The real London of Wolf Hall
Mark Rowland hunts out the real London locations behind the stories and characters in the latest TV Blockbuster, Wolf Hall.
With the BBC in Tudor fever centred on Wolf Hall, their lavish 6-part adaption of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies, many people have taken to Google in an effort to track down the real Wolf Hall.
In simple terms, it exists. Or at least, it existed. It was a manor house in Wiltshire and the seat of the Seymour Family, one of whom, Jane Seymour, provided the male heir that Henry VIII so desperately craved (Henry stayed at Wolf Hall during his 1535 progress which was probably when he first set eyes on Jane, setting in motion the unseemly despatch of Anne Boleyn).
Whilst none of the action in the series takes place there, it does provide an apt metaphor for the lupine-like behaviour of most of the characters that we will see unfold in the coming weeks.
So what of the real London locations behind the characters and stories that feature in the programme?
The fact of the matter is that Tudor London is a little bit thin on the ground in terms of surviving bricks and mortar (or more accurately, timber and wattle and daub) and for one very good reason.
The briefest of looks at the famous Agas Civitas Londinium map from the latter part of the 16th Century (widely credited as the first true map of London) reveals one simple fact:
London at the time was effectively just The City of London with any development to the west limited to properties flanking Fleet Street and The Strand which led to the royal palaces and grand Abbey at Westminster. So pretty much all of the population of London (maybe around 50-70,000 souls at the time) was crammed within the (as near as makes any difference) square mile bounded by the old Roman wall.
As the Great Fire of 1666 did for around 80% of that area, it’s not surprising that there is so little of Tudor London left standing.
Given this lack of authentic locations, the BBC used a range of National Trust properties around the country to represent some of the great houses and palaces of the day, but there is evidence still within The City of some of the locations behind the great characters and stories of the Tudor age. If, that is, you know where to look…
Such as the site where Henry VIII first met Cardinal Campeggio and the Papal delegation to press for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and where the Legatine Court heard the trial a year later (as featured in the first episode of Wolf Hall)…
…where Shakespeare and Burbage created the first indoor covered theatre in London…
…where Bloody Mary (with the aid of stakes and bonfires), meted out her vengeance on leading protestants in her doomed attempt to restore England to the Catholic faith (and the window from which she is alleged to have watched the burnings)…
…and the location of Thomas Cromwell’s grand London mansion (London’s largest private residence at the time, jealousy of which among the nobles at Henry’s court is credited with contributing to his downfall).
Want to know more? My Tracing the Tudors walk seeks out these locations (and more) around the City and I will be running it every weekend during the run of Wolf Hall, so why not come along and discover them for yourself?
You can check the dates on my current walks schedule, I look forward to seeing you!