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Caroline Barron on RCHME

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Professor Caroline Barron has kindly written a guest post for us about the importance of the London volumes of the Royal Commission series. Four of the five volumes are now freely available on British History Online and can be found here. The outstanding volume, on Roman London, will be published soon. Professor Barron writes:

The five London volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, published between 1922 and 1930 are an invaluable resource for historians of London. The industrious and indefatigable compilers recorded and photographed all the surviving buildings erected before the beginning of the eighteenth century.

This was particularly important in the case of volume 4 which covered the wards of the City of London since this, the oldest part of London, had inevitably suffered the greatest assaults upon its built fabric: the dissolution of the monastic houses in the sixteenth century, the Great Fire of 1666 and the extensive ‘improvements’ in the Victorian period. Luckily for historians, the RCHM volumes were published before the final and greatest assault upon the City, the bombing of the Second World War.

Thus we have recorded the ground plans and details of the medieval fabric of destroyed churches such as Austin Friars (the Dutch Church) and the Grey Friars (Christ Church, Newgate Street). Many of the Company Halls were also destroyed in the Blitz, but in the numerous photographs in the RCHM volume which included their fireplaces, paintings and panelling, we have a priceless record of these lost treasures.

All those who study the history of the London will need to have recourse to these volumes which preserve a unique record, in text, ground plans and photographs, of a City that is otherwise almost completely lost. What John Stow achieved in his Survey of London in 1598 was matched by the compilers of the RCHM London volumes five hundred years later. Both works are essential tools for understanding the built environment of the City of London.

Professor Caroline Barron