Durham House, London- it’s history and mint



by Anthony Travis March 2016

(with reference to Thomas Allen’s study (1839) and the survey of London 1937 by the LCC)


Durham Place was the most easterly of the mansions along the south side of the Strand extending from the boundary of York House on the west to Ivy Lane. Its extensive grounds included river frontage.

According to Thomas Allen in his publication of 1839, Antony de Bec (or Bek) built a Town residence for him and his successors, known as ‘Durham Place,’ in the Strand. Bec was Bishop of that See from 1284 to 1310. Notably he was also Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1306 to 1311 (the only English person ever to hold this post). However, whilst Leland states that Durham Inn was built by Anthony Bek, William de Chambre, a fourteenth-century Durham chronicler, says that Thomas Hatfield, (Bishop from  1345 to 1381) was responsible.  It is probable that both bishops did a certain amount of rebuilding there.  Other records state that Richard Poore, Bishop of Durham (1209 to 1213) was the first known occupant of the house. He was known for creating the beautiful “Cathedral of the Waters” and the bishop’s palace at Salisbury showing him as a great and extravagant builder. It is therefore probable that the original Durham Place owed its existence to him. Again, probability is that these incumbents changed and extended Durham Place (House) during their tenures

In 1258, Walter de Kirkham, Bishop of Durham (1249 to 1260) was said to have quarrelled with the King and refused to come to court. As a result it transpired that Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, (and leader of the baronial opposition to the King) lodged at the Bishop’s house during the summer of that year. The following chronicle of  Matthew Paris appears to qualify this. He says that one day, whilst Henry III was being rowed on the Thames a violent storm forced his boat to turn in to land near Durham House. Apparently, de Montfort came out and offered shelter, declaring that there was no cause for alarm. The King replied: “Thunder and lightning I greatly fear, but, by the head of God, I fear thee more.”

In February, 1380–1, Thomas, Bishop of Durham, granted  to William de Beverley and others, ,two chambers in the said manor, the vestibule of the chapel with two chambers adjoining, and the whole inn with houses on the east side of the north gate of the manor. The Bishop of Durham’s garden originally contained about two acres of ground since it extended to the river and, prior to 1603, was wider than it is shown on the 1626 plan. The profits of the garden were, in medieval times, one of the usual perquisites of the keeper of Durham Place. The great hall of Durham House abutted on the river from which direct access was obtained by means of a flight of steps. The hall was described by Norden circa 1592 as “stately and high, supported with loftie marble pillers. It standeth upon the Thamise very pleasantly.”


There were, necessarily, long periods during which the bishop was not in residence at Durham Place, but during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when several of the bishops of Durham held the chancellorship, the great hall must frequently have been used, for trials in equity. The buildings were also increasingly used for the accommodation of royal and other guests. In 1412 when “prynce Herry, the sone of King Herry the forthe” came to London, he “lay at the bysshoppes inne of Durham,” Thomas Langley, the then bishop, being one of his political supporters. Catherine of Aragon seems to have stayed there in 1502 for there is an entry in the Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York of a payment “for conveyeng the Princesse in the Quenes barge with xvi rowers from the Bisshop of Duresme Place to Westminster and from Westminster again the vith day of November.”


Letters to and from Wolsey show that he was living at Durham House in 1516–18, probably during the completion of his building operations at York Place. He was on very friendly terms with the then Bishop of Durham, Thomas Ruthall, Keeper of the Privy Seal, who has been described as “singing treble to the cardinal’s bass.” Ruthall died at Durham House on 4th February, 1522–3, and was succeeded in his occupancy of the see by Wolsey.

Late in 1529 Wolsey resigned the See of Durham, and Cuthbert Tunstall was appointed as his successor. Apparently Sir Thomas Boleyn (afterwards Earl of Wiltshire), the father of Anne Boleyn, was purported to already be in residence at Durham House during 1529. But we also know that  in the summer of 1529 Cranmer was entertained there in order that he might have quietude to write “his minde concerninge the Kinges question,” i.e. the divorce. Anne Boleyn seems to have been living there in May, 1532.

