. The Victorians must have cleared so many properties in the name of progress and modernization.

  5. Wendy Lowe permalink
    April 26, 2019

    Thank you Gentle Author. I visit both Bishopsgate and the V&A often so will visit the remains of the house on my next V&A visit and think of it in situ when next in Bishòpsgate. What a great shame not to be able to see the rooms and garden.

  6. Annelise Goodsir permalink
    April 26, 2019

    Oh what a dreadful loss! I will never understand how developers can be so utterly short-sighted and foolish, and so careless of history. What a beautiful house, it should have been preserved. What a shame the monarch of the time didn’t step in and protect it. Very sad. Thank you for sharing the wonderful pictures.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    April 26, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great number of images through the ages of Paul Pindar’s house – at least we have those. Most interesting…

  8. Stephen Barker permalink
    April 26, 2019

    Do you know if the details of the paintwork were recorded before it was stripped back to bare wood. In the various paintings you have shown the woodwork appears to be painted in a pale stone colour. If this was the background to the elaborate carvings which were no doubt painted in bright colours with gilding it would have looked magnificent in its hey-day. I suppose we must be grateful that we still have this fragment of his house.
    Sir Paul Pinder loans to the crown proved an unwise investment. The same could be said for the London merchants who loaned money to Charles II who cancelled his debts bankrupting many merchants.

  9. April 26, 2019

    What a remarkable life Pindar had living through those momentous times. It seems a common theme that the wealth and property accumulated by wealthy merchants, in those far off days, was taken by the debts owed when they died. The substantial sums they had to pay to royalty to keep the favours bestowed on them were never forgotten .
    Had CR Ashbee succeed in is aim of preserving at least the frontage of the house it would have been a veritable treasure and attraction to millions of visitors. However Bishopsgate is such a busy place it may have been difficult to sustain. Possibly the Bishopsgate entrance to the station could have been sited elsewhere and the beautiful house preserved.
    A close watch must always be kept on planners, developers , businessmen , local authorities and whoever has an interest in rebuilding for their own gain.

  10. Annie permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Thanks for the interesting history.
    I occasionally worked in the V&A shop area back in the late 90s which was where the frontage of the house was at that time.

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