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At Paul Pindar’s House

October 15, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my Spitalfields tour throughout October & November




House of Sir Paul Pindar by J.W. Amber

If William Shakespeare passed along Bishopsgate around 1600, he might 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

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    October 15, 2022

    I’ve seen it in the flesh, so to speak. It’s extraordinary, along with that medieval French spiral staircase the best things in the puffed up V & A.
    Ooh, the stories it could tell.
    Carry on behind the facade!

  2. October 15, 2022

    Aren’t we so fortunate to have you, GA? You awaken us to so many marvels…….past and present.
    My imagination is teeming with images of what the interior of the original Pindar house must have been like. Alas, I grew up wandering the galleries of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, replete with endless “casts” of notable structures; so I have very complex feelings about the facade that has ended up in the V&A. I guess I am most grateful that all the various sketches, renderings, and engravings have endured — to me, they shine a light on this long-past fantastic structure, in addition to your generous recitation.

    Carry on, indeed.

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