How To Experience Medieval London

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry | © Myrabella/WikiCommons
Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry | © Myrabella/WikiCommons
Photo of Harriet Clugston
14 November 2016

As you know, Britain in the Middle Ages was a beautiful place, filled with knights in shining armour, chivalric tales, travelling bards, court jesters and pastoral romance. It was also a place with rampant plague, casual torture and excrement festering in the streets. Okay, so basically, everyone should be very happy not to be living in medieval times, but that doesn’t mean they can’t indulge in a bit of romantic reminiscence from time to time – on that front, London’s got plenty to offer. Here is the best in medieval food, drink and architecture to get you living that Middle Age lifestyle.

Feast On A Medieval Banquet

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Spend an evening at a medieval court with this unique dining experience in the beautiful St Katharine’s Docks. Fittingly located just a short walk from the Tower of London, The Medieval Banquet offers diners a four-course feast, all dished out by authentically garbed servers, and accompanied by medieval-style music and entertainment from a team of character actors (including Henry VIII), contortionists, jugglers, minstrels and a gang of duelling knights.

See The Original London Bridge

Bridge, Church
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The small church of St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street is located just next to London Bridge. However, it also sits atop the site of the old London Bridge, which was demolished in 1831; it stood for over 600 years, having been completed in the early 1200s. The pedestrian entrance to the old bridge can still be seen, built into the church’s tower, which is marked with a plaque. The church’s courtyard also contains stones from the original medieval bridge, while inside, visitors can find an incredibly detailed, four-metre-long model of the old bridge, complete with hundreds of miniature medieval Londoners.

Experience A Notorious Medieval Prison

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The Clink prison museum
The Clink prison museum | © Nando Machado / Alamy Stock Photo
The Clink Prison was a notorious prison which operated in Southwark in the 12th century, and which gave its name to the now common slang term, ‘the clink’. Inmates of the prison, particularly the poorer ones, were kept in abominably bad conditions and often exploited or starved by their jailers, leading to a number of riots and breakouts. The Clink Museum stands atop the historic site (the prison having been burnt down in 1780 in an attempt to free its inmates) and aims to recreate the original prison environment, complete with grisly props and macabre tales.

Take A Wander Around A Museum

A number of the city’s museums are great for getting to grips with London’s medieval era. The Museum of London, which takes visitors on a journey through the city’s history, contains around 12,000 items from the medieval period, with a strong selection of commonplace, domestic pieces painting a picture of what life was like for ordinary Londoners. For a more general overview, head over to the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum for some fantastic gallery spaces filled with medieval art, tapestries and weapons.

The British Museum | ©M.chohan/Wikicommons

Embark On A Medieval Wine Tour

Learn about the boozy exploits of medieval Londoners with this two-and-a-half-hour walking tour of the City, led by popular historian Dr Matthew Green, author of the acclaimed London: A Travel Guide Through Time. Dr Green’s vivid stories and fascinating facts bring the medieval world to life, with the help of a few character actors and minstrels hidden on the route. Participants get the full flavour of the era, with the tour stopping off at a number of hidden bars for a spot of medieval wine tasting.

Explore A Medieval Building

Despite the Great Fire of 1666’s best efforts, London is jam-packed with medieval monuments and buildings. The Tower of London, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror and expanded by several subsequent monarchs, is no doubt the most famous. Visitors to the tower can take a tour of the ancient keep, guided by the iconic Beefeaters (who have existed since the 1400s), explore the medieval palace (recreated in the luxurious furnishings enjoyed by King Henry III), and get to grips with the mechanisms of torture in the Middle Ages. Another good bet is to pay a visit to one of London’s several medieval churches; St Olave in Hart Street, St Etheldreda’s in Holborn, St Helen’s in Bishopsgate and St Giles-without-Cripplegate are all beautiful examples. Guildhall, also in the City, is one of London’s oldest non-ecclesiastical buildings. Built in the 1400s, it contains a magnificent medieval hall and London’s largest medieval crypt; just check in at reception and take a look around.

Tower of London | ©Dun.can/Flickr