The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas


The Almonry


The was at the west end of the sanctuary; and derived its name from being the place where the alms collected at the abbey were given. The name is still preserved in that of Great , the opening in , from . There is also the Little , at the east end of the former; on the middle of the south side of Great , is Almonry-yard.

This place is an object of interest and curiosity, from the circumstance of its being that where William Caxton erected the printing-press, to print with moveable , that was ever known in this country. I have marked as emphatical the words metal types, because it is by no means clear that Caxton was the person to introduce this valuable art into England.

This honour, however, was universally given to Caxton by our earliest writers, who assert, that, during a residence of many years in Holland, Flanders, and Germany, he acquired a knowledge of the whole method and process of the art; and that by the patronage of the great, and especially the abbot of , he set up a press within the abbey, and began to print books there about the year .

It has been asserted that his press was fixed in that part of the abbey called Islip's chapel; and that afterwards he removed his materials to the in the year . Caxton. was certainly the to bring the art to perfection in this country. He was born in Kent, in the reign of Henry IV., and served an apprenticeship to Robert Laye, (or Large) a mercer, who, after being sheriff and lord mayor of London, died in , leaving by will to his apprentice, William Caxton. He then went abroad to settle, and was entrusted by the mercer's company to be their agent, or factor, in Holland, Zealand, Flanders, &c.

In , a commission was granted to him and Richard , esq. to transact and conclude a treaty of commerce between the king, Edward IV., and his brother-in-law, Philip duke of Burgundy, to whom Flanders at that time belonged. The commission styles them ambassiatores, procuratores, nuncios, and deputatos speciales, and gives to both, or either of them, full powers to treat, &c.

When the lady Margaret of York, the king's sister, arrived at Bruges, on the occasion of her marriage with Charles, duke of Burgundy, Caxton appears to have been of her royal highness's retinue. He was either of her household, or held some constant part or office under her; because he says he received from her a yearly fee or salary, besides many other good and great benefits. Being more expert than most others in penmanship and languages,


particularly Latin and French, it is highly probable that he was employed by the duchess in some literary way.

He resided many years at the court of this duchess, and dedicated or addressed some of his works to her; others he addressed to Edward IV; and others again to the duke of Clarence, the king's brother. He afterwards printed, also, for Henry VII. and his son prince Arthur.

His residence in Flanders gave him opportunities of becoming acquainted with the then newly-invented art of printing; in which, when he had perfected himself, which he did not accomplish (as he himself says) without great labour and expence, he was employed by the duchess to translate out of the French, and print a large volume, which appeared under the title of

The Recuyel of the Historyes of Troye,

and is the book we know of that was printed in the English language. The whole title-page ran thus:

The Recuyel of the Historyes of Troye: composed and drawn out of dyverce bookes of Latyn, into Frensche, by the right venerable persone, and worshipfull man, Raoul le Feure, preest, and chapelayn unto the right noble, gloryous, and myghty prynce in his tyme, Philip duc of Bourgoyne of Braband, &c. m the yeare of the incarnacion of our Lord God a

thousand and four hundred sixty

and foure, and translated and drawn out of the frensche into englishe, by Willyam Caxton, mercer, of the cyte of London, at the commandement of the right hye myghty and vertuose princesse, his redoubted lady Margarete, by the grace of God duchesse of Burgoyne, &c. which sayde translation and worke was begonne in Brugis, in the countere of Flaunders, the fyrst day of Marche, the yeare of the incarnacion of our said Lord God a



hundred sixty



, and ended and fynyshed in the holy cyte of Colen, the xix day of Septembre, the yeare of sayd Lord God a



hundred sixty




This translation was finished, therefore, in , and was, doubtless, printed with all possible speed afterwards. The close of it has this remarkable statement:--

Thus I ende this boke, &c. and for as moch as in wryting of the same, my penne is worn, myn hande very, and myn eyen demmed with overmoch lokyng on the white paper-and that age creepeth on me dayly-and also because I have promysid to dyverce gentilmen and to many frends to addresse to them as harely as I might this sayd boke, therefore I have practysed and lerned at my grate charge and expense to ordeyne, this sayd boke in prynt after the maner and forme as ye may here see, and is not writen with penne and ynke as other bokes ben, to thende that every man may have them attones, for all the bokes of this storye, named the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troyes, thus emprynted as ye here see, were begoone in oon day, and also finish in oon day, &c.

By this it would appear, that before any part of this work was put to press, the whole of it was composed, or set up; otherwise it


would have been impossible it should have been begun and completed in the same day.

It appears, that shortly after this he returned to England; for the edition of another of his books,

The Game of Chess,

is dated , and is allowed by all typographical antiquaries to have been the specimen of the art, in English, printed in this country. The title is as follows:--

The game and play of Chess: in which thauctorities, dictes, and storyes of auncient doctoures, philosophers, poetes, and of other wyse men ben recounted and applied unto the moralitie of the publique wele, as well of the nobles as of the commonpeople. Translated outof Frensch, and emprynted by William Caxton, fynyshed of the last day of Marche, the yeare of our Lord God a


foure hondred and LXXIIII.

It has been generally asserted, that all his books were printed at , yet we have no assurance of this fact from himself, nor any mention of the place before the year , when he printed Earl Rivers' Translation of the Sayings of the Philosophers, &c. several years after he began printing. It has also been represented that Islip was abbot of at that time; but this is a mistake, if, as some assert, that Thomas Milling was abbot in , was made bishop of Hereford a few years after, and probably held the abbey in , in which year he was succeeded by John Estney; so that Milling, who was reputed to be a great scholar, must have been the generous friend and patron of Caxton, who gave that liberal reception to an art so beneficial to learning. There is no clear account of the age of Caxton, but he was certainly very old; probably above fourscore at the time of his death. He lived at least years after he had finished his translation of the Recuyel of Troy, and pursued his business with extraordinary diligence, at , till the year , in which year he died.

Since the time of good old Caxton's residence in the , this place has become the nest of women of the lowest description, being occupied by houses in a most villainous condition.

In the was a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine, and not (according to Stow) to Anue; but when, or by whom, it was founded is not known. It was very near this chapel that Caxton carried on his business.

On the south-west side of the abbey church is the , a neat square, formerly open, but recently railed in. Here is

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 Title Page
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda