Lambeth Palace
Crest of Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace (Photo courtesy of the Archbishop of Canterbury)

Lambeth Palace is the Archbishop of Canterbury's official residence. The Convent of St Andrew of Rochester sold the part of the Manor to Archbishop Haldwin of Canterbury in 1190. Archbishop Hubert Walter bought the rest of the Manor in 1197 and built a house by the river roughly opposite the Palace of Westminster. This house was for his canons and he built his own house next door. Details of these early buildings are very scarce, it is known that there was a chapel by 1228 whose vaulted crypt still lies under the current chapel.

During the peasants revolt of 1381 the rebels ransacked the palace, burning books and furniture. Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop fled to the Tower of London but was followed and killed. Archbishop Chichele built a water tower In 1434/5. This tower was and still is called the Lollards' Tower as it is said that the Lollards were imprisoned there. In the 1480's a gatehouse was built and it was from this gatehouse that the local poor received charity three times a week. This charity, usually food, continued until 1842 when it was replaced by cash grants. Thomas More questioned in the Guard Room of Lambeth Palace by Thomas Cromwell in 1534

Lambeth Palace Library

The palace was refurbished by Queen Mary in 1553. The current library owes much to Archbishop Bancroft who in 1610 left his library to his successors. Archbishop Laud restored the chapel in the 1630s. This Archbishop was attacked by 500 London apprentices in May 1640, but he escaped to Whitehall. Evelyn records that another attack took place in June. During the Civil War the palace was commandeered by the state for use as a prison. After the Restoration the palace and the manor reverted to the Archbishop and repaired. The Gorden Rioters surrounded the palace in 1780 but didn't get in.

During the late 1820s and early 1830s there was a major rebuilding and restoration exercise led by Edward Blore. The palace boasted the several portraits of past Archbishops many by leading artists including Holbein, Hogarth, Van Dyck, and Reynolds. In 1867 the first Lambeth conference was held, an it has been held roughly every 10 years since. The conference is attended by Anglican Bishops from through out the world.

In the late 19th century the Archbishops of Lambeth allowed the local children to play in parts of the grounds of Lambeth Palace. In 1901 the 20-acre Park was formally opened to the public in 1901. It still belongs to the Archbishopric but is managed by the Lambeth Borough Council.


LAMBETH PALACE AND THE NEW PALACE OF WESTMINSTER, C. 1857 Roger Fenton In the foreground is the Gatehouse of Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Gatehouse was originally built at the end of the fifteenth century. Across the Thames {there is no Albert Embankment yet - see Plate 54) the New Palace of Westminster is nearing completion. The second bel1, 'Big Ben', was instal1ed in the Clock Tower in I858 {the first Big Ben cracked). In between the two palaces can be seen an arch of old Westminster Bridge, already cased in scaffolding for demolition prior to the construction of the new bridge, designed by Thomas Page, which was opened in 1862. The last of Labelye's bridge, opened in 1750, was taken down in 1861. (National Monuments Record) Source = The Changing Metropolis by Gavin Stamp

Lambeth Palace: Its foundation and growth.
By Kelly Roberts

For over 700 years Lambeth Palace, official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has dominated the southern waterfront of the Thames. "Picturesque and mildly majestic", it has witnessed the influence its successive occupants have exerted upon the development of the English Church and upon the nation's conscience throughout the most turbulent periods of our country's history.

It is not mere chance that the seat of ecclesiastical power is sited so strategically close to the political capital, Westminster. Since the days of St. Augustine, Archbishops of Canterbury had resided within their own city, but in 1185 Archbishop Baldwin, despairing of the intrigue and hostility of the monks of Canterbury, resolved to build a chapel and residence for himself and his successors outside the city where he might live and act free from interference. Plans were made and materials purchased for a chapel at Hacking- ton, a village close to Canterbury, but before the work was completed, Papal opposition forced Baldwin to abandon the site and flee. At this time the See of Rochester held the Manor of Lambeth, a gift in 11th century of Countess Goda, sister of Edward the Confessor, but Bishop Glanville, its occupant, found its upkeep an increasing burden and its position too remote from Rochester. Baldwin approached Glanville, and supported by Henry II, acquired twenty-four acres within the Manor. Building commenced in 1190.

With the death of Henry in the same year, Baldwin was required to accompany Richard Coer de Lion on his First Crusade to the Holy Land. During his absence the Canterbury monks seized the opportunity to descend upon Lambeth and demolish the almost-completed chapel and house. In the Holy Land, Baldwin lay dying, his dream unrealised.

