By Alexis Haslam, community archaeologist
Some strange markings have begun to appear on the lawn just outside the café. These lines were particularly visible in July 2018 when the heatwave left our main lawn looking incredibly dry. Subject to a visit from ‘Hidden Britain by Drone’, and even a Fulham Palace video, these ‘parchmarks’ certainly generated a keen level of public interest and are currently visible on google maps.
So, as I’m sure we are all now aware, the lines do of course represent the foundations of our former medieval chapel. First referenced in 1231 in the Celebrated Charter of Roger (Roger Niger, Bishop of London 1228 – 41), the chapel stood roughly where the café and Bishop Terrick’s rooms are situated today. It was in this chapel that William Warham was promoted to the See of London in 1502, where Bonner administered articles to ‘heretics’ in the 16th century and where the bell in the courtyard most probably hung (and rung) in the days of Bishop Compton.
During the late 18th century the architect-builder Stiff Leadbetter quoted a sum of £200 to repair the chapel which was now at least 500 years old and in a somewhat dilapidated state. Bishop Terrick (1764-77) made the decision to undertake widescale alterations to the Palace. The old medieval core was swept away and the Strawberry Hill Gothic inspired Palace was constructed by Leadbetter in its place. The chapel was demolished in August of 1764. No known drawings other than basic plans survive.
So, other than the footprints of a part of this building that appear in exceptionally dry periods, what do we know about our old chapel? For this we have to rely on William Dickes’ Parliamentary Survey of 1647 which was undertaken during the Civil War.
A quick history lesson – the origins of this survey lie in the ‘Root and Branch Petition’ which was presented to the Long Parliament in 1640. Essentially this petition was produced by Londoners keen to ban episcopacy – the hierarchical system of Bishops. It failed to pass as a Bill in 1641, but did result in Bishops being excluded from the House of Lords under the ‘Bishops Exclusion Act’ in 1642. These can’t have been great times for Bishop Juxon, and got worse in October 1646 when Parliament passed ‘An Ordinance for the abolishing of Archbishops and Bishops within the Kingdom of England, and Dominion of Wales, and for the setling of their Lands and Possessions upon Trustees, for the use of the Commonwealth.’ A catchy little title there.
What the Parliamentarians were stipulating here was that, as the Bishops had generally supported the Royalists, it was fair game to seize their lands and sell them to support the war effort. William Webb was eventually appointed as the Surveyor General of Crown and Church Lands, but it was the duty of the individual surveyors to discover the true values of the estates and to use their ‘best skill and cunning’ to make true particulars. They even had to swear an oath. Fulham Palace was tasked to William Dickes and so, in a bizarre twist of fate, it was the banning of the Bishops and the selling of the land that has provided us with the most informative representation of the medieval and Tudor elements of the Palace prior to their partial demolition. It would have been handy if he’d planned it, but you can’t have everything I suppose.
The chapel is described as having seats and a pulpit. There was vestry at the entrance and a still house for making medicines beneath it. Above the entrance and vestry were two small rooms, whilst the chapel also incorporated a further two rooms and a woodhouse. A small beer cellar, a strong beer cellar and a charcoal room were situated on the north side, whilst there was also a wine cellar beneath the chapel itself. Attached to the chapel along its northern edge was a stone gallery which had a matted and wainscoted great gallery at its upper level.
With those cellars still down there maybe, just maybe, they’ll let us dig it up one day. We live in hope!