Top 5 Places For Graffiti Not Far From London

When I first started out on my adventure in medieval graffiti land it was always so frustrating to see the cool things that came out of small churches that usually required a car to get to. I lacked a car, and most of my Londoner friends also lacked cars. It was like everything I wanted to do was out of reach. Obviously this was not true, and I went and stretched my legs, hopped trains, and ended up finding plenty of graffiti nearish London.  So if you’re based in London and car-less this post is for you!  (Note: these are in no particular order. I refuse to rank things like that!)

1. The Tower of London

OK let’s just get this one out of the way. Yes it’s touristy. Yes it’s often crowded. No it’s not a church. But there are some really amazing examples of graffiti at the tower. The obvious hotspot for graffiti will be Beauchamp tower – with beautiful and intricate examples of graffiti from various prisoners. If you go during the week and early in the morning it’ll likely be a quiet tower to visit. Salt tower also has some wonderful examples. But if you pay close attention you will find inscriptions pretty much all over the place!

2. Hampton Court Palace

Again. I’m sorry. Tourist filled. But there’s some really amazing stuff here! The processional gallery is my personal favourite spot for historic graffiti, but keep an eye on all the doorways and in some cases – the doors themselves here! You’ll find apotropaic marks, handprints, and in some cases full names with regimental information scattered throughout the palace.

3. Canterbury Cathedral

I knew you were wondering when I was going to start blithering on about churches. Well my friends…that time is now. Canterbury cathedral (like many cathedrals) is a treasure trove of all sorts of wonderful graffiti. One of my favourite inscriptions ever comes from this place – I’ve made special note of him below. The crypt has some great images of Christ, as well as at least one axe!  Make sure you also spend some time in the cloisters for graffiti from all completely different time periods. Meanwhile, inside you can find shoes, hands, horseshoes, stars, names, faces that are just a bit judgey….

4. Winchester Cathedral

My second most favourite inscription ever is here (Harey Coppar, wherever you are now….thanks for bringing me amused joy). You’ll have to look upwards for it though. The usual ‘cathedral level of selection’ is present here. Stick to pillars in this place, and make sure you look up! Infamous ‘VV’s show up like mad here, I love the unfinished pelta, there are a few great daisy wheels (albeit some of them are severely damaged), and benches have plenty of carvings to sift through.

5. St. Albans

I know, I know, I already plugged this place a little bit but truly it’s worth a visit. It’s so close to London, has so many graffiti, and as people to this day continue to tell me there’s a pamphlet there – I know they must still be in print so go get a copy and have a wander. Some of the really big stuff is harder to see lighting wise but many of the people who work there can show you outlines if need be – and most of the other graffiti listed are super easy to find!

stalbans

Complete with nails!

OK folks I tried to keep it short and sweet. Go out and have a look – there’s of course way more graffiti in each of these buildings than I have mentioned in this one short little post!

St. Albans Abbey: The one that started it all…

Once upon a time, when I was solely a stained glass nerd. One day, I took a break from the hustle and bustle of London and spent an afternoon strolling around St. Albans Abbey. At the time I was just starting out on my ‘SEE ALL THE CHURCHES’ adventure. My dissertation was on a London City Church, and most of the churches I had been doing research in were all in Greater London – many of those were of Victorian construction or ‘renovation’.

The Abbey was fairly quiet, it was a sunny, warm day in June so all the sensible people were outside enjoying the weather. I was running around like I usually was in a church, picking out which windows I was going to take the time to photograph (sunny days are awful for stained glass photography), looking at tombs and monuments, and falling in love with wall paintings – something that you don’t really find in London churches. My travelling and church visiting buddy stopped over to look at some books to buy and I spotted a leaflet entitled: A Short Graffiti Tour of Saint Albans Abbey. I had no idea what they were talking about so I picked it up and started to read.

Skeleton 2

One of the first ever pictures I took of graffiti….and it’s total crap (of course)

WHAT. Tiny scratches on walls that are skeletons and hares and hands and names?!?!?! How had I been missing out on this! Despite being halfway through seeing the Abbey I dragged my counterpart back to the proverbial start so we could go through this pamphlet and find all the graffiti we could. Though a few areas were cordoned off, I found most of it and started trying to figure out how to take photos of the inscriptions with THE crappiest camera for low-light the world has probably ever seen. I still love the image I somehow got my camera to take of the famous hare as well as the two skeletons. Take a moment to feel bad for my friend here….I literally refused to move on to the next spot in the pamphlet until I had successfully found the graffiti that were listed….meaning there were times he was standing there doing nothing for quite some time.

Upon leaving I thought of the dozens of churches I had been to already. Did THEY have graffiti? If they did why didn’t they tell anyone? This was such a personal and interesting thing to study what on earth had I been missing out on?! I suppose I got bit by the graffiti ‘bug’ that day, because every building we visited afterwards I was climbing in the cloisters or crawling around the quire looking for previously ignored symbols. Several times I had people come up to me and ask me what on earth I was doing staring at the walls – I’d cheerfully show them and they’d join in for a short time before reverting to ‘normal person’ status. What was even funnier was going through my photos from churches before I knew graffiti was a ‘thing’ and seeing photos I took of graffiti without even realising it was there or what it was! Graffiti became my main field of study and my passion soon after that trip.

These days I look at images people send me and try to answer their questions, or put some of the cool things I’ve found up on a screen in front of a class full of undergraduate students, or I’m crawling around on the floor investigating a unique looking chisel mark in some long forgotten parish church. But I absolutely love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything – so thank you St. Albans – you helped make me…..me.