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The best seats in the house

St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse in Cloth Fair is definitely a fine old Elizabethan building. Well that’s not strictly true. It is and it isn’t. The framework is, but the exterior has been restored, but that doesn’t make it any the less interesting.

If it hadn’t been for Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy the commander of a First World War Zeppelin, we probably wouldn’t even know that the timber framed building existed. Mathy’s airship was part of a raid on London on September 8th 1915. They dropped bombs from Bloomsbury to the City which killed 20 people and caused more than £200,000 worth of damage. One of the bombs landed nearby and the blast dislodged bricks from the facade and slates from the roof, revealing the Elizabethan timber structure below.

The entrance of the gatehouse looks out over the area of The Elms, West Smithfield, the prime execution venue in 15th & 16th century London. The rooms at the top of the building gave an uninterrupted view over the heads of the great unwashed gathered to witness the executions. It is documented that Queen Mary sat at the window eating chicken and drinking wine, while watching protestant martyrs burn at the stake, which was situated just to the left of the entrance.

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