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REMAINS OF CANONBURY-HOUSE, ISLINGTON.
THAT "the fashion of the world passeth away," is a solemn and admonitory truth of which we are reminded by the history of places, of towns, and even of dwelling-houses, as well as by that of other circumstances, subjected to human control, in itself often most capricious, and always governed by a power which it cannot resist, and which is too seldom perceived. Almost within the memory of man, they who were coming to London from the north, passed through Islington; but now, the traveller considers himself at London even before he comes to Islington. When at Islington, is he not as much in London as he can be? Every vestige of country he has left far behind him. The region of trees and fields has given way to that of bricks and mortar, and rural roads have become crowded streets. Nightingales in hedgerows? "London cries" and London noises, are of a very different character, and salute the ear before the eye sees Islington.
And yet, once it was not so. The Romans once had a country station here, as a summer camp for their London garrison. Their great north road, Ermin-street, went this way; and on a rising ground, supposed to be Highbury-Hill, the conquering legionaries fixed their standard, intrenched themselves in their canvass habitations, and watched the defeated, but scarcely subdued, barbarians of Britain.
VOL. IX. Second Series.
Years rolled on, and under Saxon, as well as under Roman and Briton, London maintained its political and commercial importance. And as it seems to be a part of the nature of man to love to breathe the free air of heaven, and to gaze on the wide-spreading prospect, the rising ground to the north of the city would soon be acknowledged as the place where the more wealthy might have their country residence. The Canonbury estate, a manor forming a large portion of Islington, (the old Iseldon,) is believed to have been a British lay-possession before the Conqueror ordered the compilation of his "Domesday-Book." At all events, it was soon known as a Norman manor. In the time of Henry III., it belonged to the De Berners, whose name a part of the manor still perpetuates. Barnesbury is only the more modern Bernersbury, the place of residence of the Berners.
In the reign of Henry III., about A.D. 1253, the then possessor alienated the estate from his family, after the custom of the times, granting it to the Priory of St. Bartholomew, in West Smithfield, London.
It was not long before the Canons of the Priory saw both the advantages and beauty of the situation presented by their new acquisition, and resolved to have a residence there. Malcolm well observes on this,-" For this purpose, Canonbury was certainly most convenient and pleasant. We can easily imagine the beautiful view there would be, from thence, to the very gates of the Priory in Smithfield." It would only be looking down a gentle declivity for a mile and a half, or two miles. "For the smoke of London was not so dense as it afterwards became, and scarcely any buildings intervened;" none, in fact, to interrupt the prospect. Before a century had elapsed, therefore, to the Smithfield Priory of St. Bartholomew was attached the mansion in which the Prior, his Sub-Prior, and their twelve Canons, resided; thence called Canon-burgh, or bury, the dwelling-place of the Canons. It was a large edifice, with domestic offices, spacious gardens, and a park surrounded by a wall. It was such a favourite residence, that William Bolton, who was Prior from A.D. 1509, till his death, in 1532, erected, as an addition to the mansion, the building which is now almost
all that remains of the old edifice. At one end of the house he caused a square tower to be raised, the square being about seventeen, and the height sixty, feet. The tower was divided into seven stories, containing twenty-three apartments. These were connected by a large oak staircase. There are two principal rooms, as large as the square of the tower, and about twelve feet in height, with handsome oak wainscotting up to the ceiling, with some beautiful carving.
On the dissolution of the monasteries, the Canonbury estate, among others, came into the hands of the King, whose reforming propensities, together with those of his principal courtiers, were, there can be no doubt, chiefly stimulated by the prospect of the spoil which their fulfilment obtained. Conscience, it is to be feared, had little to do with the matter; and a striking proof of this was afforded in the reign of Mary. The Lords and Commons willingly agreed to acknowledge the sin of schism, and to receive absolution from Cardinal Pole, as the Pope's Legate; but as to the surrendering the property which that schism had brought to them, they would not hear a word about it, and neither the Queen nor the Legate could procure the slightest advances towards resti
The last Prior was Robert Fuller, by whom the estate was surrendered to Henry VIII., October, 1540, by whom it was given to Thomas Cromwell. On his attainder, it came again into the possession of the crown, and was, in the first year of Edward VI., granted to Dudley, Earl of Warwick. He, as Duke of Northumberland, for seeking to raise Lady Jane Grey, to whom his son was married, to the throne, forfeited his estate as well as life; and thus Canonbury was again at the disposal of the crown, who gave it, in 1557, to Thomas, Lord Wentworth, from whom it came to John, afterwards Sir John, Spencer, citizen and cloth-worker, Alderman of London, Sheriff in 1583-4, and Lord Mayor in 1594. A curious circumstance, illustrative of the state of the times, occurred during his possession of Canonbury, between which and London were then vacant fields. He was immensely rich, and very high-spirited, and a plan was laid by a piratical shipowner of Dunkirk to obtain possession of his person, for
the sake of the ransom which it was believed his friends
would pay for his release. A vessel accordingly sailed up the Thames, and moored in Barking-Creek. This was left in the custody of six of the twelve mousquetaires whom the Captain had engaged for the enterprise, while the other six proceeded to the neighbourhood of Islington, to waylay Sir John as he walked home across the fields from his mercantile and magisterial duties. The men hid themselves in hedges and ditches in the fields, near the path by which Sir John must have returned to his country mansion; and very probably the plan would have succeeded, as there was then a clear way of unoccupied ground, from Islington, across the country, to the Thames at Barking-Creek; but by one of those curious happens which so often defeat the best-laid schemes, it happened that, utterly unconscious of the danger he was thus escaping, he was that day so busily engaged, that, being detained in the city later than usual, (and those being days when rather earlier hours were kept than at present,) he chose to stay at his cityhouse all night; and as neither the men could be hidden, nor the character of the vessel concealed, during the day, the party hastened back, joined their vessel, and were glad to make their own escape, disappointed of their prey. It was said at the time when the secret transpired, that had he been taken, £50,000 would not have redeemed him.
Sir John Spencer had but one child, a daughter, Elizabeth, who was married, in 1594, to Lord Crompton; and as she was her father's heiress, the Canonbury estate passed into her husband's family, in which it still remains. In 1618 he was created Earl of Northampton. There is a curious account of his death on record:-"Yesterday the Lord President of Wales, the Earl of Northampton, after he had waited on the King at supper, and supped himself, went in a boat with some others to wash themselves in the Thames. So soon as his legs were in the water, though but to the knees, he had the colic, and cried out, 'Help me into the boat again, or I am but a dead man.' He died a few hours after, at his lodgings in the Savoy, within the suburbs of London, on June 24th, 1630."
Canonbury has shared the fate of other buildings in