Durham House remained an episcopal palace until Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall relinquished it to King Henry VIII in July 1536, Cuthbert granted to the King “all that his capytall messuage … comenly called Durham Place, wyth all Houses, Buyldyngs, Gardeyns, Orcheards, Pooles, fysshyngs, stables and all other commodytes . In return Henry contracted to give the bishop in return Coldharbour in Dowgate Ward, London, and other residences although he appears never to have honoured that promise. At this time Henry bequethed Durham House to his daughter Princess Elizabeth. 

 Durham House became a great social place of merriment and hosted many banquets and feasts as Henry was famed for! Indeed it is recorded that in 1540 there was a great jousting Tournament in Westminster where all the Champions proclaimed around Europe would ‘battle’. Every day the challengers would return to Durham House where the King and Queen (Anne of Cleves) held a magnificent feast. All the nobility were there to include the Mayor of London, Knights and burgesses of the House of Commons together with their ladies etc., all joining in the revelry.

Edward VI resided at Durham Place for a time before he became king, but in March, 1549–50, he granted it to Princess Elizabeth in fulfilment of his father’s will.

On her accession to the throne, Queen Mary removed the house from the possession of Princess Elizabeth and restored it to Tunstall, together with his see, as it had become apparent Tunstall no longer had a London residence. Although it appears he had usage of Coldharbour!

Upon her accession, Elizabeth seized possession of Durham House

In the meantime a commission was granted (January, 1549), to “John Bowes, esquire, treasurer of the mint within the king’s manor called Dureham Place,” and others “to coin certain new moneys” there, viz., the “soveraygne of gold,” the “half soveraygn or Edward Royall,” the “croune” and the “half croune.”

Interestingly, Thomas Allen states that the overall management of the mint was put under the charge of William Sharrington. Sharrington at this time was mint master at Bristol and his monogram (WS) used frequently as a mark. The mintmark used at Durham house was that of a ‘bow’. Sharrington was heavily under the influence of the aspiring Thomas Seymour (Lord Admiral) who had designs on the throne. He used Sharrington to assist in his devious plot of minting ‘extra’ money to fund his operation! Hence Bristol coins were noticeably of poor silver quality. The same appears to have happened in Durham House. Posthumous issues bearing the portrait of Henry V111 were produced, namely, groat, halfgroat and penny. Issues bearing the portrait of Edward V1 were the gold half sovereign and silver shilling. These were minted between 1547 and 1549 only. Interestingly, not the same coins stated in the original Royal commission.

Sharrington was caught out and his dies etc. appear to have been destroyed. As any decent guy would have done (!) he dobbed in his pal, Thomas Seymour, and saved his own neck. He was granted a pardon and employed again under the charge of John Dudley (Earl of Northumberland). Thomas Seymour was a thorn in the side of the powers that be, so they were more than pleased to do a deal and get rid of Seymour!


In July, 1550, the French Ambassador was lodged at Durham Place “which was richly hanged … and had at his cominge ready sett in the court of the same, for a present from the Kinges Maiestie, certeine fatt oxen, calves, sheepe, lambes and all manner of wyld foule of every sorte, a certain [number] all alive, and also of all manner of freshe fyshe of the best that might be gotten, with wyne allso in his cellar.” The Privy Council met at Durham Place in April, 1551, and about this time the house was made ready for the entertainment of the French Ambassadors, who came to ratify the peace.


Early in 1553 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, took possession of Durham Place and contrived to get Elizabeth’s consent thereto, though not without her “conceyvinge some displeser” against him. In this year three weddings “were celebrated with great magnificence there.” They were those of Lady Jane Grey, Queen for 9 days (before Mary) with Guildford Dudley, Catherine, Jane’s sister, with Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, and Catherine, youngest daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, with Lord Hastings, son of the Earl of Huntingdon.


Lady Jane lived at Durham Place until the death of King Edward, when, after her proclamation, she “was brought by water to the Tower; attended by a Noble Train of both Sexes.” Her brief tragedy was soon at an end, and her successor, Queen Mary, restored Durham Place to its original owner, the Bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall. In 1551 he had been confined to his house near Coldharbour, and during his imprisonment had written his De Veritate Corporis et Sanguinis Domini nostri Jesu Christi in Eucharistia, perhaps the best contemporary statement of the Catholic doctrine of the eucharist. He refused to take the oath of supremacy at the accession of Elizabeth, and therefore was deprived of his bishopric. He died at Lambeth Palace in November, 1559.


