Crosby Hall | The Medieval Mansion That Moved Across London
On Chelsea Embankment, overlooking the River Thames is an impressive-looking Tudor Mansion. Now known as Crosby Moran Hall, it shouldn’t be dismissed as a modern folly, Crosby Hall has a rather incredible history…
To understand Crosby Hall’s story we need to begin with the man behind it.
Who Was John Crosby?
I haven’t been able to find a conclusive date of his birth, but John Crosby was apprenticed into the City’s Worshipful Company of Grocers in the mid 15th century.
It’s tempting to associate Grocers with fruit and veg, but this company was initially involved with importing spices (The Pepperers Guild first being recorded back in 1180).
John segued into the wool trade and over the next few decades was evidently doing well, managing a larger import/export business, elected as an MP in 1466 as well as working his way up through the ranks of the City government. He became an Alderman in 1468 and then Master of the Grocers’ Company in 1469.
So in 1466 he had enough cash to purchase a lease on land owned by the St Helen’s Priory and build Crosby Hall. This church still stands off Bishopsgate, survivor of The Great Fire and The Blitz, only to be hugely damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992 and then rebuilt.
John died in 1476 and his tomb can be found inside St Helen Bishopsgate, his effigy lying beside his first wife; Agnes.
Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate
But back to the mansion, Crosby built a home that reflected his wealth and status, John Stow commenting that it was made “of stone and timber, very large and beautiful, and the highest at that time in London.”
The building work was only finished in 1472 so John didn’t have much time to enjoy his home and on his death it was bequeathed to his second wife, Anne. She also didn’t hang onto it for too long because in 1483 it was bought by the Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III that year.
It’s thanks to this historic link that we have multiple mentions of Crosby Place (as it was then-known) in Shakespeare’s play; Richard III (written in the 1590s). Incidentally, Shakespeare himself lived within the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate and so no wonder he would include a mention of this impressive (and already historic) address.
Other owners while it was a residential property include Sir Bartholomew Reed, a Goldsmith, Sir John Rest (Mayor of London 1516-17) who leased the property to Sir Thomas More in 1523-4 and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1601.
The shift from home to office comes with the East India Company, who used it as their headquarters from 1621 until 1638.
Although Crosby Hall survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, it was badly damaged by fire in 1672 and only the Great Hall and one wing survived.
Fast forward to the 19th century and the freehold was bought by Frederick Gordon and Horatio Davies who transformed it into a restaurant and bar.
One can only imagine the delight to visit such a place, knowing its centuries of history whilst enjoying food and drink under its hammer-beam roof. It lasted as such until it was sold in 1907 when it’s fate was suddenly in the balance.
New owners, The Bank of India Australia and China, were set to demolish this incredible piece of history and build a new HQ but thankfully enough public outrage was generated that the bank funded its careful deconstruction and storage.
Crosby Hall, Cheyne Walk
It fell to the London County Council to secure a new site and manage the move. Amazingly, this 500-year-old building was transported stone by stone, 5 miles along the Thames to Chelsea!
Walter Godfrey was hired to restore and add to the building, so the majority of the site is a 20th century redevelopment, however the Great Hall roof, oriel window and some other windows and walls are original, 15th century survivors.
It remained in public ownership under the LCC then GLC until 1986 and it was sold to its current owner; Christopher Moran in 1988.
It’s now a private, luxury mansion and since 2021 has been known as Crosby Moran Hall. This change – enclosing the garden which was previously open to the public – caused considerable controversy and was twice turned down by Kensington and Chelsea Council. However once Moran offered to pay for the necessary restoration (which can’t of been cheap) the plans went ahead.
On the outside you can see Moran’s initials and arms along with some heraldic beast, inspired by former Tudor residents.
You can see more pictures of the interior here. Don’t you wish you could have a trip inside yourself?!
I know I do…
After I shared this blog post I was invited to have a look inside with Dr. Christopher Moran, so if you fancy a sneak peek inside. You can have a look here.
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