Kirby’s Castle

In examining the history of Bethnal Green, I have become interested in the house known as Bethnal House or Kirby’s Castle, which occupied the site where the library now is.   It was built in 1570 by John Thorpe for John Kirby, a merchant and was subsequently owned by the lawyer and natural scientist, Sir Hugh Plat.   Plat used the garden to experiment growing grapes and the effects of different manures.   In 1602, he published Delights for Ladies with instructions about how to preserve and bottle fruits and, in 1608, Floraes Paradise Beautified, which included instructions on how to make fuel brickettes.   Pepys visited the house on 26 June 1663 when it was owned by Sir William Rider, Deputy-Master of Trinity House, and described how he had ‘a noble dinner, and a fine merry walk with the ladies alone after dinner:  the greatest quantity of strawberries I ever saw, and good’.   In 1727, it was leased to Matthew Wright as a private mad house, later known as the White House or Blind Beggar’s House and was run by the sadist employed to cure George III of his madness.   Its use as a lunatic asylum is why the local park is apparently known as Barmy Park.


2 thoughts on “Kirby’s Castle

  1. Malcolm Thick says:

    I came across your piece on Kirby’s Castle and Sir Hugh Plat. Plat first moved into Bishop’s Hall in Bethnal Green in 1593 or 4. He rented this house and I suspect he also rented Kirby’s Castle. I do not know when he moved there and which of his many experiments were made in which house and grounds.
    You also mention his ideas on fuel brickettes but they were published earlier than in 1608.
    Plat’s main publication of his invention of ‘cole-balles’ is his pamphlet :
    A new, cheape, and delicate fire of cole-balles : wherein seacole is by the mixture of other combustible bodies, both sweetened and multiplied, also a speedie way for the winning of any breach; with some other new and seruiceable inuentions answerable to the time / London, Imprinted by P. Short, 1603.
    although he published a brief advertisement for them in a pamphlet of 1593 and again the rear of his Jewell House of Art and Nature in 1594. He was trying to introduce ‘cole-balles’ into England but he was not the inventor- he was told about them by a Spanish exile in November 1590 and his information about them came from Liege the Low Countries.
    For more on Plat see my book Sir Hugh Plat: the search for useful knowledge in early modern England, 2010.

    Malcolm Thick

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