Robert Hooke’s Summer House
I’ve been meaning to talk about the Grange for a very long time. You may not be as familiar with the house itself as you are with its eastern outbuilding – the cute little gazebo seemingly perched on the top of its outer wall, hanging out over Crooms Hill. I’ll come to the summer house in a moment, but first we should at least peek (and frankly that’s all we’ll be able to do) at the building.
It’s very old, though it’s been remodelled so many times it’s hard to see where the age comes in. In its first incarnation, it was probably the Paternoster Croft for the Abbey of Ghent, though there’s precious little if anything left of that particular construction (and for once, I know this first hand - in one of those weird quirks of life I did actually once look round the building, from cellar to loft. Things have moved on and, sadly, I don’t think that will ever happen again.)
When it moved into private hands the Grange became home to a splendid collection of individuals – not least one of Greenwich’s very first evil developers, Sir Lancelot Lake. Queen Elizabeth’s chief joiner had lived there earlier, presumably leading an indolent life since the Queen was much happier staying in other people’s homes than forking out the cash to build her own. It was also home to the Lanier family (see Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of Crooms Hill but I promise to get on to the rest of the family some day, they really warrant their own post). Some even reckon Sir William Boreman lived there while he was remodelling Greenwich Park, but if he did he must have been a guest, given the dates.
But the man who most people associate with the Grange is the “plain, ordinary, silly man” that Sam Pepys claimed kept “the poorest mean dirty table in a dirty house that ever I did see any sheriff of London”, Sir William Hooker.* I have no idea whether Hooker warranted Pepys’s poor opinion of him, but blimey – if he was considered dirty in those days he must have really honked, given the smell of everything else…
Hooker was Lord Mayor of London, but when the plague really hit hard in 1665, he did what so many city dwellers did, move out to the countryside. I don’t know how much of the Grange he rebuilt, but it was a grand old affair by the time he finished with it. He, his wife, son and three daughters had three coach houses and kept stables for eight horses.
In 1672, he commissioned Young Turk Robert Hooke to build him a little conceit in the garden, right on the edge so that he could get a good view of the Park.
It’s a cute little building, in a sort of oriental-ish style, but with those classic Restoration touches that you can see in the Observatory which was being built at more or less the same time.
Here are some better views, taken by Stephen:
I just adore it. If you crane your neck you can just see the fabulous moulded plaster ceiling, restored, like the rest of the gazebo exactly three hundred years later in 1972.
It utterly baffles me that the current owners seem to be using it as a glorified shed, rather than holding dainty little champagne soirees, midnight feasts or fabulous sugar banquet courses in there, which is what I would be doing. Hey ho – each to his own, I guess.
There’s something else that puzzles me. The coat of arms above the window. I’m assuming it’s original, and, if it is, that it’s Hooker’s family crest, but I’ve been unable to find any mention of it at all anywhere. I am sure some local historian can help me out there.
For so many reasons – not least because only forty years separates them, and because they’re both frivolous little pleasure buildings built by men more famous for other things, but who knew which side their bread was buttered when it came to the toffs, I’ve decided to twin it with Inigo Jones’s Loo in Charlton.
Sir William Hooker, for all his mean dirtiness, wasn’t short of a few bob, and when he died in 1697 he was placed in the family vault under old St Alfege’s Church, and a splendid memorial in white marble showing him in his Alderman’s kit erected in the South Aisle. Sadly the Luftwaffe disposed of that particular piece of Greenwich history in WWII but a little memorial to Greenwich’s very own Mean, Dirty, Ordinary Man still exists in the glorious Greenwich Millennium Embroideries where Hooker can be spotted standing next to a plague doctor, rescuing a sick child.
*Not to be confused with the 18th /19th Century botanist Sir William Hooker who’s just been given a blue plaque in Kew
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