Meeting in the shadow of the Guildhall, the afternoon started with a quick overview of the period that would be the focus of the day’s tour. During the 14th century, the population of London was at a record high of around 70,000 people. Overcrowding was rife, the justice system was harsh and public health was practically non-existent, Matthew explains as we meandered down to Cheapside, which used to be the main high street of the old medieval city. He painted a scene of putrid filth; picture an oozing brown and red stream running through the middle of the street, with dead animals floating face down heading towards the Thames.
Under the Bow Bells, Dr Green then went on to explain some of the odd punishments for stealing, adultery, being a drunkard, and nagging your husband. Stocks, he explained, were the best a person could hope for. He warned the women amongst the group that they would suffer the worst of the medieval punishments, including the Cucking Stool – an example of which can still be seen in Canterbury city centre. The nagging wife would be placed into one of the seats on this seesaw like mechanism and then repeatedly dunked into the water to cool her incensed humours.
The group then had their first drinking stop of the day in a small tavern in the shadow of St Pauls Cathedral. Here, Matthew told us about some of the older saints that are since long forgotten and the importance of religious architecture in the city. After being taken down a narrow road to a small church that even the most city savvy in our group admitted they had never heard of, members bumped into an Anchorite. Anchorites are people who for religious reasons, withdraw from social society. They could be both male and female and when questioned, the Anchorite humorously informed us despite his reasons for choosing to leave society he could still, at times, “hear [his] wife’s voice through the bars.”
We enjoyed the second glass of wine in a small vineyard, surrounded by tower blocks. This forgotten gem was one of many such yards throughout the city – one was even owned by Chaucer’s father. The vineyard had survived to modern day due to the fact it was also a mass grave for plague victims, and here Matthew informed us in great depth of the causes and effects of the Black Death on medieval London.
With slightly less cheer in our step, we were then led to a series of medieval marvels which included the houses of prominent figures, examples of medieval architecture and a beautiful piece of ironwork that was crafted in the late 14th century. We concluded the tour on the bank of the Thames, overlooking the Globe theatre, where Matthew concluded his tour with a talk about life on the river.