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Sebastian Harding At Paul Pindar’s House

May 24, 2023
by Sebastian Harding

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Today, writer and model maker Sebastian Harding begins an occasional series exploring the forgotten histories of lost buildings

Model by Sebastian Harding


Which singular building links James I, the twilight days of the Ottoman Empire and the Great Eastern Railway? The answer is – or was – Sir Paul Pindar’s house.

At the time of writing, a fierce debate rages over the future of Liverpool Street Station. The station is a monument to the wealth and power of the Great Eastern Railway and it is not the first time that preservationists have fought to conserve this corner of the ancient ward of Bishopsgate, upon which it stands.

In the eighteen-nineties, remarkably similar arguments were undertaken over the fate of the magnificent sixteenth century townhouse that once stood on this site. At that time, the façade of Paul Pindar’s home had been witness to the traffic of Norton Folgate flowing along this great arterial road for almost three centuries. This was not just any old merchants’ house, Sir Paul Pindar’s remarkably fine house was in a league of its own and as fascinating as the man himself.

First let us pause to consider the building. The slender facade was not vast but what it lacked in size it made up in style. Each element of the façade was designed to convey the wealth and social stature of its owner.

Let us begin with the windows. Created at a time when glass was still a luxury, the double-height casements spanning the full width of the façade must have stopped rich and poor alike in their tracks. These tall windows were set within a complex piece of joinery, featuring a rounded central bay and with each jettied storey projecting a little further out. It meant that the building, and specifically the expanse of glass in the windows, would have been visible from a hundred feet in either direction. What a sight it must have been to see all that glass shimmering in the sunlight. Not dissimilar to the effect of witnessing the Gherkin at sunset in the City today.

The ostentation did not stop there. Decoration extended from the carved wooden window panels complete with a unicorn, James I’s own symbol, to the sculpted posts of mythic beasts supporting the upper storeys.

So who was Paul Pindar and how did he amass the fortune to build this highly embellished, well-located home? Perhaps this is where my own affinity for this enigmatic figure begins. Like me, Pindar was a Midlands boy who left his birthplace in his teens to seek opportunity in the capital.

Hailing from the small Northamptonshire village of Wellingborough, he was thrust into the melting pot of Elizabethan London. Pindar arrived in the mid-fifteen-eighties and he soon found employment as apprentice to John Powish, a merchant with Italian connections. Over the proceeding fifteen years, Pindar succeeded in gathering wealth and connections through trade in Italy and southern Europe.

By the age of thirty-four he was prosperous enough to build the house that would bear his name but his success did not stop there. Twelve years later, Pindar’s skill as a merchant and his political wit rewarded him with a position as James I’s ambassador to the Sultan of Turkey in Constantinople.

Since the late fifteen hundreds, Britain and the Ottoman Empire had been equally concerned about the strength of Spain. By joining forces, they hoped to be able to defend their interests against Spanish aggression.

Here we spy another tantalising glimpse of the personality of our Midlands-born merchant ambassador. As ambassador, Pindar became a great favourite of Mehmed III’s mother, the Safiye Sultan. It was even recorded that “the sultana did take a great liking to Mr. Pindar, and afterward, she sent for him to have his private company” By this point Safiye was sixty-one, so we may speculate the connection was platonic. Yet, whatever the basis of their kinship, this Northampton lad had certainly come a long way.

After his time in the east, Pindar returned home and appears to have passed the remainder of his days in peace and comfort, living to his eighty-fifth year. A significant lifespan when the average life expectancy was just thirty-five years.

After his death, the house became synonymous with his name, clinging on to its faded grandeur even as the city expanded eastwards  – Pindar had built the house on fields – and the building changed use. By the eighteenth century, it was known as a popular tavern with a prime location at the foot of the Old North Road that made it the perfect watering hole for travellers from Essex and Cambridge.

A century later, the pub was the subject of a dystopian scene by Gustav Doré, who depicted the bustling thronged masses of the East End swarming around the building. In Doré’s engraving, a sign gives the name of the establishment as “SIR PAUL PINDAR STOUT HOUSE’. A woman sells food from a basket in the doorway. Weary figures push wheelbarrows piled with vegetables whilst lithe and ill-kempt men huddle together. A more miserable vision could not be depicted and anyone might think twice about visiting the scene. Given this context, perhaps it was no surprise that the Great Eastern Railway sought to sweep it away with their new railway station.

The house withstood the first phase of the Liverpool Street Station development in the eighteen-seventies but, with the expansion of the platforms, it was only a matter of time before it was demolished. Thankfully the house survived long enough to be documented in etchings, paintings and photographs.

Today you will look in vain for any trace of Paul Pindar’s house in Bishopsgate, though if you travel to Kensington one fragment of the structure survives. The Great Eastern Railway donated the wooden façade of the building to the Victoria & Albert Museum where it is displayed to this day. It stands as a tantalising reminder of what once was and a solemn reminder of the importance of preserving our built heritage.

Sir Paul Pindar (1565–1650)

House of Sir Paul Pindar by J.W. Amber

Paul Pindar’s House by F.Shepherd

View of Paul Pindar’s House, 1812

Street view, 1838

Paul Pindar’s House by Gustave Doré, 1872

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

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute


You may also like to take a look at

Sebastian Harding’s Architectural Models

3 Responses leave one →
  1. May 24, 2023

    What a wonderful initiative to shed light on the intriguing stories behind these architectural treasures. Well done Sebastian and keep up with the fantastic work!

  2. May 24, 2023

    Thank you, Sebastian Harding! Amen to all that!

    I love the model. The photographs and drawings are wonderful, but seeing the house in three dimensions has an unexpected, powerful impact. It’s poignant.

    I hope you’ll consider making models of other notable historic structures which are sadly gone!

  3. Bill permalink
    May 24, 2023

    Such magnificence rent asunder.

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