Baynard’s Castle. Montfichet Tower. Savoy Palace. Even to most Londoners, the names of these buildings would mean little today. Ask a citizen of this great city, how many castles there are within London, they’d more than likely point at the Tower of London and say – one. And that’s certainly true today. Because other castles that once existed in the British capital have either been demolished or burnt down. They’re certainly not there anymore.
If you had been wandering round London a few years after the Norman Conquest in 1066 – let’s say in the Templar era between 1118 and 1307 – you’d have seen an impressive structure near to where the river Fleet flowed into the Thames. The Fleet, by the way, now runs through a sewer – channeled out of sight by the Victorians. Baynard’s Castle dominated this spot in London marking the westernmost point of the old Roman city.
The castle was built by a Norman called Ralph Baynard but there appears to have been a structure there under the Viking king Canute – because it’s recorded that he had somebody executed in the castle in 1017. Baynard came over with William the Conqueror and was Sherriff of Essex. The family seems to have run into problems with William’s son king Henry I and the castle was demolished in 1213 by king John.
Though it rose up again, it suffered another fire in the 15th century, was restored by the Tudors and then finally incinerated during the Great Fire of 1666 – never to re-emerge.
Nearby – on Ludgate Hill – a Templar knight would have seen Montfichet’s Tower, another Norman construction to keep a close eye on the unruly citizens of London. While Baynard’s gave added protection where the old Roman wall met the river (and the Tower of London was situated where the wall met the river in the east), Montfichet guarded a key road over the river Fleet that would one day become Fleet Street.
Montfichet didn’t last so long – being demolished by….king John! Clearly an avid demolisher of castles. There are said to be tunnels relating to the tower under an office block called Montfichet House at 29 Ludgate Hill and the public has been barred from seeing them.
Finally – on the road out of the medieval city of London – there were great palaces built along the Strand leading to Westminster, the seat of government and the great abbey. One of these was the Savoy Palace owned by John of Gaunt, one of the most powerful men in the Middle Ages. However, his power did not stop him falling foul of the ordinary people who hated him for introducing a poll tax. During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, his palace was burned to the ground by a mob.
Today – the Savoy hotel is on the site of that now disappeared palace.