02 August 2023
A cardinal’s lost hat,
home and a deanery for
Cardinal’s Wharf, Cardinal Cap Alley and Southwark Deanery are part of a short terrace of houses on Bankside, squeezed between the Globe Theatre to the east and the Tate Modern and the Millenium Bridge to the west.
This row of 18th century terraced houses is in a small dip below the terraces of Bankside, and they seem to go unnoticed by the many tourists making their way along the South Bank of the Thames from one site to the next. The terrace once stood closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area.
Perhaps the next Dean of Southwark is going to appreciate the natural privacy this area affords him when he arrives in the deanery.
When two of us visited Southwark Cathedral earlier this week, it had just been announced that the Revd Dr Mark Oakley of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, is to succeed the Very Revd Andrew Nunn as Dean of Southwark.
The house beside Southwark Deanery, No 49 Bankside, is known as Cardinal’s Wharf, and is the tallest of the three buildings in this terrace. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the post-war reconstruction, the terrace of houses was reduced from three to two houses. But No 49 Bankside and its neighbours in this short terraces have survived all the rebuilding of recent decades, meaning the survival of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is quite remarkable.
The street in front of the houses is the original Bankside. It comes to an abrupt stop at the site once occupied by Bankside Power Station. Greater London Council revised the line of the bank of the River Thames along Bankside in the mid-1970s. This work coincided with the decommissioning of Bankside Power Station and accommodated the Jubilee Walkway, as well as addressing flood prevention measures for Bankside.
No 49 is a three-storey cream building with a red door. A ceramic plaque on the façade boasts Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and many churches in the City of London, lived in the house while Saint Paul’s Cathedral was being built, and that Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, ‘took shelter’ there ‘on her first landing in London.’
The house has a fine view of Saint Paul’s on the other side of the Thames, and local lore claims Wren chose to live there so he could have a full view of the progress of building work over at the cathedral. However, many historians believe Wren lived in building a few doors down from No 49, one that has long been demolished.
Although Cardinal Cap Alley has been gated since the 1990s, it is said to date back to ca 1360, making it one of the oldest public street in Southwark. It has a chequered history, and there are stories that it used to lead to a brothel called the Cardinal’s Cap.
Local lore claims Cardinal Cap Alley and Cardinal’s Wharf are so named because premises here were once owned by Cardinal Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester. It is said he had paraded here wearing his red hat after he had appointed a cardinal by the Pope. But the suggestion may be without historical support: Cardinal Beaufort died in 1447, the site was described in 1470 as ‘a void piece of ground,’ and the original Cardinal’s Hat was not built until many years later.
Others say the name comes from a story that a cardinal, who was in Southwark and visiting a brothel in the alley, was chased down the alley to the river. As he ran, the cardinal lost his cap … hence the name of Cardinal Cap Alley.
Another account suggests the name recalls Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), who was the Bishop of Winchester in 1529-1530 while he was also Archbishop of York. He may have stayed nearby at Winchester Palace when he was in London. But no buildings are mentioned in a sale of the site in 1533.
Hugh Browker, later the owner of the Manor of Paris Garden, owned the ground there in 1579 and may have formed Cardinal’s Cap Alley, perhaps for building the original house.
Before the house at No 49 was built in the early 18th century, the site was home to the pub known as the Cardinal’s Hat. Perhaps William Shakespeare popped in to the Cardinal’s Hat for an drink between plays at the Rose or the original Globe, and he refers to the pub in Henry VI Part II. His contemporary and the founder of Dulwich College, the Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn, also dined at the pub.
Until the English Civil War, Bankside was known as a centre for entertainment, its pubs and its brothels, including the Cardinal’s Hat, and it is mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his Diary.
John Taylor, the water poet, recalls having supper with ‘the players’ at the Cardinal’s Hat on Bankside. The freehold was sold to Thomas Hudson in 1667. The older part of the present house was built in the early 18th century. It was bought later in the 18th century by the Sells family who lived there until 1830, if not until 1841.
Today, the name of the pub lives on in Cardinal Cap Alley, named in the street sign on the west side of No 49.
The writer and historian Gillian Tindall has looked at the myths and the history of No 49 in her book The House by the Thames: and the people who lived there (2006). It seems No 49 was built in 1710, the year Saint Paul’s Cathedral was completed, meaning Wren never stayed there.
Tindall suggests the plaque on No 49 is a mid-20th century invention or that it was once on the façade of the actual house where Wren lived. That house stood, which was pulled down in 1906, stood on the site of a modern block of flats behind the Founders Arms pub further eats alongside Bankside.
She suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who bought No 49 in 1945 after World War II, retrieved the plaque from the original Wren house demolished in 1906 and placed it on No 49 to protect it from demolition.
Christopher Wren may never have lived at No 49, but it has been a home to coal merchants, an office, a boarding house, and a squat in the 1970s.
Tindall says early residents of No 49 and the adjacent buildings included lightermen and watermen who ran ferry boats across the river and then moved into the coal trade. As the transport of coal became important in London, many coal trading businesses developed along Bankside, including that of the Sells family. The local coal trade led to the development of coal gas and electricity generation plants. The first electricity generating plant was replaced by the Bankside Power Station, now the Tate Modern.
In the 1930s, No 49 was the home of the Hollywood actor Anna Lee (1913-2004) and her husband Robert Stevenson (1905-1986), director of Disney films such as Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The house and railings outside were Grade II listed by Historic England in 1950.
The Chelsea antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs (1938-2018) lived at No 49 in the 1960s. But Bankside was not an appealing place to live in the 1960s and 1970s because of the constant humming noise from the power station.
Guy Sebastian Munthe, the then owner of No 49, sold the house to Cardinal Inc in 1986. Cardinal Inc bought a swing barrier in 1989 and installed it across the public street at Bankside in line with the title of No 49.
Cardinal Inc then presented an adverse possession claim to the Land Registry, claiming it had controlled all of the land immediately in front of No 49 for 15 years. The Land Registry rejected the larger part of the claim but granted title to a small element.
There was a proposal to locate an Elizabethan Knot Garden on the site of the parking area at Bankside in 1994. But the idea came to nothing. Cardinal Inc sold No 49 Bankside in 1995 to Bill Thomas, a partner in Pollard, Thomas and Edwards. He, in turn, sold No 49 Bankside to Colin Brewer.
Next door, No 51 Bankside dates back to 1712 and has long ties with Southwark Cathedral. It was named as Provost’s Lodging in the 20th century. The war-damaged No 50 and No 51 were bought from Bankside power station by Southwark Cathedral in 1957 and knocked together. George Reindorp lived there when he was the Provost of Southwark in 1957-1961, before he became Bishop of Guildford and then Bishop of Salisbury.
Later the Very Revd Colin Slee, lived there as Dean of Southwark until he died in 2010. He was succeeded by Andrew Nunn, who retired as dean earlier this year. No 52 has been the residence of the cathedral’s director of music.
Southwark Cathedral made fresh efforts to obtain exclusive ownership of the former Bankside street frontage in front of Nos 49, 51 and 52 in 1996.
The power station site was owned by PRUIMP, the real estate investment arm of Prudential Plc, In the mid-1990s. At the time, a number of infrastructure projects were being planned, including the Millenium Bridge and locating the Tate Modern at Bankside. PRUIMP transferred the power station estate to Southwark Council which, in turn, transferred it to the Tate, while retaining the site needed for the Millenium Bridge.
As part of the transfer of site of the power station, Southwark Council was to transfer to Southwark Cathedral part of the power station land at Bankside. Southwark Council was to use its ‘best efforts’ to close this part of Bankside and transfer it to Southwark Cathedral. In this way, Southwark Cathedral would become the freehold owner of the land in front of the Bankside terrace.
The existence of a swing-barrier across the public highway immediately east of No 49 until December 2004 caused confusion about the ownership of and rights to the roadway and the parking area at Bankside Terrace. The evidence seems to suggest that this part of Bankside remains a public highway, and attempts to remove the barrier have been controversial.
At one time, Cardinal Cap Alley was freely accessible. In the mid-1970s, it was still an ordinary alley, typical of the many alleys that ran back from the water front, between the houses that faced the river.
But Cardinal Cap Alley is now gated. It is not possible to walk into it, and it is a dead-end, with a locked gate across it at Bankside, installed by previous owners of No 49. The Globe filled the other end of Cardinal Cap Alley with rubbish and building materials in 2000s, giving the residents on Bankside Terrace further excuses to keep the gate at the northern entrance.
Perhaps the few feet that are accessible to the public make this the shortest public street in London.
Cardinal’s Wharf at No 49 is a private home once again and is not open to the public. The Deanery next door provides the Deans of Southwark with no view of Southwark Cathedral, but it offers a splendid view across the river of Southwark that would have delighted Sir Christopher Wren if he had ever lived on Bankside.