Durham House

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Durham House or Inn, the property of the Bishop of Durham, had been built by Thomas de Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, about 1345. It was a fine large building with chapel and hail, the latter very stately and high, supported by lofty marble pillars.

It had its gatehouse on the Strand side, passing under which you came into a large courtyard, with the hall and chapel facing you, and with private apartments looking on to the river. It was described as a noble palace, befitting the Prince - Bishops of Durham, and like the Savoy was nearer to the river than the street.

Henry the Fourth, and his son Henry Prince of Wales, and their retinues, stayed here on one occasion, so that it was large and spacious. It remained in the possession of the See of Durham until the time of Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, who conveyed the house in fee to Henry the Eighth.

Why the King, with so many palaces and manors on his hands, should want this, unless to reward some of the greedy swarm of courtiers who surrounded him, is unknown. The King promised him Coldharbour and other houses, which the Bishop never got.

Edward the Sixth granted it to the Princess Elizabeth for life, or until she was otherwise advanced. When Mary came to the throne Bishop Tunstall had no place to come to in London, so Mary promptly took Durham House away from Elizabeth and gave it back to the Bishop, who had been the very one to alienate it.

What with that and other changes, the Bishop could hardly have known where he stood. Promoted by Henry the Eighth to Durham, but his house taken away from him; deprived of the See of Durham by Edward the Sixth and the bishopric dissolved; restored to everything by Mary, including his house, in 1552; deprived of everything again by Elizabeth, he must have been made fairly giddy by these frequent turns of the wheel of fortune.

From then until 1583 Elizabeth kept it in her own hands, and in that year bestowed it upon Sir Walter Raleigh, who lived here until the death of Elizabeth, which the then Bishop of Durham thought a good opportunity to lay claim to the property on the part of the See.

Raleigh's sun had set, and James, who from his first arrival in England had treated him with suspicion, was not sorry when his Privy Council decided against Raleigh. It was in vain for him to remonstrate and show that he had spent £2000 upon it for repairs. Might was right as much with James as it had been with his Tudor relatives and predecessors.

Aubrey said that he well remembered the room which Raleigh used as his study, which was in a little turret that looked into and over the Thames, and a fair view it must have been of the sunlit river round the curve to Westminster. No factories or chimneys or miles of houses to obstruct the view towards the Surrey hills, and no vile railway bridge or huge terminus to shut out from sight the turrets and bay windows of Whitehall.

Neither Tobias Matthew, who was Bishop of Durham at the time, nor any other bishop came back to this house, and it must have become ruinous. The stables were turned into the "New Exchange," with an upper and lower range of shops, on each side of a central alley, and occupied by milliners and sempstresses.

The best portion of the house was tenanted by Lord Keeper Coventry, who died here in 1640; and what remained of it was subsequently obtained by Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, who intended to have built a fine house on the site. The arrangement made with the See of Durham was that he was to pay £200 per annum.

The new house was never built, and the Earl of Pembroke made a street through the old remains down to the river, called Durham Street.

The last portion of Durham House was cleared away early in the reign of George the Third, when the brothers Adam built the Adelphi, raising the whole level on lofty arches.

The upper portion of Durham Street at the Strand end still exists, a short, steep street, plunging down under the Society of Arts and disappearing in the gloom of the dark arches of the Adelphi.

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