In January, 1553–4, Durham House had been used as a lodging for the Spanish Ambassador  and in the following year King Philip himself resided there. After the death of Tunstall Elizabeth again took possession. In any case the Spanish Ambassador was lodged there from 1559 until 1565. Machyn tells us that on Candlemas Day, 1562–3, “ther was sertyn men whent to Duram plase … to here masse, and there was sertyn of them carved [carried] by the gard and othur men to the contur [compter, prison] and odur places.” A great deal of stir was made by De Quadra, the Spanish Ambassador, regarding this incident, since it concerned not only the right of an ambassador to use the ceremonies of his faith, but also his control over his ambassadorial residence. A similar incident occurred in the time of Charles I.

Sir Walter Raleigh was in residence at Durham House, being granted use by Elizabeth in 1583. He spent £2,000 on repairs and lived there until the death of Elizabeth.

Aubrey says that Raleigh “after he came to his greatness” lived in Durham House, “or in some apartment of it,” and adds, “I well remember his study, which was a little turret which looked into and over the Thames, Westminster, Whitehall Palace and the Surrey Hills”.

There is a record of Sir Arthur Gorges (poet), and his cousin, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, had dated letters from Durham House in 1595 and 1596 respectively. These were two chums of Raleigh and had sailed with him on the Islands Voyage in 1597.

Upon Elizabeth’s death and Raleigh’s resultant loss of influence at court, Durham House was reclaimed for the See by the bishop of Durham, Tobias Matthew. He then offered it for the use of the Privy Council, a gesture perhaps to appease the new King, James 1, who approved the move!

Around 1605 Durham House was shorn of its Strand and Ivy Lane frontages, which were granted to Cecil (Earl of Salisbury). The stables were taken down and the New Exchange erected. Ivy Lane frontage was used for Great and Little Salisbury Houses and the main buildings nominally restored to the See of Durham, but in practice the King made use of them for state purposes.

In 1610 Durham House was used for the ceremony of the creation of Knights of the Bath. In 1619 Sir Thomas Wilson wrote that the ambassadors of France, Savoy and the States were staying there. In 1623, when Prince Charles was expected to bring back the Infanta from Spain as his betrothed, Durham House was requisitioned to accommodate the “grandees” who would attend her. In the following year the French Ambassador was again in occupation, and 240 feet of hangings were put up in the “Dyning roome and presence” and his bedchamber was “new matted with Bullrush matts.” Foreign ambassadors were a constant source of disturbance about the English Court at this time, being continually involved in quarrels over questions of precedence or over their religious privileges. A serious dispute on the latter subject occurred at Durham House in 1626. The King had asked the Bishop of Durham to allow the French Ambassador “some Lodgings in his house, which had stood free from infection all ye Sickness time; which the said Bishop performed, crouding vp himself and his whole family being great, into the worst and basest roomes of his house, leaving all the good and large roomes thereof, with others, to the number of 30 one with another, to the Ambassrs vse; yet reserving to himself and his family passage through the Hall and through all ye Gates and dores, leading either to the Water, or High Street.” The Ambassador was, of course, allowed to have Mass celebrated within his lodging, but considerable scandal arose from the fact that many English Catholics attended. On Sunday, the 26th February, constables were sent to arrest these recusants as they came out from Mass. A fight with the Ambassador’s men ensued, and afterwards a long investigation was found necessary to mollify the Ambassador’s offended dignity. Considering the large cost of repairs necessary for so old a fabric and the small enjoyment he had from it, the Bishop of Durham was probably only too glad to agree to Charles I’s proposal in 1641 that Durham House should be granted to Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke, in return for the annual payment of £200. An Act of Parliament to this effect was, therefore, passed. Webb, the pupil of Inigo Jones, designed a large house to occupy this site, but, probably owing to the outbreak of the Civil War, the design was never carried out. Parliamentary soldiers were quartered in the old buildings in 1650, and the chapel became for a time a church for French Protestants.