Despite the arduous journey, Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury was summoned by Richard to administer the Last Rites. on his return to England he found himself elected Primate, a compromise choice after a political storm within the Church concerning Baldwin's successor. Walter saw the wisdom of Baldwin's Lambeth project and foresaw the strategic value of an official residence so close to Westminster and the King's Court, recently moved from Winchester to London. He also enjoyed the favour and friendship of the King and as Primate, newly appointed Chief Justiciary of England and expectant Chancellor, he was determined to establish himself at Lambeth to safeguard his interests.

In 1197 he obtained a grant of the whole Manor of Lambeth and proceeded with the building of a chapel and college. But this too Rome opposed and a Papal Interdict was issued, compelling Hubert Walter himself to demolish the buildings.

In 1200, determined to succeed, he finally persuaded the Pope and monks to agree that he might build a house for secular canons and a residence for himself on the site. Such buildings as were erected during Walter's lifetime were maintained and repaired by him and his successor, Archbishop Langton through funds granted by the Pope for that purpose, but by 1262 the properties had evidently fallen into such decay that Pope Urban IV granted to Archbishop Boniface the considerable sum of "one fourth part of the offerings at the shrine of St.Thomas a Becket" with the instruction "either to repair his houses at Lambeth, or to build new ones".

Lambeth Palace Chapel

It seems probable that part at least of the Chapel crypt built by Archbishop Walter survives to remind us of the determined struggle which led to the foundation of Lambeth Palace as we know it today.

Viewed now from the Thames, the Great Gateway first comes into view standing beside the Parish Church of St Mary. Beyond it the lofty roof of the Great Hall which houses the Library; behind, less conspicuously, the roof of the Old Guard Room close to the jutting grey stone Water Tower, more ominously known as the Lollards' Tower (despite the lack of evidence that 14th century heretics were incarcerated within the confines of the Primate's residence). The Palace Chapel leads from the Water Tower to Cranmer's Tower and then into the private apartments. Let us then wander through the familiar Gateway and trace the growth of Lambeth Palace, which owes its development to so many benevolent Primates of the past.

The imposing entrance is a fine example of early Tudor architecture. Built by Archbishop Morton in 1486-1501, it incorporates part of a much earlier gate which existed when improvements were carried out in 1322. Its great stone-vaulted arch with mullioned windows and battlements is flanked by massive red-brick towers embellished with stone. On ancient lead water-pipes Morton's rebus is still clearly visible. Inside, powerfl1l stone doorways and chimneypieces, moulded ceiling beams and linen-fold oak panels combine to give a sense of strength and beauty. Outside the gateway for centuries beggars received the 'Lambeth Dole', scraps from the tables of rich banquets in the Great Hall. Later '15 quartern loaves, 9 stones of beef and 5s' were substituted, until 1842 when grants of money instead were distributed to the needy.

We turn right now across the courtyard to the Great Hall. It is possible that Archbishop Boniface built the original with the grant from Pope Urban IV: the 'Comptus Ballivorum' , the earliest record, shows that repairs were carried out by Archbishop Reynolds in 1321 to a 'Grate Halle' some 168 feet long, 64 feet wide and 40 feet high, with a leaden roof supported by a double row of columns. During the Civil War, damage was so serious that when Archbishop Juxon was reinstated in 1660 he found ' a heap of ruins' and spent £10,000 on rebuilding it. So anxious was he to retain its "ancient fome" its character is more reminiscent of the Plantagenet than the restoration period. Built of sturdy red brick with stone quoins, above its battlements high on the roof sits a lantern weathervane bearing the Ams of the See of Canterbury and Juxon entwined, surmounted by a Mitre and the date, 1663.

Lambeth Palace from The Thames

Since 1829, when much valuable restoration work was carried out by the architect Edward Blore, the Great Hall has been used as the Library and elaborately carved bookshelves form bays to house some of the See's most priceless treasures. In 1610 Archbishop Bancroft bequeathed his collection of books to the Palace and since then a host of precious manuscripts, rare documents and ancient books has been acquired. Amongst these, a first edition of More's "Utopia" illustrated by Holbein, a copy of the Guttenburg Bible on vellum dated 1455 and a 9th century illuminated copy of the Gospels. A vast array of Court Rolls, Stewards' Accounts, Charters and Surveys is also held there. During World War II, fire and water damaged much of the building and its contents and since restoration many valuable items have been removed for safety. The Great Hall is now largely used for conferences. On going into the Old Guard Room it is not hard to believe that Archbishop Laud kept sufficient arms here for 200 men during the Civil War. The impressive vaulted ceiling and elaborately carved oak panels now provide a backdrop for the magnificent portrait collection by such Masters as Vandyck, Holbein, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough. Martin Luther here confronts Katherine Parr and Charles I and every Primate since the reign of Henry VIII. Built by Archbishop Cortenay in 1381-9, it stands two storeys high, faced in Bath stone, overlooking the residential wing.

