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the 'Old Palace' at Bromley-by-Bow

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1606 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak panelling, with carved pilasters, freize and overmantel; limestone fireplace; moulded plaster ceiling (museum no. 51-1894); the floor a modern replica

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, Bromley-by-Bow Room []

Object Type
This was the parlour of the house and its exuberant classical ornament is typical of the period. Originally the room had two windows overlooking a garden, to the right of the chimney-piece, and a doorway opposite the chimney-piece, which led into a passage.

The panelling is divided by six Doric pilasters, or rectangular columns. These and the frieze that encircles the room at ceiling height are decorated with strapwork ornament. The elaborate overmantel contains a variety of carved decoration. The four caryatids (pillars in the form of women) derive from a series of engravings entitled Caryatidae by the Netherlandish designer Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-?1606). Below them, two figures in niches represent Peace and Plenty. At the base, a panel of strapwork ornament surmounts two pilasters.

The stone chimney-piece features a frieze of carved birds and monsters, which were probably originally picked out in gold and colours.

Historical Associations
By 1750 the house was no longer a private dwelling but the 'Old Palace School'. In 1894 it was demolished. This destruction caused an outcry, led by the artist and designer C.R. Ashbee, which inaugurated the organised preservation of London's architectural history.

Physical description

Description taken from London 1914:
The paneling is divided at intervals by six Doric pilasters with plain moulded bases, pedestals, and capitals, the shafts being decorated with a netted arrangement of interlacing straps, known as strap ornament, elaborately worked in low relief. At the ceiling level is a richly ornamented oak freize with strapwork panels of similar relief but of different design, separated by brackets, with a dentil moulding above, the whole being surmounted by an ogee cornice. The brackets dividing the panels and supporting the cornice are formed each of a combination of triglyph and console. They occur over every stile of the paneling and are repeated twice over the pilasters.

The oak overmantel has in the centre the royal arms of James I carved in very high relief. The shield is: Quaterly, 1st and 4th the arms of England and France quartered, 2nd Scotland, 3rd Ireland, encircled by the garter with the motto HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, and supported by the lion and unicorn with elaborate mantling. Below is a shaped label with the motto DIEU ET MON DROIT, and above the shield, a crowned helmet surmounted by a lion passant gardant. The arms rest on a ledge, supported by modillions, and having in the centre a breacket in the form of a grotesque mask with an oblong pane, of scrollwork on either side. On each side of the arms is a niche carved and grooved inside and surrounded with nail-head ornament, containing figures of Peace and Plenty respectively, carved in elm and formerly gilded. Each is set in an architectural frame with base and entablature supported by carved and fluted columns. These are surmounted on the inner ends by tapering obelisks, resting on four balls, upon bases pierced with four round-headed arches. (cf Croscombe Church, Somerset; St Johns church, Leeds). On each of the inner ends of the entablature is a pair of terminal figures of grotesque female form supporting a cornice carved with three consoles and forming a framework to the coat of arms. Rising above this is a curved pediment of open strapwork and below, in he angles at either end and resting on the entablature, is a similar ornament of bracket shape. The whole ovemantel rests on a long shelf, of which the front, of quarter-round section, is carved with strapwork ornament and grotesques, and with four bosses in the form of terminal figures, male and female one below the base of each of the columns. This is supported by oak pilasters or caryatides, one of which flanks the opening of the fireplace on either end. These, in conjunction with the mantel-shelf, form a framework to the stone lining; that on the left being surmounted by a small finely-carved male bust, and that on the right by a female; while the terminal-shaped shaft of each, carved with a festoon of drapery and split baluster ornament, rests on a pedestal in the form of masonry with a moulded base. On arrival at the Museum, the fireplace was thickly covered with successive coats of paint, the removal of which revealed the richness and quality of the carving.

