This section is from the "An Architectural And Historical Account Of Crosby Place, London" book, by Edward L. Blackburn. Also see Amazon: An Architectural And Historical Account Of Crosby Place, London.
* I do love these auncient ruines,
We never tread upon them, but we sett our foot.
Upon some reverende historic." WEBSTER.
The first reference to Crosby Place, or more correctly speaking, to the site upon which that building was afterwards erected, occurs in 1406, the 6th of Edward IV., at which time, one John Crosby,* an eminent citizen of London, obtained of Dame-Alrce Ashfelde, "Pryoresse of the house or convent of St. Helene," a lease for 99 years, of certain lands and tenements adjoining southwest of the priory precinct, at a rent of 11. 6s. 8d. per annum. Included in the lease was a house wherein he then resided, and which he held under the demise of the then "late Pryoresse, Alice Wodehous." The original deed thus de-scribes this house and the rest of the grant. It commences as follows: - "Hec indentura facta infra Aliciam Ashfelde, priorissam domme prio-ratus Sancte Helene infra Bisheoppgate, London, et ejusdem loci domentnm ex parte una, et Johanis Crosby, Civem et Grocerum, London, ex parte altera;" and proceeds to witness that the said Prioress and convent assented, consented, granted and confirmed to the said John "All that great tenement, with the appurtenances, formerly in the possession of Catanei Pinelli, merchant of Genoa,* and" then "in the tenure of the said John, and which the said John held of the demise of Alice Wodehous, late Pryoress of the said convent, situate in Bisshoppesgate Strete, in the parish of Saint Helene, London, together with a certain lane (venella) extending in length from the east gate of the said tenement unto the corner or south end of a little lane (parve venella) turning north into the close of the said pryory;" and "nine messuages in the parish of Saint Helene, of which six" were "situate by the King's highway, called Bisshoppesgate Strete, in length between the front of the aforesaid tenement and the front of the Belfry appertaining to Saint Helene's Church, and a certain messuage of the said nine messuages, which Katherine Catesby, widow, lately held, situate within the gate under the belfry, and annexed to the six messuages aforesaid; together with a certain waste piece of land in the parish aforesaid, directly, and in aright line, extending in length towards the east by the said messuage which the said Katherine Catesby lately held, from the exterior part of the plat,* or belfry gate aforesaid, abutting upon the north part of the said six messuages, by the Kinge's Strete aforesaid, unto the church-yard there, fifty-eight feet and a-half of assize, * and from thence extending in breadth towards the south, directly unto a certain tenement," then "late in the tenure of Robert Smyth;" which latter tenement, with another of "the said nine messuages in the tenure of the said John;" the description concludes with remarking, were "jointly situate within the Priory Close".
* For a brief Memoir of this John Crosby, see Appendix, No. 1.
* Many merchants of Genoa and other states of Italy, were located in London at this time ; the trade in Genoa velvets, and other rich stuffs, afforded extensive employment and profit to them.
* An old term for plan; a variation of the word plot, has continued in use to the present time.
* Stow, in describing the premises granted to Antonio Bonvisi, by Henry VIII., gives this length as five feet and a-half; and he has been followed by all the after writers on the subject. This must be either a typographical error of the printer of "Stow's Surrey," or a mis-translation of Stow himself; for the words of the original deed are as follow: - "ab exteriore parte de la place sive poste campanil predictus, abbuttante super partem borialem dictos sex mesuagios per Regiam stratam predictus in limiterium ibidem quinquaginta octo pedes et dimidium assize." Five feet and a-half would not extend a third part of the depth of the houses in the line of the street; fifty-eight feet and a-half would about range with the north-east angle of the hall, as it now appears towards St. Helen's, which agrees with the old and present plans of the property.
By this it would appear that the ground leased to John Crosby, extended from north to south, or nearly in that direction, along the line of the "Kinge's Strete," as Bishopsgate, Street was then called, a distance of about one hundred and ten feet, having the Foregate* of the great tenement in which he then lived for its southern, and the house immediately in front of the belfry, for its northern boundary. This house projected towards the street in front of the belfry, about ten feet, occupying the site of the present White Lion public-house, at the back of which, and, probably, partly extending over the present opening to St. Helen's, stood the belfry of St. Helen's Church,* and the gate leading into the Priory Close. From the outer angle of the belfry, the line ran to the east, fifty-eight feet and a-half, extending to a point nearly in a line with the northeast angle of the present hall of Crosby Place, and from thence turned towards the south, home to the tenement held by Robert Smyth, which would thus appear to have stood on the site of the erection, now attached to the north end of that building. Whether from this point Crosby's ground extended again eastward, or followed the direction visible in the present plan of the estate, which, it may be remarked, agrees exactly with one which was drawn as a guide to the formation of the present square about 1683, is not, I imagine, to be with certainty now ascertained. The latter seems to be its most probable inclination, for on both the plans referred to, the boundary line is shown as taking an irregular course to a point a little east of the north-east angle of the modern Crosby Square, and from thence, nearly due south, to the lane now leading to St. Mary-Axe, which is without doubt the Venella described in the demise, upon which the back gate of the great tenement is represented to have opened, nearly, if not exactly, in the situation of the one now in use.* It may be added, that the buildings of Crosby Place, as it appeared in the time of Henry VIII., reached a point, described in an old deed of that period, as an "alley within the close of St. Helen;" for, in 1538, Antonio Bonvisi, who at that time held Crosby Place, obtained of Dame Mary Rollestey, then "Pryoress of St. Helen's," a lease of a tenement or chamber situate in this alley, which tenement is described as joining on the larder-house and cole-house of the said Antonio, and as being formerly in the possession of one Julian Fraunce.