Austin Friars then and now!

Rosalind writes:

When I was seventeen, I attended a lecture by the great historian Sir Geoffrey Elton. His best-selling magnum opus – England under the Tudors – constituted our sole A-Level textbook, which probably explains why my friend and I were prepared to travel to another school and that on a Saturday afternoon to hear him speak.

An expert on the reign of Henry VIII, Elton was the first person to suggest that Thomas Cromwell was rather more than the upstart son of a blacksmith. In fact he promoted Cromwell as the visionary genius who, during the English Reformation, had introduced modern bureaucratic government in place of medieval feudalism. While this idea is now widely challenged, those of you who have been watching the splendid BBC1 Wolf Hall series will realise that Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell, alias Mark Rylance, was never a force to be trifled with.

Cromwell also lived at Austin Friars where, as a result of forcibly buying up surrounding properties, he was able to build an impressive three-storied palace on what is now the Drapers’ Hall. Covering an extensive two acre site, it boasted over fifty rooms arranged around three courtyards. His neighbours, residing around the Augustinian friary church on the site of which the Dutch Church now stands, were the very monks he so despised.

In 1538 he would dissolve their monastery, before, two years later, he too fell from grace. Cromwell’s summary execution meant that plans for upgrading his own property, in the form of a tennis court and bowling alley, were never carried out. However, this avid property developer would certainly have approved of George’s recent use of state funding to upgrade the technological prestige of the Dutch Church.

George writes:

I first heard about the Super Connected Cities Programme through the Mayor of London’s office. They administer a broadband connection voucher scheme to help provide small businesses access to high speed Internet. At that moment, last November, the church was about to host the Omidyar Conference on Governance and Citizen Engagement, and the client was planning to live-stream the conference over the Internet. This would require a much greater capacity than our single conventional phone line with broadband.

Because of time constraints, the solution on this occasion entailed placing a temporary satellite dish on the roof of neighbouring Augustine House; but we needed a permanent solution on the premises for the Dutch Church to become a premier conference venue in the City. Fibre optic technology is not yet widely available in the Square Mile, and even with a subsidy for installation, the on-going costs were considered too prohibitive. After a call to the Mayor’s office and sorting through various potential alternatives, I found the solution: a special box that bonds together several phone lines – each with Internet broadband – simultaneously connecting to a 4G mobile phone network for extra bandwidth.

The Dutch Church now offers high-capacity Internet, and in February we successfully hosted a technology conference with representatives from Google, Apple and Facebook. We are truly a unique 21st century conference venue with a fascinating historic legacy.

Rosalind Janssen en George Rudolph

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