The plaster ceiling (museum no. 51-1894), original to the room, is planned on a pattern of intersecting squares, quatrefoils, and shaped panels, with eight enriched pendants hanging from the point of intersection of the strapwork ribs; the ribs being moulded with a trailing pattern of fruit and flowers. The centres of sixe of the quatrefoils are occupied by circular medallions surmounted by wreaths and winged cherub heads, and containing full-faced bearded busts representing three of the Nine Worthies, inscribed 'IOSUE.DUX', 'HECTOR.TRO', ALEXANDER', each head being repeated twice. The remaining quatrefoil in the centre of the ceiling contains the shield of James I bearing the royal arms, as on the overmantel, but without the supporters, and surmounted with a crown on the side of which are the letters I.R. each of the shaped panels contains a conventional floral pattern of sprigs, sprays and fruit.

The oak floor boards displayed with the panelling since 2001 are not original to it; they are salvaged floorboards acquired c.2000 as 'dressing' for the room.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1606 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Oak panelling, with carved pilasters, freize and overmantel; limestone fireplace; moulded plaster ceiling (museum no. 51-1894); the floor a modern replica


Height: 373.5 cm, Width: 853.5 cm, Depth: 625 cm

Object history note

Panelling bought for £75 from Mr J. Binns, 186 Brompton Road, London SW7 (RP 31061/1894 on nominal file Bromley by Bow; fireplace bought for £150 from the School Board for London, Victoria Embankment, London WC RP 36441/1894.

The obelisks, and figures of Peace and Plenty on the fireplace, which had previously been taken from the room, were given to the Museum in 1901 by Miss A. Papineau, who lived in the Palace until 1869. Clifford Smith (1914) suggests that the stone chimney-piece (21-1894) from the adjoining NW room on the ground floor is probably by the same hand as the stonework of that in the State Room.

From London 1914 (Clifford Smith)
For about a century after being divided in about 1750, the house was occupied as a boarding school, and was known as Palace House School. From 1874 until its destruction, part of the building was used as a club and part finally as a lodging house , the remainder being occupied by a firm of colour-workers, who used the 'State Room' as a store. In 1893 the School Board for London acquired the property for the purpose of erecting a school. They repurchased the mantelpiece of the 'State Room' which had been sold with the rest of the house to a firm of house-breakers, and afterwards transferred their purchase to the Museum, for which the paneling and ceiling, a stone chimney-piece from an adjoining room and an archway from the hall had already been acquired. A few plaster details from ceilings and freizes in other rooms (not specified), parts of the original oak mullioned windows, some leaded glass and some painted panels (nos. 1282-1282x-1900), were afterwards presented in 1900 by the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, who were influential in securing the paneled room for the Museum.

At the time of demolition, the room, which was situated on the ground loor at the back of the house, was fitted with a partition, two pinewood doorways, one on either side of the fireplace, three sash-windows, and an inner marble mantel-piece (added in the 18th century). As first set up in the Museum the paneling was slightly rearranged and parts renewed. Paneling from the fourth wall between the sash windows was used to fill the space occupied by the pinewood doorways.

Historical context note

Panelled room and ceiling from ‘Old Palace’ Bromley-by-Bow, 1606 [Information Sheet (2001)]

The House
The house was known in the 19th century as the Old Palace in Bromley-by-Bow. It was built in 1606, possibly by John Thorpe (active about 1570-1610). Bromley-by-Bow was at that time a countryside village outside London, within easy reach of the city. The house was a substantial, rectangular, four-storey house in red brick with two projecting towers at the front, and about 24 rooms.

There is no evidence for the popular idea that it was built or used as a hunting lodge by James I. This notion was probably based on the carving of his arms in the overmantel. It is more convincing to imagine the house as a suburban retreat of, say, a wealthy London citizen, a merchant or courtier, someone with means and pretension. The use of royal arms in the chimneypiece and ceiling do not mean that it was a royal property. They may have been used to express loyalty or even to obscure the fact that the owner did not possess a coat of arms himself. By courtier standards it was not a large house.

The house was re-fitted in 1660-1670 and, more substantially, in about 1750, when it was divided into two dwellings, then used variously as a school, as business premises and as a lodging house. The house was demolished in 1894. The architect C.R. Ashbee argued for the ‘saving’ of this room (an early example of preservation activism) and it was bought by the South Kensington Museum (the fore-runner of the V&A). The panelling and chimneypiece were stripped at that time of later paint layers.

The Room
This was the largest and grandest ground floor room, probably a parlour, although it is unusual to find a parlour so richly decorated with panelling and a plastered ceiling, and unusual to find such elements surviving after nearly five centuries. Another room in the house - the principal chamber on the first floor - would have been the highest status room, used for entertaining important guests. This had the best plaster ceiling in the house (partially dismantled long before 1894). For a house of 1606 we cannot speak of an architect acting as he would have done in the 18th or 19th centuries; its more realistic to think of the design of a house being drawn up by the patron with the help of a surveyor or mason. Likewise the elements of decoration in a room like this would have been agreed not by an interior designer but by the client with the various craftsmen – joiners, masons and plasterers

The Panelling
The panelling on the walls is of plain oak. It is divided by six Doric pilasters with low-relief strap ornament, with a carved oak frieze. These exuberant elements of classical ornament are typical of the period and very similar panelled rooms exist at Hardwick House, Whitchurch, Oxfordshire and Mapledurham House, Oxfordshire. Originally the room had two windows overlooking a garden (on your right if you look at the chimneypiece) and a doorway opposite the chimneypiece, which led into a passage. The panelling was rearranged when it was first displayed in the museum, so that the two replacement sash windows and two replacement door-frames either side of the chimney piece, (which had been added later to the room), were removed. The panelling has been moved at least once subsequently.

The Chimneypiece
The chimneypiece is the dominant feature of the room. It is carved in oak with the royal arms of James I, flanked by elm figures (originally gilded) representing Peace and Plenty; the whole set within an architectural framework of fluted columns. A limestone fireplace is carved in high-relief with birds and monsters.

The Plaster Ceiling
This is original, with enriched geometrical designs and pendants. It represents the peak of Elizabethan and Jacobean plasterwork, with a small-scale design of the type that was popular between 1560 and 1620. It includes 6 medallions representing 3 of the Nine Worthies (Joshua, Hector and Alexander) and the royal arms of James I. The Nine Worthies (traditionally 3 pagans, 3 Jews and 3 Christians) were a popular Renaissance idea for emblematic decoration.

Ceilings of this type were white-washed, rather than coloured. Many other houses in and around London would have had similar ceilings, some with identical elements. Wooden moulds may have been re-used by teams of itinerant plasterers, though it is also likely that the carvers of different wooden moulds based their designs on the same print sources. Ceilings with matching motifs survive from or at a number of houses in England and Scotland (Sir Paul Pindar’s House, Bishopsgate; London; Canonbury House; Mapledurham House, Oxfordshire; Bramshill, Hampshire; Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire; Merchison Castle, Edinburgh; Glamis Castle, Forfarshire,1620; Balcarres House, Fife; Muchalls, 1624).

What is new?
Because there is no evidence, either written or visual, for the appearance of the window wall, no attempt has been made to re-create this. Instead, the ‘wall’ has been treated in an abstract manner and will be used to show an embroidered table carpet of the kind that would have formed part of the furnishings of the room. From a bench alongside the wall visitors, if they wish, will be able to listen to a short programme of music that was composed in the years when the room was first built and decorated. A new oak floor has been added, using old, salvaged boards of exceptional width. The hearth and base has been reconstructed of salvaged Tudor bricks. The room is dressed with 17th century furniture along one wall, including a tapestry, indicating the importance of textiles in interiors of this period.

Descriptive line

State Room from the 'Old Palace', Bromley-by-Bow, wood panelled, 1606

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

LONDON, Victoria & Albert Museum [H. Clifford Smith]: The Panelled Rooms. 1. The Bromley Room. (1914, rev. 1922)
From: H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork (London 1930), 636, Plate 42 and 677 (arch)
Tara Hambling “ ‘Wanting arms: Heraldic decoration in Lesser Houses”, in Nigel Ramsay (ed.), Heralds and Heraldry in Shakespeare’s England (Donington, 2014)
R. Davis Benn, ‘The Seventeenth Century Room at South Kensington’ in The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, May 1898 no. 215 vol. XVIIII, pp. 289-293;
R. Davis Benn, ‘The Seventeenth Century Room at South Kensington’ in The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, May 1898 no. 216 vol. XVIIII, pp. 317-322;

The two articles are illustrated with scale drawings showing details of the room and the furniture on display. Article describes how the room was furnished with portraits and the following furniture of various dates c1600-1700: two court cupboards (one on loan from Miss E. Mackworth Dolben), a sideboard, footstool, chair and eleven chairs (one upholstered), two gateleg tables, a brass wall candelabra and iron firedogs.

Eleanor Rowe, Practical Wood-Carving; part 1 Elementary (London, 1907), p 60-61. Ill.
'A great deal of flat carving was done in England during the Jacobean period, and an interesting example is given from the 'Old Palace' at Bromley-by-Bow. It is a stepping stone for the carver from this chapter to the next, as the pattrn is very slightly modelled. It is well designed, and the margin is skillfully worked in with the pattern, which is also well balanced with the ground spaces.'

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This room was the grandest ground-floor room of a house built at Bromley-by-Bow, to the east of London, in the first years of the reign of James I (1603-1625). Tradition says that the house was used by the the king as a hunting lodge but it is more likely to have been the second home of a coutier or wealthy London merchant: the royal arms carved on the overmantel may indicate simply that the owner was not entitled to any of his own. The room is shown with furnishings made between 1580 and 1620, with some smaller pieces that are reproductions. [22/11/2001]
British Galleries period room book:
A room from a house at Bromley-by-Bow, near London

The house, later known as 'The Old Palace'
The house from which this room came was marked with a stone dated 1606 and was probably built in that year. By the time the house was demolished in 1894, it was called 'The Old Palace' and there was a local tradition that it had been used as a hunting-lodge by James I. This tradition may have come about in part because the royal arms are carved on this overmantel, but there is no solid evidence for the story. [79]

It is more likely that the house was built as a second home by a London merchant or courtier. Bromley-by-Bow was then a pleasant country area, but easily accessible from London. The house was a substantial, four-storey building in red brick, with two projecting towers at the front and about 24 rooms. It was similar in design to other houses recorded in drawings by the surveyor John Thorpe, which date from about 1590 to 1625, but we cannot be sure who designed this house. Although it was not a large house by courtly standards, it was certainly built by someone of means and pretension. Surviving houses of this kind in London are Sutton House, Hackney and Eastbury House, Barking, both open to the public.[133]

The house was refurbished in 1660-1670 and, more substantially about 1750, when it was divided into two dwellings. It was demolished in 1894 to make way for a school, at which time this, the best surviving room of the house, was purchased by the Museum, following a public campaign to save it. [46]
[Map showing location of Bromley-by-Bow]

The room
This room was the grandest room on the ground floor. It overlooked the garden and was probably a parlour, used for dining or receiving visitors and as a room for the owner to relax in comfort and privacy. It was not the grandest room in the house. That was on the first floor, where the most important guests would have been entertained. [60]

This room was, even so, richly decorated. The panelling, overmantel and ceiling are rare survivals today, but similar ones would have been found in numerous houses in and around London in about 1600. The carving reflects the latest Renaissance style in details such as the pilasters that divide the panelling. These are carved at the top with plain, classical capitals and with bands of strapwork down their length. On the overmantel are figures of Peace to the left, with frond or branch and Plenty to the right, with a cornucopia. [80]

The plaster ceiling is original and represents the best Jacobean plasterwork. Ceilings of this type were always whitewashed, rather than coloured, but were decorated with elaborate relief ornament that was cast from wooden moulds.

