Hidden London – Wardrobe Place, EC4V
It’s easy to miss an archway on Carter Lane, which runs parallel to Ludgate Hill up to St Paul’s Cathedral. It leads you into a peaceful courtyard. People on my walks are always surprised to find a quiet place just outside the noise of London.
How did Wardrobe Place get its name?
The Great Wardrobe, which provided secure storage for royal portable valuables, started in the Tower of London in medieval times. It was partly built on top of part of the Roman wall which surrounded the City. It moved to the west of the City where it remained for 300 years until its destruction in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wardrobe Place is a part of this historic site where Shakespeare and Pepys came to get suitable outfits for royal occasions.
What is the Kings’ Wardrobe
It’s called Wardrobe Place but why does it have such a strange name? There is no evidence of large pieces of furniture. Its origins go back to the medieval period but you have to go east to the Tower of London to see where it started. Within the grounds of the Tower of London you will come across the ruins of a 12th century tower, known as Wardrobe Tower. It was part of a large building which housed the Great Wardrobe.
However, if you look closely, you will see that the tower has even earlier origins. At its base it incorporates part of the eastern side of the Roman wall which used to surround the City of London – the horizontal red tiles are a giveaway. You can see them in the photo below.
A Walk-in Wardrobe?
The King’s Wardrobe first emerged as a major department within the royal household in the 12th century under Henry II but the following century a sub division – the Great Wardrobe – was created to provide secure storage for portable royal valuables such as jewels, furniture, robes and armour. These might accompany the court as it moved round the country. ”Great” referred to the size of the items stored.
In the early 1300s, with the exception of the royal jewels and armour, the storage moved to Lombard Street. In 1362 a large mansion with its own grounds was built in the area which includes the current Wardrobe Place. For the next 300 years it provided not only storage but also accommodation for its staff.
Shakespeare in Blackfriars
In addition it had branched out into manufacturing and sales, so in 1604 Shakespeare received 4½ yards of scarlet cloth from the Wardrobe, enabling him to attend James I’s state entry into London. Shakespeare and his colleagues are easily recognisable as the group of men in black in the state entry ceremony. That’s the same black cloth which Shakespeare would have been assigned at the Wardrobe.
Samuel Pepys and the Wardrobe
Also if you have read any of Samuel Pepys’s diaries, the name “The Wardrobe” might sound familiar. His patron, the Earl of Sandwich, was appointed the Master of the Wardrobe in 1660. It was also the generic name given to the surrounding area and he visited it on several occasions, particularly as he was required to dress the part for attending Court. He must have been one of the last people to visit before the Wardrobe was destroyed by the Great Fire in September 1666.
The Great Wardrobe buildings were not rebuilt – buildings in the City of Westminster were used instead. The department was finally abolished in 1782. Part of the garden of the original great house in the City of London which was destroyed in the fire was converted into Wardrobe Place. It is currently a quiet little space populated with a few trees, offices and serviced apartments, with the buildings on the west side being elegant late 17th and early 18th century houses. The names of the nearby Wardrobe Terrace and St Andrew by the Wardrobe, also remind us of the long gone institution which used to dominate this area.
Learn more on our Blackfriars Tour see this oasis of calm and learn more about this part of the City of London.