London Walks' Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker writes…
HEAVEN, HELL & PURGATORY
Let’s mark election day by learning something new about Westminster.
On which all eyes will be as the day rolls on and the results roll out.
And where we’ll be on my (David’s) Old Westminster walk this afternoon. (2pm Westminster tube exit 4.)
Guides – well, the real ones – know it’s a place of secret prisons. I write about some of them in the Secret Westminster chapter of our book.
Millbank prison, for example. It stood where the Tate Britain stands today. Goes some way toward explaining why “the wonderful old Georgian neighbourhood where all the political salons are” (we pick our way through it – that neighbourhood – on the second half of the walk, when we’re exploring the “private face”* of Westminster) wasn’t very desirable. Nobody wanted to live near a prison. There’s a lovely tale that the Australian slang term POM was originally an acronym for Prisoner of Millbank; certainly the last steps on their native soil for many Britons was the walk from Millbank prison to the landing stage where they shuffled along the gang-plank to the transfer vessel that would take them to the prison ship and “transportation” to Australia.
And of course there was Gatehouse Prison. It was the gatehouse to Westminster Abbey. Stood where the Westminster scholars’ Crimean War Memorial stands today. It’s immortalised by Richard Lovelace’s famous poem, To Althea, from Prison and in particular the first two lines of its final stanza, “Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage.”
Then there was the Tothill Fields Bridewell. Its 17th century stone gateway with its chilling inscription can still be seen (if you know where to look).
And over the way – again, a case of knowing where to look – cells with barred windows.
And the “Prison Room” in Parliament itself. It’s in the Elizabeth Tower (the Big Ben Tower). It’s for MPs in breach of codes of conduct. Hasn’t been used, unfortunately, since 1880.
Now those are the ones that are in a guide’s belfry. Real guides, that is.
Here are a couple that even guides – well, London Walks guides excepted – don’t know about.
Here’s the “let’s learn something new about Westminster” fare.
I’m talking about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.
They were “within” or “adjoined” Westminster Hall. We know about them because of a grant of wardenship by Henry VII in 1485 to one Antony Kene.
Heaven was a tavern. Pepys scholars know about it because he mentions it a couple of times in his diary: he frequented it, dined there.
Hell originally was a prison for king’s debtors. Well, that’s what it was originally. It went downhill. Became a tavern. Of “a meaner grade” than Heaven. Much frequented by lawyers.
Purgatory was “anciently” a temporary prison or “lock-up.” Doubled as a storeroom. I.E. the ducking-stool (for “scolds”) was kept in Purgatory.
Ok, whichever way things go today you’ve at least been served up some pretty rarefied fare.
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.