Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington and, among its many treasures, you’ll find a rare survival of pre-Great Fire architecture from the City of London. Peter Pindar’s house originally stood on Bishopsgate, about where Liverpool Street Station now stands. When the station was developed the Chairman and Directors of the Great Eastern Railway Company gave it to the museum.
It’s made of oak and dates from around 1600, when merchant Paul Pindar had it built - more of him later. The impressive full-height windows would have originally been glazed, either with imported glass or local greenish glass. The semi-circular window shape was a type used in grand houses since the 1530s. The storeys project over the one beneath, a feature known as ‘jettying’, a design common in English timber houses from the 1300s. ‘Grotesque’ brackets would have been added to support the jettying.
The panels used to decorate the house were a new concept in design and probably could have been chosen from pattern books. They’re quite thick, 7.5cm deep, and again, made from solid oak, carved and nailed onto the oak framework. You can see the arms of the City of London in the centre; also look for the thistle - in reference to the new king, James I.
Pindar would have used the standard London practice of using a pre-assembled timber frame, as it was quicker and cheaper than brick or stone. The timbers would have been measured and cut in the carpenter’s yard, then assembled on the spot, using mortice and tenon joints, and fastened using pegs. You can see some of the carpenter’s marks on the timber.
What is extraordinary is that modern buildings in the City are still constructed in a similar way! As the streets are still so narrow, it’s easier to pre-fabricate much of the building off-site, ship it in and build upwards. In medieval times you would have visited Wood Street, off Cheapside, to get your Ikea-style house. Evidence suggests that the exterior was painted in glossy red-brown and contrasting pale stone paint but this was removed in the 1890s.
Very much a feature on houses after the Great Fire of 1666, which burnt some 80% of the City of London (but not this area of London) are insurance marks. One belonged to the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Society and was issued on the 31st July 1738: "Policy No. 65010. HON.able MARY GRIMSTONE of St. Geo: Hanover Square. Widow on a House valued £100 Brick and £250 Timber on ye West Side of Bishopsgate Street and on ye South Side of Half Moon Alley in ye parish of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, being a Corner House and known by ye Sign of ye Paul Pindars Head Ale House in poss.en of HENRY HIXON. [total] £350’.
Paul Pindar himself was a wealthy merchant and diplomat who was born about 1565. He spent much of his early life abroad but as he approached old age he retired to London and made use of his considerable wealth by contributing to the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. The Civil War ruined Pindar and he died in debt around 1650. In 1597 he bought a considerable plot in Bishopsgate Without - that is to say, outside the City walls, just beyond the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate. 400 years ago this was a major road out of the City, paved no less.
In estate agent terms it was close to all modern conveniences: just a 20-minute walk to St Paul’s Cathedral, the shops on Cheapside and the new Royal Exchange on Cornhill. The 3-storey house also had an attractive garden which overlooked the open land of Moorfields and Finsbury Fields. In those days Pindar’s house would have stood out as one of the finest houses in London. Indeed, it was used by the Venetian ambassador in 1617-18, whose chaplain described it as ‘a very commodious mansion’. By 1660 it had already been divided up and soon given over to the London workhouse. By the time it was demolished the house had become the Paul Pindar’s Head pub and stood between a coffeehouse and a pianoforte maker. It looks far more at home here.