Passing through the cloisters we enter Laud's tower, built in 1635, to gain access to the Water Tower. This was erected at the head of the old Lambeth Stairs where barges were kept ready to cross the Thames to Westminster. An earlier Tower, built by Hubert Walter's successor, fell into a ruinous state and was demolished in 1432 when Archbishop Chicheley erected this five-storey Tower, using 490 tons of Kentish ragstone and red brick. With its battlemented parapets and square-headed windows it has an air of stark austerity.

Indeed, the ground floor Post Room derives its name from the stout wooden post embedded in the stone floor to which imprisoned "faithful but unhappy Royalists" were tied and whipped. Laud's Coat of Arms still adorns the walls to remind us that from here he too was taken to be tried and executed.

Passing through his lovely carved oak screen we find our- selves in the beautiful 13th century Chapel, its buttressed wall linked by curtain arches. Here exquisite detail is perfected in the richly carved Jacobean altar-gates and pews, and the Primate's stately canopied stall. The splendid painted windows, "Popish images" depicting Man's progress from Creation to the Day of Judgement, were smashed by zealous Puritans and painstakingly restored some 200 years later by Archbishop Tait.

Cranmer's Tower serves as the vestry. Its date is uncertain but its red brick walls and stone-coped battlements are of his period. The second storey, where he is said to have written the Book of Common Prayer, is now the organ-loft. and the connecting staircase has many old names and dates carved upon it.

From here we overlook the residential wing which probably dates from the 14th century when Archbishop Arundel built a new Oratory or Great Chamber which Cranmer renovated. Pole, his successor, then added a Long Gallery, 90 feet by 16 feet with living rooms for himself and his servants.

With the elevation to the See in 1828 of Archbishop Howley, a careful scheme of restoration, preservation and improvement was carried out, at a cost of £60,000, half of which came from his own purse. Architectural anachronisms beyond repair were swept away and a new wing was built in the medieval style. Bomb damage in World War II has been expertly restored and the new range of buildings, now mellowed and blending with the old after 140 years, says much for the work of its architect Edward Blore who so successfully achieved a new and graceful unity to these historic buildings.

Riot at the Palace

Lord George Gordon Two hundred years ago, in the year 1180, some of the worst rioting took place which London has ever seen. The 'Gordon Riots' take their name from Lord George Gordon, a fanatical Anglican, who led the London mob on a rampage against Roman Catholics and other religious non-conformists. In the preceding years, there had been a growth of feeling in parliament that non-Anglicans should not be penalised so heavily for practising their religion. (They were at that time debarred from holding public office, from the universities and from many professions, under laws passed originally in the time of Charles II.)

The fear of a 'foreign' religion was stirred up to such a pitch that it was some time before troops could quell the rioters and restore order. The scene at Lambeth Palace was later recounted in The Saturday Magazine for 6 July 1839, an extract from which was kindly given to the Newsletter editor by Lisbeth David. It reads:

"Lambeth palace was placed in some jeopardy during the disturbances which disgraced the metropolis in 1780. A mob of five hundred persons came to the palace with drums and fifes, and colours flying. Finding the gates shut, after knocking several times without obtaining any answer, they shouted out that they would return in the evening, and paraded round the palace all that day. Upon this alarm it was thought necessary to apply to the secretary-at-war for a party of soldiers. Accordingly a party of the guards, amounting to one hundred, commanded by Colonel Deacon, arrived at two o'clock in the afternoon, when centinels were immediately placed upon the towers of the palace, and at every avenue. The mob for several days continued to surround the palace, not with standing the presence of the soldiers. In this alarming situation Archbishop Cornwallis, with his lady and family, were with great difficulty prevailed upon to quit the palace, to which they did not return until the disturbances had entirely ceased.

From June the 6th to August the 11th troops were constantly in the palace, one corps being succeeded by another; there being sometimes two and even three hundred soldiers in the palace at once. The two chaplains did the honours of the palace during this period, entertaining the officers in the best apartments, and the soldiers, with their wives and families in the Great Hall. All the troops attended divine service twice a day , while in the palace. On the 11th of August it was deemed safe to remove the troops.

Three years afterwards a robbery was committed at the palace which made a great sensation. A closet containing the plate was bricked up during some repairs that were going on. These bricks were pulled down, and £3000 worth of plate carried off. Some time afterwards some boatmen, late one evening, heard a hammering and tinkling, near the banks of the river, in a timber-yard. This proved to be the thieves beating up the articles of plate, for the purpose of selling them. They had concealed the plate in a large drain and used to come at night and fetch it, a piece at a time, as fast as they were able to sell it; for this occurred several months after the robbery. One of the robbers was caught and convicted, but the rest escaped to Holland. "