Edward III's Manor House

Context: Medieval

With looming dock walls, channels and quays, the sleepy residential neighborhood of Rotherhithe retains traces of an illustrious maritime past. It is from this historic dockland that the Mayflower, the famed vessel that transported English separatists to the New World, began the first part of its journey. With its place in history so steeped in a narrative of shipyards and international trade, some might be surprised to learn of Rotherhithe’s fascinating royal connection.

 

Along the banks of the Thames, nestled quietly besides the King’s Stairs Gardens, sit some inconspicuous but rather remarkable medieval ruins. While the exposed foundations hardly evoke visions of castles and great halls, these resilient walls are actually the remains of King Edward III’s manor house. Also known as Edward of Windsor (1312-1377), this king had a tumultuous reign, ruling during the Hundred Years’ War while holding together a kingdom devastated by the Black Death.

 

Though his residence at Rotherhithe was second to his primary home at Windsor Castle, Edward III invested heavily in the site, spending £1,200 on construction. In 1350 the surrounding marshland was reclaimed, and several stone buildings were erected around a central courtyard, enclosed on three sides by a moat.

The river itself completed the moat, allowing the king to arrive at his residence by boat, a three-and-a-half-mile journey from Westminster. The ‘King’s Stairs’ garden to the east of the site are named for this custom.

 

Though some suppose the residence to have been a hunting lodge, owing the King’s possession of a number of such houses throughout England, it has also been suggested that Edward came to the house to practice falconry. The flat landscape of the river and marshes would have been ideal for the sport., of which the King was a known enthusiast.

 

Following Edward’s death, the land was bequeathed to his son, Henry IV. Henry suffered from an unknown disease of the skin, now thought to be leprosy, and spent time at the house in recovery. By the 16th century, the manor had passed into private hands. By this time, the river’s course had shifted north, away from the manor, and the moat was completed with reclaimed land. The house and surrounding property have gone through many uses since. Excavations completed in 1985 show that it served as a pottery house in the 18th century, before the land was redeveloped in the 19th century and warehouses incorporated the surviving portions of the manor. Today, the previously excavated remains of the manor have been partially buried, to protect the house from recurring acts of vandalism.

 

After exploring the ruins and their surrounding gardens, wander east to the church of St Mary the Virgin, where three of the four original owners of the Mayflower (Christopher Jones, Richard Gardner and John Moore) are buried. Behind the church is the fascinating Rotherhithe Picture Library, an eclectic collection of historic photos housed in a Grade II listed Granary building. End your journey at the aptly named pub “The Mayflower” which was the original mooring point of the actual Mayflower ship. This notable 16th century pub offers a refreshing pint and beautiful riverside views.

 

Location: 20 Bermondsey Wall E, SE16 4NA

Catch a Thames Clipper to Cherry Garden Pier, or take the Tube to Bermondsey, before heading east along Bermondsey Wall to find the Manor

 

Hours: The house is open to the public at all times. The Rotherhithe Picture Library is open Mon-Fri from 10am-4pm, while the Mayflower pub is open every day from 11am-11pm.

 

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