Soon after the Restoration Pembroke’s son, the 5th Earl, decided to take down the dilapidated old house and lease the site in building plots. A few moderate-sized houses were erected on the south side of Durham Yard with gardens to the river, but from the first there were wharves on the river front used for commercial purposes, and soon the greater part of the site was covered with courts of little houses occupied by small traders and artisans. By the middle of the eighteenth century Durham Yard had become a slum, and by the time the Adam brothers took it over, practically all the buildings were in ruins.

The New Exchange (The site of Nos. 54–64, Strand).

By a complicated series of transactions extending over the years 1603–10, the Earl of Salisbury obtained possession of a piece of ground about 208 feet in length by 60 feet in depth on the south side of the Strand between York House and the gatehouse of Durham Place. There, on the site of the old stables which, according to Stow, had become “but a low ruin … ready to fall, and very unsightly,” Salisbury erected “a very goodly and beautiful building … after the fashion of the Royall Exchange in London, with Sellers underneath, a walke fairely paved above it, and Rowes of Shops above. The building was completed in November, 1608, and in the April following it was officially opened by the King. James I suggested that it should be called Britain’s Burse, but the name did not catch on, and the building was usually referred to as the New Exchange.

The New Exchange survived until 1737, though little is heard of it during the last few years of its existence. Eleven houses were built on the site, the centre and largest of which (afterwards numbered 59, Strand) was leased to George Middleton, goldsmith, the flourishing banking business of the firm of Middleton and Campbell being moved thither from the Three Crowns near Hungerford Market. Middleton died in 1747, and his brother-in-law, George Campbell, in 1761. Neither of them left a male heir, and the firm passed into the hands of the brothers, James and Thomas Coutts, the elder of whom had married George Campbell’s niece. No. 59 remained the “shop” of Coutts’ Bank until 1904. The premises were extended to include Nos. 58, 57 and 56 early in the nineteenth century.

The 11 houses were designed as a comprehensive composition and comprised three storeys over shops and basement.  All the 11 houses were demolished in 1923, and the front portion of the site was used to increase the width of the Strand.

Durham House Gate and the Strand Frontage between it and Ivy Bridge Lane (the site of Nos. 65–75, Strand, The Tivoli, etc.).

When Salisbury acquired the stables of Durham House he also bought the gatehouse and lodgings adjoining. These he demolished and rebuilt, making a way under the gatehouse and behind the New Exchange down to the river, which afterwards became Durham House Street. The gatehouse survived until circa 1790

The remainder of the Strand frontage eastward to Ivy Bridge Lane was sold with the rest of Durham House in 1641, but was in separate ownerships before the end of the century. It was built up in small tenements, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century when it is possible to list the shops and their owners such varied signs are found among them as: The Golden Lion (John Holden), The White Lion (John Bignall), The King’s Head (Daniel Duke), The Katherine Wheel and Shovell (Nicholas Sweeting), and the Golden Tun  (Charles Wheeler, goldsmith). Charles Wheeler was a descendant of William Wheeler, goldsmith, whose daughter, Elizabeth, married Francis Child, the founder of Child’s Bank. It is probable that Child’s Court, formed between 1720 and 1740 approximately on the site of Wheeler’s shop near Ivy Bridge Lane, was so named because of this family connection. At about the same time a second court was formed further west nearer Durham Gate. This was called Theobald’s Court after the Theobald family who owned part of the frontage there.

Robert Adam leased the ground between Durham Gate and Ivy Bridge Lane in order to complete the Adelphi scheme. Adam Street was cut through to the Strand between Theobald’s Court and Child’s Court (the latter disappearing), and the house at the east corner (afterwards No. 73, Strand), was let to Thomas Becket, the bookseller and friend of Garrick. This house, which was then in the occupation of Mr. Fearn, jeweller and silversmith, was burnt down in June, 1822, and afterwards rebuilt to the same design. The New Exchange Coffee House was the fourth house west of Adam Street, afterwards No. 69, Strand. The houses west of Adam Street were pulled down in 1924, and those east of Adam Street in 1927, the new premises on the site being set back to widen the Strand.


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