Six plaster medallions on the ceiling represent Joshua, Hector and Alexander. These are three of a traditional group of 'Nine Worthies', that included 3 classical heroes, 3 Jewish and 3 Christian. The fact that the royal arms of James I appear on the overmantel and ceiling does not mean that the house was a royal property. They may have been used to express the loyalty of the owner or, indeed, to hide the fact that he did not possess his own coat of arms. [122]
[Plan of ground-floor of house showing location of room]

[Photo of the room in situ at Bromley-by-Bow]

The room in 1894, just before the house was finally demolished

The Room Today

When the house faced demolition in 1893, the architect and designer C.R. Ashbee (1863-1942) led a protest against its demolition. This was one of the first public campaigns to prevent the destruction of a historic building and led directly to the Museum buying the panelling and plasterwork of the best-surviving room. [56]

Originally the room had two windows, in the long wall that is now missing, and a door opposite the chimney-piece, which led to a passage. In the 18th century the original casement windows were replaced with sash windows and a door was cut through the panelling on each side of the chimney-piece. When the room was dismantled these later additions were not saved. [62]

No written descriptions exist of the original window wall and there are no surviving drawings to record what it looked like. Because of this, no attempt has been made to recreate it. The original floor did not survive but this one has been made up of old oak planks of different widths, as the original floor would have been. The hearth space, which had not survived, has been reconstructed using salvaged Tudor bricks. [72]

[Ashbee drawing]
C.R. Ashbee's drawing of the room in 1893 [22/11/2001]
Part of a PANELLED ROOM removed from the 'OLD PALACE', in BROMLEY-BY-BOW. English; about 1606
This room, originally known as the 'State Room', was preserved when the 'Old Palace' was demolished to make way for a school. The house was erected in 1606 and, although no documentary evidence has been discovered, it is very probable that it was built as a hunting lodge for King James I who owned the Manor of Bromley, and whose arms, mottoes, crest and initials figure prominently in the decoration of this room.

The division of the oak paneling into bays by pilasters is similar to the arrangement of the Inlaid Room from Sizergh Castle, also in the Museum. A most remarkable feature is the carved overmantle with the Royal arms and figures of Peace and Plenty, reflecting the influence of Flemish architectural pattern books: it was probably originally painted in gold and colours. and its design reflects the influence of Flemish pattern-books. The ceiling is decorated with strapwork, the shield and initials of James I, and follows a general plan of this period. The cartouches of cherubs containing bearded busts inscribed: IOSUE;DUX; HECTOR.TRO, ALEXANDER, representing three of the Nine Worthies, are similar to certain Scottish ceilings, and make it probable that Scottish workmen were employed in the building of the 'Old Palace'. [1968]
This oak paneling comes from the State Room of the building known as the Old Palace at Bromley-by-Bow in east London, which was demolished in 1893 to make way for a school. The building had been erected in 1606, probably as a hunting lodge for James I who owned the manor of Bromley and whose arms, mottoes and crest figure prominently in the decoration of the room.

The division of the paneling into bays by pilasters is similar to the arrangement of the Inlaid Room from Sizergh Castle shown in Gallery 52. The most remarkable feature is the carved overmantel which may originally have been gilded and coloured; it bears the Royal Arms with figures of Peace and Plenty and its design reflects the influence of Flemish pattern-books. The ceiling follows a plan common at this period with strapwork decoration surrounding the arms and initials of James I; cartouches supported by cherubs contain bearded busts with the inscriptions 'IOSUE.DUX', 'HECTOR.TRO', ALEXANDER', representing three of the Nine Worthies. Some houses in Scotland have ceilings with similar decoration. The King is believed to have founded a Scottish settlement in the area of Bromley, and Scottish workmen may have been employed in the decoration of the Old Palace. [June 1989]


Oak; Plaster




Architectural fittings; Interiors; Woodwork; Scotland


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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